Saturday, May 1, 2004

Breast cancer patients network

By Melinda Zempher
Enquirer contributor

Connie Hudson, cancer survivor, talks to a class at Turpin High School about the importance of breast cancer awareness.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/MICHAEL E. KEATING
WEST CHESTER TWP. - When Sandy Howard of West Chester was diagnosed with breast cancer last October, her first reactions were panic and fear.

Then she discovered that five other women in her Lakota Hills neighborhood have breast cancer, too, all living within 12 houses of one another.

What has evolved from backyard chats and encounters while walking the dog are friendships and a network of women who discuss everything imaginable about breast cancer - from possible causes, to the best doctors, to the latest on traditional and alternative treatments.

What they've decided is that there is not one common cause for their cancers. They suspect a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors.

Robert Indian, chief of chronic disease and behavior epidemiology with the Ohio Department of Health, said that while six women with breast cancer living within 12 houses of each other sounds suspicious, the 10-year range in cancer onset for these women indicates unfortunate coincidence.

Three of the four Lakota Hills women interviewed smoked. One never did.

None of the women was more than 20 pounds overweight. And their ages at onset ranged from 44 to 55 years old. They each have lived in their homes from nine to 26 years consecutively.

Howard, 44, of Butterfly Way, thought she was doing everything right. She ate healthily, breast-fed her two children when they were infants and stayed in shape with Jazzercise. When her annual mammogram showed a pinhole-sized section of white last September, she had one lumpectomy, then another. When her biopsy tested positive for cancer, she had a mastectomy.

"I was floored," Howard said. "But I needed my peace of mind. In the long run, that was what I wanted."

Her new friends showed her their scars and reconstructed breasts and had other friends with breast cancer call to reassure her. By the time she had surgery in December, she felt informed and calm. Within six weeks, she was back to modified Jazzercise, and now awaits her second breast reconstruction surgery in August.

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