October awareness

Published October 13, 2022

By Lib Campbell

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Katie Couric made the decision to lead a charge for awareness in revealing her journey with breast cancer that began last summer. Her story takes you through diagnosis, treatment and all the things that happen with a breast cancer diagnosis. If you remember, her husband died with cancer. She obviously felt it important to elevate awareness and concern for any of us who are at risk. I think it is important too, for I have also lived that journey over the last year.

On December 23 of 2021, I was on the phone with a young colleague. I had just had a routine mammogram. I expected a letter saying that I was good to go until next year. But I saw the film in the room. I saw the array of calcifications, and I knew something was different.

Like Katie Couric, I have dense breast tissue. My science self makes me wonder if this is because I did not breast feed my babies. My OBGYN for years used to call me “Lumpy Libby,” and he was right. I have been pretty diligent in getting yearly mammograms for that reason. There were two surgical biopsies for suspicious calcifications in the late 1990s. I think I always thought the other shoe would drop. It finally did.

They told me not to open the report that came on MyChart, but I couldn’t resist. Invasive Ductile Carcinoma. I told my friend on the phone, “That sounds like cancer to me.” Why, yes it does. So shortly before Christmas, my journey into the world of cancer began. More testing. Planting radioactive seeds. Surgery in February. Radiation until May 5, 2022. Cinco de Mayo in the treatment room with glitter, leis and intermittent music was a celebration to remember.

The experience of cancer and all that surrounds it is a roller coaster of emotion to begin with. Then the routine of driving to the UNC Rex Cancer Center became pretty normal. I liked the people there. The guys doing valet service, the women on the front desk. Sandy in the radiation treatment lobby always had flowers and a big smile. Martha, Tim and the others in the treatment room were friendly and competent. I always felt at ease.

It’s funny how many people coming and going in the center were either former neighbors or former co-workers. There is a real sisterhood among the patients who share the same routines of treatment. I found blessing in it all.

Both of my oncologists are women, helpful, always compassionate, and they are smart! Having excellent medical teams right across town is a blessing. Across North Carolina, there are good medical facilities offering cancer care. Breast cancer research is yielding more targeted, less invasive treatment options. Great strides are being made to prolong life and lessen side effects and unintended consequences of various treatments.

Shortly after my diagnosis, we were at Reynolds Coliseum for a women’s basketball game. It was Kay Yow Night. Survivors walked onto the court at halftime. One-year survivors. Two-year survivors on up to ten years and beyond survivors. They were raising awareness and money for the Kay Yow Cancer Research Foundation. I leaned over to my friend and told her that I had survived for one week. I am still surviving, thriving. I will likely always be a little nervous at mammogram time. But I will not miss a mammogram. I encourage you not to miss one either.

In North Carolina there are 6,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer every year. An average of 1,000 women will die every year from breast cancer. One in eight women has a risk for breast cancer. Some men have that risk too. Be aware.

Very few people know about the journey I have had with breast cancer. I wanted to hold it close and deal with it without gnashing of teeth and rehashing of story. Having lived this experience, my compassion for all who deal with cancer has increased. I know what it’s like now.

I give thanks for good insurance, the availability of good medical facilities, the blessing of competent and well-trained doctors and technicians. I also give great thanks for my friends who have gone through this. Their tips, like Jean’s Cream, their encouragement and advice were precious. And for those who don’t have insurance, county health services can help locate places for anybody to get a mammogram. I stand with Katie Couric, and all the many who have walked this path, in encouraging you to get a mammogram yearly. Early detection improves outcomes. Until this disease is eradicated, we all have a part to do in our own health watch.

If you are going through this now, you have my email. I will walk with you.

Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist Pastor, retreat leader and columnist who blogs at www.avirtualchurch.com. You may contact her at libcam05@gmail.com