SIKESTON -- Cathey Daniels of New Madrid knows all too well the importance of early detection when it comes to beating breast cancer.
In 2003, Daniels was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had no history of cancer in her family, except that her brother died only a month before of a brain tumor.
"It was a shock," said Daniels, 58, about her diagnosis. "I had 17 years of mammograms. I did everything right and everything I was supposed to do, including the self-exams."
Within three weeks, Daniels underwent surgeries and treatment.
Daniels said she and her doctor credit early detection and regular self-
examinations for her survival.
"You can't be too careful," Daniels assured.
Although her doctors put her in contact with two or three people, when Daniels began her recovery, there really wasn't any place she could turn to. "They had a support group years ago, but there hadn't been anything in this area for a long time," Daniels said.
So Daniels and Dr. Mark Reintjes and Dr. Muhammad Salamat created a support group, now meeting the first Tuesday of each month at Missouri Delta Medical Center.
"With the 50-year-old age group, breast cancer is almost an epidemic," Daniels said. "Once I was diagnosed, it seemed like people came out of the woodwork."
Typically people who attend the support group are just starting chemotherapy, found out they have cancer or are survivors, Daniels said.
"One of the ladies who attends was diagnosed in 1981 and went through the whole gamut," Daniels said.
There's no age restriction either.
"Our youngest is in her early 20s and the oldest in her early 70s. And I have a friend whose mother was just diagnosed last week -- and she's 95," Daniels said.
October is set aside as the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month so last October about 20 men and women began meeting to form the support group for area breast cancer victims and survivors. Today an average of 25 women meet while the group's mailing list has grown to over 100 including people from as far away as Van Buren and Kennett.
Topics addressed vary each month and have included the effects of surgery and treatment of various kinds, lymphedema, genetic testing, suggestions for improving the patient's physical appearance and emotional stability and new developments in treatment and pharmaceutical breakthrough.
"It's not just a support group," Daniels said. "We're a band of brothers. We all have one mutual thing. This is a chronic illness that can come back any time and any body can get cancer."
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women, but breast cancer is survivable. The five-year survival rate is 98 percent.
And as the American Cancer Society puts it: "early detection is the best protection."
"I would just encourage all women battling breast cancer to make a visit to support group because I've seen it really grow and flourish this year and it is really important they find an outlet in the group," said Robin Stoner, health initiative specialist for the American Cancer Society in Sikeston.
An annual mammogram for women over 40 is recommended by the ACS, and women of all ages should practice monthly breast self-exams.
Pat Glass of Missouri Delta Medical Center's mammography unit said more physicians are encouraging women to get checked each year.
"Mammography is the only tool we have to use to help in early detection of breast cancer," Glass said.
Glass recalled when Missouri Delta first opened the mammography unit at the end of the 1980s.
"I can remember women saying how nice of a place it was but that they hoped they didn't have to go to it," Glass said.
Now women realize it's a place they should go to detect cancer early, Glass said.
More women -- and men -- are becoming increasingly aware of breast cancer, Stoner agreed.
"People are pursuing the screenings," Stoner said. "Death rates are dropping because of the changes and advanced treatment options for patients and because women are being diagnosed at earlier stages."
And of course pink has become the universal symbol of breast cancer awareness, reminding women of the importance of regular exams.
Shirts, socks, purses and other items have also been branded with the pink ribbon to promote breast cancer awareness, Glass pointed out. She added: "They even have pink and white M&Ms and pink Tic Tacs."