When I got a phone call from my Uncle Joe, a surgical breast oncologist, several years ago I had no idea that it would save my life. He called because he knew I had three aunts who had been diagnosed with cancer (one passed away from ovarian cancer at just 41 years of age, another after a long battle with breast cancer, and one who is a breast cancer survivor to this day) and encouraged me to see a genetic specialist to better understand my personal breast and ovarian cancer risk.
Before long, I entered a program that took a deep dive into my family history. While my test results came back negative for the most common genetic mutations associated with these cancers, the genetic specialist shared that my risk factor was greater than the average woman. Knowing this allowed me to have very important conversations with my doctors about early detection and prevention strategies.
Several years later, during a routine self-exam, I found a lump. I remember it all too well: I had just worked out and had 15 minutes for a quick shower before I needed to take my son to basketball practice. In fact, I can still remember looking at the clock in a typical rushed state. I recall telling myself that I was no good to him if I was not here, took those few extra minutes, and proceeded with my exam.
After several tests, the lump was diagnosed as stage one breast cancer. Because of the information I already knew about my family health history, I chose to undergo a double mastectomy and later, an oophorectomy. Understanding my level of risk allowed me to make informed decisions about my health.
As I continue my quest to share knowledge as a Bright Pink Education Ambassador, I cannot stress the importance of taking the time to #ListenUp to your health. As a woman, I know that the role of caretaker comes to me naturally, in addition to being a wife, employee, and volunteer. As women, we never forget to take our children to the dentist, or miss a deadline on a work project–but somehow in the midst of all of this, we often forget ourselves and our own health.
I can’t count the number of times I have heard from smart, educated women, that “breast and ovarian cancers don’t run in their family” or “they have not had a mammogram lately/skipped their annual well woman’s exam because they feel good.” When I hear these things, I explain that no one is exempt from these conversations and that taking the time to #ListenUp to our bodies and catch these cancers at early, non life threatening stages is so, so important.
Here are three things you can do today to help #ListenUp to your body:
- Know the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer–they can be confused with common digestive or menstrual issues.
- Plan all of your annual doctor appointments for a specific month. For me, February is “take care of me month.” I make sure that I schedule all of my annual appointments during this time because it works best for my life and schedule.
- Use the first day of every month to remind myself to be self-aware. This month (and every month!), #ListenUp to your ovarian health, take note of any changes in your body, and spend some time collecting your family health history.
We know that these cancers are prevalent and serious. But if caught early, the survival rate is amazing! The key is to be your own health and wellness advocate, because early detection and prevention can save your life. It saved mine.
SUSAN EURITT is a Bright Pink Educational Ambassador living in Chicago, IL. She is the Principal at Ruckus Strategic Partnership Consulting.