Mama Zeny and Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Published 10:40 pm Friday, October 5, 2018

By Chris Quilpa

Besides orange for pumpkins, what other color symbol is prevalent during the month of October? The pink ribbon.

This piece is dedicated to all men and women who lost their lives because of breast cancer. It is especially dedicated in honor of the memory of my mother-in-law, Mama Zeny, a pharmacist-instructor turned community leader-vice mayor, who succumbed to breast cancer almost three decades ago in the Philippines.

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Having been a member of a medically-oriented Filipino-Chinese family (her two brothers, Uncle Oscar and Uncle Constancio were both doctors of medicine in the United States), Mama Zeny married my late father-in-law, Gody, a retired family physician, who took care of her during and after treatment.

Mama Zeny did have a mastectomy and chemotherapy afterwards, but the cancer had metastasized.

Had she lived through the years, Mama Zeny would have witnessed how her two grandchildren, Andrew and Christine, have grown to become independent, young adults who are doing well in their respective professions (an IT instructor and stage actor, and a school counselor, respectively), making a difference in others’ lives. She would have been so happy and proud to have witnessed the wedding of my daughter, her granddaughter, Christine, and my son-in-law, Robbie, who is an IT network coordinator/administrator. She would have been enjoying her golden years in active retirement, traveling back and forth from the Philippines to the United States, specifically Virginia.

But breast cancer cut short her earthly, professional and productive life. She was 58.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual international health campaign, founded in 1985, by various breast cancer charities, to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research and education into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure.

This observance highlights the importance of early detection (the key to cancer survival), prevention and protection from breast cancer and other related abnormalities. It also offers information and support to those affected by breast cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is still the second-leading cause of cancer death in women, second only to lung cancer.

The society estimates there are more than 3.1 million people in the United States with a history of breast cancer. This includes women still being treated and those who have completed treatment.

With increased awareness, education and research, as well as early detection through screening and improved treatment, a woman’s risk of dying of breast cancer dropped 39 percent between the late 1980s and 2015, translating into more than 300,000 breast cancer deaths avoided during that time.

Limited but accumulating research indicates several factors increase the risk of breast cancer in women: alcohol consumption, obesity and smoking.

Alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer in women by about 7 to 10 percent for each one drink of alcohol consumed per day on average. Women who have two to three alcoholic drinks per day have a 20 percent higher risk of breast cancer compared to non-drinkers.

Obesity increases the risk of post-menopausal breast cancer, with 1.5 times higher in overweight women and about 2 times higher in obese women than in lean women. Smoking may slightly increase breast cancer risk, particularly long-term, heavy smoking and among women who start smoking before the first pregnancy.

Meanwhile, there’s a growing evidence suggesting that women who exercise regularly have a 10 to 25 percent lower risk of breast cancer compared to women who are inactive, with stronger evidence for post-menopausal than pre-menopausal women.

The American Cancer Society has set guidelines for early breast cancer detection. Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening or baseline mammograms. Women ages 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year. Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every two years, or can continue yearly screening, per their doctor’s recommendation.

Women at high risk should have a regular mammography, as per their doctor’s advice or recommendation. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam every three years and every year for women 40 years old and over. For women starting in their 20s, a monthly breast self-exam is an option. Women should know how their breasts normally feel and should report promptly to their doctor or health care provider any unusual breast pain or significant change in appearance, size and color.

One of the best tools to detect breast cancer or abnormality is the routine mammography. If you haven’t had one, visit your doctor and request or obtain a referral to have a mammogram.

For more information about National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, visit

Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, lives in Suffolk. Email him at