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Breast cancer survivors celebrate life

October 10, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

A brush with death brought them together, but Thursday night they celebrated life.

Women who had survived breast cancer smiled, laughed and shed a few tears Thursday night as they and their loved ones attended Y-ME of Cumberland Valley's annual survivors' dinner.

"Last year I was just finishing my chemotherapy," said Natalie Hadley, 30, of Falling Waters, W.Va.

Hadley said Y-ME, and especially fellow survivor Quincy Kohler, 33, of Hagerstown, proved invaluable during her treatment and recovery.

"She led me through the entire process," she said.

"It's a sisterhood."

Kohler said she was just returning the favor. She was diagnosed with cancer four years ago and called Y-ME for help.

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"I'm not doing anything different that somebody didn't do for me."

Kohler said she's met people and made friends through Y-ME that she never would have otherwise and said she feels she has the strength to handle cancer should it ever return.

"It's something that I know I can beat."

But it's certainly not easy.

"You can't hardly talk without crying for the first six months," said Sharon Bishop, 47, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va. Bishop had 37 radiation treatments to kill her cancer.

And the cancer can linger, in the mind, not just the body.

"There is a fear, every time you get an ache or a pain ... . It's like having a loaded gun to the back of your head and wondering when somebody's going to pull the trigger," Bishop said.

"You definitely appreciate life more."

"I didn't want to tell anyone," said Martha Hart, 53, of Hagerstown. "I wanted to try and work this through myself."

Hart said it took a lot for her to call Y-ME, but she's glad she did.

Lillie Shockney, of Reisterstown, Md., and author of "Breast Cancer Survivors' Club," spoke eloquently and with humor about surviving breast cancer, from dealing with fears of how the cancer will change a marriage to what happens when a fake breast falls out at an inopportune time.

"If you're feeling down then think about something funny," she said.

One of her fears was how her husband would react, she said.

"I was known as the woman with bodacious ta-tas," she said. But sex after her mastectomies if anything actually got better, she said.

"I just want to thank everybody who helped me along the way," said Jone Bowman, of Williamsport. Bowman recalled the invaluable help Y-ME provided, answering questions like "When did your hair fall out?"

"With Y-ME you are not alone," she said.

At Washington County Hospital, 114 women had breast cancer operations last year, said Joan Fell, executive director of Y-ME. Statewide, 10 woman are diagnosed a day, and an average of 2.5 die - the third highest death rate in the country.

Fell also said Washington County was second only to Baltimore in its breast cancer rate.

Nationwide, 186,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996.

"Nobody knows what causes breast cancer," she said. "The only thing you can do to protect yourself is early detection.

"I'd like to see them find a cure so we don't have to have any more of these dinners."

Y-ME offers peer counselors and support groups, and can arrange free mammograms.

The Y-ME hopeline is 1-301-791-5843 inside Washington County and 1-800-963 0101 elsewhere in the Tri-State area.

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