Breast Cancer Awareness Month

by Hilla Duka


October is, as is hard to miss, Breast cancer awareness month. Last year, I saw all the little pink ribbons, lying on display at every possible checkout, but they affected me little. I think I bought one, maybe I wore it for a while: unknowingly pinning it to my breast where the same sickness was already wreaking havoc, but all in all, for me breast cancer awareness month passed quite unnoticed. Little did I know that the very same illness was already ravaging my body. Little did I know, that the next Breast cancer awareness month, it would hold a completely new meaning to me.


It’s recently been stated that breast cancer research gets an unproportionally large amount of funding, and a great chunk of that is from private donations. It would seem easy to argue that some of that funding should go to other cancer research projects. I have two points I’d like to make in the case of why funding breast cancer research is so vital.


One is that even though the amount of people diagnosed with breast cancer are proportionally smaller compared to the amount of funding breast cancer research gets, this disease is rapidly slipping down in ages. Once a disease affecting postmenopausal women, the amount of young women now taking ill is growing rapidly. This means that the people affected by breast cancer are no longer mainly older women with grown up children about to retire, but new families with small kids, women in the bloom of their career. If we don’t find find a way to cure this, we are facing a new generation with lost mothers, children who’ve spent their childhood watching their mother, who was supposed to be strong for them, in and out of hospitals, always worrying if the cancer will come back, start growing again. This means our workplaces, indeed society is losing out on vital contributors.


The other is more altruistic. The reason so much research funding is put into breast cancer research is that it is easy to induce and grow on mice (I know, animal testing is not an amicable subject) and the conclusions drawn will more often than not affect not just breast cancer medications, but other forms of cancers as well. Today, there’s a huge list of new medicines now available for kidney tumors, pancreas, brain cancers and other forms of cancer, that were originally tried out for breast cancer. Simply put, research wise - it’s a good place to start!


Lately, there’s been an international outcry for more research to be put into advanced breast cancer treatment, and this will also be something that benefits all patients with metastatic cancers. Once a tumour metastases, it takes on new abilities, and we to this date do not have any real means of fighting them. This means that for anyone that’s diagnosed with advanced cancer, there really isn’t anything that can be done from a curative point of view. We get meds meant to control the spreading, hopefully reduce it, but not cure it. At some point, it will return, unless we find new ways to fight the new abilities taken on by the metastases. Research here is vital, again, not just for breast cancer, but for all types of cancers. 


But if I can make just one case, and get through to anyone reading this - please check your breasts. Do it often. Check to see if your nipples are aligned, check their shape and colour, and if you can’t remember from time to time, take a picture. Feel the sides of your breasts for any lumps, all the way up to your armpits and collar bones. Weigh them in your hands to try to feel if there’s a difference, and if there is, go see a doctor immediately. Until there is a cure - early detection is key.


Also, take strange symptoms seriously. For me, I went to my normal doctors office countless times, for vague symptoms like fatigue (but hey, I was doing about 60h a week and had three kids, how could I not be tired?), getting a head rush from standing up too quickly (but hey, I knew I had low blood pressure), constantly coming down with a flu or a cold and not getting well in a long time, and being in the worst shape of my life (which I completely blamed myself for as I couldn’t work out as I was always coming down with something). These doctors prescribed me coughing medicines, and sent me on my way. Not one of them took a simple blood test, that would have revealed that I was severely anemic and most likely had cancer. If you feel that something is wrong, demand to get a blood test.


Breast cancer affects everyone, and even though this year you’re looking at the pink ribbons thinking it’s nothing to do with you, you never know where you might be next year. It may never affect you - and I sincerely hope so! But you may well find yourself with a mother, sister, colleague or friend who now struggles with cancer. Please donate to research. A pink ribbon, or other products available throughout October are fine, but even though it’s less sexy, please also consider donating straight to the research charities themselves. And please, please, please, check your breasts! If you have no idea how to do this, ask your GP to show you. In this strange society, breast have become something sexual first and foremost, and a biological part secondly. Don’t succumb to this. Do not accept it. Be it checking for tumours, getting help nursing, or anything else, your breast are first and foremost an important part of your body, not something to be embarrassed about and not to be sexualised.


Sorry for this very long and at times rambling post. This comes from one who is now battling with metastatic breast cancer, with an average survival of 18 - 36 months, recently drugged up on chemo which is wreaking havoc in body and mind, someone who is doing everything in their power to stay alive and well-ish after having discovered this much too late.


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