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New book helps women cope with breast cancer

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Peltason was recovering from a mastectomy, the treatment when her breast cancer - which she thought she had beaten some 12 years earlier - returned with a vengeance. She characterized herself as a sunny, can-do person not given to fits of self-pity. She decided that night when she was debilitated by surgery she would write a book for breast cancer patients to tell them what to expect after the diagnosis, she told a small audience of mostly women at the Central Queens YM & YWHA in Forest Hills Sunday."The idea for the book kicked in post-surgery, when I was lying in bed like a turtle" covered in surgical dressings, with tubes sticking out of incisions, unable to roll out of bed unaided to use the bathroom, she said.Peltason, an editor at art publisher Bespoke Books in Manhattan, said she is an avid book collector, "but I only had two books about breast cancer, Dr. [Peter] Pressman's and 'Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book.' " Pressman, who co-wrote "Breast Cancer: The Complete Guide," was Peltason's surgeon.She said she wanted to write a book that spoke to all survivors, so she turned to fellow survivors for guidance and the experiences that would give a conversational tone to what became "I Am Not My Breast Cancer," published in January by William Morrow."I partnered with 10 breast cancer organizations and began doing research online, and within two weeks I had a network of 800 women throughout the United States and the world," Peltason said. These women agreed to use screen names to protect their privacy as they wrote about their experiences with diagnosis, treatment, faith, emotions, living with the legacy of cancer, relating to family and friends, and other topics, she said.Peltason did not read from the book, which was available for sale after her talk, but spoke about her experiences with the illness and how she got through it, and most of all the importance of having a support system of friends and family. Her words were heartfelt, funny, emotional, educational."A lot of times people don't know how to talk to us about what we're going through," Peltason said. "Sometimes we have to pick up the phone and call them and let them know we're still us, and talk about whatever we'd normally talk about: the kids, baseball, whatever."Many of the women in the audience were also breast cancer survivors or relatives of women who had cancer. Besides the questions they asked, Peltason said she could tell who was who by the nods they gave during parts of her talk that resonated with them.Her editor turned out to be a surprise."I sent the book out to William Morrow, and four days later I got a call from a male editor," she said. What does a man know about breast cancer? she wondered skeptically."His wife had had cancer. And that was lesson No. 327 for Ruth Peltason: You never know how people are going to relate," she said.Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at achristodoulides@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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