October is a month known for sweaters, pumpkins and fall leaves. It is also Breast Cancer Awareness month, a time when we rally around survivors, family, friends and remember those who lost their battle to the most common form of female cancer. So what do we need to be aware of?
Anytime someone uses the world “cancer,” stomachs drop and brows furrow. When the word breast cancer is uttered, minds start racing with worries about the worst-case scenario. Leaving the doctor’s office after being diagnosed with breast cancer is one of the hardest parts, as you are literally taking your first steps toward treatment. Breathe — it’s going to be okay.
Get to Know What You’re Dealing With
If you need to break out a recording device to remember everything the doctor said, then do it. Take time out to research all the terms that he or she used. Research the different stages and start finding answers to common questions so you can be better informed. Once you know the basics, you can start asking your doctor the more advanced questions about the cancer and about your treatment.
Start Building Your Support System
Moving forward, you’re going to want a two-tier support system. The first tier should be a significant other or a parent who can hold your hand the entire time and stand next to you during doctor’s visits. The job of this person isn’t easy; they’ll know everything about breast cancer and all of your specific treatments, and they’ll be the second opinion you seek when you make the hard decisions. They’ll also need to be a hand to hold and shoulder to cry on.
The second tier is made up of your friends and family, who will drop by to brighten your day and ask about your well-being. They’ll bring books to read while you recover, gossip to keep you in the loop, and jokes to make you laugh. They’re like breaths of fresh air in a world of medical jargon and stuffy hospitals.
This is actually one of the hardest steps as you start telling those who are close to you about your breast cancer. It starts to feel real, and you have to say it out loud over and over again.
Find Your Voice and Start Asking Questions
Some doctors and hospitals make a patient feel rushed, especially if the cancer seems minor and easy to treat. This might be good news for you, as you’re not a case that the staff is highly worried about, but it can make a patient feel like their not valued or important.
Don’t let the doctor or nurse leave until you have every possible question and concern addressed. You’re already going through a difficult time in your life; you don’t want to be left in the dark in regard to your treatment plan. Ask what test results mean, look at your chart, and have the doctor give explanations of the treatment process.
One of the first things you should do after you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer is to treat yourself to cupcakes, that purse you’ve had an eye on, a manicure, or whatever else makes you feel good about yourself. The road ahead won’t be easy, so take a little time to make yourself feel good before you have to face it.
Fighting cancer isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t beat it. Use it to build strength, not weakness.
“For these campers, I’m their Joan of Arc. It’s like I’m Joan, and their vag is the arc.”
These words come from the mouth of a young girl in a recent ad for HelloFlo, a new company that specializes in making menstruation as painless as possible. You can help but do a double take (did that girl seriously just say “vag”?), and that is perhaps exactly what the ad creators intended.
But neither the company nor the controversial ad were rooted in any “feminist agenda,” says HelloFlo founder Naama Bloom. The company functions by sending boxes of tampons, pads, and candy to women in alignment with their personal cycles, all for $14-18 a month.
As Bloom said in an interview with CNN, “I just wanted to talk the way women talked and the way I talk and talk the way I am teaching my daughter to talk.” But even that is remarkable. After all, how many girls really feel this way about their periods? For that matter, how many moms, teaching their daughters about menstruation, feel this way?
The onset of puberty is happening earlier and earlier for girls in the United States, a trend that does not bode well for future generations’ rates of ovarian and breast cancer. Poor diet, lack of exercise, and exposure to toxic chemicals can all affect the timing of puberty, and the increase in all three in this country has obviously contributed to an earlier onset of menstruation.
On top of that, menstruation has been a consistent point of embarrassment for girls and women, and this has unfortunately perpetuated a culture of body shame. Whenever menstruation begins, it is not something to be ashamed of nor fight against. Girls need all the information they can get to be prepared, both physically and emotionally, for this powerful rite of passage. In a way, periods are what makes the world go ’round. Right?
What’s your relationship with menstruation like? Tell us your stories in the comments section below!
For the culmination of our “Aspire to Inspire” series and in celebration of National Cancer Survivor’s Day (June 2) our last hangout will be about Cancer survival. Rich and Annette Leal Mattern will be joining us from Breast Cancer Answers. Steven Callahan who survived being lost at sea 30 years ago and two years ago was diagnosed with Leukemia will also be sharing his story with writer/director Justin Rubin who lost his brother and sister on the same day, 20 years apart, from the same type of brain tumor.
We hope these stories, and all the others from the rest of our Google+ hangout series, inspired you and gave you strength if you are coping with a similar situation. Please tell us your thoughts and share your own stories in the comments section below!
Also check out these beautiful short films by Justin Rubin on his experience losing his brother and sister to the same form of brain tumor, on the same day 20 years apart:
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As you undoubtedly read earlier this week, Angelina Jolie published a profound and honest article through New York Times on Tuesday announcing her elective double mastectomy. The decision arose out of the 37-year-old’s fear of developing breast cancer, which seemed likely given that she carries a faulty BRCA1 gene and had an 87% risk. Her mother also died of ovarian cancer just in her 50’s, and Jolie wisely did not want to go through the same agony, nor put her family through such pain.
It was a brave and noble move on her part – not only to undergo the invasive treatment, but also to announce her decision publicly in the attempt to raise awareness and start a dialogue. But as H. Gilbert Welch points out, there is one major thing left out of Jolie’s article: Less than 1% of women are at risk of carrying the BRCA1 gene – or its sister BRCA2 gene – so Jolie’s story is only relevant to a very small minority of women. In most cases, Welch (a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice) says, breast cancer incidence is sporadic and unconnected to BRCA1.
Should all women be tested for BRCA1, then, in the off chance that they do have it? Not necessarily, Welch cautions. A strong family history of cancer may be indication enough, and across the board testing can carry its own problems. The moral of the story, according to Welch? Angelina Jolie made an extremely courageous and, for her, probably necessary decision to have a preventive double mastectomy. A small number of women may benefit from a similar course of action. In general, though, other measures, in addition to regular screenings, can be taken to reduce cancer risks, and Jolie’s decision need not set the standard for all women out there.
What are your thoughts on the preventive double mastectomy? Let us know in the comments below!
Have you noticed, did you know that perfect societies exist? Maybe in imagination only, yes, but still they do — places where beings, humans, live in perfect peace for there is no reason for violence. Did you know? You might not have realized if you are not a lover of stories, but there are places, realms, worlds were human lives are devoted to growth and expression, entirely. Where no one lacks for food nor shelter, where there is no need to strive, to gain, to protect, to survive. There is only freedom to be what you are. To grow and create and experience.
Do you know which stories are those? Which people?
Those who do not die.
Elves, wizards, the immortals. Free of the nagging fear, free of the all consuming drive just to live, just not to die — they live fully and completely. And they enjoy living.
I have thought about this for the last few days. I have thought about this since the day when the famous boobs came off in defense against death. I wondered — what would I have said if asked about my flagrant disregard for yearly checkups, mammograms and cancer protections, my lack of interest in defenses against disease, defenses against death?
What would I say if asked why do I not strive to survive, to gain, to protect, to remain alive just one more day, just one more?
I would say: death is not a problem.
I would say: death is not a problem because I will not end. The body will change, the mind will dissolve and I will transform, graduate and open to the next adventure. I rather look forward to that.
I would say: death is not a problem. Fear is.
Without the fear of dying I am free to live life that is nothing but freedom to be what I am. To grow and create and experience. Free of the need to strive to gain, to protect, to survive.
I would say: death is not a problem because it is not an end — it is a change.
I would say: avoiding death is not my purpose. Avoiding change is not my purpose.
My purpose is to live well.
My purpose is to die well.
So, Angelina Jolie got a double mastectomy as a preventative measure, in order to reduce her risk of breast cancer.
Should you do the same?
Angelina apparently had a particularly strong genetic tendency as well as a strong family history. Angelina made a brave choice that may have been the best one for her, but it is worth careful consideration around whether this preemptive strike is the right choice for any woman who carries the BRCA1 gene.
Genetic risk is real, but epigenetics has the potential to trump genetic risk. Epigenetics literally means “on top of genetics.” Epigenetic “tags” sit on top of our genes and turn them on and off. These tags are influenced by our experiences and environment. What we eat, how much stress we undergo, and what toxins we’re exposed to can all alter our genes. We are not at the mercy of our genes as much as they are at the mercy of our diet and lifestyle choices.
Here’s an example that should strike hope into our very souls: Dr. Dean Ornish has conducted research that found a vegan diet caused more than 500 genes to change in only three months. How? Epigenetic tags turned on genes that prevent disease and turned off genes that cause a variety of illnesses, including breast cancer, heart disease, prostate cancer, and other illnesses.
I think the term “Holistic Medicine” has been used so much that it has almost lost it’s meaning. What might be a better term is “Context-Driven Medicine.” Our bodies—our hormones, organs, tissues and systems—do not act in a vacuum. They respond to our environment and thoughts. Thought creates biology. So does environment. When we are afraid, our chemistry changes. When we inhale pollutants, our
chemistry changes. Conversely, when we enjoy whole food, fresh air, good company, and feed ourselves inspirational thoughts and ideas, we affect our thoughts, emotions, environment, epigenetic tags and, ultimately, our genes.
So what about mammograms?
Prevention is different from early detection. Early detection doesn’t stop breast cancer from arising. Prevention does. When we better our lives, our breast health can improve in response.
Here are some simple (but sometimes hard to hear) tips to support breast health:
- Avoid alcohol. There is not safe level of consumption. For a good summary of this, check out this video. We like to drink alcohol for relaxation and, in some cases, to support heart health, but there are better, more effective ways to support heart health without increasing the risk of cancer.
- Eat lots of veggies. Changes in diet may prevent 30-40 percent of cancer cases, or 3 to 4 million cases annually. Veggies protect against many types of cancer by enhancing cancer-protective capacity, deactivating carcinogens and blocking tumor development.
- Have an exercise routine that is right for you.
- Avoid too much coffee, especially non-organic. Coffee seems to have an affinity with breast tissue and women with sensitive breasts around their period might do well to avoid it.
- Breastfeed! This increases circulation in the breast tissue. Women who nurse have lower risks of breast cancer. This decreases the potential for stagnation in the breasts. When we are not breastfeeding we can increase circulation in our breasts by massaging them on a regular basis.
- Avoid the use of antiperspirants. They don’t allow the release of waste products from the local area.
- Breathe deeply. This opens the chest area and reduces stress.
- Eat organic, when possible. Especially meat and dairy, if you consume them. They concentrate pollutants that act as bad estrogens and are carcinogenic.
- Avoid environmental pollutants. If you happen to be in an environment that is polluted from off gassing of carpets, paints, plastics, construction materials, etc. maybe fill the room with houseplants. They help to purify the air.
- Don’t smoke. Please.
There’s more information on breast health and why all these things are important in Chapter 13 of my book Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life.
In an honest and self-disclosing article for the New York Times, actress and director Angelina Jolie announced this morning her decision to undergo a preventative double mastectomy. Several questions may be circling your head: Why? When? What does it entail? How will this impact her acting?
To address the last one, it looks like the surgery hasn’t made Jolie skip a beat. Amidst red carpet events and the G8 Summit this spring, the actress was as poised and beautiful as always, despite having had procedures done from February 2 to April 27. In her article, Jolie describes her procedures in detail, undoubtedly in the attempt to create an open dialogue about this issue and deflect some of the fear that can develop simply out of ignorance.
- About 1 in 8 US women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime
- A woman’s risk of developing breast cancer doubles if she has a first-degree relative – a mother, sister, or daughter – who has been diagnosed with the disease
- Women with mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have up to an 80% risk of developing breast cancer during their lifetime
- Angelina Jolie’s mother died of cancer and the actress carries a faulty BRCA1 gene – which gave her an 87% chance of getting breast cancer
- Post mastectomy, her risk is now under 5%
What does the procedure entail?
Simply speaking, a double mastectomy involves the removal of both breasts. In Jolie’s case, she was able to first have a “nipple delay” which ruled out the disease in the breast ducts, allowing the surgeons to keep the nipples in tact. Then her breast tissue was removed and replaced with temporary fillers until nine weeks later when the final implants were put in place. As Jolie writes, “There have been many advances in this procedure in the last few years, and the results can be beautiful.”
Did the surgery alter her perception of herself and her feeling of femininity? Not at all.
It is reassuring that [my children] see nothing that makes them uncomfortable. They can see my small scars and that’s it. Everything else is just Mommy, the same as she always was. And they know that I love them and will do anything to be with them as long as I can. On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.
For women with a high risk of breast cancer, a preventive double mastectomy is an option to explore. Every women makes that decision for herself, crosses that bridge when she gets there. We applaud Jolie for her brave decision, and even more for her courage in coming forward to share her story and open a dialogue about this critical issue.
Have you or one of your loved ones had or explored the option of a mastectomy? Tell us your story in the comments section below!
Last Christmas I found out I had breast cancer.
From the mammogram to the biopsy, they didn’t really think it was cancer but just wanted to be sure. So when I got the call it came as shock that rocked my world. It was a full body blow against my whole auric being. It blew my hair back. It stunned me. It woke me up.
I now had to deal with my mortality. I had to deal with it in such a real way that people my age normally don’t have to face for many years. Sure, I knew intellectually that I would someday die but I never really knew death the way I came to know it when I found out I had cancer. I really got it that whether it was this case of cancer or something else that someday I really was going to die. It shifted from an intellectual awareness to an experienced awareness, and it was really hard.
But it was also an initiation.
I stood on the precipice looking over into the possibility that I was going to die and I turned to my meditation practice to help get through what I call “my twelve most difficult days,” my twelve days of Christmas, I guess—knowing I had a deadly disease growing inside of me but waiting for almost two weeks to have surgery to see how far it had progressed.
What I learned in those days changed me. I learned that in the silence of sitting still, time expands and the moments of life fill to overflowing, sometimes even to joy. You can feel this when you allow your moments to fill from within themselves rather than trying to cram a bunch of activity into them from the outside. The over-activity of our modern lives makes us think our lives are full, but really we’re only whizzing past the moments on the way to doing something else. When you do that, you are half dead already because you are not even feeling your life. But when you stop, when you get out of the swirl, and when you realize that your life really will someday cease, then everything becomes a miracle and you want to feel every moment.
It hit me that we live like we don’t even know that someday we will die. We are so afraid of dying that we ignore death, which leads us to taking life for granted and we end up cheapening it and missing the point of why we are living in the first place. But in the acceptance of my own death, I gained my life and I gained a new relationship with my body, too. Facing my mortality freed me in a way that I was not free before. When I finally knew that someday I was going to die, I prioritized things and valued life more. I was given the gift of really knowing in an experiential way that we need to wake up to the shortness of life and stop taking it for granted.
Life is to be enjoyed, but we focus on the wrong things and spend a lot of time moaning and complaining that it isn’t exactly how we want it to be…we don’t have enough money, we want a new car, the 401k tanked, we have to leave work early to go buy ballet tights the night of the Nutcracker performance even though you’ve been asking your daughter the last 500 times you were at the dance store “do you need tights?” and every time she said no, except now just hours before the curtain rises she realizes she needs new tights (yes, this just happened to me this past weekend). But it is precisely at these moments of moaning about life that we should remind ourselves that someday we are going to die. Use that awareness to reframe your outlook on life and release into the quality of the experience you are creating for yourself. Last year at Christmas I had cancer and thought I might die, this year I have to stop and get ballet tights…ok, good reframe.
So take some time this holiday season to slow down and be silent and reframe the things you are complaining about in your life. Drop out of the swirl, feel the time expand and savor the moments.
It’s your life…make it a good one.
Originally published in 2009
Herbal remedies are at the root of modern-day medicine. For example, aspirin originated from willow bark and morphine from the opium poppy.
Although modern medicine continues to take leaps and strides in significant areas of disease and illness, there are many simple remedies we can implement into our lifestyle that may ward off future diseases.
One of the easiest (and delicious) natural remedies available to us is green tea.
Here’s a few significant ways green tea can impact your health, inside and out:
The polyphenols present in green tea may help prevent and repair damage from sun exposure by fighting free radicals that damage cells.
This is significant because of the domino effect that starts with UV radiation. UV radiation can damage DNA, which can then cause immune system suppression, which may create a risk for developing skin cancer.
Many studies are producing convincing evidence that the major polyphenol in green tea, EGCG (Epigallocatechin gallate), can inhibit tumour invasion and angiogenesis. Angiogenesis is a key component in how cancer tumors grow.
This is a result of the rich supply of ECGC in green tea leaves. In addition to green tea, Lycopene is another natural source that can help treat prostate cancer. Lycopene is a natural pigment made by plants and is naturally housed in fruits and vegetables.
One study suggests that drinking tea and upping intakes of vegetables and fruits rich in lycopene (like tomatoes, apricots, and watermelons) has a stronger preventive effect than either one taken separately.
Whether you’re drinking green tea for warmth, health, or as a natural approach to cancer, it’s important to do your research and stick with tea bottled as close to the source as possible.
This is because when bottled tea is produced, stored, and transported, sometimes the GTC (green tea catechins) can be compromised through that process. GTCs are important because, among other things, they are associated with a significant reduction in LDL cholesterol levels.
Brewing a warm tea at home from organic whole tea leaves is another way to ensure you’re getting the maximum health benefit from your tea.
Another lesser known product from tea leaves is Camellia oil (the oil of tea seed Camellia oleifera).
This is different from green tea, which comes from Camellia sinensis.
It’s used in a variety of ways, similar to how we use olive oil. You can find Camellia oil at most health food stores or can order it online.
Mother Nature has a wealth of knowledge and healing available to us on many levels. The healing properties in tea are just one of her many gifts to us.
Note: This piece article represents the opinions of the author alone, not that of Intent or its sponsors.