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USA Today Reporter Who Published Breast Cancer Journal Dies (dateline December 16, 1999)

Cathy Hainer, 38, a reporter for USA Today who routinely published her experiences with breast cancer, died of the disease at a northern Virginia hospice Tuesday night. Hainer began publishing her breast cancer diary in USA Today during the Spring of 1998, a few months after she was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. Hainer’s treatment plan included neoadjuvant chemotherapy , mastectomy   (removal of the affected breast), and post-operative chemotherapy.   While fighting advanced breast cancer, Hainer continued leading an active life: she bought a house, got engaged, and inspired millions of women with her the courageous voice of her breast cancer journal.

Hainer’s journal chronicles her battle with breast cancer from the time of diagnosis on January 9, 1998 to her final days with the disease. Hainer was diagnosed with breast cancer after her gynecologist discovered a lump in her breast during a routine physical exam. Surprised at the size of the lump, Hainer’s gynecologist scheduled an emergency appointment with a breast surgeon. After a breast biopsy and follow-up mammogram, Hainer was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. Hainer admits to her readers that she had noticed a small lump in her breast a few months earlier but dismissed it as merely an effect of muscle cramping; she had been experiencing shoulder and chest problems due to repetitive stress syndrome.

Hainer’s journals focus equally on her physical and emotional struggles with breast cancer. At the time of her diagnosis, Hainer described herself as "36 and in love." Though initially in denial, with the help of her then-boyfriend, David, she slowly began to accept the news and prepared for treatment. After "entering the cancer universe," Hainer hurried to learn all she could about the disease. She researched medical journals, underwent follow-up tests including bone and CT scans , and began reading books by cancer survivors (her favorite was Anne Frahm's Cancer Battle Plan).  Her follow-up exams revealed cancer in the lymph nodes and suspicious lesions on her hipbones and liver.

Convinced that her cancer was caused by her unhealthy lifestyle, Hainer changed her diet and waged her "war on cancer." Hainer was skeptical about chemotherapy, believing highly toxic chemotherapy drugs might further damage her fragile immune system . She considered alternative therapies such as nutritional metabolic therapy, which stimulates the immune system through detoxification and diet, and the controversial anti-neoplaston therapy developed by doctor Stanislaw Burzynski, MD. Anti-neoplaston therapy attacks cancer by introducing chains of amino acids into the body’s immune system. Though alternative therapies interested Hainer, the lack of statistical success led her to eventually decide to try chemotherapy.

While undergoing chemotherapy with the drug Taxol,   Hainer made frequent visits to the health food store. She took a host of supplements including shark cartilage and a blue-green algae drink, and visited a Chinese doctor who put acupuncture needles into her ankles, knees, chest, and the top of her head. In her February 1998 journals, Hainer described the fatigue she experienced after chemotherapy sessions. After each Taxol session, she would inject herself with Neupogen, a drug that protects against white blood cell reduction. Knowing that her hair would probably fall out anyway, Hainer decided she would shave her head and don a wig.

After finishing chemotherapy, accepting a marriage proposal from her boyfriend, and buying a new house, Hainer turned down her doctor’s suggestion that she have a bone marrow transplant (BMT). BMTs usually require an additional nine months of chemotherapy, and Hainer wasn’t convinced a BMT would benefit her. Instead, she underwent a modified radical mastectomy (removal of the breast, lymph nodes, and chest muscles). The surgery was a success, and Hainer was temporarily cancer-free. Though Hainer’s doctors were quick to point out that Stage IV cancer often returns, Hainer was optimistic as she began post-operative chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Hainer also underwent treatment with the drug Tamoxifen.  Still optimistic, Hainer wrote in her journal that she didn’t feel as though she had cancer. She just felt like herself. Hainer continued to see the Chinese doctor and took herbs, vitamins, and natural supplements. However, in March of 1999, Hainer’s cancer did return, and this time, doctors discovered multiple cancerous lesions in her brain. She began experiencing debilitating headaches and pains in her hip—the original site where her breast cancer had spread.

After being admitted to the hospital last Spring, Hainer was prescribed a combination of Taxol and Herceptin.  She also continued treatment with special vitamins, rare Hawaiian fruit juice, shark cartilage and special diets. However, by mid-June 1999, Hainer had accepted the fact that her cancer was too advanced to beat. Her spirit didn’t change, though. In her journals, Hainer describes moments of happiness while watching her favorite television program, taking a quiet walk in the park, and reflecting on life.

Hainer died on December 14, 1999 at age 38. Her devoted readers describe her as a beautiful and brave woman who chose to share her emotional story with them. Hainer’s story has also inspired women to learn about the importance of early breast cancer detection.

The American Cancer Society has recommended a set of guidelines women should follow to help detect breast cancer at an early stage:

  • Women over 20 years of age should practice monthly breast self-examination and have clinical breast exams at least every three years.
  • Women over 40 should have yearly mammograms in addition to yearly clinical breast exams and monthly breast self-examination.
  • Many physicians also recommend that women who have a high risk of breast cancer and/or family history begin receiving annual screening mammograms between the ages of 30 and 40. (Hainer’s mother also died of breast cancer).
  • Woman at a very high risk of breast cancer (such as those have tested positive for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 breast cancer genes) should speak with their physician about beginning annual mammograms as early as age 25.

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