What Do 10 Breast Cancer Survivors Have in Common?

A couple of women in a breast cancer support group decided to tell their stories to a larger audience.

Breast Cancer 3-Day Atlanta 2007

Breast Cancer 3-Day Atlanta 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The book that came out of this decision was B.O.O.B.S.: A Bunch Of Outrageous Breast-Cancer Survivors Tell Their Stories of Courage, Hope and Healing.

They approached an editor to help them write their book.

Her name was Ann Kempner Fisher.

She asked them how many women they planned to include in this project.

When they answered three or four, maybe as many as five, she replied that they needed 10.

Already crafting the book in her head, Fisher said they needed enough to have a wide range of experiences so that anyone reading the book could find herself in the stories.

In the end, they had 10 – white, black and brown, young and old, first time and recurrence, family history and none, lumps discovered in self-exam and no symptoms until a suspicious mammogram, single and divorced, women with children, grandchildren and childless.

Though Fisher kept up with the women for several years after the year-long project that culminated in the 2004 book, she knows of only three who did not survive.

They all had recurrent breast cancer.

One, the last to be added to the group, had Stage 4 breast cancer that had recurred two years after Stage 3 breast cancer had been discovered.

Fisher handed her the published book the day before she died.

After the authors had been turned down by 80 potential publishers, one of Fisher’s clients introduced them to her publisher.

It was the publisher, Cumberland House Publishing, that suggested a signature addition to the stories.

Each story includes a one-page overview of the author’s cancer story and a photograph.

So, before you start each story, you know at what age they were diagnosed, what stage their cancer was at diagnosis, how it was found, if it recurred and what medical treatments they undertook.

Fisher’s excitement over this project stems from the fact that she saw these women, ten years ago, as a new breed of pro-active cancer patients.

They researched their medical options, hired and fired doctors, supported each other and traded tips and information.

They took on the cancer journey as though it were a project they had to manage.

Each survivor wrote her own story, but Fisher met with them both as a group and individually to help them craft it and to be sure the book was balanced and complete.

What Did the Survivors Learn?

Passive Smoking Isn’t As Harmless As We Once Thought.

Flight attendant Beverly Flowers never smoked.

But, for the first ten years she was a flight attendant, she was assigned to the smoking section of the 6 ½ hour flight to London from New York, where 52 passengers smoked non-stop.

In 1990, smoking was banned on U.S. flights of six hours or less, following the 1988 ban on flights of 2 hours or less.

In 1996, 80% of foreign, nonstop flights from U.S. cities were smoke-free.

Flowers was diagnosed on September 11, 1999, at the age of 45.

In 2004, the International Agency for Cancer concluded that passive smoking, or second-hand smoke, is carcinogenic.

In 2005, the California Environmental Protection Agency concluded that passive smoking increases the risk of breast cancer for young, pre-menopausal women, by 70%.

Although the U.S. Surgeon General agrees that passive smoking causes lung cancer, it is only suggestive, not conclusive, that there is also a causal relationship with breast cancer, as well as leukemia and brain tumors in children.

Friends Matter & Life Doesn’t Stop

Beth Butler, single, was used to being in charge.

Physically active, she loved skiing and parasailing.

With a family history of breast cancer – her mother, maternal aunts and maternal grandmother – she knew she had to be vigilant and had mammograms every two or three years.

She discovered the lump that would be diagnosed as Stage I, Grades 1 & 2.

“This was my first of many lessons in allowing others to help out.

“I finally learned to accept offered help graciously, and to understand that it also helped my friends because they were able to do something to show their concern for me.”

She continued horseback riding.

After radiation, mid-way through light chemotherapy, she went white water rafting.

Dogs Can Be Retrained

Seldon McCurrie, with four years of experience with medical software, knew where to do her research when an abnormal mammogram eventually led to her diagnosis of Stage 1c, Grade 2 breast cancer.

Used to her D-cup breasts, she decided on a bilateral (double) mastectomy because cancer was in both breasts and she had a family history of breast cancer – her mother and cousins.

Her brother-in-law tried to put it in perspective:

“You’ve got a great pair, but they aren’t worth dying over.”

Her experience two years before from a core biopsy that was easy until her dog body-slammed into her breast, made her realize she’d better prepare him for the mastectomy.

“I spent a few minutes each day training him to sit and stay if I said, ‘Owww.’”

On the day of surgery,

“…the nurse handed me a pen. I opened my hospital gown and wrote ‘yes’ on both breasts…I remembered writing ‘no’ on my mother’s right breast several years earlier.”

Good Morning, This Is God

Robin McILvain had no family history of breast cancer and no symptoms, until she had an abnormal mammogram.

Though she had two children, she had also started menstruating at 11, brought on by the trauma of her mother dying in a car accident the month before, on her birthday.

She had a hysterectomy at 32 and began 11 years of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

She was diagnosed with breast cancer at 50.

Robin’s favorite activity at The Wellness Community, the support group where the women in this book met, was Joke Fest, where she was often a winner.

Her favorite quote is this:

“Good morning, this is God”

“I will be handling all your problems today”

“I will not need your help… so, have a good day.”

The Wellness Community is an international, non-profit cancer support group that merged with Gilda’s Club in 2009 to become the Cancer Support Community. 

The women in this book met each other at Northside Hospital, in Atlanta, Georgia.

As it happens, my father died at Northside, where my mother had volunteered as a Pink Lady, delivering books to patient rooms and raising funds to improve the family waiting room for the ICU.

You can hear an interview with Fisher, by clicking below on the audio Interview with Ann Kempner Fisher, Editor, B.O.O.B.S.

Interview with Ann Kempner Fisher.


Buy your own copy of B.O.O.B.S. through amazon.com by clicking on the title, B.O.O.B.S.: A Bunch Of Outrageous Breast-Cancer Survivors Tell Their Stories of Courage, Hope & Healing.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers”



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