October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and many of us aren’t cognizant of the fact that it is much more than just an excuse to buy a ‘Save the Ta-Ta’s’ t-shirt or get pink highlights in our hair. It is a month to celebrate those that have both bravely faced the battle against breast cancer and won and those that have bravely faced the battle against breast cancer and lost.
As a pre-teen and teenager, I would get temporary pink hair color or pink extensions put in and think, “Hey, I’m really doing something here, I’m helping raise awareness and they donate money to the Susan G. Komen Foundation”. As a young adult, I learned that I didn’t know shit about breast cancer. When I was in my early 20’s I worked as a radiology clerk at Freeman in Neosho. There, not only did I work with a lady who was a breast cancer survivor, but I also worked alongside a mammography tech. Janet and Sherry introduced me to a whole new world of knowledge when it came to breast health. They talked about everything from self checks to the importance of genetic testing and keeping your yearly mammogram appointments. I learned that when you are preparing for a mammo, not to wear any deodorant or powder; if you have implants let your tech know because an implant can decrease how much tissue can be seen when the images are taken. That’s also when I learned that even though it isn’t as common, men can get breast cancer too.
Fast forward seventeen years later and I am still in the healthcare profession, which I love. There is something new to learn everyday. While working in healthcare gives you very useful knowledge on some subjects, it doesn’t always prepare you for when friends and family get a diagnosis that will change their lives forever.
I met Amanda back in the Kage days. For anybody who doesn’t know what that was, it was an all ages club in Joplin on Main Street back in the day. We were both in our late teens and were out having fun and living it up with our friends. Cassia I met because I was engaged to her brother. We hit it off right away and became quick friends. In fact, we still joke around that we kept each other after my divorce.
These two women have been through Hell and back. While I wanted this article to be informative, I wanted to try and keep the questions to a minimum because these women are trying to heal. I know that what they have been through has made them who they are now, but it doesn’t mean that they have to relive all of the frightening events that they went through. I narrowed it down to four questions, and I asked each the same thing. Here is what they said:
1. What is the one thing you wish you knew before treatment?
Amanda: I wish that I had been told how bad some people feel while going through chemotherapy and I wish I would have been warned what my body would feel like years later after treatments.
Cassia: I wish the medical team would have been more honest, I felt like they sugar coated things. They didn’t let me know how much pain I would really have.
2. What was your biggest self discovery or revelation after you were diagnosed?
Amanda: To pay close attention to your body.
Cassia: When faced with your own mortality, you realize how precious life is. I know, it sounds cliche. It makes you stop and take stock in what really matters, you really find what your priorities in life are.
3. What was the most difficult part of your journey and how did you overcome it?
Amanda: I was so sick after my chemotherapy treatments. I’m so thankful I had my fiance’s Mom, my Mom and my best friend Kristen to help me out with my kids on my worst days.
Cassia: It was all hard. I can’t pinpoint one part that was easy. The day I finished treatment, I just walked out. They wanted to make a big deal about it, have a party and my family there, have me ring the bell and I just left. I wanted to leave it behind. Also, worrying about your kids-what happens if I am gone? Wondering how they are coping.
4. What advice would you give on how to best support a loved one going through breast cancer?
Amanda: Just be there for them. Offer to help them, go to treatments/doctors appointments with them. A great support system really goes a long way and can truly help the individual throughout their journey.
Cassia: Have patience. Have patience for the whole process. There will be rough days and you will feel like you can’t do it. Just be patient, the rough days will pass.
Hopefully these women’s words not only inform, but inspire as well. I was able to gather the following information and I hope that it helps anybody that needs it.
Whit Sanders, the Executive Director of Cancer Services at Mercy Hospital Joplin said that “breast cancer will affect 1 in 8 women in their lifetime.” Many women put off health screenings, including mammograms. Mercy offers 3D mammography and digital mammography. For women who have dense breast tissue, Joplin offers automated breast ultrasounds which is an additional screening procedure for people with dense breast tissue thich has been shown to be a risk factor for developing breast cancer. Mercy offers financial assistance as well. The Mercy Health Foundation has a mammogram fund to assist people who are underinsured or uninsured to get screening and diagnostic mammos. In partnership with Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks, Mercy offers four FREE screening mammogram events per year for underinsured and uninsured women. The next one will be December 16th at the Mercy Breast Center from 3-6pm. (Be sure to bring your photo ID) Mercy also works with
Access Family Care and Show Me Healthy Women to provide state funded screening mammograms.
You can go into Planned Parenthood and get set up for a well woman exam where the provider will do a breast exam along with a Pap smear. They have a referral program for women who need mammograms.
Freeman has the Women’s Pavilion in Joplin. From what I understand, you do need an order from your primary provider to go there. I do know that they have patient assistance forms that you can fill out as well if you are uninsured or underinsured. They also have the Pink Door Boutique which offers cancer and postmastectomy support products such as prostheses, wigs, informative books, hard to fit and large size bras along with many other boutique items such as clothing and jewelry.
Keep your yearly wellness visits. If at any time you feel any lumps, bumps, dimpling, ripples or notice any nipple discharge or that your nipples are starting to invert make an appointment, don’t wait. It’s your health and it’s important. Remember, big or small, we want to save them all.