Vail Valley Charitable Fund: The best defense against breast cancer |

Vail Valley Charitable Fund: The best defense against breast cancer

Shelly Jarnot
Vail Valley Charitable Fund

Every October the fall leaves pop with yellows, oranges and reds. These beautiful colors of autumn are always joined by bright pink indicating the arrival of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The overlapping pink ribbon adorns cereal boxes, kids wear pink soccer socks, websites turn pink and buildings are wrapped in pink cloth. A decade ago, I would notice some of the pink and think of it as a nice way to support “those poor women afflicted with breast cancer.”

Shelly Jarnot

That all changed one morning in late November 2010. I was showering and felt something strange behind my left nipple. It did not feel hard like a stone, but felt more like thickness. Eventually, a biopsy would confirm my fears and a diagnosis of breast cancer.

That first day, a surgeon handed me a little booklet outlining some of the basics. Inside the front cover was a long list of risk factors for breast cancer – family history, overweight, no children, advanced age and more. My eyes scanned in frustration as I realized that I had none of them. How could this be? Could there be a mistake? But it was me. I had breast cancer.

I share this story not to scare anyone or create worry. I share it so that all women will pay attention, be alert and consider that no matter how unlikely it may seem, they too may be impacted. Breast cancer caught early is easier to treat and to survive. Therefore, I ask you to take three simple steps to protect yourself.

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First, have an annual exam. Physicians are trained to look for the signs and symptoms. They may notice changes to the skin or an inverted nipple. Your doctor knows what questions to ask.

Second, get a mammogram every year. Some will say that they are not essential until after age 50 or not needed every year. Why take that risk? My cancer was discovered when I was 43 years old. I had a mammogram where nothing was noticed, and one year later it was clear as day.

I grow frustrated when people tell the story of a mammogram that missed finding a tumor, because they overlook all the times that mammograms have saved lives. Mammograms are important. Make them a priority.

And finally, know your breasts. You need to know what is normal so that you will notice anything abnormal. Women are intimidated regarding the correct way to do a breast self-exam. Don’t let that stop you. Just pay attention so you notice when something is different. You are the first line of defense.

Ten years ago, I gave this same message at the Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group annual luncheon. I had just finished chemo and was bald. It was probably more compelling when women could see me and wanted to avoid my fate. I am fortunate that my cancer was caught early and I am doing well.

Now when October arrives and I see those pink ribbons, I feel thankful. I am grateful for the commitment of so many to eliminating this disease, for the money raised for research, for the advances in treatment and for my health. For you, I want the pink ribbon to be a reminder — have an annual exam, get a mammogram every year and know your breasts.

This October, consider supporting local women with breast cancer by donating to the Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group, a program under the Vail Valley Charitable Fund umbrella.

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