As I have spent the last few days doing a literature search and writing an abstract for the Society of Integrative Oncology Conference this Fall, it reaffirmed the enormity of life changes when one has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Of course, as a survivor, I know this full well, but when you put pen to paper it takes on even another dimension. I wrote about the many challenges of a breast cancer survivor: anxiety, fatigue, depression, cognitive impairment, nutrition, body image and sexual function issues and spiritual issues. These are common to many survivors of other types of cancer as well.
Fortunately, the American Cancer Society and American Society of Clinical Oncology established the Breast Cancer Survivorship Care Guidelines in 2015. This is a call to action that oncologists and/or primary care physicians should be addressing these issues in their patient follow up visits long into the years of survivorship.
A recent study shows that providing women with skills to manage stress early in their breast cancer treatment can improve their mood and quality of life many years later. Another study done by Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital, along with the Benson-Henry Institute revealed that evoking the relaxation response helps alleviate stress and anxiety, reduces pain, boosts your immune system, while also affecting heart rate and blood pressure. Meditation can remove stress and replace it with a dose of inner peace.
Other integrative therapies useful in helping survivors are: yoga, massage, Qigong, acupuncture, creative arts therapy, music therapy, and nutritional counseling. Classes and workshops to learn these modalities are now easy to find, especially if one lives in or near a major city. With that said, it is not too difficult to find access to these integrative therapies even away from large metropolitan areas. If not possible, simply going for a walk and enjoying nature can bring a sense of calm and a feeling of peacefulness.
Who doesn’t remember the day they heard they have cancer? Whether it was yesterday, last week, last month, or years ago, the emotional upheaval is never forgotten. It is an event that changes your life forever. For many of us, like myself, we find we are more than the diagnosis of cancer and it is imperative to feel wholeness again. I was diagnosed more than 17 years ago, and as a Registered Nurse, I knew early on as a survivor, I wanted to someday use my nursing expertise and my cancer experience to guide and support the breast cancer survivors that follow.
If you have just begun your journey, the following points are helpful hints to consider:
First, and foremost, realize breast cancer is not a medical emergency. Yes, it is an emotional emergency and one just wants to get it “taken care of” and over with. Yet, there is time to make those very important decisions when you are going through such frightening uncharted waters.
Do your research. I say this for two reasons. First it is an avenue to feel you have some control in what is happening with you. Secondly, you want to make sure you are putting yourself in the hands of a very good breast surgeon and medical oncologist. There are many of those folks out there, and at the end of the day, you have to feel completely comfortable with the care you will receive. Many centers will have a multidisciplinary approach where you will meet with the surgeon, medical and radiation oncologist, nurse navigator and social worker all at one appointment. This team approach is to prevent any fragmented care and gives you the expert opinions of each of the professionals providing your care.
When it comes to your pathology report understand what it means and how your specific treatment is determined by the team. Not all breast cancer is the same – some are “good actors” and some are not. With the enormous amount of research in breast cancer, great strides have been made in the treatment protocols – understand yours as fully as you can.
Seek the support of others who have gone through this frightening experience before you. There are many organizations that offer tremendous support and resources for breast cancer survivors. I have some listed on my website http://www.janeedelman.com. Frankly, we are some of the luckiest survivors because as women, we are eager to be there to support one and other, without fear of talking and letting our raw emotions be known. As a Integrative Nurse Coach, I too am here to talk, guide and support. As a colleague of mine said, “A nurse coach is a light and compass in a dark world”.
If you are a survivor, or know someone who is and needs help through the process, contact us.
I remember when the test, Oncotype Dx, came on the horizon to aid in treatment decision making with a new diagnosis of breast cancer. I was working as a nurse navigator in a Breast Center in Las Vegas. In our monthly multidisciplinary conferences, the medical oncologists were somewhat apprehensive of relying on the test. Frankly, it was difficult for them not to offer chemotherapy to a newly diagnosed young woman or a woman found to have a large tumor, if indeed their Oncotype Dx score came back low. A low score would indicate neither one of these cases would benefit from being treated with chemotherapy. Much research and progress has been made with the genomic test over the past 10 years, and the article here indicates how it is now being considered in treatment of metastatic breast cancer. http://www.breastcancer.org/research-news/oncotype-dx-may-help-make-mets-tx-decisions