When I was 12 years old, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer that had spread to a large number of her lymph-nodes, and she was given a 20% chance of survival. Back then the disease was not as commonly known as it is today, and treatments were not as advanced as they are today, thus the survival rate was not as high either. She underwent a mastectomy, chemo, radiation, and she even lost a large portion of her hair. But in the end, she beat the odds that were stacked against her and survived, and so did the rest of our family with her.
Today, my mom is living a healthier and more fulfilling life than ever, and her illness made us all stronger and gave us more clarity on the precious time we have in this world. So we are very thankful for the experience, but it could have been avoided. About six to eight months prior to my mom’s diagnosis, I clearly remember she was complaining of severe pain and discomfort in her chest area with an itch that would keep her awake at night. She put up with this discomfort for six to eight months before she saw a doctor. When she was finally diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, the oncologist told her that if she had come in for a check up when her first symptoms started her survival rate would have been much higher. And had she come in for routine mammograms, the cancer would not have even spread to her lymph nodes and it would never had turned deadly.
It’s easy to say you’ll get to it later, but later can turn out to be too late. The best chance at beating breast cancer is to catch it early, so it’s important to get regular exams and mammograms.
1 in 8 women born in the United States will get breast cancer. It’s the second most common type of cancer in women. What some people forget is that men can get breast cancer too – 1 in 1000 men in the United States will develop breast cancer.
Monthly self-exams are crucial. While mammograms aren’t usually done regularly until women are over 40, self exams and regular doctor visits are often how breast cancer is detected early in younger people. Doctors are so confident in treatment of stage 1 breast cancer that patients are given a near 100% survival rate in the first 5 years. If you are even slightly unsure about something, contact your doctor. At best, you’ll find out nothing is wrong; at worst, you’ll have hopefully detected breast cancer at an early and treatable stage.
Sara Khaki’s brave mom, Maryam Akbarshahi, a breast cancer survivor
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