Disclosure: This is a sponsored post in partnership with Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program. As always, all opinions are my own.
The year I turned 40, I scheduled my first mammogram. I’m not the type that goes to the doctor for regular checkups or when I’m sick. I can go years without a physical or seeing my GYN. But I knew the importance of scheduling my first mammogram.
The American Cancer Society suggests that most women can put off annual mammograms until turning 45.
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Latinas, and at younger ages than in non-Hispanic women. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Women’s Health, Latinas may have lower breast cancer rates than white women, but they’re more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage, when the cancer is more advanced and harder to treat. Even when diagnosed early, Latinas are “more likely to have tumors that are larger and harder to treat than white women.”
I discussed the options with my doctor and my OB-GYN. While there isn’t a history of breast cancer in my family, I decided that I didn’t want to wait until I turned 45.
Having an 11-year-old son with autism, I’ve learned the importance of self-care.
How Mothers & Daughters Can Reduce Breast Cancer Risk
Scientists, physicians, and community partners in the Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program (BCERP), which is supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), study the effects of environmental exposures on breast cancer risk later in life. They created a mother-daughter toolkit (http://bit.ly/BCERPtoolkit) mothers can use to talk to daughters about steps to take together to reduce risk.
My Friend Della
Della was the first woman I knew with breast cancer. She was only 38-years-old when she lost the battle to breast cancer. She had a daughter. A mother. Family. Friends. So many friends. I will never forget the last time I saw her.
“Remember the picture of us on the field?” Della asked. “I love that picture. It’s one of my favorites.”
I remembered. It was taken twenty years earlier, on the last day of senior year. I wore a blue and white floral shirt, she proudly wore our senior class t-shirt, my arm around her shoulder, both of us smiling into the camera, our yearbooks in our laps.
We were just girls then, with bright eyes, big smiles and bigger dreams. We believed we had our whole lives ahead us. It was a time without boundaries or regrets. Before responsibility, motherhood, disability and sickness.
We were girls who didn’t know the years between then and now would go so fast. We didn’t see ourselves, twenty years later, sitting in a hospice room on a Saturday afternoon.
“It’s one of my favorites too,” I said.
She smiled. “I looked healthy.”
I said nothing, not wanting to agree but we both knew Della was right. I looked away ashamed that I put off seeing her for weeks. But I was scared. I had never visited anyone at a hospice before. I hadn’t seen Della in a little more than a year. But I knew the breast cancer spread to her brain. And I knew that Della had little time left.
A friend had prepared me for Della’s condition. Still it was a shock seeing someone so young, so beautiful look so frail. Her hair was still the same shade of black but it was short and thin. Her hands shook as she held her plastic cup. She moved slowly and couldn’t get up from her bed without support. Her legs were swollen, heavy and hard.
But Della and I talked as if no time had passed and laughed like when we were girls. I admired her nails; they were filed oval and painted pink.
Della’s physical therapist came in and he suggested I help. I sat by Della’s side, held her hand while I kept the other on her back for support. I counted with Della as she kicked up her leg. Her right leg first, then her left – ten times each. I knew by the way she shut her eyes and squeezed my hand that each kick was unbearably painful. I cheered her on with each kick, telling her to take her time yet encouraging her to keep going. I was in awe of her determination to keep kicking. When we were girls – Della was always the feisty one, the friend you could depend on to have your back.
The physical therapist asked Della to close her eyes, take a deep breath and exhale. “Do this ten times. This will help you relax and fall asleep when you’re having trouble,” he said.
After a few breaths, Della opened her eyes and said, “I feel so much better. People don’t take time to really breathe.”
That’s when I closed my eyes and breathed with her. The two of us side by side, holding hands, eyes closed and breathing together. Even though my heart was heavy, I felt better, lighter, more relaxed. I couldn’t remember the last time I allowed myself to just breathe.
When her physical therapy session was over, Della thanked him and said, “See you next week.”
Eventually the time came for me to go. We kissed and hugged and held hands, neither of us ready to really let go. And when I told her I’d see her the next day, she smiled the same smile as when we were girls.
The Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program has created a survey to help with the important work the researchers are doing. It’s only a few minutes and I encourage you all to complete it: https://gmuchss.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_7TEuYTJvnIKzprv