An Ode to My Mom

October has always been one of my favorite months. It’s the time of the year when the sweltering heat that lingers all summer long ceases and crisp fall days return; front stoops are decorated with various shades of orange and purple in preparation for Halloween; and, pumpkin-flavored-everything is back. But this year, October is even more special to me. For the first time in my life, I will truly know what it means to feel the importance of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

My mom was diagnosed with grade 3 ductal carcinoma in February of this year, and unlike some of the stories others have shared with me, my mom did not go in for a routine mammogram feeling fine and come out with unexpected news that she had cancer. Instead, she spent the months before her diagnosis visiting countless medical specialists and receiving a gamut of medical tests only to be told that everything was “normal.” It was not until all of the other boxes were checked and everything else was ruled out that she was instructed to visit her gynecologist.

After her diagnosis, everything seemed to happen so fast. Looking back, maybe it was better that way because it lessened the amount of time we had to sit and wonder “what if,” or “maybe we can try this.” Rather, before we knew it my mom had received her treatment plan and she was on her way to her recovery. First stop: double mastectomy.

Thankfully, it is now eight months later and my mom is in remission. There were several bumps along the way, and the fear of her cancer returning will forever taint our hopeful outlook for the future; but if there is one thing we have learned from this horrible disease, it is to never stop advocating for yourself. Fortunately, my mom never wavered when countless tests showed things were normal, and we like to believe that her strength and willpower, along with the amazing medical team at Lehigh Valley Hospital Cancer Center, saved her life.             

It is estimated that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime and 1 in 39 women will die from breast cancer. It's the most diagnosed cancer among women in the U.S. and is now the most common cancer globally. Although much less common, with the lifetime risk being about 1 in 833, men can also be affected by breast cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, the best way to protect yourself is to get annual breast exams. So while attempting to use my mom’s story to shed light on the importance of that, I also want to take a moment to say that October is not the only month that rings true. Breast cancer awareness is more than pink ribbons and catchy slogans, breast cancer awareness is about making a year-round effort to take the preventive steps to ensure your health.