Thursday, July 26, 2012

Out of My Hands

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I felt this overwhelming sense of powerlessness. Previously in my life I had never so much as had a stitch or spent one night in a hospital. Then suddenly within a year, I was dealing with the incapacitating effects of chemo, coping with the pain of a mastectomy and feeling exhausted from radiation.

Before getting cancer, my only health problem was high cholesterol and being overweight--all things that I could control by eating better. But this cancer thing was not going to go away by simply going on a diet. The scary part was that even with all the treatments I was going through, there was no guarantee that I would end up cancer-free.

I realized half of what happens to me is simply out of my hands. So I might as well accept that as serenely as possible. We can't change it, so just shrug your shoulders and get on with it.

That said, we might as well seize what we can control to help get a positive outcome. For example, none of my doctors told me to eat better and exercise while I was battling cancer, but common sense tells me it can't hurt. Plus, when you feel as though your life is spinning out control, it helps when you are doing your part to manage the chaos.

Even today as I walk through life cancer-free, I am reminded of all things that I cannot control and realize the choices I make throughout the day can at least make some difference. After surviving cancer, it becomes more important to exercise your choice to build a better life.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Breast Reconstruction Options

Teleconferences Breast Reconstruction: Considering Your Options

When:   Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Noon - 1:00 p.m.
During this free teleconference,Frederick J. Duffy, Jr., MD, FACS, will discuss the latest breast and nipple reconstruction methods and how to make the right decisions for you, whether you are exploring your initial options or secondary surgeries. In addition, you'll learn:
  • How to select the surgical method best for you
  • Questions to ask before and after surgery
  • What to expect before surgery and during recovery
About Our Speaker 
Dr. Duffy is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the Texas Center for Breast Reconstruction in Dallas, Texas. His practice focuses on reconstructive procedures, particularly those of breast reconstruction.
Dr. Duffy is board certified in plastic surgery by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and is a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the Texas Society of Plastic Surgeons, the Texas Medical Association, the Dallas County Medical Society and the Board Certified Plastic and Cosmetic Surgeons of Dallas. He is also a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.
About the Program
Our speaker will give a brief presentation followed by a question-and-answer period. To participate, you only need a telephone or computer with Adobe Flash Player or Windows Media Player. Social workers may be eligible to receive continuing education credits; see our registration form for more details.
Register by August 14 online or by calling (610) 645-4567.
CEU credits are available for licensed social workers.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Breast Cancer News - Living Beyond Breast Cancer

This a great site to keep you up-to-date on all the latest and greatest in breast cancer research and news.
Click on link below.

Breast Cancer News - Living Beyond Breast Cancer

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Got Hair?

It is in the heat of summer, and I can't stand my hair. I use my sunglasses as a hair accessory by keeping them on top of my head like a make-shift headband to pull back the annoying pieces that keep falling in my face.

But everytime I look in the mirror I see total disheveledness so I dug through some bathroom drawers and found hair combs. Yesterday I used one at the back of my head but today I am using two on each side because my hair isn't quite long enough to hold the hair neatly.

And to think four summers ago I had no hair to speak off! I remember buying tons of cotton handkerchiefs at Walmart, tying them backwards on to my head and topping it off with this straw hat that was ragged and dirty by September  because I wore it practically everyday (see picture).

If nothing else, I had a distinctive look. I called it my Alicia Keys phase. Who would have thought I would be missing those days? In some ways I do. Since I got my hair back, I can't seem to find a hairdresser that I am happy with. My old stylist kept my hair too long in the front so the sides started sticking out like dog ears. Last fall I told her to chop the sides off and I went back to this boring short look.

The last two hairdressers I've used seem to think my hair should be longer too. They don't take into account that fine hair looks flat and strangly in humidity. I can't pull of a well-groomed look no matter how hard I try in this God-forsaken weather. The hair combs are attempts at pulling myself together.

It's not working. I am going to get my hair highlighted with the only person I trust tomorrow. But I won't be getting a haircut till the first week in August. I don't know if I can hold out that that long.

When I get to this point of desparation, I do crazy things. I pull out scissors and start tinkering with my hair in the bathroom mirror. First its the bangs. Then I move to the back of my neck to and try to trim it. Then I pull out a shaver and try to "texturize" the top of my head. Needles to say the end result has never been that great.

I long for the days when I was a kid and spent the summer in pig tails, braids or a pony tail. It was so simple. I haven't had long hair like that since I was 17 years old. By September, I went back to school with a full head of highlights that I got courtesy of the beach and sun. No amount of hair color can replicate that pricesless look.

When I was bald four years ago, I swore I was going to let my hair keep growing and never cut it off.  But I always come to this place where I am now--feeling totally frustrated with my hair,  itching to whack off an inch or two.

Is it because after being bald so long I forgot how to manage it properly? Who knows. All I can tell you, is that if you don't have hair now, rest assured it will come back before you know it.

Once you get it back, you will be reminded that hair can be a real pain in the ass.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Accessing Your Creativity

Safe and Creative Emotional Outlets During and After Breast Cancer Treatment

Complentary and Supportive Therapies

By , Guide
Updated May 30, 2012 Health's Disease and Condition content is reviewed by the Medical Review Board
Here are some safe, creative ways to express the emotions that come with breast cancer. Each has physical and psychological benefits. While none of these therapies offer a cure for cancer, they do help improve many aspects of your health.

Art Therapy -- Express Your Pain and Fears

Benefits: Increased self-esteem, improvement in overall health, decrease in anxiety and depression.
How-To Example: Choose a symptom and write down how you feel about it. Include how it feels physically and emotionally. Get creative -- choose to use abstract, realistic, or symbolic styles. Then, choose a media to work in, be it paint, pencil, crayons, or software, so that you can visually represent what you wrote. Outline a shape representing your symptom. Color it in with colors that represent how it makes you feel. For the background, pick colors that show how your symptom affects your mood. Add any details to the shape to bring it into focus. Study your artwork, and see what it reveals or expresses about your emotions.
(5) Signs Of DepressionThese 5 Symptoms Of Depression Will Shock You. See The Causes
Stage 1 Breast CancerKnowing your recurrence risk score can help plan your
5 Signs of DepressionThese 5 Signs of Depression Will Shock You. See The Causes Now!

Music Therapy -- Leave Your Bad Feelings Behind

Benefits: Promotes healing, reduces pain, lowers stress, may relieve nausea and vomiting related to chemo.
How-To Example: If you are musical, you can write music or lyrics that helps you focus on healing, or expresses your experience with your cancer journey. If music is not your forte, try listening to music or lyrics that take you away from your symptoms and set you free for a while. Music with a strong spiritual aspect may be helpful, or music that was popular during your teen years may prove useful. Do you feel well enough to attend a concert? Research shows that live music improves mood and reduces anxiety.

Movement or Dance Therapy -- Rebuilding Health and Expressing Emotions

Benefits: Reduces stress, improves self-esteem, may strengthen your immune system.
How-To Example: Sign up for a dance or Tai Chi class, and let the instructor know about your health situation. If you choose dance, learn how to express your feelings with your body. A dance therapist can watch you and help you move in ways that will give you greater relief from your symptoms and stresses. Tai Chi and Qigong are gentle disciplines that involve slow movement, meditation and breathing. Even though these exercises are based on martial arts, there is no stressful impact put on your body. Practice improves balance, muscle tone, and flexibility. During Tai Chi, you can envision your enemy (breast cancer) while you slowly punch and kick it.

Humor or Laugh Therapy -- Don't Let Cancer Ruin Your Day

Benefits: Relieves stress, reduces pain, improves heart rate and circulation. Laughter may release endorphins, chemicals that help control pain.
How-To Example: You can use passive humor by watching a funny movie, a comedy routine, or reading a humorous book. If you're in the hospital, ask if volunteers who work in humor therapy are available; many National Cancer Institute centers offer humor therapy. Active humor takes more work, because you have to make it happen. Telling jokes, doing laughter exercises, or joining a laughter club can be a great way to take your mind off of cancer. Finding humor in your cancer experience may be a challenge, but it can ease stressful situations.

Expressive Writing or Journaling -- Getting it Down and Out

Benefits: Long-term benefits include stress reduction, improved immune system, lowered blood pressure, improved mood, reduced depression.
How-To Example: Expressive writing involves journaling for 15 to 20 minutes a day, 4 or 5 days a week. Don't worry about perfect prose -- get your feelings down on paper without worrying about style, grammar, or spelling. You may think of this as a "core dump." In your first week of writing, you may feel more stress as you use the written word to blow off steam. This is a normal response, so don't be concerned. As you continue past the first week, it may become easier to channel your feelings and to come to terms with memories, as well as your present situation.

Counseling or Psychotherapy -- A Safe Place to Express Emotions

Benefits: Improves quality of life, reduces anxiety, alleviates depression.
Details: Psychotherapy and professional counseling is done in two ways -- individual and group therapy. Groups may be as small as a couple, or as large as a family. Clients and counselors meet in an office setting and use conversational therapy to discover and express emotions, thought patterns, and behavior that is not positive. Sessions are usually held weekly and last for 50 minutes. Everything that is talked about in a session is held confidential. You may be assigned reading or writing "homework" to do between sessions, which can be very helpful.

Gardens, Support Groups, Fundraising Events -- Getting Out and About

Benefits: Leave a legacy, meet survivors, be encouraged.
How-To Example: Sometimes just going somewhere other than the clinic and the pharmacy can lift your spirits. Visit a garden and contemplate the variety and beauty of life. If your health permits, plant a garden for a lasting place to visit and relax. Attend a local breast cancer support group. Meeting other patients and survivors can give you a good source of information and encouragement. The American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen Foundations sponsor many fundraising events throughout the year. Find an event and walk, run, or cheer on the participants.


Palliative & Supportive Care. Art therapy improves coping resources: A randomized, controlled study among women with breast cancer. Published online by Cambridge University Press: June 29, 2006.
American Cancer Society. Music Therapy. Last Updated: 03/26/2007.
Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Published: 2005.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Healing Power of Writing

Professor Louise DeSalvo was my teacher at Hunter College, New York City, when I majored in creative writing. For all of you cancer survivors that want to write about your journey, here's some good advice. 

Write Now!
"Writing has helped me heal." "Writing has changed my life." "Writing has saved my life."
These are the bold and intriguing first sentences of acclaimed author, Louise DeSalvo's book, Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling our Stories Transforms our Lives.
Louise DeSalvo
Photo Courtesy of Deja Vue
With insight and wit, Ms. DeSalvo, interweaves her own story about the transformative power of writing with the experiences and observations of other writers, researchers and students. She also includes many practical suggestions and techniques that will benefit all of us who are writing as a way to heal our emotional and physical wounds.
Ms. DeSalvo and her publisher, Beacon Press, have generously offered to share excerpts from Writing as a Way of Healing with the readers of the Survivor's Review.
From the first page of her book, DeSalvo engages us with anecdotes, research studies and experiences that illustrate and support her points about the importance of writing to heal. And at the end of each chapter, she offers specific suggestions under the sections titled, WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW. Below is an excerpt from the first list:
  • Write by hand. In a beautiful notebook you buy expressly for this purpose or make for yourself, or on whatever you have handy. Note cards, say.
  • Or write on a typewriter or on a computer-but print what you write so you can touch it, see it, read it.
  • Write for about twenty minutes a day. But write more if you want or less. Try not to censor yourself. But if you're not ready to write about something, don't, yet. You will when you're ready.
  • Write what you need to write or want to write. Or write what you don't want to write. Write what troubles you or what delights you. Can you link these feelings to events in your life? Write what you see, smell, taste, touch.
  • Write without knowing what will be next. Write to surprise yourself. Or write and ponder or write and ponder some more.
  • Save everything you write in a safe place. Read it, or don't. At first, it's probably best not to show your writing to anyone. Writing only for yourself will let you write more freely.
Although it seems intuitive that the healing benefits of writing depend upon the depths to which we plumb, DeSalvo clearly articulates several specific qualities that make a narrative truly healing:
  • A healing narrative renders our experience concretely, authentically, explicitly, and with a richness of detail. DeSalvo recounts how she responded to a student who asked how much detail he should include. "About a thousand more than you think you will need," is her standard answer.
  • A healing narrative links feelings to events. "It describes how we felt then and how we feel now. It compares and contrasts past feelings and current feelings...It charts the similarities or differences in our feelings over time."
  • A healing narrative is a balanced narrative. "It uses negative words to describe emotions and feelings in moderation; but it uses positive words, too." Here, DeSalvo answers the obvious question: How can we write positively about a painful subject?"
  • "By describing what sustained us at that time," she says.
  • A healing narrative reveals the insights we've achieved from painful experiences. DeSalvo explains: "It is a way for us to reflect upon the significance of what happened. It connects our experience to other experiences in our lives or to those of other people or to society."
  • A healing narrative tells a complete, complex, coherent story. DeSalvo admits that our narratives often begin in chaos. "They become healing narratives as we organize them, as we ask ourselves, 'Then what happened?' 'Who was there?' 'Why?' 'Did this happen before or after?'"
DeSalvo asserts that committing to the practice of writing is, in itself, transformative. In a section entitled, "The Yoga of Writing," she outlines the process by which committed writers work. Below are several of her compelling points:
"We make time to write. We plan to write. We prepare ourselves to write. We care for ourselves so that we can write. We prepare a place to write...We listen to an inner voice that tells us what to do, what to write, where to go with the work...We allow ourselves complex and difficult feelings about our writing, but we don't question why we're having them...We work to work, not to produce a work of genius...When we're finished, we reflect on our process. We reflect upon how we're feeling now, upon what this work has given us, upon how this work has changed us..."
"When we begin to write regularly, letting the process be our guide, everything will take care of itself. Show up at the desk regularly and with commitment," De Salvo contends, "That's really all you have to do."
Louise DeSalvo is a writer, professor, lecturer, and scholar who lives in New Jersey . She currently holds the Jenny Hunter Endowed Chair in CreativeWriting and Literature at Hunter College of CUNY. Her many books include the memoirs Vertigo, Breathless, and Adultery; the acclaimed biography, Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on her Life and Work; and Writing as a Way of Healing. Recently, she edited Woolf's early novel, Melymbrosia and coedited The Milk of Almonds: Italian American Women Writers on Food and Culture.