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Blog: Be an Informed Breast Cancer Patient

Advice during Breast Cancer Awareness Month for those who are newly diagnosed—be your own best advocate!

With all the hype this month about breast cancer awareness, I hope that it is also serving as a reminder to all you ladies to get your mammograms. Sadly, that means that some will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Today's blog won't apply to everyone, but I'm trying to write a variety, and this will apply to those who are newly diagnosed.

Sadly, in the past couple of weeks I've had two more friends who were diagnosed with breast cancer—a sisterhood I would rather not see growing. Wow, sometimes you wonder if there is there something in the drinking water! One friend is a former co-worker and we reminisced about how many of our former co-workers have since been diagnosed with some sort of cancer, most often breast cancer. Although, I guess if you looked at it statistically, we're about right since one in eight women today get breast cancer in their lifetime and breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women. Did you know that this statistic is up from one in 22 in the 1940s?

After hearing of their new diagnoses, I had to think about how I would advise them to face this new challenge.

Get all the information you can. Some women just know that their doctor said they have cancer and now they have to take a blue pill. Get specifics. Get copies of all your scans and tests. Jot down your questions and bring them with you to your doctor's appointments. If you don't understand, ask again.  

Take a spouse or friend along with you to be your second set of ears—they may pick up information that you miss. Get a second opinion. Investigate the reputation of the doctors you are sent to and ask around if there are specific oncologists, surgeons, etc., that friends and family would personally recommend. If you have friends who are nurses, they can be a great source of information like this.

You may also want to do some online research and educate yourself so that you will better understand what the doctors tell you and also so you can ask informed questions. However, this isn't for everyone but I like to do this so that I am well-informed. As awesome as my doctors are, there are times when I feel they are not telling me everything, just to protect me, which isn't entirely a bad thing, but personally I want to know.

I do have to caution you, however—the internet can be a scary place. Not all of the information out there is accurate and not all of it will pertain to your specific case. There have been several times when I have scared the heck out of myself and my family with information I have found online. Make sure you only research on reliable websites, then ask your doctor about what you've read. A patient advocate once told me to only seek medical info on websites that end in ".edu," ".org" or ".gov."

You will need to be your own best advocate on this journey. There will be times when you will have to make choices about your treatment and when you may have to do battle with your insurance about what is best for you. Educate yourself, surround yourself with the best experts, as well as friends and family who can assist you with these matters.  Then, you can head into battle well-equipped with knowledge! Fight on, sisters!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

nonoise October 28, 2012 at 03:27 PM
I read about the potential increase in cancer just by having the mammograms. That the potential increase is great. What are thermograms?
Sarah Creeley October 28, 2012 at 03:49 PM
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, and I was helped by a book I read that was published by John Hopkins Hospital with narratives from people with all different stages of cancer, and from all of the different caregivers; surgeons, radiologists, etc., and included thorough descriptions of all possible treatments. This book was incredibly helpful to me! I gave it to a friend, so I don't have the title, but John Hopkins Hospital should be a good source of information. I was very fortunate in that my surgeon was able to remove all of the cancerous tissue, so today, I am cancer free.
Erin Vidovich October 28, 2012 at 03:50 PM
According to the American Cancer Society a mammogram is roughly equal to the amount of radiation one is exposed to on a commercial jet flying from New York to California and that it does not significantly increase the risk for breast cancer. Mammograms today are said to be much lower radiation than they were years ago. I'm not familiar with thermograms -- Shelley, could you tell us more?
SPB November 08, 2012 at 11:27 PM
Fight the good fight Erin! I hope the blogging helps you get some of that frustration out and maybe get a few people to check on their own health in the process. Also, have you looking to getting a prop 215 card? It was a lifesaver for me when I was undergoing chemo for stage 4 Hodgkin's. I'd go from puking to hungry in 10 minutes.
Diana Brueggemann November 09, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Hello, Erin. I am Barbara Brueggemann's daughter-in-law (Jim's wife). Pat and Barbara have told me about the positive impact you have on so many others even as you fight cancer yourself. I intend to follow your blog. Our family faced this battle as my mom was diagnosed in 1965 and my sister had ovarian cancer for 6 years. Your work to support and educate as many people as you can is such an important gift to those who are in the midst of the battle as this crappy disease leaves no family untouched. Thank you for all you do for others. I look forward to following your journey.

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