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Breast cancer has sense of irony, but education takes its punch away

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Relay for Life cancer survivors

Redondo Beach councilman and mayoral candidate Steve Aspel (second from left) spoke to the Relay for Life teams last month about defeating cancer. Joining him at the event were Leila Knight, Hermosa Beach mayor Jeff Duclos and Hermosa Beach City councilman Howard Fishman. Photo by Adrienne Slaughter

by Vanessa Poster

On Oct. 3, just in time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I learned I had breast cancer. The irony struck me immediately. Yes, my commitment to feminism is so strong, that my cancer chose this month, of all months, to make itself known.

What I’ve realized over the past several weeks is that all of the awareness and conversation about breast cancer in the media has actually been very helpful to me. It took the punch out of this diagnosis.

Yeah, I’m having a pity party. Yeah, I’m scared. But mostly, I’m considering the inconvenience of having to go through surgery and radiation. How can I keep working? What will the timing be so that I won’t miss my friend’s son’s Bar Mitzvah? This is all normal stuff that we must handle with any health care crisis.

And, also, I am deeply grateful for the support all around me, for the good things that are happening in my life and for the expertise the medical community has developed in the last 25 years.

The kind of diagnosis I have received is no longer as life altering as it once might have been. My diagnosis is really quite mild. I am a stage zero. Really, it’s the best of the worst. All cancers are not created equal and there are a lot more serious cancers out there. Early detection is one of the most important factors to survivability.

And the reason my prognosis is so good is that for nearly ten years, I have been getting an annual mammogram. What they found in my breast is so small an indication of possible cancer (called “calcification”) that 80 percent of the time, it turns out to be nothing.

They barely saw it, called me in for a second mammogram, saw it more clearly and decided to do a needle biopsy. The biopsy showed “Ductal Carcinoma In-Situ.”

My treatment plan is a lumpectomy followed by 6 weeks of radiation and possible anti-estrogen drugs, if indicated, for the next five years. I will also see a genetic counselor to get more information and treatment options.

My other treatment plan is the infusion of positive energy that keeps my spirits up. My new mantra is, “Every cell, every molecule in my body is happy, healthy and friendly. All others shall depart!”

If I hadn’t been getting annual mammograms, this small spot of cancer might have become something a lot worse! Because of early detection, my chances of a full recovery and a cancer-free future are quite large.

Telling people is really the worst part of it, so far. As I tell the story it becomes more real. So, mostly, I don’t want to talk much about it. Luckily, my friends also have the knowledge and information of the public discourse around breast cancer. They are sad for me and worried, but they know and understand my treatment options. They know how good it is that we caught it this early. They get it. I don’t have to explain everything. And that is a comfort.

If you know someone awaiting a diagnosis or if you know someone recently diagnosed, what can you do? Just say something, anything really. It doesn’t matter. Tell her how much you love her. Tell her you are there for her and will support her with whatever she needs. And, don’t look at her with pity and fear. Look at her and see the empowered woman she is and just walk by her side. And if she doesn’t want to talk about it, give her a hug.

If my small voice and experience can add to this discourse of knowledge and information, we can continue to lessen the punch of this type of diagnosis. We, as women, can take the power and just deal with it as we deal with so many other things on a daily basis.

Get your annual mammogram ASAP. If you have been recently diagnosed, don’t do this alone. Get support. Tell people. And, most importantly, be nice to yourself.

For local information on cancer support, contact the Cancer Support Community—Redondo Beach (formerly the Wellness Community): cancersupportredondobeach.org, (310) 376-3550.

For information and resources on cancer and early detection, especially if you don’t have health insurance, contact the Beach Cities Health District: bchd.org, (310) 374-3426.

Vanessa Poster is a boardmember of the Beach Cities Health District. ER

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