In January 1998, Cathy Hainer, a 36-year-old lifestyle reporter for USA Today was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer.
For the past two years, Hainer has shared her experiences dealing with her cancer in regular installments for USA Today.
Readers have been with her through chemotherapy, alternative treatments, and mastectomy. Now she talks to CBS News This Morning about the ups and downs of this very difficult personal time.
In January 1998, Hainer was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Since then, she has shared her experiences with USA Today readers.
"There was a period of three months from when I first felt a small lump in my breast to when I was first diagnosed," she recalls.
"I had been suffering in my shoulder and chest due to repetitive stress syndrome. And I was positive that it was connected. It never entered my mind that it could be anything else," she says.
But when her gynecologist examined her, she was sent for a biopsy. "They knew I had cancer right away. One day your life is fine and the next day you have cancer. Quite a blow," she adds.
Stage 4 is the worst type of cancer a person can have; she had two tumors and the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.
After her diagnosis, she had chemotherapy and radiation, followed by a mastectomy.
Throughout it all, she found herself chronicling her own situation, and a friend suggested she should share her story.
"I pitched this idea to my editor. I was in the dark as to whether she would like it. But my editor went for it giving me this outlet has been a terrific thing for me," she notes.
Her message is to keep a sense of humor; life being in "Cancerland" is still a life, where good and bad things happen.
Readers' responses have been very positive, she says.
"One thing I have really found from the feedback is that cancer touches everyone. Almost everyone can take something personal from my writing," she points out.
In December, doctors thought her cancer was in remission. But in March, it reappeared with a vengeance.
It's hard for her to believe that three years ago she could run three miles; three weeks ago she could walk three miles. Now it's a big deal for her to get around the block.
"It's definitely been a roller coaster," she says. "Losing my hair was tough; I cried and cried when I first saw myself."
"But then the first day I went to work with a wig. And everyone made fun jokes - not in a mean way; it made me feel better," she recalls.
Her advice for people with cancer is to be their own best advocate.
"You need to get facts and figures. It was really very important for me to feel like I had a degree of input. There is so much out there, particularly in [terms of] alternative treatments. And it's good to be aware of everything you can try," she suggests.
For more information about breast cancer on the Web, visit this page of Web links from Breast Cancer Answers, a service of the University of Wisconsin Comprehensive Cancer Center.
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