Last year, I received the best Christmas gift ever: a breast cancer diagnosis.
I know, it sounds insane.
But it’s true.
We said a heart-breaking goodbye to my Mom in 1982 shortly after she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of the disease that had already spread in her body at the age of 35.
Nine years later, my maternal grandmother Nana was diagnosed with a less aggressive form which she did survive, but suddenly I was officially a frightened and marked woman in a familial line of deadly disease.
We didn’t have sisters or aunts to reference on my maternal side. Only Mom and Nana.
So began my high-alert status in the medical world as a person more likely than most to be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Estimates from surgeons in 1991 were 1 in 5 that I would be diagnosed. I wasn’t yet 30 years old.
Vigilant doctors in the Springfield area became my regular monitors. Decades went by on high alert with no indication of disease. I structured my life as though breast cancer would strike at any time and treat me as harshly as it treated Mom.
When three-dimensional screening first arrived at a hospital in Springfield, I was among the first to submit to it at the urging of my newest doctor. Less than three years later, that highly sensitive screening found breast cancer in me so early it was called Stage Zero.
I was fortunate in more ways than one.
It was caught early, it wasn’t aggressive and new techniques were designed to eradicate it without costing me more than one sick day for the minor surgery.
No toxic chemotherapy. No radical, traumatic scarring. No dreadful prognosis. Plenty of time to decide how to treat it. Plenty of time to find out if I carried a known hereditary genetic mutation (I did not).
Thanks to early detection, plenty of time was on my side.
So here I am a year later – barely scathed by a disease that has struck fear into the hearts of myself and many other women – especially those with a strong family history of the disease.
Helping diagnose and treat my case were doctors, nurses and technicians working as a team from both genders, a range of ages and many ethnicities – a true indication of America’s long-standing cohesive greatness.
Because health insurance policies began fully covering certain preventive screenings several years ago, my annual tests were free to me. It was the law.
No deductibles, no co-pays, no arguing about the validity of testing me. Just accessible, state-of-the-art screening that spared me much pain and suffering compared to what can happen when preventive screenings are inaccessible or irregularly applied.
I was fortunate to be insured and employed before, during and after this diagnosis. Some women are not so fortunate. Such women need more than our prayers.
Why was I thankful for my diagnosis of breast cancer?
Because it was early, it was manageable and it has helped me slay a demon that has been stalking my psyche since 1982.
Is my case typical of all who will travel the road of this unfortunate disease? No. Some will have horribly aggressive and fatal cases like my Mom suffered.
But it was a valid resolution for me at the end of 35 years of watching, waiting and trembling over what might happen. It has forced me to educate myself about the facts and statistics of this disease rather than being a vulnerable person misled by non-credible charlatans peddling dubious and damaging theories about breast cancer causes and triggers.
It’s brought me closer to my family’s story by delving into the medical histories of our women and learning each case is different and why that might be.
Valid knowledge is true power.
I am reborn at Christmas as an empowered American woman who is less afraid, and this to me is the greatest gift of all.
It’s what all mothers would want for their daughters: peace of mind.
For anyone in Champaign County reading this column, please support the Cancer Association of Champaign County. It is a local organization that helps all cancer patients who live here in our community by providing assistance to defray the costs of transportation to treatments and an array of other things that soften the financial blow of a cancer diagnosis. Its fund-raising efforts go directly to local patients, so a donation is likely to help your neighbors at some point, or even your family. Learn more at https://www.cancerassociationofchampaigncounty.org/ or call 937-653-3899.
Reach Brenda Burns at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 937-508-2301 or 937-652-1331 ext. 1771.