Gabriele Herzog, who was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2012, is devoted to speaking openly about MBC and ensuring patients get the information they need.
It took nine months for Gabriele Herzog to out herself as a metastatic breast cancer patient. In May 2012, Ms. Herzog, an accountant, wife and mother in the tiny village of Lamprechtshausen, Austria, was diagnosed with MBC and given three to five years to live. In the following months, the intimacy of a breast-centered disease and the weight of a terminal diagnosis made her reluctant to discuss her condition with anyone but family and close friends. "I just didn’t want people to know that I was terminally ill. I was ashamed, somehow," says Ms. Herzog, 52, who spent much of her post-diagnosis time searching for information about MBC. "But it was so hard for me to get the information I had and I wanted to share it with others. I outed myself because I wanted to show other women how it was possible to live with and talk about this disease."
Ms. Herzog has been gathering and sharing information about MBC ever since. She reads voraciously about cancer research and treatments, and also attends and speaks at international conferences, hoping to learn about other patients’ experiences, keep up with international medical developments, and share her story. At a local support group that meets monthly, Ms. Herzog shares what she’s learned about new treatment options, workplace dynamics and managing the emotional strain of being an MBC patient in a world that still knows little about the disease. "There is nowhere to get all the information you need in one place, so these groups can be particularly useful for women struggling with a new diagnosis," she says. To ensure women across Europe are as well-informed as possible, Ms. Herzog also works with Europa Donna, the European breast-cancer advocacy and information organization.
Her research has personal benefits, too. When she learns about a drug or trial that could be appropriate for her own treatment, she asks her doctors about it. One of Ms. Herzog’s main tips for women with MBC, in fact, is to overcome any nervousness about asking questions of their doctors and nurses. "It’s your responsibility to inform yourself about what you can do and who can help you," she says.
As important as information is to Ms. Herzog, she also puts a priority on action. In 2013, she trekked up the Larmkogel, a 3.017-meter peak in Salzburg, with seven other cancer patients. She and her husband recently went on an African safari. And last year, she launched a campaign to rebuild the oncology day center where she goes every three weeks for chemotherapy. To be sure, Ms. Herzog’s physical strength has waned during four years and seven regimens of treatment. But she believes she’s become stronger in other ways: "I now have the mental strength to talk with others openly and easily, with confidence and hope that my story can help them. To tell them that life goes on and, in many ways, you can do more than you wanted to before."
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