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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR READERS: The letter from the woman who felt a lump in her breast but was afraid to go to the doctor prompted a deluge of mail. Some typical letters:

DEAR ABBY: I lost my mother and three sisters to cancer, so I can sympathize with "Scared to Death," who felt a lump in her breast and was afraid to get a mammogram.

I join you, Abby, in urging all women -- even those without lumps -- to get mammograms regularly. They can save your life. Please tell your readers that any woman can get breast cancer whether it's in her family or not; 80 percent of the women who get breast cancer do NOT have it in their family.

A mammogram can detect breast cancer two years before a woman or her doctor can feel a lump. All women should have regular mammograms beginning at age 40 -- particularly women of color because they are more likely to die because they didn't catch it early enough.

I urge all my sisters, black or white, to educate themselves about this scary but treatable disease. For more information, your readers can dial 1-800-4-CANCER. -- PATTI LABELLE

DEAR ABBY: In 1977, when I discovered a lump in my breast, I was terrified! Nevertheless, I made an appointment to see my doctor, and a week after my "positive" biopsy, I had a modified radical mastectomy. I was devastated and depressed.

The third day after my surgery, a lovely, cheerful lady showed up in my hospital room and asked me if I had ever heard of "Reach to Recovery." I told her I had not. Then she went on to explain that my surgeon had contacted the American Cancer Society and requested that a volunteer from that organization pay me a visit.

This encouraging woman told me that she, too, had had a mastectomy. She gave me some exercises to do, and also gave me a "rest bra" and a temporary prosthesis. But the best thing she gave me was hope and assurance that I was still the same woman I had been before the surgery.

Since that time, I have become a volunteer in the Reach to Recovery program and have enjoyed the rewards of helping many other women who were as heartbroken and depressed as I had been before Reach to Recovery reached out to me. -- BARBARA J. MYHRE, BANDERA, TEXAS

DEAR ABBY: Like "Scared to Death," I felt a lump in my breast. Unlike her, I immediately saw my doctor. Even though it was cancer, I was one of the lucky ones because I sought early diagnosis and treatment and I am alive today to talk about it.

"Scared to Death" is afraid of how her husband would feel about her following a mastectomy. I had the same fears, but throughout my ordeal, my husband was my biggest supporter and my best friend. If anything, the situation brought us closer together. He says he loves me for me, not for my body parts.

I am thankful to have made it and I would love to tell the world that I am extremely proud of my supportive husband. If you use my letter, feel free to use my real name. -- JAN NICHOLS, CARLETON, MICH.

DEAR ABBY: I had just returned home from a routine mammogram when I read the letter from "Scared to Death." I watched my own mother's painful battle with breast cancer (both breasts). However, she won that battle and came away with a beautiful reconstruction job. Now she jokes about having firm breasts in her 60s! Two of my aunts and my grandmother had mastectomies, and none of their husbands left them. In fact, they outlived their husbands! -- A SURVIVOR IN COLORADO

To get Abby's booklet, "How to Write Letters for All Occasions," send a long, business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Letter Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054. (Postage is included.)

4900 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64112; (816) 932-6600