Breast Cancer: Cure Is Long Overdue

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My cousin Joann, walking in a 5K seven months after finishing treatment.

We Need To Keep Fighting The Fight

I just couldn’t let October slip away without paying homage to Breast Cancer Awareness Month. None of us should take for granted the advocacy spurred by medical professionals and ordinary citizens. There are very few of us whose lives have not been affected by this insidious disease and though detection and treatments have improved there is still no cure. My mother died of breast cancer in 1975, when the medical industry was just waking up to the fact that mammography screening could save lives.

My experience with breast cancer illustrates how far we’ve advanced and how pivotal awareness is. When my mother was diagnosed in 1973, my family considered it a death sentence. She died within two years and was treated with I’m sure deadly doses of radiation. I recall seeing deep purple bruises running down her back as though she’d been beaten with a strap. I was nine years old and living under a shroud of silence. I had no idea what cancer was and did not discover my mother had cancer until years later. It may be hard to comprehend but cancer was not a household word in the 70s and secrecy was a coping mechanism. There was minimal support for patients and families, no 5K fundraisers with women sprinting across finish lines and an entire month dedicated to awareness was unheard of. I’m not minimizing the suffering of those after my mother, alternatively I’m praising awareness and the significant strides that have been made to help patients and families – but it’s still not enough.

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My mother early 1950s.

My mother’s diagnosis followed the trajectory of the disease in the United States, it wasn’t until the late 70s that breast cancer came out of the closet thanks to pioneers such as Dr. Philip Strax, galvanized by the loss of his young wife he was a tireless advocate for mammography screening. Though not perfect, this screening has saved lives but more work is necessary for detecting breast cancer in younger women.

Through the support of family and friends, I honored my mother one year by walking in the Susan G. Komen “Race For The Cure” raising $5,000. Yet, none of us should remain complacent. A beautiful friend of mine passed away at 40 years old, suffering from breast cancer for 10 years, and will miss out on the beautiful gift of watching her children grow up. Though awareness, research and fundraising has taken us far, her fate was as tragic as my mother’s.

Though the mortality rate has declined, according to the American Cancer Society statistics for 2014:

  • About 1 in 8 (12%) women in the US will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.
  • About 232,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
  • About 62,570 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).
  • About 40,000 women will die from breast cancer.

I am grateful to new technologies, having undergone two biopsies myself and fortunately received good news but I worry about my daughter and little girls everywhere. How many more years do we have to wait for a cure? I can only imagine what my mother would think, nearly 40 years later and still no cure.

Last week I saw a photo of my cousin, my mother’s godchild, who has three young children and is battling breast cancer walking in a 5K race. She looked radiant and vibrant and coincidentally happened to be born on the same day as my mother, 35 years apart. As beautiful as the photo was, it was a sobering reminder that we are still fighting the fight.

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