Dealing with breast cancer more than meets the eye

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- October was breast cancer awareness month and for me this year things have hit home. 

When something affects you or a loved one you tend to be more aware, you research, you study, you question and overall you learn.

My mother, who is only 46 years old, found out this June that she has breast cancer.

Cancer in and of itself can be scary, but one of the things that stood out to me was the fact that according to her doctors the cancer, because of its size, must have been growing somewhere between five to 10 years.

A possible 10 years and it wasn't found--not until my mother experienced such a drastic change in her breast that she went to a hospital, where they ended up aspirating a cyst that had grown so large that mom was in extreme pain. My mother, who has annual breast exams, has had a number of cysts in her breasts for many years. They are why the doctors didn't notice the cancer tumor-- it was hiding behind her non-cancerous cysts.

The doctors were able to do a lumpectomy on my mom despite how long the tumor had grown, but for others, 10 years could have been the difference between surviving breast cancer and death.

My mother is currently undergoing radiation treatments and will have to be on medicine for five years, but because she does not have to have chemotherapy and she didn't have a mastectomy--by some she is considered one of the "lucky ones."

Whether someone goes through a lumpectomy, a mastectomy, has chemotherapy, radiation or medication, it doesn't change the fact that being diagnosed with cancer can be a frightening, disturbing, life-altering experience. A number of men and women in addition to their daily battles and struggles with cancer also have to try and combat depression.

But there's support and information out there if you know where to look, and there are people who do great things to increase awareness, raise money for research and show support for the men and woman fighting this potentially deadly disease.

One of those people from Eielson is Michelle Nelsen, 354th Force Support Squadron. Her and her mother raised over $6,000 during the Breast Cancer 3-Day by walking 60 miles in three days in this yearly event that occurs in Seattle.

I started learning more about breast cancer, because of my mother's situation and my own (I've had two benign lumps removed, which also increases my chance) but just because you or a loved one may not have an increased risk does not mean you are immune to breast cancer.

Hence, a month dedicated to awareness.


A great place to start is to call the American Cancer Society at (800) ACS-2345 and check out their Web site. Through ACS, I was able to speak to an office in my mom's local area and find out about specific programs and resources. With all that my mom is going through, it took my intervention to get the ball rolling. Sometimes things are just too difficult for the person who actually has the cancer.

One of the things I did was arrange for a one-on-one visit through ACS's program called Reach-to-Recovery. I truly think it'll help her. Another thing I did was get information about cancer for myself. They do say knowledge is power and early detection can help save lives.

Listed below are some of the places I learned from and some of the resources out there-- I hope you take a moment and learn too.

www.cancer.org  
www.cancer.gov  
www.y-me.org  
www.komen.org