Knowing Your Family History of Breast Cancer is Important

June 28, 2013

So often we hear stories about celebrities dealing with breast cancer and their personal journeys with this devastating disease. Most recently, Angelina Jolie, who lost her mother to breast cancer years ago, chose to have a preventative mastectomy. We applaud her for not only aggressively taking action against breast cancer, but also thank her for sharing her story. Because through sharing her breast cancer journey, she is starting a conversation about breast health. And right here in Southeast Wisconsin, we are starting these conversations everyday …

It was the third week of May. Normally, I get my annual mammogram in February, but that year I put my yearly reminder away, thinking: “I’m only 38. Would it be so bad to wait another year?” (In fact, only 53 percent of women 40 and older in the United States reported having a mammogram in the last year.)

But then my friend, who had been battling breast cancer for four years, passed away at the age of 36. During that same time, my aunt was diagnosed. So I thought to myself, “What are the odds of me getting breast cancer, too?” It was then that I decided to schedule my screening.

The day after my mammogram, the doctor called me back in to tell me the news. I had breast cancer. I learned in the United States, between 80 and 90 percent of breast cancer in women without symptoms is detected by mammography. 1 in 8 women develop breast cancer in their lifetime – in Wisconsin, 4,490 women will hear the words, “you have breast cancer,” this year. If detected early, however, the survival rate is 98 percent.

Because of my family history, I was tested to see if I carried the BRCA2 mutation. I did. This realization led me to take a more aggressive route to fight my breast cancer by getting a bilateral mastectomy.

Thankfully, I am now cancer-free. I believe everything happens for a reason, and I think the reason I’m here is to help save other women’s lives. I talked to my sorority sisters about my journey and told them to get screened. Within three months, they had all gotten a mammogram. I’m also proud to be a Leader with Kohl’s Conversations for the Cure, an educational program now in its third year, which allows me to share my story with others. Sometimes hearing someone else’s story will help open your eyes and inspire you to take action.

It’s important to know your family history. Now I know a woman whose mother, sister or daughter had breast cancer has an increased risk for the disease. As mothers, it is our responsibility to take control of our own breast health so we can accompany our children with every milestone in their lives — from taking their first step to graduation, we need to be there. Taking control of our health and getting regular screenings gets us one step closer to ensuring that becomes a reality.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure encourages every woman at average risk to get a mammogram every year starting at age 40. Each woman should have a clinical breast exam at least every three years starting at age 20, and every year starting at age 40 if they are at average risk.

If you have questions or concerns regarding mammograms, or are worried you may not be able to afford one, join a Conversation and talk with local women who can provide answers. It’s as simple as visiting to find a Conversation in your area.

Women in Wisconsin can call 877-910-PINK for information on assistance for screening and diagnostic breast health services (i.e., mammograms, clinical breast exams, diagnostic mammograms, ultrasounds and biopsies), as well as arranging transportation and childcare for these appointments.

Minerva Cornejo is a Leader with Kohl’s Conversations for the Cure and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

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