Cold, confused and on the brink of tears were just a few of the emotions I experienced the morning I graduated Air Force Basic Military Training. As I waited all morning for my parents to greet me after eight long weeks, thoughts started running through my mind.
“Why are my parents late?”
This isn’t like them. Finally I looked up to see my mother walking slowly towards me with a scarf over her head, a face mask covering her mouth and dark circles under her eyes. I knew my mother must be sick, and later I learned her sickness was a result of breast cancer.
That moment changed my life forever. As my parents led me to their car, the only thing I could think about was how much my mother had physically changed during the eight weeks I was in training. My father calmly explained to me that my mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer the day I left home for basic training.
Growing up, my mother was rarely sick, so I was quite surprised when I learned of the diagnosis. Although the disease runs in the family, I never imagined it would happen to my very own mother. When she was diagnosed, she was already at stage 4, a very dangerous and terminal stage in the cancer world. She was immediately put through radiation and chemo-therapy. After losing all her hair, and the pigment in her skin, I can proudly say my mother beat the horrible disease and has been cancer-free for three years.
My mother was fairly young when she was diagnosed, so both my sister and I have to be checked regularly to ensure the disease does not creep upon us unexpectedly.
According to breastcancer.org, about one in eight U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of a lifetime. In 2013, there were more than 2.8 million women with a history of breast cancer in the U.S., this includes women currently being treated and women who have finished treatment.
Although breast cancer in men is rare, according to nationalbreastcancer.org, an estimated 2,150 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 410 will die each year. So men should also be aware of the signs and symptoms.
Initially the first sign of cancer is a new lump or mass in the breast that you or your doctor can feel. If the lump is painless, hard and has uneven edges, it is more likely to be cancer. However, sometimes the lump can be tender, soft and rounded. It is very important to contact your doctor if you develop these symptoms.
Adults of all ages are encouraged to perform breast self-exams at least once a month. The Hopkins Medical center states, “Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.”
If your family has a history of breast cancer like mine does, be sure to inform your health-care provider so they can determine when you should have your first mammogram. If you are unaware of how to do self-examination, there are how-to videos available on various medical sites, or you can simply ask your doctor for help.
While my mother was sick, I was away fulfilling my military service. While I would have loved to be home taking care of my mother, watching her go through the different treatments would have been more than I could handle.
Today my mother is alive and well, and still fighting cancer. She tells her story to spread hope to those who may be fighting cancer. From fundraisers to conferences, my mother is a big advocate for breast cancer awareness. I also made a personal promise to her that I would do monthly self-examinations so that I wouldn’t be caught off guard if the dreadful illness should happen.
The risk of getting breast cancer is a bit high for me, and as much as it makes me nervous, I will not allow it to affect the way I live my life. I will continue to live a healthy lifestyle, look to my mother for inspiration and to spread awareness to those around me. Cancer is a terrible disease, but with the right knowledge and drive, it can be beat!