Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Write Pink! Education Week: Jill's Family History

In support of Write Pink's Education week, Jill has generously agreed to share her mom's breast cancer story with us.  Be sure to leave her plenty of feedback in the comments and stop by her blog to say hello!

It was my 30th birthday – May 29, 2003. I was in Iowa – the place of my birth and home of my heart – to celebrate with my family. My mom and sister had both taken the day off and we were spending it together…eating…shopping…playing…enjoying. The only “must do” on that day’s agenda was a mid-afternoon appointment of my mom’s. She was scheduled that day to have a core biopsy of a spot found on her right breast.

For many just this appointment would have been anxiety-ridden, but not for my mom. She could be the poster child for dense breast tissue. In the 15 years leading up to this day she had had two benign tumors removed, a needle biopsy and ultrasounds had become routine as her mammograms were generally questionable.

We went to the appointment. She cheerfully chatted as the biopsy was done, even trying to pry information out that they were unable to give. She dressed, joined my sister and I and my birthday festivities continued.

Four days later I had returned to my home in Missouri and was sitting in my living room when the phone rang. On the other end was my mother. “It is cancer,” she said and the certainty with which I lived disappeared.

Thankfully, seven years later, hers is a story of hope. Two weeks after her diagnosis she had a mastectomy. That next month she began four months of chemotherapy. After five years she was given a clean bill of health. She continues to teach and travel, to enjoy her life, to nurture her family, to watch her children raise children. She is a survivor.

In 1597 (406 years before my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer), Sir Francis Bacon wrote, “Knowledge is power.” When it comes to breast cancer, I am continuing to discover the truth of this. I’m also coming to realize that it’s not quite as simple as Bacon stated…yes, knowledge is power, but it’s just the first step. We need to allow ourselves to be empowered by what we know.

See, even though I know what I am to do, seven years later I am still working on living in to it. I am realizing more and more that it is important for me to educate myself. I need to know what habits increase my chances of having breast cancer and which can help me avoid it – and then I need to practice the correct ones! I need to know what it means that my mother had infiltrating ductal carcinoma…both what that means for her and what it means for my sister and I.

There are some practices that have been easy for me. Breastfeeding is said to reduce the chances of breast cancer – how pleased I was to discover that one of the most important parts of my journey of motherhood not only nourished my children but had benefits for me as well.

There are others things I struggle to do. Each year when my OB asks, “Have you been doing your monthly self-exams?” I give an honest although sheepish, “No, I haven’t.” I struggle – perhaps due to fear – with this discipline.

Then there are other things, too. Eating right (low fat diets are an important part of prevention of breast cancer) and exercising cannot be overstated. And I have been working on being more committed to these marks of healthy living. Even just the simple, yet always fleeting, commitment to lowering stress and living a happy life is powerful. Again, not things I’ve perfected, but I am trying.

Breast cancer has taught me that education is about more than knowing the right answers. It’s about learning to live what we know, to choose to allow knowledge to truly be power.

Jill is a church pastor and mother of two boys who believes that parents have the opportunity to give their children the clearest glimpse of God that can be given through another person. She writes about this and more at Clearest Glimpse of God.


  1. Jill's story really resonates with me. Mainly, I know what to do and why it's important -- but the doing is so sloppy and irregular.

    This week is reinforcing to me that I have to do better. It isn't a choice and the risk is too high.

  2. I'm with you Kelly! I have the education (I was a pre-med major! I worked on a cancer ward!) yet put education into practice is something I struggle to do.

    Jill thank you for sharing your Mother's story with us. And reminding us that Knowledge is only power if you use it!

  3. I need to do better with my self exams...especially since I have an appointment with my oncologist soon and he's going to ask me if I've been doing them! ;)

  4. What a great reminder! So glad your mom is well.

  5. Even though there's been no personal history nudging me towards more self-empowerment via education, I feel like I've dropped the ball here. I'm a head-in-the-sand kind of girl, but that just won't do!

    Thank you for sharing the honesty of your thoughts and the hope of your mom's survival with us!

  6. it is so good to hear a hopeful story! my sister had her last radiation treatment today(!) and i hope she'll get that clean bill of health soon, too:)

    i've read that it's not the fat that's the problem as much as the fact that hormones and other bad stuff concentrate in the fat of conventional beef/dairy/etc, which would make the recommendation less about dietary fat and more about non-factory meat sourcing...

  7. Yes! Thank you for phrasing this so well! I've been dancing this issue around in my mind for weeks now, but I hadn't been able to articulate the thought. But you've got it, and you're absolutely right: it's only the knowledge we use that gives us power. Well said!

  8. Thank you for sharing! And yes sad to say that I too give those same sheepish answers at the OB office. Even with aunts and great aunts who have battled breast cancer I still can't remember to become more familiar with my boobs and take better care of my body. I am going to start taking better care of myself right now-what a good month to do it. Thank you again for sharing.

  9. Jill, I'm so glad you shared your story and your mom's story of survival with us. I, too, struggle with doing the things I KNOW I should do to remain healthy. I know how important it is, but sometimes I still need a good kick in the pants.

  10. Jill, thank you so much for sharing your mother's story. My mother is similar - always having lumps but never turning into anything (so far). It really is scary and easy to let fear keep us from checking ourselves!


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?