Tommer, 34, of Newton, Kan., was confused and scared in April 2005 when doctors found a large tumor in her right breast (invasive ductal carcinoma) and ductal carcinoma in situ in her left one; she was diagnosed as "at least" a stage IIIB.
"I knew this stage was not good," she says, "and I told people I was just a half-step away from being the worst, stage IV. Which was a scary thought, especially with two young children I want to watch grow.
Some women insist on knowing every last detail about the stage of their breast cancer: Is it in situ or invasive, bigger or smaller than two centimeters, lymph node involvement or not, metastasis or not? Others do not. "I imagine some people might be upset that there wasn't a full-blown explanation by my doc," says Tommer, "but part of my strategy to stay sane was to learn about my cancer, but not so much that I would live in fear every day. So I chose to be naive, to a degree, and still do."
In the end, Tommer did some researchher oncologist's office lent her a book that did a good job of covering the basics, she saysand ended up having eight rounds of "aggressive chemo," followed by a double mastectomy, 35 radiation treatments, and a complete hysterectomy not long after. "Overall, I knew my diagnosis was advanced and we needed to take aggressive steps to win," says Tommer. That was the part that she absolutely had to understand.