National Breast Cancer Awareness Month urges women to prioritize health

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Wild Warriors Productions hosted a “Bras for a Cause” event where it auctioned decorated bras for metastatic breast cancer research. Many organizations hold charity events to support breast cancer research during October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. (Anne Wallace)

October has been known as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month since 1985. The American Cancer Society teamed with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to raise awareness and increase education surrounding the disease, according to the Breast Cancer Consortium. In 1993, former President Bill Clinton declared the third Friday of October to be “National Mammogram Day,” encouraging health care providers to give free or discounted screenings on that day.

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month has a wide variety of meaning for people since its conception 30 years ago. For some organizations, it is a chance to sell pink products and increase financial support for breast cancer awareness. For others, it is a chance to remember those who have passed on and to raise funds.

The organization Wild Warriors Productions hosted a Breast Cancer Awareness Month fundraiser in October.

On Oct. 13, Wild Warriors Productions auctioned decorated bras at a pirate-themed event called “Bras for a Cause” to raise money for metastatic breast cancer research. According to Everyday Health, metastatic breast cancer refers to the stage of cancer where the disease spreads to other parts of the body like the liver, brain, bones or organs.

A slot was in front of each auctioned bra for people to put a dollar or a coin to vote for which bra was their favorite. The event raised more than $900 to be donated for research.

BYU student Saige Axelson lost her mother to a rare form of inflammatory breast cancer six years ago this October.

“I just think of it as my mom’s month, especially because it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” Axelson said. “The week that my mom died, I will celebrate her. I will wear pink the whole week. I will do something crazy or silly, something that reminds me of my mom.”

Axelson said she started digitizing her mother’s journals this year, a process that makes her feel closer to her mom. She said doing this is important because it helps preserve her mother’s memory for future generations.

She said the three things that make her feel most connected to her mother are her faith, her family and her education.

“Those things were the most important to her. I remember her telling me about the importance of getting an education, so I love learning so much because of her,” Axelson said.

Axelson said studying at BYU makes her feel particularly connected to her mom, as her mother studied at both BYU—Idaho and BYU when she was Axelson’s age.

Axelson said life was difficult in the first two years following her mother’s death, and she found herself deep within a depressive episode. Axelson encouraged those suffering from loss to foster safe places and stay close to individuals who make them feel it is OK not to be OK.

For Axelson, this safe place was Camp Kesem, an organization run by college students that  focuses on supporting kids whose parents have dealt with cancer. Axelson said the camp helps kids with sick parents have fun and make up for the childhood moments they may have missed or were unable to enjoy due to cancer’s effects on their families.

Shauna Lawrence, a BYU alumnus and a breast cancer survivor of seven years, said she was also positively impacted by Camp Kesem. Lawrence said the camp was a huge blessing and feels it helped her kids after she was diagnosed.

Lawrence’s journey with cancer began when she was serving a mission in Pennsylvania. At age 23, she received a phone call telling her that her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She finished her mission and her mother passed away a few short months after Lawrence returned.

Losing her mother to breast cancer made Lawrence very aware of her own breast health.

“Because of her death, I was always very good about getting mammograms. I was diagnosed pretty early on. I was 45, ” she said. “The big thing for me was I didn’t want to leave my kids like my mom left me.”

Lawrence said the best way to participate in Breast Cancer Awareness Month is to get checked.

“If you want to help somebody … help yourself and your family by getting a mammogram,” Lawrence said.

BYU nursing professor Deborah Himes echoed this sentiment — she gets screened every October. Himes said she researched genetic risk for breast cancer as she has a family history of the disease.

Himes said her hope is that medical professionals can find better ways to share family histories with medical professionals so women can be more aware of their risk factors and which preventative measures they should take.

“One thing to know is that breast cancer today is really, really treatable,” Himes said. “To people who’ve had a member in their family (with breast cancer), you need to understand how that impacts your risk.”

To those who are worried about their genetic risk, she suggested talking with their doctor and living a healthy lifestyle to lessen that risk.

“Avoiding smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, a healthy diet — these are all things that can be helpful for avoiding not just breast cancer, but other cancers and other diseases as well,” Himes said.

Himes urged women to be open with family members about their family history of cancer on both sides, maternal and paternal. She also encouraged women to participate in Breast Cancer Awareness Month by getting necessary breast health checks.

For students wishing to participate in Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Y-Serve at BYU is hosting a Share Your Hair event on Oct. 25 from 10 a.m–1 p.m., where the hair collected will provide wigs for cancer victims.

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