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Women Cancer Survivors Take Charge

A new generation of women shake up what it means to have cancer.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Instead of sporting bandanas and faux-looking wigs, today's crop of female cancer patients are covering their heads with black wool hats that brazenly say "F--K CANCER" or simply not covering their heads at all.

These patients are bold, bright, and brash -- and they’re taking cancer by storm. In the process, they’re changing the way we talk about, deal with, live with, and triumph over cancer.

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And you need to get to know them, because they can teach us all a lot about living. Since their diagnoses, these women have fallen in love, had children, made movies, written books, started support organizations, and raised money (not to mention awareness) for their cancers.

Two high-profile survivors are setting the trend. Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of presidential candidate John Edwards, is out campaigning with and vehemently defending her husband as she manages an incurable cancer. Robin Roberts, the co-host of ABC's Good Morning America, is continuing to work while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.

"It is a very positive and very new image of a cancer survivor who is interested in talking about cancer and living the best lives they can," says Terri Ades, MS, APRN-BC, AOCN, director of cancer information at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. And there are lots of them. "There are more cancer survivors today than there have been in the past, and by 2020, the number of survivors will double."

Crazy, Sexy Survivors

Meet Kris Carr, the director and producer of The Learning Channel's documentary film Crazy Sexy Cancer and author of the book Crazy Sexy CancerTips.

"The new face of cancer is people living with disease, managing it, and in some ways making a better life as a result of it," she says. "Truthfully, cancer isn’t sexy. But the women who have it are," she says. "They are whole and passionate, with or without the disease."

She knows of what she speaks. Carr, an actress, was diagnosed with incurable epithelioid hemangioendothelioma, an extremely rare vascular cancer that affected her lungs and liver in 2003, when she was just 31 years old.

"I was petrified at first," she recalls. "It was my ‘needle off the record’ moment." But she turned her fear into action. She founded a corporation called “Save My Ass Technologies, Inc." and began to film a documentary of her search for a cure.

For starters, Carr interviewed potential doctors the same way she’d interview a potential employee. She learned a lot along the way.

"If your doctor has the bedside manner of Dog the Bounty Hunter, it might not be a good partnership," she says. "Look for the person who knows the most."

Don’t let the white coat intimidate you, she says. "Everyone has gut feelings and intuition, and doctors can intimidate you into not using it."

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