Medicine: Breast Cancer: Fear and Facts

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What helps women most is their own determination to get well. Once they recover from the shock of mastectomy, most of them become acutely aware that their alternative was death and quickly opt for life. "I decided my life was more important than my vanity about my shape," explains Marie Powers, 32, a Boston social worker who had a mastectomy in 1973. "It makes you reorder your priorities." Like others in her situation, she has returned with gusto to the business of living and is now dating again. Joan Dering, 38, a teacher from the Milwaukee area, has resumed playing golf and has taken up sailing and skiing since her 1971 mastectomy.

Their attitude is typical of thousands of other courageous women who have awakened after surgery to find bandages where a breast used to be. Losing a breast to cancer is a traumatic experience that scars the mind as well as the body of a woman. But that grievous loss buys time and makes her more aware than those around her that life is dear.

*So can men, although breast cancer appears 100 times less frequently in males than in females.

*Doctors use five-and ten-year survival rates as statistical mileposts, not goals. When cancers recur they generally do so within five years. Thus while a woman who has survived five years after a mastectomy without a recurrence of cancer may still suffer one, she has a good statistical chance of surviving ten and even 20 years or more.

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