It’s breast cancer awareness month, but really it’s something year round us girls need a good understanding of. 3000 Kiwi women a year are diagnosed – that’s eight women a day. One in nine women will be diagnosed in their lifetime so you might likely know someone affected by the disease, and sadly more than 600 women die each year.
I’m one of eleven Breast Cancer ambassadors – one of the lucky ones in fact to not be affected by the disease myself or have anybody close to me affected. I feel incredibly lucky about that. My motivation to spread the word is probably born of a lifelong awareness about health having been a nurse back in the day. On the personal front though I am a mum to three children, and that brings with it the responsibility of making sure I’m around to support them growing up. They are teens and young adults now, and that want to be here never wanes – seeing them blossom into adulthood is a huge motivator for me to be well. So…that means getting my boobs squashed every year with a mammogram.
If anything is brewing, I want to know about it early enough to deal with it and give myself the best chance to survive it. The facts are that the 10-year survival rate if your cancer was found by feeling a lump is 75%, but the 10-year survival rate if your cancer was found on a mammogram, lifts to an impressive 92%. Sell job over I feel.
I was speaking to a group of people at a fundraising brunch recently – many of them young women. I said to them that regular mammograms are not recommended until you are 40 (probably a lifetime in their mind), but when they get there to remember my words. “It’s not as bad as you imagine. Truly, it is not”. From one who has done this since my mid-thirties, when I had a bit of a scare that was a benign outcome, it’s really just a short term (as in a moment’s) discomfort for a long term result – as in being here!
I also added that as well as ignoring comments from women who tell you it is horrible, you should also ignore women when you are pregnant telling you birth will be horrible too. Neither are ‘horrible’ experiences, and you will have your own experience, not their one anyway. Plus, we’ve just got to put on our big girl panties and get on with the short term thing, because in both those circumstances the long term outcomes are positive.
The NZ Breast Cancer Foundation’s long term vision is zero deaths from breast cancer. It’s a big goal, but one day they think it will be achievable.
They are pushing to get free mammograms extended to 74 (currently it’s free if you’re 45 to 69) because your breast cancer risk is higher at 70 than it was at 50. One quarter of women diagnosed with breast cancer each year are aged 70+.
But for the young women I spoke with last week – if you’re under 40, you just need to be breast aware. Know the normal look and feel of your breasts so you can report changes to your doctor. One woman a day is diagnosed under the free screening age of 45, so being vigilant is key.
I was super impressed with Arishma (22) who organised a Breast Cancer fundraising brunch for 50, food, drink, goodie bags, prizes and all. She had friends whose mums had been affected by cancer and thought she should do something practical, provide hope in a fun way and learn more in the process. Go her.
For more info: Call 0800 BC NURSE to speak to the Foundation’s specialist nurses or visit their website – you’ll see me there on their video resources page. http://nzbcf.org.nz/BREASTCANCER/Resources/BreastHealthVideos.aspx
Written by Jude Dobson
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