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'I have never been the same': Survivor stories, advice during Breast Cancer Awareness Month

The color pink will start appearing everywhere during the month of October -- it's National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a health campaign promoting prevention, diagnosis, treatments, and cures for the most common cancer found in women -- breast cancer.

Stories of survivors

Katie Lewis went almost two years without getting a mammogram. She started to get a pain in her breast and had a strange feeling about it.

Lewis scheduled an appointment for a mammogram, and sure enough, something showed up on it.

"Women need to listen to their bodies and not ignore gut feelings," she said. "It was a roller coaster after that. A blur really. Hearing you have 'breast cancer' is a heartbreak very hard to put in words. The fear is unreal. The worry of how your family will hurt is so hard. I have been a lucky one."

After she heard the news, Lewis had three surgeries to remove the cancer and two more surgeries for reconstruction.

"The mental toll is unbelievable," she said. "I have never been the same."

Lewis has been cancer-free for almost two and a half years.

Cheri Mann has been in remission for two years, after a routine mammogram showed pre-cancerous cells on her left breast five years ago. Due to the findings, she had a lumpectomy and had to get MRIs and mammograms every six months for two and a half years -- until one of the MRIs picked up a small spot on her right breast.

"I never felt a lump, a knot, I never felt anything," she said.

Although the breast cancer was at Stage 1, it was very aggressive, Mann said.

"It was so aggressive, my oncologist said I would need a double mastectomy," she added. "I thought I would just get another little scar like the other side and it would be over with. But when I heard what I had to do, I had the wind knocked out of me. I couldn't think straight."

It all happened in a matter of weeks, Mann said.

Mann also had reconstructive surgery after the double mastectomy, and she said her journey taught her so much.

She always had long hair, and after the second chemotherapy treatment, her husband shaved her hair for her, Mann said. "But hair grows back."

"I had a lot of emotions and a lot of doubts, but grew deeper in my faith," she added. "Get those mammograms, quit putting them off. They count. I continuously talk to anyone I know, even women who are scared to get them, just do them. They are so important."

Another breast cancer survivor -- a three-time cancer survivor -- Connie Posey, said she went for her normal yearly mammogram, and her family doctor said she saw a spot, but really didn't think it was anything.

"Me knowing my body and my medical history, I had a surgeon take a look and he said the same thing except he said he'll do a biopsy to ease my mind," she said. "Two days later, I was called in and was told I had breast cancer."

Here are four ways to make the most of this important month:
Be Aware

This month starts with being informed. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, about one in eight women in the United States will experience breast cancer during their lifetime. While men can get breast cancer too, it is much more common in women, with women over the age of 50 being most at risk. About 11% of all new cases of breast cancer are found in women younger than 45, according to the foundation.

Check your health

This month is also a good reminder for women to check in with themselves, as there are many uncontrollable genetic factors that can put them at risk, according to YMCA:

  • Gender: Women are 100 times more likely to develop breast cancer than men.
  • Age: Two out of three women are diagnosed after age 55.
  • Genetics: A family history of breast cancer can put individuals more at risk.
  • Early menstruation or late menopause: Breast cancer is also associated with early menstruation (before age 12) and late menopause (after age 55).

Further, if they haven’t done so already, October is also a good time to get in the habit of having regular breast exams. A mammogram -- the screening test for breast cancer -- can help find breast cancer early when it’s easier to treat.

In addition, one of the first lines of defense against breast cancer is being vigilant with self-exams. Experts recommend checking breasts every month both visually and by touch, paying attention to any changes in how the breast or nipple looks or feels.

According to Bon Secours Health System, as one of them most common cancers in women and the second leading cause of cancer-related death in women, breast cancer results in around 40,000 deaths a year.

For more information on how to schedule a mammogram with Bon Secours visit their website.

Prisma Health offers mobile mammography at offices or community events. For more information on how to schedule a mammography with Prisma Health visit their website.

Improve your lifestyle

During this month, another proactive step is to make changes in your lifestyle that can both improve your health and reduce your risk of cancer as well as other diseases and health issues. This is called lifestyle medicine, and it involves addressing nutrition, physical activity, and chronic stress in order to live healthier, according to YMCA.

YMCA also shared ways to help prevent breast cancer:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast cancer, especially after menopause.
  • Stay physically active. Breastcancer.org reports that exercising at a moderate or intense level for four to seven hours per week can lower the risk of breast cancer.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking is linked to a number of diseases, including breast cancer in younger, pre-menopausal women.
  • Watch your diet. Eating too much saturated fat and not enough fruits and vegetables increases risk.
  • Cut back on alcohol. Also according to Breastcancer.org, women who have three alcoholic drinks per week have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer, compared to women who don’t drink at all.

Spread the word

An important thing to do during Breast Cancer Awareness Month is to raise awareness. Most people can survive breast cancer if it’s detected and treated early. Talk to others about risk factors and lifestyle changes. Encourage your loved ones to get regular exams. Reach out to a loved one who is experiencing breast cancer and lend your support. Join local events and races that raise money and create additional awareness.

Here are some local events you can join to help spread awareness this month:

  • Saturday, Oct. 2 - 2021 Komen SC Mountains to Midlands MORE THAN PINK Walk: This walk is virtual this year and kicks off at 10:30 a.m. Pink Pathway locations include Cancer Survivors Park and Spero financial. For more information visit the Susan G. Komen website.
  • Saturday, Oct. 9 - Pynkalycious Breast Cancer Awareness Walk: Chapman Foundation and Sheen Magazine team up for the annual Pynkalycious Breast Cancer Awareness Walk. The annual event is held at the Younts Center, located in Fountain Inn, South Carolina. The proceeds raise at this event will go to the Cancer Society of Greenville. The event starts at 9 a.m. For more information visit the event page.
  • Sunday, Oct. 10 - Breast Cancer Awareness Ride: 4th Annual Breast Cancer Awareness Motorcycle Ride and benefit for the Cancer Society of Greenville County. Registration starts at 12:30 p.m. at the Harley-Davidson of Greenville. For more information visit the event's Facebook page.
  • Sunday, Oct. 24 - Making Strides Against Breast Cancer: Making Strides Against Breast Cancer is a non-competitive 5K walk; it is a celebration of survivorship, an occasion to express hope, and a shared goal to end a disease that threatens the lives of so many people we love. Check-in starts at 12:30 p.m. at Peace Center. For more information visit the event's Facebook page.

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