Offering Support for the Newly Diagnosed: Tips for People Who’ve Been There

New LBBC blogger Joanne Hampton posts tips for offering the best possible peer support for people newly diagnosed with breast cancer.

joanne hampton photoMy journey has consisted of nine surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and a positive diagnosis of BRCA1. I am an 11 year survivor. I have spoken at numerous events, sat on different committees, ran many successful fundraisers, and yet, I still feel awkward talking to someone who is newly diagnosed. They look up at me like I am about to reveal some great secret advice to get them through this. Tears begin to form in their eyes they ask me questions like “What now?”

Even though I, too, am a breast cancer survivor and have traveled a similar path, I don’t always know what to say. Because of this I was inspired to do some research for myself and other breast cancer survivors who want to offer that glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel for someone recently diagnosed.

I want to focus on some tips to think about when you are asked to speak to someone who is diagnosed with cancer. So that you can make it easier by giving them strength, make a difference by inspiring, and help by holding a hand.

Tip #1: Each person’s reaction is different.

This is very important. I can’t stress this enough. The most miniscule thing to one could be earth shattering to another. To me, losing my hair was the least of my worries. But, I have met a lot of women who were devastated and felt they had lost their dignity along with their hair. A person can’t always help or control how they feel. There’s no rhyme or reason, there’s no right or wrong but, they are real feelings and people will react differently, based on those feelings. Not all wounds are so obvious. Walk gently in her life.

Tip #2: It is not all about you and your journey or the journeys of others.

Be sensitive to her journey. Make sure you do not compare. Try and avoid saying things such as, “I know how you feel,” or “I know how hard it can be”. She needs to be herself and take her own journey. The secret is changing saying “I know” to “I understand”… because to an extent you do. As for comparing, most of the time people don’t even know they’re doing it. We don’t want her to feel bad if she isn’t living up to the expectation she sets for herself based on your experience. Continue reading

Discussing Fertility Preservation with Young Patients Diagnosed with Cancer

Kristin N. Smith, a patient navigator at Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, blogs about some fertility options healthcare providers could discuss with young patients diagnosed with breast cancer. Ms. Smith is the speaker for our webinar, Fertility and Breast Cancer: Educational Opportunities and Preservation Options. Register now for this program and discover more about how you can help young women learn about fertility after breast cancer.

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Providing care to young cancer patients who wish to pursue fertility preservation prior to initiating cancer treatment requires the collaborative efforts of oncologists, reproductive endocrinologists, nurses and many more within a short time frame.

Being able to effectively communicate and educate patients about the potential gonadotoxicity of cancer therapy, or damage to reproductive organs caused by treatment, and the available options for fertility preservation is essential to improve patient care. Many of the treatments we use to treat cancer for adolescent and young adult (AYA) women can decrease the likelihood of having biological children. High dose alkylating agents and pelvic radiation can destroy the ovarian reserve; radiation to the brain can harm the way the brain communicates to the gonads and surgical resection of reproductive organs can all make family building more difficult for patients.  Continue reading

Changing The Way I Viewed Stage IV: How I Learned I’m Not Alone

Sheila Johnson-Glover is back on the LBBC blog to talk about the Annual Conference for Women Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer, how it changed the way she saw her diagnosis and connected her with a community of support. Learn about our Ninth Annual Conference for Women Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer, taking place April 11-12, 2015 in Philadelphia.

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Motivating, exciting, empowering, community building, love, strength, laughter and unity – these are the words that describe how I felt during and after I attended my first Annual Conference for Women Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer. For me, this conference was a game changer on how I viewed my diagnosis. The event gave me a new hope and a new beginning. I determined then that I would fight and continue to fight and to encourage other’s to attend this conference so they too can make lifelong friendships and get all the updates on research, treatment and support for people living with a stage IV breast cancer diagnosis.

I was diagnosed with HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer in December 2009. I had to ask my doctor, “Well how many stages are there?” My doctor responded, “Sheila you have the worst one.” As you can imagine, my heart felt like it had exploded and my whole body went numb. I needed to know more about metastatic breast cancer and meet women like myself who were living with this diagnosis, and learn if they felt the same way I did emotionally and physically. I was a total wreck when I learned I had stage IV breast cancer. I knew nothing about stage IV and I didn’t have anyone I could relate to.

Living Beyond Breast Cancer has been a true blessing in my life. I was introduced to LBBC by my support group, the Young Women’s Breast Cancer Program in St Louis, Missouri, and what a joy it’s been! I soon learned about the amazing conferences LBBC hosted, and I thought attending one would be a great opportunity to meet those who understood the same battle that I faced every day. I wanted to ask other people living with stage IV breast cancer questions like how they deal with side effects and what questions I should ask my oncologist. I would later learn that every cancer treatment plan is different but still, I needed to hear from others who understood what I was going through.  Continue reading

Addressing a Gap Identified in Our Needs Assessment of Young Women: Discussing Fertility After Breast Cancer

Whether treatment will affect their ability to have children in the future is one of the most common worries among young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. LBBC’s Arin Ahlum Hanson, MPH, CHES, manager of the Young Women’s Initiative and YWI Program Coordinator Ingrid Mapanao blog about this gap, in anticipation of an upcoming healthcare provider webinar on fertility and breast cancer. 

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LBBC’s Arin Ahlum Hanson, manager of the Young Women’s Initiative (left) and YWI Program Coordinator Ingrid Mapanao (right).

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines recommend all premenopausal women diagnosed with breast cancer be informed about the potential impacts of treatment on their fertility and asked if they would like to have future pregnancies. LBBC’s national needs assessment of over 1,500 young women affected by breast cancer found that only half of the young women surveyed reported discussing fertility issues with their healthcare providers. Of those women who did discuss fertility impacts with their providers, the majority of those women initiated this important discussion with their healthcare providers rather than having their healthcare providers bring up the subject.

LBBC is working to close this communication gap by educating healthcare providers through an upcoming webinar. Healthcare providers participating in this webinar, Fertility and Breast Cancer: Educational Opportunities and Preservation Options , will learn about fertility preservation options available for young women and how breast cancer treatments impact fertility. The webinar will be held on Wednesday, March 18 from noon-1pm ET and the guest presenter will be Kristin N. Smith, a fertility preservation patient navigator at the Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University in Chicago.

Free CEUs will be given to the first 150 nurses and 150 social workers who register!

Our hope is that many healthcare providers join our Young Women’s Initiative’s commitment to strengthen and expand programs for young women affected by breast cancer. Healthcare providers can do this by participating in the webinar. If you’re a healthcare provider, register now to learn the roles you can take to educate your young patients about their fertility options.

TNBC Aware: Leaning Into the Wind

Blogger Anna Craig wrote this original post about living with stage IV triple-negative breast cancer for our TNBC Aware series. 
AnnaI am 38 years old and I have stage IV triple-negative breast cancer.  This is the bad kind of breast cancer that no one really talks about.  It is incurable and will ultimately take my life. Triple-negative breast cancer is defined by what it is missing. It is the left over breast cancers that do not have one of the three known receptors; estrogen, progesterone and HER2. More likely to occur in young adults, triple negative makes up 15% to 20% of all breast cancers.  We are a minority.

Living with metastatic breast cancer is like playing a game of Whack-A-Mole, where each person has a finite bag of mallets. When a metastasis shows up on a scan you try to whack it on the head with a mallet. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  When it doesn’t, you grab a new mallet and keep whacking until you run out. As you can imagine, the bigger your bag of mallets the more likely you are to extend your life. Unlike HER2- and hormone-positive breast cancer, triple negative does not yet have targeted treatments like Herceptin. My treatment options, outside of clinical trials, are limited to chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. This means my bag of mallets is much smaller.

Having metastatic breast cancer in your 30s is complicated. As with most young people my age, I am in the thick of my life. I have two small children and a budding career as an architect.  Until cancer, I was healthy, active and ambitious.  I had patiently begun to build my life. I had even started to discover things that inspire me to dream without limits.  My life was just starting to take flight, when in an instant, cancer happened and my world crashed at my feet.

I’ve always been a person who embraces the idea that life is a journey.  I pictured my career as a long twisting road of discovery.  My twenties and thirties would be about understanding how buildings work and how materials come together.  I would take time off to have a small family.  I would balance my career and my ambition with parenthood.  Life would be thick, active and vibrant.

In my forties and fifties, I would start to come into my own.  I would create a body of work that was imaginative and inspiring. My buildings would have spaces full of light, texture and meaning.  In my sixties and seventies, I would travel the world and work on a few special projects. My buildings would reflect my wisdom and grace.  I would be an eccentric old architect with lots of grey hair, wrinkles, colourful socks and brightly patterned clothing.

Triple-negative breast cancer with its never ending toxic cycles of chemo derailed that life. Instead of balancing my career with my family, I have spent days and weeks in bed. Cancer can be very isolating.  Sometime I get so trapped in my illness and my discomfort that I struggle to relate to the people around me.  The more time I spend in bed, the more my dreams and passions drift away. Often I feel very alone, vulnerable and angry.  Continue reading

TNBC Aware: How Being Diagnosed With Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Connected Me To My Roots

Speaker and Integrative Cancer Care and Wellness Coach Eileen Fuentes on how triple-negative breast cancer connected her to her cultural roots. Eileen also included a recipe below!

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Wellness and healthy living has become very trendy. It seems as if everyone is sipping on smoothies and doing yoga. While I have always been health-conscious, the messages I was receiving in the media confused me about what to eat and how to live. Like many women, I thought low-fat anything, artificial sweeteners, and highly processed foods were good for me.

It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) at 34 years old that I made it a point to really understand how to eat and live in order to reduce my risk of recurrence. What makes TNBC unique is that there are no targeted therapies to treat it and it has a poorer prognosis as compared to other breast cancer subtypes. While I’d agree with you that this cancer is definitely “negative”, the name actually refers to the fact that the cancer is estrogen receptor negative (ER-), progesterone receptor negative (ER-), and HER2/neu negative. This disease also disproportionally affects premenopausal women and those of African-American and Latino heritage.

The fact that I fit into both categories and had no family history motivated me to look closer at what I could do given my limited medical options. Below are 5 lifestyle changes that I made that were beneficial:

  1. No matter how I felt, I always exercised regularly including simple movements like walking or more vigorous activities like qigong.
  2. I began my spiritual journey to learn more about myself, my purpose, and to seek guidance on my post-cancer life.
  3. I maintained a journal, which later turned into a newsletter for my loved ones, and ultimately a blog.
  4. I stopped using toxic products on my body and reduced the toxic thoughts I allowed to entire my mind.
  5. I used to food to reduce the side-effects of cancer treatment and to connect me to family/caregivers.

Continue reading

TNBC Aware: Meaningful Action in Honor of Her Shero

Triple Step Toward the Cure founder and CEO Lori Flowers contributed this TNBC Aware blog post about her late sister, Sheryl, who inspired her to start the triple-negative breast cancer nonprofit to educate, encourage, and empower women diagnosed with the disease.

Sheryl (right) with her sister, Triple Step Toward the Cure founder and CEO, Lori Flowers (left).

Sheryl (left) with her sister, Triple Step Toward the Cure founder and CEO, Lori Flowers (right).

Cancer does not run in my family.  But general health and longevity do. Both sets of my great-grandmothers lived to be almost 100 and were largely independent even into their last days. My grandmother is 97 and sharper than many half her age and both she and my mother look younger than their years. I always attributed this to our Caribbean heritage.  So naturally I expected that genetics along with the salsa dancing and the patacones we grew up eating would help carry my sister, Sheryl, and I into ripe-old age.  However, that legacy was not enough to protect my beautiful and brilliant sister who was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in January 2008 at age 40.

I had no idea what was required of me but I immediately went into action mode, and assumed a role that was a constant mix of caregiver, therapist, comedian, and cheerleader.  Despite the circumstances, there were many wonderful moments and lessons learned.  As the eternal “little sister,” I now had an opportunity to step up for my shero. Continue reading