A “family history” can start with anyone.
Despite the increased awareness of breast cancer and the ubiquity of the pink ribbon, many misconceptions about the disease, especially when it comes to breast cancer causes and risk factors, still exist. HealthiNation interviewed several patients and survivors of breast cancer to get their take on these common misconceptions.
Truth: Breast cancer isn’t primarily genetic.
Not having a family history of breast cancer does not mean you are in the clear. Only 10 percent of those diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of it, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
“There was no family history,” says Doris, who was diagnosed at 37, 47, and 54. “I checked. I looked. I asked.”
Those who do have a history of breast cancer in their family are in a higher-risk group, however. This is especially true if it’s a first-degree relative like a mother, daughter, or sister.
“I’m the new family history,” says Nicole, diagnosed at age 36. “It starts with me.”
Truth: Breast cancer can strike at any age.
Two-thirds of women diagnosed with breast cancer are older than 55—but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen to younger women.
“At 23, when I was diagnosed,” says Alyssa, “I had to plan a family and think about my future of having kids and being able to carry children when I didn’t think I’d have to think of that for a few years.”
Truth: Being in remission doesn’t mean you feel safe.
Experts still have not found a “cure” for cancer. When patients no longer have tumor growth, this is known as remission, which comes from the Latin word remiterre, meaning “send back.” Unfortunately for some women, the cancer can return, sometimes years later.
“I’m not sure that the fear of recurrence ever goes away,” says Sally, who was diagnosed at age 40. “Recurrence can happen at any time.”
Having a mastectomy, or a removal of the breast, decreases the chance of recurrence, according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. However, a tumor in the other breast or another part of the body is possible, but this is considered a new cancer, not a recurrence.
“Even when I was told I was cancer-free,” says Alyssa, 24, “it didn’t feel all that reassuring.”
Truth: Pink ribbons are a start, but they’re not everything.
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM), founded in 1985, occurs every October in countries around the world. Initially, the aim was to promote mammograms as an effective tool to detect breast cancer early. Since then, efforts (and its popularity) have expanded. But how some breast cancer patients and survivors feel about breast cancer awareness is more nuanced.
“October does suck. It’s very commercialized,” says Nicole, diagnosed at age 36. “It’s not enough to just put a ribbon on your uniform as a football player or wear pink socks as a soccer player. It’s so much more than that.”
The nonprofit Pink Ribbon Inc. began in 2008 as an international platform to raise awareness and funding for breast cancer.
“You might think that breast cancer doesn’t need our support and fundraising and in research,” says Lisa, who was diagnosed at age 46, “but breast cancer still needs to be treated and still needs to have a cure. People don’t need to die of breast cancer.”
Truth: Hollywood doesn’t get breast cancer right.
As with many health conditions, breast cancer is not always accurately depicted in the movies and on TV. “The way to display a side effect from chemo in the movies usually involves throwing up,” says Sally, diagnosed at 40. “Many, many women go through breast cancer chemo without ever being nauseous.”
Truth: Many people find their own lumps.
Not all patients find their own tumors, but some do. “I was one of the few that found my own tumor,” says Theresa, diagnosed at 44. “It had already grown to the size of five centimeters. If I didn’t do my exams, I probably wouldn’t be here today.”
While many lumps are benign, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, you should see a doctor immediately if you find any lumps or changes in breast tissue.
“I had this gut feeling that there was something wrong and this was not just a cyst,” says Rosanna, diagnosed at age 32. “I remember even on vacation, I was sitting in a hotel room by myself and out loud said, ‘I have cancer.’”
Truth: Everyone’s cancer story is different.
“I think it’s important to remember that everybody’s treatment and everybody’s journey is completely different,” says Christina, who was diagnosed at age 42. “There is no cookie-cutter journey from me to the next person to the next person.”
A very special thanks to Susan G. Komen Greater New York City.
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Breast cancer did not run in my family.
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No, there was no family history.
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No family history.
00:25.480 --> 00:28.020
I checked, I looked, I asked.
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There was no family history.
00:29.820 --> 00:31.930
There was no breast
cancer in my family.
00:31.930 --> 00:32.910
00:33.950 --> 00:35.340
00:35.340 --> 00:38.540
But I had the genetic mutation.
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It's not something that you could say,
my family didn't have it so I'm well,
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no, that's not the way it works.
00:45.990 --> 00:47.010
If it's there it's there.
00:47.010 --> 00:48.690
I'm the new family history.
00:48.690 --> 00:52.636
I am the family history.
00:52.636 --> 00:53.586
It starts with me.
00:53.586 --> 01:00.018
01:00.018 --> 01:05.074
I'm Alyssa, I'm 24 years old,
and I have stage two breast cancer.
01:05.074 --> 01:07.820
Cancer doesn't know age,
look at the children.
01:07.820 --> 01:11.116
At 23 when I was diagnosed,
I had to plan a family and
01:11.116 --> 01:15.657
think about my future of having kids and
being able to carry children when I
01:15.657 --> 01:19.122
didn't think I'd have to think of that for
a few years.
01:19.122 --> 01:24.605
01:24.605 --> 01:29.230
I live with the fear of a recurrence.
01:29.230 --> 01:34.680
I think any cancer survivor
does feel that way deep inside.
01:34.680 --> 01:37.710
I always worry that it
will come back one day.
01:37.710 --> 01:43.480
And even when I was told I was cancer
free, it didn't feel all that reassuring.
01:43.480 --> 01:46.300
I'm not sure that the fear
of recurrence ever goes away.
01:46.300 --> 01:49.912
because recurrence can happen at any time.
01:49.912 --> 01:55.356
01:55.356 --> 01:56.930
October does suck.
01:56.930 --> 01:58.360
It's very commercialized.
01:58.360 --> 02:01.400
And breast cancer's so
much more than just a pink ribbon.
02:01.400 --> 02:04.380
And I think it's important for
people to know that.
02:04.380 --> 02:08.738
It's not enough to just put a ribbon
on your uniform as a football player or
02:08.738 --> 02:10.863
wear pink socks as a soccer player.
02:10.863 --> 02:12.442
It's so much more than that.
02:12.442 --> 02:15.327
And I do think that
awareness is important, but
02:15.327 --> 02:19.739
it's what we do with that awareness
that's going to make a difference.
02:19.739 --> 02:21.296
02:21.296 --> 02:25.416
Breast cancer has gotten very popular
in the media, like pink ribbons and
02:25.416 --> 02:29.260
yogurt covers have pink, and
everything is pink, pink, pink.
02:29.260 --> 02:34.170
So I think people, you might think that
breast cancer doesn't need our support,
02:34.170 --> 02:37.280
in fundraising and in research.
02:37.280 --> 02:44.460
But breast cancer still needs to be
treated, and still needs to have a cure.
02:44.460 --> 02:46.243
People don't need to die of breast cancer.
02:46.243 --> 02:49.859
02:49.859 --> 02:51.530
The movies don't get it right.
02:51.530 --> 02:54.930
The way to display a side
effect from chemo in the movies
02:54.930 --> 02:57.390
usually involves throwing up.
02:57.390 --> 03:04.048
And many, many women go through breast
cancer chemo without ever being nauseous.
03:04.048 --> 03:09.403
03:09.403 --> 03:13.450
I was one of the few
that found my own tumor.
03:13.450 --> 03:20.100
And it already had grown to
the size of five centimeters.
03:20.100 --> 03:27.020
And I had a mammo within
a reasonable amount of time.
03:27.020 --> 03:31.838
And if I didn't do my exams,
I probably won't be here today.
03:31.838 --> 03:36.770
And I felt over here something,
03:36.770 --> 03:39.920
and it felt like a chewed up dog biscuit.
03:39.920 --> 03:42.520
And I said, what is that.
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When I first found it I actually,
I had a very strange feeling about it.
03:46.460 --> 03:50.930
They say, you kind of just know
when you know and I felt it.
03:50.930 --> 03:52.790
Just felt something's wrong.
03:53.850 --> 03:57.850
I had this gut feeling that
there was something wrong,
03:57.850 --> 04:00.700
and this was not just a cyst.
04:00.700 --> 04:05.576
I remember even on vacation, I was
sitting in a hotel room by myself and
04:05.576 --> 04:07.737
out loud said, I have cancer.
04:07.737 --> 04:13.571
04:13.571 --> 04:17.475
Everyone needs to understand that
everybody's cancer is different.
04:17.475 --> 04:20.202
And everybody's cancer
is treated different.
04:20.202 --> 04:22.701
And your experience will be
different from my experience.
04:22.701 --> 04:27.450
And I could do what I could do to
help you or to support you and
04:27.450 --> 04:30.270
lift you up, but you're experience
is going to be different than mine.
04:31.940 --> 04:34.630
Don't fight what's happening to you.
04:34.630 --> 04:35.609
It's not easy.
04:37.010 --> 04:39.170
It's your personal experience.
04:39.170 --> 04:41.720
It's not like other people's experiences.
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We all do this differently.
04:43.440 --> 04:45.700
We all do this in our own way.
04:45.700 --> 04:48.460
And let it be a journey for yourself.
04:48.460 --> 04:52.620
You need to get through this
in the way that works for you.
04:52.620 --> 04:56.070
And what works for one person,
may not work for someone else.
04:56.070 --> 04:59.357
I think it's important to remember
that everybody's treatment and
04:59.357 --> 05:01.745
everybody's journey is
05:01.745 --> 05:06.033
There is no cookie cutter journey from me
to the next person, to the next person.
05:06.033 --> 05:14.749
About. New York, NY: Pink Ribbon Inc. (Accessed on October 3, 2017 at http://pinkribbon.org/about/.)
Definition of REMIT. Springfield, MA: Werriam-Webster. (Accessed on October 3, 2017 at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/remit.)
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Washington, DC: American Psychology Association, 2010. (Accessed on October 3, 2017 at http://www.apa.org/pi/women/resources/newsletter/2010/10/breast-cancer.aspx.)
Risk factors. Frisco, TX: National Breast Cancer Foundation. (Accessed on October 3, 2017 at http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-risk-factors.)
Survival and risk of recurrence after treatment. Dallas, TX: Susan G. Komen Foundation, 2017. (Accessed on October 3, 2017 at https://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/SurvivalandRiskofHavingCancerReturnAfterTreatment.htm.)
Myths. Frisco, TX: National Breast Cancer Foundation. (Accessed on October 3, 2017 at http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-myths.)