|Grace Ma, 44: Five-Year Breast Cancer Survivor|
What I learned: It's okay to let down my defenses
"In medical school, we're taught to be sympathetic but to keep a professional distance. But having breast cancer has shown me that sometimes you need to expose a little more of yourself. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I didn't have a close survivor in my life; if I did, maybe cancer would have been a little less scary. "Now, when patients come in to discuss breast reconstruction, I look them in the eye and say, ‘I know exactly how you feel.' I give them an honest, firsthand account of the side effects of chemo and radiation, and point out that my hair has grown back and that I'm okay, which seems to provide some comfort.
"My new openness has carried over to my personal life as well. I'm more comfortable discussing anything at all with friends and family, which has made my relationships deeper and more meaningful. I had a protective shell around me for 20 years—cancer has eaten away that shell, allowing the real me to shine through."