It’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and millions of survivors and their caregivers are stepping forward to remind us that cancers of the breast are becoming more survivable – especially when detected earlier. Breast cancer still kills 39,000 people in our nation each year, but death rates have been declining for more than two decades, thanks to higher awareness and earlier treatment. If we could bring all the people who have survived breast cancer to one place, we’d create a city larger than Chicago or Houston.
What impresses me most about those who have survived breast cancer is their willingness to take charge in the face of their diagnosis. I advise those newly diagnosed with breast cancer – or indeed, any form of cancer or serious illness – to “DO IT” with Attitude. The “DO IT” part is a quick way to remember the key steps in the journey:
• D stands for Determine Your Own Destination. After a diagnosis, take a deep breath and make some time for contemplation. Then get moving. Set goals with your treatment team and take control of how these goals get achieved. Remember that you’re a patient—not a victim.
• O stands for Optimize Your Information and Support Network. You’ll find no shortage of advice—all of it well-meaning, but some of it possibly misleading or unhelpful. Create your own “Board of Health”—a “partners in care” network encompassing your trusted doctors, your close family members, and friends whose opinions you value. Support groups are often helpful. You may even want to consult a patient navigator -- an expert whose job it is to guide you through treatment.
• I stands for Intensity. Get “intense” about your journey through cancer. It’s going to be a full time job, at least for a while. Take your treatment seriously and pursue it with urgency. Be faithful to your treatment schedule. Don’t skip appointments—or make excuses.
• T stands for Tenacity. This is no time to be shy. Give yourself license to say what is on your mind, to ask every question, to give voice to your fears and misgivings.
• And don’t forget the “Attitude” – Positive. Do your best to stay positive, because your mental state can have a powerful effect on your physical well-being.
“DO IT with Attitude” won’t guarantee a good outcome, but I firmly believe this strategy will increase your odds. Today, four out of five people diagnosed with breast cancer will live at least ten more years, thanks to early detection and disciplined treatment. Dealing with breast cancer isn’t what anyone would wish for, but remember—it is a disease millions have overcome.
I began my medical career for personal reasons. As a child, I saw my uncle bedridden for a year, recovering from a fused spinal cord, induced by polio. That experience sat with me, all through my schooling.
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