On a warm autumn day last September I met a woman named Gina. We were on a press trip and when your job as a writer involves you showering and getting naked in front of people you’ve just met, well, you become fast friends. Gina was one of the friends I made on that trip. It wasn’t a hard friendship to make — she’s one of those people you meet and are enveloped by her presence, wrapped in a soul filling reminder of what real friendship is and can be. A few days ago I learned that Gina was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Believe me when I say this is not what I wanted to write. I did not want to write another story about breast cancer affecting someone I love. The names are one this blog in various places and always weighing on me — Susan, Sheila my sister-in-law Sandi, Amanda, Connie, and now, Gina. Their faces forever floating in my memory — images of strength, grace, love, and beauty.
Gina shared her diagnosis on her blog, and as any good food blogger does, included a recipe — what she calls “Happiness in a Bowl.” She wrote about the irony of being diagnosed during breast cancer awareness month, her bewilderment, her anger, her confusion. As she finished her post, Gina being Gina, wrote about her quest for happiness.
In 2013, an estimated 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed among US women, as well as an estimated 64,640 additional cases of in situ breast cancer.
If I lived anywhere near San Francisco, I’d be delivering homemade casseroles for her freezer tomorrow. Instead, I’ll wait and give her time to think and gather her thoughts. When enough time has passed, I’ll find out what she needs, and I will act.
Susan and Sandi are gone due to this horrible disease. Amanda, Connie, and Sheila kicked its ass, just as I’m sure Gina will. I look at my own breast, scarred from my own scare, and am thankful for benign tissue that allows me to be here to support my friend. But it doesn’t change things. My friend has breast cancer.
What can you do?
Do a monthly breast self-check. Note any changes. Learn what the signs are. If you find a lump and the doctor doesn’t want to do a mammogram, get a second opinion.
Don’t have a doctor, insurance or can’t get an appointment within a reasonable amount of time? Planned Parenthood will see you and write the prescription for your mammogram. My friend Liz has insurance, but because she didn’t have a primary doctor, nor gynecologist, it was going to be three months before she could see any doctor when she found a lump. Liz’s mother is a BRCA 2 carrier. Planned Parenthood in her major metropolitan area saw her in less than a week.
Have a baseline mammogram at 40. Demand a baseline earlier if you have a family history of breast cancer. (I do not agree with the new guidelines for baseline mammograms.)
Support the Breast Cancer Reasearch Foundation — 91% of funds goes to breast cancer research and awareness programs. Those other foundations, read the financials and then make your own decisions.