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P&S Journal

P&S Journal: Spring 1997, Vol.17, No.2
The Human Portrait of Breast Cancer
Kay Willis

Kay Willis When Kay Willis was diagnosed with breast cancer last spring, she thought "Why now?" With a new book on parenting in the works, Ms. Willis felt healthy and was at a point in her life where a sense of achievement had set in. Although most women might find themselves thinking "Why me?" this 67-year-old author, lecturer, and mother of 10 saw the disease as an interruption.

 After a biopsy at her local New Jersey clinic suggested breast cancer, one of Ms. Willis' six daughters recommended she see a surgeon at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. The surgeon, Dr. Michael Moore, assistant clinical professor of surgery, had an outstanding reputation, confirmed Ms. Willis' daughter, who had researched area specialists. Ms. Willis says her first instinct was to seek treatment at her local hospital, but she followed the urging of her children, who believed their mother would receive the best care in an academic medical center. "It gave them peace of mind for me to follow their instructions. It was a total role reversal."

 That first visit last spring would be the beginning of an incredible experience for Ms. Willis--an experience full of warmth, new friendships, and trust. "I expected a businesslike atmosphere. The most surprising thing about going to a large city hospital was that I felt that I was dealt with as a friend." Ms. Willis noted that what her suburban clinic offers in larger exam rooms and chintz curtains, CPMC surpasses with the warmth of its people. "It was really like going to a friend's house--they were open with me and I felt I could trust them."

 Dr. Moore determined at Ms. Willis' first visit that she indeed needed surgery to remove the lobular carcinoma--tumors more difficult to detect than typical lumps because of their "spilt milk" composition. Lobular carcinoma is also found more often in both breasts.

 Ms. Willis says she especially appreciated the fact that Dr. Moore did not try to hide anything. "He told my children right after the surgery that it was more involved than first anticipated," she says. "I think one of the worst ideas is that it's all about attitude. That helps, but I didn't want my children to have false hope. The way Dr. Moore can deliver a message is incredible."

 Today, Ms. Willis is in the third and final phase of therapy. Four weeks after her mastectomy, she underwent chemotherapy for about four months followed by radiation therapy. Now, she has begun treatment with the drug tamoxifen, which she'll continue to use for five years to protect against the recurrence of cancer.

 "During chemotherapy, when you feel crummy, you intellectualize hope, but you don't really feel it," she says. "But once I felt well again, I thought, 'Yeah, I can make this.'"

Kay Willis & her 10 children "Are We Having Fun Yet? 16 Secrets to Happy Parenting" is the title of Kay Willis' book scheduled for publication this spring. Here, the author is shown with her 10 children.

copyright ©, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center

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