Fighting Breast Cancer in a Down Economy: A Safety Net Exists in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam

A note from Liz Johnson, Journal News editor:

Our first story in our October series on breast cancer awareness was written by Linda Lombroso and publishes today, Oct. 2, 2011. Rica Mendes, our Battling Breast Cancer blogger, will be leading conversations about different aspects of this story — and using it for other blog posts throughout the week. But after the jump, you’ll find the story in its entirety, should you like to see how it was presented our Sunday Life section in The Journal News.

When Clara Castillo learned she needed a double mastectomy last year, she worried that reconstructive surgery was out of the question. For Silvia Flores, there were always new excuses to delay going to the doctor after she found a lump in her breast.

The reason for both women’s anxiety? Neither had health insurance.

The good news, for both Castillo, right, and Flores — and families across the area facing similar dilemmas — is that there are free and low-cost services available locally for breast-cancer screening, treatment and support, including mammograms, rides to medical appointments and care from specialists affiliated with top hospitals in the Lower Hudson Valley.

After the jump, their stories.

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React Here: Facing the music – How do we handle breast cancer’s costs?

The reality is, that financial anxiety can throw a terrible wrench into recovery. After all, we fight and fight and fight to survive, but survive and, then, face what? Terrible financial sacrifices our families have made? Not being able to afford health or life insurance again? It’s bad enough that we have cancer, face losing our breasts, what we identify as our femininity, etc. How would you handle it?

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Fearing Breast Cancer’s Costs

Today in The Journal News, features writer Linda Lombroso begins our coverage of breast cancer awareness month with a look at battling breast cancer in today’s economy: Fearing Breast Cancer’s Costs. She’ll also have another in-depth look at this subject in tomorrow’s Life & Style section. You can read today’s story by following the link above, or clicking the “more” button, just below.

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Survivor Story: Betty Handelman of New City

Peter D. Kramer has this story from Sunday’s Journal News about Betty Handelman of New City:

In 1987, Betty Handelman’s gynecologist told her she had breast cancer.

“It was very sobering,” says Handelman, of New City. “I remember it vividly and will never forget it.”

She had been having regular mammograms, but the large lump her doctor felt that day hadn’t been there six months earlier. The physician ordered a new mammogram immediately.

Handelman was 49, married, with an 18-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. And she had stage 2 breast cancer.

“I didn’t know anyone who had ever been diagnosed with cancer and survived, any cancer,” she says. “That was not a good thing.”

Photos by Seth Harrison / The Journal News

She had surgery to remove her right breast and two lymph nodes, and went through six months of chemotherapy. She joined a support group.

“(I saw) other people who had been where I was at that time and they had hair,” she says. “That began to improve my outlook: If they could do it, I might make it, too. I turned the emotional corner.”

Before too long, she was running the meetings, evolving from someone who knew no one with the disease to a facilitator in a community of women sharing their difficult journeys.

Attitudes toward cancer were different then. The word was spoken in hushed tones behind closed doors. Now there are pink ribbons, pink wigs and three-day walkathons.

“It’s very vocal now, and they’ve raised awareness, all of which is a good thing because it demystifies the whole disease,” Handelman says.

She sought inspiration in the words of others.

“I used to collect quotations, pithy proverbs by really sharp people,” she says. “I had them in a shoe box and I would take them out and look at them. My husband said ‘Instead of doing it in a shoe box, why don’t you get a blank book and copy them in? Then you could peruse the pages of the book.’ So I made myself a volume of quotes.”

Day after day, she’d write out quotes — in her curling, meticulous penmanship. Its effect was immediate.

“The writing exercise, the reading of the quotes, the attention that I spent on that, when I was doing that I was not thinking of dying. And that gave birth to a mania. I have made hundreds of these books, and given them to patients and friends.”

Her favorite quote comes from cancer patient Jane Rodney: “There is life after cancer diagnosis. We don’t know how many days we have yet to live. But we didn’t know that before the diagnosis, either. The important difference now is that we recognize life’s fragility and the value of a second chance. We have a new lifetime partner: Hope.”

After the jump,  10 things Betty Handelman took away from her battle with breast-cancer.

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Meet LoHud’s Battling Breast Cancer Blogger: Rica Mendes of South Salem

A note from Journal News editor Liz Johnson:

You all can already see that Rica Mendes, a single mom from South Salem, will be leading this Battling Breast Cancer blog, and sharing her story all month.

But features writer Linda Lombroso will introduce readers to Rica in print, too, this Sunday. Here’s a sneak peek at Linda’s story — one that I’m sure will help you get to know (and love!) Rica.

Rica is so brave to share her story here with us, and we’re very happy to have her.

Photo by Xavier Mascareñas / The Journal News

The story, after the jump.

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