My Experience With Breast Cancer
Updated: Oct 17, 2019
Today's post is written by guest blogger Elizabeth Monaghan
My oldest sister Megan was in her 40’s when she learned she had breast cancer. Feeling helpless, I asked what I could do for her. In addition to driving her to her chemo sessions, when her husband couldn’t, she asked if I go with her to shop for wigs so she would have it when she started losing her hair.
As we planned our wig-shopping excursion, Megan joked about getting a Dolly Parton-style wig, long, blonde and curly. Given my sister’s fair skin, bluish grey eyes and lovely red hair, the image made both of us laugh. But on the day we set out to shop, the amusement gave way to reality. At the wig salon, I sat in a chair next to Megan as she tried on different styles “made of 100 percent human hair.” One was a perfect match for her coloring, but the perky bob was a little too bouncy for my sister. As she stared at herself in the mirror, Megan looked sad. “I don’t think I can wear a wig,” she said, her voice barely audible. We thanked the stylist assisting her and left.
When Megan’s hair began to fall out, a friend came over and shaved her head. After that, she usually wore a bandana or hat. Rarely did she leave the house without covering her round bald head.
Megan isn’t my first relative to deal with breast cancer. My grandmother was diagnosed with it in her 60’s. That was about 45 or 50 years ago. I never found it strange that she had only one breast. My grandmother wasn’t ashamed of her body, and I think everyone in my family recognized it was a symbol that she had survived something awful.
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer 25 years ago when she was 70. Her cancer was a whole new level of concern because my father had been dead for more than15 years, and my siblings and I were scattered around the country. Fortunately, she did not have to go through chemo or radiation. She did have a mastectomy and wore a prosthetic for about 10 years. When she was 80, she was diagnosed with mammary dysplasia, and her doctor recommended removing her remaining breast. She took his suggestion. Today, my mother is 96 and going strong.
This is my personal experience with breast cancer in my immediate family. Given that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer (for those with first-degree relatives who’ve had the disease, that number doubles), I know I’m not alone in being a witness to the brave warriors who’ve battled it. In the 20+ years since Megan completed her breast cancer treatment, new medications and protocols are available to ensure fewer women die from breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month has done wonders for increasing most people’s knowledge of breast cancer. That more countries also recognize breast cancer awareness shows how strong the support network has grown for those who have suffered from or have been killed by the disease. For those of us who are blessed to have evaded breast cancer, we do not have to feel like there is nothing we can do. There are countless community events, races/walks and fundraisers that give us ample opportunity to be part of the support network. It may help to ask what we can do, but in my experience, the most crucial first step is to show up and let those with the disease know we care.