CATES: Breast Cancer Awareness Month - Health - Odessa

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CATES: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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Carol Cates is the chief nursing officer at Odessa Regional Medical Center. You can reach her via e-mail at


October this year seems surreal to me. First, it’s hard to believe October is already here — this year has dragged in some ways and just flown by in others.

It also just doesn’t feel like October. Probably because the weather is still bumping up into the high 90’s and school and sports are not in the full fall swing.

The other thing that makes it just not seem like October is the lack of breast cancer awareness events. In Odessa, there is no Pink the Basin Celebration, no Cups for a Cause run/walk, even the pink decorations in public spaces seem to be fewer this year.

That to me is one more of the many negatives of COVID — that disease has captured so much attention that there seems to be very little room for anything else. But those other things just haven’t gone away.

Unfortunately, people are still having heart attacks and strokes, getting appendicitis, getting cancer and having to deal with all the other diseases we contended with before COVID.

What we are seeing is people are trying to put off having those other issues taken care of because of COVID. Maybe they are scared to seek treatment for fear of getting COVID, or they don’t want to take a hospital bed or appointment spot at the doctor’s office because they want to keep that available for someone with COVID.

Regardless, the problem with putting those things off is for most diseases early diagnosis and treatment are key to having good outcome. Putting diagnosis and treatment off can cause serious damage, much more extensive and costly treatments, and in the worst case scenario, death.

Breast cancer is one of those things that earlier is better. According to the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Result (SEER) Program of the National Cancer Institute, the five-year survival rate of individuals who have breast cancer diagnosed in the earlier stages (before the cancer has left the breast) is 99 percent.

That five-year survival rate drops to 86 percent if the cancer gets into nearby lymph nodes, and worst, 27 percent if it spreads to other organs.

The best way to detect breast cancer early is by getting a mammogram. Mammograms can detect cancers before they are big enough to be felt as a lump in the breast.

The American Cancer Society recommends that all women beginning at age 40 have an annual mammogram. Women who get regularly screened for breast cancer reduce their chances of dying from breast cancer by 30 percent. Mammograms are generally very quick, taking about 20 minutes for most women.

In Texas, you do not need a prescription for a screening mammogram, but the facility will want to know the name of your regular health care provider so they can give them your results. If you do not have a regular health care provider, ask the facility where you are getting the mammogram for recommendations for follow-up with a physician.

Here in the Permian basin we have this amazing organization called Pink the Basin.

Pink the Basin’s mission is “to raise awareness of women’s health issues and foster education and service initiatives that positively embrace women’s health.”

Because Ector and Midland County statistics show that four of five women do not get their mammograms after 40 as they should, Pink the Basin has made it a mission to fund mammograms for those who cannot afford them and to raise awareness in everyone who should get a mammogram.

The funds they raise also help pay for other breast cancer diagnostics, and prosthetics for those who have mastectomies. Please schedule an appointment for a mastectomy if you have not had one in the last year and you are over 40.

With Pink the Basin and their generosity, here in Odessa, there is no reason not to get a mammogram, and every reason you should.

Please remember when you see pink this October that we may not be shouting as loudly as usual about breast cancer awareness, but it is still important and early detection is key to a good outcome.

Unfortunately, COVID is not the only thing that we have to worry about with our health even though it dominates the headlines. So please remember maintaining your regular health screenings and seeing your health care provider is still crucial for early detection and good health.

If you are having an emergency, like chest pain, shortness of breath, or signs of a stroke, call 911. Don’t put off health concerns, no matter the cause. It could very likely save your life.

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Carol Cates is the chief nursing officer at Odessa Regional Medical Center. You can reach her via e-mail at