The National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) program is dedicated to increasing awareness about the importance of the early detection of breast cancer through a nationwide campaign. NBCAM started as a week long campaign in 1985 with 2 founding members. Today the American Cancer Society is one of many national public service organizations, professional associations, and government agencies that form the NBCAM Board of Sponsors. During October, which is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the member organizations of the Board of Sponsors join forces to spread the message that early detection of breast cancer followed by prompt treatment saves lives.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS) a woman in the United States is diagnosed with breast cancer every three minutes. Taken directly from the ACS Web site:

About 178,480 women in the United States will be found to have invasive breast cancer in 2007. About 40,460 women will die from the disease this year. Right now there are about two and a half million breast cancer survivors in the United States.

Over 2000 men per year receive the same diagnosis. Breast Cancer, as with most all cancers, does not discriminate.

Who knew Christina Applegate (Kelly Bundy from Married with children) would reach her 30’s and end up having a double mastectomy this year? Or that Richard Roundtree, of Shaft fame, would undergo the same treatment for his breast cancer in 1993?

Almost everyone seems to know of, or be related to, someone with a breast cancer diagnosis. As with other diseases, it needs more than a mere month of *awareness *.

People tend to not pay attention until it affects them directly. The risks for breast cancer increases for women over 50, for smokers … past or present … women with a family history of breast cancer and women who have opted for Hormone Replacement Therapy. (HRT).

No one is guaranteed immunity from this life changing monster known as cancer. The emotional and financial toll of this intruder is devastating.

Due to the constant research, dedication and efforts of countless numbers of people, breast cancer is now no longer considered a death sentence. Treatments have changed … breasts are often saved, and chemo no longer destroys the body it’s meant to save. Or so I have been told, and am desperately trying to believe.

A few years ago, I had a very tiny lump show up on a mammogram … my doctor was concerned enough to order a biopsy. The doctor that was to do this was over an hour away, and my appointment was close to noon. He saw me a few minutes, said he saw nothing, but would do the biopsy if I just wanted a scar. He was in a hurry and made that quite clear. My girlfriend and I left, got to the car and sat there in numbed silence and shed tears of frustration when, minutes later, Dr. Do-Nothing, walks out, hops into a Miata convertible with a typical young blond … plants a big smooch on her and takes off. I was furious, and only had one more mammogram after that …. refusing to ever put myself in that position again.

At that time, I was unaware of the risk factors other than family history.

I have lived the last 15 years quietly, in a tiny resort area and have a dog and 2 cats. Sally (dog) Henry (cat from hell) and Calvin (my baby). Last April, Calvin died. A week later Henry was acting crazy and started spending every night trying to dig through my left breast. I passed it off to grief, as yes, animals do grieve.

His behavior worsened, he was frantic and would not let up. I had to hide from him or keep myself wrapped tightly in a blanket to keep him from beating the hell out of my boob. By May, I had lost weight, and was feeling very tired … and felt like I had the flu 24/7. The end of May, after a night where Henry howled so loud I thought the neighbors a mile away might complain, I checked, and I found a lump. A very sore lump.

Self diagnosis was simple cyst … it would go away on it’s own … having had those before I was convinced that was the problem.

By mid July, I was having pain that almost brought me to my knees …. checked around and reassured myself pain is good … definitely a cyst, as the beginning of breast cancer is painless. My rapid weight loss continued.

The first of August, the pain was so bad I’d have had to get better to die …. and finally told my doctor. In a matter of days I had another mammogram, some other fancy worded tests, and was sent to a surgeon.

September 10th, I had a lumpectomy. I asked the good doctor if he was able to get all that sh*t out, and he “yes, yes I think I did.”

I came home with a small scar and a bandage half the size of Texas, and that night, Henry again comes up to me … he sniffs around, lets out a howl, then tries to rip through the bandage (no, I didn’t kill him but all 9 of his his lives were in danger for a minute or so). I knew then.

Just over a week ago, I found out I have breast cancer. I am undergoing what they hope to be a partial mastectomy, followed by radiation and then chemotherapy. They will also be removing the lymph glands at that time, and I also need a biopsy on a lump they found in my right breast.

This has been a crushing blow to my life plan. I have kids to irritate, grandchildren I’ve yet to teach how to make their parents crazy. My house needs a good fall cleaning. Yet all I have done is sit and wonder what the hell happened.

I ignored the facts, the signs, the warnings. I was on HRT for 15 years, and never factored in the possibility.

I took the bad attitude that the one doctor left me with, and ended up hurting myself with it.

My children, my siblings, friends are stunned and frightened. Some simply terrified. No one knows what to say, or how to act. I held off telling them until absolutely necessary, as I honestly didn’t feel I had enough strength to comfort anyone, self included. I’m not sure there is a right or wrong way to act when this ugliness creeps into your family.

Right now, all I know is my name is JoAnne. I have breast cancer …. and I want my name added to the survivor list. Soon.

Meanwhile, stay on your friends and family to do the monthly self exams, get the damn booby smash once a year. Let nothing get in your way of preserving your own life. Question your doctors, especially if you have one more interested in his love life than the oath he took to save lives.

Be diligent. Stay informed, don’t ignore the issue.

Just do it.

The life you save could be your own.