Breast cancer. It’s a terrifying disease that changes how we see life — whether we directly experience it or witness our loved ones’ valiant battle to fight it. It has a lasting impact on families and keeps advocates diligent in their quest to eradicate it. This has always been front and center for me. As a young Marine, I clearly remember my mother—an Army Veteran—sharing her diagnosis with me, and her preference for a double-mastectomy. Back then, in the 80s, options were limited.
Today, research has provided us with more opportunities. I was so unaware of how breast cancer would impact me forever. My mother’s sister would also later develop —and beat — the disease. I quickly learned that having a mother and her sister with breast cancer also increased my odds for getting it. Making matters more serious, military service can have an adverse impact on my cancer risk. At 29 years old and still in uniform, I had my first breast biopsy.
Fortunately, much has been done for Veterans in the area of breast cancer research over the years. But, there is still more to explore. VA is doing its part to further the discussion on early detection and proper screening. Researchers from the Million Veteran Program are using data from participants to “optimize and individualize breast cancer screening for all women Veterans and women in general.”
As Veterans (especially us women Veterans), we can do our part to reach the many women Veterans who are not accessing VA health care and have no other source of health care. We can take advantage of the many valuable resources on breast cancer education and early detection, and also share this information with others.
VA mammogram guidelines are available online and at every VA medical facility. VA’s Women’s Health Service keeps important information for women Veterans year-round. Other Federal agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services and the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also offer educational resources on breast cancer. For instance, FDA created the Pink Ribbon Sunday Program Guide, to promote mammography awareness in minority communities, and has a Webpage dedicated to women’s health.
Through my family’s persistent interaction with breast cancer, I learned that women of color are not usually aware of the detection signs and/or wait until later to seek medical care. By then, the chances of a more advanced diagnosis is probable. According to FDA, Caucasian women have the highest rate of breast cancer; African American women are most likely to die from the disease.
For me, that was my wake-up call. Because this disease impacts minorities differently, it is very important that women from all races and ethnicities participate in breast cancer clinical trials.
Unfortunately, breast cancer claimed both my mother and aunt after years of remission. While I’m okay, I continue to be vigilant and share what I know about this disease. As with any cause worth fighting for, we cannot relegate our attention to designated months of observance. We can take every opportunity, to bring awareness to issues that impact our Veterans population whether it’s Women’s History Month in March or Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.
Anytime is a good time to educate.