Not being scared to death
EAGLE COUNTY – Three words can turn a life upside-down: “You have cancer.”Brenda Himelfarb reacted like a lot of women when she heard those words a little more than 10 years ago. “I functioned in a robotic zone for some time,” she writes in her new book, “Breast Cancer 101.”Himelfarb – a former valley resident and still a frequent visitor – has been cancer-free for a decade now, but she still vividly remembers the day she got the call. The co-founder of the Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group said she is always ready to help other women. So, working with Sherry Goldman, a nurse practitioner at the Revlon/UCLA Breast Center at the University of California at Los Angeles, Himelfarb wrote “Breast Cancer 101.”The book is a slim one, packed with information on everything from types of cancers and treatments to advice about picking a cancer center. There’s also plenty of space for patients to write their own notes and reflections. And skimming through the book doesn’t take very long.”All the books you want to look at are thick,” Himelfarb said. “I couldn’t read them, I was just so scared.
“The purpose is to get the word out,” she added. “It’s important that people aren’t scared to death.””Breast Cancer 101” is for women who react the way Himelfarb did. But not everyone reacts that way, she said. “Some people might want a little book. But some people get diagnosed and go to the Web, then they come in with more information than we have,” said Vanessa Lewis, a social worker at the Shaw Cancer Center in Edwards. “Everybody learns and perceives differently.”No matter how women – and the 1,000 or so American men who are diagnosed with breast cancer every year – choose to deal with their illness, they all have one thing in common. “It’s a critical time of dealing with an overwhelming diagnosis,” Lewis said. Part of being overwhelmed is just the word “cancer.” That’s something Himelfarb and Goldman try to deal with in their book. The book stresses that most breast cancer is curable. Another part of breast cancer is that many women have to change their lives from being “care givers” to “care getters.””Essentially, everyone will take clues from you,” Goldman writes. “The more comfortable you are talking about the cancer, the more comfortable everyone else will be.”Helping women get through surgery and treatment is a big part of the Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group’s mission. Part of the money the group raises goes entirely toward comfort for the women it helps. The group gives every patient it knows about $500 for a day of spa treatments and other pampering.
Himelfarb hadn’t had cancer when she and Roxy co-owner Patti Weinstein started the Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group. A close friend of Himelfarb’s had had the disease and Weinstein lost a relative to it.”A core group of us got together at my apartment and we decided to do the Snowshoe Shuffle and the Run for the Hills to raise money,” she said. “I’m overwhelmed the Snowshoe Shuffle has gone on. I’m so proud to have been a part of it.”In the years since Himelfarb moved to Los Angeles, others in the valley have created the Shaw Cancer Center. It’s something Himelfarb never imagined she’d see here, she said.”I wish I was there to be part of it in some way,” she said. “I hope locals understand how incredible that facility is.””Breast Cancer 101” isn’t in the Shaw Center’s library yet, but it probably will be. When it is, Himelfarb hopes patients know what she does: “They need to know there’s life after breast cancer,” she said. “I know it’s never coming back into my body!”Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14624, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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