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Breast Cancer Survivors Teach Life Lessons

Posted by NancyWilliams on January 5, 2011

October welcomes cooler temperatures, fall leaves with their vibrant golds, reds and oranges along with community harvest celebrations. It also brings an important focus – one that touches the lives of friends, families, perhaps even ourselves. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Throughout the year, cancer survivors courageously battle this disease as people across the country commit their time, talents and energy to research and to supporting survivors and their families. These efforts all come sharply into view during this month.

The American Cancer Society’s Facts & Figures for 2005-2006 identifies the impact breast cancer has on the lives of women (and men) in the United States as it reports the following:

“Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, except for nonmelanoma skin cancers. The chance of developing invasive breast cancer at some time in a woman’s life is about 1 in 8 (13% of women). It is estimated that in 2006 about 212,920 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among women in the United States. At this time, there are slightly over 2 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.

“In addition to invasive breast cancer, carcinoma in situ (CIS) will account for about 61,980 new cases in 2006. CIS is noninvasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer. Breast cancer also occurs in men. An estimated 1,720 cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men in 2006. Breast cancer incidence rates showed a rapid increase in the 1980s, although the rate of increase slowed in the 1990s, compared to the 1980s. In the years from 2001 to 2003, incidence rates decreased.

“Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer. The chance that breast cancer will be responsible for a woman’s death is about 1 in 33 (3%). In 2006, about 40,970 women and 460 men will die from breast cancer in the United States. Death rates from breast cancer continue to decline, with larger decreases in women younger than 50. These decreases are believed to be the result of earlier detection through screening and increased awareness, as well as improved treatment.”

The report also identifies the relative survival rates for women diagnosed with breast cancer: 88% @ 5 yrs after diagnosis, 80% after 10 yrs, 71% after 15 yrs and 63% after 20 yrs.

Spend time with friends, co-workers and family members who are breast cancer survivors and you’ll find powerful examples of courage in the face of fear, strength overcoming weakness, determination that perseveres, trust that endures. The path they travel is well worn. While medical research works diligently to find better treatments, preventative measures and a cure, unfortunately many travelers find themselves on the same journey. Yet the story of each survivor is unique. The battles they fight physically and emotionally, the experiences they encounter and lessons they learn all weave together, creating a powerful story – of loss, of love, of hope.

Cancer has made its presence known to me through friends and family members – most recently, my new daughter-in-law, Andrea. While she battled a different form of this disease, her story is similar to those I’ve heard from many survivors, including those who confront breast cancer:

“I am training to participate in an endurance event next month in Austin, Texas as a member of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training. I’m excited to run the race in my new hometown and have my husband Aaron there to cheer me on! Cancer has touched everyone’s lives in one way or another and the research that organizations like Team in Training do is so important.

I was diagnosed with cancer in November 2005, two weeks before Aaron and I were married. It was beyond shocking. Anyone who has been through or seen his or her family go through this experience knows how life altering it can be. I had no symptoms, no clues that anything could be wrong with my health, but that just serves as a reminder that cancer doesn’t discriminate against age, race, health, education or finances. I was blessed to be surrounded by a great doctor, supportive friends and family, and my amazing husband to stand by me during that time. I underwent surgery to remove the cancerous cells and went to my first follow up to find that the bad cells are gone and I am CANCER-FREE! I realize every day how lucky I am to have had the care my doctor gave me. Her perseverance in chasing down those cancerous cells is why I am still able to have a family someday.

Two days after I found out I was okay, I signed up for Team in Training, so I could give back and play a role in finding a cure for cancer. It’s my goal to help others dealing with the effects of cancer and to aid research to help prevent cancer from taking more lives.

“While working at Texas Oncology, a major facility in Austin that treats patients with all types of cancers, I’ve seen the amazing strength these patients possess as they go through chemo, radiation, and diagnostic testing to monitor their health. Their courage is an inspiration to me. I’m hoping to bring some hope and a smile into their lives.”

Perhaps you can relate to Andrea’s story – as a cancer survivor yourself or as one who stands on the sidelines offering support. I treasure the precious gift of time spent with cancer survivors who have touched my life. While their battles with this disease have been unique in their onset, treatment and outcome, they’ve shared some common experiences along their journeys. Together, we’ve laughed. We’ve cried. We’ve complained. We’ve celebrated. We’ve dreamed. We continue to hope. We continue to pray. They have been the teachers while I have humbly been their student. They have poured out generously from the well of their experiences as I’ve sat at their feet, soaking up priceless life lessons. Listen with your mind and your heart to wisdom they’ve shared – insights that perhaps you’ve heard before, yet worthy of considering again.

* Life is not always fair.

* Fighting cancer is hard work.

* You don’t always have a choice about what comes into your life but you do have a choice about how you will respond and the attitude you will choose to have as you move through the experience.

* Planning for the future is important, but the reality is this: you have the certainty of only this present moment. How will you make it count?

* Don’t take anything for granted.

* It’s important to take charge of your life and your health. Understand how your body functions and then make healthy lifestyle choices. When in doubt, ask, and keep on asking until you understand.

* Some of the most beautiful women you will meet are bald.

* Don’t save the good china just for company.

* The journey of life takes unexpected twists and turns. While each of us is responsible for how we travel along that path, we don’t have to make the trip alone. Friends and family are waiting to come along side, offering encouragement, assistance and companionship.

* Laughter is great medicine.

* Encouragement is a priceless gift.

* The commitment to take “one day at a time” isn’t just for twelve-step groups.

* We all have much to teach each other, and much to learn. Take time to share your life lessons with those around you, and listen to their stories – with your mind and with your heart.

* Prayer is powerful, not just for the one with the need being voiced, but also for the one offering the prayer.

* When you think you can’t take another step, stop and rest. Then take a deep breath and dig into the center of your soul to find strength and courage from the Lord for the next step. His grace is truly amazing and His mercies, never failing.

The focus this month is on awareness. So, let’s be aware. Aware of ourselves – our health and our needs. Let’s also be aware of those around us who courageously fight a battle with cancer. Some survivors need our support as they wage war on this disease. We must be there to listen, pray, help with daily needs and be present for families and caregivers who face their own unique challenges. We can also be there to celebrate with survivors who claim victory in their battle and remember those whose lives on earth have come to a close.

.The opportunities are ours to foster hope, fuel inspiration and help turn possibilities into successful realities. We have made great strides, yet there is still far to go. Let’s keep walking. Let’s keep running. Let’s keep giving. Let’s keep working. Let’s keep praying. Let’s keep hope alive … this month, and every month.

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