Dealing With Breast Cancer

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Being a "breast cancer conqueror" in the midst of treatment, I felt I should do my best to get the word out to as many women and men as possible.

I have been blessed with a loving, supportive husband, a family who is "there" for me, a strong faith and a vast number of friends who are now in treatment for breast cancer or who have successfully completed treatment.

This is dedicated to my friend Esther Huff, who has since passed but who left me with an everlasting impression.

When I was first diagnosed, Esther called me in a moment of hopelessness. She told me, "Joni, cancer has a lot to do with attitude. To beat it, you have to have the right attitude. Instead of thinking about yourself, think of your family. Look at the pain and confusion that this disease has caused. Think about your children."

That day my life was changed. It was as if someone had rejuvenated me into wanting to get better and to quit feeling sorry for myself.

I'm not saying that every day is a good day. But this young lady made a world of difference.

Here are some facts about breast cancer in this country, taken from Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization's Web site (

* Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women (men rarely get it), accounting for one in every three cancer diagnoses. It is the leading cause of cancer death both for African American women and for all women ages 20 to 59.

* Its cause is unknown.

* This year alone, an estimated 176,300 new cases will be diagnosed, and more than 43,000 people will die from breast cancer. Last year, a new case was diagnosed every three minutes, and five people died from breast cancer every hour.

* One out of every eight women who live past 85 will develop breast cancer; in 1960 that ratio was 1 in 14.

* Every woman is at risk, and the risk increases with age. Other risk factors include early onset of menstruation, late menopause, never having had children or having them after age 30, and a family history of breast cancer. However, it is important to note that more than two-thirds of all breast cancers occur in women with no identifiable risk factors.

* A mammography can reveal small breast cancers up to two years before they can be felt. Most irregularities, though, are found by women themselves. Yet many do not know how to perform self-examinations, and few do so regularly. Your doctor or other health care provider can teach you how to conduct a self-exam.

* Over 80 percent of breast lumps are benign, but any breast lump must be evaluated by a physician. Detected early, breast cancer can often be treated effectively with surgery. Five-year survival after treatment for localized breast cancer is 98 percent.

These figures, and more, can be found in the article "Cancer Statistics, 1999" in the January/February 1999 copy of A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

Remember, if you do find a breast lump, 80 percent of them are not cancerous. See your health care provider.

For additional information, contact the American Cancer Society 703-777-8981 or the Loudoun County Cancer Coalition 703-777-0537.

On Oct. 27, Loudoun is holding its sixth annual Cancer Screening Day, co-sponsored by the Loudoun Hospital Center, the Loudoun Cancer Care Center, the county Health Department and the American Cancer Society.

Available services--all of which will be offered at no charge--will include breast and pelvic exams, Pap smears, colon and rectal screenings and referrals for free mammograms.

The screenings will be done from 8:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. at Shenandoah Square in Leesburg. Appointments are necessary. Call 703-777-0537 before Oct. 20 to set up an appointment.

Finally, if you know someone who is going through treatment for breast cancer, there is a way you can help. For starters, just listen to them as they relate what they are feeling. Go to the doctor with them and write down questions they may have, and the answers they get.

You could also offer to clean their home, baby-sit or make a meal for their family.

Familiarize yourself about what they are going through. Tell them it's okay they are angry and that cancer is not a death sentence.

Please keep yourself informed and educated. Tell a friend, tell a loved one.