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Breast Cancer Month: More than Awareness

Submitted by Carmen Pisc, MD, Medical Oncologist at Tunnell Cancer Center

Everyone has been affected by breast cancer in some way. We’ve known someone, we’ve loved someone, or we’ve been someone who has fought this disease, but what now?  Can we purchase enough pink to fund the research for a cure? We can try, but we also need more than awareness—we need action. So, let’s touch on the basics of prevention, but also focus on the needs of women who are currently affected by breast cancer and offer some practical support for overcoming the hard emotional changes ahead.

Know the facts:
If you are 50 to 74 years old, be sure to have a screening mammogram every two years. If you are 40 to 49 years old, talk to your doctor about when to start and how often to get a screening mammogram. Some symptoms can include any change in the size or the shape of the breast, pain in any area of the breast, nipple discharge other than breast milk, and a new lump in the breast or underarm. If you have any signs that worry you, see your doctor right away. The truth is that early detection can save your life. So, know your body; have regular conversations with your doctor about changes and concerns; and stay on top of your screenings.

Beyond the Basics:
Because of the pink prevention campaigns, many people are hyper aware of the physical fight endured by someone in the midst of breast cancer, but are we bringing enough awareness to the emotional needs and psychological toll this takes on a survivor and her loved ones?  The truth is that the emotional fight lasts well beyond the treatment for everyone involved.  The re-entry into day-to-day living can be a bumpy road requiring delicate navigation. Some of the most common concerns (beyond treatment related issues) reported by women with breast cancer include:

  • Body image issues
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Marital/partner communication and intimacy
  • Feelings of vulnerability

All of these are normal, and everyone has a different timeline for processing, but knowing when to seek help is most important. Tunnell Cancer Center provides one-on-one supportive counseling for patients and caregivers, as well as well coaching services. There are also various support groups locally to assist with the transition into a new normal. But there may be a few things you can do for yourself on a daily basis to smooth the transition.

Navigating Survivorship
Own Your Story:
If you are breast cancer survivor, you get to decide what to say and who to tell, but you need to get comfortable with your story.  Practice with a friend—explain the facts, but also what you need from people in your life. Do some role playing. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. How do you react? What are you feeling and what are you looking for? Decide what your professional and personal story is going to be. People at work may have questions, and more than that, they will want to support you. Have a plan in place—know what you are going to say and make a mental list of the things you need.  If you don’t know or aren’t ready—that is a good answer, too. Take control of the relationships in your life. Surround yourself with supportive people with whom you can be honest.

Self Esteem and Self Talk: Negative thoughts lead to negative feelings and negative behaviors. If we can identify that first negative thought, we have the opportunity to create a positive change. Ask yourself if the message you are presenting to yourself is true. Would you say these things to someone else? Ask someone you trust if you should believe this thought about yourself. Sometimes getting a new perspective changes everything.

Practice Positive Affirmations: If you can start the day with three positive thoughts about yourself and your body, it can set the tone for a positive day. Take your negative thoughts captive and purposefully counter them with something positive. It may feel awkward at first, but it will become more natural with time.

There is so much more to breast cancer awareness month than pink ribbons. If breast cancer is part of your story, you know how hard the journey can be. Encourage those you love to take care of themselves physically and emotionally. Know your body and mind and ask for help when you need it. Awareness is important, but action is crucial.
Resources: American Cancer Society: https://www.cancer.org/, CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/, NIH: https://www.nih.gov/.

Carmen Pisc, MD, earned her medical degree at Carol Davila Medical School in Bucharest Romania. She completed a residency and Fellowship at UMass Medical School in Worcester, Massachusetts. She also completed her postdoctoral fellowship at Mass General Hospital at Harvard Medical School and did extensive translational and basic science research. To learn more about Beebe Healthcare’s Tunnell Cancer Center, go to https://www.beebehealthcare.org/tunnell-cancer-center.
 

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