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New Resources for Women Facing Breast Cancer

THE COMPLETE IDIOT'S GUIDE TO LIVING WITH BREAST CANCER; By Sharon Sorenson and Suzanne Metzger; Alpha Books, paperback; 376 pages, $18.95

October 30, 2000

The "Idiot's Guide" series may seem an odd vehicle for discussion of a serious disease--and some people may cringe at the book's title alone. Yet, for anyone who reads past the cover, Sharon Sorenson and Suzanne Metzger, both of whom are breast cancer survivors, share what they've learned about the disease. While they write that their experiences left them with a "keen sense of empathy," some of their efforts to be contemporary and readable are either too cute--or downright tasteless. Take, for example, the headline "Skinned!" for a discussion of skin that takes on a gray tinge from chemotherapy. And I thought the phrase "Red Hot Mama" set the wrong tone for addressing side effects--including reddened skin--of radiation therapy. Nevertheless, the authors offer help for readers trying to weigh treatment options, find online resources or support groups, choose a good doctor and deal with recurrences.

Their book is smartly laid out in five major sections. They begin with information on screening tests, such as mammograms, and move on to how to handle a cancer diagnosis. They review treatments, aftereffects, sources of support, and finally, the aftermath, including reconstruction or prostheses, physical and emotional changes, and how to face death. They've included actual stories from survivors and a glossary of medical terms you'll need to know to talk with your doctors. This book isn't likely to supplant such reference mainstays as Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book, which is much more medically comprehensive. For example, it doesn't include information on some recent advances, such as the anti-cancer drug Herceptin. Still, it may be useful to patients seeking an overview of the subject that will help them as they try to weigh their options and communicate with their doctors.

*

ESSENTIAL EXERCISES FOR BREAST CANCER SURVIVORS

How to Live Stronger and Better.

By Amy Halverstadt

and Andrea Leonard

The Harvard Common Press

209 pages, $16.95

With a foreword by Peggy Fleming, the Olympic skating sweetheart who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998, and an introduction by the chief of breast surgery at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., this book immediately has an air of credibility.

Halverstadt, a certified health and fitness instructor, and Leonard, a personal trainer and founder of the nonprofit Breast Cancer Survivors Foundation, have put together more than 100 illustrated pages of basic exercises that can be done with little or no athletic equipment. The exercises, accompanied by clear descriptions and grouped by level of difficulty, are easy to follow. After surgery and other treatment, breast cancer patients need to find a sensible, safe exercise program they can maintain for a lifetime--but only after consulting with their doctor. With an approved program, sometimes supplemented by physical therapy, they can regain strength, reduce pain and improve their mental condition.

This book prudently lists warning signs for when a breast cancer survivor should stop exercise and talks about how various surgical options, including lumpectomy, radical mastectomy and removal of the lymph nodes under the arm, affect the ability to exercise. The authors also discuss precautions women can take to prevent or minimize the painful buildup of fluid in the arm called lymphedema, which can occur any time after removal of the lymph nodes. Those measures include moving the arm and contracting the muscles during exercise to help move fluid through the arm, as well as guarding against infection.

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