On May 7th, Hannah Powell-Auslam of La Mirada, Calif. had a mastectomy to remove her left breast, the kind of surgery that takes place around 137 times per day in the US. Some 185,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and around 50,000 will have mastectomies. But Hannah's story is different.
She's only 10 years old.
According to her family's Website - Hannah is a "typical 10 year old girl. She loves to play sports, ride her bike, watch Hannah Montana and just be a kid."
In March, the fifth-grader at Escalona Elementary School complained about an itchy breast. After her mom noticed a lump, doctors biopsied the tissue, never imagining it would be cancer. The risk for children and adolescent girls is estimated at around 0.1 percent.
"They told me it was not breast cancer, because breast cancer does not happen to children," Hannah's mother said in an interview with The San Gabriel Valley Tribune.
But the doctors were wrong. Lab results in April showed that Hannah's lump was invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), a type that accounts for around 70 percent of breast cancers. Later, doctors determined it was invasive secretory ductal carcinoma, a subtype with a more favorable prognosis.
"I didn't really know what cancer was," Hannah told the San Gabriel newspaper. "I just kept crying and couldn't stop."
Today, Hannah is recovering from her mastectomy. "She is doing wonderful," her parents wrote on their Website. "She is in great spirit[s] and barely complaining at all." Naturally, some days are very tough: Seeing her incision for the first time was upsetting. Hannah also faces more treatments, including chemo and the possibility of additional surgery and radiation because doctors found cancer cells in the sentinel lymph node under her arm. Over all, the prognosis is excellent: The 5-year survival rate for younger patients with secretory ductal carcinoma is 100 percent.
"God chose me because he knows I'm a strong girl and I can get through it," Hannah says.
Hannah's story reminds us that the doors of The Survivors Club swing open and shut every hour of the day without regard to age, gender, race or geography. Everyone joins, sooner or later. Whether you're 10 or 90, there's no escaping adversity.
With each new membership in the Survivors Club, there are lessons to be learned. While Hannah's case is extremely rare, it reminds us of some of the myths of breast cancer:
1. Breast cancer only affects older women.
False. Breast cancer can occur at any age. It has been diagnosed in girls age six and even younger. Of course, the risk increases with age. From birth to age 39, one woman in 231 will get breast cancer, according to BreastCancer.org. From 40-59, the risk is one in 25. From 60-79, the risk is one in 15. If you live to 90, your lifetime risk of breast cancer is one in 7.
[Men also get breast cancer but it's around 100 times less common, according to the American Cancer Society. For men, the lifetime risk is around 0.001 percent. The survival rates are about the same.]
2. Women with smaller breasts are at lower risk.
False. Breast cancer doesn't care how much breast tissue you have. There's no connection between the size of your breasts and your risk. All women, regardless of breast size, should commit to routine screenings and checkups, according to BreastCancer.org.
3. If breast cancer doesn't run in your family, you're safe.
False. Increasing age is the greatest single risk factor for breast cancer. About 80% of women with breast cancer have no known family history of the disease.
4. Younger women shouldn't worry about breast cancer because there's nothing they can do to reduce the risk.
False. Girls and young women between ages 12 and 35 who exercise regularly have a substantially lower risk of breast cancer before menopause compared to those who are less active, according to new research. In a study of 65,000 women, physically active women had a 23 percent lower risk before menopause. High levels of physical activity from ages 12 to 22 made the biggest difference in lowering breast cancer risk.
"We don't have a lot of prevention strategies for premenopausal breast cancer, but our findings clearly show that physical activity during adolescence and young adulthood can pay off in the long run by reducing a woman's risk of early breast cancer," according to Dr. Graham Colditz of Washington University School of Medicine who conducted the study.
If you're interested in writing to Hannah, you can reach her at the following address:
PO Box 1861
La Mirada, CA 90637-1861
If you'd like to contribute to help her family with medical, travel, and website expenses, you can visit her Website.