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February 14, 2003

Guest book
If you've had breast cancer or know someone who has, what advice would you give to others? What helps you through the difficult times? Share your thoughts, and we'll post some of them here in the weeks to come. Comments may be edited, and only first names will be used.
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Dear Molly and Betty,

I read the article when it was first published. I cut out the notice of "Molly's Cancer" being carried on the Web site when it came out with the idea of checking it later. Finally decided to read it now, today, because today a high school friend asked for prayers because her mom has been diagnosed with breast cancer. I am a big fan of Betty Udesen and her photography. Between the writing and the photos I'm feeling comfortable with recommending my friend, and hopefully her mother, take the time to visit your web site and go through ALL OF IT! It's filled with hope, sustenance, and encouragement. As a strong believer in the power of the mind to help, if not mend, the article is good medicine.

Thank you to The Seattle Times, to you Molly and Betty, for once again reminding us to give ourselves help by taking it when it's offered, to ask for it when needed, and to help ourselves.

The very best to you.

— Carol A. Sund


Dear Molly:

I did not see your original story until today. It brought back so many memories of my fight. I found out about my cancer after I insisted that there was something wrong. The mammogram did not detect it the first time so I went back for an ultra sound that I insisted on. The funny thing was, it was October and every where you would see the ads for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I had my surgery right before Thanksgiving and my chemo starting December 7th. By Christmas day all my hair fell out and my then 9-year-old son was putting it in a paper bag so we could make a wig out of it.

I was incredibly sick with thrush and had to have epo shots for 4 months. I did not have the reconstruction and my husband still says I am the most beautiful women he knows. My grandmother died of it, my mother is a 17 year survivor and I have 5 under my belt. With the love, support and the awareness of experiences like yours, we luckily are here to continue living each day as our finest day. Good luck to you and maybe we will see you at the Race for the Cure!!

— Kate Redfern


My name is Maritess.

After 4 appointments that lasted a year about the lump on my breast, I was denied a biopsy on each of them. I was told that it was just a cyst. I begged each time for a biopsy but was denied. A year had passed and the lump kept getting bigger. This is the 4th time and still they did not want to aspirate the lump at a minimum. I made a scene at my doctor's office just to force my doctor to aspirate the lump.

The aspiration did not produce any liquid, and that's when the same doctor ordered the mammogram and biopsy. Even then I was being told that it was just a cyst. ... I know of another woman that was dealt this way but kept silent about her experience with her HMO. She also had cancer and she too waited a year.

When the test results came three days later it was not good. A receptionist at the radiology dept. called me and informed me of the cancer, not my doctor. I never heard from my doctor ever since. ...

I consulted a lawyer but to my disappointment he did not want to deal with an HMO because as he put it there isn't any money in it. My suspicion is there are many more women out there that are being treated this way and some treatment comes too late for them. No one seemed to listen to my cry for help.

I called my HMO to complain about my experience, only to be told that it was within the hospital's policy. The person that had the same experience is also an employee. She warned me of disappearing medical files. She was right — some of my files have disappeared concerning my doctor's visit but the corresponding mammograms were there.

I went to Providence for my treatment because my HMO did not want to perform the surgery until a month later. My HMO did not want to pay a penny of my treatment even though I was an employee for three years. I submitted an expense for a wig when my hair fell out due to chemo and I was again turned down.

I was a pharmacy tech. mixing chemo 8 hours a day in central hospital when I was diagnosed. I am not angry because of the disease; I am angry because I could have a better chance of survival if I was treated early when I went for appointments. The lump was the size of half a walnut shell and it can be seen ten feet away.

Please, please, please someone out there hear my plea. I was unjustly treated by my HMO and no one seemed to care. I am willing to tell my story to save other women. I don't know what else to do.

Diagnosed: 1/6/01
Breast cancer


Molly,

Your article seems to be directed especially to me. I was 67 in September, feeling very confident of good health and thoroughly enjoying being as active as I cared to be. Golf scores were more important to me than blood pressure scores. Then in a routine mammography, cancer was found in my left breast, and everything changed. I elected to have a double mastectomy. Most of all, because it eliminated radiation treatments. It was easier to give up my breasts than to face the prospect of continual burning of tissue for 8 weeks. My first husband died of Melanoma cancer, and the worst part of all was the radiation. I still have the annoyance of a drain, and I am not used to the lack of energy that sneaks up on me, but for the most part I feel that I'm lucky to be able to participate in making decisions about my future care.

I appreciate your resource guide, because I plan to control what my next steps will be in the coming months. It's important, I think, to use these resources and take an active part in decisions as part of the healing — both physically and emotionally.

Thanks again, for a great and timely article.

Carol


Molly,

I don't have breast cancer nor have I personally known someone with it. I've had four friends with other debilitating cancers, however. Three are survivors like you and one didn't make it through the door. I just wanted to say I found the picture gallery incredibly moving. Thanks for sharing the journey — and the courage.

Another Molly

Hi, Molly!

Congrats on the 10-year anniversary of being cancer-free.

Just had my 10 yr. follow-up with Dr. Douglas Lee/NW Cancer Center ... says I'm now a boring patient, so we'll stop this annual chitchat for now, and just keep in touch via my annual mammo-picture.

Your photo file brought back many memories of my own journey, and as you know, our dates are similar for the breast cancer odyssey.

My only wish: That modern medicine(s) could have been more up to speed in '72 when I lost my sister to this disease, after she fought a courageous battle for several years. And back in the late '40s when I lost my mom to the same breast cancer plague, which docs had no clue about curing, let alone saving lives.

So now I know I'm a carrier for BRAC1 & 2, and I believe I made the right choice in not having children, and passing this along to them, especially to a female child.

Watching what all this did to my dad — losing first his wife of only 39 years — and later to repeat the agony/pain of seeing his daughter, also 39, succumb to breast cancer — well, I was convinced, and not surprised when I was diagnosed with same.

What angers me still: That for the most part, when the opportunity exists to educate, the media still largely ignore THE MALE RISK of this disease. It takes only a few seconds of air/space to tell me that "everyone is at risk for this disease," and yet Oprah and her ilk say nothing.

A truth: More men die after being diagnosed with breast cancer than do women. Why? Because most men haven't a clue they could be at risk for "this female disease." What? Is this still the Stone Age of information/education? Guess so.

Thanks again, for sharing. Hope every day is special for you, and yours. Mine is, always will be. Take care.

Robert


The sidebar to your Pacific Northwest magazine column was very timely for me. I've just been diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer and had my first chemotherapy session on Friday.

I read your article from 1992 and especially agree with your insistence on asking questions. The doctors I have at Evergreen are very willing to answer any and all questions. I am finding it interesting to get different answers to the same questions, depending on if I'm asking the surgeon, oncologist, or pharmacist.

Thank you for running your article again. I'm very happy to read about an active, healthy survivor and I plan to join you and your mother on the ever-growing list of long-term survivors.

BTW, my husband belongs to the Keith Highlanders Pipe Band and we just spent August in Scotland with your brother, Mike.

Eirien


Molly,

I'm a 55-year-old school counselor in Mount Vernon. I was diagnosed with breast cancer this Aug. 8, had a lumpectomy Aug. 31 and started chemo Oct 1.

I remember thinking: There was a story a few years ago in the Pacific Magazine about the fitness columnist having cancer. And today it showed up in your column. Wow! Thanks. Didn't realize it had been that long ago.

I related to a lot you said. Not fighting it, but dealing with it as a major inconvenience in my life. Accepting it as a fact of life (I had no history, was not the "type to get cancer" according to any risk factors & according to me). Never went to doctors except my gynecologist for yearly pap & mammogram.

Humor: the only way I can deal. I'm now collecting boob jokes.

Inconsistencies: Yeah, why do I care more about my hair than my boob?

Parents: My father broke his hip the day before my first chemo and my mother ended up in the ER with heart problems and seizures the day after my third chemo. They are both in a nursing home since my chemo started. The hardest part of my whole ordeal has been telling them.

Support: My blessings in the many, many supports I have from work, friends and family continue to touch and astound me.

Thanks for the anniversary issue. I read your article 10 years ago with mild interest and amazement of your openness. 10 years later I have breast cancer and identified with everything in the article with avid interest & appreciation.

Nina


I was diagnosed in February 2002. I was 37 with three children ages 11, 7 and 5. I had a mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy (CEF) and three and a half weeks of radiation.

The best advice I could give someone would be to get your pathology reports — research, research, research!!! Ask a ton of questions and make yourself a part of the team. Be seriously involved with your treatment and know what is going to happen to your body.

As far as resources go there are so many books from the public library and the cancer center library. The Internet of course is a never-ending source! I found a support group of newly diagnosed women my age — it was a tremendous help having someone going through the very same thing I was at the same time.

Getting through the difficult times has been a challenge in and of itself! There are times that I feel very deep into the "what ifs". Most of the time my supportive family and my belief in God is what gets me through the rough spots. Sometimes a good cry and then shake it off and get on with life. The worst part of being diagnosed was thinking of my children not having their mom. I am trying to just live each day like the rest of the world has to!

This was a great story and wonderful pictures...thanks!

Cindy



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