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Dickinson cancer survivor 'thankful' for dedicated month to breast cancer

To Dickinson resident Colette Klewin, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is about much more than just football players wearing pink.

October is a time to help remind people to talk about a disease that affects about 232,000 people every year, according to the American Cancer Society. It's a disease that Klewin is battling with trips to Bismarck and regular chemotherapy treatments.

"One thing that has really helped me is just to talk about it," Klewin said. "I think that could be helpful for other people, too. If you seclude yourself and don't accept help, it can be much worse. It helps to be vocal and to join a support group. Just getting the word out there can be very helpful."

Klewin said her life was turned upside down after she discovered a lump on her breast in May, though she said she has no family history of breast cancer, which often is a key indicator. Klewin said she is technically considered "cancer free" now, but knows she is not completely out of the woods yet.

"I think breast cancer awareness month is a wonderful thing," Klewin said. "We need to get more people aware and checking themselves and getting checked out, both women and men. Know your body and, if something doesn't seem right, don't wait. We have to educate people. I'm thankful that they've dedicated a month to breast cancer."

Sanford Health Dickinson Clinic doctor and breast surgeon Brook Nelson said people of all adult age groups develop breast cancer.

"We've had cases of women in their 20s, but the average age of a woman with a new breast cancer diagnosis is above 40," Nelson said. "Most of my patients are between the ages of 40 and 80. That said, younger women who develop breast masses certainly need to take them seriously and be evaluated by a physician."

Nelson, who said she treats close to 50 breast cancer patients annually in Dickinson, said breast cancer awareness and treatment in North Dakota is aided by organizations like "Women's Way," an early detection breast and cervical cancer program run through the North Dakota Department of Health.

"I think there's more attention being brought to the issue every year and certainly with celebrities like Angelina Jolie who go public with their stories," Nelson said. "When you're so much in the public spotlight and you're having breast cancer issues, that just brings more attention to it. Unfortunately, I still know women who are not getting their timely screenings and that's concerning."

In May, Jolie, a well-known Hollywood starlet, announced that she'd undergone a preventative double mastectomy, which led the National Society of Genetic Counselors to dub the increase in screening seen nationally after the announcement as the "the Angelina Jolie effect."

The AMC predicts that nearly 40,000 women will die from breast cancer this year, meaning only lung cancer claims more lives annually in the U.S. among female cancer patients. About 2,200 men are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. this year, according to the AMC.

"One out of eight women will get breast cancer in their lifetime," Nelson said. "Less than 25 percent of women who develop breast cancer, however, will have genetic mutation. Most breast cancers are not associated with the BRCA genetic mutation."

Although she expects the number to be higher now because of the energy and jobs boom from the Bakken, Nelson said that statistics show close to 500 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed annually in North Dakota. Nelson said smoking and maintaining an unhealthy diet can contribute to an increase in the likelihood of breast cancer, adding that women who breast feed tend to be diagnosed less than mothers who don't.

Once the new Sanford clinic in Dickinson is up and running -- it is currently under construction -- Nelson said chemotherapy treatments will be available in Dickinson so patients like Klewin won't have to travel 100 miles for treatment.

Besides obvious breast masses, Nelson said changes to look for that could be potential warning signs include changes in the skin or nipple retraction, among others.

"All of those are signs that should be further evaluated by a physician," Nelson said. "Early detection is key. If anybody wants to make an appointment with me to talk about breast issues, they can call (701-)456-6000."

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
(701) 456-1207