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Stride toward saving your own life: Breast Cancer Awareness

  • Published
  • By Maj. Richelle Dowdell
  • Air Component Coordination Element- Iraq
Did you know anyone can develop breast cancer? Did you know the National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 207,090 new breast cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2010? Did you know October is National Breast Cancer awareness month?

Right now there are more than two million women living in the U.S. who have been treated for some form of breast cancer. And although less common in males, in 2010, the American Cancer Society recorded some 1970 new cases of male breast cancer--390 died.

Two years ago while I was deployed to Afghanistan my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. This was a very stressful time in my family's life, however, due to prayers, progress in diagnosing at earlier stages and improved treatment strategies, my mother was diagnosed, had a lumpectomy, and follow-on radiation treatment in the span of five months. Aside from some issues with balancing her blood pressure the doctors have declared that she is now "cancer free."

Of course, this is not the case for all cancer victims. In fact, of the 207,090 new cases this year, it is estimated that more than 39,800 will die. Admittedly so, these statistics are somewhat depressing, but awareness and education are key to defeating this pervasive killer.

Awareness: Know what you are up against--beginning with understanding your family health history. Since my family is littered with "the pressure" (aka high blood pressure), "the sugar" (aka diabetes), cholesterol and cancer issues, I am working hard to incorporate a healthy lifestyle in the Dowdell household. If you have relatives who have had cancer--genetics say you are at risk, so be aware. Breast cancer is real.

Education: Once you know where you stand, begin to read about those issues that affect your family. Although there are steps nearly everyone can take to lower risk, no one has full control over whether he/she gets breast cancer. Many risk factors are still unknown and many are simply out of our control (such as getting older or having a family history of breast cancer). However, there is a lot that you can do to reduce your risk from breast cancer. Leading a healthy lifestyle can help lower risk and getting regular screening tests can detect breast cancer early when it's most treatable. Finally, having a general knowledge of what factors may increase your risk can help you work with your health care provider to address concerns he/she has and develop a breast health plan.

I truly believe the two things that kept my mother's cancer at bay were her steadfast faith and tenacious nature to find out everything she could about breast cancer once she was diagnosed. Not sure of the questions to ask, she picked up every brochure and visited every website she could find with regards to breast cancer. And when she wasn't satisfied with that, she had a list of questions prepared for every doctor's visit. She made sure she knew what she was up against.

I know what I'm up against and I am prepared. Without a shadow of a doubt I am healthier and in better shape than I was at 18, 21 or 25 years old. I know more and understand how to mitigate the factors that put me not only at risk for breast cancer but other "health issues" my genes may face. I'm proud to admit I scored my first 100 on my physical fitness test last year and have been consistent since--I can only blame it on a healthy lifestyle.

Before I deployed to Iraq this year, my family and I ran the Susan B. Komen Race for a Cure in honor of my mom. Who would have guessed, two years ago, I'd be standing on the National Mall with my mom and thousands of survivors--at a time when somewhere in the world a woman dies of breast cancer every 69 seconds. At the finish I was surprised to not only see many members of our greater Air Force community volunteering and running, but to learn that several people I work with everyday are cancer survivors themselves. Indeed strides for a cure are being made, but in the mean time, I'll continue to take healthful strides to save my own life.

I challenge you to take similar strides towards saving your own life.

For more information about Breast Cancer visit:
The National Cancer Institute - Breast Cancer Home Page
Susan G Komen for a Cure

(Information courtesy of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month; American Cancer Society; the Susan G. Komen Foundation; and the National Cancer Institute)