What My Aunt’s Breast Cancer Diagnosis Taught Me

I grew up in a somewhat nontraditional family, with grandparents, aunts, and cousins around all the time. I still remember when, during my teenage years, my mother’s eldest sister was stricken with breast cancer. What made the diagnosis scary was the fact that my aunt was an RN and had been monitoring the affected breast for years, but it still took her by surprise. Once she was diagnosed, she proactively agreed to a radical mastectomy right away. Unfortunately, the treatment came too late. By the time she went through the process, her cancer had metastasized, and she passed away within a couple of years.

My mother, also a nurse, left her job and our home in Indianapolis to go to Kentucky and care for her during her final months. It was an incredibly painful time for our close-knit family as we watched her grapple with the reality of her mortality. We learned so much through that suffering and loss. After our initial period of mourning, I was able to reflect on the experience. In a way, our family was more aware and less afraid. Since that time, we’ve faced cancer (and cancer scares) head on.

My personal experience with breast cancer has taught me how necessary education is, especially when it comes to early diagnosis. The statistics highlight the importance of catching the disease in its earliest stages. Did you know that 89.4 percent of breast cancer patients have a 5-year-plus survival rate, and a whopping 98.6 percent of those long-surviving patients are diagnosed at the local stage? It’s clear: The earlier the condition is caught, the better the prognosis.

Ignorance does not work. While it’s an uncomfortable topic to address, women should always keep their health in mind and work to reduce their breast cancer risks. Don’t shy away from having a mammogram, especially if you notice a lump or any other change in your breasts. Take control of your health now — not just for your own sake, but for your loved ones’, as well.


Mammograms are critical for finding breast cancers in localized and early stages. We hope this story will inspire you to get screened at a facility near you. To schedule a mammogram in your area, see the following: http://dignityhlth.org/mammography


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