This month’s blog theme is Breast Cancer Awareness. This week, I’m sharing the third lesson I learned as a survivor of the disease. But first, here’s a little about my personal breast cancer story.
As a survivor, this month is always bitter-sweet for me. It’s a reminder of the darkest time in my life. Yet, it elicits true gratitude for the blessing of survival and the people who carried me through it. Every October, my instincts are to remember and be grateful in the same way I fought breast cancer – privately. But, I think most survivors feel as I do, that we have an obligation – to our sisters who are no longer here to speak to it and those who do not yet know they too will fight it – to be leading voices in honoring, supporting, educating, encouraging and fighting breast cancer.
As a fitness professional, there’s an added responsibility to speak to the importance of regular screening for breast cancer specifically and all health screening generally. Taken together, there’s no escaping the necessity for me to merge my personal breast cancer experience with my fitness expertise to share with you what I’ve learned.
BREAST CANCER IS NOT ONE DISEASE
Invasive, non-invasive, hormone-fed, non-hormone-fed, stages, grades, metastasized, non-metastasized breast cancers; tests and procedures like biopsies, MRIs, lumpectomies, node biopsies; treatments like mastectomies, radiation, chemotherapy; post-cancer considerations like hormone therapies, genetic testing, frequency of screenings and risks of recurrence and related cancers; and how old she is and where she is in her life stage and overall health…every single one of these variables is different for each woman with breast cancer. Each variable changes her options and recommended protocols. Each treatment and follow-up test carries its own set of risks, possible side effects and has an effect on the probability of recurrence and survival.
It’s dizzying, to say the least. This says nothing of the physical, emotional and sexual repercussions that breast cancer and its treatments cause and how these factors affect decisions about nipple-preserving surgery or breast reconstruction surgeries. News reports on celebrity cases and published opinions from medical professionals that tend to give a generalized recommendation or, worse, condemnation – such as everyone should be tested for the BRCA gene or too many women are opting for so-called unnecessary mastectomies – do all women a disservice. How a woman decides to test and treat her cancer, what risks she chooses to accept, how she handles the post-cancer tests, treatment and aesthetic outcome and whom she chooses to involve in these decisions is up to her and her alone.
Lesson #3: If someone you care about is diagnosed, it’s imperative to refrain from unsolicited advice, opinions or anecdotal stories. Even a person who has had a form of the disease should refrain from inserting her experience into someone else’s. Every breast cancer case is unique.
Check back next week to learn the fourth, and final, lesson I learned. Support the cause by clicking here to donate to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.