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Women Cancer Survivors Take Charge

A new generation of women shake up what it means to have cancer.

Crazy, Sexy Cancer Survivor: Roberta Levy Schwartz continued...

Times have changed. "We are young; we are proud; and we are going to be here next year, and we are going to take our wigs off," she says. And one more thing: "Don't tell us about stats, as we have every intention of living."

Schwartz' organization, the Young Survival Coalition, aims to address many of the unique issues faced by young women with breast cancer. Its other goal is to bring survivors together. There was no such group when Schwartz was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Her best advice to the newly diagnosed is simple.

"Just live," she tells WebMD. "You can’t worry about whether or not tomorrow will be your last day." she says. "It's not about how long you live; it's about how you live. Being depressed at home in the closet because you don't want people to see you is not being alive," she says. 

Crazy, Sexy Cancer Survivor: Alayna Kassan

At the age of 27, New Yorker Alayna Kassan was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. "In a way, the diagnosis came as a relief, as I had been feeling sick for so long and nobody could figure out why. It was good to finally know what was wrong so that we could do something about it," she recalls.

Grueling chemotherapy followed by radiation forced Kassan to re-evaluate her life and make some changes that had been a long time coming. "Cancer was definitely a catalyst for me," she says. "I quit my job as an attorney and took a few weeks off and went skiing, which was something I always wanted to do," she tells WebMD. 

Shortly thereafter, she started a company called Presents for Purpose with a fellow Hodgkin's survivor. "I wanted to give back to the community that helped me, so I started a gift company where a percentage of the proceeds benefit charitable organizations, including the Lymphoma Research Foundation."

To date, the company has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for a growing list of charities,  including the American Red Cross, Y-Me National Breast Cancer Organization, CancerCare, First Book, First Candle, the Lymphoma Research Foundation, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

But that's not all. In a way, cancer served as cupid for Kassan. "After getting diagnosed with cancer at a such a young age, I was more attuned to my health," she tells WebMD.

"I had hit my head playing soccer, and when the pain didn’t abate after a few weeks, I was concerned," she recalls. So she went to the emergency room. "The doctor was fairly sure it was nothing serious, just a bruise," she says. This doctor is now her husband, and the two are expecting twins. "Nobody wants cancer, but the experience definitely changed my life for the better," she says.

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Reviewed on September 28, 2007

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