Breast cancer? You can’t be serious.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer risks, and promote treatment and prevention options. Vanguard is proud to offer benefits that make it easier for crew to get the screenings and medical care they need. Kristin T., a crew member, shares her experience with breast cancer.

It’s September 27, 2017.  My family’s day is already busy – our calendar says that my husband will be at Drexel and that we also have a Cub Scout meeting and soccer practice tonight. But below soccer, in all caps, are the words, “CANCER.” It’s the fourth anniversary of the day that I got the horrible call from my doctor telling me that I had breast cancer.

Breast cancer? Really? Skin cancer maybe, I grew up in the ‘80s when being tan and using too much hairspray could have easily killed me, but breast cancer? I had no family history, no lumps, no pains, and no symptoms. I was only 40. 40! Here I am 4 years later and I’ve shared my story very openly since day 1. A few years ago I was named one of 23 Women of Influence from Main Line Today and had a chance to chat with Tracy Davidson of NBC 10, a fellow breast cancer survivor. I remember clearly one of the messages given by the keynote, Dr. Marisa Weiss of Breastcancer.org, that day when she was speaking with Tracy on stage. She told the audience that 90% of breast cancers are caused by lifestyle and environmental factors. Which meant I could still blame the 1980’s. But it also meant that I should probably make some changes. Exercise more, eat healthier, stress less. Easier said than done. With stress she drove home a point about battling emotional stress by surrounding yourself with positive people in your life and making the tough decision to cut out or avoid people that make you unhappy. Life is too short for fun suckers.

Something that people don’t talk about much in addition to nutrition, exercise, and stress is your mental health after being diagnosed with the “C” word. Most people go into fight mode once diagnosed and the focus becomes beating the disease. But some of the hardest emotional work comes after you’ve won the battle. The cancer may leave your body, but it never leaves your mind. Suddenly every ache and pain in your body must be cancer. Surely you are going to die soon. Life becomes more urgent. Because death just knocked on your door.

Since my diagnosis I have had several other friends in their early 40’s diagnosed. My advice:

  • Don’t wait. Do self-exams and get a mammogram as soon as your doctor and insurance will allow. If not for a baseline mammogram at age 37 to compare to the one I received at age 40, my cancer would not have been detected early and I may not be here today. Remember, only 5-10% of breast cancers are thought to be hereditary. I had no symptoms at all. #40SavesLives
  • Don’t ignore the emotional toll that a diagnosis might take on both you and your family. There is no shame in seeing a counselor if it helps. When I was diagnosed our twins were 6, and our other children were 4, and 1. My husband and I had just celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary.
  • Organizations in your area, such as Unite For Her, have some fantastic programs and resources that can make connections to nutritionists and others who can help as you aim to make some changes to your lifestyle.
  • Some people will point out how your situation could be worse as they attempt to make you feel better. Sure, it could always be worse, you could be dead. At times you will feel guilty for complaining. You have a right to be mad and sad. But, after the tears, look for the positives. This is one of many bumps in the road that you will experience in your life. Remember the saying, “It is not what happens to you. It is how you respond to it.”
  • Don’t hold a grudge. Some friends and family members won’t show up for you. And you will be disappointed. Don’t hold it against them. Life is too short.

If you have a friend or family member with cancer. My advice:

  • Try not to say, “Let me know if you need any help.” They won’t let you know. In general, no one likes asking for help. Just do it. Just show up and help.
  • Organize a meal train to help them through the tougher times.
  • Pitch in for a cleaning person, babysitting help, or gift cards that they can use.
  • Text them from the grocery store and offer to pick up milk or whatever is needed.
  • Send them a cozy blanket, slippers, and other comfy items for their recovery or trips for treatment.
  • Order them a pizza on a Friday night for their kids to eat.
  • Arrange playdates for their kids. Carpool! Help them keep life and the routine as normal as possible for the children.
  • Visit them. Being in the hospital or stuck at home recovering can be lonely. They need a laugh so tell them a funny story. Just hang out with them.
  • Don’t offer too much unsolicited advice. Just let them vent. Let them complain about the pains, the sleepless nights, the medication side effects, the cold hands of the doctor, the music in the waiting room, etc. Just let them talk.

Now go schedule your mammogram please.

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