by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media
More than 200,000 breast cancer cases plague America every year, but early detection has led to a decrease in the amount of cases in recent years.
In 2017, more than 250,000 new cases of “invasive” breast cancer are expected to surface across the country. That’s not to mention the some 60,000 “non-invasive” breast cancer cases that are also expected to pop up in the U.S. before we reach the new year.
According to breastcancer.org, while breast cancer can be very rare among young women in America, it’s extremely common for women who are 41 years of age and older. These statistics might not give the average woman in America much of a positive outlook on their health. However, there is good news.
The number of breast cancer cases has declined tremendously over the years and that has a lot to do with a doctors’ ability to detect the disease in its early stages. “These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness,” the website says.
Early detection is what helped Leith Walsh beat breast cancer — not once, not twice, but three times. Leith is now telling her story so that others will know what to do if they too become a victim of breast cancer.
“I have proven that early detection by self-examination and mammogram was critical in finding my cancers. It saved my life,” Leith said in our interview.
Leith’s son, Aaron, was affected by what he had to witness his mother go through during each of her journeys to recovery and he’s now using his major platform as an elite basketball trainer to not only get Leith’s story out there, but to also provide funding to breast cancer awareness efforts.
He’s hosting a Breast Cancer Awareness Clinic at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, to make his contribution to such an important cause.
I had the opportunity to interview both Aaron and his mother to talk about the event as well as Leith’s experiences with breast cancer.
My interview with Leith.
All three battles with breast cancer
Q. How did early detection contribute to you beating breast cancer for what’s now been the third time?
A. Early detection was very instrumental in each of my fights with breast cancer. My first breast cancer was caught at an early stage — stage one. Therefore, the cancer had not yet spread to any areas of my body, which allowed the doctors to aggressively treat the cancer. I was treated with surgery, chemo therapy and radiation therapy. These treatments stopped the cancer from moving to other areas of my body and killed any cells that may have slipped into parts of my body.
The second breast cancer was different from the first. The first cancer was found in my right breast and it was called Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC). This kind of breast cancer can quickly invade the surrounding tissue of the breast and if it’s not caught early it can become metastatic and move to the lungs or bones.
The second cancer was found in my left breast and it was found before it reached a stage. It was called a Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS). This cancer was also caught very early. I was only treated with surgery and radiation therapy. DCIS usually stays in the breast duct. It doesn’t spread beyond that area.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the third time over the summer. This time it was found in the left breast and it was a IDC. This one was also found early and I was treated with surgery. However, the surgery was a little more invasive because the cancer invaded some of the surrounding area of my left breast. So, yes, I have proven that early detection by self-examination and mammogram was critical in finding my cancers. It saved my life.
Q. What tips do you have for women who are (1) fighting breast cancer today and (2) for women who have never been diagnosed with breast cancer?
Leith’s breast cancer tips
A. My tips for those who are fighting breast cancer today is to accept help from your friends and family members who are offering. Women often feel that they can take care of everyone else while taking care of themselves at the same time, but it’s important to have people’s support when facing such a life threatening illness.
Having a strong faith in God was the number one thing that helped me get through such a difficult time. It was my faith in God that kept me sane as I dealt with my third breast cancer.
You must also become an advocate for yourself or at least have someone who can advocate for you. Conducting research to find out as much information about your cancer and the best treatments is very important too. Write down questions for your doctor because while you are in the doctor’s office, you will not remember or hear half of what the doctor is saying to you. Have someone with you during your doctor’s visits.
An important tip for every woman is to become more mindful of your environment and lifestyle. If you are fighting breast cancer, make sure you change your diet and go organic. Eat healthy, incorporate lots of green, exercise, and stay away from process foods.
It’s important that every woman — regardless of age — conducts regular self-examinations. Breast cancer does not discriminate with age. Women in their twenties, thirties, and older all develop breast cancer. Yes, those over forty have a higher risk, but it’s better to start early by developing the habit of regular breast examinations. It doesn’t matter if you have breast cancer in your family or not, every woman is exposed to the risk of developing breast cancer.
My interview with Aaron.
Q. How has seeing your mom deal with breast cancer affected you personally?
A. Seeing my mom battle with breast cancer has affected me tremendously. Her journey to recovery all three times was very intense. Witnessing her get through something that’s so mentally, emotionally, and physically draining has really motivated me.
My mom and I are currently in graduate school. To see her get through the semester while battling breast cancer for the third time taught me a lot. I learned that even during tough times you can achieve anything if you keep fighting. That was a big lesson for me because there were several times that same semester when I thought about dropping one of my masters — part of my dual degree program. However, at the time, I asked myself multiple times: how can I quit something when I have so much less going on than my mom?
Watching her deal with cancer, work full-time, be a mother, be a wife, and still do what she had to do for school really motivated me.
Q. Other than basketball itself, how important was it for you to have a clinic during breast cancer awareness month — merging your platform with such a serious cause?
A. It was extremely important for me to have this clinic. I understand that I’m blessed with a platform, so it’s only right that I use it to make a positive impact. Even though it may not be the biggest platform, I still need and want to make my contribution.
All of the proceeds raised from this clinic will be donated to Feed the Fight Breast Cancer Awareness. The funds will be used to help those who are underprivileged get mammogram screenings for early detection. I saw firsthand how early detection helped save my mom’s life, so I’m really looking forward to this opportunity.
In addition to raising money and bringing awareness to this cause, I also look forward to talking to the players about my mom’s story. The truth is, if she didn’t mentally fight back, cancer could have easily won. So, hopefully this will show the players that if they keep fighting and have faith in God, they can overcome anything!
Thank you so much for being open with my audience and sharing your amazing story. You’re obviously a very strong woman given everything you’ve been through and just like Aaron, I have also been truly inspired by your testimony. I’ve always referred to my mother as “superwoman” because I’ve seen her juggle so much as a mother, wife, entrepreneur, and spiritual mentor. Well, I’m now giving you that nickname as well because you are without a doubt a superwoman.