Genetic Testing for Cancer Risk: My Experience and What I Learned

On genetic testing for inherited mutations that increase risk for cancer.Earlier this year I made the decision to undergo genetic testing to find out whether I’ve inherited any genetic mutation that could increase my risk for a new breast cancer diagnosis or for other cancers.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was only in my mid-thirties. But that was in 1993 and, for a number of reasons, including having no family history of breast or ovarian cancer, I’ve never had genetic testing before. However, I have followed developments in genetic testing for cancer risk with interest over the last several years. And I’ve been struck by how much we’re learning and how much more we seem to know about inherited cancer risk than was the case maybe even five or ten years ago.

Here’s what the experience was like for me and some of the helpful things I learned in the process. Continue reading

Is There a “New Normal” After a Cancer Diagnosis?

Is There a New Normal After a Cancer Diagnosis?What I wanted most of all in the early days after my breast cancer diagnosis was to get back to normal. It felt as if some strange force had taken over my life, and I longed to be back as I was as if none of it had happened.

I remember walking down the street, and thinking that everyone I saw passing by was normal because they didn’t have cancer. I felt different. And my life felt out of control. This thing had happened to me out of the blue. What else could happen now? What I wanted most of all was to get back the familiar feeling of stability, that there was some sense of predictablity about life.

Continue reading

The Value of Patient Navigation for Cancer Patients

Patient navigators guide patients through the complexities of cancer care.A recent article in the Washington Post was headlined “‘Navigators’ for cancer patients: A nice perk or something more?”

A “nice perk”? It certainly seems like anything that would help to lessen the confusion for patients and help them obtain and adhere to treatment would improve outcomes and help keep costs down too. I took a closer look at the article and especially at the main research study it was reporting on.

Continue reading

Choosing Complementary Therapies for Breast Cancer

Breast cancer patients are frequent users of complementary therapies as part of their care.Managing the side effects of treatment, whether they’re physical or emotional, is an important issue for just about anyone receiving treatment for cancer.

Complementary therapies increasingly play a role, and breast cancer patients in particular are frequent users of complementary therapies as part of their care.

What information is available to help in selecting complementary therapies that have been shown to be effective?

Continue reading

Finding Great Support After a Cancer Diagnosis

Finding Great Support After a Cancer DiagnosisI wrote recently about some of the practical lessons that I found myself having to learn rather quickly in dealing with two separate diagnoses of early stage breast cancer. One of those practical life lessons was what a difference it can make when you’re not afraid to reach out for the help and support that you need.

Maybe it’s our culture, maybe it’s an innate tendency for some of us, or maybe it’s a bit of both, but I think we’re often more inclined to try to “work things out” on our own instead of asking for help. I know this is my natural inclination. But sometimes this can be a much harder way to go.

Continue reading

Cancer and Life Lessons

Dealing with cancer can force us to learn valuable life lessons.Experience is a hard teacher. She gives the test first and the lessons afterwards. ~Anonymous

It’s fascinating to read the stories of people who’ve had to deal with cancer and how they’ve been affected by the experience. Some come to reassess what’s important in their lives and set off in exciting new directions.  And others learn how to adapt to changed capabilities while continuing to do what is important to them and brings joy to their lives.

As I was reading a few of those stories recently, I found myself reflecting back on my own experience with cancer, and whether it has changed me in any way.

Continue reading

Breast Cancer Quality of Life Issues: A Researcher Asks “Are We Doing Better?”

In one of the most interesting presentations at the recent San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, physicians and other attendees heard from a researcher who has spent thirty years studying issues related to the measurement of quality of life for cancer patients and how it can be improved. Dr. Lesley Fallowfield, Director of Psychosocial Oncology at Brighton & Sussex Medical School, spoke about what has and has not changed in the treatment of psychosocial and survivorship issues in breast cancer.

Woman sitting on mountain top and contemplating the sunset

Possibly the biggest change in this area over the last thirty years is that there is now much more support available to patients, largely through a wide variety of formal and informal support groups and online and other sources of information. Dr. Fallowfield noted, however, that these resources “fill a void in the absence of anything more formal”.

Continue reading