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

The Spirit of Pageantry

Natalie Gamble is back on our blog with a post about supporting her daughter while in treatment for breast cancer, pageants and being honored with the “Spirit of Pageantry” Award.

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Life doesn’t stop because of a breast cancer diagnosis – it goes on. How you decide to approach that life is up to you. Me personally, I never missed a step.

After deciding on a treatment plan and scheduling my surgery I was on my way to Virginia Beach with my daughter for the International Junior Miss. Some background information about this trip: My daughter Mikayla is my hero and one of the strongest, most driven individuals I know. I tease her all the time that I want to be just like her when I grow up. At the tender age of 9 she announced she wanted to be a microbiologist and will be attending U.C. Berkeley to earn her degree, and here is the kicker – she wants to pay for it herself!  Since those words left her mouth, Mikayla, now 14, has made it her mission to do just that. Besides maintaining a A/B average in school, she competes in natural pageants to earn scholarships, pageants like International Junior Miss.

As a pageant mom, I wear many hats: tailor, beautician, coach, travel agent and cheerleader to name a few. Needless to say, my cancer diagnosis was a huge hiccup in my role as her support system. Monetheless, I was determined to work around it.  On our way back from an exhausting week of competitions, I received a phone call from my daughter’s new pageant director Christina Sacha Grooms, who introduced herself to us and updated us about the rest of my daughter’s reign.  I informed her of my diagnosis and told her that no matter what I would get my daughter where she needed to be.

While I was fighting the good fight in treatment, my daughter was reigning as International Junior Miss’ Colorado Preteen 2014. And as promised she was at every event, photo shoot, and appearance as scheduled. Our pageant family was just as supportive as our immediate family and to this day, I thank God for these incredible people. Every time we saw each other it was a family reunion and it touched my heart to know they read and looked forward to my Facebook posts. Every day I tried to share my feelings and thoughts with my family and friends.  Continue reading

The Art of Sharing (or Not)

Amy Wu is a panelist for our Breast Cancer 360: Mapping the Future for Young Women With Breast Cancer, taking place Saturday, June 13 and offered through FREE Web stream. In this piece, Amy writes about sharing her breast cancer experience with family and friends and how she coped with their reactions.

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When bad things happen most folks either retreat or share. I am of the latter. I tend to share.

When life throws its lemons I pick up the phone and call my constellation of close friends and family. Bad hair day. Stressful work day. Bad commute. I will share on the phone, by text, or on Facebook.

And then something interesting happened. In the wake of being diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2013, I clammed up. I shared just enough of the bad news with immediate family out of necessity and then retreated. I just wanted to be left alone and even deactivated my Facebook account.

Beyond the initial shock I swiftly started to share again. I shared my story with the local newspaper. I shared with my friends. I shared my story on social media. I shared with colleagues. I shared with my 93-year-old grandmother who insisted on knowing what was going on. And I shared with my then fiancée. I didn’t just text or email. I picked up the phone and shared. I shared in person sometimes over coffee or an adult beverage. In retrospect I’m not certain as to why I shared so swiftly and vastly. I just know that I shared my story with almost everyone I encountered.

What I was not prepared for the reactions I received or didn’t receive. This is one of the unspoken challenges of being a young woman diagnosed with cancer. No one expects that the news would come from someone so well, young.

“No way, you’re so young, it doesn’t make sense,” a lot of friends would say. I’d shrug. Yeah, well. Oh well. Continue reading

Kindred Spirits at Namas Day Philadelphia

This blog post by Liz Barker originally appeared on ChangedbyChance.com on April 28, 2015. It was reprinted here with the author’s permission.

I volunteer at numerous Living Beyond Breast Cancer events through the year. Spring brings an all-day yoga event called Namaste`Day to Philadelphia. LBBC is an advocate of yoga because of its mind, body, and spirit connective healing philosophy. They appreciate that healing a life threatening illness such as breast cancer needs to be addressed with all of the body’s senses. And so, they had a booth at Namas Day and I volunteered because I love yoga.

Typically, there are at least 2 of us survivors at an LBBC event and it is always nice to meet someone new and to hear their BC story.

Well, this encounter turned out to be extraordinary! (Of course, it should have been no surprise given the spiritual nature of Namas Day.)

So, my fellow volunteer that day is Elizabeth Howanski. As usual, we swap our Breast Cancer stories. As usual, I expect that when I tell my new friend that I am a 24 year, young survivor, she will be wowed by the survivor-ship years. Which I am grateful for every day folks.

LBBC EventHowever, much to my surprise, Betsy tells me that she is a longer survivor! Although we are both the same age (58), Betsy was diagnosed younger, at age 26. Therefore, she is now a 32 year survivor! Neither of us has a family history of BC. Our name and age similarities don’t end there. Betsy was also diagnosed while she was pregnant, at about 5 months along with same timing – diagnosed in May and due date was early October! We were both given the same trite, horrifying advice by our doctors – “terminate your pregnancy to save your life.” Sadly, our parallels end here.

Betsy followed her doctor’s advice and reluctantly terminated her pregnancy. (Remember, there was no Internet and not much history of BC at young ages or during pregnancy back then. Without question, doctor knew best.) I almost followed that advice but, I was fortunate that a family friend, a doctor himself, (an angel I call him), intervened and saved my baby’s life. Betsy and I wept and hugged as we shared our stories. I felt a bit guilty and humbled, that I was touched by an angel and that Bryan was saved. More importantly though, I felt a kindred spirit with Betsy, not only due to our similar past, but also because of our futures and our philosophies of “living beyond breast cancer.”

Betsy bravely moved on with an enthusiastic and positive spin on life. She adopted 3 wonderful children from Korea who are now 21, 29, and 31. She is a long time professional working at Drexel University’s development office. We both echoed the same sentiments about our lives – that the BC experience was a life lesson. It taught us both some sage advice. That we need to be self-advocates and to educate ourselves when we are faced with serious obstacles in our lives. It’s the 3 R’s that I talk about in my book – Recognize, Research, and then React. Live and learn.

Another day, another journey… Namaste~

Liz Barker Author Living Beyond Breast Cancer

Liz Barker is a longtime LBBC volunteer. Learn more about Liz and her personal experience with breast cancer on her blog, ChangedbyChance.com.

Embracing Community and Participating in Yoga on the Steps

FullSizeRenderMarisa Gefen, MD is a 35-year-old physician and mother who has now added “patient” to her resume. She was diagnosed last April with ER/PR-positive breast cancer. Marisa reflects on how this journey led her to Living Beyond Breast Cancer and Yoga on the Steps.

After my shocking diagnosis in April 2014, I immediately went into survival mode. I hyper-fixated on getting through the current phase of treatment and onto the next phase. It was a whirlwind of getting a port, quickly followed by starting chemo, managing chemo side effects, finishing chemo, then on to a 9-hour surgery comprised of a double mastectomy, sentinel node biopsy, and free flap breast reconstruction. Soon, I was home recovering from this massive surgery and then stumbling into radiation daily for 5 weeks.

Then, I woke up one morning in January and suddenly realized that active treatment was all over. Now what? In this frightening journey, I was missing a sense of community of others with similar experiences, both past and present. The endless support from my husband, family, and friends, did not fill the entire void.

I heard about Living Beyond Breast Cancer right after my diagnosis. When I happened to be looking for local office space, my tour of commercial real estate ironically took me right through LBBC headquarters, which I toured. The office was warm and full of young, vibrant people. I wasn’t ready at that moment to reach out.

I was reintroduced to LBBC in December, when I tried frantically to interpret the results of the Suppression of Ovarian Function Trial (SOFT). This major trial will likely change the standard of care for me and other women under age 35 with ER-positive breast cancer, by recommending induction of early menopause (as if we haven’t been through enough) and possibly switching from tamoxifen to an aromatase inhibitor. Continue reading

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