Harvard Women's Health Watch

On becoming a breast cancer survivor

Getting through treatment is only the beginning.

The impact of breast cancer is as individual as the women who survive it. It can be an arduous though temporary challenge or an experience so transformative that it divides existence into two parts — before and after.

Perry Colmore has experienced the disease both ways. When she was 45, she was diagnosed with lobular carcinoma in situ, a noninvasive disease that signals an elevated risk for invasive breast cancer. Given the choice of preventive double mastectomy or simply removing the small tumor, she opted for a lumpectomy. "I breezed right along, assuming I'd be among the 80% who don't have a recurrence," she says.

And so she was — for seven years. Then a lump in her other breast turned out to be an invasive cancer that had already reached 12 lymph nodes. She underwent a mastectomy followed by radiation and chemotherapy.

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