FORT BENNING, Ga. (Oct. 17, 2012) -- Cancer and malignancy aren't words one wants to hear before the word biopsy, before lunch or -- well -- ever.

But one minute I'm joking about American colloquialisms with the radiologist who read my second mammogram and the next I have cancer.

"It's small. We've caught it early, but it's serious and you need to get treatment started right away," he said.

I am lucky -- the breast cancer was found because of a routine mammogram. But in all honesty, I didn't really feel all that lucky. From the diagnosis to the surgery that removed the cancer and my breasts -- I am one of the more than 225,000 women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year. And really, who wants to be part of that group or be one of the 2,000-plus men diagnosed with it?

But I am lucky -- the cancer hasn't spread to my lymph nodes. The five-year survival rate for those with Stage 1 breast cancer is something like 88 percent, meaning I've got a pretty good chance of living more than five years past my diagnosis. And my luck keeps getting better, because I can make lifestyle changes that can improve my odds.

Several of the doctors I've talked with advocate a plant-based diet high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories and 30 to 45 minutes of exercise daily. I had already kicked the processed foods and decreased my sugar intake because of high cholesterol, and now I've added daily exercise. I don't want cancer cells to find any safe harbor in my body, and because sugar causes all cells to grow faster, it's no longer part of my diet. I meet with a nutritionist in November and a healthier me is part of my new normal.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and you need to be your best advocate. Do the monthly breast self-exams, get the yearly mammogram, and see the doctor if you notice something different. Early detection is key for survival. And, if you have to hear the word cancer, let's add the word survivor.

The Community Health Nursing staff will have a Breast Cancer Awareness display from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 24 at Smith Fitness Center.