Facing difficult choices

October 18, 2006, volume 37, no. 4

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As I disappeared into a serpent-like band of pink halos, pink boas and pink wigs undulating through downtown Vancouver on October 1, I was struck by how common my battle with breast cancer has become.

Flowing past me on the backs of 13,000 runners/walkers in my first CIBC Run/Walk for the Cure were the names of friends and relations who are fighting or have succumbed to this killer.

I realized in a blur of pink, the signature colour of the CIBC event, that I am one of the lucky ones. I'm alive and well because of early detection and making tough choices.

There were times over the last 10 years when I thought about skipping my annual mammogram, but I didn't.

Once diagnosed, I agonized over what I should do. Radiation was recommended, as the cancer was caught early, but I had access to a mastectomy.

Marilyn Bowman, a recently retired SFU psychologist, was in the same boat as me. We both chose a double mastectomy followed by immediate reconstruction.

The quick and painful death (within three months of diagnosis) of my younger sister, Dawn Raymond, at age 46, 18 months before my diagnosis, convinced me to make this psychologically painful decision.

For Bowman, it hardly warranted a second thought, reminding me
that health decisions are extremely individual. "In my view the stresses facing breast removal for cancer are similar to stresses facing others with other potential lethal diseases with multiple possible treatment approaches," says Bowman.

"Some women have more ego-involvement in their breasts than others, and that will probably complicate their medical decision-making. Each person responds in a manner arising from long-standing personality styles."

A pathology report later confirmed that my decision to turn a blind eye to society's obsession with bodily perfection might have saved me from reoccurring breast cancer, if not my life. It revealed that I had another previously undetected sighting of breast cancer.

As I wended my way through the sea of pink at the CIBC event I reflected on how Dawn never had the chance to make difficult choices.

While free annual mammograms— available to women 40 or more years old in B.C.—had kept my breasts under the watchful eyes of radiologists for 10 years, Dawn never had a mammogram. It's not offered to women in Ontario, where she lived, until the age of 50.

Mammograms and mastectomies may not be the ultimate saviours from breast cancer, but they should be accessible to every woman when you consider these statistics.

There will be 24,000 new breast cancer cases in Canada this year; about 3,000 of them in B.C., with up to 30 percent of the B.C. cases requiring life-saving mastectomies.

Join Carol Thorbes, SFU public affairs and media relations officer and a breast cancer survivor, for some thought-provoking discussion about the politics surrounding breast cancer research at a Philosophers' Café. Karim and Gorski will be at the event, which takes place Wednesday, October 25, 7 - 9 p.m., at Renaissance Coffee, Cornerstone building, 8906 High St., SFU Burnaby.

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