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Saving the ta-tas takes little effort

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and a great time to remind men and women to get regular breast exams. Mammograms are important tools in finding irregularities in the breast but self-exams are just as valuable in detecting lumps. They’re your breasts, get to know them, you have a better chance of finding something wrong than anyone else.

I have successfully avoided issues with my breasts but my paternal aunt died from breast cancer. Fearful of what a mammogram might show, she avoided doctors and tests that could have saved her life. Instead, she waited until her breasts ached to seek help. By then, it was too late.

She left behind four daughters and a son, none of whom have had issues with the disease as far as I know.

On the other end of the spectrum, one of my maternal cousins just celebrated the 25th anniversary of her diagnosis. Van was 26, going through a divorce with two little girls, 4 and 2, and had started college when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

One of her breasts was removed and she wore a “falsie” for years. Throughout her ordeal, which included hip replacements because of the damage done by radiation and chemo, she maintained a positive attitude. One of her favorite ways to shock friends was to threaten to throw her “boob” at them.

We lost touch after my family moved from St. Louis to Macon. Van grew from an adorable little blonde girl into a beautiful young woman, raising her girls in Missouri. In the pre-Internet years, it was harder to keep track of anyone.

Some years ago, I re-connected with a childhood friend and flew up to St. Louis to visit my hometown for the first time in more than 20 years. It was also the first time I’d seen Van since we were kids. We quickly caught up and I was saddened to hear about her battle with breast cancer.

However, I was thrilled to know she was healthy and cancer-free. I shudder to think what would have become of her girls if they’d lost her at such a young age. Certainly, they would have been taken care of and loved by Van’s parents but that’s not the same as having their mom.

Van is now the proud grandma of two gorgeous little blonde girls, but what if she hadn’t been diagnosed soon enough? What if she’d waited to see a doctor? What if the treatment failed? There are so many what-ifs when it comes to cancer.

However, there are tried and true guarantees, too, when it comes to cancer. Women, and men — they get breast cancer, too, but to a lesser extent than women — have a much better chance of survival if the disease is caught as soon as possible.

So, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, get a mammogram. Oh, I know no one likes them. I’ve had them myself and have never had a problem. It’s uncomfortable for maybe a few minutes, no biggie. Tell your mother, sister, aunt, grandma, cousin, best friend, worse enemy. No one should die from breast cancer. It’s easily detected and, discovered soon enough, treatable and survivable.

Every woman deserves the best chance possible to live a long, full life, to see their children grow up and give them grandchildren, to laugh and love and cry and throw tantrums, to shop till they drop or canvass QVC for Today’s Special Value.

Don’t let cancer win. Take control, get tested and get treated if the news isn’t the best.

You think mammograms are uncomfortable? It beats the alternative.