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The Truth About Breast Cancer

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Illustrations by Scott Bakal

Real Wisdom from Real Survivors. Five women share sage advice for dealing with a diagnosis.

"Open your heart to help."

"I always did things for other people and took pride in never needing assistance myself," says Mia Koslow, 41, of Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Then neighbors gave her an Excel spreadsheet schedule of dinners they planned to deliver during the weeks of her chemo treatments in 2006. "It took me a while to acknowledge that I—not to mention my husband and kids—could use a hand," Mia says. "It became easier once I thought about how much pleasure comes from aiding others." Lotsahelpinghands.com lets you set up your own support community or one for a friend in need.

"Let movement heal you."

Annette Ramke, 41, of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, underwent chemotherapy in 2008. "I got so caught up in being a busy mom and trying to make life normal that I completely neglected exercise." Then one day she decided to take a walk around the block, and it marked a turnaround. She realized, "Wow, I feel so much better!" Even during chemo, she found regular walking, yoga and Pilates helped bolster her energy. "Now staying active helps me feel confident, strong and back in control of my body," Annette says. Consider checking out Strength & Courage: Exercises for Breast Cancer Survivors ($20, strengthandcourage.net) or Yoga for Breast Cancer ($20, lbbc.org).

"Enlist a listener."

"The amount of info you have to process during a doctor's visit is overwhelming, especially when your feelings are in such high gear," recalls Cindy Sharkey, 43, of High Bridge, New Jersey, who was diagnosed in 2009. She found having her husband along was invaluable when it came to remembering things, although she jokes: "It probably would have been helpful to have even a third set of ears!" Keep notes and copies of all your lab results.

"Take care when doing research."

The first thing Susan Otto, 46, of Fishers, Indiana, did after learning in 2012 that the lump she found in her breast was cancerous was spend the day on the Internet surfing for more information. "By that night I was in tears because of all the terrifying and emotional things I'd read," she says. "It turns out that most of what I was reading didn't even pertain to me. Now I know better—I go to my oncologist when I have questions."

"Share your experience."

"I sent extensive e-mails about what I was going through to all my family and friends on a regular basis," says Mara B. Langer, 45, of San Mateo, California, who was diagnosed nine years ago. "They were really therapeutic. Plus they spared me from having to repeat details over and over again, while making it easier for people to feel open and comfortable talking to me about it all." Create a group e-mail list or start your own blog at blogger.com or wordpress.com.

Originally published in the October 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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