October has always been a rocky month for me. I turn a year older on Halloween…and getting older is scary. October is also breast cancer awareness month and the world turns pink. So after learning that I’m BRCA1+, it has also been a month full of emotional triggers. Every time I walked into a store to see pink products, I would remember how I was waiting to become a victim of breast cancer, and how my future sucked. This year everything changed for me. In the process, I learned three important things:
- Mammography has a 40% chance of missing a tumor at an early stage if you have dense breasts. And there are new imaging technologies that may offer better and smarter options for women. But these technologies are not yet on the market.
- 7 out of 10 women don’t understand their breast reconstruction options. Insurance covers reconstruction, and many women end up looking better than they did before having a mastectomy.
- We are learning incredible things about the genetics of breast cancer. Now scientists have divided breast cancer into four genetically distinct types. This not only raises the possibility of isolating the cause of breast cancer, but also paves the way for more personalized treatments for patients based on each type. More amazing research is coming out every day, moving us closer to understanding the roots of breast cancer.
I was already very aware of breast cancer before this year. In fact, I was terrified. And I spent six years getting mammograms without anyone telling me that I was unlikely to find a tumor at an early stage because of my breast density. Now I think about October differently – and my mind is full of questions. Questions like: why didn’t anyone tell me I had some great options for getting breast reconstruction? Was everyone out there just more aware than I was before? With all the effort and money that goes into breast cancer “awareness,” I’m surprised by how much unawareness still remains. Maybe we’re aware of the wrong things?
I think it’s time to be more aware of funding for science. Breast cancer is complicated….but ending this disease may be within our reach. We can be more proactive. We can think more carefully about how we invest in research….and we can even participate in research. And we can expect better and smarter options for prevention of breast cancer. That’s how my thinking changed this year.
How has your thinking changed?