September is one of the busiest times of the year for many of the women I know as they juggle back-to-school and family activities along with work and other obligations. Even for those of us whose children are grown, this time of year always brings renewed purpose and a heightened sense of expectation.
At Susan G. Komen, we're busy gearing up for October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and while I'm buoyed by all the strides we've made in nearly three decades since the breast cancer movement began, I'm still concerned with how far we have yet to go in our fight. So I'm alarmed by numbers that show fewer than 50 percent of American women over 40 with health insurance get a mammogram annually. This is not something we can afford to ignore.
The reality is that in our too-busy lives, we women tend to put the needs of our family and loved ones ahead of our own. We manage to get our kids vaccinated, enrolled in school and taken to their appointments (and ballgames and music lessons). We see that the batteries on our smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detectors are changed, we file our tax returns, pay our bills and look after our aging parents, all while cooking dinner, helping with homework and baking cookies for the PTA fundraiser. And so for many of us that mammogram seems to fall further and further down the weekly to-do list. We're so busy helping others that we sometimes fail to look after ourselves.
Of course, it doesn't help that every couple of years there's a public "debate" about whether mammograms are effective, necessary or even useful in saving lives. We hear this and we start to think that it's ok to wait. But the truth is that mammograms save lives. Virtually every expert agrees that while it is not a perfect technology, mammography is still one of our best tools for early detection, and early detection, coupled with early and effective treatment, is the best offense against the disease. Screening mammography should be a personal priority, not something that falls to the "when I get around to it" list.
This October, Susan G. Komen is encouraging women to move beyond awareness of breast cancer and inviting them to take action by doing something unusual -- by putting themselves first. It's time to do more than think and talk; it's time to act by getting screened. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a perfect time to connect with the important women in your life and support one another in this mission. We challenge you to challenge each other to get screened -- to commit to getting a mammogram, to actually pick up the phone, book an appointment and get yourself to the clinic or lab. This link will help you get started: www.komen.org/getscreened.
To further support you in your commitment, we've developed an action plan that lays out a few simple steps you can take to make your breast health a priority. You probably already know these steps, but it takes more than just awareness -- it takes action. We want you to take that giant step from nodding in agreement and saying "I know, I'll get to it," to picking up the phone and making that call.
2. Know your risk.
Discuss with your family and your physician what your individual risks are.
3. Educate yourself.
If you're diagnosed, have a candid discussion with your doctor about options for treatment.
4. Get support.
It's easy to fall off the breast-care wagon, so team with a friend or a relative or sign up for an online reminder.
5. Get screened.
If you are at average risk for breast cancer, Komen recommends annual mammograms starting at age 40 and continuing every year.
6. Make healthy lifestyle choices.
Maintain a healthy weight, get regular exercise, don't smoke and keep alcohol consumption to a minimum.
Follow Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nancygbrinker