GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) – A Greenville surgeon said she had a new insight into breast cancer patients being diagnosed with the disease herself.
"You do not really appreciate what patients go through when they're diagnosed with cancer," said Dr. Sharon Ben-Or.
"It's like a death," she added. "You go through all the different phases of grief."
As breast cancer awareness month is observed with pink ribbons and fundraising runs, Ben-Or said that it is important to remember those who are suffering through emotional roller coaster and often debilitating treatments that come with a diagnosis.
"We have this picture of what breast cancer is supposed to be – a power and fight like a girl," she said.
"But in the end, the patients are scared," she added. "We try to live up to this image of what strength is supposed to be. And we do not share the fear. "
Breast cancer is the second most common malignancy in women, according to the American Cancer Society.
About 266,120 women are expected to be diagnosed with this year, the society reports, and about 41,000 will die from it.
Ben-Or, 42, has been a thoracic surgeon at Greenville Health System for the past four years.
During a meeting last year, one of the speakers mentioned that call for women to begin having mammograms at age 40.
She figured she'd better check it out, and she spoke to a radiologist about setting it up.
The morning of the test was a calcification had been found. That led to a biopsy and some anxious hours as she waited for the results.
"Finally, she called me and said," You have breast cancer, "" Ben-Or recalled. "I just felt everything in collapse. I realized that everything I had planned for had just died. "
After telling her every stunned husband, she was able to reach every equally distressed father, who was vacationing in Japan.
"The hardest thing I've ever had to tell my father was cancer," she said. "I knew it would break his heart."
Next came a whirlwind of doctor appointments and an MRI.
Although she had stage 1 cancer, it was a type that has a high rate of recurrence. She was able to undergo surgery for breast cancer, and she underwent surgery for breast cancer. MRI was performed twice a year and she opted for bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction.
"I was scared of it coming back," she said.
Chemotherapy and its accompanying nausea, pain, exhaustion and hair loss came next.
Ben-Or found in the comfort of talking to other people, including a woman at the grocery store also undergoing chemo who spotted her bald head and asked about each treatments.
"It's hard dealing with the nausea and pain. But a lot of people feel guilty complaining … because we do not want to be a burden on anyone, "she said. "It was only when I spoke to co-patients that I made it OK. It was nice to have someone who really got it. "
While the chemo ended in December, she felt her effects until March. Now she's monitored by her oncologist every four months and will be taking drugs for years to prevent a recurrence.
Ben-Or was undergoing treatments to become pregnant at the time of diagnosis. But she's puts those plans on hold.
"It feels like this huge tornado called cancer went through my life for seven months," she said. "I was so emotionally exhausted by all this, I need time to kind of reset and refuel before we cross that bridge.
"I'm still trying to rebuild my life."
Now back at work, she said the experience changed forever as a physician.
"It was very hard to be a patient and go through this. It's changed my approach, "she said.
"I learned that as a patient, I did not want my doctors or my family or friends to be optimists who said," You can beat this, "" she added. "I just wanted them to tell me, 'This sucks and I'm here for you.' '
While people were saying she was brave and strong during treatment, Ben-Or was thinking she was anything but.
"There are so many people diagnosed with cancer every day. I'm just one of them, "she said. "And I felt like a fake when people told me they admired me. I was so scared. "
So she tells her that being afraid and angry and grief-stricken is a normal reaction to a terrible situation.
"It's very important to people with breast cancer, or any cancer," she said. "And it's OK to have those feelings. You have to acknowledge the unsavory feelings before you can move forward. "
Information from: The Greenville News, http://www.greenvillenews.com
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