People talk about mum guilt a lot. It would seem that you have children and then the sense of responsibility leads to an enormous amount of guilt about everything. Am I doing enough with them? Am I over stimulating them? Are they eating enough fruit …
Tag: breast cancer
Natasha had a four year old son and seventeen month old daughter when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and here she explains how she talked to her children about her cancer diagnosis and generally managed her parenting while going through cancer.
When I was diagnosed with cancer in June 2017 my son had just turned four years old. My daughter was seventeen months old. It felt like the world was caving in.
Every time I looked at them, I was gripped by an all-consuming fear. I was terrified of leaving them; afraid of what the coming months would bring; and felt horrendous guilt for the sudden shift in their lives, the uncertainty that faced us all and the impact on them of what lay ahead. They were so small. My daughter still liked to sleep with me…….every night!! My son was only in pre-school.
We went to the pre-school graduation the weekend before my biopsy results were back and I watched his little friends sing their songs and graduate. I wondered would I be there the following year for his graduation. Never mind college graduations, I just wanted to make his pre-school ceremony!
What should we tell them?
And of course, the question of what to tell them. What should I say to these tiny little people whose Mum was suddenly sick? How should I tell them? What should I tell them? Should I tell them anything at all?
In the end, my husband and I decided we would tell the kids, well our son in particular, that I had breast cancer. My husband actually did the telling. I just couldn’t do it to be honest. He downloaded a book and at bedtime he sat down and told our baby boy that I had cancer.
He already knew that something was going on. There were visitors to the house. My Mum had barely left since my biopsy. I was going to hospital appointments, and Daddy was coming with me. People looked and sounded stressed. There was a lot of whispering when the kids were around. He knew something big was happening and he was worried.
My husband told him that Mammy’s breast (boobie) was sick, that it had something called ‘cancer’. He explained that because my boobie was sick I would have to go see the doctors a lot and would have to have some operations. The book he read was wonderful. It explained breast cancer in simplistic language that a child his age could understand. He knew that I would have an operation and that I would have to take some very strong medicine called chemo which would make my hair fall out. He also knew that I would be having treatment for a long time and would be tired and need to rest.
How we talked about cancer with the children
I never promised my son I would get better. Instead, I promised him I would work as hard as I possibly could with my doctors and that I would keep on doing my best to get better because I loved him so much. My daughter was 17 months old at diagnosis. We read her the book but she really didn’t understand as much. As time went on and she got bigger she understood more and knew I was sick and had to get “chemo medicine” and that I would be tired and feel ill sometimes.
We promised both our kids that no matter what there would always be someone to mind them, even if Daddy was working and I was in hospital. We told them we loved them both more than anything and that no matter what medicine I took or if I lost my hair, I was still Mammy and I would always love them and do everything I could to look after them.
Was it hard? Yes, to this day it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever faced as a parent. To them I am Mammy, I am their protector, washer of clothes, singer of silly songs, maker of dinner, provider of snacks. I did not want to tell them I was ill. I felt I was letting them down, that I wasn’t doing my job properly and had failed them by getting sick. However, I also wanted to be honest with them, to tell them what was happening in words they understood. I wanted them to know that when I went to hospital it was because I was working on getting BETTER, that when the doctors gave me my ‘chemo medicine’ it was to help me get back to being their Mammy.
Talking to them helped
Did telling them help? I think it did. My son understood I was sick. He knew I was getting medicine that would make me tired and that I would go bald. He knew it would go on for a while but that he would be looked after and so would his sister. It is hard to avoid the word cancer being used around the house and kids are very astute. My mum often says ‘Little rabbits, big ears’ and this is definitely the case! They might look like they are playing happily but guarantee they take in more than you think. Hence, we wanted to use the word cancer so it was not something to be feared. It became part of our language, as did chemo. When my hair fell out, I showed the kids and my son rubbed my head and told me I was still beautiful. He’s a little charmer!!
I continue on hormone treatment and have monthly zoladex injections. There have been times I have had to bring the kids with me for my shots, or they see me taking my meds in the morning and have asked what it’s for. I tell them it is to hopefully stop me getting cancer again. I’m three and a half years out from diagnosis now and would still occasionally have chats with my son in particular about that period in our lives. My daughter doesn’t remember much, but he does. I think being able to talk about it openly helps reassure him, plus if I get sick at all he isn’t concerned that the ‘sick boobie’ is back. This was our approach. It worked for us and I’m glad we chose to use the words cancer, chemo etc. The decision on what to tell your kids can be a tough one, but there is lots of advice and support available online from various cancer charities so don’t be afraid to reach out.
Women don’t stop being women when they are diagnosed with cancer
by Jennifer Young, Founder of Beauty Despite Cancer
Coming from a scientific background, Jennifer Young is an experienced microbiologist and associate member of the Royal Society of Medicine, who decided to combine her knowledge with a passion for natural skincare and wellbeing to create her own product line, formulating skincare for cancer patients. Jennifer Young is also an award-winning therapist trainer, specialising in spa treatments for anyone being treated for, living with or recovering from cancer.
One of the things that I have found to be repeatedly overlooked when it comes to cancer treatment, especially for women, is the profound impact it can have on skin, nails and hair, and the knock-on effect it has on your emotional wellbeing. Being told you can no longer use your usual skincare, whilst facing the common side effects of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery, can undermine your sense of self and confidence. Yet somehow, so many women feel that these are not things that they have a right to worry about in the wake of something as big as a cancer diagnosis. You are not the only one and you have every right to want to find ways of addressing these areas of concern.
‘Is it just me?’
‘Women don’t stop being women when they are diagnosed with cancer’ is something I often find myself saying this as a way of explaining why I started Beauty Despite Cancer and why I created the Defiant Beauty skincare and beauty collections for cancer patients.
You didn’t stop being a woman when you were diagnosed with cancer, but you may feel that you stopped being treated like one. Due to the skin sensitivity that many cancer treatments can cause, someone told you to avoid certain ingredients in cosmetics but you’re not entirely sure what they are and which products they are in.
That’s both upsetting and inconvenient. It means you no longer feel as though you can enjoy your morning routine; the luxurious, delicately fragranced, beautifully wrapped serums, lotions and potions you love so much have replaced by thick white gloopy cream from a plastic pump-topped dispenser. How glamorous.
To make matters worse, your skin isn’t your skin anymore. It’s itchy and sore and it reacts angrily when you apply your favourite moisturiser. Losing your hair and feeling poorly, you were prepared for, but no one mentioned the impact on your skin was a possibility. They didn’t mention what could happen your nails either. I hear this all the time from cancer patients, each one thinking that the brittleness or even nail loss is just them.
It was being told of all of these extra burdens carried by cancer patients that gave me the motivation to create the Defiant Beauty Skincare Collections.
“Through all the emotional ups and downs of going through cancer and all the side effects of chemotherapy it can be difficult to keep yourself feeling human. My skin has felt so rough and dry, I get small pimples everywhere after infusions, bags under my eyes from sleepless nights caused by the medical menopausal night sweats, chapped lips and just an overall dullness. A small saving grace for me during this time has been my skincare routine. Not only does it revitalise my complexion, but the act of pampering myself brings a sense of joy and control. I love nothing more than to sit with a facemask on in the bath or massage oils into my skin whilst diffusing essential oils. I love to use natural skincare products, it’s really important to me that my skin is nourished without added chemicals. Jennifer Young’s products are all natural but most importantly they’re made with us in mind.” – Keely, @pookys_page
Creating a skincare line dedicated for cancer patients
Back in 2013, a group of patients and ex-patients from my local hospital asked me to work with them to develop a skincare range to address these issues. The staff joined in and the Defiant Beauty skincare range was the result. Skincare was just the beginning – more products have followed – all at the request of cancer patients, charities or support groups. We now not only have product ranges for those going through cancer treatment, but we have also Beyond Beauty for those who have finished treatment, or are in remission, and to address some of the emotional needs of patients, we have the Well Being Beauty range.
No matter what is going on in life, we want to help women out there feel like themselves. The new collections are created using the same ingredients criteria set out by the NHS team that we worked with initially, and we continuously review and respond to the needs of our customers and the feedback we get. Our goal is to create products that are enjoyable to use and that actually work on these lesser discussed side effects of cancer.
“I chose to use the Defiant Beauty Face and Body Collection because I loved the way they were made specifically for cancer patients undergoing treatment. As somebody who has undergone cancer treatment, I know only too well the effects this can have on your skin. I love the way in which the products are made with natural ingredients, as this is so important when your skin has suffered so much.” – Leah, @blessedwithcancer
Life didn’t stop with your cancer diagnosis, and you didn’t stop being you either.
The information and content provided on this page is intended for information and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice.
This is a guest blog from Cathy Leman who is a registered dietitian, personal trainer, nutrition therapist, speaker, writer and survivor of ER/PR+ breast cancer.
A common belief in the breast cancer community, especially for women diagnosed with hormonally-driven cancer, is that certain foods will make their cancer return.
Well-intentioned friends and family perpetuate that belief with (un)helpful comments like, “Why would you eat THAT? You had breast cancer!”
Cue the guilt.
The fact is, the synergy of any single food is the “coordination” of all the biological compounds that particular food contains. That’s why it’s difficult to tease out the impact on cancer risk of a single food.
That said, it’s true we “consist of what we consume”; and since what we consume likely influences our health, it’s smart to focus on quality, variety and balance for a healthy eating pattern.
But if you have/had breast cancer, you’re likely familiar with this rule: you must eat only certain foods and avoid others. And so, that fact doesn’t apply.
On the contrary it does, very much.
Your dietary pattern over time, in other words, ALL THE FOODS YOU PUT INTO YOUR BODY, has the most significant impact on your breast and overall health.
Upon hearing that information, what do you do?
Aim to eat 100% perfectly, 100% of the time. Because obviously, a perfect dietary pattern equals perfect health.
And then, you fail miserably and abandon it all.
Cue the guilt.
Why do you insist that “eating healthy” means bad tasting, boring, breast cancer penance food that doesn’t make you happy and leaves you dreaming of pasta and pastries?
Because you’ve been brain-washed to believe there’s no other way.
I’m here to un-wash your brain. It’s possible to shift your eating pattern to be (mostly) nutritious, healthy AND delicious, feel good about the impact your choices have on your health, AND keep the treats.
The greatest gift you can give yourself is to enjoy your food, and eat without stress and guilt.
Here are 4 tips to help you get started:
Progress Not Perfection
I’ve shared this concept with clients for years, long before it became a common phrase.
Of course it’s important to improve your diet; quality nutrition is crucial to rebuilding your health after treatment. But you can’t do it in a single day.
Changing deeply ingrained habits requires small, consistent steps forward, the only way to make lasting change.
Remember that the smallest amount of progress is still progress. And by the way, forget about a “perfect” diet or way of eating. That’s a myth perpetuated by the diet industry.
Uplevel Your Nutrition
Life without treats would be a very boring life, indeed.
Maybe you’re a chocolate chip cookie lover. Can you imagine never eating another chocolate chip cookie? Of course not! But that’s exactly what you think you’ll do once you “perfect” your diet.
You’ll eat only apples, and skip the cookies.
Who says you can’t have both? Literally. When you eat a cookie (or other treat), uplevel your choice by pairing it with an apple, grapes or an orange. And if you bake those cookies, choose whole wheat pastry flour, healthy fats/oils and decrease the sugar.
Avoid Good Food/Bad Food Labels
Murder, cheating and lying are bad; cake is not. Neither are you for eating it.
When you label food good or bad, you subconsciously label yourself. When you feel bad about what you eat, guilt and stress take over and make it impossible to enjoy your food.
Habits can be good or bad. Your mindset can be good or bad. Behaviors can be good or bad.
Are your habits, mindset and behaviors health-supportive or health-destructive?
When you think about it that way, you leave the food (and your character!) out of the equation. You’re empowered to make choices based on whether or not they support your health goals, rather than beating yourself up for being “bad”.
Identify & Challenge Your Food Fears
Discover what makes food scary for you. On a sheet of paper, list every fear you have about every food. Maybe it’s a food “act” that scares you, such as eating at a restaurant.
When you name the fear, you can begin to tame the fear.
Consider this: food takes away our hunger, gives our body nourishment and energy, helps us heal. Food is culture, celebration, tradition and ritual.
Embrace all the positive things food does for you, and use that discovery to challenge yourself to leave your food fears behind.
Instead of Food Rules, Create a Nutrition Philosophy
Do you have breast cancer food rules? Rules you wouldn’t dare break?
Food rules take the pleasure and joy out of eating by dictating a strict approach to food with no room for spontaneity.
Instead, try creating a nutrition philosophy that honors your body, your health and your love of food.
For example, maybe your nutrition philosophy is that you choose to eat mainly whole foods, yet you’re flexible when travelling.
A fluid nutrition philosophy versus iron-clad food rules is like permission to be human, and you deserve that.
Cathy Leman helps survivors of ER/PR+ breast cancer conquer their phytoestrogen food fear, eat without stress and guilt, and confidently rebuild their health after treatment. Cathy is a registered dietitian, personal trainer, nutrition therapist, speaker, writer and survivor of ER/PR+ breast cancer. Cathy is also the founder of HIGHER GROUND HEALTH REBUILD REVOLUTION, an online membership for survivors of ER/PR+ breast cancer, and REBUILD, her 8-week private coaching program. Learn more about her programs here: www.cathyleman.com and follow her on Instagram @hormone.breastcancer.dietitian and Facebook
The information and content provided in all guest blogs is intended for information and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. Please seek professional advice or speak to your medical team if you have any questions about the issues raised in this guest blog.
A guest blog by Dr. Ramon Garza III of PRMA Plastic Surgery, Texas
What is lymphedema?
Lymphedema of the arm is a complication that can occur after undergoing breast cancer treatment. Patients most at risk for lymphedema are those who have had lymph nodes removed from the arm pit (axilla), have undergone radiation/chemotherapy, and those who have a BMI greater than 30. The likelihood of lymphedema after breast cancer treatment is between 7-35% depending on risk factors above.
Lymphedema is the result of mismanagement of lymphatic fluid within our bodies. Lymphatic fluid is transported by little vessels, similar to veins, back to the circulation. When the lymphatic system is disrupted, the fluid can leak out of the lymphatic vessels and become trapped in the affected limb. The result is lymphedema.
Symptoms of lymphedema
Symptoms of lymphedema are variable. They can also range in intensity. The most common symptoms include:
- Expanding and/or swelling of arms, hands, fingers, shoulders or chest
- A feeling of skin tightness
- Feelings of heaviness in the arm
- Limited range of movement
- Constant or periodic moments of throbbing or pain
- Diminished range of motion in the fingers, hand, or wrist
- Thickening and hardening of the skin
Treatments for lymphedema
Although there is no cure for lymphedema, treatment can greatly improve symptoms and improve quality of life! There are many available treatment options for lymphedema, including new advanced surgical techniques.
Before considering any surgical treatment option, it is recommended to be evaluated by a certified lymphedema therapist. They may recommend range of motion exercises, lymphatic massage techniques, and wearing compression garments. These non-surgical options are important in the treatment of lymphedema.
After evaluation by a lymphedema therapist, a consultation with a microsurgeon who performs lymphatic surgery is recommended. Early surgical intervention is important to maximize benefit and prevent worsening of lymphedema. Surgical interventions are less likely to have a favorable result, once lymphedema has been longstanding and progressed to the later stages of lymphedema.
Vascularized lymph node transfer entails replacing missing lymph nodes with healthy lymph nodes from another part of the body. This can help restore the lymphatic drainage of the arm and can improve arm lymphedema. Typically, this procedure is performed in conjunction with an autologous flap breast reconstruction procedure like the DIEP flap. However, the procedure can also be performed as a stand-alone surgery.
Lymphaticovenous Anastomosis is one of the newest surgical techniques used to treat lymphedema. Prior to the procedure, the patient is evaluated in an office setting to determine if they have functioning lymphatic channels amenable to surgery. A special luminescent dye is injected into the hand and wrist and the lymphatic system will light up on video using a special camera. Together, the patient and surgeon will see how the lymphatic system is working and determine if the patient is a candidate for surgery. During the surgery, lymphatic channels are rerouted to nearby veins under a microscope. By altering the route for lymphatic fluid to return to the heart, lymphedema can be improved.
Regardless of the surgical treatment option, patients must also return to their regular lymphedema therapy after surgery to ensure the best results.
A common question many patients ask when considering surgical lymphedema treatment options is if the surgery will be covered by insurance. The answer is not black and white. Unlike breast reconstruction which is mandated to be covered if the mastectomy was covered, lymphedema surgery is not always a covered benefit for some insurance plans. In some circumstances the surgical options are still considered to be “experimental.” This is because the surgical procedure options are still very new and very few surgeons in the country perform this advanced microsurgery technique. As more long-term research is published proving the success of these options and the vast patient benefit, we hope to see more insurance plans covering these advanced lymphedema treatment procedures.
Dr. Ramon Garza III is a board-certified plastic surgeon and microsurgeon specializing in advanced breast reconstruction and lymphedema surgery at PRMA Plastic Surgery in San Antonio, Texas. PRMA is the only center in San Antonio, Texas and one of only a handful of centers worldwide to provide breast reconstruction on such a large scale. Our surgeons treat patients from across Texas and the US, as well as international patients. We are proud to have a tremendous global reputation for breast reconstruction excellence.
There are many reconstructive breast surgeons in the United States. However, very few perform DIEP flap routinely due to the technical difficulty of the surgery. To date, our surgeons have performed thousands of microsurgical breast procedures. We are proud to perform over 700 DIEP surgeries every year. Patients are routinely welcomed from Texas, throughout the US, and across the World.
Please note that I, as Ticking Off Breast Cancer, do not accept responsibility for the content of the guest blogs. The information and content provided in all guest blogs is intended for information and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. Please seek professional advice or speak to your medical team if you have any questions about the issues raised in this guest blog.
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