It sucks. I know all cancers are bad, but the suckiest cancer of all, in my opinion, is breast cancer. Over 226, 872 cases are diagnosed each year and there are more than 39,000 deaths attributed to it in the US alone.
My sweet friend Elizabeth is an amazing mother, wife and community member. Last year she wrote about how breast cancer affected her as a woman AND as a mother. I’m reposting her story here, with her permission, in hopes that it will make you stop and think about how many people breast cancer affects every year – not just women but their mothers, their sisters, daughters, husbands, friends and their kiddos.
How can I write about my experience with breast cancer and precautions I take to stay healthy, without writing about how its also affected my mothering? And so here I am, sharing my story with you – something I talk about frequently, think about all the time, but have never written about.
My mom died from breast cancer when I was 7. She was diagnosed when I was 2. If you have young children, you might read that sentence again and think (like I have many times), “Wow, my kids are about that age. That’s young.” And yes, it is. Very young. In fact, I don’t have a single memory of my mom when she was healthy, only after she had cancer. Even more alarming, she was 32 when she was diagnosed. How many of us moms are nearing, at or just past that age? All of us. And that is why I am writing this for you readers… to hopefully inspire you and encourage you to pursue a lifestyle that is healthy, active, aware of your breast health and to be proactive in scheduling your annual checkups with your OBGYN.
So clearly breast cancer has affected my life tremendously – it’s one of my biggest fears but also one of my biggest motivators. There are a few things that I have made part of my lifestyle that are pivotal in ensuring good breast health for me, and best of all – they take little time for the impact that they make. Here they are:
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, even just 4 hours a week of
exercise can lower your risk of breast cancer. Ways to incorporate exercise in your life are very easy – you do not have to wake up at 5am to go to an expensive gym. Take your kids for a walk around the neighborhood (especially while this weather is so nice!), go to the park and run around playing freeze tag with your kids, put your baby on your knees and do some crunches – kissing him/her each time! There are MANY opportunities to incorporate physical activity into your lifestyle, so the excuse “I don’t have time” doesn’t cut it. If you really want to do it, you’ll make time. I try to hit the gym about 4 times a week, in addition to riding bikes and walking with my kids – and I love pushing them on the swing and running around the playground before they can count to 5 – gets my heart rate up and keeps them laughing!
2) Eat healthy.
Eat a diet low in fat and high in nutritious fruits and vegetables. Are you concerned about protein or cost? A bag of beans costs about $1 and is full of both protein and fiber – and delicious. Stop going through the drive through so much – it’s bad for your pocket book and your waistline and most of the “foods” are processed and loaded in fat. Plan ahead – grab an apple, again – just as filling, and MUCH cheaper than a #1 with extra pickles and a diet coke. A nutritious diet is important to lowering your risk of developing breast cancer.
3) Perform Breast Self Exams.
This is one of the most important things you can do because early detection is key to saving lives when it comes to breast cancer (and any cancer for that matter.) Think about it – if you don’t know you have it, its growing and the longer you wait to find it, the harder it is to fight it. So how do you catch it early? Feel around. It is recommended to do this once a month at the same time every month. It takes less than two minutes and you can do it in bed or the shower.
Look for changes in size, lumps, puckering or dimpling and call your doctor if you find anything abnormal. I do these every month and believe it or not, its what prompted me to have my first mammogram at age 18.
4) See your OBGYN yearly.
It may not be the most fun appointment for us ladies, but it sure is important! Schedule it, don’t miss it and when you are checking out, schedule the next one so you don’t forget. If you hate the wait, schedule it for the very first appointment of the day and you will likely be in and out in 45 minutes. Its just worth it. At this appointment, discuss when to start routine mammograms. Some doctors will tell you to wait until you’re 35 or 40. If you have a family history of breast cancer like I do, your doctor will probably have you start early. I get mammograms every other year and will start getting them yearly next year (age 30).
Now these are all things that I do that help me lower my already high risk of developing breast cancer, but there other ways that breast cancer has affected my life. It’s affected my mothering in two big ways.
1) Make memories WITH your kids.
My brother’s and my time with our mom was limited, so I cherish every opportunity I have with my children and I’m thankful I can be with them all day, every day because I know from experience that this time really is fleeting. People often say to us parents, “Oh enjoy your kids because they grow up fast!” But no one ever says, “Enjoy your kids because you won’t be here forever!” But the truth is, one day we will be gone (hopefully when I’m 105 and have rocked on my front porch with my sweet husband for years and years!) and I personally want my kids’ little minds and hearts to be chock-full of good, solid memories of us together as a family – reading, playing dolls and superheros, letting my girls fix my hair or put bright purple eyeshadow on my eyes,going to the movies all together, playing in the rain with our umbrellas, singing Feliz Navidad at the top of our lungs while looking at Christmas lights, eating dinner together as a family, praying and reading our Bible together, etc. I love looking back on the memories I have with my family growing up, as does my husband, and I love that we can now make our own with our family.
2) Write your memories down.
When I got pregnant with my oldest child, I realized that I didn’t have my mom to ask questions to about what she craved when she was pregnant with ME and what her thoughts were as she anticipated MY arrival. I think that was when I missed her the most. I asked my dad and my aunt about those days and was thankful for what they could tell me about her being pregnant, but it isn’t the same as hearing it straight from the one who carried you. So I started journaling my pregnancy in a little moleskin notebook, and I continued for each of my kids – journaling my pregnancies with each and journaling letters to them over the courses of their little lives. I wanted to have these written memories for each of my children and I pray that one day we can look back at these journals together and laugh and cry and remember life when they were little. If they’re even half as sentimental as I am, these journals will be cherished. And I’m comforted to know that if something happens to me, they will always have these journals to turn back to and know that Mommy is still here in their hearts. This is slightly different from a blog or scrapbook, which I also love – these are personal letters to them about things I want them to know – memories I have, sweet moments I’ll always cherish, wisdom I’d like to give them, specific prayers for their future and a little advice. It takes time, but I don’t regret the time I’ve spent writing to them.
Don’t get me wrong – I have plenty of wonderful memories of my mom from when my little memory began around age 3-4 to when she passed away – and I am so unbelievably fortunate to have an amazing Mom, Robin who is my “step mom”, but who I have called Mom since my parents were married and who raised me, made school posters with me, made my favorite birthday breakfast every year until I moved out, moved me into my college apartment, helped me plan my wedding and stayed with me after our three precious babies were born. Knowing my history with breast cancer, my Mom was also always very proactive in matters concerning me and breast health growing up – taking me to my first OB appointment and making sure the doctor was aware of my history, taking me in when I found my first fibrocystic lump (which was just that – fibrocystic and nothing to worry about thankfully) and taking me to my first mammogram. It really is a family and friends effort to encourage us all to stay on top of our breast health. Its something we all take for granted until we’re faced with the reality of it.
So I would encourage you to re-read the above 4 items to implement in your life, call your doctor and schedule your annual appointment for sometime during the next 12 months and find a family member or friend to hold accountable year after year. You just may save a life.
Visit: www.nationalbreastcancerfoundation.org for more information.