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The Best Weapon Against Breast Cancer: Catch It Early

By Vicki Meade

Chesapeake Family, November 1995

Excerpt

Barbara Gibson, an optician in Annapolis, was examining her breasts one day when she discovered a lump. "My reaction was panic," she says. "Terror. The lump was firm and hard, and I felt certain it was cancer."

She went to her gynecologist, who referred her to a surgeon. Within nine days she underwent a modified radical mastectomy—removal of one breast and lymph nodes in her armpit. Because the cancer had invaded one lymph node, she also had six months of chemotherapy to kill any cancer cells still in her body.

That was 10 years ago, when Gibson was 40. "My sons were teenagers at the time. I was so afraid I had started down a road that would take me away from my family."

Today, Gibson is healthy and is an energetic activist who spends a quarter of her free time lobbying for more research and helping other women cope with breast cancer. "Women need to realize there's life after cancer," she says. "You can get through this and live a productive life."

Roughly one out of every 1,000 women in the United States develops breast cancer each year. It killed 46,000 women in 1995—about 27 women out of every 100,000—and is the second major cause of cancer death in women.

But the good news about breast cancer is this: you don't have to die from it. When breast cancer is caught early, nine out of 10 women survive the disease.

"I've really latched onto that statistic," says Carolyn Williams of the American Cancer Society. "It's so important for women to understand the value of early detection."

Breast cancer can strike anyone—even a small percentage of men get' it-but the single greatest risk factor is age. At age 20, one in 2,500 women get breast cancer. By age 60, the incidence rises to one in 29 women. Although breast cancer is rare in young people, it can happen. Gibson remembers one 29-year-oldwoman who found a lump while she was breast-feeding her baby....