Many consider breast cancer to be a concern primarily for older women. While older women certainly are at risk, the reality is that young women need to be diligent about screening and diagnosis, as well. According to the Young Survival Coalition
, around 12,000 women under age 40 are diagnosed with breast cancer annually in the U.S. When you raise the age to 45, the number is over 26,000. More than 1,000 women under age 40 in the U.S. die from breast cancer every year. Breast cancer is also the most common cancer for women ages 15 to 39.
Acknowledging the Risk
Despite the occurrence of breast cancer among younger women, there remains a prevalent misconception that it only occurs in post-menopausal women. This poses a problem, as younger women often experience delays in diagnosis and treatment. In fact, there is still not an effective breast cancer screening tool for women under 40, as women this age have denser breast tissue that renders mammography less effective in detecting anomalies.
Facing the Challenges
Women in this age group who are diagnosed with breast cancer face unique challenges with this disease. During this time, many women are focused on building their careers, dating or newly married, and starting families. Treatment options such as mastectomies and hormone therapies can affect more than just a woman’s physical health and fertility. After treatment, many women need time to heal emotionally, as well as adapt to a “new normal” physically, which can affect their personal lives and careers. Starting a family after treatment can also be stressful, as women are often advised to wait a few to several years after treatment before trying to conceive. Women diagnosed with breast cancer who have children face the additional challenge of having to explain the situation to their children. This, of course, can be difficult and even traumatic, as children may fear that they are about to lose a parent. Considering that, it’s important to handle the discussion with care.
Tips for Talking about It
To make this conversation easier, I compiled a few tips to help you navigate the difficult conversations that you may need to have in the days and weeks ahead:
- Plan in advance. Talking about your diagnosis can be delicate. You want to be honest and truthful but still reassure your child that they are going to be okay. The best way to do this successfully, says Breastcancer.org, is to plan out what you’re going to say in advance and schedule time so that your conversation won’t be interrupted.
- Be honest and open. You may be tempted to use words like “sick” or “not feeling good,” especially with younger children, but that may make them even more confused. Even though it hurts, the Young Survival Coalition recommends using the word “cancer” so that your kids can begin to grasp the reality of the situation.
- Make it age appropriate. Though talking about cancer makes it feel real, you can still adjust the amount you tell your kids and the details you use based on their age. It’s important to talk to them about it in a way that they can understand.
- Reassure their fears. Children undoubtedly will have a lot of questions and concerns after hearing the news. You can reassure some of kids’ major fears by letting them know that it’s not their fault, it’s not contagious, and you and the rest of your family will still be there for them to love and care for them.
- Encourage questions. When you’re done breaking the news, make sure to give your child time to ask questions, says the American Cancer Society. Even if they don’t have many questions right away, they will undoubtedly think of more as time progresses, so make sure to keep the lines of communication open.
- Stay open and loving. This is undoubtedly a tough time for everyone, so Susan G. Komen for the Cure emphasizes that moms should continue to keep an open and loving relationship throughout this journey. Lift them up and let them continue to lift you up in your fight against cancer.
- Be optimistic. Despite the seriousness of the diagnosis, survival rates for women at all ages remain very high at around 90 percent. You can help your family keep a positive attitude, which in turn will help them be your cheerleaders as you work to get healthy and beat cancer.