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

Who Was This Woman Looking At Me? Was She Even A Woman?

Tough Girl 2!Tiffany Mannino is back to share yet another of her diary entries penned to her unborn daughter Lola during her breast cancer journey. She has entitled the letters Beautifully Broken: Letters From a Girl/Woman/Human in Progress’ as she reflects on her five year journey with letting go of the past, facing fears, learning to love, finding happiness in the moment, and realizing that she is exactly where she is supposed to be in life.

Oh baby…I am so tired the computer screen is looking fuzzy, however, a few moments ago, I had this compulsion to write to you rather than crawl into bed. After nine months of being on sabbatical, I have finally gone back to work to start a new school year. I wish I could tell you the transition was easy, but the last few weeks have been grueling. I have been an emotional wreck having meltdowns on a daily basis. The best way that I can describe my state is that I feel like a beached horseshoe crab that has been flipped on its back and can’t seem to turn over. It squirms with the scorching sun beating down on its parched shell. The strangest part of this all is that as difficult as this change is for me, deep in my heart I know that I am going to come out of this a better soul. Like a molting horseshoe crab, I feel like I am shedding my old self and beginning a new. Continue reading

“Cancer, Without You, I Wouldn’t Be The Woman I Am Today”

Dana-Donofree-BioDana Donofree is back on the LBBC blog for part 3 of her story about her breast cancer diagnosis and how it led her towards a completely different life and career direction than she had originally planned…

Cancer had officially taken my life on another path. Only this time, it was one I had always wanted: designing my own line and having my own business.  The concept for AnaOno Intimates came organically from within. After cancer and reconstructions, I’d walked into lingerie stores countless times, enthusiastic at first, but then leaving with nothing but self-loathing and tears because my body was forever altered. It was like I was back in my cancer treatment days, easily identifiable by my head scarf or lack of eyebrows and eyelashes. This time I was walking around with a giant, heavy stamp on my chest: NOT NORMAL. The sheer frustration  became absolutely maddening, but the pain of being “different” or “changed” or in some dark moments, “ruined” was unbearable. I made my mind up, I knew in that moment I never wanted another woman to EVER have to go through what I did; they should feel just as beautiful, confident and sexy as they did the days before reconstructive surgery. Cancer should not and WILL NOT take that away. 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

Now Life Is Forever Altered

1493LBBC shop to support partner and blogger, Dana Donofree, is back sharing the 2nd part of her breast cancer story with us. To read part 1 click here. Today she shares how her surgery lead to life and career changing ideas and how it has directed her path for the future.

The positive to my diagnosis, if ever there could be one, was that I was HER2+. This made me a candidate for Herceptin. Before 2006, Herceptin was only used in late-stage cancers, but by the time of my diagnosis, it was approved to treat HER2+, and it had a very favorable success rate in battling the disease.

I kept thinking about the women before me with the same diagnosis prior to 2006. There were many who died waiting for the approval. There were many who died because they weren’t the right candidate. And now, there were many like me benefiting from the research and dollars drummed up by pink ribbons, walks and the memories of those women who were lost. I was grateful beyond words. Who is to say one way or another, but I believe the access to Herceptin saved my life.

There is a wave of fear, anxiety and doubt that follows the flood of joy when your cancer doctor releases you from care with clear scans and positive words. It is almost even more overwhelming than the fear that greets us survivors upon diagnosis. Because now life is forever altered. Now there is nothing but a new set of what-ifs with no real solutions to challenge them. Now I had to go back to life without cancer, but a life very different than the one BEFORE cancer. People like to call it the “new normal.” And I woke every day to a different battle ahead of me; one that was about restoring myself to some semblance of the Dana I was before the disease. 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