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Early Detection & Support Are Key In Fighting Breast Cancer

American Cancer Society

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. One in eight people will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Early detection and a good support system are key elements in the fight against the disease.

The American Cancer Society recommends that anyone at the age of 40 have a baseline mammogram and yearly mammograms after that as a preventative measure against the disease. But, if there is a family history of breast cancer talking to your doctor about the screening process at an earlier age is something to be considered, "The way the ACS has in fact led the way for the fight against cancer is by helping people stay well; first of all, stay well, by showing them steps they can take to reduce the risk of cancer or to find it early."

That’s Diane Maldonado, the ACS Sr. Representative for Community Engagement in Ft. Walton Beach. She says that living a healthy lifestyle, awareness AND early screenings are all vital components in the battle, and if breast cancer is detected early enough there is a 98 percent survival rate, " So the awareness, just putting it out in the forefront, because many years ago we didn’t talk about it. I do believe that, I do believe the awareness has brought more people to get screened earlier. So if there is the disease it’s detected early and it can be treated, and the survival rate is much higher."

The American Cancer Society is a leader in the fight, investing more in breast cancer research than any other type of cancer, with numerous fundraising and awareness campaigns such as the “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” walks held earlier this month. Also, ACS has played a role in nearly every major breast cancer research breakthrough in recent history, " First of all establishing mammography as a standard to find breast cancer early, we’ve discovered life-saving treatments such as Tamoxifen and Herceptin as well. We’ve been involved in discovering the genes that cause breast cancer. And basically deepening the knowledge of how genetics, body weight, lack of exercise, and alcohol use can increase a person’s cancer risk."

Having cancer is not easy to handle, but the ACS is lightening the load by offering support and guidance for those facing the disease, such as providing transportation to and from treatment and free lodging when the treatment facility is far from home.  Maldonado knows better than most what’s available.  She not only works for the organization, but is also a 23-year breast cancer survivor and gained a lot from her own experience, " When I was first diagnosed I knew nothing about the American Cancer Society. Did not know they existed, was totally unaware of the programs that they offered. So to be able to bring the organization in the forefront, to share what we’re doing, to show that we’re making progress, certainly is hope. You know most organizations are selling something, their product, they’re selling a product. Well, our product is hope."

The ACS also offers free wigs and assistance with treatment-related physical side effects, as well as connecting newly diagnosed patients with trained breast cancer survivors to serve as mentors.

Having a good support system in place to navigate the breast cancer experience is an important piece of the puzzle as well. 

Every meeting ends on a positive note at Bosom Buddies, a Ft. Walton Beach breast cancer support group that meets twice a month at the medical center. Shirley Carnes has been the facilitator for the group for over 21 years and says there are members ranging in age from 26 to over 80 years old, from the newly diagnosed to multi decade survivors.

Carnes is also a 24 year breast cancer survivor and says running the group is her mission in life and the purpose of the group is to help women and men heal, "There’s a difference between healing and curing. We leave the curing to the medical world.  We can work on healing and getting our lives back on track. And if we don’t do it already, learn how to enjoy life. Take one joy at a time; realize the importance of love and laughter, and that there is a good life after cancer."

Carnes says it’s overwhelming to learn that you’re not as in control of your life as you think you are, especially after being newly diagnosed which can make you feel vulnerable at times. Carnes says having a good support system can be a crucial part of recovering, "And it’s rather devastating to think you’re in control and have to accept that fact that you’re not in control. And it really helps to have people around to be supportive. People who have been through what you’ve been through, people you can look at a see that they’re happy they’re well, they’re healthy. They’re enjoying life again and that’s where you want to be."

For more information about breast cancer and how to reduce your risk of getting the disease go to cancer.org/fightbreastcancer. To find support in the Ft. Walton Beach area go to BreastCancerSupportFwb.com.