New Canaan’s Pam Silverman described her reaction to learning that she had breast cancer this way: “It’s not every day you walk down the street and a boulder falls on your head.” The good news is that the boulder dropped off in 1997, and Pam is still here to tell about it.
So is my friend Carol V., whose cancer was diagnosed in 2000. An avid traveler and photographer, Carol’s first thought at hearing that she had breast cancer was that she would have to give up doings the things she loved most and become an invalid. Not so fast.
There is no question that breast cancer is a terrible disease, especially to the more than 178,000 women and 2,000 men who are diagnosed with it each year. But as writer Leslie Chess Feller learned while researching this month’s feature story, nowadays there is more hope for recovery than there was even a few years ago. According to the American Cancer Society, death rates from breast cancer have steadily decreased since 1990, and the five-year survival rate of women diagnosed in the disease’s early stages now is at 96 percent.
Of course the operative word here is “early,” as in finding tumors almost at their inception. In this area the increased media attention directed at breast cancer is paying off. Is there anyone who doesn’t know that doing frequent self-exams and having regular mammograms is key to detecting a lump in its earliest stage? New treatments and other scientific advances also have been critical.
But, over and over again, the women interviewed for our story “Making Strides” mentioned the importance of a positive attitude. Not surprisingly, this included receiving support from both friends and family as well as fellow survivors. However, not so obvious was the assistance they gave to others. Some chose to raise money for cancer research, while others made themselves available to talk with women who were newly diagnosed.
My friend Carol had still another solution. To help her conquer her fear, her husband promised that when the cancer went into remission they would rent a castle in Italy for a month and invite anyone she wanted to join them for a week each.
Talk about positive thinking — and not only for the patient but also for all of her friends. My daughter and I were invited for “family week.” Suddenly, illness was not the main topic of our conversations. We found ourselves planning together for an exciting event in our future. Carol had to get well since vacationing in the castle sounded like so much fun.
“I can’t wait to get started,” I said one day while visiting and poring over yet another guidebook. “It will be fun to feel like a queen, if only for a week.”
“That’s not exactly right,” interjected my friend’s husband from across the room. “We definitely want you to come, but you’ll have to settle for being a princess; Carol will be the queen.”
And bless him, she still is.