Advancements in Breast Cancer
March 7, 2015

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Yearly my oncologist’s group puts on an evening lecture recapping new and exciting news from the San Antonio breast cancer symposium. For the last few years my company has had a table there giving out brochures about our sleepwear. It truly is a wonderful event and I am lucky to be a part of an oncology practice willing to outreach to their patients this way. Did I mention there is food and it is free?

Before the lecture starts there is time to socialize, go around to all the tables and eat. I engage with the men and women who stop at my table. Not only am I a vendor but a survivor. These are my people!

After talking with many people I am reminded of some misconceptions. Here are a few myths that even women in the midst of treatments believe or their families believe.         

 Breast cancer is genetic

NOPE. Less than 10% of all breast cancers are genetic.

If you have a mastectomy you never have to worry about reoccurrence

NOPE. All it takes is one rogue gene no matter how much tissue is removed. Cancer happens.

Mammograms are expensive or not necessary

NOPE. Under health care reform, a routine mammogram screening is FREE and will pick up most abnormalities of women with out dense breasts. Imaging offices are open 6 days a week and often from 6 AM to 8PM. There is no excuse to not get a yearly mammogram if you are over 40. They save lives!

Here are a couple of advancement take-aways from the lecture:

                             Immunotherapy treatments are showing promise for breast cancer. It targets the immune system not the tumor. The tumor may take time to respond and often get worse before it gets better but it is another tool in the oncologist’s arsenal.

                             Adjuvant Hormone Therapy Duration is benefiting from the research on 5-10 years of patients taking tamoxifen and or aromatase inhibitors. Promising reoccurrence and mortality rates are seen up to 15 years after the patient has completed her program. The balance of toxicity versus benefit of extended therapy use is the tipping point.

So there you have it. Did you learn an interesting fact? Have you scheduled your mammogram?

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What Does the World Series and Breast Cancer Have in Common?
October 27, 2014

It’s all about statistics and hope.

As the last week of breast cancer awareness month and the World Series end I thought I would mention some similarities. Shocking to many and even to me that I am using a sports analogy but here it goes!

Not everyone gets breast cancer but we can all support those who do.

Not every baseball player makes it to the World Series but they can become fans.

Breast cancer treatment protocols are based on the best statistical data for a positive outcome.

World Series teams use their statistical rankings to make line up and position placements for the best outcome.

The breast cancer patient can follow her doctor’s recommendations precisely and still get a reoccurrence.

The best team record doesn’t necessarily mean they will end up in the World Series.

It only takes one cell to go rogue to become cancer.

It only takes one swing of the bat to win the series or loose it.

The tumor markers look bad, the treatments are debilitating but the breast cancer patient still has hope that the next treatment, the next blood work will show improvement.

The baseball team is behind in the series and a star player or pitcher is hurt but still they hold hope the next game they will win.

A new clinical trail, a new drug, a new chemo cocktail is showing a statistical significance in life span for the breast cancer patient. She goes for it.

A player is suddenly hot at the bat or at the mound nullifying his season’s statistics. He is put into play.

We support our teams because they display hope on every swing of the bat and every pitch and caught ball. We support our sisters, mothers, and friends with every treatment and diagnosis for the same hope of another day to play!

Breast Cancer Myths Debunked
October 6, 2014

I picked 10 myths about breast cancer. They always show up and make the news but they are just myths.

1. Bras cause breast cancer.

There actually was a recent study showing that this myth is really not sustainable. Really does anyone sincerely think that you get breast cancer from wearing a bra?

2. Breast Cancer is genetic.

Less than 10% of all breast cancers are genetic.

3. Deodorants and antiperspirants cause breast cancer.

Nope there really is not a link.

4. An injury to the chest causes breast cancer.

No one wants a chest injury but it won’t cause breast cancer.

5. Small-breasted women are less likely to get breast cancer.

If only it was true.

6. Large breasted women are more likely to get breast cancer.

Size really does not mater in breast cancer.

7. The radiation in a mammogram can cause breast cancer.

No, the radiation is just a tiny amount.

8. If your mammogram is clean you are 100% breast cancer free.

Know your body. Sometimes a mammogram will not pick up everything.

9. Having an abortion raises your risk for breast cancer.

Unsubstantiated.

10. Breast Cancer is preventable.

I wish that was true.

There are many crazy theories and myths about breast cancer. These 10 are ones I hear all the time. Breast cancer, because there is no cure, is scary and fear drives crazy myths.

Did I debunk any myths for you?

Alternative Care for Breast Cancer
October 30, 2012

This is part five and my final week of blogging about breast cancer for the month of October. This week the subject is alternative care during treatments and after your treatments have ended. As mentioned in part four about help for breast cancer survivors, your oncologist may recommend alternative care. You of course may have to ask.

With my health insurance I buy a policy that gives me so much alternative care a year. It is wise to check with your health insurance carrier. If you enjoy alternative care you can often buy this coverage when you renew your policy for just a few dollars more per month.

 

Acupuncture, chiropractic care and naturopathic medicine are all tied into helping breast cancer survivors. Some clinics have a sliding scale for those without insurance coverage but have cancer.

From recommendation of my oncologist I started at an alternative clinic the same time I started my chemotherapy. I had acupuncture twice a week and met with a naturopath once a month. My ND gave me Chinese herbs that helped with some of my side effects. I had my oncology/radiation team, and my alternative teams helping me achieve breast cancer success!

 

 

Some people have a difficult time with the word survivor. After going through various surgeries, treatments and side effects, I totally embrace the word survivor. For many breast cancer patients the goal is to navigate and thrive to survivorship.

I am so very happy to be a 10-year breast cancer survivor. I am happy to write about breast cancer during the month of October. I hope some of this five part series helped some one or touched some one dealing with breast cancer.

Have you had alternative care? Has acupuncture worked for you? Do you see a Chiropractor or a Naturopathic doctor?

 

Help for Breast Cancer Survivors
October 23, 2012

 

This is part four of my weekly blogs about breast cancer for the month of October.

In my previous blogs I spoke of awareness, preparedness and holly crap breast cancer happens. This week I want to talk about HELP. All breast cancer patients and survivors need help. The disease can truly be mind fogging and there is help to navigate your course.

 

Breast cancer support groups can be really helpful. Who knows more about what you are going through than other survivors? Trust me when I say most women on the other side of treatments and into survivorship are not judgmental of your choices in treatments or your reactions to the disease. The best support groups can be found from recommendations from your oncologist. Many are supported through the hospital. Some hospitals have a social worker that is available. Other hospitals have support groups for children and partners. The best way to find out is to ask your oncologist.

 

Not a talker? Don’t want to listen or share? No problem. Many on line sites are full of information. Of course finding the most reputable sites is tricky. Once again your oncologist can lead you to these sites once you ask. Many oncology offices give a manual with your diagnosis with lots of resources. Did you know that there is a resource to have your house cleaned for free? Yep it is somewhere listed in resources available to breast cancer patients.

 

Friends and family want to do something for you? Let them. No one wants a martyr! If they cook, let them make a meal or two for you. If you enjoy their company ask them to meet you after a chemo session or during the chemo session.

From my experience, there really can be too many soaps and lotions and not enough prepared meals!

Remember not everyone rises to the occasion just because you have breast cancer. You may have to tell your family that you will not be hosting Thanksgiving this year. As the weeks and months pass with your treatments you may become weaker but it may become yesterday news to family and friends. You must remind them! I have seen irreconcilable feelings between family and friends during an illness and treatment.

 

Have you ever helped a friend or loved one during their breast cancer journey?  Have you ever wished you could have helped or helped more a friend or loved one during their breast cancer treatments?

 

 

 

 

 

Breast Cancer Happens (Sh**##$$!!t)
October 16, 2012

This is part three of my weekly blogs about breast cancer during the month of October. So what happens if you or your sister, mother, partner, bff or daughter is diagnosed with breast cancer? A lot happens at once.

 

After the diagnosis, this is the most confusing yet important time of the whole treatment period. It is so very important because you choose your treatments. For example, unlike a heart attack where physicians are working on you immediately and they implement the procedures to save your life, breast cancer has options and choices. Why? Because my breast cancer may not be the same as your breast cancer.

Breast cancer in many ways is a disease about statistics. You will be thank-full of that college statistic course. Don’t remember, didn’t happen? Maybe you or some one in your family is good with baseball statistics. Similar probabilities. Your team of oncologists want to up your success percentages by backing the protocol plan that has proven the most success. After surgery they may recommend chemotherapy or radiation or both. Here is where you need to ask a million questions before you commit to a plan. Questions like, what are the side effects of this regime versus another?  What are the late effects of these plans versus another? It is all about percentages.

This is a confusing time and there are no guarantees or return policies. If some one says they chose a certain protocol because they never want to worry about breast cancer again, they are either in denial or they got some bad info. Let me repeat; there are no guarantees in breast cancer, just statistics and probabilities!

 

Breast cancer happens and it stinks. What parallels in life can you make to this insidious disease?

Would You Be Prepared for Breast Cancer?
October 7, 2012

This is part two of my blogs about breast cancer for the month of October. This week I ask the ridiculous question about being prepared for a potentially life threatening or life altering diagnosis.  I say it is a ridiculous question because are we ever prepared for such bad news? How can anyone be prepared for breast cancer in ourselves or our Mother, sister, friend, partner or daughter?

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The two leading causes of breast cancer are: being a woman and too many birthdays. So if you are female and continue to live, there is a good chance you will get breast cancer in your lifetime. 1 out of 8 women will get breast cancer in her lifetime. I am a 10-year survivor, but you can start counting with me and include yourself and go on to count 7 other women in your life.  Someone from this group will get breast cancer in her lifetime.

 

So how to be prepared? Statistically women over the age of 50 have a probable chance of a major health issue. This includes breast cancer of course but also high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease. My recommendation is Health insurance.  You have insurance on your home, and your car, why would you not have the best coverage you can afford on yourself? If you get your health insurance from your employer why wouldn’t you spend a bit more when it is time to renew knowing that you are in the health issue lottery?

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Many women do not get a yearly mammogram because they think they cannot afford it and then when they are diagnosed with breast cancer it is more advanced. A breast cancer diagnosed in a more advanced stage means more treatments and not such a promising outcome.  There are charities and organizations like Susan Komen for the Cure that will help you if your income qualifies with the mammogram cost. There are insurance policies that can be bought for catastrophic events.  If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, especially in the later stages, your sky-high deductible in a catastrophic policy will be met and you will be glad you had it!

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Prescription drug coverage is an important factor in thinking about your health care costs. Drugs are expensive. Take it from me; you do not want to be thinking of the cost of a pill for nausea when chemotherapy has you hovering the commode! So the best preparedness is to make sure you do not have a cap on prescription drug coverage.

 

Would you be prepared? Have you reviewed your health insurance and prescription drug coverage recently?

 

 

Breast Cancer Awareness
October 2, 2012

 

This year I am a 10-year breast cancer survivor. I am hopefully looking forward to another 10 years of survivorship, but I want to look back too.

 

I was familiar with breast cancer before I was diagnosed. I had friends and family go through various types of the disease treatments. I had participated in the Race for the Cure several times. I was in pharmaceutical sales calling on physicians every working day. I was reading medical journals as part of my job. Yet when I was diagnosed I was shocked.

I was aware of breast cancer, but caught up in my own life, I was not truly aware. I may have firmly been in denial.  I thought, how could this happen to me?  I was 48. I was healthy, fit, ate right, exercised regularly and did not smoke or drink. I wasn’t on any medications and had no health issues. I regularly went to the doctor and got a yearly mammogram. This is the case of many women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. This is what many women diagnosed with breast cancer think.

 

So with all the awareness that happens every October, how effective is it?

For many women who do not get a mammogram this awareness can truly be life saving. For women who do not do a routine self-breast examination the awareness helps. For celebrities to use their celebrity status and the power of the media to talk about breast cancer awareness is helpful. For those of us in denial, repetition is helpful.

The pink everywhere is more prevalent now than it was 10 years ago. More women are surviving longer than they were 10 years ago. Genetic testing, research and studies have grown exponentially in the last 10 years. All of this is positive. More women will survive breast cancer. More women will be double-digit survivors!

Has breast cancer awareness worked for you? Have you been caught in denial?

 

 

 

 

 

The Komen Debacle and the Aftermath
May 22, 2012

When Planned Parenthood of NY applied to become a grantee from Komen for the Cure and was turned down, a PR s**t storm ensued. Nancy Brinker, founder of Komen did not immediately respond. What followed was passionate politics mixed with news bites and media hype.

 

Many women were fed up with Komen for their “Pink Washing” charitable giving and sponsorship. Many people were mad at Komen for being a nonprofit but paying their top employees big salaries.

 

I volunteer for Susan Komen for the Cure affiliate of Oregon and SW Washington. Our affiliate, which is 25 years old, has never had Planned Parenthood apply for any grant money. Not many affiliates in the hundreds found throughout the world have had Planned Parenthood apply for grant money. I know this because for my affiliate, I am a peer review member. I read the grant applications.

 

The first year I volunteered to read the grant applications I was in tears. I wanted every organization to get money. They were all worthy causes. The criteria in general are breast cancer outreach in education, awareness and mammograms to those women who are underserved or without financial means. The organizations have to be able to evaluate the effectiveness on their programs.  Although I still cry when reading the grant applications, now I am able to get through them without sobbing!

 

I attended the ‘Grant Award Celebration’ last week. The charities that received the grants were ecstatic.  Distributed was $1.3M in grants to address breast cancer screening and $600,000 for research.

 

To all the Komen bashers and Pink haters, I wish you could have been in that room with the charity leaders to feel the hope, care and support that the grant money will bring to their cause.  The Komen debacle is behind us and supporting Komen is helping to save women from death from breast cancer through awareness, education, mammograms, research and support.

Have you had your Yearly Mammogram?
October 25, 2011

 9 years ago I went to see my Doctor for a routine check-up and mammogram. I was healthy, busy and didn’t give it a second thought. I thought like every other year the Doctor would say I was in excellent health. She didn’t. She told me to see a surgeon. She said my mammogram was read and it appeared to be textbook breast cancer. In a minute my life changed. I was 48 years old.

Digital mammography is fantastically fast. Before you get dressed the radiologist reads your mammogram and either sends you on your way, asks for another view, or recommends you see your physician.

Mammograms have come a long way from the big squish times. Yes the squish is still there but it is such a short amount of time you hardly feel it. When you are asked to hold your breath the procedure is so fast that you aren’t even gulping for air!

If you take 400 mg of Ibuprofen before your mammogram it does help take the edge off the tiniest discomfort. As far as pain, I am here to say cancer not only sucks but it hurts. A slight ouch from a mammogram is nothing in comparison to painful chemotherapy infusions, body aches and numbing fatigue.

If you say there is no breast cancer in your family, and you are healthy, read my first paragraph again. There is no known cause for breast cancer and no cure. If you are over 40 and especially if you have dense breast or someone in your family had breast or ovarian cancer, get your mammogram.

Many women are reluctant to have a mammogram because they are afraid of the results. The other excuses women give for not having a yearly mammogram is lack of insurance or the cost or the time. As far as the cost goes, the Komen foundation; komen.org can assist for some uninsured low income women. As far as the fear factor, when breast cancer is diagnosed early the survival rate is 98%. The time excuse, really do you have time for cancer??If you are insured it is a no brainer. How busy can you be in the grand scheme of life?

Life can change in a minute from an injury, illness, accident or sudden death. We all take precautions when we buy car insurance, or home insurance. We are being safe when we use our seat belt, or use our turn signals while driving. Why would we not take the same safety measures with our health and get a yearly mammogram?

October is breast cancer awareness month!