Posts Tagged ‘breast cancer’

Survivor Story: Debbie Church’s Battle with Breast Cancer

Debbie Church

Debbie Church is Coordinator of the Cancer Survivors’ Network and Patient Navigator at Saint Joseph’s Hospital and a 5-year breast cancer survivor. Debbie has shared her story through the journey of survivorship below. We’re lucky to have Debbie and Saint Joseph’s Hospital as part of the Emory Healthcare family and we thank her for sharing her story. We hope our readers and community members are as inspired by her story as we are!

“Dick and I fell in love over 32 years ago and have never quite gotten over it! We have had some interesting moments, but we have made it through each challenge. Love always finds a way. Unexpectedly, our lives changed in an instant when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December of 2008. We knew life would never be the same. Life is like that box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.”

Read more of Debbie’s story on the Saint Joseph’s Hospital blog >>

About Debbie Church, BA
Debbie Church, BA in Psychology and History, Salem College, and a M.Div. from Southeastern Seminary Wake Forest and a Certified Cancer Services Navigator has worked in oncology for over 20 years. She is currently employed at St. Joseph’s Hospital of Atlanta as Coordinator of the Cancer Survivors’ Network and Patient Navigator. She has worked also as Director of Support Services and Chaplain at Northwest Georgia Oncology Centers, Atlanta Medical Center and various hospitals in the Southeast. She has spoken at many cancer events including GASCO Conferences here in Atlanta and other hospice and oncology centers in the southeast. She was a contributing author for Thomas Nelson’s Women’s Study Bible as well as publishing a book in 2010 with her husband, Don’t’ Ever Look Down; Surviving Cancer Together.

Chronic Pain Lingers For Some Postoperative Breast Cancer Patients

Chronic Neuropathic Pain Postoperative Breast Cancer

Different surgical procedures come with varying levels of risk for post-surgical pain during the healing process. Regardless of the surgery type, postoperative pain is not uncommon. For women who undergo surgery to treat breast cancer, however, postoperative pain and/or numbness can greatly affect a patient’s quality of life. This pain, which can be encountered after a mastectomy, is characterized by a constant, achy, stinging, burning sensation around the surgical area near the chest or underarms.

 Before having surgery to remove cancerous breast tumors, women typically undergo what’s called a sentinel lymph node biopsy. Sentinel lymph nodes, as described by the National Cancer Institute are, “the first lymph node(s) to which cancer cells are most likely to spread from a primary tumor.” Chronic underarm pain after surgery (as opposed to chest pain) is more common among women who have had their lymph nodes removed rather than a sentinel lymph node biopsy alone.

Often, chronic pain among breast cancer patients is related to nerve damage that occurs via surgical and/or radiation treatment. Although the painful side effects from surgery typically subside in 3 months for most women, some women experience pain for months or even years after treatment.

To ease the recovery process after surgery, physicians often treat patients with postoperative pain with a multi-modal approach including physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, neuropathic pain medications, and sometimes narcotics. Alternative techniques such as massage and acupuncture can also help reduce pain and tenderness for some patients.

Interventional Pain Physicians can also help to reduce this pain via injections, including thoracic epidurals and intercostal nerve blocks. Both of these involve placing local anesthetic and steroid around the nerves, which stabilizes cell membranes and decreases inflammation and swelling. Doing so helps to decrease ectopic neural discharge and thus provide pain relief.

About Josephine Clingan MD, Physician Pain Specialists at Saint Joseph’s Hospital:
After attending MCG Medical School, Dr. Clingan completed  both her residency in Anesthesiology, and her fellowship in Interventional Pain Management at St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.
She joined Physician Pain Specialists, at Saint Joseph’s Hospital, in 2011 and loves her patients!

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We Are Winship – Survive and Thrive

Shawn Ware felt a small lump in her breast while in the shower on January 2nd, 2009, and on that day, the journey on the fight against breast cancer began for Shawn, her husband Albert, daughter Demitria, son Jalen, and mother Eva Freeman. As part of her treatment plan, Shawn underwent a lumpectomy and additional treatment with radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Shawn Ware, breast cancer survivor

Shawn Ware

“You know those side effects that you see in fine print? I had all those and more,” she says, somehow able to laugh about them now. “I didn’t know that your eyelashes act as windshield wipers, and when I lost mine, I had to wear glasses just to keep things from getting in my eyes.”

Shawn triumphed. “I was ready to conquer the world after my last round of radiation,” she says. And three years later, she is considered a survivor and a reason for celebration.

“Cancer, it stinks,” says Shawn, the general manager of Blomeyer Health Fitness Center at Emory. “But you do change. You certainly learn to appreciate the good and not let the little things bother you any more.”

Like millions of other Americans, Shawn is part of a growing trend—more people than ever are surviving cancer. In just six years, the number of cancer survivors has jumped by almost 20 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute—11.7 million in 2007, up from 9.8 million in 2001, the most recent years available.

The good news comes with some challenges, however. As cancer treatment has become more successful, survivors —and their caregivers and providers—have learned that there is a cost to surviving.

“Long-term survivorship starts on the day treatment ends,” says nurse practitioner Joan Giblin, the director of Winship’s new Survivorship Program. “You’re actively doing something during treatment, but when treatment ends, many patients tell us they feel like they have been set adrift without a clear course. Our survivorship program is trying to bridge that gap and provide survivors with tools for these difficult times.”

Giblin says that some survivors respond by isolating themselves. Still others “jump right back into their old lives or try to adjust to a new life by adapting to any after-effects they may still be experiencing.”

Survivors of all types of cancer can face myriad physical issues. Treatment itself can be so hard on the body that survivors sometimes suffer chronic pain, heart problems, depression, sexual dysfunction, and a mental fogginess dubbed “chemo brain.” They also are at heightened risk for recurrence and secondary cancers.

Physical problems arise within individual cancer groups. For example, head and neck cancer patients often have trouble swallowing and lose their sense of taste. Breast cancer patients must deal with the changes that come as a result of a lumpectomy or mastectomy and reconstruction.

In addition, family and relationship problems may arise as all in a survivor’s relationship network struggle to adjust to cancer and life after cancer.  Emotional challenges abound, from sadness, fear, and anger to serious depression. Fatigue is common.

Winship Cancer Institute is helping survivors deal not only with the late physical effects of cancer but also with the psychological and social issues that are part of surviving.

“We are now defining a ‘new normal’ for these patients,” says Giblin. “There can be long-term after-effects when treated for cancer, and we are finding ways to improve their quality of life while providing guidance on strategies for dealing with these after-effects.”

The Winship Survivorship Program officially started in November, 2011. Already more than 10 Winship survivorship “clinics” are being offered, focusing on survivors of 10 different cancer categories. The program holds workshops on such vital topics as nutrition, preventing lymphedema, how to talk to children about cancer, spirituality and pet therapy. Workshops have been held on sexuality and also on fatigue. In May, Winship announced its collaboration with the YMCA of Metro Atlanta for a special exercise program for cancer survivors. A unique collaboration, Winship at the Y was Giblin’s brainchild. She is at the hub of a very extensive interdisciplinary wheel that involves specialists from a wide range of treatment areas, including nutrition, pain management, and psychiatry to help survivors thrive.

“We have to change how we look at cancer patients,” Giblin says. “Many cancers are not curable in a conventional sense, but the improvement in the quality and quantity of life needs to be our priority. Much as we view diabetes as a chronic condition, we must look at many cancers in the same way.”

Head and neck cancer survivor Barry Elson, 70, had difficulty swallowing after his treatment. Barry, who was first diagnosed in 2003, had an esophageal dilation last year to improve his ability to swallow.

“I think in the press of your day-to-day survivorship, you forget to ask what (the treatment) might do to your long-term quality of life,” Barry says.

Shawn found that exercise has not only helped her gain physical strength but also has helped her mental outlook. Shawn was able to exercise throughout most of her treatment, even as ill as she was. Now, her worst worry is fatigue. But that doesn’t slow her down. In her job as fitness manager at Blomeyer, she conducts “boot camp” training sessions and teaches other classes.

Winship is also helping survivors thrive by providing support services to help survivors cope with employment and insurance issues that arise as a result of their cancer.

“After treatment,” Giblin says, “patients tend to not be able to work as long, and they don’t have the stamina they used to have.” In addition, there can be stigma in the workplace against a cancer survivor, which in times of layoffs, can result in their loss of employment and consequently, loss of benefits.

“It’s the people who can’t afford to lose their jobs who do,” she says.

And even in cases where survivors keep their insurance benefits, they might find a lack of integrated care as they celebrate more birthdays.

Paper records are lost through the years, hospitals and oncology offices change and primary care physicians—who don’t have experience in oncology —aren’t prepared or educated to provide the ongoing care cancer survivors need.

Barry says he fared well—a result, in part, of diligent Winship physicians Amy Chen and Dong Moon Shin, and the nursing staff—including Giblin.

Despite the side effects she faced during treatment, Shawn says she has grown from her cancer experience.

It makes her a stronger survivor, she says, and also more hopeful, optimistic, and motivated.
“It’s almost motivated me to do more,” she says. “It really helps me to live day by day. You make every day everlasting.”

Original Article Source: Winship Magazine

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Breast Cancer – Understanding Risk Factors & Preventing Recurrence

Joan Giblin, Winship Cancer Institute

Joan Giblin, Survivorship Program Director, Winship Cancer Institute

Author: Joan Giblin, NP, Director of Survivorship, Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.

Substantial research conducted over the last few decades demonstrates that being overweight at the time of a breast cancer diagnosis may result in less favorable outcomes. This information—coupled with the fact that many women are indeed overweight at the time of their breast cancer diagnosis and additional weight gain during treatment is frequently reported—means that for a woman diagnosed with breast cancer, achieving or maintaining a desirable weight may be one of the most important lifestyle pursuits they can make in the interest of their overall health and wellness.

Much of the research around breast cancer has supported the theory that excess weight at the time of diagnosis can lead to a worse prognosis. Recently, analyses conducted on a group of nonsmoking breast cancer survivors corroborated these findings. According to the study’s findings, women who increased their body mass index (BMI) by 0.5 to 2 units were found to have a 40% greater chance of breast cancer recurrence, and those who gained more than 2 BMI units had a 53% greater chance of recurrence. Data suggests that being overweight or obese adversely influences not only cancer-specific outcomes, but also overall health and quality of life. As a result, weight management is now considered a priority standard of care for overweight women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer.

Research around breast cancer also suggests that the weight gain experienced by women who have undergone chemotherapy or hormone treatments seems to be the result of increased tissue mass, with no change or a decrease in lean body mass. This unfavorable shift in body composition suggests that steps should be taken to not only curb weight gain during treatment, but also to preserve or rebuild muscle mass. Moderate physical activity (especially resistance training) during and after breast cancer treatment may help survivors maintain lean muscle mass while avoiding the accumulation of excess body fat.

Additional research is currently under way to evaluate the effects of dietary patterns on cancer-specific outcomes, as well as overall health. One observational study found that dietary pattern was important for overall survival among breast cancer patients, with those who ate a Western diet having poorer overall survival and those who ate a dietary pattern characterized by high amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains having better survival rates overall. Furthermore, this theory is supported by data on breast cancer survivors participating in the Nurses’ Health Study. Participants were followed for nearly 10 years post-diagnosis, and study findings suggest that those who consume a healthy diet, with higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and lower intakes of added sugar, refined grains, and animal products, may not have had significantly lower rates of recurrence or cancer-specific mortality.

A topic of controversy as it relates to breast cancer risk and prognosis is alcohol consumption. Alcohol is an unusual factor, as it presents both risks and benefits to those with breast cancer. In the general population, clear and consistent evidence links moderate alcohol intake (1-2 drinks per day) with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. For breast cancer survivors, however, the decision to drink alcoholic beverages at moderate levels is complex because they must consider their levels of risk for recurrent or second primary breast cancer as well as cardiovascular disease. See our post on the relationship between alcohol and breast cancer for more information.

It is important to remember that lifestyle, nutrition and physical activity recommendations to reduce the risks of a second primary breast cancer and heart disease are especially important for breast cancer survivors. Diet for those at high risk for breast cancer or with a breast cancer diagnosis should emphasize vegetables and fruits, have low amounts of saturated fats, and include sufficient dietary fiber. Most importantly, breast cancer patients and survivors should strive to achieve and maintain a healthy weight through eating a well-balanced diet and regular exercise. In addition, regular physical activity should be maintained regardless of any weight-related concerns.

Table 1. American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention and Cancer Survivorship.
Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
• If overweight or obese, limit consumption of high-calorie foods and beverages and increase physical activity to promote weight loss. Engage in regular physical activity.
Engage in regular physical activity.
• Avoid inactivity and return to normal daily activities as soon as possible following diagnosis.
• Aim to exercise at least 150 minutes per week.
• Include strength training exercises at least 2 days per week.
Achieve a dietary pattern that is high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
• Follow the American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention.

 

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Take-Aways from Breast Cancer Chat with Heather Pinkerton, BSN

Breast Cancer Awareness MonthWe recently held a live web chat with Heather Pinkerton, RN, BSN, OCN and Nurse Navigator for the Emory Breast Center. During the discussion Heather Pinkerton answered questions about Breast Cancer diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. Below you’ll find heather’s main highlights from the chat discussion.

The American Cancer Society estimated that for 2012, a total of 229,060 new cases of breast cancer would be diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. In honor of October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, participants joined Heather Pinkerton for a live web chat on the topic of breast cancer.

Heather recommended that the general population of women begin screening mammograms at age 40. It should also be noted that if a person has a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, screening mammograms can and should start sooner. Potentially high-risk patients are advised to speak with their personal physician about what age is right for them to begin screening. For those concerned about being a potential high risk patient, The Emory Breast Center at the Winship Cancer Institute has a High Risk Assessment Clinic available. The clinic provides a comprehensive consultation that will include visits with a genetic counselor and breast surgical oncologist. At the end of each consultation, an individual care plan will be provided to each patient including recommendations for regular screenings and follow-up appointments.

Genetic tests are available to identify individual breast and ovarian cancer risk levels. These genetic mutation tests are known as BRCA 1 and BRCA 2. Anyone interested in undergoing these tests should speak with a genetic counselor regarding cost and specifics on coverage.

We also learned from Heather’s discussion in the chat that studies have shown that the relationship between taking birth control pills and developing breast cancer is insufficient to establish a cause-effect link between the two.

If you or someone you know is in need of support through their cancer journey, the Winship Cancer Institute has a several support groups pertaining to breast cancer, monthly at various locations. You can check out the event calendar here.

If you would like more information about breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and support contact 404-778-PINK (7465) or visit the Emory Breast Center at the Winship Cancer Institute.

You may also review the web chat transcript here with Heather Pinkerton, RN, BSN, OCN.

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Breast Cancer Awareness Month Events in Atlanta

Breast Cancer Awareness MonthThe American Cancer Society estimates that a total of 229,060 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in both men and women in 2012. In honor of October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Emory Healthcare and the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University have partnered with organizations across Atlanta to host events and help raise awareness around breast cancer throughout the month. A detailed listing of events is below:

Be the Boss of You Breast Cancer Trail Ride 
Description: Breast Cancer Research Fundraiser
Date: Saturday, October 6, 2012
Details: Registration opens at 8 AM; Ride begins at 10 AM

Winship Win the Fight 5K
Description: 5K Walk/Run and Tot Trot
Date: Saturday, October 13, 2012
Details: Warm-up- 8:10 AM, Race begins- 8:30 AM, Tot Trot- 9:30 AM
Registration: General online registration www.winship5k.kintera.org. Make sure to join the Emory Breast Center’s team, “The Hooter Helpers.”

Breast Cancer Web Chat
Description: Join Heather Pinkerton, RN, BSN, OCN and Nurse Navigator for the Emory Breast Centers, as she hosts a live web chat on Breast Cancer.
Date: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Details: 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
Registration: To register, please visit www.emoryhealthcare.org/mdchats.

Winship at the Y
Description: Join members of the Winship Cancer Institute Breast Team along with representatives from the American Cancer  Society and Metro Atlanta YMCA to discuss the latest in screening, diagnosis, treatment and  prevention of Breast Cancer.
Date: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Details: 9-11 a.m., Summit Family YMCA, Newnan, GA;  1 – 3 p.m., Carl Saunders Family YMCA, Atlanta, GA; 5-7 p.m., Ed Isakson Family YMCA, Alpharetta, GA.
Registration: Not required

National Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day
Description: Research shows that 7 out of 10 women are not aware of their breast reconstruction options following mastectomy. Do you know your options? Ask your health care provider about reconstruction today!
Date: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Details: 9-11 a.m., Summit Family YMCA, Newnan, GA;  1 – 3 p.m., Carl Saunders Family YMCA, Atlanta, GA; 5-7 p.m., Ed Isakson Family YMCA, Alpharetta, GA.
Registration: Not required

National Mammography Day
Description: The third Friday in October each year is National Mam-mography Day, first proclaimed by President Clinton in 1993. On this day, and throughout the month, women are encouraged to make a mammography appointment. In celebration light refreshment tables will be set up at both the Clifton and Midtown Breast Imaging Center Lobbies.
Date: Friday, October 19.2012
Registration: To schedule an appointment, call (404) 778-PINK (7465).

Ready, Set, Pink!
Description: Join Bloomingdales and representatives from Winship Cancer Institute for a fall fashion presentation and complimentary skincare consultations by Lancôme. 10% of all purchases go to Winship and the fight against breast cancer.
Date: Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Details: 11:00 a.m. at Bloomingdales at Lenox Square, Level 2, The New View
Registration: RSVP by October 18 by calling 404-778-1769 or emailing winshipevents@emory.edu

Clinical Breast Exams (for Emory Employees only)
Description:  Free Clinical Breast Exams for Emory Employees.
Date: Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Location: 2nd Floor East Clinic
Start Time: 4:30 PM – 6:30 PM
Registration: To register for the event, call (404) 778-PINK (7465)

Extended & Weekend Hours
Description:  The Emory Breast Center is offering extended and weekend hours for women needing a screening mammogram.
Dates & Details: - Extended Hours: Tuesday, October 23 – Thursday, October 25; 7:30 AM to 7:00 PM at the Emory Breast Center on Clifton Campus.
Saturday Hours: October 27; 8:00 AM- 3:00 PM at Emory University Hospital Midtown
Registration: To schedule an appointment, call (404) 778-PINK (7465). Standard rates apply.

Get All Your Breast Cancer Questions Answered Live & Online!

Breast Cancer Online ChatThe American Cancer Society estimates that in 2012, a total of 229,060 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in both men and women. In honor of October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month and to help our community get their questions answered, we are hosting an online chat on the topic of breast cancer.

Join Heather Pinkerton, RN, BSN, OCN and Nurse Navigator for the Emory Breast Center, on Tuesday, October 16, 2012 to get all of your questions on breast cancer—ranging from diagnosis, to treatment, to survivorship—answered.

Date: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Time: 12 noon – 1:00 pm EST
Chat Leader: Heather Pinkerton, RN, BSN, OCN and Nurse Navigator for the Emory Breast Center
Chat Topic: Breast Cancer Diagnosis

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Understanding Nutrition’s Role in Fighting Cancer

Nutrition's Role in Fighting CancerMaintaining a healthy diet is important, especially during cancer treatment. Your body is stressed– both from the treatment and cancer itself. It’s imperative to make sure that you’re getting the proper nutrition, vitamins, and minerals you need to stay strong and fight infections.

According to the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Nutrition Guidelines, it’s best to eat a diet consisting of plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, and foods low in fat.

Omer Kucuk, MD and Professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University says, “there are bioactive compounds in foods, particularly in fruits and vegetables. These bioactive compounds have potent anti-cancer activities; for example, broccoli contains indole 3 carbinol, which has been shown to have anti-cancer affects, especially in prostate cancer and breast cancer.”

While certain foods have been show to help prevent cancer, evidence also shows that specific food compounds, such as soy isoflavones and curcumin, can increase the effectiveness of cancer treatment.

“We have found that soy isoflavones enhanced the efficacy of cancer treatment, specifically the efficacy of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In addition to that, soy isoflavones may also prevent the side effects of these two cancer treatments,” reports Dr. Kucuk. Soy isoflavones are plant-derived compounds with estrogen-like activity that may help protect against hormone-dependent cancers according to ACS. Get more information on soy isoflavones and how proper nutrition can help during cancer treatments.

More in-depth studies are currently underway to find which bioactive compounds in foods aid in cancer treatment and reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. The American Cancer Society reports “that a higher intake of vegetables may have a helpful effect on recurrence or survival for breast, prostate, and ovarian cancers, but this is not definite.”

Still, ACS recommends that cancer survivors get at least five servings of colorful fruits and vegetables each day due to the overall benefit they provide. All cancer and cancer treatments affect the body differently. An individualized nutrition plan based on your likes and dislikes, and what your stomach can handle, is going to be beneficial during your treatment journey. A registered dietitian can help you and your family answer questions and address concerns about managing your diet, weight, treatment side effects, and supplement information.

If you’re looking for specific tips, ideas, and ways to incorporate cancer fighting foods into your diet, check out the transcript from our online live chat on Nutrition’s Role in Fighting Cancer. Also, check out Emory Healthcare’s recipe page for some easy, tasty and healthy dishes!

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A few Healthy Resolutions to Consider Before the New Year

Your Health Resolutions in the New YearRecent news that even a small bit of alcohol consumption increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer got me thinking. The authors of the study, published in early November in the Journal of the American Medical Association, talked in news media interviews about the fact that many respondents might actually have under-reported their alcohol consumption. They went on to say that it is very important to accurately report your lifestyle habits when your doctor asks.

So here’s what got me thinking. A few years back, I had a breast cancer scare. Perhaps the fear made me especially conscientious about reporting any bad habits – you know, fear being a powerful motivator and all.

When the nurse asked me about whether I smoked, I was able to honestly answer a resounding “NO!” When she asked whether I exercised, I was able to report honestly that I exercise at least five days a week. Then, when she asked whether I drank and how much, that one had me a little nervous.

I don’t know what it was – stress, too much travel associated with my job or just the plain seductive powers of alcohol and my own enjoyment of it – but I was a bit concerned about my alcohol consumption. During that time of my life, I was drinking probably seven to 10 drinks a week, way more than I ever did in the past. I had been a little worried, but, wow, with the thought of a 3 cm mass in my breast, I was really concerned. Time to ‘fess up and come out with the truth, which I did at that time and planned to continue to do when I later sought a second opinion.

It was a few months later when I sought that opinion. To prepare for my visit, I asked for records from the hospital at which I had previously sought treatment (I did not have breast cancer, but still had many questions about the mass). I got the records, checked them out, and there on the exam notes, it said that “patient reports having 10 shots of alcohol a day.” Holy moley! I almost fell off my chair.

In my first visit, I had disclosed to my nurse that I was consuming between 7-10 drinks per week. I was shocked to see such a glaring error when that number was erroneously reported as 7-10 drinks per day! The word “shot” also really got to me!

Images of me stumbling up to a bar, saying “hit me again, sister” came to mind. Ten shots a day? I wouldn’t have been able to work, drive or even eat, it seemed to me.

The incident brought home a few things to me. First, how important it is to be transparent with your medical team and to make sure you are aware of the content of your medical records. In hindsight, if I had seen my records earlier, I would have been able to correct the misreporting of my information. Furthermore, if the information they thought I disclosed about my drinking was alarming, I wish we would have discussed it. If this step had been taken, it would have clarified the errors in my records and also, would have made me feel more comfortable as a patient knowing my care team was on top of it and truly cared about me.

So when this recent news story came out about a slightly elevated risk of breast cancer existing in women who drink even moderately, I realized a few things. First, I need to take ownership of my health, including all my lifestyle issues and behaviors that can affect my risk of getting cancer.  That means not smoking, getting regular exercise, little to no drinking, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, avoiding excessive sun exposure and maintaining a healthy body weight.

It also means enlisting the aid of my healthcare providers and asking them for help in my problem areas. And it means absolute transparency is required when I report my lifestyle habits – as is making sure my habits are recorded accurately! This has changed the way I think about who plays a role in my care. Through this experience I have realized that I must take part in and own my healthcare and partner with providers I trust are willing to help fill in any gaps I may leave behind.

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6 Cancer-Related Considerations Before You Make Alcohol Part of Your Holiday Celebration

Drinking during holidaysMost of us have heard that moderate drinking – a glass of wine a day – can be beneficial in preventing heart disease.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in early November, however, suggests that even moderate alcohol consumption can increase a woman’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. Alcohol use already has been linked to oropharyngeal cancers, esophageal and, to lesser degree, stomach and colon cancers, so what does this news mean to you as you go into the holidays?

It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t imbibe, but it does mean that you should be aware that alcohol is considered a carcinogen.

Here are six things to think about as you get ready for the parties and the tree-trimming.

  1. The JAMA article reported that women who drank three to six alcoholic beverages a week had a 15% increased risk of breast cancer. Women who consumed two drinks per day had a more than 50% greater risk than women who did not drink.
  2. If you drink to decrease your risk of heart disease, reconsider. There are far better ways to do that, experts suggest, than by having an alcoholic beverage. Regular exercise, weight control, not smoking, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol and healthy eating are all more beneficial. While it may be hard to factor in gym time during the holidays, try to manage at least a brisk walk of 30 minutes each day.
  3. Lifetime consumption of alcohol may be a factor in cancer risk, the authors of the study suggest. Cumulative consumption of alcoholic beverages over a period of years appears to place a woman at higher risk of developing breast cancer. Thus, if you are an older woman – particularly post-menopausal when excess body fat increases the amount of circulating estrogen in the body – think about slowing down the flow of alcohol.
  4. “But I only drink a few drinks once a week,” such as at a party, dinner or girls’ night out, you might think. Doesn’t matter, the experts say, and binge drinking – typically defined as drinking three or more drinks in one setting – may actually be more detrimental than three drinks spread over the course of a week.
  5. Consider the effect on your body of the empty calories of alcohol. A glass of wine is 125 calories; a martini is about 190. To burn off the martini, you would need to walk about 45 minutes or swim about 20.
  6. The study’s authors – as well as many other researchers – note that alcohol consumption is often under-reported. That is, patients do not typically like to tell their doctors how much they drink. Remember that  your physician is there to keep you healthy or to heal you, not judge. Make sure you accurately report your drinking patterns to him or her.