By Carol A. Turni
I never thought I'd hear the words: "You have breast cancer." But when I did, they turned out to be one of those moments that defined my life. At 44 years old and with two young daughters, my cancer diagnosis was a frightening and sobering call-to-action.
Deciding to come to MD Anderson for breast cancer treatment
After my breast cancer diagnosis came the scurry of tests, surgeries, treatments and medicines at a hospital in the city where I live. But after a while, I realized things didn't seem right. My husband and I both decided it was time to seek breast cancer treatment elsewhere.
That is how I found my way to MD Anderson, where I've received all of my care since then. I believe the corresponding change in my treatment course saved my life. I have consistently experienced the confidence and competency of my breast cancer care team. Their caring and the commitment to excellence is apparent. I am grateful.
My advice for traveling to MD Anderson
Traveling to MD Anderson isn't always easy, but it's worth it. Here are some tips that have made traveling for cancer treatment easier and more affordable for me:
Results tagged “Breast cancer”
By Carol A. Turni
Despite the challenges she faced, Houstonian Linda VandeGarde made the decision to focus on the bright side this year.
In January, on her birthday, Linda had a mammogram that revealed invasive ductal carcinoma in her left breast. Then, less than a month later, her mother passed away.
That's when Linda made the choice to be positive, no matter what. Early in her breast cancer treatment, following the advice of a book on breast cancer, she began keeping a journal and resolved to write about two silver linings she found each day -- a promise she's managed to keep.
"There were some days that were dark," she says, "but then I'd find little things, like a sparrow I saw or the church bells ringing."
By Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D.
To live long, healthy lives and lower their chances of recurrence, breast cancer survivors should focus on staying active and watching their weight, according to a report out today from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). The report looks at research on whether physical activity, nutrition and overweight and obesity affect breast cancer and overall mortality in breast cancer survivors. The report found evidence to suggest that in women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer:
- Physical activity, a high fiber diet and eating more soy were associated with longer survival.
- Obesity is related to a greater chance of developing a second cancer of the breast, dying from breast cancer and shorter survival.
Staying healthy to prevent cancer recurrence
So, what does the report mean for cancer survivors? Should you exercise, and maintain a healthy diet and a healthy weight?
Breast cancer treatment can bring physical changes that can sometimes lead to poor body image, low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. But MD Anderson's Body Image Therapy Program is here to help. Earlier this week, in honor of Love Your Body Day, the Body Image Therapy Program hosted a fashion show featuring some of our cancer patients and survivors. The models wore outfits that make them feel comfortable and relax.
Below, four of the models share what they picked and why they selected these outfits. They hope their insight will help other cancer patients dealing with body changes.
Ekua Buduarthur: One-shoulder style formal dress
"I feel very beautiful in this formal dress made using kente cloth from Ghana combined with silk dupioni. I chose the one shoulder style to cover the radiation burns, the cavity left from the mastectomy and the excess underarm flesh from the removal of the lymph nodes."
"Originally, from Ghana, I now live in Houston. I enjoy designing clothing, jewelry, reading and writing. Breast cancer has taken my creativity to a new level of how I look at the female body when I design clothing and jewelry."
Maria Linares: Mexican folkdance costume
"I chose a dress from one of the costumes that I wear when I perform Mexican folk dance. It is a traditional white lace dress from Veracurz, Mexico. Through all my chemo, radiation, and surgeries, my dancing is what lifted my spirit and helped me move forward. I felt and still feel beautiful when I put on my costume and dance. Dancing has lifted my self-esteem and grown my confidence in leaps and bounds."
By Gail Morse
I had to celebrate my 39th birthday with you, but you will not be at my 40th birthday bash next year. I plan to celebrate life and not you.
We have known each other for a very long time, since I was 19. I remember my mom calling me and saying you had come to visit her. Back then, I didn't know who you were,what you were capable of, or how to stop you. I thank God for giving her the strength to fight you.
I could not forgive or forget, like a thief in the night, when you stole something so dear and precious to me -- my mother. For two years, I fell into a dark abyss, consumed by grief, guilt and anger. In my warped mind, I blamed myself for her death. Thoughts swarmed in my head -- the what ifs, the I should have dones, the if I had knowns. Then you had the nerve to show up at my doorstep last year. How dare you, after all you've done.
But this time is different. I am older and wiser, and have a team to support me -- my family, friends and my personal army at MD Anderson. As the saying goes, keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
By Erika Archer Lewis
In August 2013, I tested positive for a BRCA genetic mutation, which increases the chances that I would develop breast cancer or ovarian cancer. Add that to a family history of aggressive breast cancer, and you have a recipe for constant worry and sleepless nights, anxiety and a feeling of helplessness.
In my conversations with other women like me, there was always a general sense of, "Whew, I made it another year" after each negative mammogram. That's psychologically draining and not a healthy way to live one's life. I wanted out of that stressful cycle, and fast, but I wasn't sure what my options were.
When I received my genetic testing results, my doctor looked me in the eyes and said: "Erika, you do realize, it's not if you get breast cancer, it's when?"
Houstonian Beth Williams didn't come to MD Anderson when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in her mid-30s. But when she received a colon cancer diagnosis nearly 20 years later, she couldn't imagine going anywhere else. "I felt like if I was going to survive, I needed to be at MD Anderson," Beth says.
The 76-year-old CEO of an international language and logistics company now jokingly calls herself an MD Anderson "frequent flier." In the past two decades, she's been treated here for four different types of cancer. That includes colon cancer, breast cancer and -- just this past year -- kidney cancer and skin cancer. Her multiple cancer diagnoses don't appear to be based on genetics, just luck.
Still, Beth doesn't consider herself unlucky, and she doesn't let cancer run her life. Below, she shares her advice for thriving in the face of cancer.
Don't wait to go to MD Anderson.
Beth encourages newly diagnosed cancer patients to go straight to MD Anderson. "The care you get is amazing," she says. "I had so much confidence in everybody at MD Anderson, and no one ever has let me down or disappointed me."
Being diagnosed with breast cancer at 33 is unusual enough, but Raylene Hollrah was also diagnosed with an extremely rare type of lymphoma just a few years after her first cancer diagnosis and before her 40th birthday.
Raylene, an outgoing insurance advisor who prefers to be called Ray, is only the 25th person in the U.S. -- and the 61st in the world -- to be diagnosed with breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL). It's a diagnosis that has changed her life in many ways.
"I always say cancer is like breaking a window," she says. "You've got shattered glass everywhere; you've got to clean up the mess and try to figure out how to fix it."
A breast cancer diagnosis -- and cause for breast implants
The discovery of a lump in her breast during an annual physical in 2007 launched Ray on a roller coaster ride that has tested her strength and spirit. After a negative mammogram and ultrasound, a needle biopsy came back positive for breast cancer.
By Natalie Arneson
I recently found out that I carry the BRCA 1 genetic mutation, and I'm not freaking out.
The mutation means that I have a crazy high chance of getting breast cancer. Like, it's practically a guarantee. And ovarian cancer is a strong possibility, too.
You can stop before you barrage me with condolences or compliments. I'll just roll my eyes. And then I'll hug you because I love you. But seriously, don't freak out. I'm not freaking out. Can we just skip freaking out and go to lunch?
Why I decided to undergo genetic testing for breast cancer and ovarian cancer
My mother, Terry Arnold, was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer and triple negative breast cancer at the same time almost seven years ago. Fortunately, when it comes to cancer treatment, my mom kicks butt.
By Helen Vollmer
When I was diagnosed with stage I breast cancer almost a year ago, I went through all the standard emotions: disbelief, anger, fear and utter confusion.
As someone in perfect health, according to my charts, I was suddenly confronted with something beyond my control. No matter what I did, I still had cancer, and there were no guarantees that I would be cured.
Deciding where to go for breast cancer treatment
After the initial shock of the diagnosis lifted, I knew that I needed to act. Where to start? An oncologist? A surgeon? Was it more important where they had studied, what hospital they were associated with, how many patients they treated or the personal connection between us? I, like others who go down this path, had a dizzying array of choices to make with, frankly, only limited guidance.
My gynecologist had given me the name of three Houston oncologists to choose from for breast cancer treatment, but it was up to me to check them out. I started calling friends and colleagues who either had personal or professional connections to the Texas Medical Center.
By Logan Carver
Marjane Green might never have found the tumor in her left breast if she hadn't felt a pain in her right breast.
The Houston-area resident wasn't too concerned since she'd had a mammogram just two months earlier. And, she had been dealing with recurring cysts in her breasts for more than 30 years as a result of hormone therapy following a hysterectomy. But this pain was different than anything she'd felt before.
Marjane's right breast was infected, and during her treatment, her doctor decided to biopsy an abnormality in the left. That's when Marjane received her breast cancer diagnosis.
Marjane says the seemingly serendipitous sequence of events was part of a higher plan.
"I did not worry at all," Marjane says.
Her faith allowed her to face breast cancer without fear.
Receiving breast cancer treatment close to home
But the care she received at MD Anderson helped, too.
Marjane knew she needed to take an active role in her treatment from the moment she received her diagnosis. She wanted to have the best doctors and breast cancer treatment options, and she knew she didn't need to leave Houston to find them.
By Victor Hassid, M.D.
Fortunately, patients have choices when it comes to breast reconstruction. There is no cookie-cutter approach, and patients need to discuss their options in depth with their physician.
Here are five of the most common breast reconstruction myths I hear.
Myth: Breast reconstruction must take place immediately after a mastectomy.
Some women aren't certain they want breast reconstruction and wait months or even years before having surgery. Patients still undergoing breast cancer treatment may want to wait until after they have completed radiation, as radiation can limit your options for reconstruction and affect the final result. However, other women want to have breast reconstruction when they have their mastectomy.
There is no right time to undergo breast reconstruction. The timing of your reconstruction should be up to you and your physician.
By Toby Weber
As a senior administrative assistant in Gynecologic Oncology at MD Anderson, Constance Charles knows what cancer patients are going through. After all, she was one not so long ago.
The breast cancer survivor underwent a lumpectomy, right radical mastectomy and full breast reconstruction 10 years ago.
"I know things may look grim, like there's no hope and that you may be at the end of your rope. But keep the faith," she tells cancer patients. "You can really make it ... Look at me. Here I am."
Here's Constance advice for people just starting their cancer journeys:
By Estelle Racusin
As a breast cancer survivor, I see Mother's Day as a time of reflection and thankfulness.
When I married my husband, I told him I would love to have four children. Always the cautious one, my husband said, "Let's be happy if we're able to have two." He was 50 years old and I was 34, and he was right. We didn't know what life had in store for us. Today, I'm a mom to our 16-year-old son, Ben. Life didn't turn out the way I planned, but I couldn't be more grateful for the family I have now.
My breast cancer diagnosis and treatment
The summer before Ben's fourth birthday I began feeling lethargic, but I couldn't put my finger on what was wrong.
One fall morning I woke up and my left breast was painful and I felt a lump. On October 11, 2001, MD Anderson called and confirmed what we already suspected: a breast cancer diagnosis. I still have the piece of paper from that day where I had written "invasive lobular carcinoma."
The next few months were a whirlwind, moments I catch myself reflecting back on when I have a bad day. A few weeks after my breast cancer diagnosis, we discovered our new home was filled with mold, and we had to move into a hotel. Our lives were totally uprooted. We were being tested. I prayed daily to please let me live so that my son would grow up knowing who I was, how much I loved him and how much I fought for him.
My breast cancer treatment included nine rounds of chemotherapy followed by a double mastectomy and 30 radiation treatments, after which I proudly rang the bell at MD Anderson.
By Erika Archer Lewis
It's difficult to condense the emotional and physical tolls that a mastectomy brings. It's life-changing, but so worth it.
After I discovered that I carried a mutation for the BRCA1 gene, increasing my risks for both breast cancer and ovarian cancer, I decided to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy. Most everyone I talked to before the surgery told me to give myself six weeks to heal. At five weeks, I thought they were all crazy, but you do turn a corner.
The healing process varied day to day. It's truly miraculous how much healing your body does. Mine surprised me. I won't claim to be back to 100% after my mastectomy, and some things will never be the same. But I'm embracing my new normal.
Here are five tips I learned from my mastectomy experience.
1. Prepare for your mastectomy recovery
Pre-arranging school drop-off, scheduling house-cleaning help, and even little things, like ordering school Valentine's Day cards a month early gave me time to heal.
By Erika Archer Lewis
Twenty years ago, while a college senior, I spent weekends commuting from Austin to Houston to care for my 42-year-old mother. She was battling an aggressive form of stage 4 breast cancer and was told her odds for survival were less than 20%. After witnessing first-hand her intense, four-year battle that included chemotherapy, radiation, bone marrow extraction, a mastectomy and breast reconstruction, I wondered for years if and when breast cancer might strike me.
A family history of breast cancer
When my young, healthy, active mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, there was no pattern of women with breast cancer in her family history. But shortly after she was diagnosed, her cousin was diagnosed with the same cancer, even in the same breast. Since that time, there have been four other women on my maternal grandmother's side of the family who have struggled with or lost their lives to breast cancer.
In late 2013, after a series of suspicious mammograms, ultrasounds, an MRI, and three biopsies, I wondered if I was doomed by the pattern within my family that had reared its ugly head decades before. With recent advances in technology and medicine, I learned there was a simple blood test for identifying genetic mutations for breast and ovarian cancer, BRCA 1 and 2. I felt an overwhelming need to know if I had what felt like a ticking time bomb inside my chest.
By Erika Vandiver
I was 20 weeks pregnant with my second child when my doctor told me, "You have breast cancer." I was only 28 years old -- 20 years younger than my mother when she received her breast cancer diagnosis.
The local medical team that performed my biopsy and lumpectomy had limited treatment options. My choices were bleak: terminate my pregnancy so I could try to live myself, or risk dying from cancer by allowing my child to live.
Coming to MD Anderson for breast cancer treatment while pregnant
Although this was my second child, it was my sixth pregnancy. Four previous pregnancies had ended in miscarriages. I was determined to find an alternative for my breast cancer treatment.
By Katrina Burton
MD Anderson is standing by a recommendation that women 40 years old and older receive annual mammograms, despite a recent study that raised controversy regarding breast cancer screening.
"We are not recommending that women change their screening practices," says Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of MD Anderson's Cancer Prevention Center. "We stand by our guidelines that recommend women have annual mammograms beginning at age 40 and continue to be screened as long as they are in good health."
But a study by the Canadian National Breast Screening says annual mammography in women ages 40-59 does not reduce mortality from breast cancer and mammography screening should be revisited.
The results of the study, published in the BMJ Journal on Feb. 11, are in direct contrast to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation that women should begin annual mammograms starting at age 50, and of guidelines by MD Anderson, the American Cancer Society and others that call for annual breast cancer screening to begin at age 40.
"By having this testing I'm protecting my family," Terry says. "Now, we have the smoke alarm."
Terry is a mother of five -- three girls and two boys -- ranging in ages from 19 to 31, and a grandmother of five. Genetic testing for the BRCA gene could let those future generations know if they are at risk for breast and ovarian cancers.
She received the results in November 2013.
"Mutated gene 5385insc-BRCA 1," the report said. That meant her children could have the gene as well.
Facing new questions after genetic testing
Terry's daughters plan to undergo genetic testing soon. Her sons are considering testing to see if they carry the gene.
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