'My cancer diagnosis: What I wish I'd known' – Debbie Brooks

December 8, 2013 | by Nicole White

In April of 2012, Debbie Brooks received her regular mammogram – and it turned up no signs of cancer.
Debbie Brooks, a breast cancer survivor, shares her advice for other facing a cancer diagnosis. Debbie Brooks, a breast cancer survivor, shares her advice for others facing a cancer diagnosis.

As all women are recommended to do, Brooks remained vigilant, performing regular self-exams. That’s when she found a lump – sometimes she could detect it, sometimes not. She followed up with her doctor to have it checked out. An almond-sized tumor had formed in her breast, and the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. Brooks, 52, explored several options for treatment, and then the Bellflower woman came to City of Hope. In July 2012, she underwent a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation. She wrapped up her last treatment in December of last year, and continues to come to City of Hope for follow-up.

“I’m fortunate that my experience was a positive one every step of the way with my company and with City of Hope,” said Brooks, a longtime employee of Delta Airlines.

We recently asked Brooks to look back at the time of her diagnosis and ask herself, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then? What wisdom, soothing words or practical tips would you give your newly diagnosed self?

Face your diagnosis without fear.
She acknowledges that confronting cancer can be a scary prospect. “It’s a matter of understanding that no matter what, it’s happening,” she said. Focusing on the immediate tasks at hand, and not worrying too far into the future, helps.

Be engaged in your life every day and stay positive.
It’s easy to tune out when you’re exhausted, managing treatments and appointments and not feeling well, Brooks said. “Being positive and being in the moment was critical, and made a difference.”

Listen to your body.
Don’t feel guilty if you need to rest. “I gave myself not just the freedom, but the responsibility to rest when I needed to,” she said. “I’m actually proud of how I handled that.”

Trust in the care that you get.
Within 48 hours, a nurse from her insurance company contacted Brooks to review her options. Brooks praised the care she received and attested to her confidence in her doctors in nurses. She also said the caring treatment she received door to door made a difference: from the valets who parked her car to the staff who scheduled her appointments.

Do your self-exam. 
No technology is flawless, and a tumor that was undetectable during a mammogram could be discovered during a self-exam even a few months after a scheduled screening. Know your body, and if you think there is something unusual, follow up with your physician. (Laura Kruper, M.D., head of breast surgery service, offers step-by-step instructs for conducting a proper self-exam in this video.) Brooks shares her thoughts in the video below.   


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