WHILE some people may be preparing for Halloween or others may be busy with mid-semester projects and even the ‘Virgo-Libra’ season for birthdays—the month of October is also well known as being the month of pink! That’s right, if you didn’t know, October is known as the Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is perhaps the most popular cancer in women and as such, this month is used to either educate others on the signs and cause/effects of breast cancer, raise funds for research and cancer organisations or to help give a sense of hope to existing breast cancer patients. Also, in the third week of October, it is known as Male Breast Cancer Week. Although it is rare, it is still important that we include it the month’s activities.
You must do monthly or even weekly breast self-examinations on our breasts to understand and know what it feels like. By doing so, we become familiar with it and if by chance there are any changes, drastic or not, we’ll be able to recognise them. Any new lump on the breast or armpits, change in size or shape, sudden ingrowth of nipples, irritation/rashes/scaly skin or discharge from nipples may all be signs of breast cancer and should be checked out by a doctor — ASAP.
While it is currently impossible to say what the actual causes of breast cancer or any cancer may be, there are still a few factors that we should take into considerations as it relates to the likelihood of it happening. 1. Age: eight in 10 women over the age of 50 years develop breast cancer and as such, should do regular screenings and check-ups with their doctors. 2. Family history of breast cancer: having two or more close family members (sister, mother, aunt, daughter, grandmother) with breast or ovarian cancer increases your chances of having it too. 3. Hormones: sometimes, the female hormone known as oestrogen can stimulate the growth of cancer cells. If by chance your body is exposed to a high level of this hormone, your chances may slightly increase. It is also important to note that using the contraceptive pill may increase your chance of breast cancer, but its effect stops after 10 years of not using the pill. 4. Unhealthy physical lifestyle: being obese, overweight and using excessive amounts of alcohol may also increase your risks of having breast cancer.
Now that you are aware of all the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, what will you do? Can you prevent it from happening? Maybe you can. You can firstly start by having frequent mammograms (medical breast examinations), especially when you’re over the age of 40. Also, maintaining a healthy diet and less intake of alcohol, breastfeeding your child/children and even mastectomies are ways of preventing breast cancer. Knowing someone close who has breast cancer and as well as living with it can be challenging alike. Take a trusted friend or professional worker, communicate/network with other persons who may have or know someone with breast cancer as well, do as much personal research as you can about the topic and most importantly, prioritise time and love/care for yourself. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is no stranger to us Guyanese. Initiatives such as ‘Pinktober’ launched in 2017 by the Guyana Telephone & Telegraph Company, breast cancer talks done by the Ministry of Public Health, or even as simple as wearing a pink ribbon in every day of October helps to raise awareness and give hope to all affected.
The ribbon for breast cancer has its own meaning to all. For some it may be a reminder of the struggle of overcoming breast cancer, for others it may mean a symbol of loss for a loved one and it may even hold the meaning of hope. Whatever the case may be, I sure hope all you reading this join in wearing a pink ribbon to show your support to those affected. I also want breast cancer survivors to remember that this does not make you less female, especially those with mastectomies done—it should not affect your sexual, physical and even emotional thoughts of yourself. Be sure to join hands with those affected by breast cancer this month through programmes and events that might be happening near you. “A strong woman knows she has strength enough for the journey, but a woman of strength knows it is on the journey that she will become strong” words beautifully pieced together by Luke Easter. As we celebrate this month of pink—may we support the fighters, admire the survivors, honour the taken and most importantly, never give up on HOPE!