As a nurse who began my career on a busy oncology unit, I have long been a champion of cancer causes. But after I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer at the age of 32 and became a patient myself, advocacy took on a whole new meaning. In the years since my diagnosis I've learned that being an active participant in your own health is not always easy. But take it from someone who's been there -- it may just save your life.
1. Know your body. Be aware of what "normal" looks like and speak up when you notice any changes. If your doctor doesn't listen to you -- speak louder.
2. Be your own advocate. No doctor will be as invested in your own well being as you should be. The medical world is a complicated place and it is all too easy to fall through the cracks. Don't be afraid to ask questions, to call back and to make requests. And never assume that no news is good news.
3. Remember that cancer does not discriminate. It affects every race and every age -- and statistically speaking you will probably hear those dreaded words at some point in your life. Awareness is important but not in the tie-it-all-up-in-a-pretty-pink-bow way that is so often portrayed. Cancer awareness is important because if it could happen to me -- it could happen to anyone.
4. Finally -- pink is cute but it's not a cure. Don't get sucked in to marketing geniuses who profit from a disease which has affected far too many of our family and friends.
We need research -- not more ribbons. Please send your money in the right direction.
Heather Caro is a clinical research nurse and breast cancer advocate. You can read more of her work at mylifedistilled.com.