For 364 days of the year I can speak and think rationally about breast cancer, and for many of those days I'm actively fundraising or trying to raise awareness about the disease.
But on day 365, I'm in a panic. For on day 365, I get my annual mammogram and, in between the procedure and waiting for the nurse to come back with the result, I get really, really scared.
In the 20 minutes or so that it takes for the doctor to study the images, my imagination takes me to dark and frightening places and I generally wind myself up into a frenzy. Everything bad flashes through my mind and invariably I end up seeing my little orphaned son crying at my funeral, his mother having lost her fight against breast cancer...
So far, thank God, this hasn't happened; I have stumbled out of the hospital five times, sobbing with relief, knowing I have a clear mammogram and another year to fight the good fight against the disease. I'm not a victim myself. Yet.
I know quite a bit about breast cancer, as I go around the world every October with Evelyn Lauder, in a double pronged fund raising and awareness raising campaign. Through our Global Illumination Programme, where we light more than 200 beautiful landmark buildings pink each year, and through our Pink Ribbon campaign-the Estee Lauder Companies have given out more than 115 million free pink ribbons - I have personally met thousands of breast cancer survivors, thousands of women going through treatment and battling the disease and many more thousands of people who have lost their loved ones. I have also spent time with many of the research scientists we fund at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and I keenly follow their progress.
We know that one in eight women will ultimately develop breast cancer, but less people know that if a localised tumour is found early, there is a 90% chance of survival. That's why I endure the horror of the mammogram every year. Not that the mammogram itself is horrific-ignore the scaremongering stories if you have yet to have one- they're not remotely painful, only slightly uncomfortable and nowhere near as bad as stubbing your toe. No, the horror is the mental anguish of bracing yourself for bad news and what it could mean for your family. I have spoken to enough white faced teenage boys at my personal appearances, whom have just lost their mums to breast cancer, not to be scared for my boy.
My grandmother died of breast cancer. It was the dark ages, pre 1993, when no one spoke about breast cancer and the Pink Ribbon had yet to be invented. She found a lump and didn't tell anyone for a few years as she was too scared. Contrast that with a better story: a few years ago, I had four friends, all mums, all under 40 and all with breast cancer. They had found the lumps themselves, through self examination.
They are all alive today, possibly because their cancers were detected early. Early detection saves lives and it's our absolute duty to spread the word about self examination and regular mammograms. No stone should be left unturned in our quest to seek out women we know who are too scared to go down that path. Give them a stiff drink either before or after if it helps. Whatever it takes, if you care about someone, march them down to the doctors for a check up.
Right now, we are half way though our annual October activities-I have a rack of pink dresses lined up for my personal appearances and have just visited Russia, Scotland, South Africa and the UK and have NY to come this week. More on all this later. In the meantime, swig a gin and tonic and book your mammogram if it's overdue...
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