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Liora's Story: A Year in the Life of a Breast Cancer Survivor

One month after her 39th birthday, Liora Hess, a bright, spirited medical editor from Atlanta, Georgia, faced the unimaginable: breast cancer. Rather than remain anonymous, Liora chose to document her experience -- the good, the bad, and the ugly -- in a collection of pictures that we're sharing with you. Watch her yearlong transformation right here.

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Liora Hess
Liora Hess
Liora Hess
Liora Hess
Liora Hess
Liora Hess
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May: Finding the Lump

On May 11, 2007, while drying off after a shower, my left hand landed on a very hard mass directly above my right nipple. It was unlike anything I'd felt before. I immediately had a sinking feeling and thought, This is not good. I need to get checked out ASAP! At the time, I didn't have a regular ob-gyn, so I had to wait until the next month to see a new doctor and schedule a mammogram. I purchased these beautiful earrings to help get my mind off of things.

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June: A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words

After seeing the doctor and receiving my first mammogram, I decided to hit this invader with everything I had -- physical, mental, and spiritual. This was my drawing of a woman radiating strength from her core.

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June: Foreign Invasion

I began calling the mass in my breast "The Alien" and visualizing it as a monster with tentacles extending into my flesh. I imagined myself attacking it with everything I had until it died.

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June: Positive Thinking

I consulted with a holistic ob-gyn and surgeon, both of whom suggested that I manifested this suspicious mass by mothering others and not releasing that energy. They recommended that I use visualization techniques while waiting for a diagnosis. In this drawing, I imagined the mass as fluff, rather than something worrisome.

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June: A Space of My Own

I fired the two "holistic" doctors, but I followed their advice to practice meditation and visualization. I set up a spot in my home that I called my "sacred space." Over the next several months it would grow to hold cards and trinkets from supportive family and friends.

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June: Just the Facts, Ma'am

On Tuesday, June 19th, I received my official diagnosis: Infiltrating ductal carcinoma. I was scheduled for a lumpectomy and given a packet containing information on how to cope, look lovely during chemo, and choose a wig.

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July: Battle Scars

On July 3rd -- what I call my Independence Day from "The Alien" -- I had a lumpectomy and sentinel lymph node biopsy. I was relieved to learn the cancer was stage I and hadn't spread to my lymph nodes.

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July: My Mantra

Days after my surgery, I learned that I had triple-negative breast cancer, a form with fewer treatment options. Fear flooded over me. In this note, I told myself to focus on the moment, rather than the big picture.

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July: Babe in Blue

Dyeing my hair blue seemed to be exactly the opposite of how I was "supposed" to react. I really liked that feeling.

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July: Sweet Revenge

I threw an anti-cancer party, complete with cupcakes decorated with frosted nipples! Friends rallied in my corner. Cancer had messed with the wrong woman!

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July: Bald Is Beautiful

At the end of the party, I asked my friends to shave my blue-spiked head. My friend Meredith (pictured) and others took turns.

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July: Pondering the Future

After my friends left, I had a sober moment to think about what was ahead. It was time to kick some cancer tail. Chemo began on July 26th.

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August: Fashion Statement... Not!

I purchased a few headscarves. But due to frequent hot flashes, one of the side effects of chemo, I found going bald to be more comfortable. Plus, hot flashes combined with Georgia summer heat are a bad mix.

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August: Facing Uncertainty

My doctor gave me steroids to combat the nausea from chemo. Many sleepless nights followed. Doing sudoku puzzles helped put me to sleep.

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September: Strong Body, Strong Woman

As the chemo stretched on (I had four cycles occurring every three weeks), my mind and body became completely exhausted. I visualized a day when I would be stronger and leaner than ever before. Chemo ended on September 27th.

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October: Symbol of Hope

I was declared free of cancer on October 11th. The dragonfly represents transformation and spirituality. Fighting this illness forced me to evolve physically and emotionally.

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October: Inspiration from a Genius

Einstein's words comforted me and summed up my philosophy about dealing with crisis in life. I hung it on my bulletin board at work.

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October: Circles of Truth

White rings formed in my nails, showing the markings of each chemo treatment. They reminded me of the rings on a tree stump that grew with every passing year.

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October: Baby Fuzz!

A few weeks after chemo was over, soft, downy hair started growing in. I called it "duck down."

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November: Getting Well Again

On to the next phase of treatment: Radiation. I felt better, happier -- more like my former self. I started exercising and regaining my energy.

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December: Final Indulgence

My food choices needed a serious makeover. This apple bundt cake is the last "bad" thing I cooked at home. After this, cake was reserved for holidays only.

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January: My New Hobby

Radiation had finally ended. But because I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, there was no continued treatment available. Suddenly, I found myself cast into this great abyss, wondering what to do next. Learning how to cook healthier kept my mind occupied.

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February: The Price of Sickness

The financial impact of cancer was devastating. Sometimes a loaf of french or wheat bread was the only food to tide me over before I got paid.

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February: Fitness to the Rescue

I told my doctor I wanted to lose weight. He refused to prescribe me appetite suppressants and told me to join a gym. I did so, and soon it became something that I looked forward to.

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March: Giving Back

I volunteered to help open a new office for the Young Survival Coalition, a cancer advocacy group I'd become very involved in. When I was there, I didn't worry about me.

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March: Lookin' Good!

I started weight-training. My body was getting slimmer and more toned every week. Diet-wise, I cut out all meat but still ate seafood and fish and eased off the refined carbs. I finally started losing weight.

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NOW: My Doctor, a Cheerleader Through Thick and Thin

I've lost a total of 26 pounds! At 40 years old, I feel ready to take on whatever's next. My doctors are so proud of how I'm taking control of my health.

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NOW: No Victims Here!

Periodic blood work, mammograms, and MRIs are a routine part of my post-treatment follow-up. But I don't dwell on the possibility of a recurrence. Having cancer is a significant event in my life, but I will not let it be the landmark of my life.

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NOW: Me, But Better

My goal now is to live fully and continue developing healthy habits. I tell other women that there is no such thing as being too young to get breast cancer. Early detection may save your life. And if you are diagnosed, you can find the resources to cope.

Learn more about Liora at her Web site, www.liorahess.com

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