Barbara Grassley

As a mother of five children, every day is a gift that keeps on giving, especially when you factor in the presence of grandchildren and the next generation. The joys of being a grandmother are in some ways even better than motherhood. We no longer sweat the small stuff.

On this Mother’s Day, I will be especially grateful for the opportunity to celebrate this special day with my family. You see, I am 30 years cancer-free this year.

On April 29, 1987, I had a modified radical mastectomy to remove a malignant tumor found in my left breast. Thanks to early detection and treatment, I’m a cancer survivor. As a survivor, I do what I can to help raise awareness. Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death among women and is expected to take the lives of 40,610 women in the United States by the end of the year.

Here in Iowa, 380 Iowans will lose their lives to this disease in 2017 and 2,400 will be diagnosed with it. Considering that one in eight girls born today will receive a breast cancer diagnosis in her lifetime, I am more passionate than ever about spreading the word about early detection.

Like too many Iowans, I was on the receiving end of a diagnosis that no one is ready to hear: “You have breast cancer.” And like any mom who hears those four words, I felt a surreal detachment from reality. My mind was computing the words, while my heart felt squeezed with concern about my family. Facing one’s mortality brings a mix of emotions; none pierces the heart like the concern for one’s children.

That’s also why I faced the news with fortitude. It’s a lesson I’ve often shared with my own children. When life knocks you down, keep marching onward and upward.

Although I knew screening was an important recommendation for breast cancer, I was lucky for my early detection. I attended a health and wellness fair in honor of the late Senator Zorinsky of Nebraska. My cholesterol screening was a bit high and I was told to follow up with my doctor. That’s when my breast cancer was detected.

I didn’t have a first-degree relative with the disease; experts say a woman’s risk nearly doubles if she has a mother, sister or daughter who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s important to be your own advocate and talk with your health care provider about concerns and symptoms. Procrastinating or wishful thinking that something will go away by itself invites risks I encourage women to avoid. Make wellness visits a priority, get to know your family medical history and take good care of yourself with a nutritious diet and regular exercise.

My march to good health and wellness continues onward three decades since my diagnosis and treatment. Looking in that rearview mirror, I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to celebrate many more years and many more Mother’s Days with my family.

I’m sharing my story to encourage Iowans not to take their health for granted. The priceless homemade cards, hand-picked bouquets and Mother’s Day brunches over the years are wonderful memories to cherish. Life is an even more precious gift. To all the moms who worry about themselves last at the end of every day, enjoy this special day. And remember, the best gift we can give back to our children is taking care of our own health so that we are able to celebrate Mother’s Day with our loved ones for years to come.

Barbara Grassley is married to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley.