“Are you sitting down?” It was my mother on the other end of the phone. It just so happened, I was sitting, something I’d been doing a lot of, given the fact I was in the second trimester of my second pregnancy. “Yeah mom, what’s up?” I was using that rushed, impatient tone with her, the very one I hear (and hate) from my own kids. That’s when she dropped the bomb. “I have breast cancer.”
Those words stole my breath. My mom? No way! She was healthy, vibrant and strong. Besides, she had no family history. Surely this was a mistake. It wasn’t. My mother was one of the more than 200,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer in this country each year. I am thankful she was smart and vigilant; her cancer was found on a mammogram and it was very small. She chose a lumpectomy and radiation and she’s been cancer free for nearly 14 years.
Her bout with breast cancer came years after my father battled the disease, too. Yes, men can and do get breast cancer, though not in the numbers women do. He had a modified radical mastectomy since his cancer was growing aggressively.
After my mother’s diagnosis I began a heavy screening routine, seeing the breast surgeon twice a year, having a mammogram and sonogram once a year and dutifully doing breast self-exams. But in 2003, my mammograms started showing suspicious white flecks and due to my family history, each new development needed to be biopsied. Four biopsies in four years (all on the same breast, in the same location) and my breast had had enough and sort of collapsed. So did I. I began talking to my breast surgeon about taking a more proactive stance—instead of waiting until I got cancer, trying to avoid it altogether and perhaps fix some of the damage done by all the biopsies. We decided the best option for me would be a preventive double mastectomy.
In January 2007, I was on the table at Memorial Sloan Kettering having my breasts removed in a five-and-a-half hour procedure that was filmed by the Oprah Winfrey show. I went back two months later for a day procedure to exchange the temporary implants for my permanent ones.
I look back on that time as a crash course in life lessons for me. I learned a lot about breast cancer; did you know family history is NOT the biggest risk factor? That’s right, only about 10% of cases have a genetic link. Remember, there was no history in my family before my parents were diagnosed. The biggest risk factor for breast cancer is being an aging woman. Period.
A bout with serious illness can take as much of a toll on your family finances as it can on your health. When you’re sick, you need to concentrate on getting well, not worrying about paying bills or whether you’re siphoning off funds needed for your family’s future, which makes me grateful for the good health insurance that I had.
A serious illness also makes you rethink your financial future. My husband and I have always made sure we carried adequate life insurance coverage. Life insurance is not one of those things that you can deal with “down the line.” You really need to think of it like a shield. A critical one at that.
So since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, along with thinking about your health, how about taking a moment for a life insurance check-up? Do you have enough coverage? What would your family need in the event something happened to you? What should you do right now, while you’re healthy, to safeguard the future? Check out this post by breast cancer survivor and insurance agent Vlasta Duffy, who has tips on what you should consider. It could save you a lifetime of worry. I can’t think of a reason not to do it, can you?