Beating Breast Cancer
Snap Out of It
Though you probably want to bury your face in a pile of celebrity gossip rags, inane reality TV and buckets of ice cream, the best way of improving your odds is to face your diagnosis head-on and to take an active role in your treatment.
Every woman has a different reaction to the news that she has breast cancer, says oncologist Marisa Weiss, M.D., breast health specialist and author of Taking Care of Your “Girls”: A Breast Health Guide for Girls, Teens and In-Betweens. The first thing you should know is, no matter what you're feeling, it's okay. "Some people become paralyzed and unable to function. They can't do anything. They are too afraid. But at some point you have to snap out of it and start to ask questions in order get the best care possible," explains Weiss. "I tell them this: There's only one you. Your life is the greatest gift, and it's each of our jobs to protect and cherish our lives."
Learn Your Options
Your first step in preparing for the coming months is to educate yourself. You want to learn as much about your cancer treatment options as possible, not only from the doctors you consult with, but also through accurate and up-to-date information in the news, online and from top-notch breast cancer centers. That way, you can compare the latest advances in care to what's being offered locally. If that means traveling, most experts in the field recommend it. Luckily, health insurance plans, when dealing with cancer, usually will pay for treatment beyond your local area. But always check first.
Most insurance companies also expect you to get a second and sometimes even third opinion when weighing different treatment plans, and you should. Plan to spend your first few weeks meeting with doctors and assembling your breast cancer care team, which will include a breast surgical oncologist, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, a plastic surgeon if reconstruction is being considered, an oncology nurse and, perhaps, a medical social worker.
Always see a breast surgical oncologist instead of a breast surgeon, says Shockney. "Most surgeons that are doing breast surgery are general surgeons, and when you're dealing with cancer, you really want someone who specializes in what you've got," she says. "The higher the volume of breast cancer surgeries that a doctor performs, the higher the survival rate. That is reason enough to seek out someone that specializes," she says.
Shockney has seen the benefits of first-rate care firsthand. Ten years after her second mastectomy, she was finally able to consider getting breast reconstruction. It was a more difficult decision than she'd expected. She had come to terms with her new body, and her husband, Al, told her he found her sexy just as she was. Still, she was happy to have the choice back in her hands. Today, she takes away some of the anxiety of her newly diagnosed patients by showing them her "girls." "Tell me these don't feel real," she says.