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CNN's Jill Dougherty on her fight against breast cancer

graphic October 27, 2000
1 p.m. EDT

(CNN) -- Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women. The American Cancer Society estimates 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.



Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today Jill Dougherty and welcome.

Jill Dougherty: I'd like to say hi, and I'm glad people are listening -- or at least online. Thank you.

  ALSO
GRAPHIC Battling breast cancer
-- A reporter's perspective

Part 1
Part 2
 
 VIDEO
CNN's Jill Dougherty shares the battle of a lifetime: her personal battle with breast cancer

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(QuickTime, Real or Windows Media)
 
  Self-Exam
Learn how to do a self-examination for breast cancer
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  MESSAGE BOARD
 

CNN Moderator: When were you diagnosed with breast cancer?

Jill Dougherty: I was diagnosed with breast cancer exactly a year ago, I believe October 19th, to be exact. I started treatment a year ago and now am back at work.

CNN Moderator: Was there a history of cancer in your family?

Jill Dougherty: Yes, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time 25 years ago. And then she had another bout with cancer 5 years ago. But as far as I know we are the only 2 in our family who have had breast cancer.

Question from MissAllenUSA: Did you realize it at first or at a later time?

Jill Dougherty: I found my own breast cancer. I noticed a dimpling in my breast after I took a shower, and I recognized that as a sign of cancer from brochures you see at the doctor's office.

Question from MissAllenUSA: How long had you had it before you knew?

Jill Dougherty: Well, that's a good question because nobody really knows you have cancer, but the doctors think it was probably about 3 years old. Three years before I found it, it more than likely actually began.

Question from CharliGirl-CNN: If there is a family history of cancer, should you get a mammogram at a younger age than is "recommended"?

Jill Dougherty: I think you should. I actually had to fight with my insurance company to get a more detailed type of mammogram due to family history. I have had mammograms since my thirties. The only issue is that the younger you are, the denser your breasts are, and if you are in good physical shape, your breasts can be even denser, so it's sometimes hard to see anything on the mammogram. In fact, the day I went to the doctor here in Moscow, he thought I should have a mammogram because he felt a lump. I had the mammogram, and it showed absolutely nothing, so just to be safe, he did an ultra sound, and that showed it very clearly.

Question from HOWdoo: What is your age?

Jill Dougherty: I am 51. So, I was diagnosed at 50.

Question from Hello: how hard was it for you when you first found out you had it?

Jill Dougherty: It's really shocking. And I have several friends who have gone through the same experience. And it's very hard to grasp at first. I think in the beginning, I did not really comprehend it. And it takes quite a while to get used to the idea, because I always thought of myself as an extremely healthy person.

Question from CharliGirl-CNN: What are the first steps taken after diagnosis?

Jill Dougherty: Well, after diagnosis with cancer, then you have to figure out what kind of cancer it is, and whether it has spread. So usually after having a biopsy, they study the tumor to find out whether the cancer is fast growing, or slow growing, and what it is like genetically. Then, you have to figure out whether you have surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. And there are many factors that go into deciding all of those issues.

Question from Shell: (Editor's note: Question not transcribed.)

Jill Dougherty: If there were some reason she thought she did not believe the mammogram is correct, then it might be worth getting an ultrasound. I think if you have any doubts, it certainly can't hurt. And my experience was that the only place my tumor showed up was on the ultrasound.

Question from Gruff-CNN: Isn't it true that men, in fact, can also have breast cancer?

Jill Dougherty: Absolutely! Men have breasts, too. And statistically 1,400 men in the United States every year are diagnosed with breast cancer, and 400 of them die every year from it.

Question from Myst: If you had chemo, how hard were the treatments?

Jill Dougherty: It depends on the type of chemotherapy you get. The one that I got was three months of two drugs, taken at the same time. One of them is called Adriamycin. The other drug was Cytoxin. The first drug is very, very good and effective. But it is very hard on your system, and it can affect your heart. So you have to make the determination if you want to use that drug, or a combination that's less difficult for your system. For the last 3 months, I took another drug called Taxol. That was much easier.

Question from Bertot97: What kind of effect did the cancer have on your family?

Jill Dougherty: I think it was very disturbing for my mother, of course, because I am sure she felt somewhat to blame; although, of course there is no blame here. For my sisters, they began to worry about their own health. And for my closest friends, they felt powerless to help me. So it's hard and sometimes harder for the family than it is for the person going through it.

Question from Jayne: Was there ever a time that you had a moment of doubt ... that all the tests and treatments would never end? How did you deal with it?

Jill Dougherty: Yes! I think I know exactly when it was. I had four treatments of Adriamycin. They call it the "red devil." And when I got through the third one, I really thought it would never end. But of course it did, and now I look back on it and think maybe it wasn't that bad -- especially if it helped me.

Question from Gruff-CNN: What is the worst physical effect from these necessary drugs?

Jill Dougherty: I think there are a couple of things. One is nausea and vomiting, and the other is hair loss. When you use those drugs, every bit of hair falls out, including your eyelashes. But they do grow back! And they grow back fast.

Question from Myst: Did you find that the anti-nausia drugs helped you in your treatment?

Jill Dougherty: Absolutely. In the old days, people would spend months throwing up, and now you can take drugs before you get treated, and they help immensely. However, I did experience some nausea, and my sense of taste changed somewhat.

Question from CharliGirl-CNN: How is your health now after a year of treatment and how often do you have to be seen by a doctor?

Jill Dougherty: My health is very good now; I am back to normal my doctor says. I get checked out every three months, and then it will be every 6 months. But I feel very good, and I jog every day and lift weights.

Question from Jayne: You seem so incredibly strong. What kept you positive and hopeful through the experience?

Jill Dougherty: I think it was the feeling that I wasn't alone -- that there were other women who were going through this. In fact, one of my best friends was diagnosed three weeks before I was. And I followed her through treatment.

CNN Moderator: What are the most common misconceptions about breast cancer?

Jill Dougherty: I think one of the misconceptions is that it is fatal. If it's detected early, the five-year survival rate is 95%. That's very different from many years ago.

Question from Whitikau-CNN: How fearful are you of a relapse?

Jill Dougherty: I think it's too soon for me to think about that; although I am sure it will be on my mind. But I prefer not to think like that. After all, I could get hit by a truck tomorrow, too! So it's just the chance you take in living.

CNN Moderator: Should women feel hopeful about the research now in the works?

Jill Dougherty: No question. It's very exciting to talk to doctors who are working on things like vaccines against cancer. A friend of mine in fact, is now taking a very new drug that is shrinking her tumor even before surgery. I know it will be a completely different ballgame very soon.

Question from Whitikau-CNN: Do you have any advice for other women, or men, going through the same situation?

Jill Dougherty: Hang in there! Because treatment eventually will be over, and I found it very helpful to join a support group. There were five of us and it was extremely helpful, both emotionally and information-wise. There was a moderator who was a clinical social worker, who gave us articles to read, and provided a lot of really helpful information. But most of all, it was being with other people who are going through the same thing you are.

Question from RiderDave: Isn't it true that there are different forms of even similar forms of cancer?

Jill Dougherty: Yes, the factors can really vary. The genetic composition is being understood much better now. And if researchers can figure out exactly what kind of cancer you have, they can more accurately determine the treatment. For example, because of the type of cancer I had, I am now taking another drug, an oral drug, called Tamoxifen. I take 2 a day, and it is really easy.

Question from Susie-CNN: Did your "celebrity" status make this more difficult for you? Did you feel pressure to always put on a happy face, or pressure to show the world how to cope?

Jill Dougherty: Well, perhaps, but while I was going through it, I did not have a lot of time to think about what other people would think of it. I was just trying to get through it myself. But talking about it publicly, as I am doing now, was a little strange -- to let people into your private life; but there are so many women who are fearful of getting checked, or fearful of treatment, that I thought it would help to talk about it openly, and reduce some of that fear.

Question from UGA311: Have you changed the way you are going to live life, being so close to possible mortality?

Jill Dougherty: Yes!

Question from Whitikau-CNN: Has this experience changed your outlook on life?

Jill Dougherty: I wish I could say that I have completely changed, but I am still a workaholic! However, I try to take more time for myself, and not let things worry me the way they sometimes used to. I can really say that I am very happy and this experience has deepened my emotional life.

CNN Moderator: What do you want people to learn from your experiences?

Jill Dougherty: If there is one thing I would like them to learn, it's that if you have any doubts, check it out! When I found my lump, I went to a doctor who said, "Let's watch it." And I came back to Russia. But two months later, as I watched it, it wasn't getting any better. So the most important thing is to catch it EARLY. And if you need a second or third or fourth opinion -- get it!

CNN Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us today?

Jill Dougherty: I think one thing that I've started to do that I wasn't very good at doing before is self-examination. This experience has taught me you have to take responsibility for your own health. The best doctors in the world can't do it for you. So I am trying to examine myself monthly, and be very aware of what is going on in my body.

CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today.

Jill Dougherty: Stay healthy!

Jill Dougherty joined the chat via telephone from Moscow. CNN.com provided a typist for her. The above is an edited transcript of the chat, which took place on Friday, October 27, 2000.



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