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Survivor warns teens of breast cancer risks

March 19, 2002|BY ANDREA ROWLAND

Editor's Note: This is the second in a week-long series running during National Women's History Month recognizing women in the Tri-State area who make a difference in their communities.

WILLIAMSPORT - Kathy Brody's husband calls her strong-willed. It's an attribute that may have saved her life.

Brody, 43, of Williamsport, was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer on March 19, 1996. She had no family history of breast cancer and hadn't been feeling ill when she discovered the lump on her neck, she said.

But tests showed that the cancer had spread across her chest and to her left shoulder, underarm and neck. Her prognosis was grim, Brody said.

"There was a time when I didn't think I'd live to see my son go to high school. Now he's graduating," she said. "When I was diagnosed I decided I was going to do everything possible to survive. Being strong-willed has gotten me this far - I'm alive."

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Brody's cancer is considered "controlled," she said.

She underwent high-dose chemotherapy, an experimental bone marrow transplant and radiation treatments. She was so sick for two years that she didn't make it to breast cancer support group meetings until spring 1997, she said.

That's when she found the Hagerstown chapter of the Y-Me National Breast Cancer Organization - the group that gave her the understanding only fellow breast cancer survivors could, and sparked her passion for educating others about the deadly disease.

Brody has channeled the determination she showed while fighting for her life into a Y-Me program geared toward educating teenagers about breast cancer, she said.

The Y-Me Breast Cancer Teen Awareness and Education program, which was launched in 2000, encourages teenage girls to develop a lifelong habit of doing breast self-exams, Brody said.

"They're going to know their bodies far better than anybody else - even a doctor who examines them once a year - so if they feel something different when they get older, they'll know it," she said. "That can save their lives."

Brody speaks to teenagers at area schools, Girl Scout troops and civic group meetings, telling them about her own experience with breast cancer, giving them statistics about and warning signs of the disease, showing them a breast cancer video and answering their questions.

Brody also discusses breast cancer with adult women.

"You have to be a real proponent for yourself," she said. "You have to do the best you can to control your disease and your destiny."

To women diagnosed with the disease she stresses the importance of being educated about breast cancer, keeping a diary of test results and appointments and treatments, asking doctors many questions, seeking second and third opinions, clearing up questions about insurance coverage right away, and accepting support from friends and family.

The local Y-Me chapter hopes to present the teen breast cancer program in every high school in Washington County, Brody said.

"Everybody tells me how much they learn from it. I feel like I'm getting across to the people I talk to," Brody said. "Hopefully, I have made a difference."

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