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
felt the lump" through her thin T-shirt, recalls Smith, who was 47 at the time.
"I hung up pretty quickly from the call; I tried to get off quickly because it
was bothering me."
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Smith, who had two friends who'd had breast cancer the year before, didn't
waste any time making an appointment to get the lump checked out. After a
biopsy and further tests, she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer that was
not sensitive to the hormone estrogen.
Her treatment: Smith got a lumpectomy, followed by chemotherapy and
radiation. She also took the breast cancer drug Herceptin.
First, Smith consulted two breast cancer surgeons who agreed that a
lumpectomy was what was called for, not a mastectomy. She also got genetic
testing, which showed that she did not have a BRCA gene mutation linked to
breast cancer or ovarian cancer.
Smith says it took several weeks to get the results back from the genetic
test. "That was a very stressful period, waiting for the results," she says. To
deal with the stress, she says she kept busy.
Recovering from the lumpectomy surgery "wasn't bad," Smith says. She had her
surgery before Thanksgiving, took two days off, worked from home after that,
and returned to her public relations work after the Thanksgiving weekend.
Taking ownership: Smith says she would advise someone newly diagnosed
with breast cancer to "take as much ownership for the [treatment] decisions as
possible. Certainly, you want to engage your friends and family, but I think
that you don't want to let the shock and fear take over to the point where
you're letting others make the decisions for you."
"I'm the type of person who likes to be in control over my life," Smith
says. "When you have cancer, it's very easy to feel that you don't have control
over what's happening to you. And the mantra that I said to myself throughout
the whole process was, 'I don't have control over whether or not I have cancer;
I do have control over how I deal with it' ...I would advise people to really
look at all their options and not just move forward in a vacuum."
No comparisons: During her treatment, Smith says she felt frustrated
when she heard about women accomplishing impressive feats while dealing with
breast cancer. "The basic fact of the matter is dealing with breast cancer
itself is hard enough," Smith says. "You do want to maintain a sense of
normalcy, but it's OK to say you can't do something because you don't feel well
enough... You don't have to be a hero."