There’s more to Breast Cancer Awareness Month than wearing a pink ribbon, dying a strip of your hair or attending a 5k.
October marks an annual campaign created in hopes of increasing awareness of the disease. While most people are aware of breast cancer, many forget to take the steps that could make all the difference when it comes to detecting the disease in its early stages.
Breast cancer has touched the life of Plattsburgh State’s Director of Student Health & Counseling Center Kathleen Camelo. Her college roommate, Beth, suffered from breast cancer.
Beth was diagnosed in her early 40s. In her case, it was a pre-menopausal detection. Camelo said it carried a much higher risk of fatality, and Beth’s cancer was “very aggressive.”
“She really had the best treatment,” Camelo said. “She almost made five years of survival.”
That wasn’t the first time Camelo’s life was touched by the disease.
“Being a physician and going through residency, you develop a keen sense of awareness when it comes to breast cancer,” she said.
Camelo said it was difficult being in her 20s and seeing women from their 30s to 50s with breast cancer.
“It just really made me realize how important early detection really is,” she said.
PSUC sophomore Diana Moore has experienced seeing a relative with cancer. Her mother, Joan, was 39 years old when she discovered her lump.
“I was young when my mother was diagnosed,” Diana said. “I was only in kindergarten.”
Diana said she remembered one day being on the school bus when her friend asked if her mother was OK. Later that day, her mother sat her down and explained it the best way she could.
“I was nervous,” Joan said. “I was anxious to go to the doctors and get it taken care of.”
After a mammogram came back normal, Joan’s doctors performed a sonogram, where the lump was visible. They recommended she have a surgical biopsy. Her doctors then confirmed the presence of cancerous cells. To make sure all of the cells were removed, she had a lumpectomy. Joan went through four rounds of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation treatment.
“I was so sad that she lost her hair. She had the nicest long hair,” Diana said.
For the first few years after her diagnosis in 2003, Joan visited her radiologist, surgeon and oncologist every six months. The visits have now become annual, just like her mammogram and MRI.
“After testing, we found out that my mother’s cancer wasn’t hereditary,” Diana said, “so I don’t really like to think about it as part of my future.”
Senior biochemistry major Steven Segarra hasn’t personally been affected by breast cancer, but at a young age he lost a loved one to brain cancer and he knows cancer can touch the lives of anyone — any age, gender, nationality or body type.
“Cancer doesn’t discriminate,” Segarra said.
According to the American Cancer Society, in 2013, there were 10,980 cases of intrusive breast cancer in women less than 40 years of age. A portion of that represents the 18-25 college age population.
Camelo was involved with a student’s case on the PSUC campus.
“She was in her 20s, found the lump herself and came in to have us check it,” Camelo said.
Camelo said a breast cancer diagnosis at that age isn’t very common. “There’s always those outliers — that’s why I always stress to women the importance of familiarity with their breasts.”
“I couldn’t imagine that feeling,” Segarra said. “Having that on your mind constantly would be terrible.”
The ACS also reported in 2013 that the intrusive cases totaled to 232,340, with an age range from below 40 to 65 and above. That number could include a student’s aunt, sister, family friend or even their mom.
Segarra said he believes it is also important for male students to be able to recognize changes in their bodies.
“Some male students probably have no idea that it can happen to them. We don’t have breasts but we can develop breast cancer,” he said. “Male or female, it doesn’t matter. It can happen to anyone.”
The ACS suggests that women start receiving annual mammograms at age 40. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a routine breast exam every three years as a part of their annual health exam performed by a physician.
Women, starting at the age of 18, are advised to perform self-breast exams once a month.
Camelo doesn’t believe today’s college generation knows enough about breast cancer, and she said there is always more to learn.
“Survival rates have increased and sometimes that makes people become a little more laissez about screening themselves,” she said. “Even though, it’s the screening that determines early detection and decreases mortality rate.”
Joan also emphasized how important it is for young women to know their bodies well enough to be able to identify any changes.
“I felt my own lump and because I knew my own body, I got my diagnosis,” Joan said. “My mammogram came back normal. Clearly it wasn’t.”
Email Madison Winters at email@example.com