Breast Cancer Awareness month promotes mammography

By Gus Bode

Most activities for breast cancer happen year-round

One of Colleen Schloemann’s favorite stories from her cancer support group is of an older woman who had a double mastectomy.

“When she found out she had breast cancer, she had a bra burning party,” Schloemann said, laughing. “There are some real positive women who are proud to be fighting it.”


Schloemann, the facilitator for the Cancer Support Group that meets monthly in the Herrin Hospital, has seen many women with breast cancer during her eight years with the group.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. More women die of breast cancer every year than of any other type of cancer, and more than 200,000 new invasive cases will be diagnosed in America this year, according to the American Cancer Society.

Mary Hiller, a 25-year veteran mammographer who works at The Breast Center in Carbondale, said various activities through the month usually help spread the word about the importance of mammograms. She said October and November are the busiest months for the staff at the center.

Hiller said she performs about 30 mammograms a day, mostly on older women.

The machine itself can be intimidating, Hiller said. The 7-foot white machine has two trays protruding; a black, lower tray the breast lays on, and a clear upper tray. In a mammogram, the breast is squeezed between the two until the skin is taut, she said.

“There are some who think it’s horrible,” she said. “Most women think it’s not so bad. People who come every year know what to expect.”

Angie Bailey, director of health education for the Jackson County Health Department, said going despite the stigma could be the most important act in beating breast cancer.


“Remember it’s just a screening. It’s very important that you do it,” Bailey said. “It’s something you do once a year, and that could be the thing that helps women detect it because you might not always feel a lump.”

She said one in eight women will have breast cancer in her lifetime.

Though the health department is not sponsoring any specific events for the awareness month, Bailey said women older than 40 should be sure to check with their healthcare provider to find where they can go for a mammogram. Younger women should be sure to do breast self-exams monthly.

Of course, there is more to living with cancer than the physical aspect. Schloemann said a major concern among women who go through chemotherapy or radiation is body image, especially if one or both breasts have to be removed.

Though she recounts the story of the bra burning happily, she said the emotional pain many women experience is less lighthearted.

“There was this lady… even though she was 82 years old and her husband was deceased, she couldn’t stand to look in the mirror naked,” she said. “That is a big thing no matter what the age is. “

Jennifer Lee, regional director of the American Cancer Society Southern Region, said October is a big step for breast cancer awareness, but two major projects throughout the year also aid women coping with the cancer.

A program called “Look Good, Feel Better,” sponsored by the American Cancer Society, brings in licensed cosmetologists to teach women with breast cancer makeup and style tips.

Lee said the program is intended to help women feel better by looking better. The cosmetologists teach the women how to draw on eyebrows when they fall out, take care of skin made sensitive by chemicals and style hair, which often grows back coarser and a different color after chemotherapy.

Lee agreed that the month helps publicize the need for awareness of breast cancer, saying she receives more calls and media attention during the month.

The American Cancer Society also sponsors a program that pairs survivors of breast cancer with women still going through it, called “Reach to Recovery.”

“Many women have good support, whether it is their church, their family or their friends, but sometimes they need to talk to someone who has been through what they have,” Lee said.

Reporter Kate Galbreath can be reached at [email protected]