Support from our Surgeon . . .

from John V. Kiluk, MD

H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute

Breast cancer is one of the most traumatic events any female can go through.  Even though there are many degrees of severity when it comes to the diagnosis of breast cancer, it is all equally frightening and confusing.  Many women state that the experience of breast cancer is nearly as bad as losing a child.

Over the last several decades, we have made unbelievable progress in the awareness and treatment of breast cancer.  Before the pink ribbons, women would rarely get mammograms.  Women were afraid to seek medical attention and would be afraid to talk to others about their condition. Women were isolated and outcomes were not good.

Fortunately, women have learned to be, as I call it, “loud and obnoxious!” The ability to share their experience with others has made a tremendous difference in overcoming this terrifying diagnosis.  Women are spreading the word on mammograms in order to obtain earlier detection.  Women are learning that Breast Cancer is NOT a death sentence and that there are options for treatment.  Most importantly, women with cancer know that they are NOT alone.

Last week I was visiting with a patient in my clinic. She had received a mastectomy for an advanced form of breast cancer and was near the completion of her chemotherapy.  In the past 6 months, she had lost her job, boyfriend, and house while undergoing treatment for her cancer.  Where most people would crumble at this adversity, her attitude was amazing. Unfortunately, she began to tear up and said she wasn’t beautiful because her chest was flat from surgery and had she had no hair from her therapy.  All that I could do was look at her and say that she was the definition of beauty.

I truly think that art, writing, photos, or websites that act as an outlet of emotions are critical for the nurturing of the breast cancer patient.  Patients that express their loss, anger, shock, or fear are able to cope with an incomprehensible disease.  Suppression of feelings does not heal the mind and that healing is a major part of the battle when dealing with cancer.  Furthermore, by viewing the struggles of other women, a patient with breast cancer will realize the emotions they carry are not unique.

As with my inspiring patient in my clinic last week, she could not see the beauty in her own self.  All women, no matter how old, no matter how ravaged by cancer, no matter how beat down emotionally, need to realize the beauty they all possess. This will help others with cancer as well as themselves get through this ordeal.