By Brandie Sellers
The recent revelation that Angelina Jolie had a double mastectomy and reconstruction to minimize her chances of developing breast cancer is causing quite a buzz. It seems that the public is supportive of this measure.
As for me, I don't know what I would do in her shoes.
I don't have the BRCA gene for breast cancer. Yet I got diagnosed with breast cancer at age 37.
Ninety percent of women who receive a breast cancer diagnosis do not have the BRCA gene.
For me, because I had a huge tumor, it wasn't a question of whether I would have mastectomies or not. It was a foregone conclusion.
Some women who receive a breast cancer diagnosis are candidates for a lumpectomy, and that can have the same positive outcomes in many cases as having a mastectomy does.
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By Brandie Sellers
By LeAnne Gibbs
Aside from the birth of our daughter, our life has been a flood of awful since my husband Francis was diagnosed with colon cancer.
Yet, under all this runs a strong current of beautiful moments, lessons and experiences.
On April 11, we met with an admissions specialist for hospice care. This was a big step because it felt like giving up.
This was an equally difficult and simple decision to make.
I know it sounds really odd to say I'm glad my mom found out she has cancer, but in a strange kind of way I am. If my mother wasn't diagnosed and coming to MD Anderson, there is a good chance her other health issues would not have been discovered.
My mom went for her physicals every year and was told she was healthy. However, when she came to MD Anderson, doctors diagnosed another discernible issue besides her cancer - extreme hypertension.
Geriatrician fills in the gaps for seniors
So, Mom was sent to see Beatrice Edwards, M.D., a geriatrician here at MD Anderson. Mom thought she was just having her high blood pressure checked, but Dr. Edwards checked for every possible thing that could be a problem for a senior.
By April Greene and Wendy Griffith, social work counselors
Mother's Day is a special day that we set aside to celebrate our mothers and honor the joys of motherhood. But for moms diagnosed with cancer, this day can be especially trying.
While you may feel grateful to spend this special day with your children and loved ones, you also may wonder how many more Mother's Days you have left.
Some moms even feel guilty on Mother's Day because it reminds them of the things they can no longer do for their family.
Rather than focusing on the difficult feelings, why not focus on celebrating the real meaning of Mother's Day by spending time with your family and making memories that you'll all cherish?
Making handprints: An easy way to make memories
Making a handprint with your loved ones is one great way to do this - even if you're experiencing mixed emotions and limitations from cancer or cancer treatment.
In early April, the first guidelines on care for sexual problems were published by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN).
These guidelines are included in their new Survivorship Guidelines.
Since cancer survivorship begins as soon as someone receives a cancer diagnosis, the guidelines can improve care for both patients who are still planning their cancer treatment and those who are undergoing cancer treatment or have finished active therapy.
Sexual problems are common among cancer patients
Sexual problems are, unfortunately, a very common side effect of cancer treatment. Sexual problems affect at least half of patients who've had prostate, breast or a gynecologic cancer; they also can occur after chemotherapy or radiation to the pelvic area or brain.
The problems are usually caused by physical damage to the nerves, blood vessels and hormones involved in a normal sexual response, although emotional issues also play a role.
By Laura Nathan-Garner
A parent's cancer diagnosis can turn a child's world upside down, no matter how young or old the child is.
But coping with a parent's cancer diagnosis can be especially difficult for teens, tweens and even younger children.
Below our social work counselors April Greene and Wendy Griffith answer questions about parenting through cancer and helping kids and teens cope with a parent's cancer diagnosis.
What's the best way to talk to kids about cancer?
No matter what your prognosis is, it's essential to talk openly and honestly with kids. If you're telling your kids for the first time, try to have this conversation in a private space where you can focus on the discussion and be close enough to physically console your kids if needed.
Children tend to think in very concrete terms and like to know what's going on and what to expect. If they ask something that you don't know the answer to, it's okay to tell them that you don't know and that you will work on finding the answer. The most important thing is to communicate openly, honestly and frequently.
My husband, Francis, has stage IV colon cancer. Since his diagnosis, many people have asked how they can help.
Last week I shared advice on what to say and how to support a cancer patient and his or her family.
By Stephen Collazo, Department of Social Work
Today is National Healthcare Decisions Day.
Whether you're a patient or caregiver, having conversations about future care should be an essential part of your cancer treatment planning process at every stage. It should start at the time of diagnosis.
By preparing for your future, you can ensure your choices are given the utmost respect.
Here are some steps for implementing the advance care planning process in your specific medical situation. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it serves as a good starting point for patients and families.
By LeAnne Gibbs
It seems that something about cancer affects our filters/manners/politeness, and in an effort to say the right thing, we say exactly the most awkward, wrong thing. I, myself, have been guilty of not knowing what to say or saying the wrong things.
I've perused the web for intelligent advice on what to say or not to say to someone with a terminal cancer diagnosis.
My husband, Francis, has terminal stage IV colon cancer, so I have some experience under my belt as well.
Here's what we've found most distressing or helpful.
By Crystal McCown, social work counselor fellow
Navigating your way through a cancer journey can be tough. It can be hard to find time to care for your body, spirit and mind.
Journaling is one way patients can care for themselves. Writing down your thoughts gives you an opportunity to work out your feelings and emotions, which may help you relax and find reasons to be happier and more hopeful about the future.
Methods of journaling
There are many different types of journaling. Here are a few you might want to explore:
- Gratitude journaling: Write down everything you're grateful for. This focuses your attention on positive aspects of your life.
- Blog: A blog is a website that you can easily update by writing short posts. Blog posts can be as simple as commentary on your day-to-day life and treatment, or reflection pieces exploring your life's purpose or connecting with a higher power.
- Stream-of-consciousness writing: Write down everything that comes to your mind. This unstructured, unedited writing will reflect your raw thoughts and observations.
- Art journaling: Draw, doodle or scrapbook what you're feeling and thinking.
- Line-a-day journaling: Limit yourself to a single line or sentence for the day.
By Erin Buck, Ph.D.
Most women with breast cancer experience concerns about their body image during and following cancer treatment.
It's not uncommon for patients to struggle with what they see in the mirror after a breast surgery such as a lumpectomy or mastectomy. They may feel disconnected from their breast area or find that how they feel about their breasts is different than it was before cancer.
These types of body image concerns are so common that the Body Image Therapy Program at MD Anderson has developed a support group to help patients with breast cancer address their body image concerns. This group is called the BODY group (Breast Cancer Open Group to Discuss Your Body Image) and is designed to help members achieve greater acceptance of their bodies.
Connecting with others
Group members find support from the group leaders as well fellow members who are working to overcome body image concerns as a result of breast cancer. This group is open to all MD Anderson breast cancer patients.
By Margaret Rose
This is a continuation of yesterday's post on traveling to MD Anderson for pancreatic cancer treatment.
I'm fortunate to have a strong network of friends and family who've stuck with me since my initial diagnosis.
When they heard I would be away from home for seven weeks for radiation therapy, they asked if I could handle being alone, away from my local support network.
In response, I arranged for family and friends to spend week-long shifts with me in Houston.
Even though I was never so sick that I couldn't take care of myself physically, I did need the emotional and mental support my family and friends provided.
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- Preventive double mastectomy: A breast cancer survivor's take
- How a colon cancer caregiver learned to live in the moment
- Meeting the geriatrician: A cancer diagnosis' silver lining
- Moms with cancer: Making Mother's Day memories
- Sexual problems and cancer: Don't ignore it
- When a parent has cancer: Helping teens and kids cope
- A caregiver's advice: How to help a dying patient's family
- Advance care planning: 4 steps for planning your future
- Cancer caregiver advice on what to say and how to help
- Journaling your way through cancer
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