Life: Better or Worse after Breast Cancer?
“My heart goes out to any of you
who have gone through
or are going through it now.
But the truth is the difference
in your life can be monumentally good.
I know my life is much better for it’”.
Many can’t imagine how having a better life after being diagnosed with invasive breast cancer is even possible. Kathleen Franklin, retired Superintendent in charge of a large territory of parks and beaches in the Malibu area remembers that day: “Imagine being told in the prime of your life, that you have stage 3 breast cancer. Your everyday world screeches to a halt. You’re in shock. You go through the motions with this terrible background noise ever present in your mind. Your doctor gives you the protocol: Chemo, operations, radiation! If you were to ask me then if I would be better for having breast cancer I would have said no. Unequivocally, NO”!
Her journey to recovery wasn't easy either… Is it ever? It just seems that cancer has a way of making itself present at that precise moment when one is on the track of enjoying life; when one is supposed to be living the fruits of one’s work, family and friends. Or maybe so it’s thought, until one day, the diagnosis is in…
For Kathleen, truth had a way of surfacing through. She recalls her family and friends gathering to protect and help her; doctors and nurses being there to guide and to fight the war with her; counselors helping ease her journey. “I began to renew my appreciation of the affirming people in my life. And conversely I became allergic to the negative ones (forever)”.
Now an artist, and most importantly, cancer survivor, Kathleen says YES, LIFE IS BETTER; even when she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. “During and after treatments, I rearranged my time so that I could spend time with the people I love. And those vacations that I put off? Not anymore. I began my journey as an artist. I started living more in the now. I took chances that I would never have done before – good chances. The sweetness that is life reawakened for me”, she comments. Kathleen is on vacation and probably enjoying life as these lines are being written!
From a Simple Statistic to an Active Community Member
Nine years after being diagnosed and once she retired as California State Parks Superintendent, Kathleen joined the Doris A. Howell Foundation. For her it was a way to give back to the community that had given her so much. “I believe that research, such as that which the Howell Foundation supports, is absolutely critical. It may save the life of someone you know and love”, she comments. She was selected for a clinical trial at UCSD Moore’s Cancer Center that represented the latest in breast cancer research. “Without that, I doubt that I would be here today”.
The Doris A. Howell Foundation is known for awarding scholarships for students to conduct their research in women’s health. In the field of breast cancer research, Howell Scholar Dr. Dan Hemmati participated in the team responsible for identifying the BRACA1 gene. Just recently, Justin T. Siu –Howell Scholar as well, was part of the team of young scientists that got published in Oncogene with the paper titled “Omega-3 fatty acids reduce obesity-induced tumor progression independent of GPR120 in a mouse model of postmenopausal breast cancer”. Supporting researchers at an early stage is just a starting step fighting such devastating illnesses, such as breast cancer.
So for all of the warriors out there, the news continues to be encouraging. According to several research and breast cancer organizations, there are close to three million breast cancer survivors in the United States today --more than any other group of cancer survivors. More importantly, the five-year survival rate has increased from around 74% to 98%; declining 33% since 1990 due to early detection and effective treatment. 1
Reflecting on her illness, Kathleen offers the most important piece of advice for breast cancer patients facing the challenges of a long road to recovery: “Be proactive”! Proactivity is the way to survive breast cancer; it is the way to defeat being just one more statistic. She offers this advice that helped her along the way:
- “If you want to increase chances for survival, get top people on your team. Research and find the very best medical treatment and doctors within your available medical care plan. In my case, that meant I had to move 180 miles away. It was worth it.
- Surround yourself with the people who love you – there is so much healing in this. Care for and thank them – always. Remember that they are on this journey with you.
- The medical terminology will most likely be new to you, not to mention that you may be in shock. So this is important. Take a notebook with you to write down what you hear at medical appointments. That way you can review directions and reflect on, or research the information later. If you have questions write them down and take them to your doctor.
- Join a cancer support group or seek counseling. There’s a lot of valuable perspective to be gained from this”.
About the Doris A. Howell Foundation:
The Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research is committed to keeping the women we love healthy, advancing women’s health through research and educating women to be catalysts for improving family health in the community.
The organization does so by funding scholarships to scientists researching issues affecting women’s health; providing a forum for medical experts, scientists, doctors, researchers, and authors to convey the timely information on topics relevant to women’s health and the health. of their families through its Lecture and Evening Series, and by funding research initiatives that will create women’s health awareness and advocacy in the community.
For more information about the Doris A. Howell Foundation, please visit www.howellfoundation.org.