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 Everydayhealth.com. She has appeared in “Beyond” and “Mamm” and is also a panelist debating healthcare reform for thewashingtonpost.com. Kups is a breast cancer survivor.