Forum raises awareness of breast cancer

St. John’s University’s Office of Community Relations held a press conference last Thursday during common hour in the UC Lecture Hall in an effort to raise awareness of the dangers of breast cancer. The keynote speakers were Dr. Karen Karsif, director of the breast center at New York Hospital Queens, as well as breast cancer survivor Amy Silverstein.

“I am a breast cancer survivor, and I’m going to tell you my story, but I don’t want to depress you, I want to inspire you,” said Silverstein, an elementary school teacher.

At age 35, Silverstein found a lump in her breast. Seeing as she was far younger than the average risk age, which is in the late 50’s or early 60’s, she put it off as nothing at first. When the fact that she had cancer was confirmed, Silverstein made a deal with herself to beat it.

With a stage two tumor there were few options for Silverstein. She went through a surgery and then tried chemotherapy. Even in the face of constant illness and embarrassing hair loss, Silverstein remained a source of hope for her friends and family.

“Let me tell you, being bald saves you money,” she joked. “I didn’t have to cut or color my hair. And best yet, my husband and I had matching hairstyles.”

Many women like Silverstein are able to keep a positive outlook because of doctors like Karsif.

“Anyone can survive this, [but] you need the right person,” Karsif said. “You have to have someone with you who understands the emotional aspects of this disease process and can be supportive in that respect.”

Karsif then continued with some shocking statistics. Breast cancer is a disease that often goes overlooked despite the rapid pace at which it is spreading. One out of every eight women in the country is diagnosed with breast cancer. On Long Island, it’s one out of every seven. Furthermore, 50 percent of women over the age of 40 do not get mammograms even though mammography has been scientifically proven to be the sole reason that the death rate from breast cancer has dropped within the last ten years.

A widely unknown fact amongst young women is that regular exercise reduces the risk of breast cancer.

“You don’t have to be a marathon runner,” Karsif said. “You just have to work out a couple of days a week, get your heart rate up, and you can reduce your risk of breast cancer by as much as 20 percent.”

Another factor more likely to affect young women is the danger of alcohol in relation to breast health. Drinking is a tremendous risk factor for women between the ages of 35 and 60.

“Now I’m not saying that you should never drink because then I would be a hypocrite, because I went to college too, but the reality is that if you drink two drinks a day, it can increase your risk of breast cancer by 20 percent,” Karsif said.

Many young women feel it is unnecessary to worry about breast cancer while still in college, seeing as it most often effects women over 40, but Karsif announced that her youngest patient to date came into her office a few weeks ago, suffering from breast cancer at only 23 years of age.

The American Cancer Society suggests that a clinical breast exam (CBE) should be part of your periodic health exam, preferably at least every three years for women in their 20’s and 30’s, and every year for women 40 and older.

The University participates in the annual Making Strides Breast Cancer Walk on Queens Boulevard to help raise awareness of how to reduce your risk of breast cancer as well as to support those suffering from or who have survived cancer.

According to April Brown, a spokeswoman for Making Strides, St. John’s is not only a flagship sponsor of the event, but it is also the only school with two campuses supporting the cause. The university helped to donate thousands of dollars last year, and hopes to increase their support even more this year.

Karsif, along with the St. John’s University office of community relations, urge students to join the cheerleaders, sororities, fraternities, and over 7,000 other walkers on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 9:00 a.m. on Queens Boulevard.

“I don’t care if you’re 15, 75, you’re a man or woman,” Karsif said. “Whoever is in this room, this affects you and your life and who you know and your future.”