At first blush, you’d think packing a gym full of pubescent boys and talking about breasts would be a bad idea.
But there is a time and place – and breast cancer is a very good reason – to raise the subject as teacher Wendi Lowe did Wednesday with hundreds of Steele High students.
“It’s a real serious issue and it’s one I want 10 minutes of your time to talk to you about,” she started, warning the crowd of teenage boys to be ready to hear words such as “breast,” “nipple,” and “sexual partner.”
At first there were giggles.
They resolved quickly as the gravity of Lowe’s words sank in.
She revealed that among her circle of six friends, cancer has resulted in the loss of three breasts and one uterus.
“’Why do I need to worry about this?’ you ask. Well I ask you – do you love any women?” Lowe challenged the Amherst boys.
The stunning truth is that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. At Steele High, that means between 68 and 70 girls will statistically have the disease at some point in their lives.
Worse, 11 to 13 will likely be killed by breast cancer.
“No one grows up wishing for breast cancer. I didn’t want to have my breast cut off my body,” said Lowe, telling the young men how in 2011, at age 36, she endured long weeks of chemotherapy, lost her hair, and went through two years of reconstructive surgery.
“I didn’t want to be the one to stand here in front of you and talk about breast cancer, but I am. And I lived through all of this,” she said.
Lowe’s battle began with the knowledge that she had a breast lump, which is not uncommon for women. Such lumps can sometimes disappear on their own.
This one did not.
Time passed and the hard node didn’t get any larger or smaller. Then one day, her nipple oozed blood.
What followed included a whirlwind mammogram, ultrasound, and needle biopsy. Lowe said that she knew in her heart the moment doctors told her she needed an ultrasound that she had cancer.
Ten days later, she had a mastectomy.
Her story helped to bring a solemnity to Pink Week, and annual time during which Steele observes National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The week includes carnival games, pink-painted pumpkins, and pink-outs at Comets sporting events.
But understanding the peril of breast cancer is about more than wearing pink for week, Lowe told boys.
“This isn’t a story about ‘girl issues,’” she said. “Men can get breast cancer too.”
The diagnosis rate among men is one in 1,000 but the death rate among men who do have breast cancer is slightly higher than women — nearly one in five.
Early detection is key among both sexes, Lowe said. She urged boys to make sure their mothers, sisters, girlfriends, aunts, and someday spouses do self-exams and get mammograms.
“Go out and have fun with all the pink,” Lowe said. “But always remember why we go pink.”
The message was greeted by a thunder of applause.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.