Facing down breast cancer
Dennie Quill, Columnist
If Hurricane Sandy allows them to, scores of women will make the trek to The Jamaica Pegasus hotel tomorrow to attend the annual breast cancer fund-raiser. Around the world, October is recognised as Breast Cancer Month.
Cancer generally, and breast cancer specifically, has claimed so many gifted women in the prime of life and robbed our country and the world of talent that could contribute immensely to improving the quality of life. Everyone knows someone who has had breast cancer or cancer of another sort. The local news media must be congratulated for telling the stories of women who are dealing with breast cancer so that people have a better understanding of how cancer affects different areas of life, such as parenting, work and family.
Typically, these annual luncheons also hear about the courageous battle women are waging against breast cancer. The survivors are celebrated and their courage applauded. It is not so much about mastectomies and chemotherapy but how one copes emotionally and physically in the face of adversity and the value of support during trying times.
But the lesson from these sessions is usually about the urgent need for testing. Medical experts agree that early detection is the greatest weapon in the woman's fight against breast cancer, and that mammo-grams have successfully reduced breast cancer mortality. The take-away from these events is that women should develop a health strategy which would pay attention to risk factors for ill health such as obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking and alcohol consumption.
So even though the spotlight shines brightly on breast cancer during October, I suggest that we change the national conversation on breast cancer to make it an all-year focus so that women can understand what it means to achieve good breast health to help them understand the seriousness of the disease and what actions are necessary on their part.
For my part, I would love to see research into breast cancer emanating from our part of the world. After all, there are plenty of claims going around and one is never sure how credible some of these claims are, and whether they should be taken seriously. For example, there have been studies purporting to link the use of underarm deodorant to breast cancer, as well as claims that mothers who produce big babies are more susceptible to breast cancer. Research is painstaking and expensive; however, there must be private-sector interests out there who would like to fund innovative clinical research into breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Month would give so much comfort to women if they were assured that our local foundations and charities are spending top dollar on research activities at regional institutions. A future free of breast cancer will only come about if the scientific community is given the funding and support necessary to study this disease. My challenge is for greater than lip-service support for cancer research at our local institutions.
October is important for shining the glare on the disease every year, but I suggest that all-year-round awareness should be uppermost in our minds. All opinion leaders and people of influence should get involved in spreading the word about early detection.