Of the 14 visitors and staff at the Health Department’s Lunch and Learn on breast cancer awareness, statistics say one in every eight of the women there would be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
Wednesday, Amanda Johnson — the public health educator at Jackson-Madison County Regional Health Department — pulled down her scarf, which visualized that statistic.
“It’s a way I get to educate,” she said.
- Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death. It’s the second most common cancer with 15 types.
- People need to know what healthy breast and body parts look like because without knowing what it’s like healthy, there’s no way to tell otherwise, Johnson repeated.
- When doing breast self-examination, looking at and feeling one’s own breasts for changes, check the underarms as well.
- Clinical breast exams, performed by a health care professional to check for lumps and changes, is the “gold standard,” Johnson said.
- Mammograms, x-rays of the breast, can detect cancer in early stages, even before a lump is felt.
- There is a Tennessee Breast and Cervical Screening Program that offers free screenings to those eligible.
- Risk factors of breast cancer include: increase in age, family history, having first menstrual cycle before age 12, starting menopause after age 55, having no children or giving birth to the first child after 30, obesity, alcohol intake and the predisposition of certain ethnic groups.
“Cancer doesn’t discriminate,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t affect one type of person.”
‘It’s personal to me.’
For Johnson, breast cancer — and the importance of early diagnosis — are personal.
There had never been cancer in her family, yet her aunt was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer last year.
“She wasn’t doing her exams until it got too far,” Johnson said, describing how the cancer “ate through her breast” and spread to her spine and brain. “We are living day-to-day at this point.”
Before her aunt was diagnosed, she neglected her health, taking care of her husband, Johnson said.
“The passion for me is: she’s a very educated woman, and she has this,” Johnson said. “And I don’t want people to end up where she is. Education — just to get out there and talk about it.”
For many of the attendants, it was personal too.
‘Never thought it’d happen to me’
Rosaland Rogers’ grandmother had breast cancer but lived to be 98-years old after having lumps on both sides and breast removal before the cancer moved to other organs of her body.
“It was a lifelong fight for her, and she never stopped fighting,” Rogers said. “It’s not a death sentence; you can live through this.”
Rogers’ sister survived Stage 4 cancer.
Then, Rogers found a benign lump. She didn’t find it in her self-exams; a nurse practitioner did in a clinical exam.
Because of her grandmother’s, sister’s and her own experience, she said breast cancer awareness is an important cause to her.
“You have to spread this information because everybody thinks ‘It can’t happen to me,’” she said. “I still thought it wouldn’t happen to me even with (what happened to) my sister and my grandmother. Then, when I got a lump, it was a wake up call.”
Of the almost 30 minutes Rogers and others spent learning about breast cancer, statistics say every two minutes a woman was diagnosed and every 12 minutes a woman will have died from breast cancer, Johnson said.
“So, what I want you to do: I want you to be proactive, get informed, spread the word, go to your checkups and do your self breast exams,” Johnson said. “Early diagnosis is the key.”
On Nov. 6 at 12 p.m., the health department will host another Lunch and Learn on diabetes. To RSVP, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 731-927-8531.
Lasherica Thornton is The Jackson Sun’s education reporter. Reach her at 731-343-9133 or by email at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @LashericaT
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