Mothers, sisters, grandmothers, aunts and friends: All people who can be affected by breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, around one in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives.
Many Central Michigan University students are affected by the c-word every day. Whether a family member or friend or even a fellow student has it, it is the last thing someone needs on their mind with classes and jobs.
From the initial shock, to treatment, to recovery and prevention, three CMU students share their stories about their families and how they overcame one of the most feared words in the English language.
In October 2009, Zach Mackowiak’s aunt was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer.
“It was pretty tough on me at first because I didn’t know anyone that close to me that’s had cancer,” the Shelby Township senior said. “But once I realized she caught it early and that she would be OK, I was more at ease.”
Mackowiak said his aunt underwent a mastectomy. She did not go through chemotherapy or radiation treatments because of how early the cancer was caught.
“It’s hard to see my aunt with the scars now from the surgery, “ Mackowiak said. “She’s had a lot of reconstruction surgery as well. She’s doing great now. No cancer and in a couple years she’ll be at that five year mark doctors give cancer patients in terms of it never coming back.”
Mackowiak said he doesn’t get to see his aunt as often as he likes because she lives in Illinois, but he is glad she is doing so well. He said he’s trying to be more health-conscious because he knows breast cancer can run in the family and can affect anyone, even men.
“It’s kind of sickening how many people I know have or had cancer just within the last five years,” Mackowiak said. “I’ve learned to take each day as they come and just to smile.”
“My mom was 41 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer,” said Amanda Rix, a senior from Algonac. “She was diagnosed in 2006. She had all the different treatments. She underwent chemo, radiation and had a mastectomy on her left breast.”
Rix said her mom had given birth to her little brother six months prior and believes the little boy saved her life.
“She was still being hormonal from the pregnancy. It made her lymph nodes extra sensitive,” Rix said. “The one day she was holding him and he was being extra wiggly and knocked into her breast. She said it was very painful.”
Rix said her mom made an appointment as soon as she felt the lump. Rix was 16 years old at the time, and was very scared of the consequences that cancer can bring. She said she was terrified of losing her mom.
“The experience was actually very frightening for me,” Rix said. “I would wake up screaming from the nightmares I had. I wouldn’t calm down until I saw her and knew that she was still home with us.”
Rix said it was scary to hear it was cancer, saying she had always associated the word with death, and had never really heard of good outcomes.
“From this experience, I learned that death is not always the answer,” Rix said. “If you take the necessary steps to catch it at an early stage, you are more likely to survive. My mom is healthy and cancer free.”
Rix said she regularly checks for lumps or any abnormalities in her breasts. She said she has learned a lot from watching her mother’s journey and hopes that she stays cancer free for the rest of her life.
Adrianne Bright said she didn’t truly grasp the concept of cancer when her grandmother was first diagnosed with breast cancer.
“All I knew was my grandma was sick and balding,” she said.
The sophomore from Flushing Public Relations major said her grandmother was the first person she had been close with to be diagnosed with any sort of cancer. She said it was scary, but the hardest part was watching her mother cope with the situation.
“I couldn’t imagine what was going through her head as she tries to go through her daily activities while watching her own mother deal with the illness,” Bright said. “My grandmother is a very loving and caring woman. She was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago. She had to undergo chemotherapy then, but has been cancer free since.”
Bright said she’s learned a lot from the experience and is glad to report that her grandmother is cancer free.
“The word cancer is so evil,” she said. “I feel at any age you hear that word and just know it’s bad. I may not have known the full extent of the disease, but I knew that it was no good.”
Bright said she has gained a new appreciation for life and for all the people in her own.
“I really try to not take anyone or anything for granted because life really does have unexpected twists and turns.”
Bright said she does regular self-checks for irregularities in her breasts. She said it’s important to be cautious so that cancer cells can be caught early.
“I want others to know that I support the cause and want to make others aware,” Bright said. “I have done Relay for Life in a couple locations to remember the battles fought by my grandmother and aunt.”