Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Good Ship Lollipop has sailed.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Shirley Temple was a force of nature. I loved watching her dance with Bo Jangles, admired her transition to adulthood and her international ambassadorial career, and was grateful for her decision to speak out about her breast cancer in Hollywood where breasts reigned supreme. Her disease was discovered through mammography in 1973. It took courage to speak publicly about her mastectomy from her hospital bed. She died last week at 85.

I wonder how she would feel about the never ending mammography debates of today? If she had known my daughter, I wonder what advice she would have given her about having mammograms?

Medical science has certainly transformed since the 70's. Now, my daughter has more information available to her, an advantage or disadvantage, depending on how you look at it. She also has me. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 46. That means that she has a ticket to access annual mammograms beginning at age 40, instead of having to wait until 50 to receive screening every two years like women in some other provinces have to.

In my day, I had no early warning system to alert me to be cautious, to pay attention to the preventive measures of diet and exercise, and to ruddy well book a mammogram. I had no known reason to worry. There was no cancer in my family at all (until recently...a first cousin has now been diagnosed with breast cancer in her late 60's).  It was my family doctor (thanks Dr. Wilson) who insisted that I simply make time to have a mammogram.

I feel that the system saved my life.

It's very hard to separate my own story from what I read in the headlines. Take last week for example, a study was released which was howling that mammography is useless and potentially leads to unnecessary treatments.

I have to stand by evidence based science. I know that knowledge, technology and treatments evolve over time. They certainly have over the 23 years that the BC Cancer Agency has been perusing studies and collecting statistics.

Our BC science and research gurus state that screening mammography is appropriate for women without symptoms or family history. They state firmly that lives have and will be saved through the test. They have been keeping statistics for decades and have concluded that earlier detection through mammography saves lives.

I may have lived if my tumour (slightly over 2cm) had not been found for another year or so. Maybe - or maybe not. But my scar would not be so small. My treatments would have been more costly, complicated and hard on my body.

Regardless, life has a reliable arc. Something will end our lives eventually...even if it's a natural death (Whatever that is? Old age, perhaps?) If breast cancer becomes my Waterloo years from now, I know that I will be thankful that it was initially found early. After all, I have had today.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

A purple box.

After the first few months following my diagnosis in 1991 my life rolled on just like everyone else's...and that included still having to shop for the groceries. Wandering the supermarket aisles, I spotted a bright purple cereal box called Nutrific by Kellogg's. I like purple.  The colour seduced me and I tossed the Nutrific in my cart without caring much about the contents (Am I a marketer's dream or what?). I have a hunger for the printed word and I was intrigued with what I read on that purple box at breakfast the next morning.  

There were two logos, one for the Canadian Cancer Society(CCS) and an odd one that looked like two conjoined women's heads for some group called the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation(CBCF). Kellogg's was donating 25 cents from each box sold to both charities. 

I had never heard of 'cause marketing' but this seemed like a (Nu)terrific way to raise funds for the Canadian Cancer Society. 

But who was this other group? I had the perfect source of information.

Not too many people can claim to walk on water, but I think my radiation oncologist could do it if he really tried. Helping me to make treatment decisions, that man listened to me until his ears burned. He explained the statistical advantages and downsides of the treatment options to a scared woman who had the mathematical mind of a monkey. He answered questions again and again. He drew diagrams and explained charts.  I know that later, he even had a mammogram himself just to experience what it was like! 

His office was a mess.  When I asked him about the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation he started to rummage about in a pile of papers on a loaded bookshelf and emerged with a small, glass award from the CBCF in Ontario. He was one of their medical advisers! They were partnering with the CCS raising money through Nutrific.  They had to be a good group, and it was the only organization totally focused on breast cancer that I knew about.  With that nugget of information, it was back to the supermarket to buy an entire case of Nutrific.