2009-10-09 / Columnists

East End (And West End) Matters...

Ladies And Gentlemen, It's Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

No. You are not seeing things. You read the title right. For this column I want everyone in Rockaway - from Far Rockaway to Breezy Point - to stop when he or she reaches this page and take the time to read it. Yes, guys that includes you, because men can become victims of breast cancer, as well as women. If you don't believe me, just Google the names Montel Williams, Quincy Jones and 'Shaft' star Richard Roundtree - all are breast cancer survivors.

Good. Now that I have everyone's attention let us begin. To start with, this is not one of those "the calendar says October so I think I will write a breast cancer awareness article." This is an "I'm writing this because I've been there, done that article." In the summer of 1995, at age 40, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. By May of the following year I had undergone a lumpectomy (removal of the lump, but not the breast), chemotherapy and radiation. I was lucky. I found it early. Stage 1. Out of that experience came my advocacy to make people aware of this disease and find a cure.

More women die from breast cancer than any other cancer. There are more incidences of white women with breast cancer than African American women, yet black women are more likely to die from the disease. Since 1990 the death rate from breast cancer has declined more than two percent per year. The latest report from the American Cancer Society, released in September, shows that "over the last ten years the rate of decline [of breast cancer] among African American and Hispanic women is similar to the drop among white women. However, death rates for breast cancer remain 40 percent higher in African American than white women." While breast cancer in men is one percent of all the breast cancers in the U.S., such diagnoses have increased 0.9 percent annually. According to the report the survival rate in men is poorer than women because, "Late stage diagnoses are more common in men because they may not be aware of, or respond as quickly to, changes in their breasts."

Some of the risk factors for men are having BRCA gene mutations, Klinefelter syndrome, testicular disorders, family history of male or female breast cancer, and obesity. For both women and men the chances of getting breast cancer increases with age.

OK, those are some of the facts. Now for what you should do. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam every three years. Women 40 and over should have an annual clinical exam, preferably before their mammogram. All women should be familiar with the look and feel of their breasts and check themselves monthly for any changes. Because of the rarity of breast cancer in men, mammograms are not recommended, but men, like women, should know their breasts and be aware of any changes.

Both Rockaway hospitals offer mammogram programs for those with limited funds or no insurance.

Peninsula Hospital Center offers low cost or free mammograms. PHC, working with the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the Breast Health Partnership, provides free screenings at its breast clinic every other Thursday and mammograms once a month. Call the Family Health Center appointment desk for hours, further information and to make an appointment: 718-734- 2328. In 2009, the Queens Breast Health Partnership screened more than 5,500 low income or uninsured women. Since it started in 2004, the QBHP has screened more than 48,000 women and diagnosed more than 1,000 patients with breast cancer.

SJEH offers low-cost mammograms to patients without insurance, based on a sliding fee scale and their ability to pay. Also, during this month SJEH has extended mammography hours on Monday and Wednesday evenings and on two Saturdays, October 10 and 17. For appointments call the Imaging Department: 718-869-7710.

These programs means there is no excuse for women, with or without insurance, to not have yearly clinical exams and mammograms. There is also a place for men to go should they need such services. As for excuses to avoid mammos like, I am too busy, I have to work, I have to take care of the children. Ladies, you need to have that mammogram to continue to be able to work and be busy; and especially to continue to take care of your children. Remember, mammograms save lives.

I thank both Rockaway hospitals. SJEH is where I had my surgery and chemo and PHC the radiation treatments. Also on the east end, there is the Arverne Cancer Support Group. You don't need to be from Arverne or to have cancer to be a part of this group. You may be a relative, a friend or a caregiver of a cancer victim. Or just someone who - as one of their youngest members, age 8, told me last year - wants to help. Whatever your reason for taking part, you will be welcomed with open arms and caring hearts.

So to review: Women and men, know the look and feel of your breasts and check them frequently - for women that's once a month. Gentlemen, you can also ask your partner to check for you. Also ladies, get a yearly clinical exam and mammogram. If someone comes to you this month and says he or she is taking part in a breast cancer walk, support that person - even if it is one dollar. Because you never know if it will be that dollar that will provide researchers with the breakthrough for which they have been working long and hard and for which we all have been praying.

Since I had breast cancer in 1995, there have been so many advances and more is known about the disease every day. Breast Cancer Awareness month is meant to raise people's consciousness about the disease. We also celebrate the 'birthdays,' as the ACS calls them, of those who have survived. We honor the strength of those who are still fighting. We remember those we lost. One day, hopefully soon, we will be able to party and really celebrate because that will be the day that breast cancer is eradicated and no one will ever again hear a doctor say, "You have breast cancer."

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Food for Thought: Yes, it is over. The struggle, the depression, the agony has come to an end. Oh, what a way to start a new subject after writing about breast cancer. Well, at least the New York Mets went out in winning style by sweeping the Houston Astros in a three game season ending series.

If only we'd had that type of play during the rest of the season. The return of Carlos Beltran and John Maine gave us a glimpse of what could have been.

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