Your last day of treatment has arrived! Finally, a glimmer of hope that you will be getting your life back. Chemotherapy is over, no more cancer clinic visits -- maybe you will even start seeing some hair soon! But there may be something not-so-satisfying about this moment that you’ve looked forward to for months now. You might even feel a bit sad and confused. If so, you’re normal. You’re normal because you’ve been fighting for your life with your family and friends rallying around supporting you. You’ve been their focus, and even your own thoughts have been inward toward healing and wellness. Now your focus is turning outward again, and family and friends might not be as available, because, after all, now you’re all better, right? Well, yes . . . and no. Oncology treatment is over, but you still have some healing to do, along with physical scars that remind you, daily, of what you’ve been through to get this far. It takes the human body time to recover from catastrophic illness. Give yourself some grace. Your energy level will return again, just keep your pace slow and steady. Fear of a cancer recurrence may also be lurking behind some of your confusion. You might find yourself poking around your lymph nodes thinking – is that a bump I feel? Was that bump there yesterday? What is that sharp pain in my side? While these feelings are normal, they should not be swept under the rug. Talk to your healthcare team about your feelings at your follow-up appointments. Also, consider joining a support group for cancer survivors. Organizations like The Wellness Community (http://www.thewellnesscommunity.org/default.asp) provide free group counseling for breast cancer survivors and their families, and you’ll find other cancer networking groups in the community section of your local newspaper. The last day of treatment is a milestone, celebrate it! But continue giving yourself the time you need to get back into your normal routine.
One thing that really bothered me when I was in the middle of breast cancer treatment were articles suggesting how I could make myself feel better by wearing bright lipstick or drawing eyebrows on with an eye pencil. Don’t get me wrong. Pre-treatment, I never left the house without make-up and hair in place. But I always wondered where the people who wrote those articles for the breast cancer audience were getting their information. The last thing I was concerned about during chemotherapy, when I was vomiting five to six times a day, was whether or not my lipstick was bright enough. For a woman who authored a guide to become a fashion model, I wasn’t looking very fashionable during that time, nor did I care. What I cared about was being a breast cancer survivor, and in the end that’s what’s important. Your hair will grow back, and there will be time to pick the best lip color for the new season. There are also programs that are sensitive to the needs of women in cancer treatment when you are ready, like Look Good . . . Feel Better Â® (http://www.lookgoodfeelbetter.ort/). Until then, don’t worry about trying to maintain the same look you had before your breast cancer diagnosis. I’m predicting that you won’t emerge the same person. You will learn from breast cancer that there is something incredibly beautiful about the human spirit, and even more beautiful about the survivor whose triumph allows her to continue her unique contributions that make this world a better place.
If detecting a lump in your breast isn’t alarming enough, being sent for a breast biopsy is! The first thing you should understand when your doctor says the words “breast biopsy” is about 75% of all biopsies are benign, or non-cancerous. The second thing you need to understand is what type of biopsy will be performed. Ask your doctor to explain the procedure and how you should prepare for your breast biopsy. It’s a good idea to refrain from taking aspirin or anti-inflammatory medication a couple weeks before the biopsy because those types of medicines will increase bleeding and bruising. There are three main types of breast cancer biopsies: fine needle aspiration, core needle biopsy or a small incision (or surgery). If you are having a surgical breast biopsy, have a friend or relative drive you to the surgery center and back home again because you will be under anesthesia during surgery. It’s also a good idea to have someone accompany you to a needle biopsy just for moral support. You won’t know the final result of the biopsy until the pathologist’s report comes back which can sometimes take a few days so it’s just nice to have someone in the waiting room to talk to and drive home with. Remember: a breast biopsy doesn’t mean you have cancer; it is simply a screening method to ensure that you don’t.
If you or your doctor discovers a lump in your breast, your doctor may suggest a fine needle aspiration breast biopsy or a core needle breast biopsy to determine whether or not it is cancerous. The fine needle aspiration biopsy is less invasive, because the needle used is thinner than one used to draw blood. For this biopsy, your doctor will clean the area of your breast nearest to the suspicious lump with an alcohol swab and insert a fine needle into the area to retrieve the cells for examination. He may or may not numb you with a local anesthetic; but request it if you have a lower tolerance for discomfort. For a core needle biopsy, the doctor will perform an ultrasound on your breast with an ultrasound wand to locate the exact spot of the lump, a local anesthetic will be given, and the needle will be inserted into the lump (guided by pictures on the ultrasound screen). The core needle is big enough to actually extract tissue, but will not leave a scar. It may seem that the fine needle aspiration is the best way to go insofar as comfort, but this procedure is sometimes less accurate because the needle is extracting from nearby breast tissue and not directly from the lump. Also, if cells extracted from the fine needle aspiration even look suspicious, it is likely that your doctor will order a second, more invasive biopsy for a more accurate diagnosis.
Category: Modifiable Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Eating the right foods will not prevent you from getting breast cancer, but it will lower your breast cancer risk factor. No one knows one true cause of breast cancer but scientist have pinpointed two major risk factors that can’t be changed: 1) being female and 2) getting older. As the second leading cause of cancer deaths in American women, each step you take to reduce the chance that you may get breast cancer is a step in the right direction. Reducing your breast cancer risk by choosing cancer-fighting foods couldn’t be easier. Decrease the amount of fat you eat and increase your fruits and vegetables. Excess fat can promote abnormal cell division which may increase your risk of colon and breast cancer. You can substantially decrease your fat intake by choosing less red meat, low-fat dairy products and trimming excess fat from meats before cooking. And don’t worry so much about eating the “right” cancer fighting fruit and vegetables. That seems to change with every new media headline. Focus, instead, on simply choosing more fruits and vegetables in any variety you wish. They are rich in natural antioxidants, high in fiber and low in fat. When you choose from foods that reduce your breast cancer risk factor, you strengthen your immune system and are choosing a great defense against a breast cancer diagnosis.
For those who have multiple high risk factors for breast cancer, a dietary change is one way you can lower your risk. Does that mean never eating a jelly donut again? No, not at all! The most damage is done when you develop chronically bad nutritional habits, like starting every day off with a couple jelly donuts. The keys to lowering your breast cancer risk through nutrition are developing good habits and enjoying bad habits in moderation. Thanksgiving weekend should be enjoyed, and so should birthday cake (make mine chocolate) and occasional treats. And it’s never too late to start eating right. Start with a few tiny changes. Carry a piece of fruit in your purse to avoid unplanned trips through the fast food line because you are famished. Keep some baby carrots in the fridge to munch on in between meals. Or maybe it would be easier for you to quit one bad habit, like French Fries, and replace them with a leafy salad. I can hear your pain – before my cancer diagnosis, I believed French Fries were a perfectly acceptable side dish to every meal. The human body can tolerate a lot of abuse. Just consider what happens when a smoker kicks the habit. That person’s risk of heart disease starts diminishing almost immediately! The U.S. government’s National Cancer Institute estimates that “35 percent of cancer deaths are related to poor eating habits.” Remember, what you are serving for dinner not only nourishes your body and soul, but also the bodies and souls of the family and friends who gather around your table. Give yourself and the people important to you an extra helping of nourishment by introducing nutritious cancer-fighting foods into your diet.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|