U promotes breast cancer awareness, suggests self-exams

Breast cancer affects middle-aged women more often, but experts call for awareness across all age groups.

Britt Johnsen

Mary Beth Crowley never thought she would be a breast cancer patient.

“I always thought I’d be exempt from breast cancer,” said the 55-year-old Woodbury, Minn., resident, a retired nurse manager at extended care in the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Medical Center.

But on Jan. 23, 2002, Crowley was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a mastectomy of her left breast and underwent chemotherapy until May 2002.

“I can look down and see what’s missing, but I still can’t believe I’ve had breast cancer,” Crowley said.

Crowley, who regularly sees a support group in Minneapolis, found a tumor near her armpit and went to her doctor thinking it might have been something else.

“Not knowing is worse than knowing,” Crowley said.

Because the illness is not in her family and she worked in a health-care facility, she did not think she was a likely candidate.

When she and her friends found out she had cancer, they all cried, Crowley said. “And then I just sort of moved on.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Dave Golden, director of public health and marketing for Boynton Health Service, said awareness is a significant factor in detecting breast cancer.

Golden said in an effort to increase awareness, a table in the women’s clinic lobby at Boynton displays pamphlets, posters and shower cards that talk about breast self-exams. Golden said self-exams are a good way for women to detect breast cancer.

“Early detection is really important,” Golden said. “The sooner (breast cancer) is identified, the more likely the cure.”

Sally Bushhouse, director of the Minnesota Cancer Surveillance System, said it is important to be aware, but statistics show women from ages 15 to 24 are at low risk. From 1998-2000, the organization reported only one case of breast cancer in Minnesota for that age demographic.

“Breast cancer is a middle-aged to older women’s disease,” Bushhouse said. “It’s extremely uncommon before age 30 and fairly uncommon before age 50.”

Junior Susan Thompson said it is an issue she does not think about much.

“People should know about it and be aware of it, but I don’t think they should worry about it too much,” she said.

Some students have given more thought to the issue even if it is uncommon.

“It typically hits people that are older, but younger people get it sometimes, too,” said doctoral student Suzannah Mork, who regularly performs breast self-exams. “People need to realize it could happen.”

The American Cancer Society projects that 211,300 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003.