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AFTER DIAGNOSIS, SURVIVORS' STORIES EASE THE SHOCK

Halfway into the pregnancy with her third child, Patty Murray expected changes in her body.

But not the golf-ball-sized lump she found under her left arm one autumn day four years ago. Even though she was only 35 at the time, a previous scare with fibrocystic lumps had prompted her to be vigilant about breast self-examination.

However, she knew that the underarm lump was more than sore muscles from the gardening she'd just finished at her Snyder home. And she knew it wasn't a normal pregnancy symptom.

"I knew it was bad," said Murray, an articulate woman whose blue eyes sparkle. "I just knew."

It was breast cancer.

And it was growing quickly, fueled by the hormones produced during pregnancy.

"All I could think was that if I had cancer, I was a goner," said Murray, who is married to Jack Murray and mother to Molly, 9, Jack, 6, and Patrick, 3. Though Murray had chemotherapy during the last few months of her pregnancy, Patrick was born healthy and remains a healthy youngster.

"I needed to connect with somebody who had been down the same road," said Murray, "but my doctors put me in touch with nobody.

"When I left the clinic, the radiologist handed me my films in a manila envelope and said I'd have to find a surgeon," said Murray, a graduate of the University at Buffalo School of Law. "She suggested looking in the Yellow Pages."

Four years later -- after surgery, after chemotherapy, after radiation -- she said she's had time to reflect on the whole experience. While she likes her doctors and is extremely satisfied with her medical care, what she now realizes is that physicians can't be expected to provide emotional support.

What she needed from the first moment, Murray said, was to hear the voices of women who had gone through treatment and who could affirm and support her decisions.

To ensure that others will get that message when they need it (estimates are that 175,000 women in this country were diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999), Murray participated in a just-released video called "Initial Discovery and Diagnosis," the first in a planned series of 12 videos in which women candidly discuss their experiences and talk about what enabled them to cope.

This locally produced, grassroots project, called Woman to Woman, was initiated a few years ago by Dr. Lucie A. DiMaggio, an internist who was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 37.

With a world of information at her fingertips, DiMaggio felt overwhelmed by the variety of options and the disagreements among doctors about what she should do.

"I thought I knew a lot," said DiMaggio, "but nothing about cancer care is written in stone. I was stunned when I left the office, wondering where to go, how to get information."

At first, she said, she went into a research mode to find the best treatment protocol, "but then emotional issues flooded in, like I'm young and I'm not supposed to get cancer," she said.

At that point, what she wanted wasn't hard facts, but consolation.

"Talking to other women who had been through this was probably the most beneficial aspect of my research, so to speak," she said.

That's when she decided that newly diagnosed women could benefit from watching a video of cancer survivors candidly talking about their experiences.

"I thought what was needed was women telling their stories and how they had gotten on with life," DiMaggio said.

She enlisted the help of Miriam C. Dow, a retired Nichols School English teacher, and Gail Greenberger, a former early childhood teacher, both cancer survivors.

And they consulted Christine Bylewski, a clinical social worker with Cancer Counseling Service, who advised them what concerns she hears most often: How do I tell my family? What do I do when I feel as if I'm going crazy? Am I going to survive?

"What the videos show is that the women have gone to a new normalcy," said Bylewski. "You don't go back to your old life, but there is life after cancer and it's a good life."

The effort was supported by grants and individual contributions that total $165,447. Production was overseen by Whitney Dow of Feral Films (Miriam Dow's son) who is a documentary filmmaker.

Though the video has been pronounced sound by doctors and social workers, it doesn't offer medical advice. Rather, it assures women that support is available and that their feelings -- terror, guilt, anxiety -- are normal.

Equally clear is that individuals respond in their own way. For example, after the clip of one woman saying: "I'm a much bigger baby than I thought," a second woman says: "We're stronger than we realize."

The video, kept to under 15 minutes so the information can be more easily absorbed, has already made an impact. Before it was in its final form, Greenberger passed along a copy to a woman who had been paralyzed into inaction by fear of chemotherapy. After viewing the video, she decided to undergo treatment, Greenberger said. Also, the women have spoken to local groups including the Breast Cancer Network and Bosom Buddies and they expect the video to be distributed nationwide.

So far, 5,000 copies of the first video have been produced with plans to sell them and distribute them to doctor's offices, clinics and libraries. The production of the next 11 is awaiting funding, Dow said. Topics include: Surgical Choices, Mastectomy, Choices for Reconstruction, Looking Your Best: Dressing After Surgery, Chemotherapy, Hormone Treatment, Radiation Therapy, Recurrence, Family Support, Intimacy and A Better Life After Breast Cancer.

Dow said the project has made her feel stronger than she did after her mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

"I feel that I know something," she said. "I've got something to tell people. When I hear that someone has been diagnosed, I call them up. We're just a band of warriors now."

Woman to Woman tapes ($15 each) can be ordered by calling (877) 859-6626. There is a Web site at www.womantowomanvideos.org.

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