This year, more than 234,000 women and men will be diagnosed with breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Nearly 40,000 of them will die.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and everyone from cancer survivors to students to NFL players are dressing in pink to promote breast cancer awareness.
The month represents a collaboration among national public service organizations, professional medical associations and government agencies, working together to increase awareness of a disease that affects one in eight women in the United States.
According to Carol Ann Donnelly of the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation, that statistic is even more startling in Rhode Island, where one in six women will develop breast cancer in their lifetimes.
Sue Hall, breast health coordinator at South County Hospital, said the disease has the second highest mortality rate in the country.
Hall said during this month of awareness, and throughout the year, women need to be vigilant in checking themselves regularly.
“Early detection is the single most important thing,” Hall said. “Screening, getting a mammogram annually, and doing regular self breast exams are important.”
Hall said that if a woman finds a lump she should report it to her doctor immediately.
“Don’t wait,” Hall said. “When you’re told you have a breast cancer, it’s one of the most devastating and life changing events. Do anything you can do to catch it at its earliest point to give you the best possible outcome and cure.”
Hall said South County Hospital has a full scope of services to offer those women and even men battling breast cancer and their families. The hospital offers mammography, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, reconstructive services, genetic testing, and access to radiologists, pathologists and oncologists.
The hospital even provides each patient with her or his own personal nurse practitioner and breast health coordinator.
“We have pretty comprehensive, personalized care,” Hall said. “My role [as a breast health coordinator] is to guide people through the process, offering them education and assessing their health condition both physically and psychologically along the way.”
Hall continued, “I feel the key to this is to keep the patient informed and educated. An informed patient has, I think, a better experience.”
Hall said patients who are mentally prepared and aware of what is going to happen to their bodies, generally have a better handle on the treatment and recovery processes.
The hospital offers a host of support outlets to its patients.
The Gloria Gemma bus comes to the hospital the third Monday of each month, providing an opportunity for patients to meet and network with other patients.
Mental health professionals are also on hospital staff, and the hospital recently established a STAR program, which stands for Survivorship Training and Rehab. The program offers patients access to physicians, nurses, pharmacists, speech pathologists, dieticians, and more, so patients are able to address any problem they may be experiencing during their care.
“If a patient is having a problem at any particular point during their care with their gait, speech or strengthening, a physician or nurse practitioner can refer them to the STAR program to address those needs, whatever those needs might be.”
While the hospital doesn’t yet have a formal support group, it may start one in the future.
“Something we hope to do in the future is start our own support group, not just for breast cancer, but for all cancers,” Hall said. “I think there’s a need for that.”
Ultimately, Hall said it is important to keep up with screening and self exams, which are two of the most important things women (and men) can do this month, and every month.