By: Marlana Ward
October brings to mind the colors of fall. In addition to the brilliant red, orange, and yellow leaves that decorate the trees, pink ribbons also begin to appear as people around the country recognize October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Fund raisers, memorial dinners and walks, and sharing of experiences fill the month with opportunities to be a part of helping generations of women to come.
Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer found in the United States. According to the government statistics for 2014 at cdc.gov: “236,968 women and 2,141 men in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer.” The website offers these additional statistics: “Not counting some kinds of skin cancer, breast cancer in the United States is: The most common cancer in women, no matter your race or ethnicity; The most common cause of death from cancer among Hispanic women; The second most common cause of death from cancer among white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native women.”
October is a time for survivors and families of loved ones who may have passed on due to breast cancer to come together in an effort to bring more awareness and accessibility of early detection and treatment. For decades, efforts have been made to insure that women across the country have the knowledge and ability to give them the best possible chance of beating breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month started in 1985 as a partnership between the American Cancer Society and Imperial Chemical Industires. Imperial Chemical Industries is now known as AstraZeneca, a major pharmaceutical company leading the way in producing breast cancer treatments. The two organizations sought a way to bring awareness to the importance of early detection in the successful treatment of breast cancer.
Early detection of breast cancer is done through mammograms. Mammograms are x-rays performed using two plastic plates to allow doctors the ability to better exam the breasts. While some women can be apprehensive about having a mammogram for the first time, it remains the best weapon available for fighting breast cancer early. The CDC reports that in 2015, 63.5% of American women over 40 had received mammograms within the past two years as recommended by breast cancer organizations and government health-care agencies.
Cancer.gov lists the following as risk factors for increased likelihood of breast cancer:
A personal history of breast cancer or benign (noncancer) breast disease
Inherited risk of breast cancer
Exposure of breast tissue to estrogen made in the body
Taking hormone therapy for symptoms of menopause
Radiation therapy to the breast or chest
While some of the causes occur naturally and are unavoidable, women are encouraged to be proactive and take steps to lessen the risk factors they can change. By exercising regularly and ending tobacco use, cancer risks have been found to lower.
In an effort to make certain that all women have access to mammograms the government put into place legislation which requires some health insurance companies to cover one mammogram every two years as preventative maintenance just as yearly physicals and check-ups are covered. According to the CDC website: “Insurance plans governed by the federal Affordable Care Act must cover screening mammography as a preventive benefit every 1–2 years for women age 40 and over without requiring copayments, coinsurance, or deductibles. In addition, many states require that Medicaid and public employee health plans cover screening mammography. Women should contact their mammography facility or health insurance company for confirmation of the cost and coverage.”
In the Johnson County Community, breast cancer has touched a majority of lives in one way or another. Whether through a family member, co-worker, or dear friend, everyone has experienced the worry and pain that a breast cancer diagnosis can cause. Being in a community such as Johnson County though, there are organizations and individuals who seek out ways to be a blessing and helping hand as families make the journey through cancer diagnosis and treatment.
One such group is the Johnson County Cancer Support Group. The group was founded in 1998 with the purpose to assist patients and families experiencing cancer. “The original members became aware that emotional and spiritual support did not address the total needs of the group. It soon became necessary to extend financial assistance to cancer patients throughout Johnson County. As efforts of the Cancer Support Group became known, United Way, individual donations, memorial gifts, churches, businesses and many other organizations have provided funds to continue this endeavor,” support group representatives Bobbie Smith and Flo Bellamy share.
The Johnson County Cancer Support Group’s work is always needed as new patients come to the attention of the group each week. “We see three to four new patients per week with most of the diagnosis being lung and breast cancers,” stated Bellamy.
The local group is different from other organizations in that all funds given to the group are used to help Johnson County citizens only so it allows community members to directly benefit their friends and neighbors throughout these difficult times. “All of the money we receive is used to help Johnson County Cancer patients and their families. We have no operations cost,” Smith and Bellamy expressed.
When it comes to sharing what she has learned through her personal experience helping others within the group, Bellamy shares the following advice, “I as a lay person am trying to help my neighbors and encourage everyone to get screenings done and know your body. Early detection is one of the best resources we have and please stop smoking!”
Anyone needing more information about breast cancer can find valuable resources at nationalbreastcancer.org, cdc.gov/cancer/breast, as well as cancer.gov. For local community members looking for guidance and support, the Johnson County Cancer Support Group can be reached by calling Flo Bellamy 423-727-2942 or 423-727-9558.