People used to speak of breast cancer Â when they talked about it at all Â in hushed tones.
"When I was a girl in the '50s, breast cancer was whispered. So you didn't feel supported. You felt like you were marked," said Suzie Taylor-Meadows, a 14-year survivor of the disease.
"Now that it's so out there, so obvious ... there's a general sense of support in the entire country. You can't turn on the TV or look at a women's magazine without getting some of that support, and that is very healing."
Perhaps at no other time of year does the affliction that one in eight women will develop during her lifetime become more visible than October Â Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Lawrence Memorial Hospital will have its 10th-annual Stepping Out Against Breast Cancer benefit on Saturday at the Lawrence Holidome, 200 McDonald Drive. Proceeds from the dance will be used to start a resource library at the hospital's oncology center and help pay for mammograms for uninsured women in Lawrence and Douglas County.
"Diagnosis at an earlier stage improves outcomes," said Jay Andersen, medical oncologist at LMH's oncology center. "Early-stage breast cancer is a curable disease."
Just in time
That sentiment, now widespread, might have led to an earlier diagnosis for Taylor-Meadows, who found a large lump in her breast when she was 38 and living in California in the 1980s.
Knowing that breast cancer ran in her family, she questioned her doctor's opinion that she didn't have the disease. But he told her it was an abscess and continued to treat her with antibiotics and antidepressants.
"This lump was the size of a lime," she said. "You could see it."
Her mother finally took her to her own breast specialist.
"He met me at 12:15 on Friday, Aug. 12, and he had me on the operation table at 1:30," Taylor-Meadows said. "I woke up, and he said, 'Kiddo, that was no abscess.'"
Fortunately, Taylor-Meadows' cancer had not spread.
She now leads Bosom Buddies, a Lawrence breast cancer support group started by Breast Cancer Action, a local breast cancer advocacy and education organization. The support group, composed of survivors and women still fighting the disease, grapples with issues such as what it's like to find out you have cancer.
"It's terrifying," Taylor-Meadows said. "For me, it was like living through the San Francisco earthquake. Everything that I'd counted on in my body Â I felt betrayed by my body. And then I questioned all my decisions and future decisions from career to personal relationships to faith. It touches every single aspect of who you are."
Robin Byer, coordinator for Breast Cancer Action, said the group had purchased 23 new books about breast cancer for the Lawrence Public Library. They'll be on display this week. The group also is giving several presentations about breast health this month at area businesses.
Breast Cancer Action will have an information table at the LMH benefit.
"Our mission is to try to raise awareness about being familiar with your breasts and knowing when there has been a change in them and interceding in that," Byer said.
The best thing that's happened in the arena of breast cancer research, she said, is that there has been controversy about the efficacy of mammograms.
Just last week, a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute said breast self-examinations did little to lessen the mortality rate from breast cancer.
"Just to have anything about breast cancer out there is wonderful," Byer said. "It's getting to be more and more in people's consciousness. People aren't hiding the fact that they've got breast cancer. People are talking about it. There's some debate about what's beneficial and what's not beneficial."
This year in the United States, an estimated 203,500 new cases of breast cancer are expected to occur in women, 1,500 in men. Some 39,600 women and 400 men will die from the disease.
All women are at risk for breast cancer. The most significant risk factors are being a woman and getting older.