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Monday, October 26, 2015

Breast Cancer Awareness Month hits close to home

The month of October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It really hits home with me this year because over the summer my sister, who is 43 years old, had a double mastectomy. It happened so fast: one minute she was fine, the next minute she's having surgery to remove both breasts. I still can't believe she had to go through it.

Kori Hendricks Ralston
Mrs. Florida 2004
We don't have a history of breast cancer in our family and she didn't have any signs or symptoms of  breast cancer, but in February a routine mammogram came back abnormal. I would never have imagined my sister who- is a former Mrs. Florida, thin, eats healthy and works out- could develop this.

 Through the mammogram the doctor detected atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH)  and  atypical lobular hyperplasia (ALH) which are basically abnormal cells in the breast tissue. She was told it wasn't cancer yet, but could eventually become cancer one day.  She was at a much higher risk for developing cancer within a few years because she had these cells.

Once the abnormal cells were detected on the mammogram, the doctor had her have an ultrasound which also came back abnormal . She than had a needle biopsy and surgical biopsy to remove larger portion. Each time the cells were spreading.

She had to make a choice of what to do. She had a few options according to the doctors. She could do nothing, but monitor it every six months with a mammogram and biopsies. She felt by doing this she would always have in the back of her mind, What if it turns into cancer?" She would agonize over whether it would come back cancerous. If it did she would end up having surgery plus going through chemotherapy and radiation.  It could also spread. 

The other option was she could take medications, but the medications could only help reduce some types of breast cancer. The doctors didn't know if the medication would  work on her type of cells. What if it didn't work?

Or, she could have a double mastectomy and get it over with and not worry anymore.

What a very difficult choice to make as a woman. Our breasts are a part of our body, but my sister will tell you life is more important that breasts. As a wife and mom of two young children, her quality of life was also more important.  

She decided to have both breasts removed and have reconstruction surgery. Years ago reconstruction surgery wasn't an option, but reconstruction has come a long way. I am so thankful my sister is doing well. She has had some complications along the way, but overall she's glad she had it done. The worry of breast cancer is behind her.

My sister, Kori and her husband Mark,
a few weeks after the surgery.
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer. It is the most common cancer among American women. According to statistics  about 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer during their life.

The good news is there are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. Death rates have been declining since 1989, due to early detection through screenings and awareness and improved treatments.  

Prevention is the key to saving your life and the American Cancer Society recommends  women get yearly mammograms starting at age 40. If you have breast cancer in your family you should go sooner and if dense breasts or fibrous tissue, you should have an ultra sound done.

It made a difference in my sister's life. She's now a previvor, which means she's a survivor of a predisposition to cancer but hasn't had the disease. By being proactive and catching it early, she was fortunate to not have to go through what cancer patients go through and more importantly cancer didn't take her.

If anything, her story is a lesson to be learned, you should do something for yourself and make sure you get a  mammogram.

**Websites with more information about Breast Cancer Awareness

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