Living Through Breast Cancer: What a Harvard Doctor and Survivor Wants You to Know about Getting the Best Care While Preserving Your Self-Image


Winner of two prestigious American Medical Writers Association awards

A compassionate guide to surviving breast cancer from a doctor who has experienced it from both sides of the stethoscope

In addition to being a leading national breast cancer expert and a highly respected cancer surgeon, Dr. Carolyn Kaelin also is a breast cancer survivor. In Living Through Breast Cancer she draws upon her experiences as ...

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Winner of two prestigious American Medical Writers Association awards

A compassionate guide to surviving breast cancer from a doctor who has experienced it from both sides of the stethoscope

In addition to being a leading national breast cancer expert and a highly respected cancer surgeon, Dr. Carolyn Kaelin also is a breast cancer survivor. In Living Through Breast Cancer she draws upon her experiences as both doctor and patient to offer you a priceless source of understanding, support, and guidance on coping with and beating breast cancer.

Dr. Kaelin's warm, authoritative guidance will help you:

  • Understand your diagnosis and choose a care team
  • Identify your treatment options and make informed decisions
  • Look and feel your best during and after treatment
  • Maintain good health after breast cancer
  • Lower your chances of a recurrence of breast cancer
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780071478809
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
  • Publication date: 8/9/2006
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 782,022
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 10.92 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Carolyn M. Kaelin, M.D., M.P.H., FACS, is the director of the Comprehensive Breast Health Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital, a surgical oncologist at Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and an assistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School. She is a recipient of the prestigious Mary Horrigan Connor Award for Outstanding Contributions to Women's Health.

Francesca Coltrera is a medical writer who has covered women's health for well over a decade. She is a frequent contributor to Harvard Health Publications and has written for Redbook, Self, and the Boston Herald.

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Interviews & Essays

From Carolyn M. Kaelin, M.D., M.P.H., author of Living Through Breast Cancer: What a Harvard Doctor Wants You to Know about Getting the Best Care While Preserving Your Self-Image, with Francesca Coltrera

At 42, Carolyn Kaelin, M.D., M.P.H., was a wife, a mother, a highly respected breast cancer surgeon, and the director of the Comprehensive Breast Health Center at Brigham & Women's Hospital, a major teaching hospital at Harvard Medical School. In July of 2003, she was training for the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC), a 190-mile bike ride across Massachusetts that raises funds for cancer research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. While removing her cycling jersey following a short training ride on a hot summer Sunday less than 2 weeks before the PMC, Dr. Kaelin took the first step toward becoming a breast cancer survivor -- she noticed a very tiny change in the skin of her breast, a change that doctors call skin retraction. This subtle dimpling indicated that cancerous cells lay beneath and were tugging on one of the supporting ligaments that bridge the skin and chest wall. Within days, Dr. Kaelin had a diagnosis in hand and over the next year and a half she had undergone numerous surgeries to remove the cancer and reconstruct her breast as well as months of chemotherapy. Despite all of this, she rode in the Pan-Mass Challenge that year and has done so in subsequent years, too. Herewith, her thoughts on five ways in which her story stands as a well-timed reminder that breast cancer awareness serves all of us well, whether or not we develop breast cancer.

Be aware of the importance of regular screening.
In line with American Cancer Society guidelines, I recommend clinical breast exams roughly every three years for women in their 20s and 30s. Starting at age 40-or younger if your physician determines you're at high risk for breast cancer -- schedule yearly mammograms and clinical breast exams. I believe monthly breast-self exams have a place in screening for all women. Unless there is a family history of breast cancer, women under 40 do not have annual mammograms. Thus, a self-exam may find a cancer that would otherwise go undetected. Some of the women I've cared for noticed a suspicious change in their breasts that appeared between mammograms. Ask your health care provider to show you how to examine your breasts or contact the American Cancer Society (1-800-ACS-2345 or for information.

Be aware of the signs of breast cancer.
Relax. Most of the changes women notice when checking their breasts do not turn out to be cancer. Yet getting worrisome changes checked quickly is important. In my case, I noticed a suspicious change on the skin of my breast on a Sunday and had diagnostic tests done the very next day. That meant I could receive excellent care as quickly as possible. Possible signs of breast cancer commonly include a lump or thickening. Less common are a dimpled spot where skin pulls in, a persistent reddened spot or region on the skin, or changes in the nipple, such as a newly inverted nipple, scaliness, or discharge.

Be aware of newer options for diagnosing breast cancer.
Breast cancer is never diagnosed solely through imaging tests, such as mammography and ultrasound. One or more biopsy techniques must also be performed. A core needle biopsy removes a small sample of breast tissue through a hollow needle. The cells are examined under a microscope for signs of cancer by a specially trained doctor called a pathologist. Since the early 1990s, core needle biopsy guided by ultrasound or mammography has become the premier way to evaluate breast abnormalities seen through imaging studies, even if they can not be easily felt by hand. Core needle biopsy preserves the option, when appropriate, of choosing chemotherapy before surgery to shrink a tumor enough to allow a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy, if a woman wishes. Just as importantly, 75-85% of abnormalities found through imaging tests prove to be benign, so a core needle biopsy spares a woman unnecessary surgery plus the resulting scar and possible change in breast shape.

Be aware of the difference a strong cancer care team can make from the earliest days of diagnosis.
Gathering second opinions, including opinions on pathology (that is, the microscopic examination of breast cancer cells and tissue) and breast imaging studies, is a good idea. Have pathology slides reviewed by a specialist in breast pathology at the hospital where you're being treated or have them sent elsewhere for evaluation. Subtle or not so subtle interpretations by an experienced eye may affect treatment. Is another surgery needed? Will chemotherapy be helpful? Likewise, find a radiologist who specializes in breast imaging to look at the imaging studies. Occasionally, everyone focuses on an obvious cancer and overlooks a tiny cancer elsewhere in that breast or on the other breast. Choose your other cancer care team members knowing that this is a long-term relationship -- you might return to see them in the future. Meet with several doctors, if possible, and try to choose people you can trust and talk to and who listen. They should keep up with ever-changing breast cancer literature and take time to discuss how gold standard research and new studies apply to you.

Be aware of clinical trials.
New treatments are routinely tested in clinical trials during which patients receive standard therapy considered most effective or a therapy being tested to see if it offers advantages, such as improved survival or fewer side effects. Talk to your cancer care team about whether there are any appropriate trials that you might consider joining and discuss possible advantages and drawbacks. You also can check (888-346-3656) for national information on current clinical trials.

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2005

    Family members should read this too!

    Breast cancer is traumatic for all family members, especially when it's your only sibling and sister who has just been diagnosed. This book has been invaluable as my entire family goes through this process together. Each chapter is helping us help her ask the doctors the pertinent questions and better understand and cope with what is coming next. It is written in a way that it is easily understandable and doesn't scare off the reader. It is very helpful for family members who are trying to understand what is involved and struggling with how to help. We have a long road ahead of us, but this book will guide us through the journey. I highly recommend it for breast cancer patients and family members alike.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2005


    This is the best book I have read on breast cancer because it addresses the biology of breast cancer with the reality of the symptoms. It is written by a physician who knows what it is like to lose every single eyelash, and can tell you not only why you lost it, but how to keep on smiling without it. This book has it all - even a whole chapter on the effects of aggressive chemotherapy on cognitive skills and how to cope. When I read the tip 'jot down where you parked your car', I knew this was THE book for me - I had already been doing this. If there is only one book you are going to read on breast cancer, this is the one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2005

    Wonderful Resource for Breast Cancer Information

    Most books about breast cancer are either written from the point of view of a doctor or of a patient. This wonderful book comes from the education and experience of a doctor and from the experience of a patient. In knowing both sides, Dr. Kaelin is able to share information in a way that I have not seen in any book before. I am very thankful that she has provided this valuable resource for those who are just beginning the journey of dealing with breast cancer and for those, like me, who have been on this road for quite awhile. Even after 8 yrs of being cancer-free, I have found quite a bit of very useful information in Dr. Kaelin's book. This is a must-have book for every patient diagnosed with breast cancer.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2005

    Up to date, informative and easy to read

    Dr Kaelin brings to the pages of this book, the true story of a breast cancer specialist dealing with breast cancer herself. This isn't a story of her journey, it's an information packed 'must have' for someone going through this journey, a caregive of a loved one, or even a veteren of the disease. Unanswered questions, and new information that wasn't available even 5 years ago keep long term survivors updated with the new approaches to the disease. She presents this information in a no nonsense way, but also with a compassion of one who has been there. It isn't scary to read, for the newly diagnosed, and tells in laymans terms every aspect of breast cancer that one could think of. Thank you Dr Kaelin for writing such a wonderful much needed reference book for those confronted with this disease. As a breast cancer survivor, and one that already knows a lot about the disease, I still found the information facinating to read, and learned things that I never knew before. A great read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2005


    Dr. Kaelin's book is an outstanding read because she not only includes the important medical information, but she also includes the every day practical things like how to choose the right clothing after a mastectomy, etc. Even though I'm two years in to metastatic breast cancer, I found reading Dr. Kaelin's book encouraging and helpful. Well done!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2005

    A Must Read for Newly Diagnosed Patients

    This book is extremely important because Dr. Kaelin approaches breast cancer both as a highly respected medical professional and as a patient herself. I have just finished eight months of treatment and I know first hand how hard it is to integrate the medical profession information with the emotional side of things. Dr. Kaelin has bridged that gap for all of us. I found answers to every single question that arose for me well documented in this book and easy to find too - I only wish it was published six months earlier!

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