Got boobs? Female or male, all humans do. But women are over 100 times more likely to get breast cancer. And without healthy women, the world grinds to a halt.
I was a newlywed in the best shape of my life when I had that fateful mammogram. I didn’t know anyone who’d had the disease. Then I learned my husband’s college sweetheart had died from it.
Within weeks, my life revolved around medical appointments. Surgeries, blood tests, chemo, infusions, radiation, hormone therapy, you name it. The side effects from treatment made it tempting to quit. But I learned that more women had died from breast cancer between 1985 and 2004 than all the men who died in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam – combined. I did not want to be another statistic.
Like many, I’d never heard of breast cancer until a friend did a Walk for the Cure. The name wasn’t mentioned in public until I was out of college. Before that, it was simply the “women’s disease.” Apparently, it was shameful for us to be sick in the very organ that defines us as nurturers. In 1998, four years after President Clinton’s mother died of breast cancer, he signed the first Women’s Health and Cancer Rights bill. It is still not a medical specialty. But women now speak openly about it. And more women are becoming doctors. Breasts do define us. But breast cancer does not.
Two of the nineteen chapters in A Boob’s Life are devoted to my experience. I had no intention of ever writing about it beyond my Modern Love essay in the New York Times. I’d rather forget every horrifying moment. But my gratitude for those who helped me survive makes it important to pass on what I learned. And I learned a lot. For example, did you know more than two drinks per week raises your chance of breast cancer as much as smoking cigarettes raises your chance of lung cancer? And that stress triggers a gene that acts as a green light for cancer cells? For fun, I made a list of odd products turned pink for Breast Cancer Awareness. But aren’t we already aware? What we need is action.
This month, I’m teaming up with The Breasties, an Instagram-based community founded by young women, including several who had preventative mastectomies in their twenties. I promised to post a self-exam (see above). I love how they display their scars to stop the shame and share our experience. Because secrets don’t stop disease, research does.
So, I’m also supporting Stand Up to Cancer, a research-focused group. Without a particular new drug that was approved by the FDA shortly before my illness, I’d be dead now. I knew two women who weren’t as lucky.
Having breast cancer feels like Halloween every day, but all tricks and no treats. It’s scary enough without a pandemic. For example, here are my nails during chemo, before some fell off. Don’t worry, seven years later they’re almost back to normal…
Long after Covid-19, breast cancer will still plague us. Please, check your breasts every month. If you missed your mammogram this year, schedule it now. If you can’t afford it, call Planned Parenthood for assistance.
If you know someone in treatment, ask how you can help. A grocery run or a phone chat can be a lifeline. And a funny Halloween card in the mail will raise their spirits – in a good way.
What scares you most about breast cancer? And what are you doing to help?
I’d love to hear from you.