Advancements in Breast Cancer
March 7, 2015

 advancements3

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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The Sisterhood of Breast Cancer
October 15, 2014

There exists a sisterhood of women who have survived breast cancer. Those of us in this group know many members who have not survived. Recently I was giving a breast cancer awareness talk at a community college. One youngish woman asked in all sincerity, “But women don’t really die any longer from breast cancer so shouldn’t all this money and education be spent on more life threatening diseases?”

Luckily I was not the only person giving the presentation and my partner found her words faster to reply. This was a question in my 8 years of breast cancer outreach I never before had heard.

My speaking partner is a 32-year breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed at age 30 after giving birth to her second child. 32 years ago breast cancer treatments were just short of barbaric and she told her story and how research and treatments have come a long way from slash, cut, and poison but yet still some women die. Actually younger women have a higher mortality rate, however breast cancer is not necessarily a death sentence. Some women with metastasized breast cancer can live 5-15 years. But not all breast cancers are alike.

I told the story of a friend of mine who was diagnosed 5 years after my diagnosis. Her cancer stage was actually better than mine but it was a different kind of cancer. She did everything according to protocol set by her oncologists. After her 5-year mark it was discovered her cancer had metastasized and with-in 5 months she was dead.

In the last 5 years I have lost 3 friends to breast cancer. 2 more have been diagnosed with the disease, and 2 more have had a reoccurrence. It is a sisterhood that binds us together, one we never wanted to join. The fatality rate has been reduced through educational and social outreach, and medical advances resulting in early detection but it is still a life threatening disease with no cure!

Do you know some one in the sisterhood?

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.

Intereseting Studies in Breast Cancer
January 10, 2011

Aspirin, a baby dose, has showed some benefits to deterring reoccurrence of breast cancer. Studies were not looking at Aspirin but found the benefits in breast cancer patients as a common thread. Most women were taking the aspirin for heart benefits and it turns out another benefit is breast cancer re-occurrence. So do you go out and buy the Children’s Aspirin and start taking it immediately? Not so fast. Talk with your oncologist and see if it is right for you. Like any drug taken long term, there are side effects to consider.

The FDA has recommended that the drug Avastin should not be recommended for breast cancer patients. Side effects were too adverse to continue use was given as the reasons. The drug has not been revoked as yet for other cancers. Avastin’s maker, Genentech is appealing.

Weight lifting for women after breast cancer surgery has been in question for years. Study after study has come out to say that lymphedema is not a result of increased activity such as weight lifting. Good for you if you have been adding weights to your exercise regime, bad news if you have used your surgery as an excuse!

http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/breast_cancer_gals_blast_fda_halt_uoXFKxlaQGPC3t30Y8CAzN

http://health.usnews.com/health-news/managing-your-healthcare/cancer/articles/2010/12/17/health-buzz-avastin-shouldnt-be-used-for-breast-cancer-fda-says.html

http://getbetterhealth.com/about-weightlifting-and-breast-cancer/2010.12.22

Vitamin D, the Darling Vitamin in Breast Cancer Prevention?
November 1, 2010

Have you been tested for a vitamin D deficiency?  Most physicals for women now include a blood test for vitamin D levels. It appears that many of us are not getting enough Vitamin D naturally, out in the sun. Many make-up formulas include sun screen. Many moisturizers include sun screen. What this all means is the 10-15 minutes outside every day that is recommended for natural Vitamin D absorption just doesn’t happen.  For women with a history of skin cancers, being out in the sun is not a good idea.

Vitamin D deficiencies have been associated with breast cancer. Research continues. I heard a lecture about recommending Vitamin D to breast cancer survivors and on the way home; the store I tried to buy was sold out. The other 1,000 women at the lecture evidently had the same idea!  How much to take has to be determined from your blood test and your physician. The good news is the blood test can be part of all the testing for your annual check-up and the supplements are inexpensive.

There is a new study out and here is a quick take away:

“Women who are diagnosed with late-stage and aggressive breast cancer are more likely to have a low vitamin D level than women who have less aggressive cancer. Women who had blood plasma concentration of less than 20 ng/mL were eight times more likely to be diagnosed with regional or distal spread of cancer when compared to women who had normal vitamin D levels. The study also found that African American women were four times more likely to have low vitamin D levels compared with white women.”
 Here is a link to the entire study.

http://www.medpagetoday.com/HematologyOncology/BreastCancer/22543

Here is another informative synopsis:

http://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/news/20101004/low-vitamin-d-linked-breast-cancer

One More:

http://drtorihudson.com/cancer-prevention/breast-cancer-prevention/vitamin-d-and-reduction-of-breast-cancer-risk/

Conclusion? Have the blood test for Vitamin D next office visit, especially if you are a breast cancer survivor.

How to be a Friend to a Friend who has Breast Cancer
May 10, 2010

Many people want to help out when a friend is diagnosed with breast cancer or any cancer. The initial response of flowers, plants and cards is fine but the following is a list of other ideas:

Chemotherapy can last 3-5 hours. Some people sleep, others need distraction. Eating and drinking is totally acceptable.  Ask to accompany the friend to chemotherapy if you are a positive upbeat, but not a Polly-Anna person.

 Check with the person about tastes. Often a metal taste happens with Chemo, or some people crave sour or sweet, only cold or only hot beverages. Even if your friend does not want you to come to chemo with them, you can buy or make them some chemo essentials:

Small Thermos for coffee or hot/cold beverage

Small fleece blanket

Portable Scrabble

Check-out line magazines

Nuts, and nut mixes

Hard candy

Chocolates

Ice Cream

DVDS for a portable DVD player

Playing cards

Lap table

CD of music they like

Pill bottle labels

Cozy socks

Fleece hat

Neck pillow

Mittens or gloves

Cloth napkins

Have Lunch delivered

Bring in Coffee and pastries

Bring dinner for the family on chemo night. Leave it at their home in a cooler

Follow up with a phone call or an email

Some Don’ts:

Take pictures unless requested

Insist you accompany them

Expect them to be truly interested in your problems

Lavish them with lotions, oils and bath products

Continually ask what you can do for them and do nothing when the person doesn’t come up with an answer

Tell stories about other cancer patients who bounced back in ‘No Time’

Try to convert them to your religion or spiritual persuasion

Leave half way through the infusion

Exclude them while   talking with other patients or people or on your phone

Make them stay awake if they want to sleep

Make them drive and pick you up for the chemo appointment

Ask only about how their spouse or kids are handling it and not them

 The chemo experience is a tough time and friends can be very helpful. The above are ideas to become the helpful friend.

The Power of The Pink T-Shirt
September 23, 2009

43,000 people joined together for the Susan G Komen Race for the Cure this

30 Strong!

30 Strong!

Sunday in Portland Oregon. A beautiful sunny morning brought thousands touched by breast cancer a warm feeling of hope. Hope for the Cure, Hope for the Cause, Hope for the Healing. 43,000 people gave up their normal Sunday morning activities to show their support for curing breast cancer. My company had a team again this year, Team Haralee. Team members are made up of survivors of breast cancer and the ugly stepsister of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and their families and friends. Our Donation goal, above the $25.00 entrance fee, was met this year! Survivors wear a pink commemorative T-shirt. Non survivors wear a commemorative white T-shirt. Watching a sea of pink and white T-shirts is a very powerful image. Special attention is given to pink shirt wearers. There was a survivor tent with special goody bags filled with socks and tea and shoelaces and coupons from National Komen sponsors for all survivors. Deference was given to pink shirted women. Survivors were sent to the head of the line for samples, even the line for the port-a-potties. For a few hours at this special event the Power of the Pink T-Shirt is honored. Those participating with the Race for the Cure understand the physical, mental, emotional, and fiscal costs of survivorship and show their respect and love. It is a celebration and a memorial and a very powerful event. Oregon and Washington have the highest rates of breast cancer in the country. With a dubious honor like that, Komen was able to chase out 43,000 people to support the Race for the Cure. I just wonder why not 100,000 or 200,000 people? Maybe next year there will be a cure, or a cause. We all hold on to the Hope.

Breast Cancer Genetic Hope
July 6, 2009

A new drug for genetic breast cancer is showing promise. A small study in BRCA Genethe UK with the drug Olaparib, from pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, is showing promise in shrinking and stopping tumor growth.

Olaparib works by blocking a protein found in cancer cells with patients who have a BRCA-related breast cancer. What is very exciting is that the drug causes the cancer cells to die yet leaves healthy cells alone. This means the debilitating side effects of traditional chemotherapy would be drastically reduced.

Jews with an Ashkenazi heritage have a high incidence of BRCA related breast cancer. Those with the BRCA gene mutation have a 60% higher chance of getting breast cancer in their life time than those that do not carry the mutation. They also have a 60% increased risk of ovarian cancer. Up to 50% of people with the gene mutation do not have a family history of breast cancer largely because the gene can be carried by men who do not manifest the disease.

 Andrew Tutt, the director of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Unit at King’s College London, said preliminary results were “very promising”.The drug has the potential as an early stage preventative treatment.  Many women develop breast cancer not knowing they carry the gene. More studies are needed, but the general thought from the genetic breast cancer community is HOPE.

The Truth about Breast Cancer
May 5, 2009

 The truth about breast cancer is that it happens. Breast RibbonNo one knows the cause or the cure. The only known causes of breast cancer are too many birthdays and being a woman. Every woman is shocked when she hears that diagnosis. I know I was. I couldn’t understand how I could have a fast growing life threatening disease when I felt great. Not until I started my treatments did I feel sick. Last week the NY Times ran a story with a teaser headline under the picture of an obvious cancer patient, “Non-smoking, vegetarian who exercised was shocked when told she had Breast Cancer”. This is a tough story for this woman because after treatments her cancer returned. For those of us familiar with breast cancer, that is what it does, it comes back. There is no cure for breast cancer. If eating blueberries, flax seed, walnuts, broccoli and such, and daily exercise was really the preventive cure we would see a drop in breast cancer statistics. This is not the case. Cancer is not one disease. Breast cancer may not respond the same way as treatments for another cancer, and varies from individuals. Researchers are always looking for funding from foundations and companies to find a cure. In 1971 Richard Nixon vowed that the United States would find a cure for cancer. 38 years later the Obama administration is vowing to look for cures. I am forever the optimist and would like to see a cure for breast cancer in my lifetime. This administration seems to understand the complexity of cancer and hopefully will make head way for cures or causes. Early detection is great. Healthy life styles are wonderful. The truth however is there is nothing to insure you against breast cancer. Like life, no guarantees, warranties or do-overs. Metastasis breast cancer, no longer a hasty death notice, is cancer that has spread to other parts of the body that can be treated as a chronic condition. Treatments are on going, meaning for the rest of the woman’s life. This is the status of the woman in the NY Times story. I wish her well.