The pink ribbon’s reoccurring appearance on cars, T-shirts and mugs seems almost normal to us. But for 3,845 women in South Carolina, that pink ribbon is anything but normal.
This year alone, 3,845 women in our state will be diagnosed with breast cancer, according to Susan G. Komen South Carolina. Out of every eight women in the U.S., one will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
And, the number of people affected by a breast cancer diagnosis far exceeds that. Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends, co-workers, neighbors — all feel the impact.
A DAUGHTER’S STORY
“To me, the most important person in my life is gone,” Melissa Morrell says. When her 62-year-old mother, Sammie, was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, Morrell’s world changed forever.
“When they hear my name it’s usually real estate agent and breast cancer. That’s how people know me in this town,” she says. “I wish the second part never had to be, but our family has tried to make lemonade out of lemons.”
Sammie lived in Charleston and Morrell felt hopeless being here, unable to sit with her mother through appointments and chemotherapy.
“I needed to do something,” she says. “So I reached out to Susan G. Komen and got involved with — and it was literally 10-plus years ago — Race for the Cure, and it evolved from there.”
Despite losing her mother five years ago to breast cancer, Morrell continues supporting efforts to fund cancer research. Part of Morrell’s mission to raise awareness of the many forms that breast cancer takes.
No two breast cancer stories are alike.
Sammie’s six-year battle began with a popped hip, which lead to a visit with an orthopedic surgeon, then a visit to an oncologist, where she learned she had a slow-growth tumor in her breast.
“It had already spread from literally the tip of her head, in her skull, all the way down to her pelvis,” Morrell says.
In women, breast cancer spreads to the bones more than any other part of the body, Morrell says. Bone cancer is a very painful, debilitating disease.
“That was really hard for us to hear that it was already so aggressive, and that’s why it’s so important to get checked more often,” she says.
Morrell urges women to take care of themselves and know their bodies. “Because if you’re not healthy, your world changes — everything changes.”
A SURVIVOR’S STORY
Deb Osborne nearly waited too late. “I was a complete idiot,” she says. “I found my lump in April and didn’t do anything about it until September.”
She sought safety in the fact that she had no family history of breast cancer. “I would never have thought,” she says. “I’m the first breast cancer person in my family, and I was 50 years old when it happened.”
After learning that she was between stages III and IV and the cancer was in her lymph nodes, Osborne couldn’t believe it. She underwent chemotherapy, radiation, lumpectomy, numerous infections and a double mastectomy.
“It was two years of hell,” she says.
Komen was the first place Osborne contacted after her diagnosis. She even decided to work with the organization after retiring from her 34-year teaching career. Five years later, she’s getting ready to retire from her role as fund development manager.
“It’s something I’m so passionate about because I don’t want anyone to experience what I experienced or any other woman that has gone through breast cancer,” she says.
Osborne has witnessed too many lives taken by cancer — young and old. “I’ve had like five or six kids from J. L. Mann where I taught for 28 years pass away from this disease, and they were just starting out.”
Saying her favorite quote is “living is giving,” Osborne strives to use her experiences to help others. “I wanted to live that and be that, and I think I’ve done pretty good.”
In South Carolina…
- 3,845 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.
- 678 people will die from breast cancer this year.
- Breast cancer is the leading cause of death in young women 15-54.
- Most people with breast cancer have no family history of the disease.
source: Susan G. Komen
Ask an expert
Dr. Stephen Dyar is an oncologist specializing in breast cancer at St. Francis Cancer Center. He addresses some common misconceptions and risk factors for breast cancer.
- Myth: You must have a family history to get breast cancer.
- Truth: “The majority of breast cancers that we see are sporadic, which means that they don’t necessarily come from a family member.”
- Myth: Only women who are post-menopausal or older can get breast cancer.
- Truth: Dr. Dyar says that while he has patients who fit that category, younger women can also get it. “I have a big population of women who are in their 30s and 40s as well.”
- Myth: Cancer hurts.
- Truth: “But most of the time with breast cancer, we don’t necessarily feel any pain. In fact, a lot of the ones we diagnose don’t have any symptoms at all.”
Common risk factors
- family history (first-degree relatives).
- previous abnormal mammograms or biopsies.
- hormone exposure (any extended period of estrogen exposure).
Dr. Dyar recommends getting routine mammograms. “Ultimately, mammograms still save lives and they still prevent people from needing more advanced treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy in a lot of cases.”
The Bon Secours Saint Francis Mobile Mammography Program
- began in Dec. 2012.
- contains a state-of-the-art digital mammography system.
- travels to locations in Greenville, Anderson, Oconee and Pickens counties.
- serves females 40 and older who are due for their annual screening mammogram, and females who are 35-40 needing a baseline mammogram.
- reaches underserved populations.
- serves area businesses, organizations, and primary care practices.
- has driven 45,919 miles, served over 18,000 women, and detected 61 breast cancers
A new Bon Secours Saint Francis mobile mammography coach is being built and will be equipped with new 3D mammography equipment. The coach should be completed by spring/summer of 2020.