Edwards affects Richmond cancer patients

By Laura Geller - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – We are still awaiting details on the funeral arrangements for Elizabeth Edwards. Wednesday we continued to learn more about the last days of her battle against breast cancer. It is a battle that is teaching Central Virginians and the rest of the world more about the disease.

As news broke of Elizabeth Edwards' breast cancer diagnosis and death, the phones at VCU's Massey Cancer Center started to ring. Dr. Mary Helen Hackney had to field patients' questions as they considered similarities to their own illness.

"People are going to learn," she said. "People are going to be aware. So when she recurred several years ago, a lot of patients came in and said 'could that be me?'"

And it's not just cancer patients and survivors now thinking about the disease. Notes of love poured into Facebook. One recently created page has more than 21,000 supporters.

"Anybody in that spotlight is going to set that example and I hope they set one that people can emulate," said Hackney. "And certainly her grace and dignity in this journey is one people can emulate."

In interviews Edwards said she missed a few mammograms because she was busy. Hackney explained there are lessons here.

"With early detection and earlier stages, then the chances of surviving the cancer are excellent," she said.

It's difficult to draw direct comparisons between any two cases. Each diagnosis requires different combinations of treatment. What is universal, however, is on the prevention side.

"Eat well," is some of Dr. Hackney's advice. "Eat appropriately. Keep your body weight not too heavy, not too thin. Limit your alcohol consumption. Don't smoke. Exercise regularly."

About 40,000 women die of breast cancer each year, but there are more than two million survivors, Hackney thinks the science continues to progress.

"It would be great if we could find a way to tell patients that 'yes your cancer is gone, you never have to worry about it again,'" she hoped. "It would be great if I could tell a patient 'I'm sorry it's come back but yes I have a way to get rid of it forever and ever.' But we don't have that forever yet."

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