October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
October is National Breast Cancer awareness month and it’s a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. I’ve lost friends way too soon and I know it’s something that hits close to home for all of us as women, as nurses, and as human beings. As healthcare professionals we are often so focused on caring for others that we forget to tend to our own preventative care needs.
First things first, early detection is key. When detected early before spreading, the 5 year survival rate is 98% (National Cancer Institute.) We all know we should be doing breast self exams. Are we? I know I’m not as consistent as I should be. One way to remember is to perform the self exam on the date of your birthday monthly. For example, my birthday is January 5 so I can do mine on the 5th of each month. Or if you like your phone bossing you around (I do! I live by my reminders) you can download an app called Early Detection Plan and set it up to remind you monthly. You can also set it up to prompt you to make that mammogram appointment.
Speaking of mammograms, the American Cancer Society recommends women age 40 and over who have average risk and are in good health to have a mammogram every year. Breast self exam is so important, but mammograms can detect cancer sooner than you can feel a lump. If you have a family history or find anything abnormal it is possible you may need to begin yearly screenings earlier than age 40. For me, I felt a lump that ended up being dense tissue (8 out of 10 lumps are non cancerous but always warrant a visit to the doctor!) They did spot another area they wanted to watch. I just made my appointment today to get my follow up mammogram next week. As far as family history goes, having a first degree relative (mom or sister) with breast cancer approximately doubles your risk.
The Susan G. Komen website has a list of changes to watch for in your breast self exam. These include a lump, or hardness or thickening of the skin of the breast or underarm. Also, any swelling or warmth in these areas is cause for concern. Inverted nipples and sudden discharge are also a cause for concern. Call your doctor for new pain in one spot that doesn’t go away. The key is to know your body and get any changes checked out.
When it comes to caring for the patient with breast cancer compassion is so important. The patient is going to have body image issues as well as fear and anxiety from the cancer diagnosis, so it is especially important to support the patient and manage psychosocial as well as physical issues. Some things we can do are to provide education on chemotherapy and breast reconstruction. Inform her of support groups in the area. Post surgically, she will need education on her drainage device and wound care. Pain management will be an issue, and she may need education on how to work with you to manage the pain (for example, not letting her pain become too severe before asking for medication.) The American Cancer Society has provided a list of education resources regarding cancer treatment for medical professionals to provide patients. Therapeutic communication is crucial, especially in regards to listening in order to determine the patient’s physical and emotional needs.
Here are some ways to get involved. Find a fundraiser event wherever your travel assignment takes you. You can also kick off your own fundraiser here whether you want to host a bake sale, or a run, or benefit dinner. You can even set up a fundraiser page at the same website. Whether you want to donate time, or money to the cause we can all join in to aid in the fight against breast cancer.