Wendy John on breast cancer awareness month

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 12, 2012

On Oct. 8, 2007, Joyce Faith Kneip peacefully left this world while surrounded by loved ones at the Rowan Regional Medical Center. Although we all have a story, I’d like to share hers and hopefully provide information that may help others in similar situations.
I was in the eighth grade the first time my mother had a breast cancer scare. There were two tumors in her right breast. Once removed, they were determined to be benign, meaning cancer-free. We were relieved-and blissfully unaware of the difficulties to come.
Two years later, I was in high school when we had another scare. Something showed up on my mother’s mammogram, but we couldn’t find out if it was cancer for a few days. I remember that day at school, waiting for her phone call. I didn’t hear my name over the intercom as I headed to lunch, but luckily someone else did. I was excited because I believed there simply was no way cancer could invade our family. My mother would be calling me to let me know everything was all right. I stopped short in the office door. There was my mother, wearing sunglasses, her face red. And that’s when I knew our lives were about to change.
At that time she was in the early stages, and chose a lumpectomy (removal of the cancerous tissue) with radiation treatments. After three years, the cancer returned much more aggressively. She decided to have a double mastectomy (breast removal) with chemotherapy, and we figured that was the last of it. How can breast cancer return if a person doesn’t have breasts?
After college, I joined the military, and was assigned to a base in Hampton, Virginia. Within months I could sense something wasn’t right. She was having trouble breathing, but was told it was anxiety. She finally went to the Emergency Room and fluid was found surrounding her lungs. After more tests it was determined that the cancer had returned in her lungs and around her kidneys. In March of 2004, she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, as the cancer had originated in her breasts.
My mother fought for over three years and became an inspiration to many people in the local area. She always seemed to know everyone, and if she didn’t know them, she would talk to them anyway. Although her life was cut short, I do feel as though it was filled with love and wonderful experiences. That was evident at her Celebration of Life memorial, where friends and family spilled out into an overflow room.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. It’s important that all women and men are educated about breast cancer because it isn’t age or gender-specific. The following information was compiled from the American Cancer Society (updated September 6, 2012):
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the U.S., after skin cancer. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer. At this time there are over 2.9 million women living in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer. Certain factors increase your risk for breast cancer at any age. If you have a sister or mother who has had breast cancer, your risk is even higher. The following are breast cancer statistics for the United States during 2012:
• 226,870 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
• About 39,510 women will die from breast cancer this year.
• 1 out of 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime.
• Men are also at risk for breast cancer.
• 2,190 men will be diagnosed this year.
• 410 men will die from breast cancer this year.
Listed below are the American Cancer Society’s screening guidelines for the early detection of breast cancer.
• Annual mammograms are recommended starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health.
• A clinical breast exam should be part of a periodic health exam, performed about every three years for women in their 20s and 30s, and every year for women 40 and older.
• Women should know how their breasts normally feel and report any breast changes promptly to their health care providers. Monthly breast self-exam is an option for women starting in their 20s.
• Women at increased risk (e.g. family history, genetic tendency, past breast cancer) should talk with their doctors about the benefits and limitations of starting mammography screening earlier and/or having more frequent exams.
To learn more about breast cancer, please visit the American Cancer Society’s website at www.cancer.org or call 1-800-227-2345.
Wendy John was born and raised in Salisbury and returns frequently to visit family.