Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Honoring courageous women...

The battle against breast cancer is, in many ways, a lonely one. Only the person who faces the diagnosis must summon the courage to go through treatment, setbacks and challenges. But for the very lucky ones, there is a whole army of supporters there to walk with them, to offer encouragement and prayers and daily acts of kindness.

Never was this more evident to me than when I began to read through some of the entries to a contest on my website. Last month (and again this month and in February) I've offered a $100 donation to Susan G. Komen For the Cure in honor of a survivor or in memory of a loved one who lost the fight against breast cancer. Though there was only one randomly-selected winner from the hundreds entered, there were too many heartfelt comments to be ignored.

So, today and over the course of the next couple of weeks, I'd like to share some of the stories submitted. Even in a very few words, people were able to convey so much about their heartache, their sense of loss and their respect for those they wished to honor. For me, they're a testament to the powerful bonds between women and to the strength of those who've waged this battle. I'll use only first names here in the interest of privacy, but to all of you who entered I thank you for telling me about these wonderful people.

P.J., for example, wrote about her cousin Janet who "passed away from COPD in September. Janet fought many health obstacles throughout her 83 years. In 1980's she fought and survived breast cancer. She was a survivor in more ways than anyone will ever know. I still miss her..."

Sandra wrote of Nancy, "my best friend, who at 38 years old, lost her battle to cancer."

Another wrote, "I am a breast cancer survivor, but I would like to honor a very dear friend who died of breast cancer four years ago. (Frances) was a brave and loving woman. She changed many lives through her battle, including mine. I could not have dealt with the knowledge that I had breast cancer if it hadn't been for the strength and courage Frances possessed."

Kandi tells of "Freda, my brave friend, who is currently battling breast cancer. She uses her great sense of humor and the love of her large family -- sons, daughter, daughter-in-law, grandchildren, and, of course, her devoted husband -- to optimistically face her greatest fight."

A daughter, Carmen, writes of her mother, Gladys, "She was my mother, my guardian, my best friend. It's been ten years but sometimes I still reach to give her a call. I have a really good friend who has had a reccurence, another who just got diagnosed and another who has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It's a horrible disease. Here's to a cure!"

Another Sandra asked to honor two people. "First, my grandmother Alice. Although she's been gone many years now and she did not pass away because of the cancer, she's the first and so far only one in our family that has gone through it. She had a mastectomy and lived a long life afterwards, passing away in 1987, nearly 20 years after her triumph over the cancer. Second is my long-time friend, Mary...She was diagnosed approximately 10 years ago, so she's well past the five-year stage. She is now married and going strong. Another triumphant story!"

This is just the beginning. I hope the stories will touch you. There are many more to come. And in the meantime, if you didn't enter last month's contest and have someone you'd like honored with a donation to the Susan G. Komen foundation, please go to www.sherrylwoods.com and click on "Contest." There's also information there on how you can make your own contribution, no matter how large or small, to aid in this fight that affects us all -- whether we've faced the diagnosis ourselves or dealt with its effects on a friend or loved one. Banding together, there's nothing women can't do, including curing this terrible disease.

Sherryl Woods

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Forget Three Little Words, Focus on Three Little Numbers

Heading into the month of October, when our thoughts are centered on the fall activities of craft fairs, football and back-to-school activities, our attention is also called to the "pink blitz" month for breast cancer awareness.

As an eighteen-year survivor of this life-changing disease, I celebrate my own and my aunt's survivorship, and remember those who have passed "Over the Rainbow," along with my mother and Grandmother.

However, I am so distressed to read lately that the numbers of women getting their mammograms are falling. Falling? It is simply inconceivable to me.

You see, my mother was diagnosed with her first breast cancer at age 33. People did not discuss breast cancer in the mid-fifties, and no one in my mother's family had ever had breast cancer. Mother was comfortable with the lumps she assumed were "clogged milk glands" in her breast as she had also nursed her three older children. She lost her breast to a radical mastectomy in these pre-mammogram, pre-chemo days but went on to live another 33 years. My Dad was told she had a 50-50 chance of survival.

At 66 Mother was diagnosed with an all new cancer in her other breast, but this time, despite her diligence with diet, exercise and having mammograms every six months, Mom's cancer had been missed. She died at 71.

So every year in memory of Mama, I say to women as often as possible—just remember three little numbers. They can save your life. They are: 98 percent of all breast cancers are CURABLE if caught early; 75percent of all women have NO breast cancer in their family, and 90 percent of all breast lumps found are BENIGN
I would tattoo these numbers on women's chests if I could.

No. 1--what could be more encouraging to hear that if you practice good breast health procedures, i.e., breast self-exams and yearly mammograms, you have a 98 percent chance of saving your life because you have found your cancer early?

No. 2--we must get the word out there that 75 percent of all women diagnosed do not have breast cancer in their family. Women think that there must be a history, but the reality is that only five to seven percent of all breast cancers are genetic.

No.3 – 90 percent of the time, that lump is just lumpy breast tissue, so don't waste precious moments of your life worrying unnecessarily.

These numbers are easy to remember & reassuring. Get those mammograms. You owe it to you, and to your family.

Ellen P. Stucker of Memphis, TN

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Healthy . . . and wise

Just last night I had a conversation with a friend of mine about people we both know who don't take care of their health. I probably fall into a borderline category myself. Knock on wood, I haven't suffered from any major illnesses, have had one surgery as an adult and take very little medication beyond over-the-counter sinus medication when my allergies kick in and an OTC pain med to keep my knee in gear. When symptoms develop, I research, give myself a week or so to stave off whatever's going on and then promise to see a doctor if I'm not cured.

Of course, one of my two favorite doctors used to go nuts about this tendency of mine to self-diagnose. I'd go in for an appointment and spend ten minutes not reciting symptoms, but telling him my theories about my illness. Since I worked in a hospital at the time and had access to medical journals, I "had" a lot of exotic diseases. Eventually the doctor would roll his eyes, point out that the illness I was sure I'd contracted only affected men on an island far, far away, and that perhaps it was time to give him a crack at figuring out what was going on. He also suggested I be banned from reading the medical journals.

I blame this habit of mine on a mile-wide independent streak, but I also think we all know our own bodies better than anyone else. And I believe with every fiber in me that a good diagnostician, who doesn't need to run a thousand tests, is worth his(or her) weight in gold.

However, there is a very fine line between taking charge of your own health and being in denial. The folks my friend and I were discussing had been in deep denial about their illnesses and now face an uncertain future. As terrifying as it can be to face some things head-on, how much more likely it is that early detection can lead to a cure.

In no situation is that more evident than with breast cancer. Women who do regular self-exams and have regular mammograms have a better shot at life-saving treatment and remission. It's important all year, but especially during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, to make absolutely certain you and all your women friends are being tested.

This issue takes on added importance to me as I try to support a friend who's had a recurrence after sixteen years in remission. And it happens to be a significant part of my next book, SEAVIEW INN, which comes out in March.

Next week we'll feature a wonderful guest blog on this very subject, but until then, stop dawdling. Make that appointment for a mammogram. Call your friends and make sure they've made theirs. Don't wait until one of you faces a crisis. Stay healthy. It's the wise thing to do.

Sherryl Woods

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