October evokes images of orange pumpkins and black ghouls. But for some, October evokes images of pink ribbons–a reminder to be vigilant about the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women. Breast cancer awareness month comes with renowned fundraising events, famous ambassadors, and most importantly, survivors we all know and admire. Julie Bruck is one such survivor.
In March of 2012 Julie went to a routine doctor visit and asked about a lump on her breast. Having had a mammogram the previous July, she wondered if it was really anything to worry about. Then after a mammogram, ultrasound and two painful biopsies, the news was dropped on her: stage 2B breast cancer. And it had spread to the lymph nodes.
Fear struck Julie as she considered her busy role as a wife, mother, and career woman. Her oldest son was soon to graduate high school. Her three children (Ben–18, Ally–14 and Conner–10 at the time) were highly involved in activities. Her husband, Randy, was on the verge of kicking off a busy planting season. “There was no time to be sick,” said Julie as she considered her circumstance.
|Julie, Ally, Randy, Conner & Ben|
Telling the family was one of the most difficult tasks she faced. “I wasn’t prepared to break the news and believe me, they weren’t ready to receive the news.” It wasn’t long before she realized how much she could depend on all of her family for support. Faith is a huge part of Julie’s life, and praying together and attending “Healing Masses” as a family were activities that meant a lot to her.
Julie endured eight rounds of chemo, once every two weeks. When it seemed as if she was beginning to feel better, another treatment awaited her. Despite the sickness, fatigue, mouth sores, and hair loss, Julie didn’t stop working nor did she give up attending her kids’ events. There were times when she didn’t get out of the car as she watched her kids play ball. But she was there, often accompanied by her mother, as they watched a game from a distance. Keeping her routines and staying busy was important to Julie’s emotional health.
Once the rounds of chemo were completed, Julie had a double mastectomy along with the removal of lymph nodes–an innovative approach with her intense treatment taking place before the removal. After the surgery the tissue was sent to pathology. Before Julie left the hospital she was given incredible news: no sign of cancer anywhere! With the guidance of her oncologist, Julie decided she would not go through radiation. Today Julie is cancer-free.
|Julie at the Susan B Komen Race|
Understanding risk factors is an important strategy to battling the disease. Heredity can play a big role–especially if a mutation of the BCRA1 or 2 gene is found. Having this mutation increases the possibility of breast cancer between 45 to 65%, depending on the gene mutation.
Julie tested negative for this mutation. Like Julie, most women (8 out of 10) do not have a family history of breast cancer. However, it’s important to understand that women who have close blood relatives with breast cancer have a higher risk of the disease.
Other risk factors include:
-Being a woman. While breast cancer is about 100 times more common in women, the risk still exists for men.
-Age. The most invasive breast cancers are found in women age 55 and older.
-History. If breast cancer is in one breast, the risk for developing cancer in the other breast increases. This risk is even more pronounced for younger women.
-Having dense or “fibrous” breast tissue, which can increase the risk for cancer to 1.2 to 2 times from a woman with average breast density.
-Lifestyle choices such as excessive drinking, being overweight, or lack of physical activity.
Performing self-exams and scheduling mammograms are the best methods for detecting the disease early. Symptoms can include a new lump, swelling of a part of the breast, skin irritation, breast pain, or unusual discharge.
The American Cancer Society is helping breast cancer victims through various programs such as
-Road to Recovery, providing transportation services to treatments,
-Look Good Feel Better, offering wigs for those who have lost their hair, and
-HOPE Lodge, providing a place for patients to stay. Ground has just broken in Omaha for one such unit.
The ACS has invested $62 million for 160 research grants specifically for breast cancer. But one of the most important weapons in this fight is education and awareness.
Every cancer victim copes differently. When Julie was battling the disease, she didn’t feel like talking about it. She didn’t want others to define her by the cancer. Now, back to leading a healthy and productive life, she’s a great ambassador for the fight. As she said at the Relay for Life event earlier this year, “We need to find a cure. So keep giving, keep walking and keep fighting until we can say with all the certainty in the world that there is a cure for cancer.”
I'm happy to report that in addition to Julie, my aunt and coworkers survived. My cousin is determined to beat it. While the breast cancer certainly lurks, there is much hope out there. Pink hope. Spread the word.