According to the American Cancer Society breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women. Currently the average risk is about 12 percent, meaning there is a 1 in 8 chance a woman will get breast cancer. Roughly 40,000 women die each year from breast cancer. An alarming trend says that breast cancer death rates have been steady in women younger than 50, but have continued to decrease in older women, showing the need for early detection and self-exams exist now more than ever.
Throughout the month of October in the United States, we encounter tons of Facebook posts, commercials, ads in local stores, etc., all centered on the awareness of breast cancer and usually accompanied by a pink ribbon. Having women in my family, an aunt who has had it twice and a grandmother who passed away as a result of this particular cancer, brings this issue even closer to home.
There have been numerous local fundraisers over the years to support women with breast cancer. One organization that did exist was the Susie Q’s, developed by former Liberty County Health Department Administrator Deidre Howell. This group did fun things like pancake suppers, art-your-bra events and more to raise awareness and money for local women fighting the breast cancer battle. Funds were always donated directly to support local women making the trek back and forth to Savannah for chemo and radiation.
At the time we would meet in the old Mills House, which stood where the Veterans Clinic now stands on the corner of Memorial Drive and Highway 84. You could hear the laughter of women, and even a few men, ring out of the old house many an evening as we would meet to plan our next event, or just hang out and chat about our friends and family who were battling breast cancer. The group helped form a local support system. Unfortunately, we disbanded after several years as Howell moved to north Georgia and several of the other primary members retired. Liberty County High School still does a Pink Panther Day every year, this year on Oct. 16, with proceeds benefiting the Susie Q Foundation, which are passed through directly to the Susan G Komen, Savannah Chapter. Students and educators come together to turn LCHS pink for a day, wearing a special T-shirt that students design themselves. They have been doing this for seven years!
In an effort to maintain some of the momentum locally, at least as far as awareness is concerned, the Hinesville Area Arts Council has been dedicating the October exhibit at the Gallery, located at 102 Commerce Street, to breast cancer awareness for the last several years.
We have done exhibits such as: photography, handmade jewelry and ladies shoes, all dedicated to celebrating womanhood and bringing people together for an evening on opening night to celebrate survivors and educate those who might not be aware of the effects of the cancer.
This October, the gallery featured the photography of Joanna Ng, a local photographer, who has encountered numerous women and men, during the course of her work, who have had breast cancer and survived.
As someone who has been told that I obviously have the family history to make breast cancer likely in my own lifetime, I take screening very seriously. I also realize, however, that screening does not prevent breast cancer, it detects it. Research shows that the role of early detection, while extremely important, does not always help as the disease does not always behave the same way each time.
As of 2013, there were at least four genetically distinct breast cancers, each with its own cause and own type of treatment. Depending on which articles you read and which doctors you believe, there are ways that have been predicted to prevent, or at least significantly lower your risk, of breast cancer. Studies show limiting alcohol consumption, limiting exposure to chemicals, limiting exposure to radiation, exercise, limiting hormone therapies, maintaining a healthy weight and choosing a healthy diet are a few from the lists I have poured through.
However, I would think limiting all of those things and being healthy in general would do a lot for your overall risk factors for a lot of things, so those all become personal choices for the most part. Betty Ford was the first woman to go truly public with a breast cancer diagnosis, and that was over four decades ago. The pink ribbon was introduced two, almost three, decades ago. Since that time, the education available to the general public about breast cancer has increased a hundredfold.
It would be my hope that future generations will continue to see declining numbers of breast cancer deaths and that we will continue to educate our young women and men about the need to live healthy, active lives that include primary healthcare. Mobile mammography will be available at Coastal Electric Cooperative in Midway, done in conjunction with St. Joseph’s Candler, on Wednesday, Oct. 31, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. You can schedule an appointment by calling 912-819-6140.