ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Living through the trauma of a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment changes your life, but the challenges can open lives in new and better ways.
That’s the message three-time breast cancer survivor and author Becky Olson will share in her keynote address at the 23rd Celebration of Hope luncheon, a benefit April 20 for the Nancy Floyd Haworth Foundation. In addition to the luncheon, the event includes free seminars.
Olson, author of “The Hat That Saved My Life” and co-founder of the nonprofit Breast Friends, says she knows the key to survival is to find joy in the journey and inspiration for the future.
|If you go
WHAT: Nancy Floyd Haworth Foundation, 23rd Celebration of Hope luncheon and seminars
WHEN: Saturday, April 20. Free breast cancer education seminars at 9 a.m., repeated at 10:30 a.m. Luncheon with keynote speaker three-time breast cancer survivor and author Becky Olson begins at noon.
WHERE: Embassy Suites Albuquerque, 1000 Woodward Place NE
HOW MUCH: Seminars are free, luncheon $75 each or sponsorship: $1,000 for a table for 10. Of the $75 price, $40 is tax deductible. Reservations for luncheon available at email@example.com or call 265-6343.
“More women live through breast cancer, although we still lose women. We still lose too many. I got through it, but it is a very, very difficult journey. What I hope is that I impart some joy. There are positive things to embrace everyday, regardless of where you are on the journey,” she says from her office in Portland, Ore.
One question survivors and their friends and family often ask is when their lives will return to normal.
She doesn’t have an answer, she says.
“Normal doesn’t feel the same anymore,” she explains.
Olson was diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer in 1996. At that time she had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation.
In 2004, doctors found another lump in her other breast. She had a double mastectomy and believed she had rid herself of cancer, but in 2009 a scan for something else discovered a spot behind her sternum.
She was diagnosed with metastatic disease; the cancer had traveled. She had intense radiation and since then has had several scans that show that she is cancer-free, she says.
“There’s nothing. It could come back again, but it’s not coming back today,” she says.
“We are all terminal. Some of us are just lucky enough to know it,” she says, quoting a favorite sentiment from country singer Tim McGraw. “Cancer changes our lives and changes our direction. We can go from day to day and gloom to gloom or we can develop a stronger purpose.”
She says her motivation for the work she does now came through the realization cancer gave her.
Through Breast Friends she has expanded her focus to include all kinds of women’s cancer and to offer support and education to women in prison.
“When they get a cancer diagnosis, they have nowhere to turn,” she says of incarcerated women. “Most have no access to the Internet. They have no friends or family to pour love on them and most are uninformed about cancer. Some women even believe that cancer is contagious.”
Her organization has created support groups and also has arranged to have a mammography van visit prisons for screening, so the women don’t have to go to an imaging clinic in prison garb and shackles. Olson says that often kept women from getting screened.
She says she hopes the women in prison, like all cancer survivors, look for life beyond their present circumstances.
“We kick our fears to the curb,” she says of her approach. “What would you do, if you could do anything you wanted and knew you wouldn’t fail?”
Dr. Diana Weber, a breast cancer surgeon at Presbyterian Medical Group, says that innovations in screening and treatment mean more people survive breast cancer than in the past.
New techniques in reconstruction after mastectomy mean women, if they are physically eligible and want reconstruction, can return more closely to their appearance before surgery.
“Many of the women who are eligible for reconstruction can have it at the same time as their mastectomy, so they wake up with a reconstructed breast,” Weber says.
Newer flap surgeries, which require a longer recovery time, are available. Also available is reconstruction with saline implants that looks more like a natural breast because of skin-saving techniques.
“By law reconstruction is covered by insurance,” she says of women who have health insurance.
Dr. Jeffrey Morehouse, a board-certified plastic surgeon with Albuquerque Health Partners, will address these techniques in his seminar, “A Place to Hang Your Pink Ribbon.”
Another seminar presented by Dr. Anthony Miller of X-Ray Associates of New Mexico will discuss a new imaging technique, tomosynthesis, in “Breast Imaging: The Latest and Greatest.”
Radiologist Brian Potts, president of Radiology Associates of Albuquerque, says the new three-dimensional imaging technique can more easily detect cancerous tissue, especially in dense or fibrous breasts.
Tomosynthesis increases radiation exposure, but not much, Potts explains. New advances in digital ultrasound exams also more readily exposes cancerous tissues. Other imaging exams, like magnetic resonance with contrast can help pinpoint cancer.
“Everything has a risk and a benefit and you have to weigh those,” he says.
Jeri Loeber, president of the Nancy Floyd Haworth Foundation, says the event is designed to educate and inspire.
The Nancy Floyd Haworth Foundation provides breast cancer support and education to New Mexicans. Dr. Vaun and Mary Floyd created the foundation in 1990 in memory of their daughter, Nancy, then 42, who died of breast cancer.
“This is not the breast cancer your grandmother had,” Loeber says. “With early detection, it can be cured. It’s treatable.”