No Boobs About It, Inc., www.noboobsaboutit.org is a not for profit organization sharing information , resources and support on getting through treatment and on with life.

Neglecting Our Overall Health AfterTreatment

treatmentThe first year after active treatment ends you will see members of your treatment team on a frequent basis. First, three months after active treatment ends, then on to a six month schedule of health care monitoring.

Every six months can be the norm for five years after completing active treatment, depending on the type of surgery, stage of your cancer at diagnosis, and if you are taking a hormone therapy medication.

In addition to your surgeon, you will see your medical oncologist, and radiation oncologist, if you have had radiation. There will be mammograms every six months at first, unless you have had a bilateral mastectomy.  Blood work to monitor tumor markers may be part of your visits to the medical oncologist.

If you are on a hormone therapy medication to prevent a recurrence, your blood will be also checked regularly to make sure your are not experiencing problems with your cholesterol. A standard physical exam will be part of your oncology visits. Your bone density will be monitored and you will be referred to your GYN for regular follow-up.

Having just come off active treatment and now having to go for six-month follow-up visits to two, if not three members of your treatment team it is only natural to feel overwhelmed by all the time you spend making and keeping medical appointments.

The big danger for many of us is to neglect those body parts that don’t seem to have anything directly to do with breast cancer recurrence or experiencing the potential side effects of ongoing hormone therapy.

All we want to do is put as much distance between us and the breast cancer treatment experience. We are tired of being examined, poked and probed. Most of all, we are tired of being anxious about what each doctor will find during our exam and in our blood work.

So, we may tend to put off the dentist and eye doctor visits. Yet, our eyes and our dental health need monitoring on hormone medications.

We may ignore other screening tests such as a colonoscopy. But, this test is life-saver and needs to be done.

We still need to see our regular physician to monitor our general health. We need an annual flu shot and any other shots that can prevent us from getting ill.

Yes, it is a lot of maintenance and sometimes we wish for the days when seeing a doctor was a sometime thing.

We’ve made it through a potentially life-threatening illness, and we want to stay healthy. So, we need to be vigilant about our overall health and not just focus on our breast health.

Share This
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks

Living in the Day; Planning for the Future

day

Just a few weeks after I completed treatment for my first cancer, 16 years ago, I spent a day with friends. Over lunch, conversation soon turned to early retirement plans among those who had government jobs.

As I listened, I couldn’t help wondering if planning for retirement was something I had to concern myself about. I was still focusing on getting through the days from one post-treatment follow up appointment to the other. It was easier living in each day, not projecting, getting done whatever I needed and wanted to do was enough for me.

Short-term planning, such as how to get my strength back and  fulfilling personal and business commitments, made prior to my diagnosis were all I was a able to manage in the weeks and months that followed treatment. Long term planning didn’t enter my mind; yet I knew I had to plan for the future as if  I expected to have one. I began small, with goals for growing my business that could be accomplished within 6 months (my time between doctor visits) and personal activities…a  short vacation or a long overdue visit to a friend. My planning time expanded as the space between doctor visits grew farther apart. Six months of planning became a year.

During the years between my cancers, the  trick became balancing living in the day with planning for the future. Not so easy…good health and years of being cancer-free made me more confident about planning. I began to plan like someone who had  never had a life-threatening illness. When my second cancer was discovered,  it was time for a refresher course in living in each day, but still planning for the future. It was easier the second time around.

It has been over five years since my second cancer. They have been mostly good years, with the exception of last year. Early in 2014, someone near and dear to me was diagnosed, out of the blue, with an aggressive cancer. No, not breast cancer, one I had never seen up close before.

Once again, I found myself struggling to live in the day and not project, and not give ground to the “what ifs.” As the months of my loved one’s treatment went on, I resurrected the tools I used during my two cancers to get me balanced, able to live in the day, while planning  for the future.

I have come to realize that whether it is our own cancer, or that of a loved one, our biggest and often hardest challenge is to live each day, and not let cancer steal our days.

Share This
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks

If You are a Survivor…

survivorWhen I was first diagnosed, all I wanted was to speak to someone who survived breast cancer. I wanted to talk to a survivor, in fact survivors, the more the better. I didn’t want to hear war stories, but rather how the survivor got through treatment, with all of its side effects, and got on with life when active treatment was over.

I needed help with managing the feelings that were the companions of cancer: shock, panic, denial, anger, isolation, sadness and most of all the feeling that life, my life as I knew it, was gone.

I felt out of control as I made appointments to visit cancer specialists, surgeons and oncologists I didn’t know, but had to trust to cure me or put me in remission from this disease. I waited for the scheduled visits, I waited to be seen, I waited for the tests the doctors scheduled to confirm or clarify the suspected diagnosis and the extent of my cancer. I wait to hear the results of tests and the proposed treatment. I waited for the surgery date, the results of what was found during surgery, and what additional treatments I would need. I waited and waited and during the waiting my moods swung from confidence to fearing the worst and everything in between.

I have a friend in the waiting zone; she describes waiting as the hardest part of  her whole cancer experience so far.

She surfs the web trying to find more information about her cancer and looking for whatever it is we all look for during the night when we can’t sleep and we are trying to control the “What ifs”.

My friend shares how important reading the stories of survivors is for her. As she put it, “I don’t know if the people that are blogging and tweeting realize how much us new people use their experiences to help us on our journey.”I think all of us who have gone through cancer know what she means. A survivor gives the newly diagnosed hope just by having survived!

If you are a survivor , please send your story to: jean@noboobsaboutit.com You may never know directly those you help, but as my friend and many of my readers continue to confirm, survivor stories are tools for the newly diagnosed trying to get through treatment.

If you choose to share, please focus on the things you did to overcome the problems that breast cancer brings. What the newly diagnosed need are blueprints for getting through the fears, the treatments, the side effects, the feelings of being out of control, the anger and the sadness. Please make what you share a practical “How To” guide on getting through breast cancer, adapting to the changes that BC brings and living a life that may be different but is a good life as a survivor.

As a survivor you can make the journey so much easier for those just beginning their breast cancer experience.

Share This
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks

Hormone Therapy, Weight Gain, Diet Products

hormone

As a two-time taker of hormone therapies to prevent a recurrence of breast cancer, I can attest to the fact that weight gain on these medications is an issue for many of us. I gained over 30 pounds during the five years I took Tamoxifen and 12 pounds in the six months I was on Arimidex before having to come off it. I saw a nutritionist, watched and measured everything I put in my mouth, and still gained weight. I also walked two miles every day, rain or shine.

I never had a weight problem prior to breast cancer; dieting was a new and unpleasant experience for me.

It is hard not to get discouraged as you watch yourself grow out of your favorite clothes, especially if you are trying to cope with some of the other side effects of taking hormone therapies.

Some of us, while on a hormone therapy, are tempted to reach for weight loss products to help in losing weight; not a good idea. First, and foremost, if you are on a hormone therapy, you need to be followed by a medical oncologist. This is the person you need to run all your medications by, including supplements. The oncologist needs to sign off on what you are taking to insure there is no conflict with what you are taking as a hormone therapy.

You also need to consider what the Federal Drug Administration has to say about these products.

The FDA has found hundreds of products that are marketed as dietary supplements but actually contain hidden active ingredients (components that make a medicine effective against a specific illness) contained in prescription drugs, unsafe ingredients that were in drugs that have been removed from the market, or compounds that have not been adequately studied in humans.

For example, FDA has found weight-loss products tainted with the prescription drug ingredient sibutramine. This ingredient was in an FDA-approved drug called Meridia, which was removed from the market in October 2010 because it caused heart problems and strokes.

Most recently, FDA has found a number of products marketed as dietary supplements containing fluoxetine, the active ingredient found in Prozac, a prescription drug marketed for the treatment of depression and other conditions. Another product contained triamterene, a powerful diuretic (sometimes known as “water pills”) that can have serious side-effects and should only be used under the supervision of a health care professional.

Many of these tainted products are imported, sold online, and heavily promoted on social media sites. Some can also be found on store shelves.

And if you’re about to take what you think of as “natural” dietary supplements, such as bee pollen or Garcinia cambogia, you should be aware that FDA has found some of these products also contain hidden active ingredients contained in prescription drugs.

The FDA has issued over 30 public notifications and recalled 7 tainted weight loss products in 2014. The agency also has issued warning letters, seized products, and criminally prosecuted people responsible for marketing these illegal diet products. In addition, FDA maintains an online list of tainted weight-loss products.

Unfortunately, some of us will continue to carry more weight during our time on hormone therapy; however, working with a nutritionist and working out regularly will help to keep the weight gain manageable. After five years on Tamoxifen, I went on a diet and took off 20 of the 30 lbs. I gained.

As my oncologist so aptly put it when I complained about the weight gain I was experiencing in my early days on hormone therapy, “Would you rather be chubby and here, or skinny and dead?” His statement put the situation in perspective.

 

 

Share This
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks

Breast Radiation Dos and Don’ts

radiation

A friend is in the early days of getting radiation following a lumpectomy. Since it has been 16 years since my first cancer, a lumpectomy followed by radiation, I needed to review all the dos and don’ts of self-care that I wanted to share with her and with all of you reading this post.

What I found comes from MedlinePlus, a service of the U.S. Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

Breast Radiation Dos and Don’ts

You may notice changes in the way your breast looks or feels (if you are getting radiation after a lumpectomy). These changes include:

  • Soreness or swelling in the area being treated. This should go away 4 - 6 weeks after treatment is over.
  • The skin on your breast may become more sensitive or numb.
  • Skin and breast tissue may be thicker or firmer. The skin may be slightly darker.
  • After therapy, your breast may feel larger or smaller. Many women will not have any change in size.
  • You may notice these changes for up to 12 months after therapy starts.

Skin Care

When you have radiation treatment, a health care provider draws colored markings on your skin. Do not remove them. These show where to aim the radiation. If they come off, do not redraw them. Tell your doctor if they come off. These must stay there until your treatments are done.

Take care of the treatment area:

  • Wash gently with lukewarm water only. Do not scrub. Pat your skin dry.
  • Do NOT use soaps. Do not use lotions, ointments, makeup, perfumed powders, or other perfumed products on this area. Ask your doctor what is okay to use.
  • Keep the area that is being treated out of the direct sun.
  • Do not scratch or rub your skin.

Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any break or opening in your skin. Do not put heating pads or ice bags on the treatment area. Wear loose-fitting clothing.

Do not wear a bra, or wear a loose-fitting bra with no underwire. Ask your doctor about wearing your breast prosthesis, if you have one.

Self-care

You need to eat enough protein and calories to keep your weight up.

Tips to make eating easier:

  • Choose foods that you like.
  • Eat foods with gravy, broths, or sauces to make them easier to chew and swallow.
  • Eat small meals, and eat more often during the day.
  • Cut your food into small pieces.
  • Ask your doctor or dentist if artificial saliva might help you.

Ask your doctor about liquid food supplements. These can help you get enough calories. If pills are hard to swallow, try crushing them and mixing them with some ice cream or another soft food.

Watch out for these signs of edema (swelling) in your arm.

  • You have a feeling of tightness in your arm.
  • Rings on your fingers get tighter.
  • Your arm feels weak.
  • You have pain, aching, or heaviness in your arm.
  • Your arm is red, swollen, or there are signs of infection.

Ask your doctor or nurse about exercises you can do to keep your arm moving freely.

Most people who get radiation treatment begin to feel tired after a few days. If you feel tired:

  • Do not try to do too much in a day. You probably will not be able to do everything you are used to doing.
  • Try to get more sleep at night. Rest during the day when you can.
  • Take a few weeks off work, or work less.

References

Sharma RA, Vallis KA, McKenna WG. Basics of radiation therapy. In: Abeloff MD, Armitage JO, Niederhuber JE, Kastan MB, McKenna WG, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 29.

Perry MC. Approach to the patient with cancer. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed.Philadelphia,Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 182.

Davidson N. Breast cancer and benign breast disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed.Philadelphia,Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 204.

Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington; and Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital (6/5/2012).

 

Share This
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks