SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual international campaign organized to increase awareness of the disease, educate people about the importance of early screening, and offer support to those affected.
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women and one out of eight develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
Tech. Sgt. Jamie Ruíz, 21st Medical Squadron technician, was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in 2017.
“In April of 2017 I found out I had a lump in my left breast when my husband gave me a hug and I had pain, which isn’t normal because tumors aren’t painful,” she said. “After that, I got everything checked out and that’s when I found out I was positive for breast cancer. I started chemotherapy (about 5 months’ worth of chemo/16 sessions), then I had a [partial] mastectomy done and after I healed from that I [underwent] radiation treatment because the tumor was around five centimeters big.”
Ruíz’s diagnosis and treatment continued through December 2017. Her recommendation for women just learning of a breast cancer diagnosis or undergoing treatment is to maintain an optimistic outlook.
“Stay positive because you are going to come out of it at the end,” she said. “Positivity goes a long way, you will have your miserable days but you don’t want eight or nine months of feeling miserable. You can be miserable but it’s a lot of effort, who wants to be miserable all the time?”
Ruíz admitted she had moments when she did break down and felt sad about her situation, but she quickly bounced back from her negativity recalling the lessons learned from her previous experience as an Air Force resiliency trainer assistant.
“Resiliency, we use it every day, we just don’t realize we use it until something big happens,” she said. “Having gone through RTA training made me more aware and gave me the tools to deal with this and see the silver lining in the bad stuff.”
Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Verran, 21st MDS medical technician, said preventive care is crucial to detecting breast cancer at its early stages, like Ruíz did.
“When it comes to breast cancer, we screen our patients and those 40 and above should get a mammogram every year or every couple of years if there is a family history of breast cancer,” she said.
Ruíz said she never expected to get breast cancer.
“I had no family history and I don’t have the breast cancer gene, it was one thing I never really thought about,” she said. “If you notice a lump get it checked, even if you think it’s nothing, get your mammograms, do your monthly breast checks.”
The NBCF encourages adult women of all ages to perform breast self-exams at least once a month. Visit https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-self-exam for helpful tips and more information.
“If immediate family members had breast cancer it means that they can pass the [cancer] genes to their kids, so they are at a higher risk of getting breast cancer,” Verran said.
Women with no family history of cancer may still get cancer so it is important to get screened regularly not just for breast cancer but for other high risk cancers affecting women like ovarian, uterine, cervical and colorectal cancer.
For more information about National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, visit nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-awareness-month.