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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I was upset by the letter from the woman who was upset because her sister-in-law and mother announced to friends that she had breast cancer. Her anger will not help her through her ordeal.

Last year I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Because of the short time frame (I found out on Wednesday and a radical mastectomy was performed on Friday), I had time to alert only my immediate family and two close friends. When the members of my church and all my other friends found out, their outpouring of love and prayers speeded my healing process. Without the love, understanding and help of my family and friends, my recovery would have been less rapid.

A member of a breast cancer support group called and invited me to a meeting. These new friends have provided me with emotional support that only a survivor could give; their sense of humor in the face of life-threatening illness cannot be rivaled. They have the latest news on medicines and techniques. We have speakers on all subjects relating to cancer.

Because I informed my friends about my cancer, at least one called her doctor immediately and scheduled the mammogram she had been postponing. Another friend was just beginning radiation, and since I had already started mine, I was able to tell her what to expect.

Breast cancer has opened up a whole new world for me -- a world of positives, because life may be too short to worry about the negatives.

Be proud that you survived. Reach out to others and let them reach out to you. With insurance companies reluctant to fund reconstructive surgery, we need as many people as we can get to fight for our side. You may use my name. -- JO ANN C. WALL, CHESAPEAKE, VA.

DEAR JO ANN: You have my sympathy for the ordeal you have experienced, and there is little doubt your positive attitude has played an important role in your recovery.

Early detection is critical in managing breast cancer, as many readers reminded me after I printed the letter from "Hurting in Kansas." A young woman from Cincinnati said it best:

DEAR ABBY: I am a 28-year-old female, writing to you in the hope that my story might save or prolong the lives of other young women.

On Dec. 26, 1996, just two days before my wedding, I found a small lump in my right breast. Because of the chaos of the holidays and family members arriving from out of town, I decided to say nothing and to pursue no action at that time. A week later, on our honeymoon, I showed the lump to my husband and expressed my concern. We agreed I would have it looked at upon our return.

I have since had a lumpectomy and auxiliary lymph nodes removed (some of the nodes were positive), and begun intensive high-dose chemotherapy with radiation treatments to follow. My outlook is very positive and I feel certain I can win this battle.

I am not writing for sympathy. I'm writing to alert your readers that this could happen to them, and to make them more aware of their role in early detection. Breast cancer does not run in my family. My mother, aunt, sister and cousins are all older than I and have never had an incident. Many physicians do not advise young women of their risk of breast cancer, and the majority of my friends don't know how to do breast self-examinations. No one is concerned until a woman is over 40, and even then there's some controversy regarding the effectiveness of mammograms.

This is not a disease that cares how old you are. Please, Abby, implore your women readers over 20 to do self-checks, have an annual examination by a physician, and begin mammographies early if they feel they are at risk. -- GINGER KELLY, CINCINNATI

DEAR GINGER: No need to implore my readers; you just did, and most effectively. Thank you for writing, and best wishes for a full and speedy recovery.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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