A View from Sierra County

Small town life and politics, lots of knitting, and travels with and without my five burros

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Location: In the Sierra Nevadas, United States

I blog about rural living and social issues, and the creativity that comes from knitting, as well as post random pictures of the Sierras and my burros. "In order to be an artist, one must be deeply rooted in the society" - Simone de Beauvoir


Friday, September 30, 2005

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

As most of you are probably aware, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While in the past few years, the "Think Pink" campaign has grown to look primarily like a commercial hype to sell everything from socks to mixers made over in pale pink, there is still a huge national public health issue, as well as millions of personal stories, behind this hype. The Susan J. Komen Foundation is one of the groups most dedicated to raising both funds and awareness to find a cure for breast cancer, which is always in the top three list of diseases that kill women every year. They sponser Race for A Cure events throughout the country year-round, and use the money raised from these and other donations to fund research.

Avon has also been a huge backer of fundraising efforts through their own Walk for a Cure program. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Avon Foundation, funding access to care as well as research for a cure. These two entities support breast cancer research year round, not just in October, so I hope you will decide to support one of them in the coming year.

You may wonder what a blogger who normally writes about knitting and burros has to say about breast cancer. As a matter of fact, quite a bit. I decided this would be a good time and place to tell you the story of my family.

My mother's eldest sister developed breast cancer when I was still in high school, and she was barely post-menopausal. At that time (about 1970) radical mastectomy and radiation were the only treatments available, and we were all extremely grateful that she lived. In fact, she recovered from cancer and lived over two more decades.

I was just beginning to have children myself when my mother's middle sister went through her mastectomy and radiation, and the popular wisdom of the times (twenty years ago) told me that if I breastfed my babies, I would be protected against developing breast cancer later in life. I nursed my oldest for 21 months before my fertility returned, giving my hormonal cycle a decent rest. Imagine my shock to discover not just one, but three lumps in my breast shortly after the birth of my second child. I was only 28! My doctor who had provided backup for my midwives throughout my pregnancy and home birth was even more alarmed than I was; he had lost his wife at age 31 to breast cancer, leaving him the father of three motherless children not yet in school. He rushed me off to have my first mammogram, which would prove to be a baseline in years to come.... luckily for me, the results were negative and the lumps faded away over the months of more nursing.

I had a third child without incident, but was told I had fibrocystic breasts. This seemed reassuring at the time, as researchers were saying that women with fibrocystic breasts were less likely to develop breast cancer. My mother told me that she had suffered from the same lumpiness much of her adult life as well. I didn't give it much thought for several years, although I read the research, often conflicting, about what foods to eat and what to avoid. I was a vegetarian, eating a low-fat, whole grains diet, and not drinking much alcohol through this time, and felt somewhat confident.

Then my mother also developed breast cancer in her mid-60s. She also went through a mastectomy and radiation. I went to take care of my father while she was in the hospital, as he had developed Alzheimers at age 62, and thought she was on a vacation. I was relieved to learn that the doctors were confident she would end up cancer-free, as my father's problems were more pressing at that point, and I was now a single mother of three young children.

At the same time, my grandmother's youngest sister and her daughter both suffered through breast cancer... the daughter who was my mother's younger cousin, died at age 40, leaving school age children.

When I reached 40 in the mid 1990s, I didn't question whether I should get a mammogram annually; even though most women find their cancerous lumps themselves, it surely wouldn't hurt to try to be ahead of the game, since there was now conflicting research about whether my family represented an inherited cancer cluster. I still rated somewhere in the middle on risk questionnaires. In 1999, I went through the scare of a false positive and the need to wait on "pins and noodles" for the result of a retake, but I still faithfully make my appointments. I choose life and am proactive with my health... I still hope to see my grandkids that haven't even been born yet grow up.

Today, you can get tested to see if you have this genetic marker, although I have never been encouraged to do so. It appears that my family doesn't necessarily have a genetic propensity towards breast cancer, since almost all of the cases developed post-menopausally. There is also no living member of the family with active breast cancer to run the initial test for the genetic markers on, and there is also a marginal risk of being "pigeonholed" and discriminated against by insurance carriers... something someone like me, with a lengthly history of asthma (even though mostly controlled) doesn't need. The Komen Foundation website is an excellent source of information about weighing out the various risk factors you might have against the latest research.

My cousin and I remind each other to get our annual mammograms, and the "younger" generation has done ok so far... I have kept modifying my lifestyle to reduce my risk but find it ironic that it is now ok to drink a little, and eat chocolate! A significant decision I needed to make in the past few years was to forego hormone replacement therapy as I faced my own menopause. I have done well to keep exercising, to eat a healthy diet, and to live in moderation avoiding stress as much as possible. I also had to struggle with the benefits of being overweight (apparently, ten extra pounds can make menopause symptoms such as hot flashes less troublesome) being less important than the need to lose weight and cut my risk of developing cancer even further. I am happy to be at a healthy, appropriate weight for the past six months.

What will the future bring? These days, treatment is far more progressive than what my mother and her sisters suffered through, but I am hoping there will be a real cure within the decade. It isn't unreasonable. I know we women deserve it. Please, do me a favor, and make an appointment to get a mammogram this month. If you can't afford it, ask around. Here in my region, there is a program especially to pay for this important test for women without insurance or access to care. Maybe there is such a program where you live. Tell your woman friends, share my story, whatever it takes to get them to do monthly self-exams, and look out after themselves. If you think you are too young to need to worry about self-exams, or mammograms, do your homework anyway. Soon, someone you love will be affected by this disease, and you will be ready to provide support for them. If you are not sure how you can help, consider knitting chemocare caps for those undergoing treatment, or running or walking in one of the Komen or Avon events. Hey, wear pink! Whatever it takes to make other people more aware and bring about the momentum needed to get the research done to find a cure.....

There is Some Knitting

I do have some knitting news to share with you. Here is my Pink Ribbon washcloth, a pattern written by Donna Burgess, and available here.
This is the first time I have followed a reverse stitch pattern, but it is very similar to color knitting, in that it is fun to watch the design unfold while you are knitting. It is MUCH simpler than color knitting, as you don't need to worry about picking up or dropping colors, and the textural effect is really neat. The Knitting Knonsense website where Donna's Breast Cancer Awareness Ribbon design can be found has dozens of other relief-motif designs to catch your interest.

That said, I have to confess to what you can't tell from this photo... I have been making lots of washcloths using the diagonal Grandma's Favorite pattern for Cloths for Katrina, and didn't bother to worry about gauge - just dove in and started knitting using the same Addi Turbo needles I have been working with. However, this design was obviously for someone who knit tighter than me, or at least dropped down a few needle sizes... this cloth is almost big enough to be a small hand towel, but, of course, not quite. I am not sure what I am going to do with it - the size is approximately 7 x 9 inches, and too large to use as a washcloth. Looks pretty neat, though, doesn't it.... hmmm.

These two cloths rest at the top of a box of ten washcloths bound for Louisiana, along with twelve bars of shea butter soap, donated by my friend Susan, who runs Two Rivers Gift Gallery here in Downieville. Peggy made about three-fourths and I made the rest.

Here in Northern California, we appear to be sliding right through the last of the fall weather, and heading towards temperatures dropping about twenty degrees by Sunday. I am hoping to get a chance to admire some fall foliage in the high country, and should also be thinking about an appropriate Product Review for Monday that will reflect a change in knitting priorities along with the change in the weather. Have a great weekend.


Blogger FaeryCrafty said...

Thank you so much for sharing this with us :)

5:31 PM  

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