This entry was written by Tyesha Love of Philadelphia, Pa. When Tyesha attended LBBC’s fall conference last year, she was very impressed with the information that she learned at the workshops. Click here to learn more about this year’s fall conference workshops.
When I stepped into the Pennsylvania Convention Center for Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s 2009 Annual Fall Conference, I felt a sense of warmth, elation and familiarity. I was amongst family. I had something in common with all of the attendees and it was comforting and exciting. As I sat and enjoyed a continental breakfast, I could not stop looking around the room at all the many faces of cancer: women affected by the disease, caregivers, supporters, doctors and educators. At that moment, I realized I was never alone in my season with cancer.
As the opening plenary speaker began, I looked around the conference room and associated the colored leis around the necks and wrists of each woman/caregiver. The leis identified their status with or connection to cancer (e.g. orange – diagnosed within one to three years; blue – diagnosed between five to seven years; white for caregivers; blue for metastatic cancer, purple for medical provider, etc.) Each received a whispered prayer from me for healing, continued improvement of health, peace, comfort, strength, knowledge, empowerment and hope.
After a break for which attendees could network and visit exhibitors, I eagerly proceeded to my first workshop – Fear of Recurrence: Controlling Worry and Anxiety. As I am BRCA 1 positive, my risk for recurrence is much greater than someone without the mutation. Because cancer is so prevalent on my mother’s side of the family and with my personal history with cancer, I found myself suffering with anxiety even after I completed my treatments and surgeries.
Ruth H. Steinman, MD explained that it is common for survivors to fear recurrence, no matter the stage of their cancer at diagnosis. She discussed the emotional responses to uncertainty – e.g. anger, hope, worry, gratitude – and ways to communicate to love ones, touching on the emotional support that is needed when internal fears or outside triggers emerge. I learned that outside triggers can consist of tests, anniversary of diagnosis/first treatment/surgery; or hearing of another’s diagnosis or cancer related death.
Exercise, eating healthy, meditation and breathing techniques were discussed to teach how to manage anxiety. Ideas were suggested to better manage life’s activities to avoid being overwhelmed. Educating and being empowered will comfort you in knowing you’re not alone and there is help where you can share your anxiety. Creating a new normal – life after cancer – can help cope with post-cancer distress. Seeking support from family, your community, health care providers and finding therapeutic ways to direct energy were also valuable points taken from this workshop.
After lunch and networking, I headed over to my preference for workshop 2 – Body Image: Exploring & Embracing Transition. Having had a bi-lateral mastectomy with implant reconstruction, it was a challenge getting accustomed to my new body image. I struggled with feeling feminine and feeling sexy after my mastectomy. I was reluctant to expose my reconstructed body. There can be challenges with feeling beautiful and confident whether single or in a relationship. Coming to accept your new body image after such treatments and/or a drastic procedure can be a troubling process.
Everyone was given the opportunity to express their challenges with body image and share a story about their transition. Afterwards, Linda Abrams, PhD discussed how to manage feelings about your body after a cancer diagnosis, treatment and/or surgery. Suggestions were made to help women affected by breast cancer “look good and feel better!” Dealing with fears of intimacy, accepting new body images and embracing the transition were also taught. Dr. Abrams also discussed communicating with your significant other about how you are feeling about your body and how they can help you overcome the struggle with body acceptance and self-image.
Many people truly benefit from LBBC’s Annual Fall Conference workshops. They provide valuable information no matter what your position – women diagnosed with breast cancer, caregiver, loved-one or educator. From the latest medical developments to wellness news, each workshop will send you home with a new outlook on survivorship and a stronger sense of hope.
To register for this year’s fall conference on November 13th, visit LBBC’s website. It’s not too late to register and sign up for workshops that are specific to your diagnosis. Call us today to find out if you qualify for a fee waiver!