Angelina Jolie has Double Mastectomy: The Importance of Cancer Prevention
Actress and director Angelina Jolie has experienced a great amount of support around her decision to have a double mastectomy to prevent her 87% chance of developing breast cancer. Jolie’s mother died at the age of 56 after fighting breast cancer for 10 years. Jolie, age 37, possesses the BRCA-1 (breast cancer) gene and her doctors estimated that she had an 87% chance of developing breast cancer and a 50% chance of developing ovarian cancer.
On April 27, Jolie finished the 3-months of medical procedures including a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery with implants. Jolie did not want to risk being taken from her beloved children early in her life. Jolie’s partner, Brad Pitt, has been supportive and stayed by Jolie’s side every step of the way.
In an opinion article written for the New York Times, Jolie says that she hopes her story can affect woman around the globe; she says many women do not know they are living under the shadow of cancer and urges them to get the proper screenings and tests to find out about their risks. This was a big step for Jolie who usually keeps her life very private; Jolie admits that her decision to have both breasts removed was deeply personal, but she is proud of her decision.
Jolie’s story is a true testament to being brave in the face of cancer and to the importance of knowing your risks so you can take the proper precautions. A lot of cancers, if found early, have a much higher survival rate than if it not caught early. Cancer prevention ranges from living a healthy lifestyle, to knowing family history, and getting the proper tests and screenings to find out if you are at a high risk.
The American Cancer Society recommends these early screening guidelines for most adults:
Breast Cancer - Yearly mammograms for women starting at the age of 40 - Women with a family history of breast cancer can talk to their doctor about early screening options
Colorectal Cancer - Starting at age 50, both men and women should begin early screening tests for colorectal cancer and polyps
Cervical Cancer - Testing should begin at age 21 - Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years - Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have a Pap test and HPV test every 5 years
Endometrial (uterine) Cancer - Women should be informed about the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer around the time of menopause - Some women with a family history of endometrial cancer should talk to their doctor about a yearly endometrial biopsy
Lung Cancer - There are no early screening guidelines for lung cancer. However, if you are at a high risk of lung cancer due to cigarette smoking then you might be a candidate for screening and should talk to your doctor
Prostate Cancer - Starting at the age of 50 men should talk to their doctor about screening options
If you have a family history of cancer consult your doctor about your early detection options.
Stay Healthy Tips The American Cancer Society recommends these tips to living a healthy lifestyle that is conducive to cancer prevention. - Stay away from tobacco - Maintain a healthy weight - Exercise regularly - Eat healthy including plenty of fruits and vegetables - Limit alcohol consumption - Protect your skin - Know yourself, family history, and risks. This includes doing regular skin checks for signs of skin cancer. - Go to regular doctor check-ups and follow the guidelines for cancer screening tests
Are you aware of your family history and risks of cancer? If not, make sure you find out so that you can take the proper steps to finding cancer early. Preventive surgery is not for everyone, but it is important to know your options. Please share your story on how you have worked to prevent cancer or prevent cancer from recurring; cancer fighters and survivors, like Jolie, have inspiring stories to share.
Our WhatNexter of The Week - KateMarie
I’m Kate, known on WhatNext as KateMarie. Because of some problems I experienced for years I had a total abdominal hysterectomy on 2/5/13. On 2/11/13 while in my gynecologist’s office for a post-surgery exam, she informed me that the pathology report showed I had Stage 1 Endometrioid Adenocarcinoma.
Surprise! After consulting a gynecological oncologist, I had a laparoscopic bilateral pelvic para aortic lymph node dissection on 4/15/13, along with a needed laparoscopic umbilical hernia repair. Thankfully, pathology showed my lymph nodes were negative so I do not require any further treatment, only close follow-up of exams and tests to monitor for recurrence.
I’m a caregiver at heart – it has been my constant role in life. I was always the in-demand teen babysitter, when my friends started having kids I became the honorary aunt, and when my own sister and brother between them had four daughters I really was a doting auntie! I had some great jobs along the years that I found satisfying – pre-school teacher, adolescent group home direct care worker, community mental health liaison. And, of course my greatest caregiving role is being mom to many foster-children over the past 15 years, as well as my 5 adopted daughters and nonna to my 1 granddaughter.
The question I had to ask myself when I was diagnosed in February of this year is this: If I’m such a super caregiver, why didn’t I give myself any of that great care? When I was first diagnosed, I had a lot of guilt and self-loathing over this very issue. I felt I had caused my cancer. It took some time to work out that while there was truth in the fact that I had not taken good enough care of myself, it wasn’t going to change anything to continue to beat myself up over something that had already happened. Berating myself wasn’t going to suddenly take the cancer away, whether or not my choices had played a role in my disease. I finally realized that the negativity was consuming me. I could either continue down that self-destructive path or change my future.
That’s when I started making positive changes in my life to really take care of myself. Not token changes that I’m going to tire of in a month or two, but meaningful changes that I have integrated into my daily life. Because I was sick for about 9 months before my diagnosis, and had little appetite, I started losing weight. I have taken advantage of that “jump start.” I started using my treadmill every day. Now that my surgeries are behind me, I am planning to incorporate other exercise into my daily routine. I have changed my eating habits. I eat almost no sugar now (particularly white sugar) and am eating lots of fresh veggies and fruits, with protein and other foods added in moderation. I have made these changes gradually and sensibly because they are life changes and not a “diet.” To date I have lost 100 lbs. and will be working toward losing the last 75 lbs. I have begun doing a lot of reading about nutrition and the link between it and cancer, and I still have a lot to learn.
Part of taking care of myself now is making sure I get the medical care I need. I will not skip any of my follow up exams. If I have any inkling something is wrong with my body, I’m not going to play the ostrich again and hope for the best. I’ll put on my big girl panties and face it head on.
I know now that I also have to nurture my spirit. I’m learning to carve out a space for things I enjoy – reading, music, and writing. It is actually okay for me to have an hour or two that aren’t about the kids. I’m learning to appreciate just being still – closing my eyes and feeling peace and happiness flow through me, listening to the sounds of life all around me. I still have my moments of fear, but there are more ups than downs these days.
When I was first diagnosed, I felt so alone. My family helped me through this health crisis in practical ways, (which was wonderful, but a shoulder to cry on would have been nice too.) My sister just doesn’t like to show or talk about emotions. My brother is out of state and doesn’t have much time to talk. I have friends who are out state and I have used email and Facebook for some support from kept looking online for a support group on the American Cancer Society’s website in my area but I could only find a breast cancer support group nearby. Through ACS I found the link to WhatNext and joined. Suddenly I didn’t feel so isolated, didn’t feel so alone. When I read questions and answers, I often thought “Hey, that’s how I feel too. I thought I was the only one!” It was amazing! It was so liberating to find other people who seemed just like me, regardless of how different their actual diagnosis or treatments might be. People reached out to me. Those simple gestures meant everything to me.
Now it’s my turn to give. I felt shy and awkward at first. For some people the click to get into WhatNext is not a big deal, but for many people, it is a scary, huge leap of faith. For me it was scary at first to join the site. And even to “talk” to one another. It has gotten easier and more natural the more I have done it. I just want to help make sure everyone feels as welcome as I did. I have found that as I opened myself up to greeting people new to WhatNext, seeking to be a small blessing to them, those blessings have just flowed right back to me.
Stop by KateMarie's page and tell her thanks for sharing her story with us!
Hot Under the Collar? - How to Cope with Anger and Cancer
In the whirlwind of emotions that come with hearing you are diagnosed with cancer, anger is a common emotion. People with cancer may experience anger with their caregivers, doctors, loved ones, or with themselves.Here are 10 feelings of anger that WhatNexter’s have experienced and some of their solutions to dealing with each source of anger.
1. When you feel angry because your loved ones don’t “get it”...
- Cancer may feel very isolating; it is likely that your family or loved ones will not understand what you are going through. When faced with this feeling, WhatNexter’s have tried to remember that while loved ones may not understand, they are also very upset because someone they deeply love is hurting; your family and friends may be just as scared as you.
2. When you feel angry because no one will talk about the elephant in the room...
- Some people may not want to talk about cancer because it makes them uncomfortable. As a person with cancer, this can leave you feeling very frustrated. If people are avoiding the subject of your cancer then chances are they have not accepted it. WhatNexter’s have learned to address their diagnosis with their loved ones and make efforts toward accepting the cancer diagnosis together.
3. When caregivers feel angry...
- Caregivers often experience anger towards their loved one with cancer because they are frustrated or exhausted. Just like the person with cancer, caregivers should channel their anger towards the cancer and not to their loved one. If you have are exhausted, it may help to take a break. Have someone who can fill in for a time so that you can get some rest or clear your head.
4. When you feel angry because you feel like you are being left out of the loop by your medical team...
- Some WhatNexter’s have felt like they have not been given all the information they want or need from their doctors. Be ready and willing to explain your “need to knows.” Make it clear to your team that you want to be 100% included on treatment decisions.
5. When you feel angry because you feel you are getting poor care at your place of treatment...
- Instead of taking your anger out on your doctors and nurses, it may help to step back and use your caregiver as a mediator. It is possible that they will have a more level-head when speaking to your medical team about your concerns.
6. When you feel angry at yourself...
- Anger has a way of turning inward and causing us to be angry with ourselves. If you feel you are angry at yourself, realize that you did not do anything to deserve cancer. If you are experiencing a lot of anger at yourself it may be helpful to go to counseling or a support group where you can vent about your anger.
7. When you feel angry but know that it is really fear...
- Fear is a big cause of anger. If you can pinpoint that it is really fear you are facing, use both the anger and the fear as a motivator to fight your cancer.
8. When you feel angry because you were initially misdiagnosed...
- If you have been misdiagnosed only to find out later that it was cancer, this can be very maddening. WhatNexter’s agree that it may help to let your anger go in whatever way you can. Holding onto the anger will not help you fight cancer.
9. When you feel angry because people are talking behind your back or talking down to you...
- Some WhatNexter’s have experienced people that have prematurely begun to “write them off” because they have cancer; this can lead to gossip or talking down to the person with cancer. As coping mechanisms, know that first you may have to let it go and realize that you cannot control what is going on. However, do not be afraid to walk away from a situation and simply say, “I don’t deserve this.” It may also help to direct your anger rationally and find an outlet such as going for a walk, going to the gym, connecting with people here, or venting to a confidant.
10. When you feel angry and don’t know how to get rid of it...
- One way to release your anger is to set a physical goal for yourself; often physical discipline distracts from emotional conflict. (Remember to consult your doctor before beginning any exercise plan.) One WhatNexter, BosieB, made a physical goal for herself.
“My next goal is to make it to the mountain about five blocks from my house. At the foot of the mountain there are three trails, one goes around the mountain, one goes up the mountain at a mild incline, and one goes straight up the mountain. My goal is to be able to go straight up the mountain. In August the American Cancer Society sponsors an event called the Climb to Conquer Cancer; I hope to be able to participate. Creating and meeting challenges is a good way to keep my spirits up and a great way to work off my anger.”
If you are angry or not, at the end of the day, you still have cancer. People affected with cancer are in a tough spot to find courage within themselves and their loved ones. WhatNexter fastdog said,
“Being angry because I have cancer makes me think of flooring the car’s accelerator while standing on the brake.”
Anger is a natural emotion when you are diagnosed with cancer, however indulging your anger will probably hurt you more than help you. WhatNexter’s encourage each other to find ways to release and channel their anger. Most agree that it is most important to remember that you are angry at the cancer and not the people around you that are trying to help you survive. If you put your anger towards your cancer then it might give you more fight you need to stay strong. We want to hear from you! What feelings of anger did you have when you were diagnosed with cancer? What did you do to cope with your anger?
Click here to view the original question about anger posted on WhatNext.com.
Top 5 Things Women Must Know About Cancer Prevention
In honor of National Women’s Health Week (May 12-18), there are five things that all women may want to know about cancer awareness and cancer prevention. The most important things include when to get a mammogram and when to get a pap smear, how to prevent skin cancer, to quit smoking, and to make a few lifestyle adjustments to maintain overall health.
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast that is used to detect breast cancer. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among American women. About 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. The American Cancer Society uses these guidelines for when women should get a mammogram:
- All women age 40 and over should get a mammogram done every year to screen for breast cancer. - For women with a family history of breast cancer (women who have a known BRCA gene mutation), the American Cancer Society recommends getting a mammogram every year. - For women under the age of 40, it is important to do self-examinations so that if you find any changes you can tell your doctor.
For more detailed information read the American Cancer Society’s webpage on Breast Cancer: Early Detection.
2. Pap Smear
A Pap smear (Pap test) is a screening done to detect cancer of the cervix. The American Cancer Society uses these guidelines for when women should get a Pap smear:
- All women should begin cervical cancer screening when they are 21. From the ages 21-29 women should have a Pap test every 3 years. - Women age 30 to 65 should get a Pap smear and HPV test every 5 years. - Women with a high risk of cervical cancer may need to be screened more often by recommendation from their healthcare team.
For more detailed information read the American Cancer Society’s webpage on Cervical Cancer Prevention. Also be sure to consult your doctor if you have any questions on when and how often you should be screened.
3. Quit Smoking
Lung cancer is the first leading cause of cancer deaths in women, and smoking is the most preventable cause of early death in the U.S.. Smoking increases the risk of lung cancer and about 15 other types of cancer. Smoking can also cause problems during pregnancy. Ladies, while it may be difficult, it is very important to kick the habit.
For more detailed information on how smoking affects your health and how you can quit smoking read the American Cancer Society’s webpage on Women and Smoking.
4. Limit Sun Exposure
Skin cancer is the most common cancer that women may face in their lifetime; anyone can get skin cancer. Most skin cancer can be prevented by taking care of yourself when you are in the sun. Here are some important tips to protecting your skin from the sun:
- Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and apply it at least every two hours. - Wear a hat or protective clothing when you are in the sun. - Check your skin and moles for irregularities or changes and consult your doctor.
Related Article: 5 Things You May Want to Know About Melanoma
5. Healthy Lifestyle Habits
The best way to prevent cancer is through early detection. Here are a few general ways you can better your lifestyle as a defense against cancer!
- Maintain a healthy weight. - Exercise regularly. - Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. - Limit your alcohol consumption. - Be aware of yourself, family history, and your risks.
Women, what are your secrets to staying healthy? We would like to hear your suggestions and comments about keeping your health before, during, and after cancer.
WhatNexter Of The Week- 3 Time, 25 Year Survivor
Early in 1987, I grew extremely fatigued. Then one morning in May, I was shaving and noticed a lump protruding on right side of my neck.
Glen and Debbie
My doctor ordered chest x-ray and biopsy of the lump. Results were in: lymph node was malignant. Helplessness, confusion and fear overcame Debbie and I. Soon after I had diagnostic surgery called Stanford Staging Laparotomy. Diagnosis: stage 3a Hodgkin’s disease. After my release from the hospital my physician told us, “Cancer was found in other lymph nodes”. I was then scheduled for 50 Radiation therapy sessions.
Closing my eyes during the humming of the radiation I imagined the screen of the then popular video game ‘Space Invaders’. The cancer was the asteroids and the radiation were stealth-jet planes destroying enemy cells. At the end of each session I envisioned video display void of asteroids and my body cancer free. Over the course of the 50 radiation treatments I grew fatigued, my skin became lightly burned and I lost my sense of taste.
I was only 30 years old when I began radiation. Debbie & I cheered when treatments were over, cried tears of joy when the Doctor told us the Hodgkin’s was in remission. My sense of taste returned. I regained the weight I had lost that year. I returned to my work as a Police Officer.
I had a second chance at life. My wife Debbie got her husband back, and our young son Russell, would grow up knowing his father. However, nothing would ever be the same. Cancer changed everything.
I soon returned to my childhood love of riding a bicycle, and began training for competition. These rides represented for me a freedom from the weakness of cancer. Soon I was in the best shape of my life. During this time Debbie and I began biking together. I was so proud of her for finishing the long organized fun-ride we did together.
Being told I had a life threatening illness, then surviving it, changed me. Although so very happy to be in remission, I grew increasingly unsettled. Looking back I was preoccupied with preserving my health and protecting my family.
The boundaries of the walls at home became painful reminders of the months I spent there recovering from surgery and radiation. Debbie & I began looking for a home with a piece of land. Finding an old ranch home on 4 acres in the hills of the Northern San Diego County, we bought it. In December of 1988, Debbie, me and Russell moved into our new home. I was relieved to be far from the area where the life of our young family had been recently threatened.
Within weeks, Debbie, then pregnant with our son Trevor was hired by Penasquitos Pet Clinic as a Veterinary Technician. Four months after our move I was hired as an Experienced Police Officer with the City of Escondido, CA.
Our new ranch home was for us an incredible family retreat where my young family could start anew. And on May 24th, 1989, our joy grew when our son Trevor was born. Debbie & I were so happy to be blessed with our growing and healthy young family.
This Time I Will Die
Over several months the all too familiar fatigue I experienced in 1987 crept in. Debbie and I were shocked when biopsy confirmed the Hodgkin’s disease returned. Then as I had feared, I was told I needed to have Chemotherapy.
I would drive myself to my Oncologists office where he would administer the Chemotherapy. After each therapy session I became nauseous and vomited while driving myself back home. Then what seemed like for hours I would repeatedly vomit, lye back down in bed, get up and vomit one or more times, before I was ever able to lie down and enjoy the peace of a few hours sleep.
Over the course of the Chemotherapy I grew extremely depressed. In my mind I was dying a slow death. As I falsely believed back then Chemotherapy was given only to extend the life of cancer patients who were going to die anyway.
Thoughts of suicide turned to unsuccessful attempts at taking my life. In December, 1989 my Oncologist told Debbie & I the cancer was in remission. A bittersweet moment for Debbie as my lingering depression continued to add to her burden of caring for her ill husband and our two young sons.
Cognitive therapy and various psychiatric medications hadn’t resolved the depression. Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) was deemed by physicians to be the only remedy which could end the Major Depressive Episode. I underwent the ECT. In a word, I woke-up. I was released from the hospital and returned home to Debbie and our young sons Russell and Trevor.
It took some time for me to fully regain my physical and mental health. However, in time, our young family became whole again. A particularly fond memory is the joy of me Debbie, Russell & Trevor spending warm nights outside our country ranch gazing at the star filled sky.
Different this Time
In September, 1991 I was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocyte Leukemia (CLL). However, this time was different. Debbie and I were now armed with our new Christian faith, supportive group of friends and our deep love for one another. A love refined by the fiery struggles of the life we’ve shared over our 32 years of marriage. Oh, and about the CLL, it went into remission in 1996.
These days Debbie & I live with the late-effects of the cancer treatments I had in the 1980’s. Dealing with the limiting effects of these chronic illnesses has proven both challenging and rewarding. Above all were grateful to the Lord to have another chance at this thing called life!
I was doing an internet key-word search for ‘cancer survivor’ when I came across WhatNext. I registered and have been answering member posts and responding to questions posted on the WhatNext web site. As a long term survivor I’m encouraged to read posts which range from the recently diagnosed through to those in long term survivorship. I enjoy answering questions posted and including information on helpful resources when relevant.
Glen can be found at WhatNext by his Username as Outlier, stop by his page and tell him thanks for sharing his inspiring story.
Melanoma Monday - 5 Things You May Want to Know about Melanoma
As May is Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month, there are five things you may want to know about melanoma. Melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer that can be dangerous if it is not found early, many clinical trials are offered for melanoma patients, there is about a 90% survival rate for people with all stages of melanoma to live without the disease for at least 5 or 10 years, and that there are a few things you can do that may help protect your skin from skin cancer. Below are details on things you may want to know.
1. Melanoma is Aggressive and Metastatic
Every year about 1 million people will be diagnosed with skin cancer; of that 1 million about 60,000 will be melanoma. Melanoma accounts for less than 5% of skin cancer cases but causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths. Melanoma most often forms in the skin but can also form in the eyes and mouth. If melanoma spreads it commonly affects the brain, lymph nodes, lungs, liver, abdomen, and bones. Risk factors of melanoma include UV rays, moles, family history of melanoma, and if you have had melanoma before. About 10% of people with melanoma have a family history of melanoma.
Only 3% of people with melanoma participate in clinical trials; of people that cannot participate in clinical trials, 40% say it is because the inconvenience of travel. Among the other reasons are financial reasons. The decision to participate in a clinical trial may not be easy; to read about one patient’s firsthand experience with clinical trials, you can visit SkinofSteel.org and find information about Susan Steel’s willingness to explore her options involving clinical trials.
Skin of Steel is a not-for-profit whose mission is “to improve patient outcomes by establishing Chicago as a center of excellence for melanoma treatment and research.” Its founder, Susan Steel, is a 7-year melanoma survivor who has undergone seven clinical trials and seven brain surgeries.
3. Stats and Survival Rates
- 76,690 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the United States in 2013. - 45,060 cases of melanoma will occur in males. - 31,630 cases of melanoma will occur in females. - It is 10 times more common in Caucasians than in African-Americans and is slightly more common in males than in females. - 91% and 89% is the survival rate for people with all stages of melanoma to live without the disease for at least 5 or 10 years. - Survival rates increase for patients with a closer proximity to care. - The top three states with the most cases of melanoma are California, Florida, and New York. - Overall, the lifetime risk of getting melanoma is about 1 in 50 for whites, 1 in 1,000 for blacks, and 1 in 200 for Hispanics.
4. Early Prevention
Melanoma may be easier to treat if it is found early. There are a few prevention methods that you may want to know. - Use protection when you are in the sun or exposed to UV rays - Wear a shirt, put on a hat, and wear sunglasses - Sit in the shade - Stay away from tanning beds. - Wear sunscreen The suggested amount of sunscreen to be applied to cover the arms, legs, neck, and face for the average adult is about one ounce. Reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours you are in the sun. Be careful of sweating or washing the sunscreen off in water; don’t forget to apply lip balm with SPF.
5. Early Detection
Some people don’t realize that it is important to check their skin regularly for any skin abnormalities. This month make an effort to check your skin and contact a dermatologist if you see anything suspicious. Read the American Cancer Society’s page on Melanoma what to look for when doing a self-examination.
Hint: Use the ABCDE rule when remembering what to look for during a self-exam: - A is for Asymmetry: when one half does not match the other - B is for Border: when the edges are irregular, jagged, or blurred - C is for Color: the color has changed or is not the same all over - D is for Diameter: the spot is larger than 6 millimeters across - E is for Evolving: the spot is changing in size, shape, or color
It is important to know about melanoma because of its aggressive nature, clinical trials that may be an option for patients, high survival rates with early detection, and methods of prevention and early detection. You can read Susan Steel’s personal story on WhatNext.com to find out more about her battle with melanoma and journey that has kept her as a survivor for seven years. Is there any information you have on melanoma, prevention, clinical trials, or simply information on your journey that you would like to share with us? Comment below.