by Carlene Cobb
Nobody wants to be in the “C” Club, but it has thousands of members who never planned to join.
The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2016, about 246,660 new cases of invasive breast cancer and about 61,000 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed in women. (CIS is non-invasive and the earliest form of breast cancer.) In 2016, about 40,450 women will die from breast cancer.
Once I got over the shock of my breast cancer diagnosis, I spent extra time and expense to consult with several surgeons. I chose the surgeon who sat beside me at a wooden table where we looked up into the light shining through my films, and we planned our treatment strategy together. There were tough choices to be made, and we made them as a team. Her approach was empowering, not condescending.
“Breast cancer will change your life,” said my surgeon, Sylvia Campbell, MD. She didn’t say the dreaded disease would take my life, only change it, so I felt a spark of hope. I had no idea of the scope of the changes referenced.
“If that tumor had gone undetected until you could feel it, we would be having a very different conversation,” said Dr. Campbell. “Knowledge is power; we’ll need more tests.” She added, “The more positive you can stay throughout your treatment, the better your outcome will be.”
Taking that point to heart, I researched community support options and found the Cancer Support Community, which is now called JFCS Cancer Support & Wellness, part of the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of the Suncoast. I attended support groups, medical lectures, nutrition presentations and luncheons, massage classes for patients and partners, mask painting, private counseling, Yoga, Tai Chi and Qigong. That was all I could manage to schedule among full-time work, MRIs, PET scans, CT scans, breast conserving surgery (lumpectomy), eight weeks of radiation therapy at the end of each workday, and five years of medication.
Breast cancer survival rates have increased dramatically, due to early detection, ongoing research and improved treatments. Although mammography can result in false positives and some unnecessary treatments, declining the screening leaves one at greater risk of a malignant tumor growing undetected.
Modifiable risk factors to prevent onset and recurrence of breast cancer include maintaining healthy weight, exercising, managing stress, limiting alcohol intake, and eating a plant-based diet that limits refined sugars, fats, red meats and processed meats. Studies show that such a diet also reduces risks for heart disease and diabetes.
The ways in which breast cancer treatment changed my life extend beyond the surgical scars and residual discomfort from radiation that I’d expected. The biggest and best change is how sweet life tastes because each precious day is a gift. I am more conscious of how I spend the moments in my days. I am more grateful to be here to love my family and friends and to create what God put me here to create.