Salute to a Survivor

When I heard that Jennifer Lyon, a  “Survivor: Palau” contestant, died of breast cancer at 37, it triggered a lot of emotion as I’m sure it did for many breast cancer survivors. It’s always a shock to hear it’s claimed someone who’s so young, and you can’t help but feel sad for her family’s loss.

I admired her for the way she battled her cancer to a standstill for several years, and even more for the way she spoke up about her diagnosis. When she was diagnosed with stage three cancer in 2005, she said she felt something in her breast a year earlier but assumed it was scar tissue. As a celebrity, that was one of the most valuable things she could have done.

I don’t know about you, but it took me years to reach the point where I felt comfortable telling my doctor about symptoms instead of figuring I could diagnose them myself. Part of my prairie heritage is not going to a doctor if it’s not bleeding or broken. My dad might have lived longer if he hadn’t mistakenly believed his cancer symptoms were left over from a bout with West Nile.

Every time someone like Jennifer speaks up about not putting things off, it has to help. By publicly sharing her experience, I’m sure she prompted women to get something suspicious checked. We’ll never know how many, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she saved some lives.

Treatment has improved and breast cancer is being caught earlier than ever, but none of that should make us complacent. That may be why Jennifer’s death was such a jolt. It was a stark reminder that this disease is still killing women, some of whom are very young.  We need to keep supporting research and paying attention to our bodies. By doing so, we’re honoring the memory of Jennifer and too many others like her. Here’s wishing all of them Godspeed.

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