Getting Personal with Breast Cancer

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By now, because of the ongoing ads, pink outfits and ribbons, most folks are aware that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

That said, I didn’t want this final week to go by without encouraging women on the prevention of a very serious disease deeply affecting our community in terms of lives lost, the prevalence of mastectomies, and its disparate rates of occurrence.

African-American women, as reported by the National Cancer Institute, have the highest death rate from breast cancer and are more likely to be diagnosed with a later stage of breast cancer than white women.  And our younger black and Latina sisters actually tend to be stricken with tumors more aggressive than those of young white women.

Obviously, given such sobering data, prevention is key. Each year, as women, we are reminded by a friend, family member, ad or campaign of the importance of getting our annual breast exams done by the doctor. While we sometimes fail to be as vigilant as we should in scheduling this simple procedure, I’ll share my personal motivation for not ignoring this yearly ritual.

It happened during my first year of law school. My schedule was crazy and I had bitten off more than I could chew.  Final exams were fast approaching and I was stressed beyond belief.

Fortunately, in the midst of the chaos, I was health conscious enough to schedule my yearly breast exam. During the procedure, I was stunned when the doctor informed me she had found a lump in my left breast.

They would have to do further testing to see if the lump was benign or cancerous.

Needless to say, with everything going on, I was an emotional wreck. The time spent waiting for those test results were some of the most trying hours and days of my life. I was scared… perhaps more scared than I had ever been.

Finally, the results came back and, thankfully, I did not have cancer.

But we all know my story could have had a different ending, like that of my Aunt Bernice, diagnosed 7 years ago and still standing strong, or my friend, Trina, who tragically died from the disease at only 37.

So I vowed to make that time in my life a new beginning. I now take a very preventative approach to my health and my life in general, and a big part of this is making sure I eat healthy, stay in shape, and avoid undue stress.

In particular, I do not miss or put off my annual breast exams.

A key tip I want to offer is to schedule annual breast exams around birthdays. This way, you won’t forget to do it, since it is part of our annual celebration of life.

We can’t do many things in life without our health. Think about it. Poor health makes it harder to enjoy our children, friends, mates, families and passions.

So I want all of my sisters out there to take the time today to make sure you have a reliable system in place for remembering, scheduling and, most importantly, getting your annual breast examination.

And please remember to commit to these steps today so, tomorrow, the rest of us are not forced to remember you.

Stephanie Robinson is President and CEO of The Jamestown Project, a national think tank focused on democracy. She is an author, a Lecturer on Law at the Harvard Law School and former Chief Counsel to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Stephanie reaches 8 to 10 million listeners each week as political commentator for the popular radio venue, The Tom Joyner Morning Show.  Visit her online at www.StephanieRobinsonSpeaks.com

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