December 20, 2014

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Holding on to hope in the face of breast cancer: 4 fighters’ stories

Afraid of the unknown, Wanda Fralick of Grafton clutched the pink-studded hope pin on her first day of chemotherapy.

That delicate four-letter word, hope, cherishes a strong desire — life.

But she is not alone with her fears. In just this year, 192,369 women and 1,910 men are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States.

One in eight women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society. Every three minutes, a woman is diagnosed with the disease. And one woman dies from breast cancer every 13 minutes in this country.

There are about 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. today, the largest group of cancer survivors in the country, according to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

“It’s an equal-opportunity disease,” said Linda Bayman, 60, of Wadsworth, who was diagnosed with estrogen-based breast cancer in 2007. “It gets you when it gets you, and it’s kind of the luck of the draw. You can’t just trust statistics.”

Dr. Esther Rehmus, co-chief of the division of hematology/oncology at Akron General Medical Center, said the most significant risk factor for breast cancer is age.

“It’s a cancer of aging, primarily. The peak incidence is in the 60s,” Rehmus said. “Risk factors like family history and true genetic breast cancer account for only about 5 percent of all breast cancer cases, which most people don’t realize.”

Other risk factors include a personal history of breast cancer (if you’ve had it once, you’re more likely to get it again), being overweight, not having children or having them late in life, and drinking alcohol, said Cathy Fior, a registered nurse and breast health navigator at the Women’s Health Center at Community Regional Medical Center in Lorain.

In fact, it doesn’t take much alcohol to increase a woman’s risk, Rehmus said. “A drink a day could do it,” she said. “But a glass or two a day may have good cardiac benefit. If you’ve got a horrible cardiac heart history in your family, having a drink a day might be something you might want to consider. If everybody in your family gets breast cancer at 60, you might want to stay away from it.”

Screening is the most important tool in detecting breast cancer early, Fior said.

“Survival is greatest when you find it early — that’s why we try to educate the patients in their 20s to start doing their own self breast exams, which are very important,” she said. “Women should get their annual clinical breast exams, annual mammograms, and if you feel or sense anything that is not right, you get to the doctor immediately.”

Be sure to go to a cancer center or oncologist who can provide expert care, Rehmus said.

“I’ve had patients who have been told their lump was too big, too hard, too small, the patient was too old and a patient was too young to have breast cancer,” she said. “All of which in those five cases were not true.”

Although about 80 to 85 percent of the biopsies done at the Women’s Health Center come back benign, it’s still extremely important for women to be vigilant about their health.

“Nobody should be going around without a mammogram and to think that just because it’s not in your family, that doesn’t work,” Fior said. “You can survive from breast cancer. And you can live a very good, full life.”

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Contact Chrissy Kadleck at 329-7155 or ckadleck@chroniclet.com.