“It isn’t appropriate or acceptable to talk publicly about cancer and certainly not breast cancer.” Those of us who grew up in the Silent (or greatest) Generation or our older Baby Boomers probably recognize this statement. The word “cancer” was whispered, as though the disease was contagious, and “breast” was a sexual term, so it just wasn’t uttered in polite conversation.

As evidenced by “October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month” and “Paint the Town Pink” activities, we’ve come a long way in talking about, understanding and treating breast cancer. Thankfully, it is now a mainstream subject.

Much of the credit for making it mainstream goes to Shirley Temple Black and Betty Ford.

In 1972, Shirley Temple Black, a 1940s child movie star who later became ambassador to the United Nations, Ghana and Czechoslovakia, announced that she had breast cancer. Two years later, Betty Ford, the wife of the newly installed president, Gerald Ford, not only made her cancer diagnosis public but also talked about her treatment, thus helping millions of women realize that this serious illness did not have to be hidden.

Breast cancer is not a new malady. It has been described for hundreds of years, but with no meaningful treatment possible, the disease was a marker for gloom and doom. Since the latter part of the 20th century, treatment options and a better understanding of the disease has meant greatly improved life expectancy for women with differing types of breast cancer.

The good news for women treated for a breast cancer is that 90 percent have a five-year survival rate and those treated for a breast cancer that has not metastasized to other organs have a 99 percent survival rate.

Today, about 3.5 million American women have some form of breast cancer. The number of men with breast cancer is much smaller, but being male does not guarantee immunity.

A quarter of a million new breast cancer cases were identified in 2018. I am one of them.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October 2018, reminded me that I had put off my mammogram for over a year, largely because the general medical consensus was that once you are past age 75 and have no breast or ovarian cancers in your family, there really isn’t much point in getting a mammogram. Some European countries, such as England, are not providing mammograms beyond age 70.

With all the hoopla about breast cancer awareness, I decided to have a mammogram exactly a year ago. I expected a clean bill of health, as I had had for decades. Shortly after I arrived home from my mammogram, the Breast Health Center called telling me to return for another mammogram.

Fast forward to more tests, and my breast cancer diagnosis was confirmed. I was very lucky as the early stage cancer only required a lumpectomy and radiation treatments. My good fortune continues in Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2019, as I just received a great follow-up report.

All the pink around town and ongoing publicity for Breast Cancer Awareness should encourage women and men, but especially women, to know the hereditary factors that affect this disease and some of the signs that indicate possible problems.

From a personal standpoint, I’d encourage all women to have an annual mammogram. If cost is a factor, check with breast screening centers to determine how to best negotiate payment. And you older women who have a lot of living yet to do, go get those mammograms; Medicare will pay.

Remember, breast cancer is now a mainstream topic.

Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. Her email is dwmufson@comcast.net

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