Woman recounts breast cancer fight

February 27, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

Jamie Mendlovitz stood in front of about 150 people at Towson State University yesterday and told them: "I don't want to get famous for having breast cancer."

They're unlikely to forget her.

The 33-year-old woman shared her four-year struggle with the disease at a symposium on breast cancer. It was a story of hopes and setbacks.

Ms. Mendlovitz acknowledged that she'd rather be in the bright lights of Hollywood, where she was a musician and scriptwriter. But with the disease wearing on her, she now lives with her sister, Jessica Dibb, in Towson.

Noting how difficult cancer is on families, as well as patients, Ms. Mendlovitz, who is now on hormonal therapy, said she was not looking for credit in coping with the disease and its treatment. "I'm not Mother Teresa," she said. "I'm not the cancer goddess I thought I would be."

Laughter rippled through the audience.

"I bought the early detection thing, and I thought I wasn't going to die." But even after a surgery and chemotherapy, she continued, her cancer spread to her bones, and now, "I'm supposed to die this year."


Ms. Mendlovitz was one of five speakers at the conference, which drew cancer specialists from Chicago, Colorado and Boston.

The forum's purpose was to present an interdisciplinary approach to breast cancer, said Jessica Dibb, spiritual director of the Towson holistic group, Inspiration, which organized the program with the local publication, Voices of Women Journal, and Towson State University's women studies program.

"There is sometimes suspicion between traditional and complementary [alternative] medicine," said Ms. Dibb. "Collectively, if we can break down barriers and suspicions and build trust, we can cure or at least prevent breast cancer."

The panelists -- Dr. Susan Troyan, a cancer researcher; Joan D'Argo, editor of a Greenpeace report on the environment and breast cancer; and Joan Borysenko, author of "Fire in the Soul: A Psychology of Optimism" -- talked about the physiology of breast cancer, the effects of pesticides and pollution, and the relationship of mind and body.

The statistics for breast cancer are powerful: One of eight women will develop the disease. By the year 2000, that number is expected to be one of seven.

"Every three minutes, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer; every 12 minutes a woman dies of breast cancer," Dr. Troyan said. "I'm not telling you this to instill fear but to tell you how much more we need to know."

The search for knowledge about breast cancer brought people to the symposium from as far away as York, Pa., and Prince George's County.

Cockeysville resident Diane Brignac has a sister who was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. "I wanted insight in what she is going through," she said.

Women who were worried about heredity and breast cancer got some reassuring news: Only 5 percent to 10 percent of breast cancers are caused by genetics.

"The vast majority [of women] who develop breast cancer aren't inheriting a gene," Dr. Troyan said.

This was a relief to Gay Boles of Laurel, who discovered her cancer four years ago and is the mother of a 33-year-old daughter.

"We were both worried about it," she said.

The breast-cancer link could be environmental, the panelists said.

A recent publication by the environmental organization Greenpeace traces the increased incidences of breast cancer to pollutants in the environment and synthetic chemicals in foods.

Last week in Houston, a coalition was formed by Greenpeace and national cancer groups to focus on environmental hazards. It plans to network extensively to try to put a stop to carcinogens.

The Inspiration group plans to offer a course on integrated approaches to breast cancer and to initiate a hot line giving information and counseling about the disease.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.