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By Dory Kashin. Above photo by @girlfriendsproject_
Dory and her husband, Justin

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2016 at the age of 29. At the time, I was dating my boyfriend (now husband) for two years and all of a sudden we had some pretty heavy-duty decisions to make as a couple, some of which were topics we didn’t think we would have to address for years to come.

Within weeks of diagnosis, I had to decide if I wanted to follow through with fertility treatment and if I wanted to preserve eggs or embryos. For my whole life, I always knew I wanted to have children. When my friends started having babies, I saw them more (even more so after diagnosis) since babies and kids just made me so happy.

I was told that embryos had a better chance for survival but of course, deciding to preserve embryos essentially meant that we were deciding to have a baby! This was a big decision that we had to make within days. Luckily we were both on the same page and decided to preserve embryos. We already knew that we wanted to be committed to one another so although the topic was a hard one, the decision wasn’t. (Cue the sappy love story music here)

Dory and Justin on their wedding day

Our fertility procedure was a success and we had one embryo preserved. We were told we would still have an 80 percent chance of conceiving on our own but of course we could not even think about babies during my active treatment or while I was on hormone therapy: Tamoxifen, which I would need to be on for 5-10 years, and Zoladex. Thankfully, my oncologist allowed me to go off of the drugs at 18 months, since having a child at 40 was not in my plans.

He did advise that it can be risky and there aren’t many studies around it. That’s where my interest in the Baby Time study (supported by Rethink Breast Cancer), started. Right away I wanted to be involved in this study so young women being diagnosed can be more confident in their decisions surrounding fertility post treatment.

I also knew that by joining the study I would be watched closely by doctors during pregnancy and after everything I’d been through I didn’t mind it. I knew I would be tested regularly specifically for recurrence, and, for those of you who don’t know, after having a double mastectomy there really aren’t any post treatment tests other than “how are you feeling” (unless there is something very troublesome). So I welcomed the idea of extra blood tests, CT scans, bone scans etc.

Dory and Justin at Boobyball 2017

I’m not a doctor and have not done too much research but I knew right away that going off the drugs, trying to have a baby and essentially increasing the hormones in my system puts me at risk for recurrence. I remember lying in bed after everything was done and asking myself, “Would I go through all that again in hopes of having my own child?” and my answer was “yes”. I keep that top of mind whenever I get nervous about childbearing and the risks of my cancer to return. So here we are…

Last week I had my second appointment with the Sunnybrook Baby Time study where I was approved to go off my drugs immediately and wait out the three months for the drugs to leave my system in hopes that we can start trying soon. Once the doctor and nurse left the room, I unexpectedly started to cry. It was hard for me to decipher whether they were tears of joy or fear. Joy being told I can start to try and have a baby, which is such a monumental time in my life BUT then fear of being told to go off the drugs that I was taking every day in the hopes that they are keeping me alive.

The next steps would be the beginning of a three-month “detox” to be sure all the drugs are out of my system. And boy did I look funny checking out at the pharmacist with my prenatal vitamins, Replens (for menopausal symptoms) and condoms. Kinda ironic, no?!

Starting all the tests to check for recurrence before we even start trying, two years after being diagnosed has been terrifying. A lot of “what if’s” are floating through my mind. But as scary as it is, I am thankful for this experience and hope that I can report back with some good news soon!

For more info on the Baby Time (POSITIVE) clinical trial, check out this post.

By Judit Saunders

Metastatic breast cancer (MBC) patients have been the subset of breast cancer patients that have been pushed to the sidelines and often ignored. We’re viewed by many as that dark secret that nobody wants to expose.

MBC is breast cancer that has left the breast and travelled to distant sites, such as the bones, liver, lungs, and brain, just to name a few. Sadly, through the years, men and women, young and old, have heard these words echo through their ears, forever changing the course of their lives. Approximately 20-30% of patients diagnosed with early stage breast cancer and treated with curative intent, go on to later develop a metastatic recurrence. This is in addition to those who are stage IV from the get-go.

Once those words are uttered by your oncologist, you know the disease is no longer curable. This is NOT a chronic disease, but rather a terminal one with less than 25% of women living for five years past their diagnosis. Those with MBC are in a continual cycle of scan, treat, and repeat. Life-extending therapies, including new and innovative drugs that make it to market, are our only hope of reaching milestones such as another birthday or watching a young child start school.

MBC patients across Canada and those who love and support those affected by MBC have decided that enacting change is a must if we want to try and change the landscape of this poorly understood, underfunded, and under-recognized group of patients. More and more Canadians affected by MBC have realized we must tackle issues that are important to the MBC community including drug funding, delays in access to treatments, the lack of system transparency, improving the information given to newly diagnosed MBC patients in cancer centres, and tracking metastatic recurrence.

When an advocacy group is solely comprised of individuals all living with a terminal disease and our health changes at the drop of a dime, making strides to enact change is that much more challenging. Sadly, complications with MBC, progression, and ultimately death are huge barriers to ensuring a steady climb towards change.

Rethink Breast Cancer listened to and understood our needs. So collectively we decided the best step to ensure we move ahead, both strategically and realistically, meant collaborating with an organization with the resources to make a far greater reach in ensuring implementation of real change occurs.

We wanted this subset of patients to finally be heard. And we wanted to enact change in our lifetime.

I am so excited by the creation of Rethink Breast Cancer’s first-of-its-kind Metastatic Breast Cancer Advisory Board.  It will bring together brilliant minds of all ages from across Canada with not only MBC patients but allies who have deep personal connections in wanting to see change in the MBC landscape. We are excited to collaborate on the needs of this unique population and ensure our voices are heard at local level provincial and national levels.

We may be a population that was dealt some of the most life-shattering news one could imagine. But with our collective passions, skill sets, and drive, I truly feel we are on the cusp of creating a movement that can change lives…lives that may not yet even know will need our help.

This is our reality, and we will do all we can to ensure it’s a reality that is made better for those to come after us, and those who are still living this life today. We can be the change. We WILL be the change. There is no other option. We, the metastatic community, deserve more and we will do all in our power to ensure that our goals are met.

– Judit Saunders

By Aya McMillan

Several years ago, I watched a TV news segment on dogs’ exceptional sense of smell. They can identify, as it was reported, a single drop of blood in an Olympic-sized pool. They can catch a whiff of a rotten apple among two million barrels. But what really blew my mind was learning that canines are capable of detecting — by scent alone, remember — cancer in the human body. Even in situ, at stage zero. That’s how sensitive dogs are.

The memory came back to me shortly after I was diagnosed with my own ductal carcinoma last March. To be clear, my dog, a five-year-old Hound-cross named Bunny, did not sniff out my disease. (He is clumsy and slobbery and has a bad habit of getting into the trash.) He did however, identify everything that came afterwards: all the hard stuff like sadness, fear, anger, and anxiety. And every single day since he has sat quietly, humbly in the presence of my pain.

As I’ve written before, breast cancer felt like a bomb that went off on my life. It destroyed every sense of myself and despite my very best attempts, I couldn’t cry it away or eat it away or drink it away or even therapy it away. Facing the end of my 10-year relationship, a nasty and litigious separation, selling and moving out of my beautiful house and the death of a few family members in the short space of a year didn’t help.

Needless to say, I didn’t handle it well. But in the midst of all that agony, and offering him almost nothing in return, my dog would never stop being by side in the hope that time and his presence would offer healing.

Bunny continues to be a balm.

I could share with you countless studies on the benefits of therapy dogs. About how they’ve been found to help people cope with depression, fatigue and stress. Pet owners report higher levels of self-esteem, empathy and energy, as well as a greater sense of belonging and a more meaningful existence than non-pet owners. Simply petting an animal is known to lower blood pressure and relieve anxiety; it’s a scientific fact that they make us healthier and happier.

My dog, of course, doesn’t care about any of this. All he wants is to be fed, to go outside and play. And if we hadn’t I would have drank myself into the ground. With him, I always had someone to walk with, and when everything felt out of control, Bunny brought a sense of order and structure to my life. When I wanted to fall apart, he was my four-legged reason to keep it together. And in the throes of treatment in particular, he let me find peace.

Bunny also didn’t betray me like my body did or people whom you never thought they would. He didn’t try to make sense of things or require more than what I could reasonably offer. And he didn’t try to convince me that it’s always going to be all right or that everything happens for a decent reason. Because that’s the thing about cancer: You don’t need unsolicited advice, you need love.

I am now cancer-free. I’m also now one of those women who lives alone while depending on her dog for long-term companionship and tactile comfort. I regularly foster rescue dogs, too. I snuggle with them while watching Netflix and occasionally spoon with Bunny in my bed. His face is the first thing I see each morning, asleep on the pillow beside me. Until he forces me to get up and out for his morning walk. My dog keeps me moving forward, leading me into the next chapter.

By Aya MacMillan

 

My own questions about what I wanted my work life to look like began shortly after the death of my father.My father passed away in 2011 of prostate cancer. He was a month shy of his 60th birthday. Prior to his death we discovered that he and I were both carriers of the BRCA2 genetic mutation, making me predisposed to the disease as well.

After my dad died, my outlook completely changed. I started to question whether I was making the most out of my life.

In the next few years, after having my own children as well, the questions became more pronounced. What work do I want to do? What impact do I want to have? How do I want to live my life?

It was these questions that led me to change my career and to work with people asking themselves the same questions.

I worked so hard to get where I am professionally. Since my diagnosis I’m not sure I feel the same way as I did before about my career? Is that normal?

It is completely natural to question many aspects of our lives when we’ve experienced a life-changing event. For many of us, when one element of life changes, everything else is affected too. It makes sense that one’s outlook on work may change too.

For some people work may be a haven after their illness. If you find your work engaging, if you can manage the stress of the job, if you have colleagues and a boss that support you, then your work may fit well into the changed dynamics of your life.

However, if your work is really stressful, doesn’t align with your values, is demanding of your time in a way that is challenging for you or if you’ve grown out of your role, you may be questioning if it’s the right place to continue putting your energy.

It’s normal to question how work fits into our ever-evolving priorities and life challenges. We give so much of our energy to our work every day. When faced with a diagnosis or illness the question of where to put your energy takes on a whole new importance. For many, it’s time to revisit how well aligned your work is to your life and to ask what is within your power to change.

How do I know if I need a change?

During major life changes, when so many domains of life are influenced, it’s hard to pinpoint which parts need the most tweaking.

I would say if your work used to fill you with energy and interest and now you feel like you’re dragging your butt there nearly every day, it’s time to ask where you can make some changes. If most (let’s face it we can’t love every aspect of our job) of the activities are draining your energies rather than energizing you, it’s time to consider what you want to do about it.

The answer to this question is not always “quit and find a new job”. Start with where you are. What do you have the ability to transform right away that could influence everything else for the better?

Could you work part-time? Work from home? Work on a remote special project? Work with a new team? Could you reframe your perspective so that your outlook is broader?

Before ultimately deciding if you need to leave your job or change careers it’s worth seeing what you could change from within your position first. Once you’ve tried tweaking things from within you can make your decision to stay or go with more confidence.

Do I need to leave my job or find a way to make it better?

It depends. My first instinct is to explore the question of if you can make it better. If you’ve tried and asked for support and it’s still not working, then it’s time to start exploring external options.

Exploring external options can range from finding a similar role in a different company or capacity or it could be a full career change. Knowing what’s possible includes a deep dive on your skills, interests and strengths but also a deep understanding of how much income you need to earn.

Let’s not forget the gravity problem of finances. For most of us it’s not easy to leave a well-paying job with benefits to explore the unknown. If you are considering leaving your job, the first step I suggest is creating a household budget so you know exactly how much income you need to generate. Once you’ve built your household budget and know how much money you need to earn you’ll have more clarity on the level of risk you can take in the change.

What if I don’t want to do the same job anymore but instead want to change careers?

If you’ve decided that it’s that actual work that doesn’t fit with you anymore rather than the company or the industry, it takes an investment of your time and energy to figure out what would make you happy.

Try to take on a curious, learning attitude and view it as a fun project. Seek out as many resources as you can to figure out what would be a better fit. There are so many books on the topic of career change as well as great coaches who can help you.

Create a self- inventory. Get to know your strengths, values, interests and lifestyle preferences so that you can see if a field or profession aligns well with them.

Collaborate with others to generate a list of potential career avenue that may be of interest to you.

Get out and talk to people. You’re likely not going to find answers by spending hours searching online. Find out about careers you’re interested in by speaking with people who are in that profession. Ask them what they love and don’t love about their job, about how people get into the field, about what skill sets employers in that field are seeking.

Read more career stories here!

 


Lauren Malach is a career coach. As a former executive recruiter, Lauren got really good at answering the strategic and tactical questions– how to interview well, how to craft your resume, how to source potential opportunities. And while that still interests her, what interests her, even more, is how to help clients live better lives. She believes we spend most of our lives at work, and if we can improve our outlook on our work, we may increase our overall life satisfaction.

Now her clients are individuals who want to create more fulfillment, engagement or clarity in their career path. She also works with proactive leaders who want to influence their teams with intention.

Email: info@laurenmalachcoaching.com
Website: https://www.laurenmalachcoaching.com/

The natural beauty landscape is bigger and better than ever, it’s also more complicated with new brands cropping up faster than you can say clean beauty. So, we went straight to one of our favourite beauty collaborators for her best skin picks. And if there’s one thing Sheri Stroh is known for, it’s how to give good glow using natural beauty products. She’s also a young woman who underwent treatment for breast cancer. Whether it’s on her clients as a makeup artist or on her own skin, here are her fave natural skincare products for giving skin a boost.


When I went through (chemo) treatment, I definitely had dullness, which was very strange to me as I usually don’t deal with that. I was very kind to my skin and moisturized like crazy (and exfoliated) and all was well. I was lucky and have pretty thick and resilient skin, but those with sensitive skin will have to take it easy to see what works for them.

I like using more natural or cleaner beauty skincare because it usually involves supporting small, indie businesses that really put their heart and soul into their products (and a lot of brands are run by some really kick-ass women!). They care about what goes into their lines and where the ingredients come from and how they are grown and harvested (and by who) and really try to take the planet into consideration with regards to formulating and packaging. Because of these formulas and their practices I am much more gentle with my skin now and it’s so much better for it.

Here are my picks:

1. CV Skinlabs 

What: CV Skinlabs is a natural, organic collection of clinically proven formulas for eczema, dermatitis and sensitive skin.

Sheri Says: “A favourite line of mine for every day and when going through cancer treatment. There are only four wonderful products that were developed to treat sensitive and reactive skin and skin going through chemo specifically. They work wonders on irritated and sensitive skin conditions while being very gentle and healing.

Try: The Calming Moisture, Restorative Skin Balm, Rescue Relief Spray and Body Repair Lotion.

Clemintinefields.ca

 

2. Zyderma 

What: Zyderma Anti Microbial Clarifying Cream is a skincare treatment that offers antimicrobial protection to preserve the skin’s microflora (a protective layer of microorganisms that are essential to maintaining healthy skin).

Sheri Says:  I use this all of the time and wish I had it during my time in treatment. The cream contains MicroSilver, which is a unique and innovative ingredient that has many applications within the medical community. This is a wonderful product that helps to improve compromised skin.

Zyderma.com

 

3. Fitglow Beauty

  

What: Fitglow Beauty is a plant-based, organic and cruelty-free line of products that aim to transform skin with evidence-based formulas.

Sheri Says: Perfect for the moisture-starved and irritated skin. The Redness Rescue Cream is a slightly green-tinted lotion that evens out and calms redness with beneficial and clinically proven ingredients.

Try: Cloud Comfort Cream, Redness Rescue Cream, Boost Serum.

fitglow.ca

 

4. Province Apothecary 

What: Province Apothecary was born in a Canadian kitchen and has since expanded to a full line of organic skincare and beyond. Their new Daily Glow Dry Facial Brush stimulates and detoxifies skin for a renewed complexion.

Sheri Says: A lot of companies don’t address the lymphatic system and most cancer patients can tell you how important it is, especially when you have had lymph nodes removed. This is awesome for moving stagnant lymph fluid around and draining it from your face and neck to promote skin wellness.

provinceapothecary.ca


Sheri Stroh is a Toronto-based celebrity and editorial makeup artist and natural beauty buff. Her specialty? Glowing skin, naturally. Follow her work @sheristroh on Instagram.

BRCA1

From the moment I was diagnosed with breast cancer my biggest question was, why? Not necessarily “Why me?” or “Why now?” Sure, I wondered those things. But I needed to know why… medically. Why had my body developed cancer, when exactly a year ago there wasn’t a trace or lump to be found. I needed a medical reason and I informed my oncologist very early on that I wanted to receive genetic testing. This was something he brought up as an option as well. I think young cancer patients are somewhat of an anomaly in the medical world. They want to study us and understand how we develop cancer at half the age of most people.

The Process

I met with my geneticist after my first mastectomy/reconstruction and seven chemotherapy “treatments.” What made the appointment most daunting was the plethora of questions they asked about my background. Luckily, both of my parents were there to fill in any gaps.

In the meeting, the geneticist outlined the possible results of testing. Option one: BRCA1. Option two: BRCA2. Option three: needs further testing. There was a fourth option, I just can’t recall what it was.

To their credit, the geneticists spoke about this complicated topic quite simply. They presented the information in non-medical terms when possible and used diagrams to make their point. I remember one diagram specifically. It represented the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. It showed circles on a page starting with a white circle on the left, then light blue, then darker blue. Gradually each circle became deeper blue until the last circle, which was dark blue. The white circle represents a non-cancer cell and the darker the blue gets, the more the cell becomes cancerous. The dark blue circle at the end represents cancer. They believe that people without a gene mutation are born with all white cells. It takes them approximately 60 years to reach dark blue, or cancer. Those born with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation are born light blue, somewhere in the middle. Half baked, if you will.

I found this fascinating.

The genetic testing process itself is shockingly simple considering the possible seriousness of the results. A blood test is all it takes. That and a team of genetic geniuses who print out your DNA and look for what they described as spelling mistakes. These mistakes are the cause.

BRCA1 stood out in my mind. Each option had its negative points, but to me, BRCA1 seemed particularly shitty. The recurrence of breast cancer was high, and the possibility of getting ovarian cancer was extremely high. I won’t get into numbers because I’ve seen different percentages reported. Just know that the chance of getting ovarian cancer before I turned 35 was well over 50%. I had just turned 29. Even as I sat in that first meeting I knew – If the results came back as BRCA1, I would get a hysterectomy sooner than later.

I tried not to let my mind wander. I had my blood test immediately after the meeting. I said a little prayer, I went home and I waited…

And waited… And waited… months went by…

The Results

I eventually became impatient and contacted the genetics department. It was summertime and many of the staff were on holiday, which was why my results were delayed.

I received an appointment for the fall. I felt that if they were concerned, I would’ve received an appointment sooner. Ironically, that’s exactly how I felt regarding my biopsy results. As we know, that turned out to be cancer. I guess I should’ve known.

I had a bad feeling as I waited with my parents to go into the results appointment. I told them that if I tested positive for BRCA1 or BRCA2, I wanted them to get tested. (You can only receive the gene from a parent.) Second to needing the results for myself, I had to know which one of my parents had the gene so that they could protect themselves against any possibilities of cancer.

We entered the room and took our seats. By this point, I was tired of appointments, heavy conversations and difficult decisions. I was preparing for my second mastectomy/reconstruction, which was my second major surgery in one year. I was in the zone of toughening myself up and getting ready for the pain. Although I don’t think I left that zone for the better part of two years.

The geneticist sat down across from us and said, “The results have come back and you tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation.” I laughed out loud and said, “Of course I did. Of course I am.” The only sound in the room for a few seconds was my dark laughter. The geneticist looked caught off guard and didn’t know how to reply to my outburst. I couldn’t be bothered with trying to make her feel comfortable, which is the exact opposite of how I normally am. My mom teared up beside me and I rubbed my hand against the back of hers. I told her I would be okay. What’s one more surgery, right?

As I said, the decision was simple for me. Saddening, but simple. If I was BRCA1, I would have a complete hysterectomy. The fear of getting ovarian cancer combined with the worry of passing this gene to any child I might have was too much. Of course, they spoke to me about freezing my eggs and the option of testing my embryos for the gene. I thanked them for the information and told them it wouldn’t be necessary. I knew what my next step would be.

The Aftermath

Following the results, I was in a daze. My oncologist and geneticist operate out of the same building. I decided to walk over and share the results with my oncologist. I didn’t have an appointment, but mom encouraged me to pop by anyway. I bumped into him in his waiting room area and he asked me what I was doing there (I wasn’t due for an appointment). I told him I received my genetic results and it wasn’t great news. He told me to check in immediately. I remember telling him that I didn’t have an appointment and I didn’t want to mess up his schedule. He insisted that I check in and come right back. We sat in an examination room shortly after and I told him what the geneticist said. I don’t remember the details of our conversation, but I know he found the right balance of trying to make me feel better, acknowledging my feelings and not trying to sugar-coat the situation. I told him my decision about the hysterectomy and he said we would begin the process of finding me a surgeon when I was ready.

For weeks after my results, I wasn’t the same person. I was in such a dark place, even darker than when I was first diagnosed. I felt this way for several reasons. I couldn’t believe that the bad news kept coming. I couldn’t believe that I had to have a third big surgery. I couldn’t believe that I had to make more difficult decisions. I also couldn’t get over the fact that no matter what I did, no matter how many organs I removed, what caused me to get cancer was literally in my blood. My DNA. There was nothing I could do. Once again, I felt helpless and terrified.

I blogged about my feelings following the results. Check it out at this link. Even as I read it now, I can feel the energy from back then. The darkness. The horrible thoughts that took over my mind. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

Looking back, I’m not sure how I came out of that horrible place. I just continued functioning on cancer auto pilot.

The Surgery

As I mentioned, my oncologist helped me find my hysterectomy surgeon. He narrowed it down to three skilled surgeons and I picked according to bedside manner. I selected the doctor known for being firm and decisive. I didn’t want to be coddled. I wanted a doctor who would tell me like it is, not as any of us wish it to be.

And so the preops began, once again. Until one day, all too soon, the hysterectomy date arrived – less than two years after I had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

I sat in the waiting area right outside of the operating rooms, holding mom’s hand. I was in my scrubs, terrified and cold. Ugly hair net on my head and cozy socks on my feet. An all too familiar scene.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever admitted this to anyone…

As I sat there, I spoke to my tummy and the baby I would never have. I told it that, although at this point in my life having a baby wasn’t something I imagined, I was still terribly sad. I could see my big belly and feel the baby growing strong inside me. Mom reached out and put her hands on my bump so that she could feel the baby move. I imagined my baby having big brown eyes, like me. It’s sweet little hand curling around my index finger as it looked up at me and knew that I was its mama. I imagined what its voice and laugh would sound like. I saw myself folding its little clothes, sunlight and happiness pouring into the room. Kissing its soft forehead and smelling that baby smell. My baby’s smell.

This entirely different version of my life flashed across my mind and each vivid image filled me with overwhelming, crushing sadness – for me and for the baby I would never know. I was also heart-pounding angry that I was even in this position at all.

I held mom’s hand, cried, said goodbye to my baby and walked into the OR. And I don’t like to look back.

 

Are you a young woman with breast cancer looking for community?
Join the Rethink Young Women’s Network for support, resources and advice.

Cassandra Umbriaco is a guest blogger for Rethink Breast Cancer. Since being diagnosed with stage two breast cancer at 28 years old, she combines her love of writing with a passion to help women affected by cancer. Check out her blog at cancerunder30.wordpress.com  

Cassandra loves travelling as much as she can, dresses that twirl, anything Disney and her little red Fiat – Luna. 

As a cancer survivor of more than 10 years, I consider myself to be one of the “lucky” ones. At 36 years old, and the mom of a 7 month old baby, I was diagnosed at a relatively early stage and had my supportive family and friends by my side. I traversed the Ontario medical system, slowly learning in dribs and drabs what my future with breast cancer would look like. There were many blood tests, MRIs, surgeries, injections, cat scans and doctor/specialist appointments. My visits to the hospital in that first year seemed constant. Again, I am one of the lucky ones. What if I had to find my way to the hospital myself and spend hours alone with just my own thoughts? I can’t even begin to imagine how much more difficult that experience would have been.

A friend recently shared an article from the London Free Press (from London Ontario), where she had read about a woman, who like me is a breast cancer survivor and was helping other people going through similar stressful medical experiences. I get it, because that is exactly what I wanted to do after my experience with breast cancer. I just wanted to “give back” and help women who were going though this awful experience. To me that desire to help was just innate.

You can probably imagine my shock at reading that this woman was being punished for simply accompanying these people to their medical appointments where she used her own vehicle and charged a nominal fee of $12 for a return trip to the hospital. She would provide comfort and support while they went also through some of the most trying experiences of their lives. According to the article the London City By-Law officers concocted a “Sting” operation to entrap this woman who was illegally using her vehicle to offer London, ON  area residents a very much-needed compassionate service.  She was handed tickets amounting to $2260 for the evil transgression of breaking a city by-law for “owning and operating an unlicensed vehicle for hire.”

As I read this I was so upset. How can the city do this to this woman (who is in my opinion is an absolute Saint) for giving her time and compassion to people who really and truly need it?

Meanwhile, the people who need this service, and often can’t afford to pay market rates of taxi or Uber type services, are the ones being hurt.

People who have not had a first hand experience with a life altering disease like cancer can’t begin to know all the challenges that cancer patients face. I just wish that we, as a society, would practice compassion and support the people who are doing their very best to help ease some of the difficulties these patients go through. Maybe one day these people will be inspired to follow in this lady’s footsteps and pass along their kindness and experience to others in need. This is the type of behaviour that I want to see more of in our society and something that we should all encourage.

-Reesa

If you are unfamiliar with lymphedema, check out our first post: What is Lymphedema.

Can lymphedema be prevented?

Yes and No…

Lymphedema could be avoided if lymph node dissections and radiation did not happen, but thankfully treating the cancer is the priority.

Lymphedema is not a given from these treatments. However, it can develop very soon after surgery or radiation or it can develop months or even years after these treatments.

How do I know if you have lymphedema?

Lymphedema is often diagnosed by one of your doctors but proactive care is better than reactive care if you know you are at risk. In this case there are benefits to early detection and I recommend taking baseline measurements so that you can take notes of subtle changes in circumference on both the affected and non-affected side. Get a tape measure and measure the hand, wrist, forearm and upper arm at regular intervals (for example 3 cm). Make sure to keep track of those measurements and repeat the process every 2 weeks.

Common symptoms of lymphedema include:

  • Swelling of part or all of your arm, back, chest wall
  • A feeling of heaviness or tightness
  • Restricted range of motion
  • Recurring infections
  • Hardening and thickening of the skin

Benefits of proactive lymphedema care

Lymphedema is a chronic condition but you can help to better control it when it is detected and treated early reducing the impact on your quality of life.

Here are factors that may exacerbate Lymphedema:

Weight/Body Mass Index

Studies have provided evidence that obesity and postoperative weight gain are significant risk factors for the development of lymphedema. Several studies have shown that obesity can increase the risk of secondary lymphedema following damage to the lymphatics.

Other studies have shown that the greater the BMI at the time of diagnosis, the higher the frequency of lymphedema in a 5 year period following the end of treatment. It is best to keep your weight in check with a healthy diet and regular exercise. 

Infection

A quick reminder about the role lymph nodes:

Lymph nodes take note of foreign particles entering specific body regions and signal the body to produce an immune response.  Imagine you get a manicure and your cuticles are cut with non-clean tools. Debris and bacteria will get into your body. The lymph will typically carry those debris/bacteria to the axillary lymph nodes where they would be destroyed and removed. A signal would be then sent to the immune system to stop the infection. If your lymph nodes have been surgically removed or radiated, a cut that would otherwise be harmless might become a serious infection that might spread to your entire body.

The more lymph nodes have been removed or radiated, the harder it is for your body to fight off minor infections.

Whether or not you are exhibiting symptoms of lymphedema, an infection in the body is a potential concern. It is important to check with your doctor if you suspect an infection of any kind.

If you notice a cut or break in the skin on the affected side, it is recommended to:

  • Clean the area with soap and water
  • Apply an over the counter antibiotic cream (eg. polysporin)
  • Cover with a dry bandage until it has healed
  • Check for signs of infection (redness, swelling, heat)

Please seek medical attention immediately if signs of redness, swelling, heat, pain or fever occur. An antibiotics treatment might be necessary to prevent further spreading of the infection.

Other Risk Reduction Strategies

  • Blood pressure should be taken on the non-affected side
  • Avoid sunburns as your body will make extra fluid to fight it
  • If possible, have blood drawn, injections and vaccines on the non-affected side
  • Don’t wear tight clothing/bras and jewellery/watches
  • Limit the exposure to high temperatures (no whirlpool, saunas, steam rooms)
  • Keep on exercising but monitor your arm for any changes!
  • Be careful when getting a manicure to not get the cuticles cut
  • Moisturize your skin
  • Watch for cracks in the skin

Next, we dive into Combined Decongestive Therapy and how its four components can help in the treatment of lymphedema.


Emmanuelle Ravez Gomez is a RMT and Combined Decongestive Therapist specialized in the treatment of lymphedema at her practice The Body Mind Clinic.

 

Most of us don’t think twice about enlisting the help of a personal trainer to work us through our fitness goals so why not take the same approach with a yoga therapist to work on your wellness goals? By helping you move better using breath, stillness and movement in all forms, not just yoga poses, the mentor/coach-style treatment aims to help combat symptoms like fatigue, pain, reduced mobility and anxiety. The goal? To take you from rehabilitation to wellness.

Yoga Therapy is not restorative yoga, nor is it about bending and twisting deeply. It’s for people of all levels of mobility and experiences. It’s also empowering, and here’s why:

Your therapy should be as unique as you.

The unique you-ness is expressed in how symptoms show up. The expertise of a yoga therapist is seeing your movement and breathing patterns, and meeting you where you are at by honouring your full context, including the kind of person you are, what’s important to you and how you are feeling that day. We typically start small and slow by focusing on one joint and one movement at a time, as small and slow movements are more open for awareness building, easier for the nervous system to learn, and progress occurs more quickly. You will be surprised how small movements can release tension. As we progress, we may increase the number of joints involved, number of reps and speed. We may also transition from sitting or lying down movements to more standing movements to build stability and strength.

It nurtures a sense of safety.

When the nervous system is in the stress response mode, breath gets shallow, muscles tighten, the digestive system and sleep get thrown off, and your ability to cope suffers. Anxiety and fear exacerbate the stress response. A feeling of safety is essential for healing, and it’s important to work with someone who nurtures and encourages a safe place both in sessions and in your life.

It helps you listen to your body.

Your body holds more information than you think. Stress, anxiety, and fear are as much physical symptoms as emotional ones and warning signs often show up before any symptoms become full blown. Imagine how powerful it would be to notice these cues, take care of yourself then, and avoid some symptoms all together. The more connected you are with your body, the more you will take control of your self-care and healing.

All parts of you are a catalyst for healing.

Symptoms can be a result of multiple factors, including your expectations, beliefs, past experiences, and movement and breath holding patterns. Pain isn’t always where the problem is. It’s important to work with someone who includes all parts of you, and supports you in taking baby steps towards shifting how you move and how you live your life so you can experience a greater sense of freedom and decreased symptoms, stuckness and disconnection.

Any movement is therapy when done with ease.

Yoga therapy often considers components of yoga poses or other activities you do or want to do, such as tennis, running, typing at the computer, kneading bread and even walking. It can also help deepen the awareness of how you move. Think ease vs. force, easy vs. tight breathing, and feeling the body vs. thinking through the movement. Awareness is key to shifting the movement and breathing habits that contribute to symptoms. With awareness, symptoms can change.

Mina Arakawa is a Yoga Therapist based in Toronto. She offers movement education and lifestyle coaching through one-on-one and small group workshops and classes.

*Note: Always consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

Photography courtesy of Melanie Gordon Photography

It’s common for cancer patients to experience sleep problems. In fact, between 30 to 70 percent of people going through cancer treatment have some sleep difficulty. These difficulties sometimes continue even into post-treatment, with about 25 percent of cancer survivors experiencing sleep issues. Breast cancer patients are often affected by sleep problems during and after treatment, and many report struggling with insomnia and discomfort caused by hot flashes at night.

Sleep disorders are common among cancer patients.

Extensive treatment, increased anxiety and depression, pain, and other discomforts during cancer treatment can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. Cancer patients may be affected by sleep struggles including insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness, and restless legs syndrome. Insomnia may be caused by medications used to treat cancer, including steroids. Chemotherapy drugs can cause fatigue. Many cancer patients nap during the day, but this can lead to insomnia at night.

Not getting enough sleep can have especially negative effects for cancer patients.

Sleep deprivation is always difficult, but it is especially tough for cancer patients. Not getting enough sleep can weaken the immune system and make symptoms or negative side effects worse. Sleep deprived cancer patients may also experience weight loss or weight gain, poorer memory and cognitive processing skills, increased irritability and higher risk for depression, and poorer judgement. Not getting enough sleep can make it more difficult to recover.

You may experience night sweats and hot flashes during chemotherapy.

Some cancer patients experience night sweats or hot flashes at night. Overheating can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. It’s a good idea to lower your bedroom temperature and use breathable bedding and clothing at night. Consider a mattress with buckling column gel if you’re experiencing hot flashes or night sweats. This mattress material is more cooling than memory foam and latex and can help avoid retaining heat.

You can get better sleep with good sleep hygiene.

Good sleep starts with good sleep hygiene. You can train your brain and body to become tired at the same time each night by maintaining a regular sleep schedule. You should go to bed and wake up about the same time every day, and keep up a consistent bedtime routine in which you do the same few things before bed each night. This can signal to your brain that it’s bedtime and help induce feelings of sleepiness that can help you drift off comfortably. It’s also a good idea to keep your bedroom dark and quiet. Be careful about what you do in the hours before sleep. You should avoid caffeine, alcohol, exercise, heavy meals, and screen time just before bed, as these can interfere with your ability to get to sleep and stay asleep all night.

Sleep therapy can be helpful.

If you’re experiencing serious sleep disorders that can’t be resolved with better sleep hygiene, sleep therapy may be necessary. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be used to improve sleep and treat insomnia by addressing your sleep behavior and identifying actions you can take to improve your sleep habits. Some sleep therapies include sleep restriction therapy with a particular sleep and wake schedule and light therapy with light exposure to reset your circadian rhythm.

Sarah Johnson, Tuck Sleep Foundation