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Living with breast cancer
Campus colleagues share their personal stories

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs

04 OCTOBER 00 | When Journalism Professor Bill Drummond looks out over each new class, he counts how many women are left-handed. Usually it's one in eight - about the same number that will be stricken with breast cancer at some point in their lives, he sadly calculates.

"It's a statistic that has burrowed into my brain," said Drummond, whose wife has battled breast cancer for the last three years. "Because of what we've gone through, I can't help thinking about it."

This year alone, 182,800 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, according to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Of those women, 40,800 will die. It is the leading cause of death among women ages 40-59.

Many women think they're safe if there's no history of the disease in their family. They're wrong. Only five to 10 percent of breast cancers are linked to hereditary causes. The only proven and significant risk factors are being female and getting older, a demographic under which virtually every woman falls.

But with early detection, women with breast cancer have a five-year survival rate of more than 95 percent. Self-breast examinations and regular mammograms and clinical breast exams are crucial weapons in the war against this devastating illness.

To draw attention to this disease, October has been designated National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. On campus, the Breast Health Work Group, coordinated by Health*Matters, has organized an educational program, self-care skills and advocacy for faculty, staff and students. The month's motto: "Early Detection: Your Best Protection."

Breast cancer is a worldwide issue affecting millions, but it hits close to home as well, afflicting many of our colleagues right here on campus. Following are a few of their stories:

Peg Berdahl

When Peg Berdahl, wife of the chancellor, was first diagnosed with lobular carcinoma in-situ, a condition that can develop into breast cancer, her doctor told her she could have a double mastectomy or keep an eye on it.

"These were two radically different options," she recalled. "I chose to keep an eye on it."

And for two years, things seemed to be going OK. Her mammograms came back normal, and she was feeling great.

But by the third year, the news was not so good. After a series of tests, it was determined she had breast cancer. The cancer cells were estrogen-sensitive, meaning the hormone binds to these cells, stimulating them to grow and divide. Because of an early hysterectomy, Berdahl had been on hormone replacement therapy for nearly 16 years, which may have exacerbated the cancer's development.

"This was really hard to accept, especially since I led a healthy lifestyle, including a low-fat, vegetarian diet and plenty of exercise," said Berdahl. "The randomness of the disease is difficult to comprehend."

During 11 hours of surgery, she underwent a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction. She went on the drug Tamoxifen, an effective hormonal therapy for patients with estrogen-sensitive cancer cells.

However, tests have shown the drug can have a reverse effect and may encourage cancer growth after five years of use. Berdahl is rapidly approaching that deadline.

"I'm afraid to let go of something that may be keeping the cancer in check," she said. "I thought I'd be OK, but as the date approaches, I'm getting concerned."

Her husband, whom she met at age six in Sunday School in Sioux Falls, S.D., was by her side through the whole process. As a result of the cancer, she and the chancellor, despite his busy schedule, made a promise to spend more time together.

Berdahl has been cancer-free for five years and has learned a lot, she says. "You have to be your own advocate. I dug in and learned all I could."

She has had the unfortunate opportunity to share this knowledge with her daughter Daphne, a 35-year-old mother of two, who was diagnosed last December. After a mastectomy, and participation in a clinical trial that included ten rounds of chemotherapy, Daphne is on the mend.

But the family's anxieties remain. "Whenever we have an ache or pain, or something doesn't seem quite right, there's always a little fear," she said. "But we don't let it take over our lives."

Bill Drummond

Drummond is married to KTVU reporter Faith Fancher, a woman accustomed to being in the public eye. So her choice to go public with her 1997 breast cancer diagnosis - a very private issue for most- was no surprise.

The whole Bay Area heard her story when a half-hour TV special on her ordeal was aired, complete with scenes of her mammography and lumpectomy.

While Fancher had access to the best care, an understanding workplace and a large support network of friends and family, she knew many women with breast cancer weren't so fortunate.

It is these women who Fancher wanted to help after getting back on her feet. Her "Friends of Faith Foundation" has raised several hundred thousand dollars to help women who lack the means to take care of themselves.

Creating the foundation was an important part of Fancher's recovery, said Drummond.

Fancher was a busy and popular reporter when her ductile carcinoma in-situ was diagnosed. Though Drummond had reservations about the mastectomy that doctors recommended, Fancher agreed with them and had her left breast removed and reconstructed.

After the initial diagnosis, Drummond felt the urge to run away from the problem, and he and Fancher went to Mexico. But they eventually returned to face the ordeal ahead.

Drummond spoke out for the first time during Fancher's TV special, saying he felt like his wife was slipping away from him and that doctors were making the calls about what would happen. But he trusted Fancher's decisions.

His trust was tested even more when after two cancer-free years, another malignant lump was found last spring. This time, Fancher underwent chemotherapy and radiation.

She now is ready to return to work. Drummond worries about the emotional and physical strain of her job, but understands why she wants to do it. "When you go through something like this, you want to get back to the way life was before the disease hit."

Drummond says he and Fancher now try to "live more in the moment," enjoying the little things in life, like sitting quietly together with their cat.

"Once you contemplate that you may never be able to do it again," he said, "these times together become much more special."

Phyllis Hoffman

Thanks to chemotherapy, Phyllis Hoffman's head is now as bald as Jesse Ventura's, which delights her 10-year-old daughter to no end.

"She loves to run her hands over the smooth skin," chuckles Hoffman, director of the Center for Organizational Effectiveness. "And when I talked about the possibility of a mastectomy, she said îif you have one, then you'll look just like me.'"

Hoffman has kept her daughter in the loop since being diagnosed with cancer this past spring. The youngster's refreshing innocence helps balance the harsh realities of Hoffman's life.

For years, Hoffman had annual mammograms and all have been clear. But this spring, a lump was discovered during a regular physical exam.While a follow-up mammogram showed nothing out of the ordinary, a subsequent ultrasound and biopsy revealed an invasive ductile carcinoma.

"I did a crash course on breast cancer, utilizing every resource I could get my hands on," said Hoffman. "I had no idea there were so many kinds of breast cancer and treatment options."

Based on her research and the advice of doctors, she chose a lumpectomy. During surgery, another lump was discovered, and a biopsy showed cancer cells in her lymph system.

To handle these developments, she had a second lumpectomy plus radiation and chemotherapy, the latter causing vomiting, fatigue and hair loss. "I have to remind myself that this is medicine, not poison," she said of the treatments.

Hoffman continues to work as her energy permits. Her bosses and staff have been very supportive and understanding, she says, allowing her to focus on recovery.

This experience has changed her approach to life, said Hoffman, both spiritually and intellectually. "My goal," she said, "is to get through this with as much grace as possible."

Bonnie Wade

Bonnie Wade's diagnosis of breast cancer couldn't have come at a worse time. It was 15 years ago and, at 42, she had just become head of the College of Letters and Science's music department and was the department's only female ladder-ranked faculty.

"I had so much at stake," said Wade. "It was such a 'female' problem, and I was concerned how the male faculty would react."

She was pleasantly surprised by her colleagues' supportiveness during her ordeal, she said.

Wade credits her survival to early detection, though it took nearly three months for her to get to a doctor after discovering a lump through a self exam.

"I explained it away as scar tissue," said Wade, whose sister bugged her constantly to get the lump checked out. "It's amazing how strong my state of denial was."

Though her mammogram came back normal, a biopsy confirmed breast cancer, and Wade decided to have a mastectomy.

"I wanted to have it taken away from my body," said Wade. "If not, I would have lived in constant fear."

Wade had the surgery in early 1984, before reconstruction was a viable option. Though the disease has been behind her for some time now, she is reminded daily of its impact on a daily basis.

"Every time I get dressed, it all comes back," said Wade. "But I've never regretted what I did."

Life with only one breast has reduced her vanity, she says, and has changed the pattern of her personal life. But, says Wade, these have not been compelling enough reasons to have reconstruction surgery.

Over the years, she has counseled many women on breast cancer and early detection. Those who don't do breast exams, are "committing suicide," she says emphatically. "It's so simple and easy."

Though a 15-year survivor, Wade still sees a nurse practitioner twice each year and her surgeon once a year.

"I get so nervous before my appointments, but my sister's continuing harassment keeps me going." Wade said with a smile. "She even drives me to the doctors herself, just to make sure."

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