Teen’s tale conveys cancer warning

He was only 17 when he learned that his mom had breast cancer.

Tom Geiger, now a Northern Kentucky University freshman, said his family didn’t tell him about his mother’s illness until three months after her diagnosis because they didn’t want to upset him.

“My older siblings knew but they didn’t tell me because I was in high school and they didn’t want to upset me,” he said.

When Geiger’s mother was was diagnosed in 2001, she was 49 years old and had eight children to care for. The youngest was only 9 years old. The cancer was in one breast and starting to spread to the other when doctors found it.

“I was wondering how bad the cancer was and if my mom was going to die or not,” Geiger said.

Geiger’s family is one of many affected by breast cancer each year. According to www.cancer.org, 211,300 women and 1,300 men will learn that they have breast cancer and 40,200 people are expected to die from the disease in 2003.

NKU students may notice some of their classmates or professors wearing pink ribbon lapel pins throughout the month of October. to acknowledge National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The pink ribbons have become a powerful symbol to increase the awareness about breast cancer, especially the importance of early detection of breast cancer, which strikes women of all ages.

Geiger said his mother’s treatment included chemotherapy and having her breasts removed. The treatments and surgery took a toll on his mom, Geiger said. “She would just come home and sleep,” he said.

His mother had to quit working during this time, and Geiger said he and his siblings took care of things around the house but never talked about what was happening to their mom. “We didn’t feel right about talking about it,” Geiger said. “We were just hoping and praying, because I didn’t know how serious it was at the time, I was just trying to get her through it. Making sure she was comfortable, give her a quiet place to sleep during the day so she wouldn’t be woken up.”

Geiger said that the recovery process took about six months, but his mom is now living her life normally and she goes for a checkup at least once a month.

While Geiger’s mom is towards the end of her recovery, the process has just begun for Chad Bertke’s grandmother. About a month ago, Bertke, a junior marketing major, said they diagnosed his 79-year-old grandmother with breast cancer. “At first I was shocked,” he said, “Then I just asked, ‘Why?’ It just didn’t make sense.”

Doctors found the cancer in her left breast and performed sugery to determine if the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes, Bertke said. “With cancer in her lymph nodes, it could spread out to the rest of her body,” he said. “That is what scared me the most.”

They learned, from this first surgery that the cancer was not in her lymph nodes, but they did not remove all of it, Bertke said. His grandmother decided to have a mastectomy.

Since her surgery Bertke said his grandma seems to be doing well. She started radiation and will have it once a month for six months.

“The hardest part about this whole thing is the actual scare of cancer,” Bertke said.

Bertke said the situation is particularly difficult for his grandfather. “For my grandpa it’s more emotional because he used to things happening to him, he had cancer previously,” Bertke said. “He wishes it was him instead of her.”

Geiger’s mom and Bertke’s grandmother are breast cancer survivors. The American Cancer Society believes that early detection examinations and tests can help save lives. Breast cancer can be found early by self- examinations, physical examinations by a healthcare professional.

As women age, their risk of getting breast cancer increases, but this doesn’t mean that it could not happen to a woman in her twenties. The ACS suggests that after the age of 20 have a nurse or doctor check your breasts yearly, be familiar with how your breasts feel and what is normal for you, examine your breasts monthly, see a doctor if you see or feel any changes, eat a low-fat diet, don’t smoke, exercise, and drink in moderation, if at all. After age of 40 begin having annual screening mammograms and those with a family history of breast cancer should talk to their doctor about additional screening.