Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Know Your Risk

October 29th, 2009, byKATHY-ELLEN KUPS

I have been taking some college classes recently, with students just out of high school. It is exciting to get to know these young men and women and hear about their goals, their dreams and their strategies for the future.

When I tell a woman in her twenties that I had breast cancer, I see her eyes glaze over. It is pretty obvious that this is a topic that she is just not interested in.

Thirty-year-olds give a different response. I generally get a sympathetic sigh and genuine concern; they want to know if I am okay now. Eventually though, the conversation turns to their kids or something that is happening at their workplace or in their relationship.

Women in their forties, however, are another story. Generally, when I mention that I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 44, these women want to know how I found it. They also want to know if my mother had it and what kind of treatment I received. Many are interested but afraid to ask if I lost my breast. These women are aware that they could be at risk for breast cancer, and many of them have already discussed it with their doctor.

Breast cancer awareness is just that – it’s being aware of your personal risk and how to detect breast cancer. And although women in their twenties shouldn’t have to think about breast cancer, they, like all women, should be aware of their risks.

Often that involves a brief review of family history with the doctor, who can determine if you are a candidate for genetic testing. In addition, learning to do a self-breast exam is invaluable at an early age. The more familiar you are with your breasts at a younger age, the more you will notice any changes as you age.

There are ways that every woman can reduce her risk. It may be through simple changes to diet or daily exercise. It might involve regular mammograms beginning in your thirties if you are in a high-risk group. Still, if you are a candidate, genetic testing is one of the best weapons we have against the disease.

When breast cancer develops, it is a formidable foe. It targets our breasts, but strikes at the heart of our home. Our partners, children, family and friends are affected too. It leaves no one unscathed. The best defense against breast cancer is an informed offense. Making yourself aware of your risks for breast cancer is the first step in preparing your army.

Kathy-Ellen Kups is the breast cancer blogger for She has appeared in “Beyond” and “Mamm” and is also a panelist debating healthcare reform for Kups is a breast cancer survivor.

  • natalie

    I’ve been a fan of yours for a long time now. You have such a wonderful voice to lend to others and a true ambassador of this disease. I’m glad to see you on here.

  • Shelley

    Kathy, I’m a big fan too! I have read your blogs on breast cancer on and have been so impressed by your vast knowledge and experience and your willingness to share it all with others. Keep it up – I want to hear more from you!

  • debbie

    I’m also a fan, how nice to find you here. Thank you for your candid openness, I always enjoy hearing what you have to say. Keep spreading the word.

  • Cathy

    There is no one that I admire more than I do you. I too have been following your blogs, both on and in the Washington Post. You have been the voice of reason and calm to countless numbers over the course of many, many years. Your selfless determination to educate and encourage, in the midst of your own trials and challenges, has been a source of inspiration to all who have had the privilege of your wisdom and your tenancious spirit. Its always such a privilge to hear from someone who is not only a master at providing relevant and accurate information, but actually has a deep caring and compassion for people. I look forward to your very honest and thoughtful comments on this blog as well. Thanks so much!

Last modified: May 4, 2011 at 9:29 pm