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Amy Mickelson's public cancer battle has benefits, challenges

"Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts announced her breast cancer diagnosis on-air. Elizabeth Edwards hit the campaign trail with husband John Edwards after learning her cancer was back. And singer Melissa Etheridge performed bald and wrote a song about battling breast cancer.

As Amy Mickelson, the wife of popular pro golfer Phil Mickelson, goes public with her recent diagnosis of breast cancer, counselors and cancer patients say fighting cancer under the public glare can bring with it both benefits and challenges.

Donna Jurasits, executive director of the Babylon Breast Cancer Coalition, said being under the public's scrutiny will certainly be hard.

"She's definitely going to be under a microscope for a long, long time and that can get very wearing," said Jurasits, 50, of Babylon, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997. "People are going to look at her and say, 'She looks drawn, she looks pale, she looks sick.' Every time she doesn't appear in a tournament people are going to think, 'Is Amy sick?' "

But at the same time, advocates say there can be benefits for both celebrities and public.

High-profile breast cancer patients bring awareness to the disease and the importance of undergoing regular mammograms. Many lend their star power and financial prowess to help organizations.

"Sex in the City" co-star Cynthia Nixon kept her diagnosis secret until it was treated and she became an ambassador for Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Pro football quarterback Brett Favre's wife, Deanna, started a foundation to raise money and awareness for the disease.

For cancer patients, seeing a fellow survivor handling the disease with grace and courage sets a positive example, said Patricia Spicer, a social worker and breast cancer program coordinator at Cancer Care in Woodbury, a nonprofit that provides financial and support services. "Their cancer experience gets shared," said Spicer. "Other women have a chance to see that they can manage it, it becomes very inspirational. It can help women when they're open and honest about it."

Sometimes, though, celebrities and the wives of celebrities have access to health care that other women do not, which can be discouraging to those less well-positioned.

There are other advantages for the celebrities, too.

In an interview in The Boston Globe earlier this month, Elizabeth Edwards said dealing with cancer publicly was "an incredible benefit."

"I got 65,000 e-mails, 30,000 pieces of snail mail," she said. "What that meant was there was never a time when I felt, 'I'm just going to die, nobody's going to care about me, I'm on the last legs.' I always felt this enormous amount of support."


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