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Battling breast cancer
A reporter's perspective. Part 3.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 182,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year. But early detection and a variety of treatment options are improving the outlook for many women.
CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty knows first hand about the illness -- she was recently diagnosed and is currently undergoing treatment. Here's her story in her own words.
MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Once a week, while I was going through chemotherapy, I met with a support group at the cancer center in Florida where I was being treated. Five women with a common bond of overcoming breast cancer, along with a licensed clinical social worker who led our discussions.
It gave us a chance to be honest about our fears and was a wonderful tool to help us cope. Plus, it was a surprisingly upbeat group. We laughed about our lack of hair. It also helped us with the issue of what to do after treatment ends. As Patricia Liebman, our oncology counselor, told us, "Your job is to do that, start healing the day you're done with treatment, to say 'I'm walking away'."
The talk, and the laughter, I later found out, are medicinal: As Dr. Larry Norton, chief oncologist at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center says, "One of the things we've found in formal scientific studies is that one of the most important prognostic factor in breast cancers is what's called social integration -- having family, having friends. It's one of the most important factors."
My closest friend, Valucha de Castro, herself a cancer survivor, re-arranged her life as an artist to help me. "I was born and raised in Brazil," she said, "with a very large family and nobody asked CAN you pitch in; they said WHEN can you pitch in?" I also began some new disciplines, less intense than running, which helped me achieve a balance as I went through treatment, like meditation and yoga, both of which I continue to practice.
Cancer was the catalyst for improving my diet. I added much more fruits and vegetables, along with some soy products, and now drink much more water than I used to. One year later, I'm back at work in Moscow full time and I feel great. My doctor tells me I'm "almost normal". I was lucky to have excellent care, but someday what we all went through - surgery, chemo, radiation - will seem primitive, maybe even barbaric. Right now, new treatments are being developed that target the cancer, not the patient, including a vaccine against cancer.
"These treatments," says Dr. Patrick Borgen, "if successful, are non-toxic, people really don't know they're getting them -- unless you are a breast cancer cell and then, hopefully, they are very toxic. There are not the side effects, hair loss, fever, chills, nausea."
One thing that kept me going through my struggle with breast cancer was running in the Race for the Cure, a series of national and international races sponsored by the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. It's a 5K race and I didn't care if it took me all day to get to the finish line!
I made it, and so did thousands of other women, along with their family and friends, celebrating the day when we'll cross the finish line against breast cancer.
Life goes on, even with breast cancer
American Cancer Society Breast Cancer Resource Center
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