Hear My Voice: Coping with Depression After Breast Cancer

Renee_web_picThere are many difficult emotions you may feel upon being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Renee Sendelbach blogs for the Hear My Voice series about her experience dealing with depression before and after she learned she had stage IV disease.
 

No one ever told me that cancer could lead to depression.

But if I am being completely honest, I guess no one ever told me a lot of things about cancer. And if I am being even more honest, I can easily ask, how could cancer not lead to depression?

The person I was for 30 years – a healthy, strong-willed, happy-go-lucky woman, ready to change the world – was all the sudden ripped away from me in a few seconds when I heard one word – cancer.

I first noticed the signs of depression in 2009. I had finished 8 rounds of chemo and a lumpectomy for my then Stage 1 breast cancer. I was in the midst of my 36 radiation treatments when I broke down with emotions. I couldn’t shake the sadness that seemed to hang over my every day. The world seemed to be closing in around me.

I certainly couldn’t understand WHY I was like this now…after all, I had just “beaten cancer.” I tried to chalk it all up to me feeling exhausted. Deep down I knew it was something more when even spending time with my husband and 18-month-old son was unbearable and hard.

I couldn’t put my finger on it, so I talked to my oncologist who told me depression is very common in the situation I was in – just out of chemo, surgery and radiation. The fact that my life was never going to be the same really started to sink in. Continue reading

Healthy Recipes to Include in Your Holiday Tradition

With Thanksgiving in three days, the holiday season is officially in full swing. In anticipation of our December 3 Twitter chat, #LBBCchat: Healthy Eating After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis, Kendall Scott, co-founder and health coach of The Kicking Kitchenis back on our blog to share three recipes to add to your holiday feast.

Image via Kendall Scott/The Kicking Kitchen.

Image via Kendall Scott/The Kicking Kitchen.

Savory Stuffed Acorn Squash

I love making stuffed squash: It fills my kitchen with sweet and savory scents and fills me up without feeling bloated and tired afterward. My mother-in-law also makes her own delicious version of stuffed squash. She gave me the idea to make them up ahead of time, wrapping each half of a stuffed squash in aluminum foil, baking some immediately to enjoy now and storing the rest in the fridge for up to three days. Then you just pop them in the oven and they’re ready to eat in an hour!

Yield: makes 4 stuffed squash halves

Ingredients:

1/2 cup brown rice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 red onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 small zucchini, small chop

2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped

5 crimini mushrooms, finely chopped

2 cups baby spinach, loosely packed

1 tablespoon paprika

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Dash of  pepper Continue reading

Resilience and Breast Cancer

Rocky Mountain Cancer Center.  April 17, 2014.  Photo by Ellen JaskolResearch shows resilience can ease stress and improve life satisfaction among people diagnosed with cancer, but what does it mean to be “resilient”? In anticipation of our November 18 community meeting in Denver, Colorado, Jill Mitchell, LCSW, PhD, OSW-C, of the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers offers some insight and tips on being resilient.

In physics, “resilience” is defined as the ability of a material to absorb energy when it is deformed, and to release that energy (bounce back).  The limit of resilience, in turn, is the point at which the material can no longer absorb energy elastically without creating a permanent distortion.

But resilience in the cancer world, is not as much about bouncing “back” as it is about bouncing “forward” – creating a “new normal” or even growing through the process of survivorship.

Resilience goes beyond just coping or just being “elastic.” It often also involves (or sometimes demands) a “permanent distortion in one’s life” (such as a loss of a breast, or a job or an anticipated future, for example).  However, it is these “distortions,” or losses, that can provide the fodder for growth and transformation when we call upon our internal resources (self-esteem, optimism, hopefulness, problem solving) and our external resources (friends and family, social and community support).

I am often awed and humbled by the ways in which people come to cope with and grow through the struggles or suffering they endure due to cancer.  One of the most important things to know is that although some people may have a more natural tendency toward resilience, we all can strengthen our ability toward resilience through a few specific strategies:

Start with your strengths – what already works for you, or has worked for you in the past?  Perhaps you are someone who needs to gather a lot of information.  Perhaps you feel rejuvenated being surrounded by nature, or writing in a journal or meditating.  Remind yourself about the strategies you already know help you to cope, and make time for those!  Resilience is about developing realistic goals and moving toward them.  Start with what works for you.

Develop and use your network of support – Share what you’re going through with your trusted loved ones, friends, and peers.   Explore support groups or consult one-on-one with your oncology social worker or other healthcare professionals who can be a resource for support, processing and validation.  Asking for help and sharing your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust can feel challenging and uncomfortable for people who are used to being in control or self-dependent. And yet, social support is a critical cornerstone for resilience.  Continue reading

Writer Gives Tour of Breast Cancer Journey, from A to Z

The cover of Madhulika Sikka's book, "A Breast Cancer Alphabet." (image via http://www.abreastcanceralphabet.com/)

The cover of Madhulika Sikka’s book, “A Breast Cancer Alphabet.” (image via http://www.abreastcanceralphabet.com/)

LBBC Writer and Editorial Coordinator Erin Rowley reviews Madhulika Sikka’s book, A Breast Cancer Alphabet.

Cancerland is a place you never planned to visit. Author Madhulika Sikka didn’t want to go there either. But through her book, A Breast Cancer Alphabet, she volunteers to be your tour guide as you navigate life after a breast cancer diagnosis. “This book,” she says, “is for all of you who have become members of a club you did not want to join,” as well as for your friends and family members.

A Breast Cancer Alphabet is a quick read – Ms. Sikka, a broadcast journalist who was diagnosed in 2010, writes that she wanted “a short book that wouldn’t tax my chemo-addled brain.” But she manages to address many topics, from the more obvious ones (B is for Breasts, D is for Drugs, M is for Mastectomy) to ones that may seem frivolous next to the question of survival, but are important to your quality of life (S is for Sex, H is for Hair, L is for Looks, F is for Fashion Accessories). In the chapter T is for Therapy, she stresses that treatment should go beyond chemotherapy and physical therapy. She says it should include psychotherapy and aspects of everyday life that are therapeutic for you, like watching a marathon of your favorite TV show or staying in bed (P is for Pillows, X is for eXhaustion, Z is for ZZZ’s.) Continue reading

A Moment in Time: The Survivorship Care Plan and Follow-Up Care as a Standard of Care

Barbara Unell PhotoBarbara C. Unell is the founder of Back in the Swing USA® and co-author of The Back in the Swing Cookbook: Recipes for Eating and Living Well Every Day After Breast Cancer. Ms. Unell wrote this blog post in anticipation of our upcoming town hall meeting, Survivorship 360: Navigating Your Way Through the Re-Designed Breast Cancer Roadmap.

I love the new song, “3 Things,” by Jason Mraz. In fact, I love it so much, that I decided to make it the theme of this blog, using a bit of poetic license to play off of Mraz’s message. He sings about the three things that he does “when his life falls apart.” 

His words resonate with me today, as I reflect on this particular moment in time in the history of breast cancer survivorship healthcare, a field in which I have planted seeds, along with hundreds of caring volunteers, dedicated healthcare professionals and generous sponsors, for the past 15 years.  I hope that you will take a moment (3 minutes, actually) to sit back, listen to Mraz’s song and be inspired, too.

The song’s lyrics remind me of my “new life” that started in the exhilarating days of 1999, after my treatment for breast cancer, when I was focused on “changing the conversation” between physician and patient. As an author, educator and social entrepreneur who is committed to translating scientific research into practical action, I was determined to move that conversation for consumers of cancer healthcare from the anxiety-filled moments of asking, “Now what?” to the confident steps of receiving a comprehensive, personalized survivorship care plan and follow-up recommendations during and/or after primary treatment ends. Continue reading

Hear My Voice: Getting the Support You Need as a Young Mom With Metastatic Breast Cancer

photo-1terriYoung mothers living with metastatic breast cancer face unique hurdles and uncertainty. Terri da Silva provides insight on these issues and shares resources and tips for supporting your family while living with this diagnosis. 

Living with breast cancer is tough. It’s especially difficult when you’re a young woman trying to navigate your way through adulthood, building a career, starting a family, and then you find out you have metastatic breast cancer. The kind that rarely goes away. The kind that requires lifelong treatment. The kind that is terminal.

I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2011 at the age of 37 when my daughter was only 2 years old. I had no previous breast cancer scares. No family history. I was otherwise healthy. Suddenly my life was flipped upside down.

Young moms with metastatic breast cancer face a unique set of hurdles. Unlike most breast cancer patients whose treatment has a prescribed end date, those of us with stage IV metastatic disease live our lives going from one treatment to the next. Praying the treatments will slow down or stop the progression of our disease long enough so we can see our kids learn how to ride a bike, go on their first date, graduate from school. Praying the side effects from our treatment won’t cause us to miss soccer games and parent-teacher nights. Praying our loved ones won’t tire of supporting us year after year after year. Praying for the strength to make the most of each day we are still here. Continue reading

Hear My Voice: How I Manage Scanxiety

LBBC Board Member Amy Lessack writes about how she manages her emotions before and after she gets scans.

“You must be freaked out every time you get a scan and have to see the doctor.”

If you are a breast cancer survivor or someone living with metastatic breast cancer, this is something that well-meaning people say because they probably don’t know what to say.

The obvious answer is, of course, I am concerned and worried. You pray to whomever, whatever to get the clean scan and the OK from the doctor that you are good for 6 months, a year, or even more.

No one ever asked for breast cancer. I certainly DID NOT invite it in my life, and it needs to go. However, that is not my journey.  I continue to be on the roller coaster of vacillating between the 3-month and 6-month of scans and back to 3-months. So how do I handle it, manage my emotions and get through it? I get through using the following seven steps before every scan:

#1           I had to make a conscious choice – “scans are my friend.” Why are they my friend? Because they are the only things that can “see inside my body” and help the doctors and me cheer when things look good, and research or make a plan when or if necessary.

#2           I now schedule my scans on Mondays and doctor appointments the Friday after the scan. This is so that I don’t have to wait to hear the results knowing that it takes 2 – 3 days to get them.  Continue reading