October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a time when breast cancer prevention advocates around the country join forces to highlight the potential causes, symptoms, and treatment options for this disease. From educating women about the importance of an annual screening to raising awareness about risk factors, the month has been crucial in helping reduce deaths related to breast cancer.
It is also a time for people affected by the disease to find community and support as they navigate their unique circumstances. By sharing their experiences, people can find support, love, and comfort as they realize they are not alone. For one CSO team member, Michelle, sharing her story brings hope and the importance of gratitude.
In 2007, Michelle was diagnosed with invasive ductal breast cancer. At the time, she was busy raising her then two-year-old son, Noah, and grieving the passing of her mother, whom she lost to breast cancer the year before. Despite the circumstances, she followed all the necessary treatments, therapies, and surgeries to battle the disease.
But eight years later, the cancer was back.
“Stage Four with bone metastasis,” Michelle shared. “My oncologist provided me with a prognosis of one to five years because once it metastasizes, there is no cure at stage 4.”
Like she had those eight years before, Michelle went through intensive chemotherapy and hormone treatments which left her unable to live normally.
“I couldn’t play with my son and my white blood cell count was always down. I was constantly in pain,” Michelle recalls from that time. “With few options remaining, I went off all the medical treatment.”
Michelle worked with her family and medical team to continue to fight her battle by embracing both Eastern and Western medical traditions. She prioritized exercise, eating well and mindfulness and, of course, humor to get herself through each day. She found comfort in advocating for herself and finding ways to own her treatment plan throughout recovery.
Eight years later, 16 years from her initial diagnosis, Michelle is happy to report that they cannot find any evidence of cancer on her scans – a remarkable case her oncologist has never witnessed before during her 30+ years of oncological medicine.
As Michelle reflects on her own journey, she knows that there is not one path toward health or recovery but believes strongly in the power of gratitude and supporting those around you.
“Everyone is going through something. You are not alone,” she shares. “People are in your path for a reason, pay attention to the people you meet, and remember all the positive aspects of your life, try to live in a mindful capacity as much as possible.”
As we recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we understand that some cancer risk factors—such as age and family history—are beyond one’s control. But as Michelle’s story teaches us, there are some steps people can take, particularly older women, that might lower their risk of breast cancer:
1. Keep moving: Research shows women with a sedentary lifestyle are at increased risk for developing breast cancer. By contrast, those who exercise regularly are 12% to 20% less likely to develop breast cancer. If you have been inactive in recent months, talk with your physician for ideas about senior-friendly fitness programs you can try. Some exercises to discuss with the doctor might be swimming, walking, cycling, chair yoga, and low impact aerobics.
2. Watch your weight: Being overweight or obese increases the risk for 13 types of cancer ranging from cancer of the thyroid to colon, breast, and gallbladder cancers. Being overweight after menopause can especially raise your breast cancer risk. If you aren’t sure what your ideal weight should be, talk with your doctor. They can also help you figure out a safe diet to follow if you need to lose a few pounds.
3. Consume alcohol in moderation: Some studies seem to indicate there is a link between alcohol intake and breast cancer risk. Researchers say women who consume two or three alcoholic drinks a day have a 20% higher risk of developing breast cancer. By limiting alcohol consumption, you might lower your risk.
4. Eat a healthy diet: There is also evidence to suggest diet plays a role in breast cancer risk. In parts of the world where people eat less total fat, as well as less polyunsaturated and saturated fat, breast cancer rates are lower. By following a diet rich in lean protein, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, such as the Mediterranean Diet, you might be able to lower your breast cancer risk.
5. Stop smoking: While many of us are aware of the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, tobacco use is linked to a variety of additional cancers, including breast cancer. Even exposure to secondhand smoke can be harmful. If you are a smoker or live with a smoker, talk with a physician about smoking cessation methods. Some of the newer programs are yielding better outcomes than those of the past.