The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 11 percent of all new cases of breast cancer in the United States are found in women younger than 45 years of age.
One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lives, especially if they have a family history of breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute states that African-American women have higher incidence rates before 40 years of age and higher breast cancer mortality rates than women of any other racial and ethnic group in the United States at every age.
Mishele Dixon, a mother of four, discovered a small lump and swollen lymph node under her arm. She knew that the likelihood of getting breast cancer was high: her mother, also a mother of four, began her battle at 38 years old and Dixon’s Aunt Melody died from breast cancer at 43 years old.
Under doctor’s orders and for early detection, Dixon began annual mammograms and routine checkups at 30 years old.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and is a reminder to follow the American Cancer Society screening recommendations for women with average breast cancer risk are:
• Women between 40 to 44 years old should consider beginning annual mammograms.
• Women between 45 to 54 should get annual mammograms.
• Women age 55 or older should switch to mammograms every two years, or have the choice to continue annual screening.
For women with high breast cancer risk, the American Cancer Society recommends:
• Beginning annual screening mammograms at age 30.
• Screening with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in addition to annual mammograms.
Dixon was diagnosed with breast cancer at 37 years old.
“During one of my routine checkups, the mammogram revealed abnormal tissue in my breast,” Dixon said. “A lumpectomy was performed to remove the tissue followed by radiation treatment.”
Lumpectomy procedure is the removal of the breast tumor (the “lump”) and some of the surrounding normal tissue also known as a partial mastectomy.
The City of Hope lists the most common symptoms of breast cancer:
• Lump in the breast area, with or without pain.
• Change in breast shape or size.
• Dimple or puckering in breast.
• Nipple discharge other than breast milk, especially if it is bloody.
• Scaly, red, darkened or swollen skin in the breast area.
• Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple.
• Swollen or enlarged lymph nodes around the breast area, including the collarbone and armpits.
BreastCancer.org, a nonprofit, lists the cancer stages by four characteristics: the size of the cancer, whether the cancer is invasive or non-invasive, whether cancer is in the lymph nodes and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body beyond the breast.
The stage of cancer ranges from 0, non-invasion that is local to one area, to 5, invasion which means it has spread beyond the breast to other parts of the body. Dixon’s stage was regional and confined in the lymph nodes.
While there is no sure way to prevent breast cancer, researchers do know that body weight, physical activity, age, family history, being a woman and diet are linked to a higher risk of getting the disease. Men can get breast cancer but it is 100 times more common in women.
The key is for preventative health to lower your risk by eating healthy, control your weight, get regular checkups, exercise and consult with your health provider.
Nationally, in 2015, an estimated 231,840 women were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, and an estimated 40,290 died from the disease.
“In 2012, Los Angeles has the lowest breast cancer mortality rate of the large American cities for which the Big Cities Health Coalition has data. The city must truly be doing something right when it comes to cancer screening, prevention and treatment,” said Chrissie Juliano, director of the Big Cities Health Coalition, a data platform, funded by the CDC, that makes more than 12,000 data points on public health in 28 major cities.
“There are also some real racial disparities, which we see all too often in cities across the country,” she added. “There are significant racial disparities in breast cancer deaths for women in Los Angeles, with Hispanic women dying from breast cancer at a rate of 6.1 deaths for every 100,000 people, Caucasians at 8.6, Asians/Pacific Islanders at 10.3, and blacks at 31.8. Black women in Los Angeles are over five times more likely to die of breast cancer than their Hispanic counterparts.”
According to 2012 mortality data for Los Angeles County, 1,170 women succumbed to the disease. The death rate among black women (31 deaths per 100,000 females) was higher than the overall Los Angeles County rate (21 deaths per 100,000 females).
The grim statistics and her family were enough for Dixon to fight for survival.
Dixon knew the odds were against her and the experiences coping with breast cancer, both practically and emotionally were difficult.
“The treatments affected my self-esteem,” Dixon said. “My bad days consisted of nausea or vomiting, poor appetite, insomnia, skin outbreaks, poor vision, losing my hair and being tired.”
After three months of intense, stressful, painful and uncomfortable medical treatments, Dixon decided to trust God and discontinue treatments.
“My doctors were not happy with my decision, but I choose to step out on faith,” Dixon said. “I reviewed the facts about my family history.”
“My aunt had radiation and chemo treatments and died. My mother had her breasts removed, refused radiation and chemo. The doctors said she would die within six months but my mother is still alive.”
Dixon’s decision to stop treatment wasn’t easy. Turns out, it did not cause her more harm, but led her to a more normal life and the desire to help others cope with breast cancer through humor.
Humor embodied Dixon’s Aunt Melody. In her memory, Dixon attended comedy shows to avoid sitting in the house and being depressed.
“I found something in laughter and wanted more of it, so I began to research how to create and share what I felt with others,” Dixon said.
Studies showed after evaluating before and after a humorous event, episodes of laughter helped to reduce pain, decrease stress-related hormones and boost the immune system in participants. “More reasons why I started producing shows and created a “Laughter Heals” campaign through comedy,” Dixon said.
Dixon contacted the J Spot Comedy Club to assist her with creating awareness through comedy. The first thing she did was cut off hair in front of a crowded room at the J Spot in Los Angeles.
Dixon feels not only can one bring awareness through humor, but laughter is also the best medicine for the soul. Her motto is “Laughter Heals” and “together we can raise awareness and through education and preventive care continue to save lives.”
Los Angeles County Department of Public Health – Office of Women’s Health
Women’s Health Hotline: 1-800-793-8090 – www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/owh
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Fact Sheet – http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/pdf/breastcancerfactsheet.pdf
California Department of Health Care Services: Every Woman Counts (EWC) Program
(800) 511-2300 – available 24/7
Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program – (800) 824-0088
Marie Y. Lemelle, MBA, a public relations consultant, is the owner of Platinum Star PR and can be reached on Twitter @PlatinumStar or Instagram @PlatinumStarPR. Send “Health Matters” related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and look for her column in The Wave.