WebMD senior writer Miranda Hitti interviewed breast cancer survivors as
part of a series for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The series, called “Me
& the Girls,” explores the personal stories of these women after they were
diagnosed with breast cancer.
Breast cancer survivor Ilene Smith, MS, RD, 49, lives in the New York area.
In late October 2007, Smith felt a lump in her left breast while on a
conference call for work. "I got cold, and so I put my hand under my arm, and I
Bianca Kennedy heard them five years ago, and, like most people, her initial
emotion was shock, followed by the question, "Am I going to die?"
Kennedy, now 40, was diagnosed with early breast cancer when her then
38-year-old sister was battling the disease for the third time.
"My sister was grossly undertreated the first two times, and I learned
from her experience," Kennedy tells WebMD. "When I was diagnosed I
didn't agonize about how aggressively to treat my cancer because I had seen
what she what she went through."
What Should You Do?
Kennedy ended up having both breasts removed, followed by chemotherapy and
breast reconstruction. She now counsels newly diagnosed patients as a volunteer
for Y-ME, a 24-hour support hot line staffed entirely by breast cancer
She knows firsthand the importance of being an involved, educated patient,
but she says most people need time to come to terms with their diagnosis.
"It is common for people who have just been diagnosed to be overwhelmed
with all the information they are getting and the choices they are being asked
to make," she says. "You are bombarded with facts and figures and
statistics, and it is really hard to keep a cool head. But the choices you make
are critical and they may impact the rest of your life."
So what are the most important things newly diagnosed patients can do to
maximize their odds of beating cancer? WebMD posed this question to doctors,
patient advocates, and cancer survivors, and some common themes emerged. They
Get the Facts
Everyone interviewed for this story agreed that education is critical. That
means learning all you can about the specifics of you own cancer and how to
best treat it. This is especially important for diseases like breast cancer and
lymphoma, where treatments vary greatly.
"I have seen people waste a lot of precious time researching the wrong
thing because they didn't really understand their cancer," says Joan Arnim,
who manages the patient advocacy program at Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer
Center. "It is often a good idea to ask your doctor for recommendations
about where to get information about your particular cancer."