By Halle Thornton
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, raising awareness about the importance of detecting breast cancer early.
One in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, and is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women.
Although breast cancer in men is rare, an estimated 2,470 men will be diagnosed this year.
Though statistics are high, the survival rate is high, with over 3.3 million breast cancer survivors in the United States today.
Tech. Sgt. Carmen Mena-Flores, noncommissioned officer in charge of commander’s support staff with the National Reconnaissance Office Operations Squadron, was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2015.
“My daughter was two at the time, and all I could think about was being there for her and watching her grow,” she said. “My end goal was to survive. I’m the type of person that goes big or goes home. This was not going to beat me.”
After six, six-hour chemotherapy sessions, three separate surgeries and 25 radiation treatments, Mena-Flores overcame her diagnosis and is now in remission.
During her battle with cancer, Mena-Flores took college courses with the help of a full Wounded Warrior Scholarship from Colorado Technical University, because if she was not able to return to duty, she wanted to have a secure plan for her future.
“I’m a very hopeful person and have faith, but if I do survive this and don’t get to return to duty, I want to make sure my backup plan is ready to go,” she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, breast cancer occurs when malignant tumors develop in the breast.
The cells can spread by breaking away from the original tumor and entering blood vessels or lymph vessels, which branch into tissues throughout the body.
When cancer cells travel to other parts of the body and begin damaging other tissues and organs, the process is called metastasis.
If a mother, sister, father or child has been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, one has a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the future.
Additionally, the risk increases if a relative was diagnosed before the age of 50.
By performing routine breast self-exams, establishing ongoing communication with your doctor, getting an annual clinical breast exam and scheduling routine screening mammograms, breast cancer can be detected and treated early, with a large possibility of full remission.
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, although one cannot ensure they will not get breast cancer, there are some healthy habits Airmen can utilize to reduce their risk:
1. Maintain a healthy weight.
2. Stay physically active.
3. Eat fruits and vegetables.
4. Avoid smoking.
5. Limit alcohol consumption.
“Here I am, I’m a survivor, and I couldn’t have done it without support from leadership, squadron, family and local friends,” Mena-Flores said. “It truly makes all the difference.”