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    How "Pinktober" Benefits All Cancer Patients

    There’s a lot of talk sometimes about
    PINKTOBER. Twenty-five years ago, President Bill Clinton urged that the third Friday in October be designated National Mammography Day. Over the years, it’s morphed into a month-long wave of “pinkness” fueled by the commercialization of products carrying the pink ribbon, retailers carrying pink tee shirts and companies advertising in all sorts of “commercialized” special sections of newspapers, radio campaigns and other events to show their
    support for breast cancer patients.

    Some of the good corporations …
    But the good news is that some corporations really are doing something to help cancer patients. Ford Motor Company’s Warriors in Pink actually does concrete and tangible things to support women in treatment for breast cancer. New Balance donates 5 percent of the suggested retail price from the Lace Up for the Cure Collection of shoes with a guaranteed minimum donation of $500,000 to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
    100 percent of the NFL’s proceeds from Pink product sales are donated to the American Cancer Society. Panera Bread’s Pink Ribbon Bagel has raised over $1.3 million donated to breast cancer charities. BreastCancer.org has a host of corporate sponsors who generously give. The National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. has a large list of companies who contribute annually. The Susan G. Komen Foundation’s sponsors have contributed over half a billion dollars.
    It’s doubtful that any of this corporate generosity would have blossomed without Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the millions of women who mobilized throughout the USA and around the world.
    Other types of cancer have gained more awareness …
    Once breast cancer awareness became prevalent, new organizations were founded to promote awareness of other types of cancer, the need for screenings and to provide patient help.
    What comes to mind for me, as a Stage IV rectal cancer survivor, is the increased awareness of colorectal cancer. Colonoscopies used to a source of laughs and jokes, but more and more people are getting screened now for colorectal cancer. And a new, non-invasive screening test is now available, Cologuard. The shame and embarrassment of cancer - related to “poop” - has greatly diminished in the last 5-8 years due to increased awareness. We even have an “Undy” race where participants wear boxer shorts or panties.

    In fact, 24 other types of cancer have Awareness Months.

    In the past 25 years, cancer has gone from being hidden in the closet to being an integral part of wellness programs, screenings, support groups and most importantly – being diagnosed earlier through increased awareness. While we might not want a “Month of Pinktober,” we are all grateful that there is not the shame, stigma or embarrassment associated with the diagnosis of cancer now as before.
    Pinktober is good, but do we really need 31 days of pink?
    Ask many breast cancer survivors, and they find that 31 days is just too much. It serves as a constant reminder of the trauma of their treatment. Many cancer survivors suffer from PTSD. Breast cancer survivors may have traumatic flashbacks or suffer sleep deprivation with so much focus for such a long period.
    “Pinkwashing” – really? Do my local newspaper need to print an issue on pink newsprint? Do we need to see pink plastic flamingoes in someone’s yard?
    Slogans like “Save the Ta-Tas” trivializes the very real and permanent disfigurement that many breast cancer sufferers must endure. All the walks and runs with photos of smiling women who “high-five” each other suggests that there is no trauma associated with the breast cancer diagnosis. And just imagine how male breast cancer patients feel during October.
    31 days of focus on women and breast cancer may also distract from the fact that women are diagnosed with every other kind of cancer as men (except for prostate, testicular and penile). Women shouldn’t be lulled into not being screened for other cancers.

    All of this pink pretty much ignores the realities of the 150,000 patients living with metastatic breast cancer (often referred to MBC). About 50,000 of these women are 5+ year survivors, but the reality is that MBC is considered incurable.
    The Bottom Line …
    Breast cancer awareness opened the door to increased awareness of cancer as a disease. It helped all of us learn that a President’s wife can be diagnosed with cancer. It showed us that pop singers and movie stars, as well as TV network hosts, get diagnosed too. We learned that nothing can stop cancer from knocking on our door.
    We’re all more aware – there’s lots more money for research and patient support. There’s less stigma and more accommodations in the workplace. Breast Cancer Awareness Month helped open doors that might never have been opened. All of us are grateful for that.
    If you find our articles helpful, please use the share buttons at the top or bottom of the page and share with someone who could use some support and a shoulder to lean on. And if you haven't already done so, click the photo below and register at WhatNext and let us help you share your inspiring cancer story. The pain, agony, and tears that you have been through will help others to walk that same road after you.

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    Breast Cancer & How Physical Activity Can Prevent Diagnosis and Ease Treatments

    With 1 in 8 women being diagnosed with Breast Cancer each year, breast cancer is the second most common cancer found in women. Although there are several preventative measures that can be taken, anyone with breasts is at risk of developing the disease in their lifetime.

    Who is at Risk of Breast Cancer?
    There are many factors that increase a person's risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. For example, women over the age of 55 tend to be diagnosed more often, but younger women are still at risk and frequently diagnosed as well. If a woman has an immediate, first-degree family member that has been diagnosed, the risk of development is multiplied by 5. If two immediate family members are diagnosed, the risk then triples. With that being said, 8 out of 10 women that are diagnosed have no family history of the disease.
    If a woman began menstruation early, such as age 12, or if a woman went through menopause after the age of 55, they are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer. This is due to longer exposure to the hormones released by the ovaries, estrogen and progesterone, which have been studied to leave women at risk of breast cancer. These are just a few of the uncontrollable factors that leave women at risk of developing breast cancer. Making sure that yearly mammograms are attended, especially after the recommended age of 40, is very important for women who are at high risk due to these causes.
    On top of those uncontrollable factors, there are several controllable elements that women can take preventative measures for to prevent the development of breast cancer. For example, women who are heavy drinkers are found to be diagnosed more than those who limit themselves. Avoiding alcohol or controlling your intake to only two drinks per week can decrease the risk of a breast cancer diagnosis. Additionally, women who use various methods of hormonal birth control, such as oral contraceptives or IUDs, are also found to have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Interestingly enough, the American Cancer Society reports that studies have shown a link between the use of hormone-releasing pills and IUDs and a breast cancer risk, but minimal research has been performed when looking into birth control implants, patches, and rings and the risk of breast cancer. If a woman stops taking hormonal birth control for 10 years or more, her risk of developing breast cancer is reduced to what it was prior to the contraceptives.
    Lastly, postmenopausal women who are obese or overweight have a higher chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer due to more fat tissue leading to higher estrogen levels. Pre-menopausal women that are overweight or obese are at a lower risk of developing breast cancer than a postmenopausal woman, but most cases of breast cancer are diagnosed after a woman has already been through menopause. Weight gain before menopause is not recommended as any weight gained at that time can be carried into post-menopause, drastically increasing the risk of breast cancer development. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regime is highly recommended as a way of preventing the development of breast cancer. Not only that, but it is encouraged throughout treatment if one does get diagnosed with breast cancer.

    Exercising to Prevent Breast Cancer

    Women who have gained more than 21 pounds after the age of 18 have a 40% higher risk than women who only gain 5 pounds after the age of 18. This is why exercise is strongly encouraged for those who are at risk of the development of breast cancer, which happens to be every woman. Being overweight leads to higher estrogen levels in the body and because estrogen stimulates cell-overgrowth, it can lead to the formation of malignant tumors in the breasts. The ovaries are the producers of estrogen in women before the onset of menopause, but afterward, the ovaries stop the production of estrogen and it turns into fat. The less fat on a postmenopausal woman, the less estrogen stored and the less of a risk of breast cancer. Exercising can burn fat, which will lead to a decreased risk of breast cancer development. Women who increase their physical activity after menopause decrease their risk of developing breast cancer by 12%.

    Physical Activity During Breast Cancer Treatment
    There are many sources that say exercising during breast cancer rehabilitation and treatment has a positive effect on patients. There are a few recommendations on activities to do during treatment to help a patient battling breast cancer to stay active and healthy. Yoga and physical therapy are two of the most popular and most commonly prescribed, as they are both calming and restoring for patients.
    Yoga is a favorite amongst those battling breast cancer because it is extremely effective as well as low-impact, so it won't add more unnecessary and potentially harmful stress to the body. Studies show that yoga can help improve the quality of life for patients with breast cancer by aiding in the improvement of sleep quality, reducing fatigue, and improving physical function in the body. Before including yoga in a treatment plan, doctors will often take into consideration the risk of lymphedema (when the lymph nodes are removed and the circulatory and immune systems are blocked) in the patient, as some poses can be harmful for patients at risk. Another thing to consider before including yoga in a patient's treatment plan is if the yoga teacher has experience working with those who have suffered from breast cancer, as they will know safe and healthy poses as well as have other tips for at-home stretches. Speak with your doctor if you wish to include yoga in your treatment plan to see if yoga is safe and right for you.

    Physical therapy is another commonly recommended method of physical activity that doctors will prescribe. Some doctors will even prescribe this method before surgery in order to prep the patient's body for surgery as well as get their body used to the exercises physical therapists will have them doing during rehabilitation. During prehabilitation, the time period after diagnosis and before treatment, doctors may recommend physical therapy to assess the measurements of the patient's body, identify pre-treatment weaknesses in the body, educate about lymphedema, and to come up with an exercise plan for pre- and post-surgeries.
    Post-treatment and surgery, some women do not have any lasting effects that require physical therapy. But some doctors still recommend it as a way to ease back into regular fitness routines from before diagnosis. Physical therapy after breast cancer treatment can help with the treatment of lymphedema, regular exercise, postural training, and manual therapy- which helps with restricted motion, pain, and swelling.

    If you or a loved one has been recently diagnosed with breast cancer, or currently are receiving treatment and want to include more methods of physical activity into your treatment plan, talk to your doctor right away and discuss what will work best for you. Always stay up-to-date on current health and safety news to stay educated on preventative measures, as it could help you or a loved one.
    Join us at WhatNext.com to get all of our articles first. Each week we publish articles that are motivational, inspirational, educational, and filled with help to get you through your diagnosis. You don't have to fight cancer alone!

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    Lifestyle Changes to Reduce The Chance of Recurrence

    When you ask cancer survivors what their worst fear is, they will tell you, “Fear of recurrence.”

    There is no way to guarantee that cancer won’t come back. Every person’s cancer is different. Genetic mutations, the stage when diagnosed, other health problems and current lifestyle all play a role in one’s risk for recurrence.
    However, there are a few concrete lifestyle changes that have been proven to help reduce the risk of recurrence. Many times, we feel like we have no control over what cancer does, but, in truth, we do.
    According to ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology), there is substantial evidence that at least 50 percent of all cancer cases can be attributed to lifestyle. These factors also influence our outcomes after cancer treatment. And the good news is that simple lifestyle changes may help some of our existing health problems too, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
    Before you say that you can’t make lifestyle changes, please … please read all of this article and consider your improved quality of life and your reduced stress levels knowing that you’re actively reducing your “risk of recurrence.” And the really fascinating part of these lifestyle changes is that they appear to work in synergy to even further reduce inflammation in your body.
    Chronic Stress. “Easier said than done,” you say. But learning to reduce stress in your life greatly enhances your quality of life. No more of that tightness in your chest. No more of feeling like your head is going to explode. WebMD offers 13 tips to help manage stress. These are my favorites out of this list;

    • A daily walk

    • Surround yourself with positive people

    • Devote time to a hobby.

    Don’t hesitate to consult a mental health professional or counselor to help you learn how to cope with the stress in your life.
    Diet. A healthier diet will help your body in several ways. If you’re overweight, you’ll lose some pounds. Your blood sugar will drop. And, you’ll feel less full and more energetic. You don’t have to make MAJOR changes in your diet. Here are my healthier eating tips:
    Switch to whole grain bread and pasta. (It only takes a couple of weeks to adjust to the taste changes.)

    • Eat more vegetables – my hint to choose several different colors of veggies each day – green beans, different colors of bell peppers, carrots, mushrooms – different color veggies provide different vitamins ensuring you get the vitamins and minerals you need.

    • Use canola oil and olive oil – both are healthy fats.

    • Eat two different fruits daily – simply a banana and an apple – strawberries on your cereal and a pear.

    • Eat less beef and pork – substitute with turkey and salmon. Limit red meat consumption (beef, lamb and pork) to 18 ounces weekly.

    • Avoid salt-cured, smoked and pickled foods (bacon, sausage and deli meats) except for a special treat.

    • Legumes, beans and peas are your friends. Combined with rice, they make a complete protein.

    • Limit alcohol – 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. A drink is considered 1.5 oz. of liquor, 5 oz. of wine or 12 oz. of beer.

    It’s OK to eat dessert. Sugar doesn’t feed cancer. Avoid cheap snack foods – too high sugar content and too many preservatives. I’ve given up Oreos, but I make homemade cakes and cookies where I can choose a recipe that has less sugar.
    If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, don’t eat it.
    Environmental Toxins. Environmental toxins include radon, mercury, lead, cadmium, benzene and formaldehyde. Man-made chemicals that you should avoid are BPA, phthalates and pesticides. Those are lots of rather simple things that you can go to eliminate environmental toxins. If you smoke, seek counseling to help you quit smoking.
    Physical Activity. Get moving. It doesn’t matter how sedentary you are now. Everyone will benefit from more activity. Most insurance will pay for physical therapy after cancer to help you recover physically from so much inactivity during treatment. Take advantage of your physical therapy benefits, as soon as possible – if you’ve already reached your max-out-of-pocket, you won’t even have a copay.

    If you live near one of the over 700 YMCAs that offer the LIVESTRONG program, consider joining. They are either free or at very low cost. If you’re over 65, join a Silver Sneakers program at a local gym.
    Besides the fact that exercise helps reduce the risk of recurrence, it increases your quality of life. Exercise helps limit the fatigue you feel after cancer treatment. It stretches tight muscles and ligaments and allows you to do regular household and yard activities more easily.
    Make 30 minutes a day of physical activity your goal. Walking, bicycling, swimming or yoga are easy ways to increase your activity level.
    Social Support. Many cancer patients feel “different” afterward. We may feel their co-workers don’t understand how hard cancer treatment is. We may experience survivor’s guilt. We suffer body image issues – going shopping with a friend when we’ve lost a breast or have an ostomy is difficult. Friends and family may treat us differently.

    And so … we may isolate ourselves unconsciously. It’s estimated that about 70 percent of cancer survivors experience depression at some point.
    Many survivors experience a renewed spirituality afterward. We find new purposes and a renewed interest in life. Some of us will renew our ties to organized religion or spiritual practices like Reiki. These activities lead us to form a new social network and make new friends.
    We may volunteer. We may become active in a cancer support group, like WhatNext. We may even decide to go back to school for a new career.
    Whatever we decide to do, we must be open to rekindling our social support groups. My far-flung college classmates became my renewed network of friendship and encouragement through our Facebook page. When we have “true” friends that we can share our cancer experiences with, our mental health will prosper.
    Don’t allow the fear of recurrence to rob you of TODAY!
    Remember that we didn’t fight the hard fight that we fought during treatment just so we could worry about the “fear of recurrence.” Join me and the thousands of other cancer survivors who decided to take charge and make meaningful lifestyle changes. What have you got to lose? Nothing but a few pounds and a lot of peace of mind.
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    5 Side Effects of Head and Neck Cancer Radiation Treatment You Must Know About

    Head and neck cancer includes cancer from the throat up, including salivary cancer, tonsil cancer, tongue cancer, thyroid cancer, laryngeal, esophageal cancer, adenoid cancer, including subtypes of each. There are specific types of diagnoses for these also, making for a large group of head and neck cancer diagnoses. 

    The treatments for each will vary, but often include a variety of chemo regimens, surgery, and radiation. While chemo has it's own set of side effects, and many of them can be very serious,  this article is focusing on the long-term side effects of radiation that are often not discussed with you by your oncologist. 
    If you were diagnosed with head and neck cancer more than ten years ago you may not have had any warning about the side effects listed below, and even if you were diagnosed more recently, you may not have been told. My diagnosis for Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the right tonsil was ten years ago and I wasn't told to look out for any of these. As they started happening I was surprised first, that I was having them, and second, that I wasn't told to expect them or to watch out for them. A couple of them can have life-threatening results. 
    Dental Problems
    Dental issues will sometimes start to appear within months after completing your radiation. The issue stems from your saliva glands being either killed or damaged to the point of not producing enough saliva to keep your mouth moist. For me, I had radiation 30 years ago for Hodgkins lymphoma that started my dental issues. Back then the radiation was given to a broad area of the body, not focused like it is done today. My radiation in 1988 was directed from my chest up to my lower jawbone. 

    I had 28 treatments then which were much easier to tolerate, with fewer side effects than the radiation I received 20 years later in 2008. After that radiation cycle was done I started to have minor dental issues. A few cavaties, I had a few teeth that cracked, two root canals, etc. But the damage was nowhere near as bad as the cycle of treatments I received in 2008.
    After that round of treatments, my mouth was always dry, my teeth immediately began to wear, crack, and just basically fall apart. Repeated trips to the dentist only produced the usual response of "we need to save these teeth at all costs". That's fine if you can afford "all costs". I kept asking for them to just be pulled, I didn't see the sense of putting thousands into my mouth when I knew that those teeth would eventually fall out. 
    During a checkup with my oncologist, they told me that I couldn't just have my teeth pulled after having radiation due to the possibility of getting osteoradionecrosis, a condition that prevents the tooth socket from healing due to loss of blood flow and tissue and blood vessel damage from the radiation. 
    I asked why they didn't say something about this before treatments and they just said, we usually do, but in the past, not always. But now, every head and neck cancer patient is referred to the oral surgery department as soon as their appointment with oncology is over. In many cases, it is recommended that all teeth be pulled prior to treatments. If that had been recommended to me, I would have agreed. 
    I eventually had all of my teeth pulled in oral surgery so that they could be extremely careful while pulling them, but also do any extra treatment to the area that would allow it to heal as quickly as possible. I had over 6 surgeries to pull all of them, followed by dental implants being put in, followed by dentures. All of this was an expensive side effect, and for me, it wasn't even mentioned as a possibility. 
    Carotid Artery Stenosis
    This side effect showed up one day about 5 years after radiation was over. One day while walking into my office, my left hand acted like it was numb and drunk. I tried to open a door and my hand acted like it wouldn't work. After I finally got in the office, I sat down at my desk and begun to type on my computer. My fingers on that hand wouldn't hit the right keys. I also had a bright light in the upper area of my vision, which was also slightly blurred. 

    This combination of symptoms was only with me for about fifteen minutes, then I was back to normal. I blew it off as something that was caused by my usual daily list of small issues I have. In an attempt to be cautious, I did contact my oncologist's office the next day to let them know what had happened, in case they wanted to order any extra tests during a routine office visit I had scheduled two days later. 
    The nurse asked me to sit down and immediately call 911 and tell them I was showing signs of a stroke. I was slightly in shock hearing this and blew that off too, for a day. Then I started thinking about what the nurse had said and decided I would go to the emergency room at the major hospital where I was being treated instead of my small town ER.
    After a battery of tests that took most of the night and into the next day, they did finally decide that I had an 80% blockage of my interior carotid artery on the right side, and what I had experienced was a TIA (trans ischemic attack), they also scolded me for not going to the ER immediately when the symptoms presented and proceeded to tell me about the odds that when a person has a TIA that they often will have a full blown stroke if not treated quickly. 
    The cause of this is from the radiation simply cooking the artery and causing it to shrink. This combined with a slightly high cholesterol level caused a build up of placque in that area, causing the TIA.
    The remedy for this was to put a stent in that artery all the way up behind my ear, just before that artery reaches the brain. I was put on a couple of cholesterol preventatives and an aspirin a day and told to watch for any of those symptoms in the future. 
    If I had been told about them during radiation, I wouldn't have put off going to the doctor, or calling 911!
    Esophagus Stricture
    Similar to carotid artery stenosis, the life-threatening esophageal stricture is caused by the radiation also. This is basically like a piece of bacon getting fried and watching it shrink. I know, that's pretty radical explanation, but it's close!

    After about having the radical neck dissection on the right side of my neck, and the subsequent radiation to both sides of my neck, I was never able to swallow as I did prior to diagnosis. I had several occasions where I choked on something as small as a pill. Many times I would get something down the wrong way which caused me to cough violently to the point of losing air and passing out. 
    After several years of enduring this, I brought it up with my oncologist, again during a routine yearly checkup. She told me that "it's a common problem" and that many head and neck cancer patients have to have their esophagus dilated to ease the choking/swallowing problem. Again, this was information I could have used years prior.
    The procedure to stretch (dilate) your esophagus is a fairly quick procedure. It takes much longer to get in a holding room, get prepped, and IV started, and ready for the ER than it does for the actual procedure. 
    Immediately after having the procedure done, I had a slight sore throat, but that night, on the way home from the hospital we stopped for supper and I could immediately tell a difference in my swallowing. It was much easier, and I could also tell that I was even able to breathe easier. 
    This is something that all head and neck cancer patients should ask their ENT oncologist or radiation oncologist about to be prepared.
    Damaged Saliva Glands
    I touched on this already as a contributing factor to the dental issues, but there are also a few other problems lack of saliva causes. In addition to dental issues, no saliva causes your mouth to be dry and encourage more bacteria in your mouth. We don't realize it, but your saliva glands produce from .75 to 1.5 liters per day. That's a lot of slobber! 

    Without this, you will try to eat something like a twinkie, which you would assume there would be no problem swallowing, only to have it ball up in your mouth like a handful of feathers. You don't realize this until you don't have saliva glands. I now have to select my food based on the "slide factor". How easy will it slide down. I can easily eat caseroles, mashed potatoes and gravy, ice cream, and other foods that are similar. But the average hot dog on a bun is difficult to eat unless it's smothered in ketchup and relish. 
    There is a medication that will help your saliva glands produce more, if they are not totally gone. After my first radiation treatments in 1988 I took salagen for a few years, then quit. After a few years, they started working enough to allow almost normal function. But after the treatments in 2008 I had no function and taking the prescription made no difference. So now, I just keep a bottle of water, tea, or soft drink handy when eating. 
    Or, hypothyroidism is simply a damaged thyroid caused by radiation treatments.  Symptoms can include

     Increased sensitivity to cold


     Dry skin

     Weight gain

     Puffy face


     Muscle weakness

     Elevated blood cholesterol level

     Muscle aches, tenderness, and stiffness

     Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints

     Heavier than normal or irregular menstrual periods

     Thinning hair

     Slowed heart rate


     Impaired memory

    The common cure for this is a drug like Levothyroxine which brings your TSH levels back to where they should be. This is the one side effect that was described to me that I would likely have, and early on my TSH levels were checked regularly and my prescription changed to match until they balanced out. 
    Only one of these five fairly serious side effects was described to me during or after treatments. Nothing was said until I had symptoms and asked my oncologists about it. So this is another example of asking your doctor lots of questions, and anytime you have any of the symptoms listed be sure and let your team know right away. 
    I am happy to say that in spite of enduring all of these side effects, that I am now 10 years out past my diagnosis date and except for these side effects, I am doing great. I have had to learn to eat different things and learn how to twist my neck, grunt and help food to go down and recognize if I'm having a coughing spell serious enough to cause me to blackout. But otherwise, after two diagnoses with Hodgkin's Disease, and one with Head and Neck cancer,  I'm doing good, and I will gladly take life as it is dealing with these side effects rather than the alternative had I of chose to not have treatments. As I said in my book "Cancer You Will Not Get Me, 3 Times is Enough!"
    I am privileged to be alive. 
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    Frustration - A Big Side Effect of Cancer

    Nowhere is frustration ever listed as a possible side effect of cancer, but as we all learn soon enough, frustration is a BIG side effect of cancer. Frustration comes from all angles – from the diagnosis process to the waiting for treatment to begin to the crazy/stupid things people tell you to do to cure your cancer. So let’s look at frustration. My bet is that most of you have already experienced several of these frustrations.

    Waiting for the diagnosis.
    How long did it take for you to get your full diagnosis? I bet that the process was long and frustrating. From my first and only symptom to my final diagnosis of Stage IV rectal cancer, it took 3 ½ months. And then it was almost 3 weeks before my treatment began. My situation wasn’t unique or uncommon. Cancer is a complex disease. It takes many tests to learn the full extent of our cancer.
    More waiting.
    The waiting rooms are generally full. We’re waiting for our name to be called so we try to sit patiently, but inevitably, we have to wait. Whether it’s for chemo or radiation, circumstances beyond the control of the staff happen, and they fall behind. But, in actuality, it’s probably impossible for our providers to stay on schedule. Emergencies happen that must be handled. Sometimes, a patient has to be admitted to the hospital. Sometimes, their blood count is so low that they have to have a blood transfusion. Sometimes, there’s an equipment malfunction. Even though waiting is frustrating, most of us adjust to “life in the slow lane.”

    Hair loss.
    Even though we’ve been prepared for possible hair loss, it’s very frustrating. Men seem to “rock” being bald, but us gals have grown up fixing our hair. And when it’s gone, we’re just frustrated and lost.
    We can’t plan ahead.
    It’s frustrating when we can’t plan ahead, especially if we are a person who is super organized or obsessive/compulsive about always being in control. Side effects from our treatments or our disease are so unpredictable it’s virtually impossible to plan for a family get-together or holiday event. Spare yourself the frustration and ask another family member to host your Thanksgiving or Christmas get-together.

    So tired but just can’t sleep.
    We all know that feeling. We’re exhausted from chemo, but sleep won’t come because of the steroids that we’ve gotten. Insomnia is about three times more common in cancer patients than the general population. Here are some of the reasons.
    • Depression
    • Treatment-induced menopause causes hot flashes or night sweats

    • Untreated or under-treated pain
    Gastro-intestinal upsets from chemo – gas/bloating/discomfort/diarrhea

    • Anxiety – we can’t turn off that little voice in our heads that keeps saying “what if?”

    Patient lashes out at their caregiver.
    Ouch – this one is not only frustrating, but it also hurts. You, as the caregiver, are doing everything that you can to help your loved one feel better. Then suddenly, they lash out at you. Usually, it’s because they’re angry at the situation they’re in, and we’re an easy target because we’re right there. Irrational behavior might also be caused by their pain medication or the progression of their disease. The best thing is just walking out and pull yourself together. Hire someone to come in a couple of times a week to give you some respite time so that you don’t get burned out.

    Your particular diagnosis.
    Let’s face it – cancer doesn’t always pick a traditional part of our body. Many patients feel frustrated/embarrassed by their specific diagnosis. Examples include: • A man diagnosed with breast cancer • A non-smoker diagnosed with lung cancer • Patients with rectal or anal cancer • Patients with reproductive organ cancers such as testicular, penile, cervical or vulvar cancer • Patients who have ostomies due to colon, rectal, or bladder cancer
    Unable to perform simple tasks.
    Patients who have been active may become quite frustrated when they can’t do simple things they used to do because of chemo-or-radiation-induced extreme fatigue. It’s frustrating to not be able to mow the lawn, wash the car, unable to keep up with the laundry or cook dinner every evening.
    Friends who offer treatment advice or tell you about Aunt Susie’s cancer.
    It’s exasperating to listen to well-meaning friends tell you that cancer doesn’t kill, it’s the chemo that will kill you. We also don’t need to hear about someone’s relative who died of the same type cancer that we have. The best answer might be, “I appreciate your concern, but I have total confidence in my medical team.”
    Sexual intimacy.
    Being intimate is comforting to some couples. Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate when we have cancer, and that can be both frustrating and discouraging. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute offers some helpful advice for couples who desire intimacy. You may not have thought about frustration as being a side effect of cancer, but now that you’ve seen these examples, perhaps you’ll realize just how frustrating the diagnosis of cancer can be.
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    Acceptance - A Key Factor in Moving Forward With Your Cancer Diagnosis

    We all remember that day … the day time stood still … the day that we learned we had cancer. Sometimes, we have symptoms and seek out a diagnosis hoping against hope that it isn’t cancer. For others, the diagnosis comes as a result of an annual physical or annual mammogram without a hint of impending trouble.

    Regardless of the circumstances of our diagnosis, we will never forget the day. Many of us call it our “Cancerversary.”
    I don’t know about you, but I can recall the exact the words that my doctor said. I already knew from my colonoscopy biopsy that I had rectal cancer, but I went back two weeks later to learn the results of my staging scans. I was scared. What ifs filled my mind. We exchanged niceties as all doctors and patients do, even in times of severe anxiety.
    And then, he said, “The scan shows that your cancer has spread to your lungs.”

    But there was more. He said, “Your pelvic lymph nodes are involved. The MRI show clusters of cancer cells in the fatty tissue behind your rectum.”

    I was stunned as I listened. This couldn’t be me that he was talking about. I listened. My husband sat beside me listening too. He didn’t say a word.
    It sank in. I was Stage IV, and I was in for the fight of my life.
    That’s how all of our journeys start. We simply are unable to take it all in during that first office visit. Fortunately, most of us are able to “digest” our diagnosis and move forward through acceptance.
    How do we find acceptance?
    Finding acceptance is a little like a treasure hunt. We go to different locations (i.e., emotions) before we find the treasure, which is acceptance.
    Some of the dark places where our mind goes are gloomy places, indeed. Let’s look at some of the feelings we encounter.
    Overwhelmed. The very word – CANCER – overwhelms us. Visions of our life going out of control swirl in our head. Will I die? How much will this cost? What about my family? I feel so helpless and don’t understand all of this medical mumbo-jumbo.
    Denial. Many people just can’t believe they have cancer. This is especially true if it was discovered during a routine exam. Ask your doctor to explain what your test results show and how they confirm that you have cancer. Denial can be dangerous if it causes you to delay treatment.
    Anger. Anger can be a potentially destructive emotion. My husband asked my oncologist, “Why did my wife get this?” She shrugged her shoulders as she explained, “Sometimes, we just don’t know. Bad luck.” Religious people may find themselves blaming God. You may find yourself taking it out on your loved ones or friends. I have to admit – the first day that I saw “rectal cancer” printed out on my imaging orders, it hit me very hard – when I got home, I slammed a few pots and pans. Seeing my diagnosis in writing allowed me to process my anger and frustration.
    Fear. Fear is normal. Fear of chemotherapy and its side effects are at the forefront of our minds. And depending on the location of our cancer, fear of disfiguring surgery may be equally scary. We might have heard horror stories about radiation therapy.

    Anxiety. Anxiety is that awful feeling of angst – your heart is racing, you’ve got tightness in your chest and there’s that lump in your throat. You may feel weak or dizzy. Your hands may shake. You may feel nauseated or have diarrhea. Severe anxiety may become debilitating causing you to be unable to function. Speak to your physician if your anxiety begins to interfere with daily life and decision making. Prescription medicines really do help.
    Bargaining. Some people begin to bargain with God. “Lord, I promise that I’ll stop drinking if you’ll just let me live.” Bargaining may go hand in hand with GUILT if we believe that one of our lifestyle choices may have caused our cancer. We just have to let go of these feelings. 
    They aren’t productive. As I always say, “We can’t undo the past; we can only help shape our future.”
    Not every cancer patient will experience all of these emotions or behaviors, but most of us will go through several phases to arrive at acceptance.
    What does acceptance help us do?
    Here’s what I realized. This is how I describe acceptance.
    “Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is realizing that situations change and that adapting to change is the only way to move forward.”

    Yeppers, you can quote me on that. Acceptance allows you to escape out of that dark place and embrace your treatment. Yes, you heard me right. Embrace your treatment and your medical team because they are now your new best friends. They are “in it, to win it” for you and your family.
    Cancer treatment is often long and drawn out. It’s a marathon, a sometimes grueling yearlong (or more) combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. You’ve got to ENDURE THE CURE. In fact, there is a pediatric foundation with a similar name.
    Acceptance allows us to tolerate chemotherapy and its various side effects. Acceptance permits us to consent to surgical and radiations risks that ordinary people would not find acceptable. Acceptance lets us find some control in our lives, in spite of our uniquely “out of control” situation.

    We are able to experience gratitude in seemingly difficult circumstances. Here are some of them.
    Thankful that I’m not nauseated today. • Grateful that I feel like going for a walk. • Immensely grateful that I woke in the recovery room after a grueling surgery. • Appreciative of the expertise my radiology team possessed. • Thankful for my friends who encourage me. • Joyful that my morning cup of Joe tastes so good. • Happy for the hug my oncologist gave me.

    Acceptance allows us to experience the simply wonderful small joys of life during cancer treatment.
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