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By Gina Channell Wilcox

One in eight: Being candid about cancer can save a life

Uploaded: Oct 1, 2013

Editor's note: This column was originally published Oct. 21, 2011. It is being republished in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
According to the National Cancer Institute, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.

So, as I look around my office, I wonder who's next.

Who's next to get "the call"? Who's next to call her parents with the news, then cry with them? Who's next to contemplate the loss of a part of her body and the sickness and afflictions that accompany cancer treatments? Who's next to look her child in the eyes and have her heart break because there is a very good possibility she will not see her baby girl grow up?

Who's next to feel the imminence of death?

When I got "the call," my immediate reaction was they were wrong. I'm not even 45, no family history, no significant risk factors, there's no way! I even asked the doctor if the biopsy results could be wrong. Then more questions came in rapid succession.

"How big is the mass?"

"We don't know."

"Will I need chemotherapy?"

"We don't know."

"Will I have to have a mastectomy?"

"We don't know."

"Did it spread to other areas?"

"We don't know."

"When will I have surgery?"

"We need to get you into surgery. This week if possible."

The urgency of that statement frightened me. Why immediately?

Was it spreading that fast? What did they know that I didn't know? I knew surgery was the only way I was going to get any answers. And waiting for information was excruciating because of all the thoughts that went through my mind all day and through sleepless nights about the future -- if I even had a future.

However, I am one of the very few, very fortunate, survivors of breast cancer to have caught it early, avoid a mastectomy and chemotherapy -- all because a friend was open about her 30-year-old daughter's diagnosis. Being a master at procrastination, I had put off my annual checkup and mammogram until it became a biennial event. When I heard about this relatively young, healthy woman with no family history being diagnosed, I made an appointment.

It is because my friend did not keep her troubles to herself that my cancer was diagnosed early. It is because this family shared its pain, heartache and fear that I was able to minimize the pain, heartache and fear for my family.

I went into this journey reluctant to tell anyone other than the people who absolutely needed to know -- not my extended family, not my colleagues, not my friends. I didn't want to expose something so personal. I didn't want people to see my fear. I didn't want to appear weak. However, this experience left me with more than a small scar; it left me with a new outlook on life and a new set of priorities. I wasted so much time worrying about perception, lamenting past mistakes and worrying about the future. I will not allow that any longer. Time is too short.

My friend who openly shared her pain about her daughter's diagnosis gave me and my family a gift I will never be able to repay. Now I am sharing my experience with the hope this will prompt some fellow procrastinators to schedule a mammogram appointment, and maybe inspire some husbands, brothers, fathers and sons to encourage the women in their lives to schedule an appointment.

Gina Channell-Allen, publisher of the Pleasanton Weekly, was diagnosed with breast cancer June 29, 2011.