October: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

By on October 12, 2015

By M. Simpson –

As some of you may know, October is breast cancer awareness month. We at LivingBetter50 feel it’s important to take this opportunity to share stories of hope and survival, talk about early detection and preventative measures, and also remind you of the many women out there still struggling with breast cancer and how it impacts lives from all angles.

When I was thinking about what kinds of cancer survivor stories to share, I thought, should I stick to celebrity stories? Popular non-celebrity people stories? People I personally know who have battled and won against cancer? The answer I came up with was, a little of everything. Because when someone is battling breast cancer, their fame, social or economic status really has nothing to do with their survival or their example for the rest of us. Bravery and courage is not earned with glamour and Hollywood status, and it shines both famous and regular, everyday women.

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Story #1 Angelina Jolie

About two years ago, Angelina Jolie made some pretty great strides toward international awareness of genetic testing and preventative procedures. Jolie discovered she carries the gene BRCA1 – which made her 87% likely to develop breast cancer and 50% likely to develop ovarian cancer. Her decision? To publicly announce this information while simultaneously announcing a double mastectomy. This was her early genetic detection and preventative measure – to prevent her children from losing their mother at an early age, as she did with her own mother.

As difficult as the decision was for her, the lives of her children and family were too important for her to risk any other option. The following is an excerpt from New York Times of a written statement  from Ms. Jolie regarding her decision:

I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made. My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent. I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.” (New York Times, May 14 2013)

Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie – 1 Jon Kopaloff via Getty Images

She used the opportunity not only to extend her life for the lives of her children – and her children’s children – but to use her celebrity status to internationally make women aware of genetic testing, preventative options, and effectiveness. Her awareness campaign worked. Most people were aware of her operation, which led to Time Magazine coining the wide-spread response, “The Angelina Affect.”

But what also was discovered a year later, unfortunately, is that while her awareness strides were phenomenal, the actions taken by because of it – were not. Only two percent of respondents in the Angelina Effect study were motivated enough to talk to their doctor about breast and ovarian cancer health management.

So the same article that announced this information, also made a quick, 15 minute breast cancer risk assessment quiz that you can take. You might be surprised to know that even if no one in your family tree had breast cancer, or even cancer at all, and you have an average risk of cancer – that doesn’t mean you are in the clear. 75% of all those who get breast cancer are from that pool of baseline, average risk people. Once you find out how great your risk is, you might be more apt to act upon it.

But cancer survivor stories inspire us in more than one way. They give us hope but also ideas. How to cope, how to fight, and most importantly – how to live, both during the battle and after.

Survivor story #2: Bershan Shaw (in feature photo)

Bershan can be described as nothing else but inspiring and uplifting. At age 33, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Because she wanted to protect her ability to have children, she opted for radiation over chemo. That resolved the problem temporarily, but two years later, the cancer was back – and stage four, and the prognosis for stage is four is typically a death sentence. Doctors told her she had six to nine months to live.

Instead of breaking down and bawling, she looked the team of doctors in the eyes and firmly said, “I will not die, because I was meant for more.”

She was right. That was seven years ago and she is now cancer free. The night she was told her cancer was terminal, she got on her knees and asked to God to spare her life so she could use it for others, and she was true to her promise. She has used the life she fought for to become a motivational speaker and life coach, and she also began a social network support site, URAWarrior.com – to help and support those facing life-altering issues.

Survivor Story #3: Lisa Kate Davis

Lisa is an actress, writer and voice-over artist who not only braved the L.A. dating scene directly after a double mastectomy, but turned it into a self-experiment and eventually her own solo show, called Dating in L.A. with No Nipples. What makes her survivor story noteworthy is that much like Angelina Jolie, even though she really only needed a single mastectomy and had caught the cancer in its early stages, she opted for a double mastectomy, mirroring Jolie’s choice for preventative removal.

In addition to that, she has become a role model for body acceptance and comfortability in the face of a mastectomy. Her unabashed, direct and unfaltering attitude toward getting back on the horse so quickly after a divorce and a double mastectomy in the same few months is a shining example of self-acceptance and incredible courage. You can read her whole story in her own words at http://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/dating-after-breast-cancer.

There are thousands of breast cancer survivor stories shared by strong, courageous women, which is why we celebrate breast cancer awareness in October – to commemorate not only those who have fought and won, but also those who have fought and lost their lives to this disease. And, to pray for, help and support those who are still struggling. 

Survivor Story #4: Dr. Cheri Ross, retired PSU Professor of Humanities

There are always those who need our help. Dr. Cheri Ross is one of them.

Dr. Ross retired several years ago from her twenty year career as a Humanities professor at Penn State University. About two years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which she is still getting treatment for. She has lost a tremendous amount of weight, and is down to about 90 lbs, but maintains a smile, and takes great care of her 5 cats, all of whom she loves dearly.

But breast cancer is not her only problem.

Because of retiree pension cuts, she only receives $10,000 a year as pension, and otherwise lives only on her small social security check to provide for her and her disabled husband. He was denied social security disability, yet he is unable to even move without great difficulty and immense pain. Dr. Ross has had to put most of her income toward medical and oncology treatment. Her house is scheduled to be auctioned off in January, her electricity is frequently shut off, and she has almost no family to help her – all of this, while she is also battling breast cancer. She never complains about pain, fatigue or her condition, she simply tries to deal with her many, many diversities pragmatically and head on.

So I am reaching out to anyone that wants to help her.

Any donation that can be made to her is greatly appreciated. You can send contribution to: Dr. Cheri Ross, address at 2076 Lexington Ave, Harrisburg, PA 17057. If you would like to make a donation in a different manner, please email her at [email protected]

The reason October is dedicated as breast cancer awareness is to celebrate survivors as well as to advocate for those still battling. Whether you wear something pink every day, show off a pink ribbon bumper sticker, or reach out and donate to people like Dr. Ross who are still struggling, let’s all keep breast cancer survivors and fighters at the tops of our minds and in our prayers.


M.E. Simpson is a freelance writer and content marketing professional, who writes for numerous online and print publications. She currently resides in south-central PA and enjoys Zumba and playing the piano.


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October: Breast Cancer Awareness Month