Three Major Discoveries I Unlocked During Breast Cancer Awareness Month
This month our team had a wonderful meeting with Hers Breast Cancer Foundation to learn more about their Hair with Care program, a partnership with hairstylists to provide wig fittings for women experiencing hair loss due to chemotherapy. While we talked about the great work the foundation was doing the conversation turned to mammograms.
As a woman over 50 and a friend/family member of many people who’ve battled cancer, getting my yearly mammogram is always top of mind for me. So when I learned how much of an impact COVID-19 had on keeping women from their preventative screenings, my internal alarm bells went haywire. It seemed that in our efforts to protect everyone from the deadly virus that was COVID-19, women’s health was taking a back seat. Here's what I discovered.
Is COVID-19 Keeping You from Getting Your Mammogram?
One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. It’s scary to think that number could increase because women aren’t being diagnosed in time. One North Carolina-based study showed a 44% decrease in screening mammograms across the state from 2019 to 2020; another study in Northern Italy found an increase in node-positive breast cancer diagnoses increased by over 18% as a result of a May 2020 to July 2020 stoppage of mammogram screenings due to COVID-19.
"As an asthmatic, I was afraid of COVID-19. But I still had to be sure I stayed on track with my mammogram screenings." - Jo Owens
As one of the millions of people who had family members sick with COVID-19 in the pre-vaccination stages of the disease, I knew full well how important it was to keep my distance from others, wear an N-95 mask, and avoid gatherings of any kind. Plus, as an asthmatic, I was considered high-risk for hospitalization if I became sick.
Jo Owens, author
But I also understood that I couldn’t compromise my health, and I had to ensure I stayed on track with my preventative screenings. Christina Montague of the The National Breast Cancer Foundation agrees, sharing her story about getting her mammogram during the pandemic. She notes, “it’s okay to take time for your health, your peace of mind, and for you. You need to be your best self to be able to take care of those you love and who love you most.”
I’ve heard triumphant stories of women who were able to survive their cancer diagnoses because the disease was caught early (stage 0 or stage 1). But I’ve also witnessed what happens when the diagnosis comes too late; these women have a battle on their hands that is a journey like no other. Please make sure to get your yearly mammogram and encourage the women in your life to do the same.
Are Your Breast Implants Cancerous?
With one in 8 women receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, chances are many of us know someone who has battled this horrific disease. And for those of us who opt for reconstructive surgery, an implant can be the closest thing to looking and feeling like ourselves. As a family member of a woman who has battled alopecia most of her life, I understand how important it is to have our femininity restored in the ways that work best for us.
Let’s keep each other empowered by taking the best care of ourselves and each other.
So this news from the FDA comes with disappointment, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month no less.
The FDA recently received several reports about cancers relating to breast implant scar tissue - 10 of the skin cancer squamous cell carcinoma and 12 were reports of breast-implant related lymphoma. Most of us are aware of the previous lymphoma findings that were linked to textured implants, but these new reports are showing indications of “squamous cell carcinoma with smooth implants.” While the administration is also noting that “right now, we do not have enough information to say whether breast implants cause these cancers or if some implants pose higher risk than others,” as women we want to stay informed about our health (and safety!) so we can ask the right questions about what works for us.
Can Cold Caps Help Prevent Hair Loss During Chemotherapy?
As I write this I’m thinking of two women I’ve talked with recently who, while staying strong and braving their cancer illnesses, have both expressed sadness that their chemotherapy took away their beautiful, thick, flowing hair. These two ultra-hip, fun-loving women each have a unique style that allows them to express their inner diva with the latest, greatest hair colors and styles. It’s no wonder that losing their option for self-expression through their hair is one of the things they miss most.
Our hair, our glory.
So when I saw this report on cold caps that can help prevent hair loss during chemotherapy my eyes and ears opened wide on behalf of the countless women this could benefit. Oncologist Dr. McAndrew explains that “the process starts with a patient putting on a tight frozen cap before chemo. They leave it on during the treatment and for 30 minutes after, freezing the scalp in an attempt to stop the chemo from traveling to the hair follicles.”
And while the ice caps aren’t inexpensive - they run between $500 and $1500 for the process - some insurance policies are starting to help with cost. The good news is that 65% of patients who use the caps are keeping most of their hair during treatment. Hooray!
This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and every month, I celebrate the women in my life who have overcome cancer in all its forms. Let’s keep each other empowered by taking the best care of ourselves and each other.