Why I Became The Choosy Chick

In anticipation of our August 12 webinar on environmental health, Health Educator Margot White blogs about why she founded The Choosy Chick.

I have always believed in the benefit of leading a healthy lifestyle, but becoming a mom inspired me to turn it up a notch.  Like most parents, I wanted to provide my children with a healthy foundation and protect them from chemicals that did not belong in their bodies.  After my first son was born I began to realize I was only scratching the surface.  I had a lot to learn about food additives, dyes, artificial flavors and sweeteners, preservatives and chemicals with unpronounceable names.   The more I learned, the more I distrusted the well-known brands that were a major part of our diet.  My kids even picked up on my new habit.  Imagine my embarrassment when my 6 year old blurted out at a birthday party, “Hey Mom, there’s high fructose corn syrup in these fruit snacks!”

By the time my second and third sons came along, I began to learn about the chemicals not just in foods, but in cleaning and personal care products. I became more suspicious about toxins in skincare products when my son became ill during the application of one of those Halloween face painting kits.  His throat started to burn and he vomited white foam.  When I looked at the back of the product label, I noticed the warning to avoid using certain colors near the eyes or mouth.  But wait – this was a FACIAL makeup kit!  How could it possibly create this kind of reaction?mwhiteheadshot2

All along I was experiencing some unexplained rashes, and developed Raynaud’s syndrome.  My doctor started to watch me closely for Lupus, among other autoimmune diseases.  During that same period several close friends and family members were diagnosed with cancer.  I became concerned for the health of my family and myself. I became a mom on a mission committed to reducing our exposure to toxins in foods and household products. I started to investigate the ingredients in diaper creams, lotions, and baby shampoo and again, found good reason to distrust the brands I once thought were safe. I had already discovered that my own makeup and personal care products were loaded with toxic chemicals that are linked to a variety of serious health concerns. Continue reading

Listening to Your Inner Voice, Speaking Up to Address Your Fears

Contributor Joanne Hampton blogs about the importance of speaking up about your concerns and sharing them with your healthcare provider.

I moved from New York to Florida 6 years ago and on a recent visit to NY I was compelled to visit my oncologist. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33. My children were 2 and 5 at the time, the ages where mommy isn’t allowed to be sick. I didn’t know anyone who had breast cancer. I was so alone and scared. I didn’t know what any of it meant or what to expect. This was 11 years ago when I felt it was shameful to say breast cancer and the internet offered little information. What I did know was I had two beautiful children who needed their mom.

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Joanne Hampton with her oncologist, Dr. Buchholtz.

I put my life in the hands of my oncologist, Dr. Michael Buchholtz. He took me into his office for over an hour and explained as much as he could to me. Looking back, I remember the sweet tone of his voice and his kind and positive words. He made it easy for me to understand what was going to happen and what to expect. I realized I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t so afraid. He gave me that. I knew he wasn’t going to give up on me and I was going to be ok. I don’t know how else to explain it except to say I could feel his heart, as strange as that may sound.

If you have gone through chemotherapy, or if you haven’t, it’s a place we visit so often for treatment, blood work, follow up, shots, and if I have forgotten anything else, I’ll just blame it on chemobrain. In an odd way, the treatment center becomes almost like a second home, but a positive is you’re on a first name basis with almost everyone in the office. I remember one day when I was having an especially rough time, Liz, one of the nurses, was kind enough to go out to her car and brought me a CD of soothing music and some headphones. It was small gestures and support like this that made a difficult experience a little more bearable.

Finally, treatment, surgeries, and radiation were over, and I was a few months out when I felt that I heard a whisper. This whisper gave me the feeling that something was wrong and I wasn’t going to see my children grow up. I shared this feeling with a friend who said that after the scare and all I had been through, it was a normal fear to have. Family members felt it was time for me to close the book on cancer, put it behind me and move on. All this seemed reasonable. I had been through a lot. It was normal to be afraid, and it was over so I should be moving on.

But the whisper continued. Was it my own fears? Was it intuition? Or was it a message from a higher place warning me? Honestly, that is what I felt–that someone up there was trying to tell me something. You can imagine how crazy I sounded when I told people, and trust me it was only a select few.

When it came time for me to return to my oncologist for a checkup, all tests showed I was perfectly fine. Before he left the room Dr. Buchholtz looked at me and asked how I was feeling. I paused and I thought, well, he might put me on some loony meds, but I had to tell him about my concerns. I said, “This might be crazy, but I am having this feeling that something is still wrong and I am going to die young.”

He looked into my eyes and told me I was not crazy. I wish I could remember the exact words he used, because it was beautiful. He told me about a new test that I qualified for. He explained it was a genetic test for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation. He had me sit with one of the nurses and go over my family history of cancer. He took my blood and sent it on to be tested. It turned out I was positive for the BRCA1 mutation. With this mutation, the percentage of possible recurrence is about 87%. I was also found to be triple negative which means a recurrence would bring about a much more aggressive cancer.

In life, I believe if we all look back we have people that I like to refer to as angels. They are put in our path for a purpose – whether they held our hand or were our source of strength when we needed it most. Dr. Buchholtz was the only one who listened to me and from the very beginning. He touched my heart in a way that I needed most. I’m not just grateful –I love this man with his beautiful soul and heart of gold, and I can’t thank him enough for taking care of me the way he did.

I am so glad I had the strength to speak up and voice my concerns. So please, do not be afraid or embarrassed because asking questions and listening to your instinct is not silly or dumb. It could save your life. It did for me.

Joanne Hampton is a mom of two, a breast cancer survivor, community advocate and Public Relations and Marketing Director for Breast Investigators.

The Whole You: Is it Hot in Here?

Getting good breast cancer care means caring for yourself as a whole person—understanding how cancer impacts you physically, emotionally and spiritually. This is why we’re hosting Wellness Weekend, a three-day event that combines our annual fall conference, Breast Cancer Today: Individual Treatments, Shared Experiences, and Yoga on the Steps: Denver. In anticipation of the Denver, Colorado weekend, Randi Rentz kicks off our blogging series, The Whole You, with a post about a side effect that impacts a number women of who undergo hormonal therapy for hormone-positive breast cancer – menopause.

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Ah, summertime. Long, sunny days. Outdoor cookouts. Lounging by the pool.

Say what??? Make that: Long, sweaty days. Internal cook-offs. Lunging for the pool.

Summer can be difficult if you’re in the midst of perimenopause or menopause. Geez! I first experienced menopausal experiences while receiving chemo. It got worse once I went on  tamoxifen. I also had to have a hysterectomy, which totally threw me for a loop. That procedure, of course, put me in permanent SCREAMING and KICKING menopause.

For those of you who have experienced menopause – naturally occurring or induced by cancer treatment – you know exactly what I mean when I say that hot flashes absolutely STINK!! Not only do they rock your world in a moment’s notice with absolutely no warning, but they (at least mine) are all consuming and utterly UNCOMFORTABLE! Well, let me be more specific: the truth of the matter is that my mind is a wasteland of emptiness during which I am at a complete and total loss of words when a hot flash comes on. They so overwhelm me.

Irritability, mood swings, sudden burst of crying. They’re all part of this new phase in my life. I am now menopause symptomatic (a.k.a. Itchy, Bitchy, Sweaty, Sleepy, Bloated, Forgetful and Psycho).

The number one symptom for me: hot flashes, cold flashes and night sweats. Now, these aren’t the sweats of relaxation you’d feel in a sauna, or the rewarding ones indicating you’ve just exercised This is more like: OMG, I’m on F%$#ing fire.  Call 9-1-1….Nooow! Continue reading

Good, Confident and Sexy: Becoming Whole Again

Breast cancer can impact sex, intimacy and body image whether you’re single or in a relationship. In anticipation of our Twitter Chat on Wednesday, June 24, AnaOno Intimates Owner Dana Donofree blogs about her experience regaining confidence and embracing her desirability after treatment.

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I often compare myself to a broken doll. Not the kind that was so beloved, it was carried everywhere, slowly fading and falling into disrepair over time as if it were aging gracefully. More like the kind that was once beautiful, but its owner decided to take construction paper scissors and hack its hair down to oddly shaped tufts, to accidentally (or on purpose) break off a limb or two, scar the midsection with a Sharpie and leave it half bent and mutilated in in the corner of her closet.

Because that’s what breast cancer did to me. It took a perfectly acceptable woman and turned her into a shadow of herself, and when it is all said and done, it made her feel broken, ruined and rejected.

When I was first diagnosed, what was about to happen to my outward appearance wasn’t even on my mind. I thought I had it all together, the strength, the attitude, the “let’s do this.”

See, I was never terribly attached to my breasts. I never even really thought about them all that much. I was 27. My boobs were small, but perky. They hadn’t done anything hero-worthy like nourish a child. Their biggest accomplishment was being able to exist without a bra. Their greatest time to shine was on weekend party nights when they could hang out in a super low-cut blouse and up my va va voom quotient.

So, when the time came to go our very separate ways, my friends threw a “Ta-Ta to Dana’s Ta-Tas” party and they had one last night out on the town in the lowest plunging neckline I could find.

I was pretty flippant and casual about parting with my two of my lady parts. Friends and family took bets on which of my surgeons, Dr. McDreamy and Dr. Hottie, was the better catch. I joked that they would be the last to ever cop a feel of my original breasts.

I thought I was going to be just fine afterward. That it wouldn’t faze me in the least.

But, I never could have prepared myself for what it felt like, both physically and mentally, when I woke from surgery. For something I felt I was completely comfortable with and ready for, losing them, my breasts, shook my world.

I took off the bandages, and saw this alien staring back at me in the mirror. I was mutilated. I was swollen. My scars were their own entity  purple and protruding like someone had chainsawed me up and stapled me back together.

It is not at all what I had imagined. Where was this “We are replacing your boobs with ones just like them so you can feel ‘normal’?” I hadn’t expected to look like a badly-repaired Lego. I expected to kinda come out looking more implanty-boob-job like. This body was the farthest cry from normal I could have ever imagined. Continue reading

My Mom Was Diagnosed with Breast Cancer: A Teen’s Perspective

“Your mom has breast cancer.” It’s never easy to hear that sentence, especially for young kids. Jordan Vespoli reflects on hearing those words at age 9, how he supported his family and  now, at age 16, helps other kids who learn their mom has a breast cancer diagnosis.

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On October 30, 2008, my mom and dad sat me down on my bed to give me some news. I couldn’t imagine what they were going to say to me, but I knew it was serious.  My mom had breast cancer. Cancer? What is that? I was pretty smart for a 9-year-old kid. I knew it had something to do with bad cells in your body and I knew that it was life threatening. I sat and listened.  When they asked me if I had any question, I said nothing. I did not know what to say.

So when they left my room, I sat there motionless and deep in thought.  I went through my days as I usually did, which was going to school, playing basketball and doing my homework. Inside, I felt scared and angry. I did not know anyone whose mom had ever had breast cancer.

After some time, I decided that the best way to deal with this situation was to help my family out in any way I could. I helped set up a schedule for our friends to prepare dinner for us while my mom was going through chemo. I also started speaking to my friends about it, but none of them went through the same thing I was going through. Continue reading

Cancer and Sex

Don S. Dizon, MD, FACP, regularly blogs on ASCO Connection, where this post originally appeared. Learn more about sex and intimacy after a breast cancer diagnosis during our Twitter Chat, Tweets from the Sheets, on Wednesday, June 24.

dizon_don 2012As an oncologist who also runs a sexual health clinic for women treated (or under treatment), I am discovering that my perspective on both issues of cancer treatment (and survival) and life after cancer (and quality of life) is somewhat unique. I am conscious of how difficult it is to bring up cancer therapy and survivorship (let alone sexual health) within the same discussion, yet I have gained a heightened sensitivity of the importance of looking beyond treatment even while we are discussing what to do now. I have benefitted greatly from colleagues in the field of sexual health, such as Michael Krychman, at UC Irvine, and Anne Katz, in Canada, both of whom I have been privileged enough to count as colleagues, co-authors, and contemporaries.

I am even more fortunate that one of my friends here in Boston also shares my interest in women’s health. Sandy Falk is a gynecologist and sees cancer survivors for women’s health issues at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. In our practices, we both see the adverse effects of therapy that patients have to cope with. However, far from the arthralgias of aromatase inhibitors and neuropathy of some of our chemotherapeutic agents (two symptoms which we as oncologists are comfortable discussing), sexual health is often compromised.

There are common complaints encountered by those of us who cover sexual health. They include:

  • “I’m done with treatment, but now I can’t have sex. It is too painful and my sexual desire is completely gone.”
  • “Why didn’t my oncologist warn me about this? Maybe if I had known my partner and I could have worked on this early on. But now, so much time has passed now and my partner and I have lost patience.”
  • “I’m not sure how to go on with my relationship.”

Those may be extreme examples, and I hope for most oncologists that they are. However, what I do know is that these perceptions do exist—inside and outside of medicine. When the paper on AI treatment was picked up by several sites, I had read some comments posted and was disheartened to see that some of the thoughts above were reflected: “A woman should be lucky to be alive,” one stated; another said, “You can’t have sex if you’re dead.”

I believe most oncologists do not discuss sexual health with their patients and as an oncologist, I understand why. Most clinicians reading this might think (perhaps unconsciously) that the patient is “lucky to be alive.” And of course, she is. And we also know that she probably wouldn’t have had the ability to hear detailed information about sexual health during the diagnosis and treatment planning process—there were much bigger priorities then. Continue reading

Reflecting on ASCO 2015

Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s Erin Rowley shares her experience attending this year’s annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago, Illinois. Download the audio recording and presentation from our June 4 ASCO webinar to learn about updates from the 2015 meeting.

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The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has existed since 1964, and has held an annual conference for almost as long. ASCO created the Journal of Clinical Oncology, a publication in which many important breast cancer studies appear, and cancer breakthroughs are often announced at ASCO’s annual meeting. For years, representatives from Living Beyond Breast Cancer have attended this conference in order to hear about the latest in breast cancer research, and to pass that information on to you, to help you navigate life after a breast cancer diagnosis.

As LBBC’s writer and content coordinator, I went to this year’s conference, which took place May 29 to June 2, in Chicago. It was my first time at the event and it was an exciting opportunity to join the more than 30,000 people from all over the world who were in attendance. Some, like me, were there as patient advocates, representing people with cancer. But the vast majority of people there were cancer doctors. They came to present their own research and to learn from their colleagues.

Over the course of 5 days, thousands of studies, hundreds of which related to breast cancer, were presented; and dozens of educational sessions, in which doctors discussed what recent findings mean for their day-to-day practices, were held.

Moving between sessions about surgery, different breast cancer types, quality of life and other topics required quick navigating of McCormick Place, the largest convention center in North America. I’m certain I walked a few miles as I zigzagged through the crowds! In situations where I couldn’t be in two equally-interesting sounding sessions at once, ASCO’s use of technology and social media were really helpful. Many sessions were filmed, and the Twitter hashtag #ASCO15 helped me see what aspects of the conference people were most excited about. Even though ASCO has been over for about a week, people are STILL using the hashtag to continue the conversation. (Check it out for yourself!) Continue reading