Not just pink!
By Jana E. Pye, Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Known as the “Pink Month”, October is celebrated across the world as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Although once a death sentence, through much research and early diagnosis, breast cancer survivors are celebrating many more birthdays than ever before!
Cancer is a disease that has touched nearly every family, and there is a veritable rainbow of ribbon colors shared throughout the year to share awareness of cancers that have taken loved ones from us much too often.
For those of us with a family history of cancer, like mine, we wonder about the genetic component. The idea that we could have a marker in our DNA strand makes us wonder if we – or our children – will be at risk.
In my family, my father had cancer of the bladder, and passed away in 2010; my older brother lost his battle with the disease in 2012 – he had lung cancer. My sister is an ovarian cancer survivor; known as the “silent cancer”, ovarian cancer is frequently not diagnosed until it is in late stages. She had a wonderful surgeon that performed aggressive surgery to remove the cancer that had spread to other areas in her abdomen, and endured months of debilitating chemotherapy. We were thrilled when she was pronounced cancer free, and have celebrated her subsequent good check ups. Our mother is a colon cancer survivor; her cancer was found at a very early stage from a routine colonoscopy; as the cancer cells had not yet permeated the mass that was in her colon, she had surgery and did not have to endure chemotherapy or radiation. So in our family, we honor four cancer awareness ribbons: Bladder- yellow; Lung – white; Ovarian – teal; and Colon – dark blue.
I had my own scare when I was only 25 years old. When my third (and last!) baby was only 5 months old, I went in for a routine PAP smear with my OB/GYN and got the call I never expected – atypical cells were found, and further testing had to be done. A cone biopsy was done on the suspicious area on my cervix, and thankfully all the cancerous cells were removed. Further tests were done each three months, then six months, for a period of time; I have been relieved to be back on the annual testing ever since. For the record: Cervical Cancer’s ribbon is teal & white.
Then, three years ago, pain in my left ovary and ultrasound images showed an unusual growth that my doctor felt should be removed and tested as a precaution, given our family history and the fact that my sister was currently undergoing treatment for aggressive ovarian cancer. After an agonizing two weeks, all tests proved it was benign. Then just this summer, I experienced another round of unusual health issues, and I had a uterine biopsy that was thankfully benign. (The ribbon color for Uterine Cancer awareness is peach.)
Although you try not to think the worst, we humans often don’t always succeed in that- so I must admit the relief after hearing good news was just as tearful as the worry.
My sister recently had the BRAC genetic testing done, at the urging of her physician in Maine. The findings will be invaluable to not only her children, but to my children and me. While compiling family history to give to the office doing the testing, the medical professionals were particularly interested in the fact that our mother and her younger brother both had colon cancer – there seems to be a link to cancer of the colon to ovarian cancer.
My sister’s genetic testing results are not in yet; she promised to share them with me. Her doctor recommended that I consider having the genetic testing done, too.
So when preparing for this page in the News & Press, I thought that many readers may be curious about genetic testing, too. When the markers were revealed to actress and philanthropist Angelina Jolie, she opted to have her breasts and ovaries removed. She had lost her mother to the disease at a young age, and decided to lessen the risk for her own body and for the sake of her brood of children.
So, what is the link between our genes and cancer, and what exactly is genetic testing?
I asked my good friend Beth Johnson Cagle of Hartsville, who is the Grassroots Manager American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Inc. in Columbia, S.C. to share information with our readers to better help them understand genetic testing, breast cancer signs and symptoms, and suggested testing that men and women should perform each year.
Our hope is that readers will be encouraged to reduce their risk factor, and to heed the advice of medical professionals to schedule life saving health screenings each year.
And as for those ribbons? The color for all Cancer is lavender, and the ribbon color for Cancer Caregivers is plum. Each ribbon color is just as important as the pink one we highlight today.
Please visit the Best Chance Network for more information on women’s cancer screening in South Carolina.