To mark Breast Cancer Awareness month, The Press is working with Gilda's Club South Jersey to provide advice for women facing a cancer diagnosis.

A breast cancer diagnosis can be shattering.

But it also is the start of one of the most important fights a woman will encounter in her life.

This year, the American Cancer Society estimates approximately 300,000 Ameri-can women will be diagnosed with some form of breast cancer.

Shortly after hearing that diagnosis, those women will be asked to make decisions regarding their treatment.

It can be frightening. It can be overwhelming. It can be confusing.

The folks at Gilda's Club South Jersey understand this.

Gilda's is a nonprofit organization offering free support to those stricken by cancer and their families. Recently, the Linwood-based organization asked members of its Breast Cancer Support Group to offer their advice - based on their own experiences with breast cancer - for women facing an initial cancer diagnosis.

Carmen Torres, of the Cardiff section of Egg Harbor Town-ship, says preparation is necessary for making the best decisions.

"List all questions from you and your family and make sure they are answered in a way you and your family can understand. Check with your insurance company and see how much is covered. You do not want surprises," she said.

Torres says it's important to ask the doctor for all your options - and to bring a friend or family member along with you to the appointment.

"Four ears are better than two. Write down everything. Keep a notebook," she said.

Joanne Gitto, of Ventnor, also encourages women to get as much information as possible.

"Speak to a lot of people," she said.

Lorraine Khan, of Northfield, encourages women to think ahead when planning their treatment.

"Learn as much as you can before you begin any treatment," she said. "I wish I knew that radiation affects the breast if reconstruction is to be done at a later date."

This theme also was touched on by Melanie Lesitski, of Mays Landing.

"Genetic testing before surgeries," she said.

When people learn you are undergoing treatment, some may offer advice and opinions. That's good, but Lesitski recommended women remember they are ultimately the ones who must go through the treatment.

"Don't listen to others opinions about your doctors - choose who you are most comfortable with," she said.

Torrres also touched on the personal nature of the cancer fight, which, ultimately, is the responsibility of the patient.

"Make sure you do all your followups. You have to be proactive in your care and cure," she said.

Realize there are many aspects to a fight against cancer.

"Get involved in a support group. This is important to your mental and emotional health," Carmen XXX said.

Lesitski offered similar advice.

"Go to Gilda's in the beginning - someone who's been through it is the best support," she said. "But don't be afraid to ask them to back off if they are overwhelming you."

Contact Steven V. Cronin:

609-272-7242

A breast cancer diagnosis can be shattering.

But it also is the start of one of the most important fights a woman will encounter in her life.

This year, the American Cancer Society estimates approximately 300,000 Ameri-can women will be diagnosed with some form of breast cancer.

Shortly after hearing that diagnosis, those women will be asked to make decisions regarding their treatment.

It can be frightening. It can be overwhelming. It can be confusing.

The folks at Gilda's Club South Jersey understand this.

Gilda's is a nonprofit organization offering free support to those stricken by cancer and their families. Recently, the Linwood-based organization asked members of its Breast Cancer Support Group to offer their advice - based on their own experiences with breast cancer - for women facing an initial cancer diagnosis.

Carmen Torres, of the Cardiff section of Egg Harbor Town-ship, says preparation is necessary for making the best decisions.

"List all questions from you and your family and make sure they are answered in a way you and your family can understand. Check with your insurance company and see how much is covered. You do not want surprises," she said.

Torres says it's important to ask the doctor for all your options - and to bring a friend or family member along with you to the appointment.

"Four ears are better than two. Write down everything. Keep a notebook," she said.

Joanne Gitto, of Ventnor, also encourages women to get as much information as possible.

"Speak to a lot of people," she said.

Lorraine Khan, of Northfield, encourages women to think ahead when planning their treatment.

"Learn as much as you can before you begin any treatment," she said. "I wish I knew that radiation affects the breast if reconstruction is to be done at a later date."

This theme also was touched on by Melanie Lesitski, of Mays Landing.

"Genetic testing before surgeries," she said.

When people learn you are undergoing treatment, some may offer advice and opinions. That's good, but Lesitski recommended women remember they are ultimately the ones who must go through the treatment.

"Don't listen to others opinions about your doctors - choose who you are most comfortable with," she said.

Torrres also touched on the personal nature of the cancer fight, which, ultimately, is the responsibility of the patient.

"Make sure you do all your followups. You have to be proactive in your care and cure," she said.

Realize there are many aspects to a fight against cancer.

"Get involved in a support group. This is important to your mental and emotional health," Carmen XXX said.

Lesitski offered similar advice.

"Go to Gilda's in the beginning - someone who's been through it is the best support," she said. "But don't be afraid to ask them to back off if they are overwhelming you."

Contact Steven V. Cronin:

609-272-7242

Gilda's Club South Jersey is located at 700 New Road, Linwood. For information about programs, call 609-926-2699 or visit gildasclubsouthjersey.org