By Rep. Kristi Noem
You have to do a double take when you get a letter like this: “My name is Maggie Einrem. I am a 36 year old breast cancer survivor.” Wow, a survivor – at 36.
Maggie, a mother of two from Watertown, was only 34 when she received the diagnosis. She wrote: “I had no warning signs, never even thought that breast cancer could affect me. Naïve, I know, however, it was not something that I had worried about…. At the ripe old age of 34, I found a lump. Not thinking it was anything serious, I just let it go for a couple of months.”
She was a busy mom and the to-do list was already busting at the seams. But by June of that year, the lump had grown. She received an ultrasound and a mammogram. Less than a month later, Maggie was in surgery and so her battle began.
“I made it through eight rounds of chemo and 36 radiation treatments,” Maggie wrote, “worked eight hours a day, raised two kids (ages 3 and 9), put supper on the table every night…. I knew if I stopped to think about everything, I would lose it and go into a very dark place. So I put on a smile, lost all my hair, had burned skin, numerous surgeries, and felt like junk every day, but I kept going.”
Not only did Maggie keep going in her own fight, she began to reach out to help others with theirs. She’s become an activist even within her own family to make sure that all the women receive annual mammograms and that the men do self-checks. She made a blanket for a co-worker that was diagnosed recently, as the transfusion room can be so cold. And through her workplace, Sparton, she’s raised awareness about breast cancer by helping with a cancer walk, a soup cook-off, and a raffle.
After hearing her story, I chose Maggie to be my guest of honor at this year’s Congressional Women’s Softball Game. Every year, female members of Congress team up to take on the female members of the press corps. We play to benefit the Young Survival Coalition, an organization set up to help young women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Sadly, too many of these diagnoses are happening in our state. The number of incidents has risen steadily since 2010, putting South Dakota at the top of the list when it comes to breast cancer diagnoses per capita.
It’s unclear what has caused the influx, and while not everything is in your control, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. According to the American Cancer Society, excessive drinking, being overweight or obese (particularly after menopause), and a lack of physical activity can increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. These are things you can take action on today. Additionally, getting an annual mammogram can help make early detection possible. This means treatment can start earlier, possibly even before the cancer has spread.
We have made tremendous strides when it comes to detecting and treating breast cancer. Still, 680 South Dakotans are expected to learn they have breast cancer this year alone. I pray they are able to approach this diagnosis as Maggie did in her letter when she wrote: “I have too much to live for and so much love to give to others that I will never stop fighting!”
Keep on fighting, Maggie. You’re an inspiration to your children, your community, and women fighting this disease everywhere.
Rep. Kristi Noem & Maggie Einrem at 2016 Congressional Women’s Softball Game