I delayed my mammogram due to COVID. “I never thought I would get cancer”

February is National Cancer Prevention Month. It is essential to pay attention to it. Why? Because you really don’t want to get cancer. I know this because last June I was diagnosed with stage 2A breast cancer.

Like many women, I had delayed my mammogram for a few months due to COVID concerns. I never thought I would get cancer. After all, I’m not that old (56 now) and lead a healthy life. But cancer is tricky, it sometimes affects people who are otherwise healthy, and it’s far too common. One in eight women in America has breast cancer. And in Connecticut alone, an estimated 22,810 people will be diagnosed and 6,400 will die of cancer this year. These are frightening numbers. The important thing to remember is that 50% of cancer diagnoses and about 50% of cancer deaths can be prevented! And early detection is a key part of the strategy to keep people healthy.

You could say I got lucky with that. One warm spring night in June, I woke up, shifted my body position, and felt a pea-sized lump in my left breast. It was a terrifying moment. The big C-word loomed in front of me. I tried to pretend that I didn’t feel that mass. The temptation to deny its existence was great. I immediately went for this delayed mammogram and she confirmed that the lump was stage 2A breast cancer, a fairly early stage of cancer. The treatments I received, even for this early stage cancer, were very hard on my body and soul. In my case, both were irreparably altered by chemo, immunotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy. And the more advanced the cancer, the more difficult the treatments. It would have been much easier if I had known earlier, if I had had my mammogram in time.

In addition to screenings, vaccines can also prevent certain cancers. The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine can ultimately protect against at least six types of cancer and could prevent nearly all cases of cervical cancer. It is recommended for girls and boys aged 9-12; adolescents and young adults up to age 26 may receive a catch-up series. Hepatitis B, which is one of the main causes of liver cancer, can also be prevented by a vaccine. The vaccine is usually given at birth and the series is completed between six and 18 months. Children up to age 18 and high-risk adults should also receive the vaccine if they haven’t already received it.

Finally, a healthy lifestyle contributes greatly to reducing the risk of getting cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 18% of cancer cases and 16% of cancer deaths are attributable to the combined effects of excess weight, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and poor food. As a member of the bipartisan Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program, I am sharing my personal story and highlighting this vital information to inspire you to take preventative action. Make an appointment with your healthcare provider today to get your recommended cancer screenings and vaccinations for certain viruses. If you want to learn more, please visit www.preventcancer.org.

Mary Himes is the wife of U.S. Representative Jim Himes (CT-4th). Statistics provided by the American Cancer Society.

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