"I realized I couldn't do it alone."
—Sandi Saltzman, 51
When Sandi, a self-described "tremendous multitasker," was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma in 2000 (a type of breast cancer that starts in the milk ducts) she told her daughters, who were then 14, 16, and 18, that breast cancer wasn't a big deal. "I didn't want to worry them," says the elementary school reading specialist from Dix Hills, New York. But the tactic backfired on her. While Sandi was recovering from her lumpectomy and then undergoing six months of debilitating chemotherapy, her daughters didn't understand why their mother wasn't up to taking them to the mall, doing the usual carpool, or cooking dinner. "One even said, 'What did you do all day?' when she found me sitting on the couch, just as I had been when she left for school that morning," says Sandi. "At the time I felt that my daughters were being insensitive, but I realize now that I had set them up. I think they were also scared of losing me, and they thought that if they didn't treat me with kid gloves, everything would be normal."Biggest Hurdle
Asking for a little help. "It was tough for me to request assistance, even from my friends who called constantly. I had always been so self-sufficient. But toward the end of my chemo, when I couldn't fake it anymore, I realized that it's okay to feel vulnerable and that people really want to do things for you," says Sandi. "I would have gotten more understanding from my kids if I had been more open about what I was going through."Advice to Others
Perform self-exams regularly. Sandi found the abnormal lump in her breast soon after her annual mammogram came back clean. Her mother also had breast cancer that was detected by a self-exam. "I hound my daughters to check themselves monthly. I also urge them to see their gynecologists every six months. If caught early, your chances of surviving cancer are so much better."Life Goes On
Sandi, who is still cancer free after six years, is back to her multitasking ways. And her middle daughter, Rachel, a senior in college, spends her free time working on breast cancer fundraisers. "Rachel recently spearheaded an event for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation that raised $32,000," Sandi says proudly.