Five Sisters, Four Cancer Patients

PHOTO "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts sat down with a group of sisters who are all battling breast cancer.Ida Mae Astute/ABC News
"Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts sat down with a group of sisters who are all battling breast cancer.

Gail Swanson Molla, Debbie Swanson Ryan, Trisha Swanson Bergeron, Lisa Swanson Eddy and Paula Swanson. They are sisters who are united in love and a battle against breast cancer.

In 2002, Paula Swanson, the youngest of five, was the first to be diagnosed with the dreaded disease.

She got treatment, but the cancer returned in 2007. That was just the beginning of the bad news for the family.

VIDEO: The Swanson sisters support one another as four battle breast cancer.Play

Bergeron was the next to announce that she, too, had the disease. Then came Ryan's diagnosis, followed by Eddy's, who announced it on April Fool's Day, jokingly saying she had "caught it" from her sisters.

When she got the news of the diagnosis, Eddy said she thought it was a bad joke.

"I just didn't think it was gonna happen. … I thought about the odds. I said, 'No, not four in one family,'" she told "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts.

The only sister to remain cancer-free is Molla, who, unlike her siblings, did not test positive for the genetic mutation that is linked to hereditary breast cancer.

She feels relief, primarily because her testing negative is good for her own children's future. But she also feels guilty.

"My being negative didn't take away any of their illness," she said.

The women's mother died of ovarian cancer at 67 years old.

Sisters Share Their Burden

For the sisters -- who have seven daughters, two sons and grandchildren among them -- love and humor have played equally significant parts in their journey through the ups and downs of living with cancer.

Their coping strategies include talking to each other on the phone, going to doctors' appointments, sharing meals, holding hands through chemotherapy and crying and laughing together.

"My family called me Chemo-sobby when I was going through chemo," said Swanson, whose disease is terminal.

Bergeron's daughter Joelle said that if she ends up developing breast cancer, she'd have "incredible role models to look up to."

Strangers' Kindness Comforts Sisters

While the sisters have been pillars of support for one another, they've also found a network of supporters in other families, fellow patients, friends and complete strangers.

Bergeron said a "lot of good" has come out of her sisters' situation.

For people who are undergoing treatment for cancer, some days are "horrible," she said. On those days, she said, "a stranger would come up and hug you and say, 'Everything's going to be OK, you're gonna get through this. …'"

Swanson recounted a recent vacation she took with her daughter and Molla that was funded by the organization Seeds of Hope.

People have sent her cards and money in envelopes.

"And no return address," she said. "And not looking for a thank-you."

As much as they've gotten from others, the sisters also want very much to give back. Swanson and Eddy have done a three-day walk with for the foundation Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Awareness Is Crucial, Swansons Say

The sisters want people to become more aware. They want men to be more involved in the fight and women to be more aware of their bodies and be their most passionate health care advocates.

"I really want young women to be persistent and insistent with their doctors and their … insurance companies," Molla said. "Some of our daughters were denied simple mammography. They … eventually got it when they fought their way through the red tape. But if people in this category aren't eligible to be screened, who is?"

If doctors say you don't need a mammogram, insist, said Paula Swanson. Eddy agreed.

"I didn't have a lump," she said. "I just went for a [regular] mammogram, and I was diagnosed. ... I didn't have anything to go by. I had no lump, no symptoms."

CLICK HERE to return to the "Good Morning America" Web site.