October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I was diagnosed with the disease in 2001 and up until this year, I lived cancer-free. One thing I’ve learned from having cancer then and now is that once diagnosed, it is a life-sentence, but not necessarily a death sentence. You may be cancer-free for many years, only to be faced with another cancer diagnosis years later. I am reminded of the scripture, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8 I know it’s not the proper way to exegete this passage, but if I consider cancer as a demon that just waits for the opportunity to strike unexpectedly, this scripture is applicable.
The stats for breast cancer diagnoses here in Canada are staggering. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, it is estimated that in 2019, 26,900 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. This represents 25% of all new cancer cases in women in 2019. 5000 women will die from breast cancer. This represents 13% of all cancer deaths in women in 2019. On average, 74 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer every day, and 14 women will die from breast cancer every day. 230 men will be diagnosed and 55 will die from breast cancer. 1 in 8 Canadian women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime and 1 in 33 will die from it. One would think twenty years would have seen numbers of diagnoses decrease based on advances in research and treatment, but that is not the case. A Canadian Government report published in 2006 said 1 in 8.9 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. I heard that statistic 1 in 9 quite often after my diagnosis in 2001. True that screening has improved to detect the cancers earlier, and more women are surviving five years or longer due to advances in treatment, but it does not negate the fact that more Canadian women are being diagnosed with this insidious disease each year.
It makes me angry.
Yesterday, I spent a full day at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary learning about my upcoming radiation treatments. I did not have radiation in 2001, so I wanted to learn as much as possible about this treatment. I knew it would be a challenge to be out and about as I was still under the effects of chemo thunder. I managed to maintain focus through a two hour class on what I could expect during radiation treatments. Then I was scheduled to go through the simulator 3D “mapping” process to prepare for radiation three weeks from now. It’s a fairly simple process, but I’ve become accustomed that nothing is “simple” with me. A CT scan that should have taken minutes took hours to complete because my body simply would not cooperate. Chemo left me so dehydrated that doing the test with a full bladder, as they required, meant drinking more than 40 fluid ounces of water and waiting a lengthy time for it to go through my system. My scan for 12:30 finally was completed at 4 p.m. It was an exhausting day exasperated all the more with my still recovering from my last chemo treatment.
While I drank the copious amounts of water, other cancer patients with their loved ones for support beside them, waited with my husband and I in the small waiting room reserved for those who needed radiation treatments too. Unlike the large chemotherapy waiting room, where people did not talk much, in this smaller space, we soon got to know the people around us. An older couple sitting across from us held hands. When she was called in for treatment, they reluctantly unclasped their hands. Left behind to wait for his wife, the man looked at me, blinked and then unburdened himself by sharing their cancer story. This was his wife’s third battle with cancer. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, she had gone through surgery, chemo and radiation. Then in 2017, he noticed that she was slurring words and her balance was awry. She was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Surgery followed by radiation left her without much of her short-term memory. She seemed to be recovering well however, although she faced some challenges at home. Then a month or two ago she started to complain of headaches and her balance was way off. A new brain tumour was discovered. Doctors were giving her chemo to combat cancer spreading to other areas of her body, but radiation was needed for the tumour in her brain. The man sighed. It had been hard to share with us, two strangers he’d never met before, nor would likely ever see again, but he seemed to be comforted just in the telling. “Your wife is a fighter!” I said, and wanted desperately to take his hand and offer to pray with him, but I was called in for my appointment before I had the chance.
I share this story, dear readers, to ask you to pray diligently for this couple and for the thousand others who are battling cancer in all its ugly forms. Every cancer statistic represents a real person, who is battling, has battled, or will do battle in the future with cancer. Uterine cancer, like breast cancer is on the rise, as are most of the other cancers diagnosed this year. Pray for a cure…
…and pray it is found soon!