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Elon professor’s breast cancer the genesis for new book

How do you determine the best course of treatment when cancer has returned or spread? What legal rights do you have when you learn you have cancer? And what are ways to address the envy, and pity, that can develop when facing a shortened life span? Barbara Gordon, an associate professor of English, tackles those questions and more in a new book inspired by her own breast cancer journey.

Breast Cancer Recurrence and Advanced Disease: Comprehensive Expert Guidance, published this fall by Duke University Press, gives readers medical knowledge and practical advice about the disease.

Gordon wrote the book in consultation with two oncologists, Heather S. Shaw and Brooke R. Daniel, and a pharmacologist, David Kroll, professor and chair of pharmaceutical services at North Carolina Central University. Daniel and Shaw lent their expertise on the development, diagnosis and treatment of recurrence and advanced breast cancer. Kroll provided further information on the drugs and complementary therapies used to treat it.

“The book goes more deeply into issues than popular websites,” Gordon said. “For example, it explains the mechanisms of how treatments intervene to thwart the progression of cancer. Many chapters focus on non-medical concerns as well.

“Among the toughest decisions for me was considering how to break the news to my loved ones that doctors thought my cancer had spread. The kinds of information one needs when one gets this news are vast. I wondered how functional I would be for how long, and how to prepare in advance for many practical matters. What if I can’t work? Can I plan to die where I would like with as little pain as possible?”

Eighty-eight resource boxes with links to more information are sprinkled throughout the book. The authors compiled a glossary of medical terms and appendices on nutrition and integrative health centers.

Topics covered include:

• Types of breast cancer recurrence, their symptoms, and ways to minimize the chance of recurrence
• Diagnostics tests, potential surgeries, and treatments for managing late-stage cancer
• Receiving the best care, evaluating complementary and alternative therapies, and alleviating pain and depression
• Cessation of treatment and what one might expect as the disease progresses
• End-of-life issues dealing with financial and legal matters, and planning memorial services

While the book focuses primarily on breast cancer, it doubles as a resource for those with other types of late-stage cancer and can be useful to healthcare professionals, friends and family members who are in caretaking roles

Gordon was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer in the mid 1990s. Much of what she shares comes from questions that arose when, a few years later, doctors suspected her cancer had metastasized to her lungs though surgeries led to the conclusion it had not. A need for information about testing, treatment, and prognosis prompted her research.

“People who have cancer are often highly motivated to find out what’s going on in their body,” she said.

Gordon earned her doctorate from SUNY Buffalo in 1982 before joining the faculty of the University of Texas at El Paso. She arrived at Elon in 1986 as an assistant professor and has since taught or co-led 16 different courses, including first-year writing, rhetoric and composition courses, and interdisciplinary seminars.

Gordon, who lives in Burlington, N.C., founded the Writing Center at Elon in 1988 and has been active on several committees, including Academic Council, Faculty Research and Development, the Department of English planning committee, Health Professions Committee, and Asian Studies, among others. She counts among her professional memberships the National Conference on Research in Language and Literacy, the National Council of Teachers of English and the Association for General and Liberal Studies.

Associate professor Barbara Gordon: "People who have cancer are often highly motivated to find out what’s going on in their body."
Eric Townsend,
10/2/2010 11:45 AM