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Affordable Health Care and breast cancer

With all the political posturing over new healthcare laws, consumers may be easily confused as to what benefits they receive. The new laws offer good news for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Mammogram = lifesaver

ABC reporter Amy Robach, 40, took the assignment a bit reluctantly: have a mammogram as part of a Good Morning, America segment during October’s breast cancer awareness effort.

When the results came back positive for cancer, she was stunned – and shared her reaction on GMA. Amy will undergo surgery on Thursday as part of her aggressive treatment plan. She appeared fighting tears as she spoke with her colleagues – her husband at her side – to the viewing audience.

As part of the segment, viewers were told that when one woman has a mammogram and tells others, she influences at least 15 other women to consider that screening procedure.

Nine years ago when a mammogram told me I had breast cancer, I wrote a column for the local paper and it appeared on the wall of a women’s clinic. A friend told me she saw it there. I had no idea my words were posted for other women to read, encouraging them to get a mammogram.

Sharing her screening, its results and her treatment plan, Amy will reach 15 women and millions more. In saving her own life, she is saving countless others. Take heed.

(S-R archive photo: Actress Sarah Chalke gets a mammogram in this scene from "Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy," 2006)

Pink October

The pink ribbons are everywhere: on yogurt containers as well as pro football players' armbands. The message: breast cancer awareness month is here. Pay attention.

My story:  a routine mammogram (get one, please!) detected my stage zero (wildly aggressive cells, no tumor), breast cancer nine years ago. My care was the best because, as a healthcare worker, I knew thee person to go to for immediate treatment.  And I knew where to find support when I needed it most – usually in the dark of night as my family slept. I logged on and found information and comfort on various websites. Pink October feels like an appropriate time to share these life-saving, supportive resources.

FORCE:  (facing our risk of cancer empowered)

FORCE is the only national nonprofit organization devoted to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Our mission includes support, education, advocacy, awareness, and research specific to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Our programs serve anyone with a BRCA mutation or a family history of cancer.”  

While I did not have the genetic predisposition for breast cancer or ovarian cancer,  I found the information on this site extremely helpful. On the message boards I posted my detailed and intimate questions about breast cancer treatment and life after treatment. The women who wrote were profoundly generous - sharing their experiences and offering kindness. Two women sent me gifts and encouraging words. I will never meet them, but I will love them forever. They gave me hope.

A breast cancer site  addresses almost every conceivable topic. Spanish translation is available. Moderators organize the discussion board conversations by topic: stages and types of diagnosis and treatment, day-to-day concerns and recovery, renewal and hope. I posted a question and comments at three in the morning – minutes later a woman in Australia answered. The women who posted comments directed me to my next step: restoring my body with a medical dream team in New Orleans -  my NOLA saints!  Women come from around the world to receive care and healing from these compassionate and skilled physicians.

A breast cancer diagnosis is every woman’s nightmare.  Until medical research arrives at a cure, we will fight to survive this deadly disease. We will continue to tell our stories.   We will fight with courage, knowledge and companionship; we will carry each other through the darkness and celebrate each other’s recovery and renewal until one day - the nightmare is no more.  

(S-R archive photo: Sunrise, Boise, Idaho)

Breast Cancer Fight Personal For Teen

When Kellogg High School senior Jessica Margason decided to put together a team for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, the fundraising goal of $1,000 seemed daunting. Headed into Sunday’s race in Coeur d’Alene, her team, Infinite Love, has raised about $5,000. No other team has come close to that tally in this year’s North Idaho fundraiser for breast health programs supported by the Komen Foundation. “I didn’t really realize how big it was going to get,” said Margason, who lives in Silverton, Idaho, and plans to become a dental hygienist. Her hard work has caught the attention of Komen’s Idaho affiliate based in Boise. “We’re big fans of hers,” mission manager Jodi Brawley said. “She is kind of a role model for everybody else who’s fundraising. She represents us and she represents the cause really well”/Scott Maben, SR. More here. (Kathy Plonka SR photo: Jessica Margason and her mother, Diana Margason, who is a two-time breast cancer survivor)

Question: Do you know of someone who is a breast cancer survivor?

Angelina speaks out

I have not cared for Angelina – given all that she did to mess with Jennifer Aniston’s marriage to Brad. But today…my heart has softened. Her story of facing her high likelihood of breast cancer – genetic certainty – will offer hope to the women who receive their diagnosis today and tomorrow and next week and…

Women make all kinds of difficult decisions when faced with their own mortality in the middle of motherhood. And death at an early age is not an option when parenting sweet children who need and love you – and worry.

 In the years to come, Angelina will grow stronger in her conviction she made the right choice, her children will grow in their understanding of what she struggled with and how remarkably brave their mom is…and how much she underwent so she could continue to love them and accompany them on their journey through life. She will not be preoccupied with endless mammograms or freaked out with twinges within her breasts, wondering if it is cancer growing menacingly within her. Those twinges will be of love she carries in her heart, life’s joyful adventures, not agonizing over what may be quickly killing her. And today, I identify with an actress I now see as a woman of courage –  the same courage I once needed and found, too.

(S-R archives photo)

The outward sign of cancer

My friend Chris, a woman I have known since we were both girls, was diagnosed with breast cancer in October, and very soon had a double mastectomy and now, she is undergoing rather rigorous chemotherapy.

Her beautiful, thick hair started falling out in clumps on Christmas Day, and the day after Christmas, we went together to her beloved stylist Sherrie to get a buzz cut. It was a quiet day in the salon, and I took cell phone photos of the process, as Chris requested.

The salon became sacred space during the 20 minutes it took to cut and then shave Chris' head, and in that sacred time, as Chris' hair fell to the floor, I saw many of her family members emerge from her face. I saw her handsome older brothers, Dan and Dick, her son Peter, and also her mother Mildred. At some point, Sherrie discovered the cowlicks on the top of Chris' head, which we remembered from her grade-school photos, and which Chris used to take a scissors to as a child to rid her head of them.

We took note of her aristocratic, strong face. Her eyes popped out, clear and firm. Chris' new look emerged. She has a bagful of warm hats, but on this day she kept her head open to the elements. Afterward, we did not cry, as we expected, but we felt almost giddy, and we texted dozens of family members and friends to say: "Look, this is the new Chris."

The texts came back with kudos. Beautiful eyes. Good scalp! Great nose. And at the end of the day, both of us exhausted, the day's events catching up, Chris expressed relief that her hair was no longer coming out in clumps, a grief in every handful. But instead, she now has an outward sign of what is happening to her.

She is undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Her world, her family's world, the world of her friends, is changing with her. It's a huge change. No matter how fluent we get as a culture on the nature of cancer, no matter how hopeful we are about advance treatments and better survival rates, in the middle of chemotherapy, in the darkest days of December, your hair falling out on Christmas Day, you need an outward sign of the hugeness. Chris has it now. I was honored to bear witness.

Shopping: This One’s For the Girls

Life can be cruel. Erin Broughton Hughes and her mother, Claire, are both undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of breast cancer. Erin, a single mother of two young boys, has a heart condition as do both of her sons.

As you can imagine, medical costs and bills are already piling up, so a group of local vintage vendors is putting together a tag sale tomorrow at the Bigelow Gulch Grange, north of Spokane.

Donations have poured in and the organizers have been busy gathering and pricing hundreds of items that will be for sale. In addition to gently used and household goods, toys, furniture, accessories and vintage items, raffle baskets will also be available.

By all accounts, tomorrow is going to be cold. But the sale, spearheaded by Unexpected Necessities' Jennifer Walker, offers a chance to do something that will leave you feeling a warmer and at the same time do some real good.

 

Note: If you are not able to make the sale, please consider making a donation to the Erin Broughton Hughes Benefit Fund. Drop by any Spokane Teachers Credit Union location and ask to donate money to the Erin or send a check to Kim Leighty at 3228 W Alice, Spokane WA 99205. Make the checks out to the "Erin Broughton Hughes Benefit fund."

Details:

Where: Bigelow Gulch Grange, 7001 E. Bigelow Gulch.

When:  Saturday, (Tomorrow) Nov. 10 9am-4pm

 

Breast cancer

Breast cancer …the words still sting – eight years later – when I use them to describe my health history. Some cancer survivors say, “Cancer was a gift.” Ummm, not my idea of a gift. I prefer boarding passes to fun places and homemade cards, cakes and family adventures as gifts. Not illness.

But I do get their message: the lessons learned from the experience remain.

Mostly, I cherish the outpouring of kindness from strangers –women whose posts on the breast cancer  web site   strengthened me and calmed my out-of-control anxiety. Women sent cards, one sent a jewelry pin of women standing together, telling me I was not alone. Mostly, I cherish those 3:00 a.m. messages when I had insomnia and would slip out of bed and log on, posting my questions, grief and fear. Within a few minutes women – often from a time zone where the sun was up – would answer.   I will never know their names, all the details of their breast cancer journeys, but I will love them forever.

A wonderful friend was diagnosed earlier this year with breast cancer, a cousin, too  and this week another woman I know, my age, faces those awful treatment choices.  I want to stay close and offer details of my journey, when asked.  Mostly, I want to be there in their 3:00 a.m. moments of terror or grief or loneliness.

I want to be their gift.

(S-R archives photo: Breast cancer survivors pose for a group photograph behind the INB Performing Arts Center on Sunday, April 17, 2011. )

Top this story!

In our EndNotes column today, we answered a question about why people tell cancer horror stories to people going through cancer treatment. Or why they react in weird ways to cancer news. For instance, when my co-author, Catherine Johnston, confided in a colleague that she was taking several weeks off for cancer treatment, the woman replied, “I have news, too. I’m getting a new job!”

Cathy stood up and left the room.

The column is a good reminder (to me!) to listen better to all stories, especially those involving suffering. It seems like it's helpful to share a similar story (it conveys you know what they are feeling, etc.) but people about 99 percent of the time just want their story listened to.

Komen Reverses PP Decision

After three days of controversy, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast-cancer charity says it is reversing its decision to cut breast-screening grants to Planned Parenthood. "We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women's lives," a Komen statement said. As first reported by The Associated Press on Tuesday, Komen had adopted criteria excluding Planned Parenthood from grants because it was under government investigation, notably a probe launched in Congress at the urging of anti-abortion groups. Komen said Friday it would change the criteria so it wouldn't apply to such investigations/Associated Press. More here. (AP file photo of Nancy Brinker, founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure)

Reaction?

Breast cancer treatment: choices from hell

 On Tuesday, 37-year-old Guiliana Rancic, the host of E!, will undergo a bilateral mastectomy. The young woman has been diagnosed with breast cancer; she told reporters that she does not want to spend the rest of her life  wondering if the cancer has returned in her breasts.

When diagnosed, women often have a choice among various combinations of surgery, radiation and/or chemo, depending on the stage and type of breast cancer. Rancic is choosing to avoid chemo and radiation by opting for the surgery.

Many women, who may be genetically predisposed to breast cancer, face the question of prophylactic mastectomy as a way to prevent the disease from occurring as well as ease the stress of constant monitoring.  FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered) is a nonprofit organization for women whose family history and genetic status puts them at high risk for ovarian cancer and/or breast cancer. Their website offers women - "previvors" and survivors - a chance to access information and each other.

When I faced my own breast cancer treatment choices, I told my husband that I was so frightened by it all, I didn’t know where I would find the courage to do what I needed to do. In a gentle reply he said, "I have lots of courage, you can have some of mine." Guiliana will be able to draw on the courage of all the women who have gone before her, who have made these choices from hell - and are now living healthy, amazing lives. I am happy to offer her my courage, too.

October: The Power of Pink, The Power of Community

Each October I honor my grandmother, a breast cancer survivor, by re-posting this 2006 column.  She was, and will always be, an inspiration and a guiding force in my life. CAM

 

 

The Home Planet: Community potent weapon against breast cancer

Cheryl-Anne Millsap
Staff writer
Oct 30., 2006

 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I’m sure you’ve noticed – next to the orange and black Halloween and harvest decorations – the pink ribbons, pink tools, pink kitchen gadgets, all being sold guaranteeing part of the profit will go to work for a cure for breast cancer.

Thanks to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, pink is the other color of October.

Now pink is the signature color of breast cancer awareness, the color of breast cancer research and, for some, the color of hope and success.

Pink is also the color of community. And that might just be one of the most powerful weapon in the arsenal against breast cancer

When I was a small child I went with my younger sister and infant brother to live with my grandparents. Our young mother was simply unable to care for us.

Two years later, in 1963, my grandmother – a woman who had just turned 50 – found a lump in her breast. After her surgery, the surgeon walked into the waiting room, put his hand on my grandfather’s shoulder and gave him the bad news. It was cancer. And it was very serious. She might not make it.

Both of my grandmother’s breasts were removed and she started her treatment. I don’t really know what was done to fight her cancer, beyond the surgery and radiation treatments, but I know she lost her hair.

During this time my brother, sister and I were aware that our grandmother was ill; I have a vague memory of her being in the hospital, of my grandfather brushing my hair, something my grandmother usually did. I remember the strangeness of finding him in the kitchen cooking hot cereal. I remember her wearing a wig.

We knew she was sick but the seriousness of her illness was never mentioned. You just didn’t talk about that kind of thing. Especially with children.

As soon as she was well enough, my grandfather went back to work and so did she. She went back to keeping house, to cooking all of our meals and caring for three young children. Back to raising a second family.

Although, when we got older, we were told that my grandmother had had breast cancer, the full impact of what she had been through didn’t hit me until much later. Until the pink campaign.

In 1990, at the first Komen National Race for the Cure in Washington, D.C., pink ribbons were worn to signify status as a breast cancer survivor. The little badge took off and became a universal symbol. The simple pink ribbons worn that day have evolved into a potent marketing tool.

Now October has gone pink. I’ll admit that when I see pink kitchen mixers, pink umbrellas and pink vacuum cleaners, each promising to donate a portion of the profits from each sale to breast cancer research, I am vaguely irritated by all the hype. Enough already, I think. I get it.

But then I think about the monumental effort behind the campaign, and the work that has been done because of it, and I think about the world my grandmother lived in and changes that have come about. There’s a lot of power in that pink.

Just 40 years ago, we didn’t talk about cancer. You especially didn’t talk about breast cancer. Women like my grandmother had no choice but to soldier on taking care of homes and families, keeping what they endured to themselves, without the benefit of therapy or counseling. There were no support groups.

My grandmother was a relatively young woman to be raising grandchildren. She didn’t have a large circle of friends. She didn’t go to clubs or meetings. She didn’t meet other mothers for lunch downtown. She didn’t even drive. She was a true stay-at-home caregiver.

She battled cancer and the permanent effects of that battle, with only my grandfather to hold her hand. And she beat the odds. Despite a poor prognosis, she lived 20 years after her surgery before the disease reappeared. But what she didn’t have access to when she was so sick, and what I have to think would have been good medicine, was the support that only other fighters and survivors can offer.

She had sympathy but no empathy. She had no one to go to and complain, or cry, or shake her fist and scream about the pain and unfairness of what had happened to her.

That is a tool that, if today I was to find myself in her place, I would reach for immediately.

The scars after my grandmother’s surgery were disfiguring. But as I get older I wonder about the scars that were hidden. The scars no one ever saw.

There were no stitches or soothing salves for those wounds. She was left to care for them on her own.

The advances in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer; the advances in the search for a cause and a cure since my grandmother’s illness in 1963, have been huge.

Now, there are television commercials and magazine ads urging women to get mammograms and to make a pledge to remind one another to do regular breast self-exams.

Now, if a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer there is a community for her.

The disease is no longer shuttered and closeted. When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer she doesn’t just have the benefit of science and medicine behind her. She has the benefit of a corporate identity; a network of support groups, literature, advocacy and caring. That community is a big advance.

October only lasts 31 days, but the power of pink can last a lifetime.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is a contributing editor at Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Doctor shares cancer wisdom

Our EndNotes column alternates on Tuesdays in the S-R with Dr. Alisa Hideg, a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center. In this week's column, Dr. Hideg tells readers of her breast cancer diagnosis and debuts her bald look - a result of chemotherapy treatment. She promises to tell us more in the weeks ahead.

Hideg's common sense advice and insights into a cancer diagnosis will bring comfort and wisdom.  Eating good, nourishing foods helps one to recover strength and maintain focus. Exercise keeps one's body strong and releases tension and anxiety that make their home in a patient's life.  Asking for what one needs and indulging in simple pleasure bring laughter and fun.

 How do I know that Dr. Hideg's advice is good advice? I am a breast cancer survivor…Seven years ago I spent my summer with a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. I am grateful for amazing docs and faithful friends.

 Alisa, my thoughts and prayers are with you during this journey.

To learn more about breast cancer resources, go to www.breastcancer.org

1000s Race For The Cure

Doves are released during the Survivor Tribute at the 20th annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Orange County on Sunday in Irvine, Calif. Over 25,000 participated in the Newport Beach event. (AP Photo/Orange County Register, Michael Goulding)

The seriousness of the cause is balanced with humor, hope and courage each year at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Coeur d'Alene. And there is always lots of pink. The 12th annual event, held Sunday on the campus of North Idaho College, was no different. Along with the customary pink T-shirts, balloons, ribbons and flowers, there were kids with pink mohawks, toddlers with pink cowboy boots, grandmas with pink sunglasses - even an English mastiff wearing a hot pink tutu. "It's great to see the spirit that's out there," said Tiffany Moe, this year's race chair. "I'm happy we had the turnout we did." The 5K fun run and 1-mile walk, a fundraiser to support breast cancer patients and survivors and breast cancer research, attracted 2,300 registrants this year/Maureen Dolan, CdA Press. More here.

Question: Have you or a loved one suffered from breast cancer?

Idaho ranks last in nation for rate of breast cancer screening

Idaho now has the lowest rate of breast cancer screening of all states plus the District of Columbia, the state Department of Health & Welfare reports, with more than 122,000 Idaho women over age 40 reporting they've not had a mammogram in the previous two years. Only 63.8 percent of Idaho women over 40 reported getting the screening in the past two years; the national average for those 2010 rankings is 76 percent, and the top state, Massachusetts, is at 83.6 percent. Washington state ranks 29th, with 74.6 percent of Washington women 40 and older reporting being screened for breast cancer in the last two years.

“Idaho has consistently ranked at or near the bottom for breast cancer screening,” said Patti Moran, head of the department's cancer program. “We want Idaho women to take note, and if they are 40 or older and haven’t had a mammogram this year, to make an appointment today to get screened. It could save their life.” Cancer has been the leading cause of death for Idaho women since 2008, and breast cancer rates are exceeded only by those for lung cancer. According to the Cancer Data Registry of Idaho, in 2009, 1,100 Idaho women were diagnosed with breast cancer and 185 died.

Early diagnosis of breast cancer, through screenings such as mammograms, vastly increases survival rates. “One out of eight women will get breast cancer during their lives, so early detection is their best protection,” Moran said. Click below for the department's full news release, including tips on screening resources.

‘Raft for the Cure’ on Clark Fork River

CHARITY OUTDOORSROW Adventures will be giving breast cancer research a boost by hosting a one-day benefit raft trip on the Clark Fork River July 31.
 
Proceeds go to the Susan G. Komen breast cancer project in Coeur d’Alene.
 
The event is great for families. Minimum age: 5. Pink will be “in.”
 
Sign up online or call (208) 770-2517. 
 

Chadderdon Faces Cancer Surgery

Update: Rep. Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d'Alene, will miss the first three weeks of the legislative session for cancer surgery, and her daughter, Julie, will fill in for her. “The first three weeks are the rules, which I can follow somewhat on the computer,” Chadderdon said today. She'll go in for surgery at Kootenai Medical Center on Friday, and hopes to come to Boise and pick back up her legislative duties a few weeks later even if she has to undergo chemotherapy; she's already discussed possible arrangements with her doctor. “We'll kind of play it by ear,” she said. “It could be four to five months of chemo. It might not bother me. Some people, they don't get sick or anything”/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Reaction?

Breast Cancer Bracelets Trenday

Hunter High School students show off their breast cancer awareness bracelets outside the school in West Valley City, Friday. As part of a national breast cancer awareness campaign aimed at youth, rubber wrist bands emblazoned with that message have become trendy teen wear. Sales of the brightly colored bracelets raise money for the Keep A Breast Foundation, a California-based nonprofit that funds research and education programs. The group sees the accessories as conversation starters, using language that dispels some of the scariness associated with cancer. (AP Photo/The Salt Lake Tribune, Djamila Grossman)

Fire crews wear pink for breast cancer

Spokane Valley firefighters are taking part in a national emergency responder campaign aimed at supporting breast cancer research. 

Firefighters will wearing pink t-shirts with the Spokane Valley Fire Department logo on Oct. 25 - Oct. 27. Crews ordered 70 extra shirts that were sold to family and friends.

The fire department will donate $5 for each shirt worn to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

“Together we can raise awareness about this devastating disease and make an impact in our community by committing to regular screenings,” Bill Clifford said in a news release.

The Northern Lakes Fire Station in Hayden, Idaho, is selling similar t-shirts.

‘Boobies’ Has Young Vibe

While to the older population the word “boobies” might seem insensitive or disrespectful, the word has a young vibe, making it easy for teens to relate and respond to the intended message. There is nothing wrong with high school students showing support for a cause, especially one that affects so many people. Any principal who believes a wristband with the word “boobies” on it is the worst obscenity issue within their student population is sorely mistaken and a little out of touch, whether they know it or not/Layout3, UI Argonaut. More here.

  • Cutline: Laramie Junior High School ninth-grader Kollin West poses wearing a “I (heart) boobies” bracelet in Laramie, Wyo. School officials objected to the bracelet, which is meant to raise breast cancer awareness, and ordered West to wear it inside-out because they considered the bracelet’s wording inappropriate. (AP Photo/Laramie Boomerang, Andy Carpenean)

Question: If there’s such a disconnect between young and old re: the “I Love Boobies” slogan, is it an effective one for breast cancer awareness?

Breast Cancer: The Power of Pink.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. In 2006 I wrote the following column to honor my grandmother who was born in October and died in the same month 70 years later. This is her story. I’d like to share it again this year:

October 30, 2006

The Home Planet: Community potent weapon against breast cancer

 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I’m sure you’ve noticed – next to the orange and black Halloween and harvest decorations – the pink ribbons, pink tools, pink kitchen gadgets, all being sold guaranteeing part of the profit will go to work for a cure for breast cancer.

Thanks to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, pink is the other color of October.

Now pink is the signature color of breast cancer awareness, the color of breast cancer research and, for some, the color of hope and success.

Pink is also the color of community. And that might just be one of the most powerful weapon in the arsenal against breast cancer

When I was a small child I went with my younger sister and infant brother to live with my grandparents. Our young mother was simply unable to care for us.

Two years later, in 1963, my grandmother – a woman who had just turned 50 – found a lump in her breast. After her surgery, the surgeon walked into the waiting room, put his hand on my grandfather’s shoulder and gave him the bad news. It was cancer. And it was very serious. She might not make it.

Both of my grandmother’s breasts were removed and she started her treatment. I don’t really know what was done to fight her cancer, beyond the surgery and radiation treatments, but I know she lost her hair.

During this time my brother, sister and I were aware that our grandmother was ill; I have a vague memory of her being in the hospital, of my grandfather brushing my hair, something my grandmother usually did. I remember the strangeness of finding him in the kitchen cooking hot cereal. I remember her wearing a wig.

We knew she was sick but the seriousness of her illness was never mentioned. You just didn’t talk about that kind of thing. Especially with children.

As soon as she was well enough, my grandfather went back to work and so did she. She went back to keeping house, to cooking all of our meals and caring for three young children. Back to raising a second family.

Although, when we got older, we were told that my grandmother had had breast cancer, the full impact of what she had been through didn’t hit me until much later. Until the pink campaign.

In 1990, at the first Komen National Race for the Cure in Washington, D.C., pink ribbons were worn to signify status as a breast cancer survivor. The little badge took off and became a universal symbol. The simple pink ribbons worn that day have evolved into a potent marketing tool.

Now October has gone pink. I’ll admit that when I see pink kitchen mixers, pink umbrellas and pink vacuum cleaners, each promising to donate a portion of the profits from each sale to breast cancer research, I am vaguely irritated by all the hype. Enough already, I think. I get it.

But then I think about the monumental effort behind the campaign, and the work that has been done because of it, and I think about the world my grandmother lived in and changes that have come about. There’s a lot of power in that pink.

Just 40 years ago, we didn’t talk about cancer. You especially didn’t talk about breast cancer. Women like my grandmother had no choice but to soldier on taking care of homes and families, keeping what they endured to themselves, without the benefit of therapy or counseling. There were no support groups.

My grandmother was a relatively young woman to be raising grandchildren. She didn’t have a large circle of friends. She didn’t go to clubs or meetings. She didn’t meet other mothers for lunch downtown. She didn’t even drive. She was a true stay-at-home caregiver.

She battled cancer and the permanent effects of that battle, with only my grandfather to hold her hand. And she beat the odds. Despite a poor prognosis, she lived 20 years after her surgery before the disease reappeared. But what she didn’t have access to when she was so sick, and what I have to think would have been good medicine, was the support that only other fighters and survivors can offer.

She had sympathy but no empathy. She had no one to go to and complain, or cry, or shake her fist and scream about the pain and unfairness of what had happened to her.

That is a tool that, if today I was to find myself in her place, I would reach for immediately.

The scars after my grandmother’s surgery were disfiguring. But as I get older I wonder about the scars that were hidden. The scars no one ever saw.

There were no stitches or soothing salves for those wounds. She was left to care for them on her own.

The advances in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer; the advances in the search for a cause and a cure since my grandmother’s illness in 1963, have been huge.

Now, there are television commercials and magazine ads urging women to get mammograms and to make a pledge to remind one another to do regular breast self-exams.

Now, if a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer there is a community for her.

The disease is no longer shuttered and closeted. When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer she doesn’t just have the benefit of science and medicine behind her. She has the benefit of a corporate identity; a network of support groups, literature, advocacy and caring. That community is a big advance.

October only lasts 31 days, but the power of pink can last a lifetime.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Firefighters: Brave enough to wear pink

Firefighters at the Northern Lakes Fire Station in Hayden will be wearing pink t-shirts this month to raise awareness for breast cancer research. 

 ”Due to their compassionate nature, firefighters have a long history of taking on noble causes,” according to a news release. “Once again that compassion is manifesting itself.”

Local 4045, stationed at 125 Hayden Ave., are selling the shirts to raise money for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. T-shirts are $15 each or two for $25.

Buy the shirts at the fire station in Hayden, or call Firefighter Luke Michael at (208) 277-8525.

Fire crews will wear their typical protective suits if called out on blazes but will don the pink shirts at all other times, Michael said.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

NIC president diagnosed with breast cancer

Priscilla Bell

COEUR d’ALENE — North Idaho College’s president says she has been diagnosed with breast cancer and will be taking medical leave for at least two weeks.

Priscilla Bell told the Coeur d’Alene Press that she will take leave beginning today to undergo surgery. She says her date of return has not been set because doctors have not yet determined the stage of the disease.

Bell says she hopes for the best and will be grateful if she can avoid chemotherapy. Read more.

Have you are any of your family members battled breast cancer?