Breast Cancer Awareness Month - Remembering, Honoring, and Preventing

by Jane Ashley

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month . This month helps increase awareness of the importance of screenings so that breast is caught in its early stages when it can be cured. It’s a time to remember those lost to breast cancer and to help those currently diagnosed with breast cancer.

October Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in women (except for skin cancer). Almost 269,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2019, along with about 69,000 women diagnosed with in situ breast cancer. Although uncommon, over 2,600 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019.

Breast cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death among women in the U.S., after lung cancer. But thanks to aggressive screening efforts and more effective treatments since 1989, the death rate from breast cancer has been steadily declining.

This October, WhatNext.com wants to focus on those currently in treatment for breast cancer. Every diagnosis of cancer brings its own unique set of circumstances, but we want to focus on helping you cope with your breast cancer diagnosis.

Men Get Breast Cancer Too

The Stress and Fear of Diagnosis

The time waiting for biopsy results until treatment begins are some of the most stressful times that a person ever experiences in their life. Fear of the unknown and fear of our treatments are something that each of us must face and conquer. We’re all different, so each of us learns to cope differently.

Self-image. We fear disfigurement from surgery and wonder if our significant other will still love us. Although our hair will grow back, we fear losing our hair — the color and style of our hair is part of what defines us — that’s why hair loss is so devastating for many of us. We may experience anger, sadness, guilt, or a combination of feelings as we adjust to the diagnosis of breast cancer. These feelings are normal. You might find greater peace of mind in a support group.

Uncertainty and fear about the future. How bad is treatment going to be? Will I still be able to work? Will I lose my breast? How will I take care of my children? A thousand “what ifs” will enter our minds. Some fears will be resolved as additional tests point the path of our treatment. But learning how to live with a certain amount of uncertainty is something that all of us eventually learn how to do. Again, a support group (either local or online) or counselor can help us sort through our feelings.

Treatment Options

Gone are the days when a mastectomy was the standard treatment for breast cancer. The fear of losing one’s breast remains for all women, whether they have been diagnosed with breast cancer or not. In 2019, breast cancer patients have many options because of the personalized diagnosis that each patient receives. Most of the personalization of treatments come from years of research so that every breast cancer patient’s treatment is individualized to their unique set of circumstances.

Yoga

• Tumor subtype. Treatments are customized according to a patient’s hormone receptor status (ER or PR) and HER2 status.
• Genetic status. If a patient has genetic mutations, such as the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations.
• Stage of the tumor. Most patients have choices of less invasive or more aggressive treatment, depending on their preferences.
• Biomarker (genomic) markers. New genomic testing helps predict the chance of recurrence to help patients decide whether to have chemotherapy or how long to take hormonal therapy.
• Patient’s status. Our overall health, menopausal status, age, and lifestyle make each of us unique. One woman may choose to have every treatment available because they don’t want to take any risks regarding recurrence. Another woman may decide to forego a particular procedure because she is in poor health and has several existing health conditions.

Patients can choose between reconstruction options, bone-strengthening treatments and adding complementary therapies like yoga, meditation, or acupuncture.

Coping with Side Effects

The most important fact to realize is that our treatment team wants to help us with side effects. So they think you are complaining when you ask for help with a side effect. Mention anything that seems “different” or “off” to be sure that it’s not a severe side effect of your treatment.

Common side effects include:
• Nausea
• Hair loss
• Mouth sores
• Diarrhea
• Fatigue/tiredness
• Insomnia
• Low blood counts
• Joint pain
• Neuropathy
• Weight gain or weight loss
• Brain fog, confusion, or forgetfulness

Remember that not every person has every side effect. Some of these resolve pretty quickly with simple treatments. Don’t suffer in silence. Our chemo and radiation nurses are experienced in the treatment of side effects and will offer their best advice if we ask.
High costs and financial stresses

Most cancer treatment centers have a social worker on staff. Many social workers meet with every new patient to learn what kind of support we might need. From gas money to arranging for co-pay assistance and everything in between, oncology social workers are a God-send.
If we are unable to work, that throws another curve to our family income. Speak up and ask to speak to the insurance coordinator too. They know reliable sources for copay assistance.

Download this helpful 32- page booklet from the American Society of Clinical Oncology to learn about financial help during your breast cancer treatment.

1 Out Of 8

The Role of the Caregiver.

Many caregivers learn that being the caregiver is more complicated than being the patient. Whether it’s your mother or mother-in-law who has breast cancer or it’s your wife or it’s your daughter, caregivers have to juggle many responsibilities. Don’t forget that even our husband, brother, or father might be diagnosed with breast cancer — no matter the circumstances, caregivers carry lots of responsibility.

• Going to medical appointments
• Coordinating schedules and care
• Giving medicine
• Meal preparation
• Household chores including laundry and yard maintenance
• Insurance and billing
• Emotional support

A good caregiver is worth their weight in gold … especially when it comes to emotional support. Helping our family member stay upbeat and positive during treatment is the most crucial aspect for a caregiver. Don’t forget to accept help from others.

October 13, 2019 — Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day

Although metastatic breast cancer is considered incurable, women are living longer and experiencing a better quality of life than ever before. Over 154,000 women (and some men) in the United States are living with metastatic breast cancer. About 34 percent of these patients have lived with their Stage IV breast cancer for over 5 years; in fact, there are 10-year survivors. Newer targeted therapies are changing the outcomes for metastatic breast cancer.

October 18, 2019 - National Mammography Day

Mammograms save lives. Early-stage breast cancer has high cure rates. The American College of Radiologists recommended that all women have an assessment of their risk for breast cancer before they are 30. The evaluation takes into consideration family history, ethnic background, genetic mutations, presence of dense breast tissue, and other factors. High-risk individuals should begin annual screening mammograms by age 30 or 10 years before their first-degree relative was diagnosed with breast cancer. Many high-risk women should also have an annual MRI.

Annual Mammograms

The Bottom Line …

We are not alone. One out of every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some time in their lives. That’s someone about every 15 seconds. Research continues, but breast cancer is a complex disease. Thus far, there is not a way to prevent breast cancer. Early detection is our best defense. Have an annual mammogram.

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