Breast cancer sufferers shared their experiences yesterday about one of the most commonly occurring cancers among women today, saying that with early diagnosis, social support and a positive outlook, there is light at the end of the tunnel for the many women who suffer from this terrible disease.
According to 2002 Department of Health (DOH) statistics, aside from ranking No. 1 among the most commonly occurring forms of cancer in women, breast cancer was also one of the cancers to have seen the steepest increase in cases between 1998 and 2002, at 24.4 percent.
"In 2004, 1,339 women died of breast cancer, which accounted for 10.29 percent of all cancer cases," said Wu jun-ming (吳浚明), head of the Bureau of Health Promotion.
Lily Shen (沈臨玲), from the Taichung Kaihuai Association, a non profit organization for breast-cancer survivors, said that social support and an emotional outlet were vital.
"Many women can't seem to shake themselves out of it. They don't dare to go out. And some women have very distorted beliefs. For example, in Buddhism, some believe that cancer is a punishment for doing bad deeds in a previous life. Friends and family are very important at this time," she said.
Asked how breast cancer affects one's perception of their own femininity, she said, "Can you imagine? A woman's breasts are the ultimate symbol of her femininity. Also, when patients undergo chemotherapy, they lose their hair. It is as though they lose all that's feminine about them."
She said she dared not look in the mirror after she first had a partial mastectomy. With about a quarter of her breast removed she said that her breasts were "lopsided" and she felt "ugly."
"At this point, what is the most important are support and encouragement from your partner or spouse. They need to let you know they can overcome your physical changes and love you for who you are," she said.
Since then she has more than come to terms with her illness and said that what really matters is the spiritual being, not physical appearance.
"I agree with something a doctor once said to me, which was that if you undergo breast reconstruction it should be for yourself, not anybody else."
She advised women to "treat yourself a little bit better," saying that as a working mother, she had been burning the candle at both ends when she was diagnosed with cancer eight years ago.
She emphasized the importance of early diagnosis saying, "Women over 35 should get regular check ups. If you find a lump, go to the doctor immediately. The world isn't going to fall apart," she said.