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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Dettwyler speaks about breast health awareness

Katherine Dettwyler, a former associate professor of anthropology at Texas A&M, specialized in anthropological studies of breast feeding and spoke frequently about breast health awareness. She researched affects of using formulas over breast-feeding, finding that women who choose not to breast-feed greatly increase their chances of breast cancer.
But in Fall 1999, Dettwyler was diagnosed with breast cancer. She left her tenured A&M faculty position to move closer to her family in Delaware, undergoing surgery and chemotherapy that fall and radiation the next spring.
“We decided that life was too short to live so far away from family,” Dettwyler said. “I really miss Aggies and Aggieland. But in Delaware, we are closer to my family, so that in the event my cancer recurs and I don’t get to see my kids grow up, at least they will be close to extended family.”
Dettwyler’s diagnosis still affects her and her family because of the chance of recurrence. Once she reaches the five-year mark after her diagnosis in September 2004 without any further detection of cancer, Dettwyler may consider herself “cured,” she said.
Dettwyler said smoking and breast surgery, in addition to formula-feeding, increases the chance of breast cancer.
“Expect breast cancer to affect many people you know and love, so become educated,” she said.
One of every eight women in the United States is expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime, according to figures released by the American Cancer Society. Each year, the cancer society estimates 182,800 women will be diagnosed and nearly 41,000 will lose their lives to the disease.
Men also are susceptible to breast cancer, with about 1,400 new cases reported annually.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. The effects of breast cancer cause difficult situations for those in the community, but support and education are the best combatants of breast cancer, Dettwyler said.
Gale G. Hannigan, director of informatics for medical education at the Texas A&M College of Medicine and the Medical Sciences Library, had breast cancer and is at high risk for recurrence. She promotes awareness through her work as a medical librarian and wrote an article, “Librarian as Patient: A View from the Other Side,” published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics.
“As a medical librarian, I had the confidence and skill to ask and help answer questions,” Hannigan said. “Even though I am experienced in finding medical information, I had to build a personal knowledge base and incorporate one fact at a time.
“Because of the way technology has changed, resources are readily available for students, so if you, or someone you care about, is diagnosed with breast cancer, one of the most important things you can do is find and use good, current information.”
Dettwyler and Hannigan both express the importance of being educated about breast cancer. The five-year mark is exciting to reach, but cancer frequently recurs, they said. Complications may hinder the five-year mark, even with early detection. The American Cancer Society recommends that both men and women become educated about breast cancer.
Geoff Spahr, a senior marketing major, spoke about his experience with his mom, Mary Jo Spahr, and her battle with breast cancer. She died a year before Spahr began school at A&M.
“My mom was diagnosed in 1994 with breast cancer,” Spahr said. “They found it early so initially we tried not to worry too much. But complications arose and my mom died in 1996. Any kind of cancer is scary, so it’s important to be educated.”
Other students in the A&M community have been affected by breast cancer.
Sharon Derrick, a graduate student at A&M currently working toward a doctorate in physical anthropology, was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 1999.
“Initially, after I was diagnosed, it turned everything upside down for a few weeks,” Derrick said. “But then my family and I got in a routine with things. You have to enjoy life, especially in these situations. A breast cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence.
“Don’t be afraid of a diagnosis and not go to the doctor. It is not disfiguring either, so don’t be afraid to go see your doctor if you find anything unusual.”
Derrick, Dettwyler and Hannigan all said that a positive attitude and early diagnosis are very important in dealing with breast cancer.
“It is important for young women to begin now with a good diet, with daily exercise,” Derrick said. “Start going to the doctor for yearly check-ups, and do your monthly self-breast exam. Always ask about unusual things – doctors aren’t going to think you are weird.”
A.P. Beutel Health Center is promoting breast health awareness this month to help educate students about the risk and the symptoms of breast cancer.
Beutel will sponsor Breast Health Awareness information tables at the Memorial Student Center and in the Commons lobby Oct. 5, 10, 18 and 20.

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