By Guest Columnist: Amber Bourek
Komen Kansas City
My mother was really bad about going to see the doctor for preventative care. While visiting her doctor for a cold that wouldn’t go away, she was told she needed to schedule a full physical because she hadn’t been to the doctor in years. Everything came back in the “normal” ranges except for one thing –there was a spot on her mammogram. It was breast cancer.
Luckily, they caught the breast cancer early. My mother underwent a lumpectomy followed by six weeks of radiation. She was also fortunate to enroll in a Susan G. Komen funded clinical trial that provided her with five years of prescription drugs designed to help prevent a reoccurrence. This March, my mother will be celebrating nine years as a breast cancer survivor.
Before I came to work at Komen, I thought I was doomed to get breast cancer because of my mother’s diagnosis. I was relieved to learn that an immediate family history of breast cancer only increases a person’s risk by about 13 percent. I also learned there were things I could do to help reduce my risk.
Back in the day, women were taught to focus on doing monthly self-breast exams to feel for lumps. Thanks in part to Komen research dollars, we have a learned so much more about breast cancer. Komen uses the following breast self-awareness message to educate women on their risk for breast cancer and also other things they can do to be active in their breast health:
1. Know your risk
- Know your family history
- Talk to your doctor about your risk
2. Get screened
- Clinical breast exams (CBE) at least every three years starting at age 20
- Annual mammograms and CBE starting at age 40, if you are at normal risk
3. Know what is normal for you
- See your health care provider right away if you notice any changes in your breast
4. Make healthy lifestyle choices
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Add exercise into your routine
- Limit alcohol intake
- Limit postmenopausal hormone use
- Breastfeed, if you can
Making healthy lifestyle choices was one part of breast self-awareness that I’ve taken to heart. I’ve probably been overweight since I was 10 years old. At 29, I joined a gym and started doing yoga. Although my gym workouts were sporadic, I was faithful to my yoga workouts twice a week for six years. When my class ended in May 2011, I pretty much stopped doing any exercise.
In February 2012, I decided to do something about “Making healthy lifestyle choices.” I never ask anybody to do anything I’m not willing to do myself. That meant I needed to do what I was encouraging our supporters to do. Plus, I remembered how much more relaxed I was when I worked out.
On February 2nd, I got up and went to the gym at 6:30AM. Bob, a YMCA employee, called me out and said, “I haven’t seen you in a while.” Thirty minutes later, I crawled off the treadmill with my heart beat racing and covered in sweat. Before I walked out the door, Bob said, “Good workout Amber. Hope to see you again soon.” Suddenly, there was accountability. He knew my name and encouraged me to come back. The routine started every morning: my alarm went off at 6:30AM and I headed to the gym. By the end of March, I walked my first 5K with a few co-workers. It felt amazing!
In September, I hurt my leg and could barely stand – let alone walk. After a visit to the doctor determined nothing serious was wrong with me, I decided I never wanted to feel that way again. I knew that I needed to change my eating habits too. I’ve never been a fan of vegetables but I suddenly found myself in the grocery store picking them out. Plus, I searched for more low-fat recipes to prepare.
It’s been a year now and I can officially say I am living a healthy lifestyle. In addition to eating better, I’m up to 40 minutes walking on the treadmill and 20 minutes of cross training (bike or weights) every week day. And I set a goal – to do a Komen 3-Day (60 miles in three days) in a couple of years.
You can do it too! I hope you will join me in living a healthy lifestyle and make the 20th Annual Susan G. Komen Kansas City Race for the Cure ® on August 11th as one of your 2013 goals.