Early detection is key to breast cancer survival

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    As my fingers unclasp my white satin bra I feel the chill of the cold air in the room against my skin. The chill sends a nervous sensation up my spine and I can visualize the facial expressions of those middle-aged women in the waiting room who looked me up and down when I walked in. I am sure they wondered what I was doing there, since I am only 34.

    They may imagine I’m here to keep my mom company. Yet, I am by myself. I stand alone, with the same fears, concerns, and unease they have, which fully overcomes me in the mammogram room.

    My mother’s legacy: breast cancer

    What these women don’t know is that I have been here before. I have been here with my mom, when at the young age of 47 she was faced with the cancer that led to her mastectomy. My family and I were by her side when she faced it with strength and determination. I recall the day she told my siblings and me that a part of her would be removed. My answer was, “I love you with or without breasts.”

    What I didn’t tell her was that I was scared, I feared not having her in my life and losing her to her fight against cancer.

    Mammograms are a must for me now

    Every time I undergo a mammogram, all of these thoughts run through my mind: the reality that cancer has no age, no gender, and no color. According to the information provided in the Susan G. Komen for the Cure website, it is the most common type of cancer in Hispanic/Latina women. I started having regular mammograms when a few years ago I had a lump and a biopsy. It turned out to be nothing, but because of my mom´s history, I need to screen more often than other women my age.

    Early detection is key

    There are steps to help reduce the risk of course. But, what many don’t realize is that cancer can happen to anyone and it can take a life in a short time or even at a more excruciating, slower pace.

    Breast self-exams can aid in early detection / Photo: Shutterstock

    I understand the fear of the women in the waiting room, and of anyone who has come in contact with this deadly disease; the thought of the unknown, of that machine invading your body and yet determining what just might be. I can’t even look while the exam is taking place.

    You try and make friendly conversation as someone you have never seen before touches you in places that only an intimate companion would. As a person who has seen this disease take over the body of a loved one, I brush off those thoughts and know this is all for a good cause. Many cancers are undetected due to failing to do a self- exam or not following up with annual appointments.

    I did my part. The rest is beyond my control

    The images of the women in the waiting room cross my mind again as I walk out of the clinic. The intense look of worry on their faces, and the thought of them waiting for days for word from their doctor. Will they be diagnosed? Will they survive? Will they be as lucky as my mom, who is alive and well, as she undergoes yearly mammograms? Or will they die, as my dad did, 12 years ago, of colon cancer …

    What I do know is that I walk out comfortable and strong knowing that I have done my part, and whatever else happens from here on, is beyond my control.

    What steps will you take to become more aware of any type of cancer?

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