Cancer Survivors' Stories

After reading about Rebecca Perl's documentary on her cancer treatments, specifically her bone marrow transplant, in "No Rah-Rah for Patients" [Second Opinion, December 7], I was struck by the similarities in our stories.

We cancer patients and survivors ARE different; our worlds and lives will never be the same . . . especially when you see others who are in treatment with you, and they don't make it.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 1994. I did not know that generalized breast discomfort and even pain when sleeping on that side were signs to be aware of. This kind of cancer needs to be publicized, for we don't get diagnosed with a lump, but with a series of "signs" that could also be just a breast infection. The telltale skin changes are often not noted; mine were on the bottom side of my breast, in a place I couldn't see. I was lucky, because my gynecologist, after retesting and ultrasound, took a good look at me and sent me to a breast surgeon.

I am one of the truly lucky or blessed ones: I am still here after 10 months of treatment (chemo, bone marrow transplant, surgery and radiation) and five years of survival. When I asked my oncologist in June how many women like me he'd treated, he replied "around 30." When I asked, "How many are still here," I was floored by his response: "Only you. You're the 'poster child' for the bone marrow unit."

Yes, we do need to tell the world about our survival. Yes, we need to educate people about the treatments and even how to note the "signs." I don't know how to teach people that even though we look and talk normally, we are really different inside and will never lose that because of what we've been through.

Stephanie S. Houston

Burke

Wise Buys for Eyes

"When Buying Eyewear, Watch Carefully" [Health News, December 7] made important points about the purchase of prescription eyewear, particularly the importance of proper fitting.

As pointed out in the article, the District of Columbia and Maryland do not license opticians. Of the 22 states that do, most use the American Board of Opticianry and/or the National Contact Lens Examiners tests as part of their licensing process. In those states that do not license, certification from these nonprofit organizations is the only credential specifically designed for the dispensing ophthalmic professional.

We believe those who cannot pass these examinations should not be dispensing spectacles or contact lenses; they have not demonstrated the necessary skills and knowledge. Recertification requires continuing education that helps to keep our credentialed ophthalmic professionals current on new developments in eye care.

As a credible source for your readers, these organizations can furnish certification information about opticians. For more information on the American Board of Opticianry and the National Contact Lens Examiners and their efforts to protect the health, safety and welfare of eye care consumers, contact the office at 703-691-8356 or 800-296-1379.

Mary Whitener

Certification and Communications Manager

The American Board of Opticianry/

The National Contact Lens Examiners

Fairfax

Caring for Cadavers

I was moved to tears by "The Past Life of My Cadaver" [Lifeline, December 7]. What an eloquent, sensitive, caring tribute to a woman's life.

Both of my children were born at Georgetown, and the interns and residents who attended the births showed an equal respect for me and my newly born children as the author did for her cadaver. Brava to her and kudos to Georgetown for instilling in medical students a sense of respect and love for the patients they will serve.

Lisa Freese

Falls Church

* I've always been proud that my parents donated their bodies to a university medical school. I, too, plan to donate my body. In fact, I've had the donor form from Georgetown University Medical Center on my desk for over a year, but for some reason I've procrastinated in submitting it. Perhaps it's because I'd heard that thoughtless, disrespectful medical students often laugh and make fun of their cadavers. I suspect that, deep down, that bothered me more than I realized.

Now, thanks to your story, I better understand the discreet and respectful process of studying the body. It also gives me hope that my body shall be studied--and be helpful to--someone as sensitive as the author. That is a comforting thought. I shall send in that form very soon.

Barbara Morris

Alexandria

Stepfamilies' Struggles

"Remarried . . . With Children" [Cover Story, December 7] unfortunately missed the single most important point I discovered about becoming a stepmother. The stepparent and the stepchildren must talk to each other and create a direct relationship. The blood parent has to step aside and let them.

Creating a direct relationship won't always go sweetly, but efforts by the blood parent to serve as a buffer and interpreter will only get in the way. Without a direct relationship between the stepparent and the stepchildren, the family will never relax enough to become a single unit.

Working this out in my own family took years, but the result is worth it.

Mary Goldwag

Alexandria

* Your excellent analysis and survey omitted at least one important topic: the dramatic increase in child abuse and child murder in homes shared by a stepparent and stepchildren.

Yale University Press published "The Truth About Cinderella: A Darwinian View of Parental Love," which cites studies over the past three decades and concludes that "stepparents are hugely over-represented as perpetrators of registered child abuse and even more hugely as child murderers."

Daniel Borinsky

Lake Ridge

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