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
Surgery to remove the cancer. This may be
done by removing the whole breast (mastectomy) or
just the part of the breast that contains the breast cancer (lumpectomy). Some of the lymph nodes under the arm
may also be removed.
Radiation therapy, which is the use of high-dose
X-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors.
Chemotherapy, which is the use of medicine to destroy
cancer cells. Chemotherapy is called a systemic treatment, because the
medicines enter the bloodstream, travel through the body, and can destroy
cancer cells outside the target area.
In some cases, chemotherapy or hormone therapy is used before surgery to shrink the breast cancer. This may mean that less breast tissue has to be removed during surgery.
Depending on the tumor's size and whether cancer has spread to your lymph nodes, you may have several treatment options. Hormone therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of the two treatments may be used after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells. This also lowers the chances that the cancer will come back. Your doctor may suggest gene tests to find out if chemotherapy will help.
Side effects of treatment
Treatments can have side effects, such as nausea and vomiting and hair loss. For more information on how to manage side effects, see Home Treatment.
Additional information about breast cancer is provided by the National Cancer Institute at www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/breast.
Coping with emotions
When you first find out that you have cancer, you may feel scared or angry. Or you may feel very calm. It's normal to have a wide range of feelings and for those feelings to change quickly. Some people find that it helps to talk about their feelings with family and friends.
If your emotional reaction to cancer gets in the way of your ability to make decisions about your health, it's important to talk with your doctor. Your cancer treatment center may offer psychological or financial services. And a local chapter of the American Cancer Society can help you find a support group.