Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Breast Cancer Awareness

It's only appropriate as we enter the month of October, that I remind all you women out there to check yourself and to remind all your friends. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I never thought I would be diagnosed at age 26, but there I was, a young mother of 2 toddlers, knee deep in dishes, diapers, laundry, nursing, cooking, cleaning. I didn’t have time to check myself for breast cancer. I have to admit that at the time I rarely ever did my monthly self checks.

However, my Breast Cancer presented itself not in a lump, but in the form of a cracked and bleeding, and eventually, VERY itchy, nipple. All too often, Paget’s Disease gets overlooked because it is so rare. It is actually just as rare as Male Breast Cancer. Paget’s Disease accounts for about 1% of all Breast Cancers, while Male Breast Cancer accounts for about 1% as well. About half the people who are diagnosed with Paget’s Disease feel a lump, while others do not. In my case, I did not have a lump.

The demographics for Paget’s Disease are usually women in their 60’s and also men in their 60’s. Also, there is a corollary factor with women who don’t have children or have them later in life and Paget’s. It is said for a woman to get it in her 20’s is extremely rare. I also had two children at the time too. I guess I’m a rare one! I knew it was very rare when I was at a doctors appointment the week I was diagnosed. I was getting a second opinion at a major teaching hospital in Chicago. The head breast surgeon there examined me, confirmed the diagnosis and then asked if her med students could come in and take a look. In the name of science and education, why not! So, in piled 15-20 med students in this little tiny room. I noticed that most of these students were my age. The surgeon, in all seriousness, began to explain to the students all the technical terms, symptoms, and things to look at when they filed by me. I felt a little like a lab rat, but hey, if by having these handful of people examine me and learn what to look for in other women, it could help save someone else's life someday, then it was all worth it! I did recall the doctor saying as they filed in and out in an assembly like fashion, “Take a good look at this and notice all the cracks, indentations, scabbing, and size. You won’t probably ever again in your career see another Paget’s case in a patient so young. Gina is currently 26. Remember that.”

So while I recognize that my experience with Breast Cancer was a very rare one, not every woman is as “lucky”. By lucky, I mean that my symptoms were very evident, albeit misdiagnosed for a year, obvious nonetheless. Lumps can go undetected. So get to know your body and check yourself every month! Tell the women in your life to check themselves and have anything suspicious checked out by a doctor. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. ONE in EIGHT! Those are high odds, but early detection really does make a difference in survival rate. Remember also, that most breast cancers are not related to family history at all.

For more information on Paget’s Disease please feel free to contact me.

To learn more and to get involved, see also:
  • Paget’s Cancer Awareness Act HR 822. This is a current bill, introduced in the House. Please vote on this at and write to your legislators to let them know you want more awareness of Paget’s Disease.
  • I am currently working on a book as it relates to my breast cancer experience. Coming soon!
  • If you want to join me locally, we do the Breast Cancer Network of Strength (formerly Y-ME) every Mother’s Day. I am also a volunteer with this organization.

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