October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There are multiple campaigns that you will encounter, ranging from the pink pizza boxes at Hungry Howie’s to survivor walks that benefit the American Cancer Society. However, none of this can teach someone what it is truly like to suffer from breast cancer.
People who are currently dealing with this condition have to battle against not only the disease itself, but also a long list of misinformation. Whether you or a loved one are afflicted with breast cancer, it is important to surround yourself with a support system and help shed some light on the reality of this medical condition. You can also help keep other people safe by dispelling myths about what causes breast cancer.
True FAQs About People with Breast Cancer
1. Support Goes a Long Way
The harsh truth about watching someone suffer from breast cancer is that it is often painful and can even be scary. Most people are not very good at finding themselves faced with their own mortality, and nothing will do that faster than holding the hand of a loved one while she or he receives chemotherapy for breast cancer. I have experienced this firsthand, and I want all of you to know how important it is for each cancer patient’s support system to be aware of exactly how necessary they are.
Keep in mind that being emotional, scared, or nervous is natural, but resisting the impulse to run away will provide your loved one with a critical support system that will make it easier for them to focus on getting better. Additionally, be prepared to deal with some unpleasant comments from the patient. After all, they are scared and in pain, and they will not always be able to stay in good spirits or to make socially acceptable statements at all times.
2. It Takes At Least Five Years to Get the All Clear
Even if breast cancer goes into remission after a few months of treatment, most doctors will not give a patient a cancer-free diagnosis until at least five years have passed. This is the primary reason that websites offer mortality statistics in five-year increments. In other words, an individual with this condition will need regular checkups and treatments for an extended period of time. This process is very tiring, and it will have an impact on other aspects of the patient’s life. Never assume that everything is back to 100 percent because remission happens, but always celebrate every victory to help boost the patient’s morale.
3. Deodorant is Not at Fault
There are numerous myths online that feed on people’s biggest fears. One of these false assertions is that the type of antiperspirant or deodorant that someone uses can increase their risk of developing breast cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, there has not been any conclusive evidence found yet that links your choice of deodorant or antiperspirant to any type of cancer. Therefore, if you have cancer, it is important not to let yourself dwell on “what ifs” about this topic.
Individuals who are supporting a cancer patient should steer clear of discussing false information. It is also necessary to avoid shaming people, regardless of whether or not they regularly partook in something that is actually a known risk factor. After all, shaming will not change anything, and supporters need to help patients focus on positive things.
Additional Myths to Dispel
1. There is No Such Thing as Too Much Breast Cancer Awareness
Several studies have proven that Breast Cancer Awareness Month has greatly increased awareness, and this has helped reduce fatalities. However, it is vital to never assume that everyone is aware of what you or a loved one is going through. The simple fact is that awareness saves lives, and you need to take every opportunity to reach out to people about everything from breast cancer screenings to fundraisers. Fortunately, social media makes this easier than ever. You can also incorporate apps such as Challenged to connect with a wider list of people. As an added bonus, challenging people to make a donation or to spread awareness will make it easier to monitor how responsive everyone is to your outreach efforts.
2. The BRCA Gene is Not a Death Sentence
Angelina Jolie made a media splash when she spoke out about the BRCA 1 gene and her decision to have a preventative double mastectomy. This combined with Hollywood portrayals of the BRCA gene, including “90210” character Silver’s struggle to deal with a positive diagnosis, has rightfully called attention to the increased risk that this gene causes. It is important to note, though, that not everyone who tests positive for BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 is going to end up contracting breast cancer.
With this in mind, actress Kristina Klebe recently published her eye-opening account of making the choice not to have her breasts removed, regardless of the fact that she is BRCA 2 positive. The good news for Klebe and other people with one of the BRCA genes is that their risk of developing breast cancer goes down every year. In other words, a BRCA gene diagnosis is not a death sentence, but people with this gene do need to be much more vigilant about receiving regular cancer screenings. Please note that BRCA gene patients who do develop breast cancer will have to fight against bigger odds, and this will require more support.
3. Breast Cancer Doesn’t Just Affect Women
This myth is extremely prevalent, and it may have been inadvertently caused by awareness campaigns placing such a huge emphasis on women and their breasts. Although women are much more likely to develop breast cancer, 2,190 men are diagnosed with the disease every year. The lack of awareness and potential shame factor gets in the way of men being properly treated, which gives them a much higher risk of passing away from breast cancer. To help avoid this tragedy in your life, encourage every man you know to give himself regular breast self-examinations. A non-judgmental support system is also vital for men with breast cancer.
Combining the previously listed true FAQs with the truth behind some of the most prevalent myths will give you a much better understanding of what it means to be a current, former or potentially future breast cancer patient. People with the BRCA gene spend a lot of time receiving medical care, so they are impacted by cancer on a regular basis even if they have not actually developed it. Raising more awareness can help women and men discover if they have cancer, and early detection is the best way to survive.
In the meantime, those of you who are fortunate enough to have avoided breast cancer so far can further decrease your risk by utilizing professional advice such as performing a monthly self-exam, reducing your alcohol consumption and exercising regularly. People who have survived breast cancer can make a difference by speaking out about their experience and volunteering to be part of the support system for someone who is currently going through treatment.
Featured photo credit: Dixie Belle Cupcake Cafe via flic.kr