The breast-cancer fight

Stories from some of these famous survivors can help fight the disease, show support

ANGELINA JOLIE, pictured here at last year’s London premiere of ‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,’ is one of the breast-cancer survivors interviewed in the book. (photo credit: REUTERS/PETER NICHOLLS)
ANGELINA JOLIE, pictured here at last year’s London premiere of ‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,’ is one of the breast-cancer survivors interviewed in the book.
Beat Breast Cancer Like a Boss: 30 Powerful Stories is a book of interviews with actresses, musicians, athletes, politicians, journalists, doctors and entrepreneurs – including singer Sheryl Crow, former US Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, CNN correspondent Athena Jones and Dr. Kimberly Allison, director of breast pathology at Stanford University Medical Center – that delves deep into how high-profile women faced a formidable disease and put it in its place.
The author, a foreign affairs producer at PBS NewsHour, had a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy after testing positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation at age 20. She went on to become an award-winning TV producer and reporter.
“My mastectomy took place several years before women like Angelina Jolie and Christina Applegate went public with their experiences, putting beautiful, famous faces on the BRCA gene and making it much easier for me to explain what I had,” Rogin writes.
“I felt a sense of camaraderie with these famous women. They went through what I did! They felt the same things I felt! Maybe they asked themselves the same questions I had, too. My experience has led me to appreciate that when you’re going through a trial, community matters.” Although the average person undergoing treatment for breast cancer doesn’t have to worry about paparazzi at the hospital, but does have to worry about finances – unlike the women profiled in the book – Rogin believes their stories “will help you get through your own experience, whether you’re fighting the disease yourself, taking care of someone who is, or you just want to be a good support system for someone you care about.” Given the statistics on breast cancer, that description covers just about everyone. In the United States, one in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. The American Cancer Society estimates there are now more than 3.5 million American breast-cancer survivors. Israel sees about 4,500 breast-cancer diagnoses annually.
Rogin clarifies that the word “beat” in her book’s title is not necessarily synonymous with long-term remission. It means not allowing breast cancer to “prevent you from being you, no matter what stage of treatment or recovery you’re in. To keep living your life, even if you have to make some changes.” The women in this book don’t waste time on platitudes. They get down to nitty-gritty details that matter, and some do it with humor.
Actress and writer Jill Kargman (her 2007 book Momzillas inspired the series Odd Mom Out), says this about post-mastectomy painkillers: “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with drugs. But I was only on Tylenol because I really have a bad reaction to opioids. The last time I was prescribed them, I didn’t lay cable for eight days. I don’t know how America’s addicted to it. They must be full of poo.”
THE DECISION of how and when to tell children, employers and others about a breast-cancer diagnosis differs depending on circumstances and preferences.
Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz shielded her four- and nine-year-olds from information they were too young to digest. “What I did share with them was that... I was having surgery to take care of something in my breast, and that I was going to be OK. But I didn’t share them with them that it was cancer until after I was all done.” Sopranos star Edie Falco tried to keep her treatments quiet, but she was “outed” in the celebrity gossip column Page Six. “It seemed like such an egregious affront in a way. I started getting phone calls and emails and people stopping me on the street. And I wasn’t quite ready,” Falco recalls.
Celebrity or not, anyone can learn something valuable from the women quoted in Beat Breast Cancer Like a Boss – whether it’s good decisions they made, bad ones they learned from, or practical advice on getting through fear and pain.
FOX News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin wrote a list of practical advice that only someone in the know could offer, such as: “Get your teeth cleaned before you start because you can’t get them cleaned during chemo and you tend to get mouth sores – you can minimize these by brushing your teeth 3-5 times a day and rinsing with a mild mouthwash.” UCLA gymnastics team coach Valorie Kondos Field, diagnosed in 2015, sensed a heavenly voice instructing her not to be anxious but to be grateful. She took it to heart, for example, choosing to refer to her treatments as her “chemo spa,” reasoning that “a spa is some place you go to get better.” Sally Oren, active in the Israeli humanitarian aid NGO IsraAID and Hadassah International Israel, was diagnosed during then-husband Michael’s tenure as Israeli ambassador to the United States. She found strength in an informal multinational support group of women from the Washington diplomatic community – including a few from countries hostile to Israel.
“We’re still in touch with one another, because we had this special bond,” Oren writes.
Rogin’s book will make readers feel a special bond with the women who share their stories in its pages, and will be a welcome source of information and comfort. 
The writer wrote for The Record in New Jersey for over a decade, has been freelancing for secular and Jewish publications since 1984 and is a staff writer for ISRAEL21c.
Compiled and edited by Ali Rogin
Diversion Books
256 pages; $17.99