By Michelle Seeber
Former Portales resident Charles Meister lost his sister Marilyn (Meister) Emanuel to breast cancer on Dec. 5, 1988.
She was a second-grade school teacher in Chandler, Ariz., and only 41 years old.
She left two sons behind: Glen, 17, and Greg, 13.
She lived only two years after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Meister said.
“She felt a lump and took a mammogram, but she had waited too long,” said the 51-year-old Meister, who lives in Flagstaff, Ariz. “It grew and spread, and by the time they diagnosed it, she was fighting it.
“They removed her breast, but they discovered the cancer had moved into her lungs,” Meister said. “She took chemotherapy, but it made her so sick. She got to where she couldn’t breathe, because (the cancer) was in her lungs, so she basically suffocated.”
More than 40,000 women are expected to lose the war to breast cancer in 2004. The disease is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women today (after lung cancer) and is the most common cancer among women, excluding non-melanoma skin cancers.
In men the disease is less common. The American Cancer Society predicts about 470 men will die of breast cancer and another 1,450 will be diagnosed with the disease in 2004.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.2 million people will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year worldwide.
The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2004 approximately 215,990 women in the United States will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.
Another 59,390 women will be diagnosed with in situ breast cancer, a very early form of the disease.
The incident rate of breast cancer (number of new breast cancers per 100,000 women) increased by approximately 4 percent during the 1980s but has leveled off to 100.6 cases per 100,000 women in the 1990s.
The death rates from breast cancer have also declined significantly between 1992 and 1996, with the largest decreases among younger women.
Medical experts attribute the decline in breast cancer deaths to earlier detection and more effective treatments, according to the American Cancer Society.
According to the World Health Organization, all women are at risk for getting breast cancer. The older a woman is, the greater the chances of developing breast cancer. About 77 percent of breast cancer cases occur in women more than 50 years of age.
Glynda Dallas, a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s medicine at the Women’s Medical Center in Clovis, said Wednesday the key to surviving breast cancer is early detection and treatment.
“Women should examine their breasts monthly, be familiar with their breasts and be able to feel where the lumps are,” she said. “Mammograms should be every year. If a woman misses a mammogram, her own hands are the best provider in detecting a lump.
“It’s good to know,” Dallas added, “that if you find a lump, the statistics are high it’s not cancer. Just come in and get it checked.”
Beginning at the age of 20, every woman should practice monthly breast self-exams and begin a routing program of breast health, including scheduling breast exams at least every three years, according to literature provided by the American Cancer Society.
Beginning at age 40, all women should have annual screening mammograms, receive clinical breast exams each year, and practice breast self-exams every month, according to the literature.
When she was young, Meister said, his sister “had to wear thick glasses, because she had a real high fever. She got teased a lot until she was 16 and got contact lenses. It changed her life. All of a sudden, she was popular and young men were paying attention to her. That was probably the biggest change in her life.
“My sister was like my dad,” Meister added. “She was very outgoing, had lots of friends and liked kids. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, was 5-foot-7 with regular build and fairly athletic.
“Her two sons have grown up to be really good guys,” he said. “She had good influence on them. Her husband remarried, and his wife is close to all of them.”