October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While it is certainly a scary diagnosis, there’s so much hope. It’s exciting how much progress has been made in the treatment of breast cancer in recent years.
First surgical successes
The first major surgical advances came in the 1970s when research showed there was the same survival rate for women who underwent breast preservation using lumpectomy (surgical removal of tumor[s] in the breast) and radiation, as there was for women who had a mastectomy (complete removal of the breast).
More surgical options for women
This discovery, along with rapid developments in breast reconstruction, opened a whole new avenue of surgical options for women. No longer were women faced with a body-altering mastectomy as their only choice of treatment. Breast biopsies also started to become to become less invasive, as the need for an operating room procedure was steadily replaced by image-guided needle biopsies. Continue Reading »
Early detection is the best weapon we have against breast cancer. Many breast cancers (almost half) are detected by women completing a breast self-exam. When detected early, your chances of surviving breast cancer increase drastically.
Women should start breast self-exams in their twenties, and it should be done monthly. If you are unsure of how to complete the exam you can ask your health care clinician to show you, or you can utilize multiple sites that offer a step-by-step diagram. I recommend breastcancer.org or the American Cancer Society. Many health care organizations offer reminder cards to hang in your shower. These typically have breast exam instructions on them as well.
When completing your exam, take note of the following:
- Skin irritation or dimpling
- Breast pain
- Nipple pain or nipple turning inward
- Nipple discharge
- A lump in the underarm area
- Swelling of all the breast (either the entire breast or a specific area)
- Redness or changes (thickening) to the skin or nipple
- Open sore or bump, rash
- Difference in vein pattern over one breast
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Regaining health after cancer means adjusting to a new normal, and whether you were diagnosed six months ago or 15 years ago, reaching that goal means something different to everyone. Just as survivors of cardiovascular issues undergo cardiac rehabilitation, you can benefit tremendously from post-cancer rehabilitation.
A Time To Heal (ATTH), a 12-week, holistic program for cancer survivors and their caregivers, aims to help you meet your health and wellness goals and tackle roadblocks along the way. This research-based rehabilitation program is free of charge and focuses on topics such as stress management, smart nutrition and supplementation, and dealing with anxiety. ATTH is open to people diagnosed with any type of cancer from any health care system.
Cancer and its treatment takes more than just a physical toll on survivors and their loved ones. ATTH can help survivors regain physical, emotional, intellectual, psychological and spiritual health after cancer treatments. Participants will benefit from guided gentle stretching designed to promote flexibility, clearer thinking and physical strength, as well as weekly instruction by experts on health-enhancing topics that can be taken out of the classroom and used to not just survive, but thrive. Continue Reading »
You may have just been told the news that no one wants to hear—you have cancer. You may feel frightened and wonder what lies ahead for you. You will need the support of your family, friends and community as you make decisions about your care and treatment process. If it is recommended that you will need chemotherapy, chances are that you are going to experience hair loss. If you are going to lose your hair during treatment, there are plenty of resources available to you for head coverings.
Some health insurance companies cover the cost of a wig or other headwear for cancer treatment patients, but if yours does not there are other options. Calumet Medical Center provides free wigs, turbans and headscarves for our chemotherapy patients; you can stop by Calumet Medical Center from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to try them on. St. Elizabeth Hospital and Mercy Medical Center also have cancer navigators that are available to help in the search of wigs or anything else that you may need throughout your journey. These resources are just a phone call away, and the staff is both friendly and knowledgeable about the process.
There are several websites that offer help finding affordable head covers, such as The American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org, or Tender Loving Care at www.tlcdirect.org. If you choose a wig, many of the salons in the area will cut and style your wig at no cost.
If you enjoy the outdoors, wigs, hats, turbans or scarves are important for protecting your head from sun exposure, especially in these hot summer months. How you look is certainly not as important as how you feel, but everyone deserves to feel confident and dignified, no matter what their health status is.
Cancer is the toughest fight many of us will ever face, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Calumet Medical Center has a cancer support group called C.A.R.E.S—Cancer Awareness, Resources, Education and Support Group. We meet the fourth Tuesday of each month. Call (800) 450-4042 ext. 2406 for more information.
Genetic counselors are specially trained health care professionals with skills in medical genetics and counseling who work in a variety of settings, including cancer genetic risk assessment. We provide information and support to families who may be at risk for inherited conditions.
Consider meeting with a genetic counselor if you or a relative (aunts/uncles, grandparents, cousins, parents, siblings, and children):
- Have had cancer at a young age (before age 50), and/or
- Had two or more separate cancers, and/or
- Have multiple family members with cancer
A genetic counselor will evaluate your family health history and talk about risks for inherited cancer, as well as screening and management for those at increased risk. If genetic testing is available, the counselor will tell you about the tests and help you decide if testing would be useful to you.
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