October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This week’s guest, Gila Pfeffer, is passionate about breast cancer prevention. On a monthly basis, adult women of all ages are encouraged to perform breast self-exams.  Johns Hopkins Medical center states, “Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.” While mammograms can help you to detect cancer before you can feel a lump, breast self-exams help you to be familiar with how your breasts look and feel so you can alert your healthcare professional if there are any changes.

Gila is a pre-vivor of breast cancer (like Angelina Jolie). Both her mother and grandmother passed away in their 40’s from breast cancer. In her 30’s, Gila got tested and was positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation making her chances of having the disease very high. Convinced she would be dead by 40, she took matters into her own hands and had a preventative double mastectomy (both breasts removed). This procedure reduces the likelihood of cancer from 85% to 5%. 6 days post-surgery, Gila was contacted by her doctors stating they found cancer her breast tissue that was just removed. She immediately did 8 rounds of preventative chemo and confirmed that her procedure saved her life. All of this while her kids were 1, 3, 5 and 7 years old!

Gila believes we all have the power to change the narrative of cancer history, especially if it runs in your family. 

Knowledge is power! Advocate for yourself. If something doesn’t sit right, if you have family history, don’t stop. Get gene testing. However, with testing you need to know what you are going to do with the information and be prepared for a diagnosis. 

Gene testing is available to determine if a person has any gene mutations that affect their odds of getting many types of cancers. When it comes to breast cancer, regular manual self breast exams are the best defense because they lead to early detection. Your first exam serves as a baseline and then each month you are looking for changes; discharge, shadows, or lumps that were not there before. Check anything that seems off or not normal out with your healthcare provider. 

Gila went through her surgery and chemo when her kids were young. I asked her how she felt people best supported her and this is her list: 

How to support a friend through breast cancer:

  1. Listen to what the person actually wants – Some will want flocks of visitors while some want privacy. If someone says they want to be alone, don’t assume you know better than them and show up anyways.
  2. Don’t help on their own terms – That’s what the example from #1 is…If you came anyway because you thought the person didn’t want to be alone then you are helping to make yourself feel like you are doing something. Sometimes you can’t “do” anything.
  3. Give gifts that make them feel normal – Give something they liked pre-diagnosis. A head scarf or wig is a nice jester but it also reminds people they now need that item because they have cancer. 
  4. Check on the partner/spouse – Many people go to that person for updates and hardly ever ask how they are doing.
  5. Don’t be a snoop, don’t be weird, and don’t offer medical advice. The person going through cancer is the same person they were before. And they don’t want to hear about your aunt that beat stage 4 cancer by drinking cactus juice.

Breast cancer is a heavy topic. Gila is open and easy to talk with. I learned a lot from her without feeling totally overwhelmed, scared or sad. This is her mission in her breast cancer prevention and she is obviously killing it. Listen to the episode for yourself to hear Gila’s infectious personality and message.

 

Mentioned in the Episode: 

Gila’s site: The mom who knew too much 

Follow Gila on Instagram: @gilapfeffer

Gila’s book feature:

Information on breast self-exams: nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-self-exam

Myriad Genetics, where Gila had her gene testing: myriad.com

 

More About the Guest, Gila Pfeffer:

 

Myriad Genetics, where Gila had her gene testing:

Gila Pfeffer is a Jewish American writer and humorist currently living in the UK with her husband and four teenaged children. She writes relatable personal essays in the parenting and breast cancer space and recently co-authored a book called I Just Want to Hang Out With You which is part of a NYT best-selling series.

Gila is a 12-year breast cancer pre-vivor AND survivor (like Angelia Jolie but with less press coverage) and she uses her social media platforms to promote breast cancer prevention. She posts an attention-grabbing “Feel It On The First” post every first of the month on her Instagram which prompts women to take their breast health seriously. People frequently DM her to say that these reminders have led to diagnoses of early stage breast cancer.  

Her work can be found on Grown & Flown, AARP among others, as well as the humor publications Points In Case, The Haven, Greener Pasteurs. Gila is currently at work on a her first book The Mom Who Knew Too Much, a collection of personal essays about how to sail through the worst life throws at you with the help of humor, perspective and adhering to her faith.

 

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