Philantopia: It takes team work to fight breast cancer | AspenTimes.com

Philantopia: It takes team work to fight breast cancer

R.J. Gallagher Jr.
Philantopia

"Pessimism never won any battle." — Dwight D. Eisenhower

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pink can be seen everywhere, and the increased awareness as a result is a critical tool in winning the breast-cancer battle.

Just in the past week, we had a very close family friend have her 10-year breast-cancer-survivor checkup, and the good news is that she is cancer-free. Can I have a "Hell, yeah!"? I also had a business associate and a best friend's wife undergo breast-cancer surgery, and they now have begun radiation treatments and then will start chemotherapy treatments in the very near future.

As you see, the circle of breast cancer continues. So if you are a woman between the ages of 35 and 54, please quit reading this column right now and do whatever you can to check yourself for any signs of breast cancer. Use every resource available, as there are many. For some reason the Nike slogan comes to mind here when it comes to screening for breast cancer: "Just do it."

How about a quick look at the facts of breast cancer? All women are at risk of breast cancer. The two greatest risk factors of developing breast cancer are being a woman and getting older. A woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every three minutes. A woman dies from breast cancer every 11 minutes.

In the 1960s, a woman's risk of breast cancer was 1 in 14; today it's 1 in 8. Eighty-five percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no prior family history. When breast cancer is confined to the breast, the five-year survival rate is over 95 percent.

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Mammography detects approximately two to three times as many early breast cancers as physical examination. Breast cancer accounts for nearly one in three cancers diagnosed among women. Breast cancer is the leading cause of death among women ages 35 to 54. In Colorado, 1 in 6 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.

If those statistics did not get your attention, how about this for a comparison: In the Vietnam War, more than 50,000 Americans died. Each year, almost as many women die of breast cancer.

The good news is that survival rates are at an all-time high, especially if the cancer is detected early. Today there are about 2.5 million breast-cancer survivors alive in the U.S., the largest group of cancer survivors in the country. Mortality rates have been stable or decreasing in some countries for the past several years. This reduction in developed countries is attributed to early detection through mammography and improved treatment, hence the need to continue the breast-cancer-awareness crusade. So spread the word. And then do it again.

I view breast cancer as a war of sorts. And in any battleground, it takes a few good men to make a difference. So here is my call to arms for men and significant others of those who are struggling with breast cancer. Get involved, as your support is as important as the medical treatments are. I ran across a simple website that is actually a good resource: http://www.menagainstbreastcancer.org. There is some pertinent and real-world usable information here.

I especially like the Partners in Survival Program, which focuses on a scientifically proven problem-solving method based on creativity, optimism, planning and expert information (COPE). It states that the COPE method has been shown to increase quality of life and decrease distress (anxiety and depression) in cancer patients and their families. The Partners in Survival Program accomplishes several goals. It directly improves breast-cancer patients' quality of life and survival rates by educating and supporting the men or significant others in their lives. It increases the participants' knowledge of beast cancer, treatments, available resources and life after treatment. And it helps the participants become effective caregivers through education and empowerment.

"Partners in Survival creates a unique opportunity for women and men to identify and maximize their inherent strengths," says Matthew Loscalzo, executive director of the Department of Supportive Care Medicine at City of Hope Hospital. "But the real magic of the program is the active problem-solving that men and women do together to create a space where respect, honesty, communication and connection makes the work sacred."

For loved ones experiencing the daunting process associated with winning a cancer war, every little bit helps. Make sure you are ready for the battle, and prepare to do whatever it takes to win that war with them and for them.

"Philantopia" is a monthly column of The Aspen Times focused on philanthropy and community involvement. R.J. Gallagher Jr. is a three-decade resident of the Roaring Fork Valley. He has served on numerous nonprofit boards, including those of the Aspen Community Foundation and Komen Aspen. His firm, Forte International, is a supporter of local philanthropy that makes a difference on a global level. His email address is rjg@forteinternational.net.