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Breast Support: If you or someone you love has breast cancer … you need this book

Breast Support: If you or someone you love has breast cancer … you need this book

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Breast Support: If you or someone you love has breast cancer … you need this book

216 pages
2 heures
Oct 1, 2011


When Gwendoline Smith chanced to have a breast examination at a mobile unit in 2009, little did she know where it might lead. Sure, she lived with the knowledge of her mother’s breast cancer years before, but could it really happen to her too? The realisation dawned only when the medical evidence could not be questioned, and so began one of the most testing years of her life. In Breast Support, Gwendoline describes not just the physical and medical experience of breast cancer, through diagnosis, surgery, recovery and rehabilitation, but the emotional and psychological experience too.

In a book memorable for its wit and self-deprecating humour, she answers some of the questions women frequently ask: what to wear to a breast examination; how to tell friends and family that you have the disease; how to be positive and maintain a cheerful outlook. She also offers insightful advice on esteem and self-confidence when facing the loss of an essential part of what it means to be feminine. Her book does not forget partners either: there are many messages in this book for husbands and boyfriends. There is also a separate chapter for women in lesbian relationships.

Supporting Gwendoline’s superbly written text are contributions from her surgeon and other medical specialists who tell the story from their point of view. The text is therefore a unique combination of personal story and insider information, offered with both a light touch and professional expertise.

Oct 1, 2011

À propos de l'auteur

Gwendoline Smith, M.Soc.Sc (Hons), Dip. Clin. Psych., is a clinical psychologist who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and has been undergoing treatment and reconstructive surgery ever since. She also suffers from severe depression and has treated many people suffering from depressive and other psychiatric disorders. Her earlier books include 'Depression Explained' and 'Sharing the Load'. She is a strong public speaker and lecturer, and lives in Auckland.

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Breast Support - Gwendoline Smith


About the author

Gwendoline Smith, M.Soc.Sc (Hons), Dip. Clin. Psych., is a clinical psychologist who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and has been undergoing treatment and reconstructive surgery ever since. Supported by friends and family, including her mother who also suffered from the disease, she decided to document her experiences along the ‘Breast Cancer Highway’ because she could not find the kind of book she really needed among all those published on the subject. In her professional life, Gwendoline has treated many people suffering from depressive and other psychiatric disorders, and has also written widely about depression. Her previous best-selling books include Depression Explained and Sharing the Load. A skilled public speaker and lecturer, she lives in Auckland.

What people say about this book

‘Gwendoline with her psychology training, and intensely personal perspective, has done the research, gathered the resources and presented them in a very practical way. Breast Support is not only a very good book, it is also very cool!’

Wayne Jones BHB, MBChB, FRACS General, Breast & Endocrine Surgeon

‘Gwendoline has told her own story, along with her review of the sometimes overwhelming information in this field. The book offers an insight and understanding for those facing the challenges that follow the diagnosis of breast cancer.’

Dr Phyllida Cotton-Barker, General Practitioner and Member of Medical Advisory Committee which advises the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation

‘Having read widely on breast cancer I was reluctant to expose myself to yet another take on the journey. How pleasantly surprised I was to read a refreshing take on a deeply personal and often traumatic diagnosis. I like the graphics, the tips, the humour and the candidness. Love your work, thanks Gwendoline.’

Dr Chris Walsh MNZM Director, HERSolutions

‘This fabulous little book manages to be both practical and humorous. An enormously useful resource for anyone diagnosed with breast cancer, or supporting someone with breast cancer.’

Dr Ian Goodwin MBChB, FRANZCP Specialist Psychiatrist

‘I liked the chapter on how to manage worry after a diagnosis of breast cancer. It is pithy, concise, and well focused. It is a very helpful chapter, for all of those involved.’

Dr Rob Shieff MBChB, FRANZCP Psychiatrist and Cognitive Behaviour Therapist

‘Brilliant! I wish this book was published when I went for my biopsy. It’s such an easy read.’

Chrissie T.

‘Gwendoline’s humour helps to guide you through the sense of shock on receiving news of breast cancer. Her story shows how manageable the process can be, with the expertise of wonderful doctors and nurses and those who love and support you, back to life and living with breast cancer.’

Marilyn W (Diagnosed with breast cancer 2009)

‘Very good information and guidance for a support person … Your humour is the best medicine.’

Rexy W (Marilyn’s Support Team Leader)

To my wonderful mother Bette,

to my marvellous surgeon Wayne Jones,

and to a beautiful soul Rena, who died of cancer

during the writing of this book.


I have so many people to thank. I love all of you equally, and I thank all of you equally because you are all part of the reason I can be here today to write this book.

So, in no particular order:

My darling Murray Grindlay, who accepted and loved me without breasts and ignored my scars.

My wonderful dog Gerry, who loves me anyway.

A main muse and a wonderful photographer, Damien Nikora and his beautiful wife and family. You introduced me, in the form of art, to everything I have been through and I love you for that, Damien. I thank you for the healing that mother Bette and I went through. Special!

Lindsay, my wonderful friend and office manager, who made sure I was able to re-establish my life, and her darling husband Al, who has his own battle with cancer.

Dr Rob Shieff and Dr Ian Goodwin, who have also given me another chance at restarting my life.

My amazing GP, Dr Jeffrey Fetherston.

All the wonderful medical professionals I came in contact with.

Dr Chris Walsh and her partner Sue for their contribution to the section of the book regarding lesbian relationships, and for their wonderful battle for Herceptin funding.

All my dear friends and supporters, without whom I can’t imagine what life would have been like.

My family, my inspirational mother Bette and her sisters with their own breast cancer experiences.

All the other women who, as members of the Breast Cancer Club, shared with me and inspired me with their hope and enthusiasm.

My darling Jennifer, one of the first people close to me to go through all this, who introduced me to the BCC.

My dear friend Lisa Couldrey for her illustrations, and David Shields for his photography.

My dear friend Ross Kinnaird, who illustrated my thoughts in the cartoons about psychiatric disorder and oncology.

Georgia Shattky, who patiently put together endless rewrites and tolerated my panics during the establishment of the drafts.

I would also like to acknowledge my colleagues at Exisle Publishing, who have enabled this book to become a reality.


The author and publishers gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the following people and organisations for the photographs and illustrations in this book:

Damien Nikora: and special thanks for his assistance with photographic reproduction.

Lisa Couldrey:

Ross Kinnaird:

Verna Langslow:

Annabel Mackenzie:

Kathryn Quirk:

Mark Roman:

David Shields:

Siemens Healthcare:


Unfortunately breast cancer is a common disease. Within our social circles we all know a female family member or friend who has had this disease. It is a problem that touches us all. But when it happens none of us is prepared for the complexity of information and the rollercoaster of emotions that ensue. What does often surprise us is the outpouring of love and support from those people around us. It sometimes comes from surprising places, from people who have previously been acquaintances rather than friends, but who help with their extraordinary strength. They are true supporters.

Being diagnosed with breast cancer is a life-changing event. It is no laughing matter; however, approaching this problem, like so many other difficulties in life, with a sense of humour can ease the burden. This book does just that. It is a story of one woman’s journey through the lows and highs of investigations, diagnosis and decision making, peppered with practical and humorous anecdotes.

Gwendoline uses the analogy of travelling down the Breast Cancer Highway, a variant of the well-known cancer journey, in her discussion. This is very apt because the concepts of moving quickly, the fear of being out of control, the need for lane or direction changes, negotiating on-ramps and off-ramps, and staying safe are quite relevant to the situation. This is in some ways a travelogue of experiences, and in others a map and checklist of what and who to take along.

We live in an age where there is an overload of information. Advice and treatment choices are available at our fingertips. The difficulty is navigating through the internet pages and sorting the relevant and factual from the weird and fantastic. Gwendoline, with her psychology training and intensely personal perspective, has done the research, gathered the resources and presented them in a very practical way. This will be enormously helpful to other women and their support teams as they embark on their own cancer journey.

Wayne Jones BHB, MBChB, FRACS

General, Breast & Endocrine Surgeon


A most reluctant membership

Well, I must admit I never thought I would be writing this book, just as I suspect you never thought you’d be buying one like it. But you are, and I’m so sorry that you’ve had bad news.

I am, of course, making the assumption that you, or someone you love, has just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

When I first got the news I recalled a comment my dear friend Jennifer (still well and truly alive, 11 years on) had made when she was first diagnosed: ‘Breast cancer—it’s the club you never wanted to be a member of.’

Which reminds me of the good old Groucho Marx resignation joke: ‘I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.’ Except with this club you don’t get to decline or resign. There are no age barriers to membership, no dress codes, no class discrimination, just the diagnosis. With horror and great reluctance, I became a member (so to speak) early in 2009.

This book is a recollection of my experiences and a synopsis of my learning. It’s designed to be a helpful, informative and at times entertaining guide to assist you, and your loved ones, through this previously inconceivable reality. It’s not my intention to bore you with statistics, but take a quick glance now at these. For a club with such a reluctant membership, the worldwide figures as I write are quite a phenomenon.

Here’s a pictorial snapshot of global membership figures:

Worldwide risk statistics for breast cancer: breast cancer is the fifth most common cause of death worldwide.

1. The United States has an incidence of one in eight (13 per cent).

2. In the United Kingdom the lifetime risk is one in nine.

3. In Australia breast cancer is the most common form of invasive cancer and one in 11 women will be diagnosed before the age of 75, an increase of 18 per cent from 1995 to 2005. More recent figures (2010) now reveal the incidence in Australia to be one in seven.

4. In Canada one in nine women is expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime. Since the mid 1990s, however, both the incidence and the mortality rate have been on the decline.

5. Where I live in New Zealand, one in nine women will develop breast cancer.

6. The highest incidence occurs in Northern and Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, and in the south of South America, notably Uruguay and Argentina.

7. Breast cancer does occur in men, though rarely. That being the case, I would like to add that while not minimising the existence of breast cancer in men, this book is written about female breast cancer (no offence intended, gentlemen).

8. It is by far the most prevalent of the cancers. In a group of people who have been diagnosed with any type of cancer in the past five years, 18 per cent would have pink ribbons.

9. The incidence has increased from one in 20 in 1960 to one in eight in 2008.

Source: Breast Cancer Research. 2004: 6(6): 229–39

It is important to draw attention to the fact that the higher incidence in more affluent regions is due in part to the presence of more sophisticated screening services that detect the early, invasive cancers. Some of these would otherwise have been diagnosed later, or not at all.

I think you’d agree these are sobering facts. An awful lot of mothers, wives and sisters, daughters, girlfriends, aunties, grandmothers, cousins, nieces, friends, nuns, colleagues …

A tabloid depiction could look like this:

Breast cancer is now the most common cancer in both developed countries and developing regions, with an estimated 1.38 million new cases diagnosed in 2008. As you can see, mortality rates are much lower in developed regions, which have more sophisticated and accessible treatment and earlier diagnosis.

In Western countries, 89 per cent of women diagnosed are alive five years after their diagnosis. My focus in Breast Support is on these women. You could choose to focus on the 11 per cent who don’t make it, and it is important to acknowledge the plight of those women. But how will focusing on the 11 per cent help you now?

If you don’t know how to adjust your focus, or manage your worry, refer to Chapter 17, ‘How to get off the worry roundabout’.

I’m not a medical expert in the fields of breast surgery or oncology (the study of cancer). However, I have written Breast Support to provide you and your loved ones with reference material that will give you easy access to a cross-section of evidence-based information from top experts in these fields.

And just in case you were wondering, Breast Support is not the kind of book that trades on pleas for sympathy, cries of bitterness and

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