View From Lodi, CA: The Scourge Of Breast Cancer

Maggy Brimelow with Alexander and Hannah Claire,
months before breast cancer was diagnosed in 1996

Long ago, my family packed up to
move from Los Angeles to Guatemala.

My father had a middle-management
job with a large multinational firm. His first move for
the company took our family to Puerto Rico. His second
assignment was in Guatemala.

By the time we moved, I had
started college. I visited during summer and Christmas
vacations but after I graduated, I headed for New York.

My two younger sisters, on the
other hand, went to school in Guatemala. Neither ever
returned. They chose instead to marry Guatemalans and
begin families of their own in their newly adopted
country.

Over the years, I have visited
Guatemala. And my sisters have come to California. But
on the whole, we would have seen more of each other had
we lived closer.

Recently, I have had more than the
usual reasons to regret not being closer to my sisters,
nieces and nephews.

In one of life`s cruel twists,
both my sisters have breast cancer. At a time when I
want to do the most that I can, geography gets in the
way.

Is there a scarier word in the
English language than “cancer”?

Although the answer to the
question is no, people have more reason for optimism
than ever before.

Over the last decade, enormous
strides have been made in cancer research. In 1946, only
25% of cancer patients lived longer than 5 years after
diagnosis; today, almost 60% live longer than five
years.

And for the first time in human
history, cancer death rates have steadily, if modestly,

declined
.

During 2002 about 200,000 women
and 1,500 men will be diagnosed with

breast cancer.
That is double the case rate from two
decades ago.

On the surface, that`s not good
news. But in truth many of those cases are

early detections
that result from improvements in
mammography.

Because of better technology,
cancers as small as a pinhead show up in routine
mammograms. Mammograms can detect tumors as small as 0.5
cm as opposed to tumors found by self-examination that
are around 2.5 cm.

These tiny malignancies are often
easily treated.

Despite improvements in
mammography, a long-standing debate about its value
continues. Some European scientists and academics are
convinced that they don`t save lives. But the American
doctors and the American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org)
strongly urge women to have regular mammograms.

No other screening test for breast
cancer is as effective as a mammogram. Even though
mammograms may miss 10% of breast cancers, it is more
effective than any other screening test.

When a

mammogram
detects a tumor in an early stage of
development, a woman will have more treatment options.
With early detection, a woman might be able to avoid
chemotherapy.

And research continues. Doctors at
the University of Texas in Houston and the

Weill Cornell Center
have developed a method of
killing tumors inside the breast by using high-frequency
radio waves guided by ultrasound.

Hopes are high that this new
method, if successfully tested, will eliminate surgery
altogether.

Over these next two weeks the ACS
offers you the opportunity to give the gift of hope
through its annual Daffodil Days message. By
participating, you can help the American Cancer Society
raise millions of dollars to continue the fight against
cancer.

From now through March 7th,
a purchase of daffodils will not only light up a room
and bring a smile, it will make a difference to
thousands who are coping with cancer.

Here is what your donation will
do:

  • $50 provides transportation for
    a patient to receive medical treatment

For more information about how you
can

contribute
, please call the American Cancer Society
at 800-ACS-2345 (800-227-2345) or go to the ACS website
at

http://www.cancer.org/.

Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the


Lodi News-Sentinel
.