Photo: Edvard March/Corbis
"What I always tell people," says Ruth Oratz, MD, "is that breast cancer
is not one disease." Oratz—54, petite and polished, with a green-eyed gaze that pins you
to your chair—is sitting at her gleaming Art Deco desk at the Women's Oncology &
Wellness Practice in Manhattan, which she operates in addition to teaching
medicine at NYU. "So when I treat someone," she continues, "I consider
the context." She asks patients about their jobs, parents, kids, the state of their marriage. The
answers help shape Oratz's plan of attack—from her choice of chemo
drug to a treatment schedule that leaves time for work, family, life.
One in eight American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
About 200,000 are diagnosed in the U.S. each year; 40,000 of them will not survive.
As Oratz points out, it's a diagnosis that's complicated by dozens of factors.
Yet for all our awareness of pink ribbons and charity walks, until breast cancer is experienced
firsthand, the particulars of its progress and the intricacies of its grueling treatment remain largely
unknown. Which is why O asked three of Oratz's patients to share their stories: in the
hope of demystifying a disease that's as familiar as our own bodies
and as mysterious as the reasons they sometimes betray us.