For My Mom

For My Mom,

So many things are happening all at once in life. I wish I had more time to capture them all on paper. This year has been hard. The fragility of life continues to stare me in the face. It used to be my daily encounters with patients, but now it’s my own role as infertility patient and my mother’s role as breast cancer patient. As I fight to make a new life she fights to save the one that she has refined with fire over the past 69 years.

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There’s no one quite like my mom. None can really compare to the depth of her compassion for others, her genuine concern for their deepest needs, her self- sacrifice, and her willingness to give regardless of any cost or discomfort to herself. I’m not sure that I’ve ever met a woman more willing to give everything that she has to a stranger. When Christ said to the young ruler to sell all that he had and give it to the poor…my mom makes that look easy. You may think I’m exaggerating, but then I recall the homeless woman that she picked up off of the street and then brought home to live with us for 6 months; the time that we took about 50 pounds of fried chicken to the homeless in Metro DC parks just because; the week we spent serving meals to families during the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew; her hours spent pouring into children with severe learning disabilities, the years she has ministered to broken women who have lost their husbands, their freedom, and their self-worth. When asked to help, she doesn’t think of the most minimal way…nope…she’s all in. If you could fault someone for possibly giving too much it would be her. And, yet, how can you fault her? I’m sure that she has entertained angels because she is always ready to say yes to what God has for her.

Not many people have that kind of empathy that moves beyond emotion into action. Not just action for a season, but action for a lifetime. Is my mom perfect? No. Do I hold that against her? Absolutely not. She has been an example to me of how an imperfect human can make an amazing difference. She has taught me to love others more than myself. To care for their needs more than my own. She has shown me that getting ahead is not as important as making sure that others get their feet underneath them. Money is simply a tool to help others. The more you have the greater your responsibility to use it for good. She has been an advocate for the woman without a voice and for the child trapped in the chaos of learning disabilities. She has opened doors and broken windows that others wouldn’t dare to even turn the handle on. Her boldness is courageous…and she makes it look easy. She asks for nothing in return except for prayers answered.Closeup On Hands Of Stressed Young Woman

Yes, she’s the woman who prays for the clerk at the grocery counter…every time…For the woman sitting next to her in the waiting room, for the nurse administering her chemo, for the doctor who may be having a rough day. And, people actually want to pray with her. She is sincere. She wants to know their struggles. She wants to take them to God. She knows that only he can fix them.

Strangers are her friends within moments. And, she truly cares about their spiritual well being. Above all else she loves Jesus and has made it her mission in life to make sure that I love him too. I’m sure that she made far more sacrifices for me than I will ever know. And, while I selfishly complain that I don’t get to see her enough at Christmas time each year because she is off empowering widows young and old in Nigeria each holiday season, in my heart I’m astounded by her resolve to make their lives better. Because of her I’m inspired to heed to the compassion and empathy that stirs in my own soul.

The thing about her giving spirit is that it never runs dry. The more she gives out the more she is filled up. Her prayers are answered. She circles them. She marches around buildings until the walls fall down or until new walls are built. She is Ruth, Esther, Mary, and Martha all at once…and she is my mom. How blessed I have been and still am to know her and to be loved by her. She is the first person that I call for prayer. Again, while she has faults and imperfections that drive me crazy at times, these fall to the wayside in light of her strengths. I have never met another woman like my mother. She is loud. She is bright. She is the love of Jesus to others. And, she is unashamed.

She would be embarrassed if I said that her faith in God was, “impressive.” Her faith in God is faithful. And, while she triumphs now through rounds of chemo to quell and aggressive stage 4 breast cancer, she would point to God saying that he is her miraculous healer even if that healing happens after this life.

Selfishly, I don’t want to lose her from this life. I want to continue to see God use her in amazing ways. I want to continue to be inspired by the legacy she is creating-a legacy that moves thousands to their knees in prayer. I’m sure God can’t wait to have her in heaven, but my prayer is that he will wait a whole lot longer.

To My Precious and Irreplaceable Mom

(Boldly written because she wouldn’t have it any other way.)

Love,

The Daughter in Me

Bright Pink in Action-Know Your Risk!

No woman expects to be diagnosed with cancer at the age of 20. But, when Melissa’s pelvic pain refused to go away, she couldn’t write it off as a painful period or intense ovulation any longer. She knew her body, and something wasn’t right. The vague discomfort in her pelvis, the odd pain at the end of urination…all strange symptoms that just didn’t make sense.Beautiful young woman in bed, with hot water bag on her tummy

Blood work (CA125), ultrasounds, and finally a biopsy confirmed what Melissa had feared; She had ovarian cancer. Yes, the tumor was considered one of the most favorable types of ovarian cancer, but just the word “cancer” left her stunned. Moments before she had been a typical college student. Now, she was scheduling surgery to have her right ovary and half of her left ovary removed. The oncologist’s description of worst-case scenarios swirled in her head. Chemotherapy? Part of the tumor was attached to her colon. Without chemotherapy the cancer could potentially spread to her gut. What option did she really have?Woman Suffering From Stomachache On Sofa

Battling cancer once is enough for anyone, but one year after her daughter was born Melissa was diagnosed with a recurrence of ovarian cancer. Although the remainder of her left ovary was removed, making her cancer free, Melissa’s mother and aunt were diagnosed with breast cancer. Was this just a coincidence or was something else going on? With such a strong family history, she decided that it was time to meet with a genetic counselor. Melissa felt obligated, not just for her own sake but for that of her sister and her daughter to know if a genetic mutation such as a BRCA 1 or 2 (which can increase the risk for breast and ovarian cancer) ran in her family. If she tested positive she could potentially prevent breast cancer in her own future with a bilateral mastectomy; and, with increased screening and preventative steps her sister and daughter could potentially be spared the cancer diagnosis that she had received at the age of 20. Whatever she needed to do to stay healthy, to continue being a mom, and to protect her family…that was what she would do.Mother breastfeeding the little baby

Becoming a mom in the first place had been hard enough. Even though she was no longer a cancer patient, cancer had forced her into the role of infertility patient. With only ½ of one ovary, low estradiol levels, and high FSH and LH levels, Melissa was told that she could not get pregnant on her own. Donor eggs and In Vitro Fertilization were her only options for getting pregnant. Her sister had volunteered to donate eggs without hesitation, and the embryo transfer was a success! As a mom, Melissa felt an even stronger urge to get genetic testing. She wanted to make knowledgeable decisions. She wanted all of the information. She wanted peace of mind. The benefits of knowing her body even down to the smallest genetic mutation could guide her decision-making, her sister’s and her daughter’s.Concept Of Aging And Skin Care

Knowing is power. Knowing is prevention. Knowing is possibly life saving. Do you know your risks? If you are a woman with a personal or strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer it may be time to KNOW more about your genetic risks for cancer. By getting tested for gene mutations such as BRCA, you can take your health into your own hands. Be your best advocate, and let Bright Pink’s amazing resources guide you in your journey toward health. Take this Assess Your Risk quiz by clicking on this hyperlink to see if you would be a good candidate for genetic screening. This tool is a great resource for all women. Not only does it assess your genetic risks, it also looks at how your lifestyle choices may be impacting your breast and ovarian health. Could some simple lifestyle changes prevent you from developing breast or ovarian cancer? Take the Bright Pink Assessment to learn more.Woman Showing Pink Ribbon To Support Breast Cancer Cause

Melissa took the necessary steps to know her risks, including her genetic risks. She now has peace of mind knowing that her genetic testing came back normal. Do you have peace of mind? Even if you were to test positive for a genetic mutation, you too could find peace of mind knowing that preventative options for breast and ovarian cancer do exist for you and others in your family. Ignorance is never bliss, but a cancer free future can be!

From,

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Women Should STOP Doing Self Breast Exams????

In a world were PINK equals cancer survivor, and early detection means “feel your boobies” is it possible that self breast exams are harming more than they are helping? The United States Preventative Services Task Force thinks so, causing them to recommend against self breast exams. Although this recommendation has been around for several years, most women and even physicians that I meet aren’t aware of this change. I find that some women are enraged by the idea of eliminating self breast exams; It saved their lives! To be honest, although I usually follow the USPSTF recommendations, this one made me cringe and question for a moment. After reading their rationale and looking at the data, I understand their reasoning; but, recommending against self breast exams is not simply a change in my clinical practice, it is an upheaval of women’s health culture.health, medicine, beauty concept - naked woman with breast cance

For years, the medical community and amazing advocates for breast cancer prevention and early treatment (such as the Susan G. Komen Foundation) have been distigmatizing breast cancer and improving survival rates. They have done this by encouraging women to speak openly about their breasts, to become self-aware of their breast tissue, and to advocate for their own healthcare. If self exams are actually doing more harm than good, then how can we as women still self-advocate for healthy breasts and for early breast cancer detection? Are there still ways to take things into our own “hands”? Considering that I have a grandmother, two aunts, and numerous friends who have battled breast cancer, the answer better be a resounding, “YES”…and it is!

Here are some ways that you, your mother, your daughters, and your friends can continue to wave your pink ribbons high!Portrait of confident female volunteers participating in breast

Prevention

All breast cancer cannot be prevented. Unfortunately, some of us just have it in our genes! However, for many of us there are some steps that we can take to decrease our chances of getting breast cancer. Check out the hyperlinks below for more detailed information (compliments of The Susan G. Komen Foundation!).

Fit woman wearing towel around shoulders showing thumbs up at th1. Get Active

Regular exercise has been linked with a 10-20% decrease in breast cancer risk. Not only does physical activity help you maintain a healthy body weight (which has been associated with decreased breast cancer risk), it also boosts the immune system, and it may lower estrogen levels (which can be protective against breast cancer).

2. Stay at a Healthy Weight

A healthy BMI after menopause is associated with lower risk of breast cancer. If you are overweight, start working on achieving a healthy BMI. If you are already at a healthy weight, keep eating a healthy diet and exercising to keep yourself there.

3. Limit Your Alcohol

Higher amounts of alcohol consumption have been linked to increased risk for breast cancer. Drinking in moderation is always a good choice.

4. Breastfeed if possible

Breastfeeding is known to decrease your risk for breast cancer later in life. Not only is it great for your baby, it may protect you from cancer!Young Mother Breastfeeding A Baby In Nature

5. Limit Menopausal Hormone exposure

Many of the estrogen/progesterone containing hormones used for menopausal symptoms have been linked to increased risk for breast cancer. Limit these and ask your physician about other options for treating hot flashes and vaginal dryness.

Early Detection

1. Know Your Risks!

Know your risk factors! If you are at higher risk due to your family history you may need additional screening steps such as MRI’s and genetic testing. Click here for a family history risk factor check list. Talk with your doctor about your overall risk for breast cancer based on your family history and other risk factors combined.

2. Know Your Boobs!

Although self breast exams are getting a thumbs down, this doesn’t mean that you should ignore your boobs! Instead, you should be familiar with what your breast tissue normally feels like so that you will be able to recognize concerning changes such as lumps, dimpling, nipple discharge, and pain. For a full list of concerning changes click here.

3. Let Someone Who Knows Breasts (don’t over think this!) Examine Your Boobs! 

Although breast exams in the doctor’s office may not catch all breast cancer early and have gotten a, “neither here nor there” from the USPSTF, they are still a reasonable screening tool according the American Cancer Society. Since mammograms aren’t recommended for most women until they turn 40, breast exams by a physician offers a screening option to younger women. Current recommendations from the American Cancer Society are for breast exams in the office yearly by a physician if you are 40 years old or older and at least every three years if 20-39 years old.

4. Get Your Mammogram

Some controversy also arose over when to start getting mammograms and how often. I still tend to agree with the stricter protocols until we have more research to say otherwise. So for now, I would follow the American Cancer Society recommendations. If you are at normal risk for breast cancer start getting your mammogram every year starting at age 40.Woman Showing Pink Ribbon To Support Breast Cancer Cause

Taking these steps toward prevention and early detection may just save your life! Although monthly self breast exams may not be the key screening tool against breast cancer, the overall message for women is still the same. Kick breast cancer in the “—“. Knowing your boobs, talking openly about breast cancer and its risks, advocating for your own health as a woman, and encouraging other women to do the same will continue to increase early detection and thus survival rates. So, whether you keep feeling your boobies, or you decide to just get really well acquainted with them…you are advocating for your own health and that’s what really matters!

For more on reasons why self breast exams are no longer recommended by the USPSTF please check out these link from The United States Preventative Services Task Force on self breast exam. Other organizations are not taking such a strong stance against self breast exams, but many are saying that they are not encouraging them (as documented in the linked article above). However, even the Susan G. Komen Foundation is not recommending them.

And, to all of you who have a personal story with breast cancer, please feel free to share your comments. Your insight is priceless!

From The Mom in Me, MD