This article is in honor of our friends, co-workers, clients, and family members who have battled breast cancer. The article was written by the SWP team and includes a personal story from Chief Operating Officer, Jessica Pickens, about her mother who battled breast cancer almost 20 years ago.
Throughout your life, it’s normal for your priorities to shift, change, and evolve. Usually these shifts happen quite gradually, playing out over months, years, or even decades. But sometimes, we get news that makes our priorities shift in an instant.
For the 1 in 8 women that will receive a breast cancer diagnosis during their lifetime, this statement holds especially true. Following a diagnosis, the things that felt important just yesterday may now feel insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and there is now a new set of milestones, tasks, and decisions that must be managed.
Jessica Pickens remembers the day when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer during the fall of 2002. “She was 52 at the time, and breast cancer didn’t run in my family. It was really a shock for all of us, and I remember my mother kept trying to figure out what she did to ‘catch it’ or what she could have done to prevent it. As we know, you can do everything right and still get cancer.”
For Jessica’s mother, the immediate focus in her life turned to the fight that lay ahead: How aggressive was the cancer? What types of treatments were available? What were the pros and cons of each? And what path forward was most recommended by her oncology team?
Fortunately, her cancer was a non-aggressive variety; however, it was found in both breasts. After careful consideration and consultation with her oncology team, she decided to move ahead with a double mastectomy. This was certainly a challenge for a young 52-year-old, but she was grateful that she didn’t have to go through radiation or chemotherapy. Today, nearly twenty years later, she is still going strong.
The Value of Early Detection
Jessica’s mother survived her battle, but she remembers her good friend’s mother who was not so fortunate.
“We watched her fight and beat this illness only to have it come back,” said Jessica. “She was one of those grandmothers that came to all of the preschool soccer games and stood in as a grandma for anyone that needed her. It was heartbreaking for my friend, her family, and the community to lose her.”
Unfortunately, this type of loss is the reality for thousands of people across our country each year, and in 2021 alone, it’s expected that over 43,000 women in the United States alone will lose their lives to breast cancer. But there are steps we can take to improve our odds of success during treatment, and data continually shows that frequent screening and early detection gives us the best shot at successfully treating this deadly disease.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women with an average risk of breast cancer begin annual screenings at age 45, and consider bi-annual screenings at age 50. The most common screening exam, the mammogram, has been shown to detect breast cancer very early in its development — when you have the best chance of successful treatment. In fact, when breast cancer is detected early on and is still localized, the 5-year survival rate is nearly 99%.
Lastly, it’s important to note that cancer can impact women at every stage of life, and there is no downside to early screening. Watching her mother’s battle encouraged Jessica to start getting screened earlier than is suggested. “I started getting mammograms in my 30s, right after I stopped breastfeeding my second child,” Jessica said. “I now go two times a year. It’s a little scary each time I go, but I find peace of mind in knowing that if cancer is found, we’ll catch it early. I decided to share my mother’s story today in the hopes that it brings attention to the benefits of frequent screenings and early detection.”
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month and our loved ones who have faced this battle, we’ve made a donation to The Pink Fund. The Pink Fund is an organization that provides 90-day grants to low-income individuals and families who have been impacted by breast cancer.