Editor’s note: This article was written in conjunction with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We know that we’re towards the end of the month but we also believe that this piece will be a timeless advice. We hope you enjoy the read and do share them with your loved ones!
What if the most impactful method of curing breast cancer was out of the hospital? We are not doctors but what we know for sure is that the ultimate solution to breast cancer starts not from the hospital but from our society. Try this, initiate a conversation with a colleague and have an open discussion on breast cancer. The initial reaction is more often than not anything between the lines of awkward or shyness, yes? Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the world and also in Malaysia, but why is it not widely discussed and what can we do about it?
To start things off on a positive note, despite it being the most common cancer, breast cancer is highly treatable and survivable in the early stages (Stage 0 and 1). Of course, that has to be accompanied by early detection measures namely, mammography and clinical breast examination. With the prevalence of the coronavirus, many people would have been financially impacted or concerned about heading to the hospital for check-ups. Thus, while we still very much recommend seeking professional assistance, self-examination is most definitely a viable option on its own. Upon detection, it will ensure the most ideal opportunity for an effective treatment.
However, what is most concerning is that breast cancer is usually asymptomatic at the beginning, where it starts off being a small and painless lump, which may then lead to delayed diagnosis. On following stages, evident symptoms may begin to appear, such as change in the shape and/or size of the breast, a lump in the breast or underarm area, pain and swollen in the breast area, and more severe symptoms would be discharge from the nipple (could be blood), which does not include breast milk. While most breast lumps are not cancerous, it is advised for women to visit a doctor for an examination should they notice a lump on the breast.
Many women also shy away from thinking about breast cancer as the thought of it alone is enough to frighten them. There is also the prevalence of taboo which discourages public discussion on the said topic. To add on, there are even misconceptions that there is currently no effective treatment for breast cancer. All of these are bad practices that will cause one to miss out and delay the best timing for treatment. Overthinking without making any form of resounding action, is in this case a very costly decision. We may lack the knowledge in this aspect but we must never for a moment lack the courage. At this very moment, there is nothing better that one can do than to steel oneself and reach out to someone you can trust and/or experience and seek immediate medical advice.
Equal attention needs to be given to post-breast cancer patients too. This is because, for those who have recovered, more than two-thirds of respondents felt a drop in the confidence of their bodies after a breast cancer diagnosis as well as treatment. Many felt that it had decreased their self-esteem where they experienced a loss of identity as compared to before breast cancer. We must acknowledge the impact that breast cancer diagnosis can bring upon one’s psychological well-being. From not being able to accept the post-cancer version of themselves or the inability to break the news to their partner or children, all of these can ultimately lead to depression and anxiety, which can, in turn, decrease the survival rate of a patient or even lead to recurrence of the cancer. Therefore, psychological treatment is just as crucial when it comes to the effective treatment of breast cancer.
As much as we are house builders, we also believe that a house can only be a home when we have our loved ones with us. To readers battling with breast cancer, like all other forms of cancer, breast cancer is a serious health diagnosis and is deeply personal. While some can be open and expressive about their condition, the rest may choose to keep it a hush-hush, and that’s okay so long that he/she has reached out for help! For readers with loved ones battling cancer, it is not easy on your end too and your unconditional support means the world to them and a strong support system is the foundation for a successful road to recovery. Whichever the approach may be, one must embrace the change in reality but know for a fact that they still have the ability to transform their cancer journey. Breast cancer should be a topic that is widely discussed, be it in October or all year round. Most importantly, don’t delay and keep breast cancer at bay!