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Breast Cancer: First comes fear

First comes fear. You felt a lump while showering. You got called back for additional tests after your mammogram. You heard the doctor say surgery and chemo and radiation and your mind went blank. Thank goodness someone was with you in the office. The train of your life, which was on one track, has jumped the rails and gone in a totally different direction. You have breast cancer. Or your mother, or sister, or daughter, or best friend has breast cancer.

Is there anyone who doesn’t know at least one woman who has battled this disease? The statistics show that one in eight women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. Over 200,000 new cases were expected to be diagnosed in 2010, as well as over 50,000 cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer. When a woman is diagnosed with cancer, more than 1 in 4 cases will be breast cancer. And 40,000 women were expected to die in 2010 from this disease.

So fear arises: Will I die? Who will care for my children? How will I afford treatment? Will I still be able to work? Will I lose my breast(s)? My hair? Will I feel like a woman?

I know what it feels like to hear the words: You have cancer. Mine was cervical cancer, which also dealt with a vital part of the female anatomy. I know the fears. I know the way cancer changes your life.

Many of the celebrities we admire know the same fears, and many have served as incredible examples of courage and dedication to the cause of raising awareness of breast cancer. Edie Falco (The Sopranos, Nurse Jackie), the original Charlie’s Angels Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith, singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow, activist and co-founder of Ms. Magazine Gloria Steinem,  fashion designer Betsey Johnson, pop star Kylie Minogue, Suzanne Somers, Good Morning America cohost Robin Roberts, Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon, singer-songwriter Carly Simon, TV journalist Cokie Roberts, Olympic ice-skating champ Peggy Fleming, cohost of Today Hoda Kotb (who let cameras track her treatment), actress Christina Applegate, Olivia Newton-John, Oscar winner Dame Maggie Smith . . . the list goes on. And who could forget Melissa Etheridge’s courage at the 2005 Grammy Awards in rocking Janis Joplin while bald from chemo?

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. What can you do to prevent or deal with the effects of breast cancer? What changes can you make in your lifestyle now that will make a difference? Where can you get support? How can you best help a friend or relative as she battles breast cancer? Do alternative treatments and complementary energy medicine help? There is much to think about. Try to put the fears aside so you can do the research and take charge of your own health. There is life beyond the fear.

Cancer, as I discovered in my own journey, does not have to be a totally negative experience. I value it as a force that changed the direction of my life in a very positive way. Join me in helping to bring new awareness to breast cancer.

Deborah King