By Heather Mullinix
As we move into October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Chronicle will be sharing the stories of women who have survived breast cancer.
I've been honored over the past several years to tell the stories these women have to tell. It's not something I take lightly. The individuals featured in the survivor series are sharing some of their darkest and most terrifying experiences, and the Chronicle hopes to tell those stories with dignity and compassion and hopes that by sharing these stories of survival, others can take hope and comfort.
I say individuals because sometimes we forget that it's not just women that are affected. Men can also develop breast cancer, with about 2,140 cases diagnosed. That's about 1 percent of all breast cancers. And, it's not just those diagnosed with cancer that are affected. The diagnosis affects everyone who loves and cares about that person.
Time and again, experts tell us that early detection is the key to successful treatment. Diagnostic imaging continues to advance, allowing for better detection, and awareness campaigns educate women on the importance of yearly mammograms and regular self-breast exams.
That effort has brought results. About 50 years ago, only 25 percent of women with breast cancer survived at least 10 years. Now, 75 percent survived 10 years. When women are diagnosed with breast cancer before it has spread beyond the breast, that survival rate is as high as 85 percent.
That's great news. And it's yet another reason why annual preventative care should not be ignored. I don't know how many people have told me, as I enter my 30s, not to ignore my health and to take care of those annual events, regardless of how packed my schedule or how uncomfortable they may be.
Unfortunately, the cost of these life-saving screenings can be beyond the means of women, especially those who have lost jobs in recent years and no longer have medical insurance coverage.
I had the opportunity recently to talk with a breast cancer survivor who had put off her mammogram because she didn't have insurance. Luckily, she learned of the free mammogram days offered at Cumberland Medical Center and was able to have the screening.
What she learned was that she had breast cancer, and today, she is cancer free. She credits the free mammography program for saving her life, not only for her but for her husband and her children.
The free mammogram days are offered through a grant by Komen Upper Cumberland, the local affiliate for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and since 2010, it has offered access to mammograms for the medically under-served and uninsured women of our community. The next day is scheduled for Dec. 11, and patients must be 40 years of age or older and not have had a mammogram within the past two years, and cannot have insurance. Call 459-7040 to learn more.