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Take Care of Each Other, Take Care of Yourself: National Cancer Survivors Day

Tracking PixelThis post is sponsored by the Genius 3D MAMMOGRAPHY exam, helping save lives and celebrate more and more survivors on National Cancer Survivors Day for many years to come.

This Sunday is National Cancer Survivor’s Day. I know we have a lot of holidays for a lot of things, but this one? It’s important. Let’s talk about those two words for a moment: Cancer Survivor. If you know one, if you are one, you understand the power of that phrase. The way the first word took your breath away when you found out. And the way the second word put that breath back but with a new part of you alive and electric–your gratitude–so big, so overwhelming, it might as well have its own beating heart. Survivor.  You, someone you love–with medical intervention caught it, fought it, maybe still fighting–but here. For another sunrise, another breath of warm June air, another “I love you.”

I knew several cancer survivors growing up, my grandma included. It wasn’t something we talked about a lot, but my grandpa would sometimes recall the story of the surgeon walking out of the operating room years ago and telling him my grandma was going to be okay. Sometimes he cried when he told the story, even after all those years, his gratitude still palpable. In college, I worked with kids who had cancer, at a summer camp in northern Michigan, run by the American Cancer Association. I saw gratitude in the eyes of every parent who dropped off their child and discovered a kind of resilience and strength I’d never seen before–and in 8-year-olds! They were different–they had been through something, clenched their teeth through blood draws and surgeries, withstood treatments and hospital stays. They were tough but vulnerable. Vivacious yet deeply sensitive.

I think the impact of those two words though–Cancer Survivor–hit me the most the first time I attended a Celebration of Life picnic at the hospital where my dad worked. It’s one of the hospital’s biggest events all year–celebrated on the first Sunday of every June–and my dad played a big part in planning and emceeing the event until he retired early this year. There was music and food, entertainment, friends, family, and a sea of t-shirts–“I’m a Survivor.” 5 years. 10 years. 20 years. Badges of honor. They brought their teams–their kids, their brothers and sisters, their moms and dads, their doctors.  They danced to the band’s best cover songs–“Stand by Me”,  “I Feel Good” and  “Sweet Caroline”–and they held hands and sang together, raised their voices as loud as they could when the chorus came–Hands, touching hands, reaching out, touching me, touching you. Sometimes–lots of times–people cried, while they smiled and danced and shared the space with other people who understood exactly what this all meant. And at the end, they’d all join together. Find a survivor. Someone you love. Hold their hand and raise it up. Like a champion recognized after a boxing match. And then they’d play “Amazing Grace,” and if you never realized what “Cancer Survivor” really meant–if you never knew someone it changed–you did then.

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2014: my dad and his brother, my Uncle Dale, celebrating more days to love and celebrate.

Being a survivor might not be my story, but loving a survivor is. And as a woman who shares the 1-in-8 statistic for developing breast cancer in a lifetime, and considering the fact that I love at least a good 50 women, mathematically that’s enough of us to make this all of our story. Because “Cancer Survivor” could be any one of us, and if it is, the best chance we have is early detection. Just ask my cousin Mary. She’s a 10-year survivor this year. Early detection. She texted me this picture last week–with her daughter on her wedding day. “Here’s one reason I celebrate being a survivor this year,” she wrote. Aren’t they beautiful?

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And just this month, one of my dear friends in my little mom group was diagnosed. No signs, no symptoms–just a routine 3D Mammogram at her doctor visit. Detected early and with a treatment plan in action with a positive outcome expected–a new survivor on our team to celebrate. She wears her pink bracelet badge of honor, and we wear them with her because we belong to each other.

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As we honor and celebrate our cancer survivors this weekend, we also honor and celebrate the advances and discoveries the world of medicine has made that allow us this celebration–that breathe hope and more tomorrows for so many. And as women, it’s important for us to be proactive and educated about our health. If breast cancer is found early, the five-year survival rate is nearly 100 percent. Being proactive means not only going to get a mammogram every year starting at age 40, but seeking out the most accurate mammogram. The Genius 3D MAMMOGRAPHY exam is the only mammogram clinically proven to detect cancer 15 months earlier than conventional mammograms and reduce callbacks (the dreaded call from your doctor asking you to come back in for an additional mammogram) by up to 40 percent. It has also been proven to detect 41 percent more invasive cancers than traditional 2D screenings.

I had my first baseline mammogram a year and a half ago (I was having armpit pain that turned out to be tenderness from leaning over the crib rail all night to pat Dash back to sleep–go figure). I went because being proactive about my health is so important to me. I love too many people who need me. After the first mammogram jitters, I came out so glad I did it. For peace of mind and responsibility to my body. I remind my mom to get her mammograms, I badger my sister and I promise my friends I’ll go with them to get theirs. And come 40, you better believe after toasting with my friends for my birthday, I’ll be showing up the following week for my Genius™ exam.

Would I drive an extra mile for a more accurate mammogram? I’d drive to the moon and back if it meant I could kiss my babies to sleep another night or be witness to the women I love teach me more about motherhood and strength.

To all those who have lived and loved through cancer…and to the memories of those we miss who make us even more grateful for more time, more days, more love…Happy National Cancer Survivor’s Day.

Take care of each other, take care of yourself.

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  1. This post is so well-written. My third close friend in two years to be diagnosed with breast cancer just got the news two weeks ago. Two of the three were under 40 and nursing babies when they first felt the lump. It is terrifying, all cancers are terrifying. Celebrate every healthy day!

  2. Feeling all the feels reading this. My mom was just diagnosed earlier this spring just days shy of her 60th birthday. They found the lump using the 3D mammogram and I’ve never been more thankful for anything in my life. The doctor gave her a great prognosis, and because of the early detection she’s facing treatment that isn’t as invasive. Thank you so much for spreading the word, and reminding women how important the mammogram can be. I’ll be having my first baseline two years from now at 35 due to my mom’s diagnosis. It’s something I’ll happily do. Thanks again!

  3. This is a good awareness post.

  4. I was diagnosed with breast cancer October 19, 2015 at the age of 35. 35! It NEVER would have been found if I had not starting having annual 3D mammograms of my own accord. I have NO risk factors. Zero. I had a bilateral mastectomy in November, I have finished chemo now and my hair is growing back. I still have infusions with another drug, Herceptin, through the rest of this year and I’m not yet done with surgeries pertaining to breast reconstruction.

    PLEASE, please, please, please DO NOT wait until your 40’s to start having a 3D mammogram every year, ladies. Start in your early 30’s and just keep going. Even if your insurance doesn’t pay for them until a certain age, they are only about $130 out of pocket. WORTH EVERY PENNY I have worked with a lot of healthcare providers in oncology over the last 7 months and they all said they see women in their 30’s every single week. Go, go, go, go for your mammograms, make sure it is 3D and do it EVERY YEAR.

    • Totally agree with you Sarah! I was diagnosed at 33 and then again at 35. Please don’t wait – 40 is NOT a magic number!

  5. Kelle….
    “This Sunday is National Cancer Survivor’s Day. I know we have a lot of holidays for a lot of things, but this one? It’s important.” Ah…. It is very important!! I never knew that there was a National Cancer Survivor’s Day!! Cool!! Cancer has {for some reason} always been near and dear to my heart!! Cancer survivors are brave, courageous, inspirational!! As a writer, an artist who paints pictures with words, I have created several fictional stories which feature characters who are battling that disease!! I even had one die…. His name was Dylan, by the way. I personally know a breast cancer survivor…. She is an incredibly dear, dear, close friend of ours!! But my Grampa…. He lost his long journey with several different cancers on March 19th, 2016.
    “Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive”, Raelyn

  6. My 6 year old son was diagnosed with bone cancer in January. My hope is to celebrate this day with him next year. But tomorrow we will celebrate for those who already are survivors. And oh my word, I don’t think I could make it hearing Amazing Grace in a setting like that!

  7. I have to admit, this one really hit me. Cancer is a big one in my family, as many as it’s gotten it’s grips into, so I have to say, I was all but in tears as I read this.
    The end of this March, I just lost my grandmother. She’d survived ovarian cancer years ago then, thanks to doctors thinking she was just over reacting, they didn’t find her colon cancer until quite late. She lived almost 2 years with it, although it did keep advancing. The cancer itself didn’t take her but the numerous surgeries to attempt to remove it, mixed with various doses of chemo, her poor body just couldn’t handle it anymore. Luckily, she made it to 87 but I still see it as that’s what took her from us.
    July 1st this year, the day after my 30th and 6 days before what should’ve been my aunt’s 49th, will mark 10 years of her being gone. She fought Hodgkin’s disease in her early-mid 20s and came out a survivor. Sadly, the chemo did more harm than good and reeked havoc on her. It was horrible to lose her so early in life but seeing how miserable she was, needing to carry oxygen with her, use a scooter that early in life, we knew she was better off.
    Ugh, but enough of my rambling before I start bawling here at my desk. I’ve been reading the blog for years and usually come out smiling from your posts but this one hit home enough I finally had to post a comment. Looking forward to more posts though! :)

  8. Heather Garcia says:

    This!!!! My best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer and I pray she has many more tomorrow’s 💓

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