Andrea Mendoza, Reporter
October has officially begun and along with it brought pumpkin spice lattes, Halloween costumes, candy corn and Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Breast Cancer is one the most common cancers’ among women in the United States. Now millions of women are surviving the disease thanks in part to early detection and improvements in treatment. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research of the disease.
There are five stages of Breast Cancer. In stage zero, there’s no evidence of cancer cells or non-cancerous abnormal cells spreading out in the breast and is non-invasive. Stage one describes an invasive Breast Cancer with the tumor or cancer cells showing signs of growth. Stage two of Breast Cancer is the growth of cancer cells that have affected one to three axillary lymph nodes, the lymph nodes near the breastbone or a tumor which may or may not have affected any lymph nodes. Stage three cancer means the Breast Cancer has extended to beyond the immediate region of the tumor and may have invaded nearby lymph nodes and muscles, but has not spread to distant organs. Stage four describes invasive Breast Cancer that has spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other organs of the body, such as the lungs, distant lymph nodes, skin, bones, liver or brain.
Breast Cancer can be treated in many ways. Treatment depends on the stage of cancer and may consist of chemotherapy, radiation and/or surgery. When Breast Cancer is detected early in the localized stage, the five-year relative survival rate is 100 percent according to the American Cancer Society.
According to breastcancer.org, about one in eight U.S. women will develop invasive Breast Cancer during the course of their lifetime and are found in women younger than 45, while about two of three invasive Breast Cancers are found in women age 55 or older.
As a mother, wife and Breast Cancer survivor, business and social science professor Linda Saarela was diagnosed with late stage one Breast Cancer in December 2003.
After initially going in for an ultrasound to check a cyst, Saarela’s doctor came back with bittersweet results.
“The doctor said, ‘Well I have some good news and I have some bad news,’” Saarela said. “The good news is the lump the doctor found is a cyst, the bad news is we found another spot. Initially, I remember feeling thankful that it was found and then I got back to the car, I remember feeling total shock.”
Her Breast Cancer was detected early and made her eligible for a lumpectomy, a surgery used to remove cancer or abnormal tissue from the breast, and a 10 week radiation therapy, which uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. She remembers feeling tired toward the end of her treatment.
“I never saw myself as a person to get Breast Cancer,” Saarela said.
Throughout Breast Cancer awareness month, there are many advertisements for support groups available to people currently diagnosed, patients previously diagnosed and close members to the diagnosed. Support groups like Susan G. Komen and The American Cancer Society are available to anyone who needs them.
It was a difficult time for Saarela and she sought her family and faith because they were her strongest supporters during the entire process.
“I am a follower of Jesus Christ and I was strong in my faith to help me get through it all,” Saarela said.
Although having been diagnosed with Breast Cancer, Saarela felt at peace with the entire process.
“I never really asked the ‘Why me?’ ” Saarela said. “Bad things happen to good people and I’m glad I didn’t struggle with that because it’s very hard sometimes.”
After living through Breast Cancer, Saarela recalls seeing life as a bigger picture.
“Primarily after my treatment, I remember seeing the color of life more vivid,” Saarela said. “People associate cancer with death but that’s not always true, and life is much more than just work.”
This statement was also true for Marketing and Communications Administrative Assistant Linda Buzbee, who has been working at Pierce College for 27 years and was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma stage two Breast Cancer in July 2009.
Ductal Carcinoma is an invasive Breast Cancer compared to breast cancers in Situ, which don’t spread outside tumor.
“Mine had actually spread and that’s why it’s invasive,” Buzbee said. “Then there’s stages which is a way to easily explain where the patient is at in their cancer.”
Buzbee’s treatment included surgery, chemotherapy and five week radiation therapy as well as reconstructive surgery and a deep inferior epigastric perforator artery flap.
“I had what’s called a DEIP flap,” Buzbee said. “It’s where they take muscle in your breast and it’s a microsurgery that attaches veins to your chest and makes new breast out of your own tissue, so I have my own breast and I’m very pleased.”
Breast reconstruction is a type of surgery for women who have had all or part of a breast removed. The surgery rebuilds the breast mound to match the size and shape of the other breast. The nipple and the darker area around the nipple (areola) can also be added. Most women who have had a mastectomy are able to have breast reconstruction. Women who have had only the part of the breast around the cancer removed, such as a lumpectomy or breast-conserving surgery, might not need reconstruction.
“Everyone has their own personal journey with Breast Cancer and I have now been wasic for over five years out now which is a big milestone,” Buzbee said.
Once diagnosed with cancer, Buzbee had a hard time coping with the diagnoses making the entire process difficult for her.
“Cancer not only takes up a total on you physically, it really messes with your head and I had a hard time coping with ‘why me?’ and I was mad,” Buzbee said.
As a way to cope with her emotions and feelings, Buzbee sought out Livestrong support. The support group helped her relate to these feelings and accept them.
“You want family close and you want to rely on people but it’s also really a personal journey,” Buzbee said. “It was my job to try and be well so the support group helped me release.”
After being diagnosed with Breast Cancer, Buzbee lives life with a new perspective. Her life was able to restart and learn to enjoy life through the ups and downs.
“That’s the funny thing about cancer, it makes you slow down,” Buzbee said. “It makes things really, really clear. It helps you restart every day and once you have cancer, it sort of hangs over your head but I do believe that I’m well to this day and everyday I affirm that.”
Being diagnosed with Breast Cancer isn’t the end of the world. There have been many advancements in the cancer research for Breast Cancer and that’s why Breast Cancer Awareness Month is celebrated.
The Puyallup Post is the award-winning student news of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2017. Twitter/Instagram @puyalluppost