FORT SILL, Okla. - "The doctor found a little bit of cancer in your mom's breast today," said my dad in a surprise phone call 16 years ago. "They're gonna do a procedure tomorrow and she should be fine."

I was in my mid-20's and probably hadn't given two thoughts to breast cancer.

Besides, Dad made it sound like it was nothing at all. She would just pop in, have a procedure like a tonsillectomy or something, right'

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Make all the jokes you want about "being aware of breasts," but this is no joke.

In my office of five, there are three of us that have a direct relationship with someone who has had breast cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society's Web site at www.cancer.gov, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer after skin cancer. The government anticipates 192,370 new cases of female breast cancer and nearly 2,000 cases of male breast cancer by the end of 2009.

They also estimate more than 40,500 people will die because of breast cancer by the end of the year.

That is no laughing matter.

I found out my dad understated things a little under the guise of "not wanting to worry you."

During that "little procedure," surgeons cut out the mass, removed my mom's lymph nodes and performed tests on other parts of her body.

She then started a heavy series of chemotherapy and radiation. I thought they were one in the same. They aren't and they both suck.

Both left her drained and too tired to do anything. For years.

Later she entered into a blind study and started taking pills that were supposed to work in tandem with the chemo.

She was so sick and in such low spirits at one point she tells me she "saw" her father, who had died decades before, and he told her she would be alright. And she was.

Slowly, she got her strength back, the cancer was gone. I should have known it would take more than "a little cancer" to knock down this military spouse who survived raising me.

She is alive and mothering me today, telling me I don't call enough and trying to spoil the grandkids as much as possible.

Doctors told her the only reason she's not a statistic is because she found that little abnormal lump early ... and then went to the doctor.

Simply put, you have to check yourself. I implore you to do those self-exams and if you find something, anything, go to the doctor. It's that simple. Those two things, put together, will save your life. Early detection and medical attention will keep you doing the things you want to do ... like nagging your son about not seeing the grandkids often enough.

Guys return the favor and nag your significant other about doing the self-exams. Ladies, it may be a strange topic to bring up, but tell your husband that he needs to check his manly chest for abnormal lumps. Yes, tell him he has a manly chest. He'll remember that and, therefore, remember to do the exam.

Nobody wants to find out they have cancer. It's scary. It's also scary for the family and friends. It takes a total team effort to beat breast cancer. And, beating breast cancer is not a pleasant experience. But, it sure beats the alternative.

There is a ton of good information on the Internet. I would stick with the official sites, but you can get information from informal forums and information boards.

The site www.cancer.gov has directions how to do self-exams. In fact, The site explains breast cancer, symptoms and what happens after treatment. I would suggest talking to your primary care physician for more specific information about your particular circumstances.

Arm yourself with the knowledge to keep yourself safe.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16