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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No One Likes to be Called FATTY!
January 31, 2015

Last week I went for my yearly mammogram. I go to a women’s imaging center where all they do is digital mammograms. Since I am a breast cancer survivor I usually hang around the 20 minutes for the radiologist to read my mammogram. When I went into the waiting room there was a woman not only crying but also wailing. I decided to leave and wait for the follow-up letter to come and the notice sent to my oncologist.

I saw the oncologist before I got the letter with the heads up that all was fine. I was feeling relieved until I got home and opened the letter from the imaging center. The letter stated my breast tissue is almost entirely fat.

I chose during breast cancer to save my breasts. I had 2 lumpectomies, which is considered breast conservation to keep them. So what if they are almost all fat now. I am happy that they are still original. Did the imaging center just call me ‘fatty’?

Breasts are not comprised of muscle so are fatty breasts bad? I can’t work out my breasts to turn the fat to muscle because there are no muscles in breasts! So here is my question:

Have you been told that you are a fat breasted woman?

My Veins Are Shot
January 24, 2015

Giving blood is a great thing to do. Donating your healthy blood to blood banks is terrific. When I was in college I started donating blood. I learned then that my veins are not very cooperative. They look good but they roll away from the needle.

Fast forward a few decades and my veins were tested to their limit with chemotherapy. I chose not to have a port inserted because that part of the whole cancer treatment regime was what freaked me out. Subsequently my chemo had to be administered into my veins in my arm. Because of my breast cancer surgeries only one arm could be used. The chemo drugs are very toxic. The nurses who administer wear heavy gloves, and yet this poison went into my veins. My veins did not like it. They rolled, collapsed, burst and generally made life difficult.

As a result of my treatments, the only place that I can get blood out of my body for a blood test is from my hand. It hurts a bit and the top of my hand is all scarred from my many blood tests as a cancer survivor. My doctor went so far as to recommend I wear a medical alert bracelet! I just can’t bring myself to wear a bracelet that says, “Veins Suck, Use Right Hand” or “Veins Shot, Administer in Right Hand Only”

.Giving blood

Last week I went for my yearly visit to my oncologist. Before the visit blood is taken. A good friend of mine had breast cancer a year after my diagnosis. We go to the same oncologist and now we schedule our appointments following each other and then go out to celebrate another year of cancer free living. She has her appointment first because her veins are not shot and her time in the lab is brief.

Gave Blood

I don’t think there is note on my chart about my veins but let’s just say I never get the new oncology tech for the blood draw. I still tell them what size needle to use, which hand, which I make certain is warm, and I already drank about a gallon of water before the visit, all to have a timely and successful blood draw.

Anyone else with uncooperative veins?

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!

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 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?

The Blame Game with Breast Cancer
May 28, 2014

 

If I read one more report that says this or that can be done to prevent breast cancer I will explode! Those of us intimate with breast cancer know the randomness of the disease.

There are no guarantees in life. Why would there be a guarantee in preventing breast cancer? There is no cure for breast cancer. There is no one prevention course of action that will keep you free from the disease. Statistically the number one reason people get breast cancer is because they are female. The number two reason is too many birthdays. So if you are female, and live long enough, your chances increase in getting breast cancer.

Here are some of the headlines I read about breast cancer in unscientific magazines: (more…)

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?

 

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?