One breast cancer survivor says her illness has been a blessing in disguise.
Dee Austin, a breast cancer survivor from Marion, has participated in events such as the Relay for Life and said she has noticed and appreciated media attention for cancer support more now that she has been affected by the illness.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and SIU as well as Southern Illinois Healthcare have joined efforts to raise awareness for the cause. Caleb Nehring, American Cancer Society’s senior health intiatives representative, said breast cancer is the leading type of cancer found in women.
“Breast cancer is very preventable through monthly self-examinations,” Nehring said. “More and more women are getting diagnosed early so that it does not become mortal.”
Nehring said while men can get breast cancer, the chances for females to get the illness are dramatically higher. He said other main factors that increase chances of being diagnosed with breast cancer are older age and a family history of the ailment. He said leading a sendentary lifestyle and having a poor diet can also increase risks for any cancer.
“Folks are their own health advocates in this medical climate,” Nehring said.
According to the American Cancer Society’s website, 26 women get diagnosed with breast cancer and five women die from the illness each day in Illinois.
The cancer society recommends women conduct monthly self-examinations and receive yearly mammograms after they reach age 40.
“The most important things is for people to be familiar and comfortable with their bodies,” Nehring said.
He said the media has done a good job of turning things pink, and it is great people are coming together for the cause.
“The way we treat breast cancer has changed in the last 20 or 30 years,” he said. “In the 1940s and 1950s, women had been embarrassed to talk about issues regarding breast cancer.”
One of the biggest issues, Nehring said, is that many women who are mothers or caregivers put their children’s and families’ health above their own. He said they do not make their health a priority.
Austin said she was diagnosed when she was 33 years old. She said her son was 3 years old at the time, and he was her inspiration to fight.
“I felt scared and alone, so being able to talk to survivors helped me,” Austin said. “Now that I have been through it, I know what is important in life and am stronger for it. It has changed my life for the better.”
Austin said her advice to women is to be aware of what is going on with their body and start self-examinations as early as possible.
“It is never too soon to start self examinations,” Austin said. “Oftentimes cancer does not enter the minds of women until they have it.”
There are many resources for breast cancer, Austin said, and the American Cancer Society even provided her with wigs and makeup when she was going through chemotherapy.
“It makes you feel good from a survivor’s point of view to know so many people are involved,” Austin said.
SIU and SIH have also worked toward contributing to the cause for breast cancer by creating a partnership agreement where plans to raise money have been intiated.
The Saluki football team will host a game against Western Illinois University Nov. 17 to raise money for a new cancer treatment facility in southern Illinois. Tom Weber, director of media services of intercollegiate athletics, said the players will wear black jerseys that attendees can bid on to win at the game. The volleyball, softball and basketball teams also plan to host their own events this year to raise money for the same cause.
“Many cancer patients in southern Illinois have to go to St. Louis for treatment, so there is a need for a new cancer facility,” Weber said.
The Student Health Center is also holding its sixth annual Be My Bra competition at 5 p.m. Oct. 17 at the center. According to the event’s flyers around campus, the competition’s goal is to raise breast cancer awareness and give participants the opportunity to share how they’ve been affected by the illness.
Nehring said the American Cancer Society is hosting a race called Making Strides Against Breast Cancer of Southern Illinois at 9 a.m. Oct. 20 at the Harry L. Crisp Sports Complex in Marion.