Monday, November 23, 2009

Tips for Coping With Breast Cancer by Lorraine Murray

I came acroos this piece online. It was written by Lorraine Murray, a breast cancer survivor. Since it is fitting for this blog, I would like to share it with you. Marcy

Tips for Coping with Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is by turns frightening, overwhelming, and exhausting—but a few deceptively simple tips can help women cope with the emotional and physical challenges they face. Collected here are some coping techniques from survivor Lorraine Murray, author of Grace Notes, a book about her spiritual journey. You'll also find help with wigs, conquering fear, dealing with finances, and moving on with life.

Let some things go.
At least once a day, say, “Who cares?” and let go of old rigid ways of living. If the house isn’t in tip-top shape, say, “Who cares?” If you forgot to floss your teeth, just let it go. This technique helps reduce stress.
Let your hair down.
Right after the diagnosis, it helps to confide in someone who can handle whatever emotions you may express. Find someone you feel completely safe with – a sweetheart, a friend, a sister, a minister or rabbi, a counselor –and really let it all out.
Find people to hug.
Initiate a hug whenever you feel the need for comfort. People will respond warmly -- and you’ll feel better.
Tap into your faith.
Every religion offers comfort to help endure life’s trials. You may want to join a prayer group at your synagogue or church if you belong to one. It can also help to read inspirational books and/or scripture. Find favorite prayers and say them often.
Be patient with yourself.
There will come a day when your diagnosis is not the first thing on your mind when you wake up in the morning. For the first few months, though, you may find yourself dwelling on the diagnosis and reliving the events of surgery and other treatments. This is perfectly normal.
Give yourself time to cry.
You may find yourself grieving as if you’d lost your best friend. This is the result of shock and is also perfectly normal. You may cry often for a few months, and it may help with emotional healing. But if crying is not your way of handling stress, that’s fine too. Everyone is different.
Take naps.
Naps are immensely therapeutic, especially if you’re undergoing radiation or chemotherapy. Even 20 minutes can make a big difference in your mood and overall sense of well-being. Even long after your diagnosis and treatment, naps can help.
Set limits.
If you are feeling overwhelmed – by work duties, household tasks, social commitments – it’s time to make some changes. Make a list of what you have to do each day and figure out what can be postponed – or what can be delegated to someone else. It’s okay to say “no.” It is also okay to pare back on volunteer activities and social commitments.
Ask for help.
If you have small children and many commitments, enlist a friend or relative to help you. You’ll find that people are eager to help. When they ask you what they can do, have some specifics in mind, like “Could you watch Johnny on Friday afternoon when I go to the doctor’s office?” or “Could you pick up some groceries for me?”
Get the support you need.
A nearby support group for women with breast cancer can help considerably. Or you may draw emotional support from family and friends. One-on-one support is available from breast cancer survivors through the Reach to Recovery program.
Do nice things for yourself.
So often we equate being nice to ourselves with buying things. But you can treat yourself without running up your credit card debt. Check out books from the library, rent a funny video, feed the ducks at the lake, ask your sweetie for a foot massage, take a hot bath. And if you need to sleep 10 hours a night, give yourself permission to do it.
Forgive yourself.
You may forget a dentist’s appointment or neglect to send Aunt Martha a birthday card. You may not feel like returning phone calls. It’s okay. People will understand.
Don’t blame yourself.
No one knows what causes breast cancer. Don’t try to figure out what you did to bring on this illness. There are no answers.
Finding a wig. Check mail order suppliers such as the American Cancer Society's “tlc”, which has an online catalogue. They also feature breast forms, “pocketed” nightgowns and other products for women going through cancer treatment. Or call your local American Cancer Society office for stores nearby.
Handling financial issues.
Your local hospital or clinic will have a social worker, who can help you manage financial issues and deal with private insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid. You can also find the ACS I Can Cope program in your area, which offers free educational classes for people with cancer, their families, and friends. Sessions include, “Taking Charge of Money Matters.”
Specifics on your disease.
Bring your questions to the health professionals who lead the I Can Cope courses mentioned above. The program covers cancer development, treatment, side effects, new research, relieving cancer pain, nutritional well-being and more.
Sex after breast cancer treatment.
The physical changes made by surgery and/or breast reconstruction don’t have to cause problems in a woman’s sex life, and ACS offers practical advice practical advice on how to continue a fulfilling sexual relationship. Research shows most women with early stage breast cancer have good emotional adjustment and sexual satisfaction by a year after surgery. They report a quality of life similar to women who never had cancer.
Remember that you are not alone.
There are millions of women who are making this journey with you. And millions of women have survived breast cancer for many years. You are a survivor too.
Lorraine Murray is a freelance writer living in Decatur, Ga. She was a contributor to A Breast Cancer Journey: Your Personal Guidebook, published by the American Cancer Society.
More Breast Cancer Awareness Month Special Features

Sunday, November 22, 2009


I had surgery on Wednesday to put a drain in my abdomen that will hopefully get rid of the water there once and for all. As I got prepped for surgery, I looked up at Dr. Ott and said: "I'm so sorry I didn't listen to you about wearing the girdles everyday. If I had, perhaps we wouldn't have had this complication." She nodded understandably and said: "That's alright. You're the kind of person that likes to go, go, go, and that's when things like that happen."

She's right about that, but I still feel I was negligent on my part simply because I deluded myself into thinking I can continue doing things like I was completely normal healthwise, when I'm not yet. My mom and dad always said, Marcy you don't listen. And that's one trait that has set me back throughout my life. One of the reasons I don't listen is because what I'm advised to do isn't what I FEEL like doing, it's usually harder, it requires delayed gratification.

I'm older now, and I feel like I can't afford NOT to listen, because the consequences are just too great. It's harder to bounce back from a mistake at 53 than it is to bounce back at 25 years old. I've finally surrendered to the fact that I don't want to keep doing things the hard way. And now that I hold my health precious, I'm not going to ignore the doctor's orders so flippantly. Someone once told me, if you push yourself while recovering from surgery, you're only taking two steps backward. Guess what?
They were right.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New Mammogram Guidelines--Bad News

I must say that it came as a shock to me when I heard Katie Couric announce on the nightly news that the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force now recommends women wait until they are 50--instead of 40--to receive their first annual mammogram. I was told by my doctor that breast cancer had begun manifesting in my body in my late '40s--years before it had been finally detected when I was 51 years old. What's more, the doctors discovered I had Stage 3, locally advanced breast cancer--a far cry from early stage diagnosis.

The statistics cannot be ignored. The survival rate for women with breast cancer has steadily risen--due in large part to early diagnosis. Hail to the women who have faithfully had annual mammograms throughout their 40s. There are countless stories of lives saved because of it. I myself am guilty of skipping my mammogram in the year 2006 and 2007 and it has cost me dearly.

By the time I got around to my 2008 mammogram, the picture wasn't so pretty. That was the year I turned 51. I remember thinking, if I had just had that 2006 and 2007 mammogram, I wouldn't have felt like I was a day late and a dollar short. Like Sheryl Crow's early detection, maybe I could have gotten away with a mere lumpectomy and 30 days of radiation. Instead, my recovery has dragged out two years--when you include the breast reconstruction part.

Just think how different my journey would be today, if only. This new recommendation is taking options away from women. If their insurance companies refuse to pay for their mammograms in their 40s and they have to pay out of pocket, there will be a lot more women saying, if only. That's jut not fair when we've come so far beating breast cancer.

The U.S. has always been a world leader, because we've lead by example in so many areas. This is a giant leap backwards for preventative health. In light of this pending health care reform bill. That's truly a tragedy. Somehow, someway, we have to fight this. Every woman should have the health care system on their side to prevent the advancement of breast cancer.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bear Pain Privately

Let's just get this out of the way. Battling breast cancer means you will have to cope with the side effects of treatments for a cure, which can make life miserable. Everyone's response to chemotherapy is different. Some women--armed with a battery of meds--will sail through chemotherapy, while others will face a series of infections, trips to the emergency room and violent bouts of vomiting and diarreha. Most of us sit somewhere in between.

You doctor will warn you and arm you appropriately for the journey. When your first bad day comes, make note of what your going through and what you did to make it better. For me, it was always the second day after chemo. That's when exhaustion and nauseau would overcome me, so much so that I would have to pull over at a rest stop if I was driving and sleep for a half an hour. I felt like I had a very bad tequila hangover over the next 24 hours. Soon, I learned the drill, and made sure I was comfy at home on that second day. I rode it out, knowing this too shall pass, and it always did.

Complaining to those caring for me about my agony only made them feel helpless and even more sad about my predicament. At the end of the day, it didn't do them or me any good. Now if something unusual comes up, that's another story. But if you've figured out how your body handles chemotherapy, keep the pain, the details to yourself. Just remember, it's only a temporary situation. Your family, friends and doctors will appreciate your stoic stand, because it will make it that much easier to help you in ways they can. Now that's what I call battling breast cancer with class.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Don't Take Your Health For Granted

Yeah! The CAT scan showed that I had water in my abdomen because the drain had accidentally fallen out too early last summer after my last surgery.

So, I have to go into Bridgeport Hospital next Wednesday and have another drain put in for two weeks to finally get all this water out. Thank God it was just water. I was thoroughly convinced I had liver cancer. And to be fair, I didn't do what my doctor said and wear the Spanx girdles everyday to keep the water from building up.

Lesson learned? Always do what your doctor says, otherwise complications arise. Now I have to go through yet another minor surgery because of a setback that I'm partly responsible for.

Which leads me to the theme of the day, once you get cancer, don't take your health for granted. After days of anxiety before I received news of the CAT scan result, I vowed to myself that I would start exercising regularly again. The cancer treatments and reconstruction surgeries have seriously set back my fitness level, because my legs were too numb to get on a treadmill. All I've been able to do is walk and ride my bike. I want to get physically strong again.

Also, the food list Dr. Zigo , of the Center for Natural Healing, gave me has hardly been referenced. She told me to cut out the meat, eggs and dairy and ramp up the fruit and vegetables. I've pretty much ignored her advise. Shame on me. Since I haven't been feeling well for the past month, I've lost weight but I feel fragile, not strong, because I've lost so much muscle tone over the past year.

About the only thing good I've done is sleep alot. On weekends I'll sleep maybe 10 hours. Okay, enough about me. What I'm trying to say is, when you get a second chance, you owe to yourself to take care of yourself, to honor your broken body and restore it back to health.

I promised myself that I would do this last spring when I layed in the Intensive Care unit of Winthrop Hospital for four days. I remember thinking, never again do I want to be in this place, never again. So it's time to spring into action.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

It's All Good

I started reading this book, The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, which brought back teachings I learned when I attended The Landmark Education 3-day seminar more than 2 years ago. Now it comes back to me, the past is useless, the future is an illusion, but the present--that's where all the power to change is, baby! So I made a decision not to project about the results of my CAT scan on Tuesday, and simply enjoy a beautiful Sunday. It was a good decision.

I also came upon the journal I had kept last year as I went through my cancer treatment, reading the entries I realize how angst ridden I was about losing my hair. And here my hair is today, all grown in, blonde as ever! Now why did I waste so much time worrying about that? Knowing hindsight is always 20/20, I've decided to share some of my journal entries from last year on the blog. Clearly there's many of you feeling the way I did back then. Maybe when you read an entry, you'll identify and not feel alone. Here goes:

It's spring, my favorite time of year, and I have breast cancer! I just don't get it. My father walks around, smoking like a chimney at 76 years old. He's survived two open heart surgeries, an operation for an anyerism, and half the time he's out of it. But does he get cancer? Hell no. The guy's like that robot driving around Mars that was supposed to run out of power five years ago but just keeps on driving round and round the planet like an Engergizer bunny. The NASA Control engineers in Houston stare at the screen of Mars as they watch this machine soldier on relentlessly and scratch their heads in confoundment. It's the same way my relatives and parents' friends look at my dad. He's an anomoly.

The daffodils are blooming, and all I have to look forward to is chemotherapy, which, hello, I begin on my dad's birthday. It's not fair. I have friends who have partied like there's no tomorrow, boozing it up, sniffing, smoking, and generally abusing their bodies--and they're older than me! And do they get cancer? No, they just keep carrying on with their crazy lifestyle--even if they look a little harder for the wear.

Now mind you, I could have done better. I like to eat, but honestly, I always exercised like a fiend. No sense dwelling on the what a, could a should a. It's been said that what doesn't kill you will make you stronger. So I suppose, as I go through this cancer treatment I'll get stronger by default. Maybe that's a good thing.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Chin Up

I gotta tell you, sometimes the cure is worse than the disease--at least that's the way it working out for me. After being sick last weekend, I was left with a dry hacking cough. And on Monday I was really coughing badly. I took a lot of vitamin C and it the coughing calmed down as the week progressed. But then I realized my lower abdomen was seriously bulging out.

I thought it was just fluid, since I had a revised tummy tuck last summer, the drain fell out too soon, so the plastic surgeon had to expirate the fluid. I went to the surgeon yesterday and showed her my stomach. The first thing she asked was: Have you been coughing alot? I told her yes, especially last Monday. She said the protrusion wasn't fluid but probably a hernia, plus the inner stitches may have come undone!

I have to get a CAT scan on Tuesday, but if she's right, I may have to have my abdomen operated on again. That would be the third time! I just don't want to have to go through this again. All this surgery I've had has been to put the pieces of my body back together after all the damage that was done last year. It just never ends! I'm really getting down about it.

Then there's the other fear. What if this abdomen protrusion is all a bunch of cancer!!1 The horror! I'm very scared. All I can tell myself is, chin up Marcy, chin up, stay positive.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Giving Back

Today I went to my friend Annie's house and delivered a care package. She had a lumpectemy about a month ago and will begin chemotherapy next week. I was glad to give her all the books that I bought on breast cancer, as well as wig care accutremants. I got her a card, and tchockes with breast cancer ribbons. I spent time talking her through her fears about chemo and losing her hair. It was time well spent.

I'll never forget the time I was sitting in a chemo chair and a woman getting follow-up care came in to sit next to me and hold my hand. She talked to me about her own breast cancer surgery, it was re-assuring. I know her cancer had to be more iffy than mine, since she came in to flush out her chemo port. For various reasons, they didn't want to take it out. Not a good thing. Yet she was positive and happy about everything. It gives you a feeling there is a way out of the dark tunnel.

Right now, I'm still running a low-grade fever. I got sick over the weekend. I wonder if this is still effects of the shingles. I've been popping the vitamins and adding hours of sleep. I hope that will finally do the trick. This is when I get discouraged. I don't want anything coming between me and that final surgery in December. I've had enough road bumps this year.

Anyway, being with Annie helped. Because everything she has before her, is now sitting behind in the past for me. That helps me look at the glass half full