Monday, June 23, 2014

Helping Someone with Breast Cancer - Emotional Support

When someone close to you is
diagnosed with breast cancer,
it affects you too.
Breast cancer is a very personal disease. There are many different variations of breast cancer and women handle the stress of fighting this disease very differently. With that said, those of us on the outside want to help, but may feel helpless.

Family, friends, and colleagues can be a great source of support. Whether that support is emotional or practical (or both), it is important to know that for many women it is difficult to ask for help. Asking open-ended questions like "What can I do for you?" or "How can I help?" or "What do you need?" may leave you with little or no information. Think about what would help you if you were in her shoes and make specific suggestions.

Let's focus on emotional support first. When someone close to you is diagnosed, it affects you too. It is okay to feel your feelings...fear, anger, sadness, etc. You may feel confused...What should I say? What does all of this really mean? What should I do for her?

Here are some tips on providing emotional support:
1. Just be there. She is going through many emotions as well as dealing with the emotions of those around her. She may need you to listen to her, cry with her, laugh with her, or just be there when no words are needed.
2. Let her know that you care about her. 
3. Contact her regularly by phone, text or email. Be cognizant about how she prefers to communicate. For example, talking on the phone may wear her out.
4. Visit her. Don't assume she does or does not want visitors...ask if you can come over and give her a day and time. Do not visit with children unless you ask first and never visit if you are sick.
5. If you are available, be available for her. Ask if she would like you to go with her to medical appointments or to chemotherapy. It is crucial to have a second set of ears at appointments and you can help her pass the time during her chemo sessions.

What other ways can you provide emotional support for a friend diagnosed with breast cancer?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Irony of the Shutdown

While we have certain groups who claim to run our country while they actually have to take a "time-out" because they cannot play nice in the sand box, we have people who think beyond themselves right here in our community who are facilitating a program to women FREE screening mammograms during the month of October for those who qualify. Call Michelle's Place. Don't wait for the those who cannot figure out how to work not put your life in their hands. Please spread the word to those without insurance.
Hmmm...I bet those involved in the shutdown have insurance.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Your Breast Cancer Awareness

I haven't written in a while and sometimes I wonder, am I too close to Michelle's Place Breast Cancer Resource Center to be writing this blog? Not too close to the day-to-day operations but too close to the reason we were started. I will write another day on why it is okay for the people close to the patient to feel these feelings that we don't feel comfortable admitting (unfairness, anger, etc.) because I was that person. But today, I want to talk about why you should donate your hard-earned dollars to Michelle's Place as you sit and try to find focus through October-induced pink fog.

Our Executive Director, Kim Goodnough, gave a poignant speech, at our 12th Annual Celebration of Life Golf Tournament, this past Friday. Kim took a moment after all of the raffle tickets were purchased and there were no more chances for the participants to spend money. She was strictly taking the opportunity to share tough information with a group of people supporting our organization. I am going to do my best to reiterate what Kim shared (and I will probably add to it because I just can't help myself). We lost 4 clients this week. We are not here to save lives. We are here to bring comfort to women fighting the battle for their lives. We will not find the cure for cancer. We are helping the women who live in your neighborhood and are raising children while going through breast cancer treatment. Your sisters, your friends, your aunts, your mothers, your daughters, your co-workers. One of the four we lost this week was Candy Guitterez. Candy was one of our Self Help Group Facilitators and she leaves behind a family and her youngest is six years old. This is what we do. Bring comfort, support, whatever we can to help these women get through their days in the best way possible. And we educate women on getting mammograms, ultrasounds, diagnostics so they catch breast cancer early and don't have to get to where Candy and others have been. It is not pretty, pink-filled days that the marketers make it look like. Women walk into our office scared and we give them understanding, hugs, love and information. Services and support come next. No woman should have to go this alone.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October, Pink Ribbons, Hope. It has a place. We celebrate too. There is plenty to celebrate. But when faced with a choice on where to spend your dollars, we hope you consider where the funds are invested. Michelle's Place invests in our community. Helping women and their families right here in Temecula Valley. If you choose to support us, you can make a one-time donation online or choose to be part of our Wings of Hope program where you can choose to donate monthly automatically as low as $10.

Every dollar counts. Make yours count. Thank you.
Amy Watson

Monday, May 20, 2013

Angelina's Gift

What a week it has been in the world of breast cancer. Hollywood star and activist, Angelina Jolie, announced she had taken action and undergone a preventative/prophylactic double mastectomy because she had tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation. There is so much to consider in that one announcement.

First, thank you, Angelina. Thank you, for bringing the hereditary side of breast cancer to the forefront. While much of the media attention may be focusing on Angelina's decision to be proactive, I feel that there has not been enough attention given to the fact that her condition is 1 in 10, the 10%. In fact, many medical experts have focused on the fact that Angelina's condition is "rare." Seriously, are you trying to make us feel better? Let's talk about rare. Each year in the US, 300,000 women are diagnosed breast cancer and 22,000 will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer (and more than 14,000 will die of ovarian cancer because by the time a woman feels symptoms, it is usually to late to treat her cancer). So I am thinking 10%, one in 10, of these women diagnosed each year would probably like the chance to know well ahead of time that they have the potential, the GENE mutation, for breast and ovarian cancer. Then they may have the chance to head off cancer at the pass. Just a hunch.

So here is the gift that Angelina gave us. She raised awareness. Yes, she raised awareness of breast cancer, hereditary breast cancer, BRCA, etc. But I am talking about something bigger...she raised awareness that one company, Myriad Genetics, owns the patent to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Myriad's BRACAnalysis is the only test available to women to determine their risk of hereditary breast or ovarian cancer. The test looks for defects in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. Testing for the two genes costs approximately $3,340. Definitely not a price point for the common (wo)man. The good news is that there is a case underway in the Supreme Court to determine if companies can patent the process of taking a gene out of the human body for research. Arguments started in April and a decision is expected later this year. My opinion, and this is Amy's opinion and no one else's, is that this patenting of human genes has not only created a monopolistic situation but is stunting the growth and innovation in this area of testing. Who's to say that another company with access to this testing method could not improve it - make it better, faster, cheaper? Additionally, competition would bring the price down making this testing available to more women which would in turn save more lives. Not to mention the money saved in treatment that will have to occur down the road for these women that could have been tested and taken preventative action.

All because Angelina took action and was not afraid to share...
Until next time,

Friday, May 3, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

Mother's Day is a special day where we honor our mothers and celebrate all that they are and do for us. The joys of motherhood are many but imagine being a mom with cancer and feeling the pressure of possibly having your Mother's Days numbered. Or the guilt of not being able to do everything you once could for your family. Or maybe just not feeling well because of treatment. These additional emotions and stresses do not make for a Happy Mother's Day.

This Mother's Day focus on the time you do have with your family and make memories that you all will cherish. Try to relax and smile. Know that your children love you to the moon and back, no matter what. Here are some fun, easy on you, activities that you can do together and will create lasting memories.

Handprint and footprints are beautiful especially when you put yours and your child's together.

  1. Hand-in-Hand: Outline your hand on a piece of paper in your favorite color. Then outline your child's hand in their favorite color. On each of your hand outline fingers, write things your child loves about you. On each finger of your child's hand outline, write something you love about your child. Be sure to put the date and even include a photo of the two of you. Frame it and you have a keepsake.
  2. At any craft store, you can usually find a Garden Stone kit. Put your hand/footprint alongside your child's and decorate. Put your favorite word(s) and the date. 
  3. If you have a favorite animal, search for hand or footprint art that you can make together. Click here for some great ideas.
These are just a few ideas...what other ideas do you have?
Happy Mother's Day! Enjoy the moments.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Doc Says my Breasts are Dense, Now What?

Dense breasts.  40-50% of all women have dense breasts and the denser the breast, the more difficult it is to find the abnormalities in a mammogram. Breast density is not something you can when you have fibrocystic breasts (I once had a doctor explain this as feeling like grapes in a ziploc bag). This is not the same. Breast density is a condition you can only see on the mammogram.

So what's the issue? Dense breast tissue shows up white on a mammogram. Guess what else shows up white? Calcifications. Cancer. Even benign tumors. Needless to say, the mammogram is difficult to decipher and less accurate when there is dense breast tissue.

As of April 1, 2013, Senate Bill 1538 went into effect and now the law requires doctors to inform women who have dense breasts that the mammogram may not be sufficient. The law is simply ensuring that women are made aware of their breast density.

How does the medical community measure breast density? There is no standard.

L-R: Wayne Watson, Dr. James Maxwell, Dr. Amy Bremner,
Carole Conrad
So you have dense what? Well, screening mammograms miss 20-30% of cancer and the majority of those missed are women with dense breasts. Mammograms are still considered the best screening test even if you have dense breasts. However, now that you will be made aware of your breast density, you can work with your doctor to determine if additional screenings are needed. MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is the next step. Why not an ultrasound? Ultrasounds are best for investigative work once a problematic area is discovered by a screening tool, like a mammogram or a MRI.

Self Breast Exams are still one of the best tools and you know your body better than anyone. Check your breasts monthly. Get your annual screenings. Most of all, get educated and be your own health advocate.

Michelle's Place Breast Cancer Resource Center would like to thank Dr. Amy Bremner and Dr. James Maxwell for their informative, candid presentation on Breast Density.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Farewell October

Happy Halloween! Even though it is October 31st, please do not let this be the last day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month...breast cancer awareness is a year round activity! Take what you have learned and continue to share with those around you.

What can you do? Well, we received support from young and old this month. Soccer players sold pink socks, football players sold pink items, elementary school children collected coins. Children can participate all year kids have a charity bank at home and put part of their allowance in there each week.

It doesn't end there. Have you considered the children who's moms are going through treatment and their families are struggling financially? We have and our Pink Ribbon Assistance program provides financial support and at holiday time, we provide a Christmas party complete with the man in red and presents for kids. In August, we have a Party in the Park and provide the kids with backpacks full of school supplies to take that burden off of the parents.

We cannot thank our community enough for their involvement. Something as simple but as profound as our Go Pink! program really makes a statement as you drive through town. Local business sell our pink ribbons for $1 and display them. All proceeds go to us, Michelle's Place Breast Cancer Resource Center, and the displays are beautiful and such a vision of support!

So much more went on this month and appreciate each and every action that everyone took to promote awareness this month because out of it came education. We were able to provide more than 80 free screening mammograms and we provided support to over 100 women diagnosed with breast cancer this month. That is what we are all about. Helping women get what they need and educating the community.

And I will close with a message from our Executive Director, Kim Goodnough: