Surviving the Breast Cancer Bombshell

By Strassman, Marcia | USA TODAY, November 2009 | Go to article overview

Surviving the Breast Cancer Bombshell


Strassman, Marcia, USA TODAY


AS AN ACTRESS, I have been fortunate to have a fulfilling and rewarding career performing on stage and in television and film since I was 18 years old. I have played a variety of roles in my life, from nurse Margie Cutler in the early episodes of "M*A*S*H," to Julie Kotter in "Welcome Back, Kotter," to Honey in the "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" movies--and, in real life, as a morn to my extrordinary 22-year-old daughter, Lizzie. The one role I certainly never expected to play is that of a real-life breast cancer patient but, unfortunately for me, I got the part.

My journey through cancer diagnosis and treatment begum in March 2007. I always have been diligent about scheduling regular doctor appointments and getting mammograms, so when I felt a large mound on my left breast, I rushed to my gynecologist the next day. I never imagined I would be on the receiving end of a phone call from my physician saying the six words no one wants to hear: "I do not have good news."

As anyone with cancer will tell you, receiving the diagnosis is an extremely daunting experience--even for the strongest person. I am a very positive and pragmatic individual and approached my initial cancer diagnosis in a very practical way. I accepted that I had breast cancer and immediately began looking for a way to "fix" the problem. One of my first questions to my doctor was, "What do we do, and how fast can we do it'?" I thought I would conduct research, find the right physicians, immediately schedule my lumpectomy, followed by a mastectomy if needed, and then everything would be line--but cancer had a different plan for me.

When I went for my preoperative consultation prior to my scheduled lumpectomy, my doctor told me that the cancer had spread, or metastasized, to my bones. I proceeded with a lumpectomy, during which my surgeon and medical oncologist discovered the cancer had spread throughout my lymph nodes. After the operation. I received the official diagnosis that I was a stage IV breast cancer patient. I realized then that this was not a problem I could just simply eliminate: I had to learn how to live and cope with metastatic cancer.

When I was told that I had cancer, the first thing I did was call every doctor I knew to find the right one for me. I wanted to address this head-on--and last. Since my diagnosis was stage IV breast cancer, my physicians agreed that it was necessary to get me on a treatment designed to help stabilize my bones and manage my disease. They put me on the intravenous (IV) bisphosphonate Zometa (zoledronic acid) for the bone metastases and an aromatase inhibitor to help slow the progression of my cancer.

I think one of the most important aspects of cancer treatment is to try to stick diligently to your treatment regimen. I was surprised to learn that there are a lot of people who do not take their medication regularly. Since the time of my diagnosis, I have had my regular monthly infusion of Zometa--every 28 days. The great news is that a recent bone scan revealed no further damage.

Hearing the words "You have cancer: is life altering. Even when you are in shock, there are a million things running through your mind. My first thought was about my daughter. How would she react to the news? As a parent, I need to take care of her, not the other way around. Out of all of the challenges I have faced, by far the most difficult was figuring out how to tell my daughter about my cancer diagnosis. I try to stay strong and positive for her and, in turn, I know that my positive spirit helps her to cope.

I also am quite fortunate to have great friends. I am the type of person who does not like having to rely on others for anything. Yet, through this journey, I have learned that it sometimes is necessary to ask for help--and that it is okay. I have very close friends who live nearby, so there always is somebody to take me to a procedure, pick up some groceries, and, most important, provide me with emotional support. …

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