Breast Cancer Myths – do not believe the lies

Before I was a Stage 3 Breast Cancer Patient, I believed all of the following statements.  Many of you do as well.

“I have no family history of breast cancer, so I don’t worry about it.”

“Breast cancer doesn’t hurt, so I know this breast pain isn’t cancer.”

“Very young women and very old women don’t get breast cancer.”

Those are all FALSE statements, and I’m going to briefly go through these widespread fallacies one by one.

I HAVE NO FAMILY HISTORY OF BREAST CANCER, SO I DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT

The facts are that 75% to 80% of all breast cancer is NON-genetic.  So if you DO NOT have a family history, you are far more at risk.  Most of us have been wrongly taught by television, magazine articles and other celebrity gossip that family history is the number one key.   WRONG. 

Certainly, if you have a family history, that is a matter to immediately discuss with your doctor.  But PLEASE do not fall into the thinking that because no family members ever had breast cancer, you will not either.  I will repeat this:  Statistics prove that 75% to 80% of all breast cancer patients have no family history.

I had no relatives for generations and generations with breast cancer.  My mom had no relatives for generations and generations with breast cancer.  A genetic counselor believes it is a “fluke” we both got breast cancer.  Flukes happen.

BREAST CANCER DOESN’T HURT, SO I KNOW THIS BREAST PAIN  ISN’T CANCER

One of my most popular blog posts is one where I warn women that BREAST PAIN CAN BE CANCER!!   Thousands of women have read this post about breast pain and breast cancer.  I have gotten emails from many, many women thanking me for getting this message out because they had no idea.  Some have been diagnosed with breast cancer as a result of it.

I had horrible breast pain a year before my diagnosis.  Relying on Dr. Google instead of my own instincts and what my body was telling me, cost me my breast.  I do not want that to happen to you. When I was diagnosed, my large tumor was in the exact place where the pain was.  An unscientific study of hundreds of breast cancer patients on a popular breast cancer site discovered that over 50% had some type of breast pain before diagnosis.

Please read this:   http://denise4health.wordpress.com/2012/09/01/breast-pain-can-be-cancer/

VERY YOUNG WOMEN AND VERY OLD WOMEN DON’T GET BREAST CANCER

Certainly, I was under that impression.  Until I met the young woman in the chemo chair next to me who was diagnosed at age 21 with Stage 4 breast cancer that had literally eaten through her spine.  Doctors missed it because they thought she was too young for breast cancer.   Recently, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Lindsay Vanderveen, a young mom diagnosed with Triple Negative breast cancer at age 28.  Lindsay found her lump 6 months after giving birth to her second baby.  Lindsay’s mission is to teach younger woman that they can be at risk for breast cancer and  to do breast self-exams.

Young moms tell me, “I breastfed so that keeps breast cancer away.”  More wrong information because although there are some studies out there that show it MAY reduce your risk for breast cancer, that does not mean it does.  Plus, I have received hundreds of letters from women diagnosed in their 30s.

Many doctors tell their older patients – age 70 and up – that they don’t need to get their mammograms.   My mom was 80 when she found a lump.  She had not had a mammogram in 10 years.  She was one of the lucky ones that found her small lump that turned out to be Stage 1 – no chemo, no radiation for a woman her age.  Age makes no difference – you can get breast cancer and continue to get those mammograms.

Here are some more FALSE statements I hear quite often:

I am a vegetarian and vegetarians don’t get breast cancer.   WRONG.

I’ve been my same weight since high school.  I’m not a candidate for breast cancer.  Mostly overweight women get breast cancer.   WRONG

If I have breast cancer, I don’t want to know about it.  I don’t go looking for it.  Breast cancer won’t kill me.   WRONG

Mammograms cause breast cancer.  WRONG

Men don’t get breast cancer.  WRONG

Please do not believe the lies.  Get your mammograms and if you have ever been told you have dense breast tissue, make sure you get a 3D or Tomosynthesis mammogram!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Asking for Help During Breast Cancer Treatment

Recently, I received a letter from Brenda in North Carolina.  Brenda recently completed chemo, had a double mastectomy less than three weeks ago, and is ready to begin radiation.  She hired a cleaning woman to help her clean because her husband isn’t a detail kind of guy.  Brenda felt guilty she had to hire someone to clean, but had to give in because she was not capable!

Her words made me ponder this.  Why is it so difficult for us to admit we need help even at the most difficult time in our lives, and when we do, we still feel guilty!?!   Most women tell me they lose their “cleaning desire” after cancer because they realize it just isn’t that important, so I told Brenda “Enjoy every moment of that AHHH feeling you get when someone else cleans your home!”

bucketandmopBrenda isn’t the first woman who has written me about those issues.  Many women have written me after cancer treatment ends and tell me that they wish they would not have been so proud during cancer treatment.  They wished they would have asked and received more help when friends and family offered.

Absolutely the toughest lesson I had to learn during treatment was asking for help.  It was not easy, but often I had no choice.    My sister had been telling me for months, “Let me come and clean your house.”   Finally, I had to say yes.  Even then, I helped her.  It made me feel more capable because I had her help and assistance.  I remember that day with so much fondness.  It meant so much to me.

grocerycartMy friend, Judy, called and offered to pick up groceries or take me to the grocery store every week.  I had no choice to take her up on her offers on several occasions.   It was so difficult to say yes, I need help. But I will never forget her kindnesses.

One non-profit organization, Cleaning for a Reason   http://www.cleaningforareason.org takes applications from breast cancer patients who need help cleaning their homes.  I have heard good reports about this organization who provides services in the United States and Canada.

Never will I forget some words my Oncologist spoke to me after my before my first chemo treatment.  He said, “Now is not the time to be a heroine.  There will be plenty of time for that once treatment ends.  Now is the time to ask for help.”

 

 

 

 

 

“In Celebration of” Honoree for Komen – why and how

Several people have asked me to share my Team Hello Courage page for the upcoming September 28th Race for the Cure in NW Ohio.   I would be DEEPLY honored if you would consider contributing any amount however small to Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure for my team, Hello Courage, for the race which I am the “In Celebration of” honoree.   Asking for money is one of the things I like to do least.

TEAM PAGE AND DONATE HERE:   http://nwohio.info-komen.org/site/TR/RacefortheCure/TOL_NorthwestOhioAffiliate?team_id=304769&pg=team&fr_id=4263

Here is why I am committed to this cause:

  • I am alive today because of God’s grace and research dollars generated by Komen.
  • My Oncologist, Dr. Daniel Hayes, is a National Komen Scholar along with 59 other of the best and brightest breast cancer experts from around the world.  Dr. Lori Pierce, one of my mom’s physicians for her recent breast cancer diagnosis, is also a National Komen Scholar.  Here is a list of breast experts who are Komen Scholars:  http://ww5.komen.org/ResearchGrants/ScientificAdvisoryCouncil.html
  • Dr. Hayes told me that almost every breakthrough in breast cancer research in the last 20 or more years has Komen stamped all over it.
  • The hospital where I received and continue to receive treatment, the University of Michigan, has been the recipient of millions of dollars from Komen.
  • The hospitals here in Toledo where I live received radiation have received funding to allow thousands of women who have no insurance or who are underinsured to receive mammograms.

When I got that phone call saying I was chosen from a field of very worthy candidates, terror hit me I must admit.  From watching past honorees on the megatron screen on race day, I wanted to say no, to turn it down, but I knew I could not.  I knew this would give me more of a platform to get my message out to women and men I would otherwise not be able to reach who would not read my Blog.  That message is:  do monthly breast exams, get your mammograms and don’t stop until you die, early detection does save lives (a lesson I learned when my mom was diagnosed Stage 1 at age 80) and fight like crazy if you are diagnosed because if I can do it, you can do it as well!!

Some women tell me that they are tired of pinkwashing and pink ribbons.  Sometimes I am too, especially in October when there are even pink eggs at the grocery store.  But as a Stage 3 Breast Cancer Survivor, I would rather live in a world with too many pink ribbons than live in the world my aunt by marriage lived in during the 1960s after an advanced breast cancer diagnosis.  She had absolutely no one to talk to,  she never even talked to my mom about it who was a close friend, people whispered about her, she endured a mutilating surgery, no treatment options were available then, and she raised 4 children while being totally alone with breast cancer–no computer support, no blogs, no breast doctors, NOTHING.  She lived against all odds and died of something else in her mid-70s.  I often “talk” with her now with tears in my eyes and tell her I am so sorry she had to endure such pain and agony alone.

Komen was surrounded by controversy several years ago about the Planned Parenthood situation.  People were angry no matter what side of the issue they were on.   Komen handled the whole controversy poorly.  I understand how that can happen as I’ve received several emails, some telephone calls, and several friends have confronted me to voice their opinions.  I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught.  Neither was Komen. 

What I found out was there are 117 Komen affiliates in the United States.  Each one is a separate 501C3 organization.  My local affiliate gives 75% of money received for  breast cancer health and treatment programs and 25% to national research.   My local affiliate and the majority of local affiliates around the country, do not fund Planned Parenthood for mammograms as Planned Parenthood in most all or all locations, has no mammography equipment.  My local affiliate funds hospitals to give mammograms to uninsured or underinsured women.  Here is a list of hospitals in the NW Ohio and SE Michigan area that are currently doing free mammography screening to those in need funded by Komen.  http://www.komennwohio.org/about-us/news/upcoming-mammogram-screening.html

National Komen, a separate entity, ONLY gives money to research.  They do not fund local programs or organizations.  National Komen has one objective – money for research to find a cure. 

I would be so appreciative if you would consider a contribution.  If Komen isn’t a charity you can support for whatever reason, please consider giving to another worthy breast charity.

Thanks so much!

Denise

 

 

 

 

 

Do you feel like a Survivor? A poll for cancer survivors!

That “Survivor” word gets tossed around a lot to those of us who are post-cancer treatment.  Do you feel like a Survivor?  Simple question, but for some, not an easy answer.  One gal wrote me and said she fights with that word “Survivor.”  I did not begin to feel like a Survivor until recently when two years after cancer treatment, I am getting more energy back.  The battle wounds remain, but having more energy helps me feel like I am a Survivor.

Please tell me how you relate to being a “SURVIVOR.”    Thanks!

 

 

 

My Mom Had Breast Cancer at age 80

Many of you have been writing to ask how my mom is doing.  Mom, a very active 80-year-old that can run circles around most 50 year olds, found a lump in her breast and was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.  Thankfully, she listened to me when I asked her if she was doing breast self-exams, did one, and found it.  The doctors were amazed she found the lump because it was rather small, and they had difficulty finding it.  She said that it wasn’t so much the lump but she noticed a difference in her breast tissue – it felt very hard. Thankfully, she knew her body!

Breast Cancer at age 80 with no family history of any kind of cancer was a shock to my mom and our entire family.   But overall, it has been good news for which we are all grateful.

  • Mom’s breast cancer was estrogen positive, progesterone positive, and Her2 Negative.
  • Her lump was 1.7 centimeters – Stage 1, Grade 2.
  • She had a Lumpectomy on June 26, 2014.  It took about 4 weeks for her to feel really good again and be without pain.
  • The Radiation Oncologist and Oncologist presented the facts to mom and me.  No one recommended chemo.  There was an 8% reduction in chance of recurrence if she did Radiation, but she decided against it.  All the doctors concurred that at her age that was the best decision.
  • She is awaiting results from the Dexi Bone Density Scan to see if she can start Arimidex.  I am hoping she can tolerate it because Arimidex cuts your risk of recurrence by up to 50%.

Breast cancer is still breast cancer at whatever age, whatever stage, and is extremely frightening and devastating.   The fear of recurrence is present no matter what, and it is something you have to learn to coexist with on a daily basis.

My mom’s post-lumpectomy breast looks no different from her before breast cancer breast.   It is not sunk in, has no deformity, and other than the 2.5 inch scar that is already starting to fade, that fact is quite amazing to me.   A surgeon’s experience plays into this greatly.  I am always preaching to women to make sure they go to a BREAST SURGEON that only does breast surgeries.  Dr. Jessica Bensenhaver, the surgeon who did my mom’s Lumpectomy, is at the University of Michigan.  I asked Dr. Bensenhaver how many breast surgeries she did in the past year.  Her response, “I have done over 300 this year and did over 300 the previous year.”    That is a lot of experience.  It is also extremely beneficial to have surgery at a cancer center that has the ability to test the tumor margins while the patient is in surgery.  This greatly lessens the chance of having to have yet another surgery to clear those margins!

Studies show that women who have had surgery by a breast surgeon have less rate of recurrence than those who had a general surgeon.  That is certainly something to consider and take seriously.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers for my mom.  We are all grateful.  And make sure you tell the elderly women in your life not to stop getting those mammograms!

 

 

 

Finding Your Life after Cancer Treatments End

Kelly is 18 months post breast cancer treatment.  She told me she is still trying to find her life.  Sound familiar? Once treatment ends, you are left with a self that you barely recognize.   It takes time and real effort to evolve into a thriving Cancer Survivor.  Don’t be too hard on yourself if you are one year, two years or five years out and still feel stuck or feel very little forward movement.

Before, during and after cancer, your world shrinks and becomes so small.  In an effort to help understand how it has affected you, please answer the following questions:

1)  I used to  ___________which brought me great joy.

2) Physical limitations have kept me from doing ______________.

3) Lack of energy has prevented me from _________________.

4)  Post traumatic stress syndrome has caused me to ____________________.

5) Social anxiety or fear has kept me  _________________________.

6) Depression has made ________________ almost impossible.

7) Anger has been ______________________ for me.

As I was filling in my own blanks to these questions, I realized the biggest things I have been missing in my life are being spontaneous and traveling.  It was common for “Old” Denise to wake up and decide I’m taking off for an unknown destination on the spur of the moment.  That part of me has been lost since diagnosis and answering the questions made me realize how much I missed that part of me.

So I decided I had to do something about it by taking a small step forward.   On a recent Saturday morning, I woke up, looked outside at the 75 degree day and thought, “I am going to a Detroit Tigers baseball game today.”    Ever since cancer treatment ended, I kept telling myself I wanted to go to a Tiger game when I had the energy.

I called my nephew and his fiancé and asked them if they wanted to join me for a Tiger game – no tickets – let’s just go, I’ll pick you up in an hour.   They were all in, and off we drove the 60 miles north.   I felt my sense of adventure returning as we rode the People Mover Monorail to Comerica Park after arriving in the Greektown area of Detroit.  Purposefully, I chose to take the People Mover because it was too easy to park next to the stadium.  Needing spontaneity and adventure, I had to take a more exciting way to get to the stadium.  When we got to the stadium, we were able to get tickets at a reasonable price (which is often hard to do because the Tigers frequently sell out), and we had an amazing day!

At the end of the day, my nephew told me he could tell I was “getting my mojo back.”   Those were words I needed, and it made me so happy that he noticed!  Being spontaneous and doing a little travel, no matter how small, made me feel energetic and vibrant.

Small StepMy advice is perhaps you are not able to run a marathon like you used to, but you can run a mile.  Maybe you can’t jet off to Europe, but you could take a day trip to a town with a German restaurant.  Perhaps you don’t have the energy to go to a concert, but you could take in a movie at the theater.   Maybe you cannot make afghans or do needlepoint work because of Lymphedema, but it could be time for that new hobby.  You may not have the energy to garden, but you could handle some pots of flowers or herbs.  You have felt “the calling” to volunteer to help newly diagnosed cancer patients…. you can make that first phone call to your local cancer center.  Going to a Day Spa may not be in your budget, but maybe you could get a half-hour massage.

A friend who spent over two years hospitalized for a number of life-threatening illnesses, told me she had become so fearful of even the smallest things in life, and she was especially afraid to drive.  I challenged her to drive one mile to her local grocery store.  Once she made that small step, she was never afraid to drive again and is back on the road!  Her world has opened up once again.

Promise yourself to make a SMALL STEP FORWARD!  It will reap great rewards for your emotional and mental health!  And I would LOVE to hear from you how or what you did or have been doing to move forward!  Email me at b4Denise@hotmail.com  or post a comment!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spice Turmeric and the Prevention of Breast Cancer and Recurrence

If you are a breast cancer patient/survivor, chances are you have heard about the spice, Tumeric, and that it is good as a weapon against breast cancer. I’ve certainly read about it, but other than once in a while try to add it to my food, I have not done much about it.

That is until now!

Bharat B. Aggarwal, PhD is with M. D. Anderson in Houston, the #1 Cancer Hospital in the USA. He is a professor of cancer research, biochemistry, immunology and experimental therapeutics. His book is “Healing Spices – How to Use Everyday and Exotic Spices to Boost Health and Beat Disease.”

In the book, Dr. Aggarwal talks about Turmeric which has the active ingredient of “curcumin” which is the powerhouse. What really got my attention is that Dr. Aggarwal and other researchers at M. D. Anderson found Curcumin as effective at “thwarting breast cancer cells as Tamoxifen, a drug widely used to stop the spread or recurrence of breast cancer.”    WOW!

To be honest, I am not crazy about the taste of Turmeric, so I probably will be taking it in supplement form.  Dr. Aggarwal says if you take it in supplement form, be sure to take a supplement that contains both Turmeric/Curcumin and Pepperine (or black pepper).

Turmeric and Black Pepper

Turmeric and Black Pepper

Black pepper helps the absorption as does olive oil and yogurt.  So if cooking with it, add black pepper and olive oil and/or yogurt!   He recommends taking 500 mg a day for general health, but it is safe and has no side effects according to his research.  So I will probably take 1000 mg per day of Organic Turmeric/Curcumin with Black Pepper.  There are several brands for sale on Amazon.  Since I do not have any experience with it as yet, I cannot make a brand recommendation.

His book is quite fascinating, and I found it very interesting reading about many spices and various diseases.   It is quite encouraging to know that the top cancer hospital in the country is doing spice research!   Plus, there are quite a few ongoing clinical trials about Turmeric and cancer!

Unrelated to spices, if you have had or are facing a Mastectomy/Lumpectomy/Reconstructive surgery or have Lymphedema, I cannot recommend this Breast Pillow enough!   I use mine every day and get rave reviews from customers at http://www.hellocourage.com

Breast Buddy - $19.90 with FREE SHIPPING

Breast Buddy – $19.90 with FREE SHIPPING