Stride toward saving your own life: Breast Cancer Awareness

  • Published
  • By Maj Richelle Dowdell
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
Did you know anyone can develop breast cancer? Did you know the National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 184,000 new breast cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2008? 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 2007, the American Cancer Society recorded some 1,990 new cases of male breast cancer--450 died. 

Recently 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 184,000 new cases this year, it is estimated that more than 40,000 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" (high blood pressure), "the sugar" (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 month--I can only blame it on a healthy lifestyle. 

Last weekend my family and I ran the Strides for a Cure 5K Walk Run in honor of my mom.  At the finish I was surprised to not only see many members of Team Andersen, 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 meantime, 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)