Breast cancer survivors building support network overseas
November 2, 2006
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — You do your monthly self-breast exams. You get your annual mammogram. You do all the things you’re supposed to do – then you learn you have breast cancer.
So, how do you deal with it?
Learn as much as you can about it and talk with those who have lived through the ordeal, say two women associated with the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa’s breast cancer survivors’ group.
“The only thing I could think was that knowledge would make me feel better,” said Andrea Hawk, 50, a speech language pathologist at Kadena Elementary School who first learned she had cancer five years ago. “I was not going to let it control me — the more I knew, the more in control I felt.”
Her friends helped her as well.
“Having what I had was so much easier because I worked daily with two friends who were breast cancer survivors,” she said.
When Karen Jensen first felt a pea-sized lump in her left breast 10 years ago, she ignored it.
“I thought it would go away,” the 52-year-old said. When she learned it was cancer, she was in denial. “A lot of women don’t ever want to think they have cancer” for fear they will need a mastectomy, said Jensen, a physical education teacher at Kadena Elementary School.
But her first experience with cancer was easy: “All they had to do was remove the cancer and I had radiation afterwards.”
Jensen reached the five-year mark cancer free. Then, four years ago, cancer returned to the same breast. She cried when doctors told her she needed a mastectomy. “All I could think was, ‘What am I going to look like in a bathing suit with one breast?’”
After the mastectomy, reconstruction and plastic surgery, she said she looks good.
During her first experience with cancer, she wished she had known about survivor groups, Jensen said. “You don’t know what it’s like, and you need to talk to someone who’s been there and done that.”
Jensen, who discovered her first cancer during a breast self exam, said that in addition to yearly mammograms at the recommended age, all women should do self exams “because cancer can turn up in any age group.”
Hawk is a proponent of annual mammogram screenings because her cancer was caught so early by it. “That’s the whole idea behind mammograms — to catch the cancer early,” she said.
And both believe there’s more to fighting and dealing with cancer than just medical treatments and pharmaceuticals.
“More people who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer should find survivor groups to talk to,” Hawk said. “It shows you that you’re not alone.”
To contact the breast cancer survivor’s group, contact the breast health education center at DSN 643-7221.
Myth 1: Breast cancer affects only older women. The risk of breast cancer increases as women age, but breast cancer can occur at any age.
Myth 2: If breast cancer doesn’t run in your family, you won’t get it. About 80 percent of women who get breast cancer had no known family history of the disease.
Myth 3: Only your mother’s family history of breast cancer has any bearing on your risk factor. Your mother’s and your father’s family history influence your risk factor equally.
Myth 4: Birth control pills cause breast cancer. Modern-day birth control pills contain a low dose of the hormones estrogen and progesterone and have not been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
Myth 5: I am at risk for breast cancer, and there’s nothing I can do about it. You can’t eliminate the risk, but you can reduce it. Some ways include lifestyle changes such as minimizing alcohol intake, not smoking and exercising regularly.
Myth 6: Using antiperspirants causes breast cancer. There is no evidence that the active ingredient in antiperspirants or reducing perspiration from the underarm area causes breast cancer.
Myth 7: Breast cancer is a women’s disease. Although breast cancer is 100 times more common in women, an expected 1,720 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among men in the United States in 2006.
Sources: Breastcancer.org and the American Cancer Society