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Be Aware, Get Support

Every October thousands of high profile companies launch expensive ad campaigns designed to support “the cure” as part of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Retail shelves are lined with everything from pink mixers to pink toenail polish. Yet, there is a segment of the breast cancer community that doesn’t get this needed attention and support: Breast cancer survivors and their families. Since most of the focus is on the cure, many newly diagnosed patients (you’re considered a survivor the day you’re diagnosed) are left to make their way through the dangers and side effects of treatment by trial and error. Much of the existing breast cancer literature is technical and internet information is often wrong. Both are lacking in practical everyday help. Even the best oncologists sometimes fail to give patients crucial information needed to successfully get through treatment and resume their lives. Nearly a quarter of a million newly diagnosed breast cancer patients and their families are thrown into crisis each year. Many of the over two million survivors and their families are still suffering from the aftereffects of a diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer. While there are many breast cancer blogs and websites, few provide the survivorship resources breast cancer families need. As one survivor recently said, “The absolute silence of support is deafening.” By providing more survivorship resources, perhaps we could reduce the 20% of husbands who leave their wives after they’re diagnosed with breast cancer. At least we might help the numerous children under 10 who must then become their mothers’ primary caregivers. Survivorship information could provide answers to questions you didn’t even know to ask: Did you know that cutting your cuticles and flossing your teeth during chemotherapy could have serious complications? Did you know there are foods and body care products that women should avoid if their breast cancer is fueled by estrogen? Comparing experiences with other survivors and realizing you are not alone is empowering. While knowledge is power, online breast cancer resources run the gamut between ludicrous and life-saving, so only visit accredited sites you know and trust. Ask your local Komen affiliate for names of support groups in your area. Also look for local yoga, tai chi, meditation or healthy cooking classes. Many cancer treatment facilities offer counseling services to help patients and their families cope. I urge you to take advantage of these services because it’s hard to heal and move forward if you’re rooted in fear and anger. As you may have guessed, I’m a breast cancer survivor. Six years ago I was diagnosed and since then, I've had 10 breast cancer surgeries and eight rounds of chemotherapy. In addition to being a breast cancer survivor, I know what it's like to be the child of a parent who died of cancer and caregiver to my late husband, who died of cancer. I know what cancer families need. A year ago, I created BreastCancerSisterhood.com. Our mission is to become the leading online resource for all things related to living with and surviving breast cancer. Highlights of this content-rich site include BRENDA'S BLOG, named a Top 10 Breast Cancer Blog by blogs.com and bizymoms.com; Amy's blog for children and teens whose parents have cancer, plus 100 original videos created for breast cancer patients/survivors, husbands/caregivers, and kids. Breast cancer survivors come in all shapes and sizes. It's a club that doesn’t discriminate against age, race, education or gender. While you may not have had breast cancer, odds are you know someone who’s been diagnosed. So this October, this month of Breast Cancer Awareness, encourage someone who’s battling cancer or has finished treatment to seek support in whatever way works for them. Remind them they are empowered with an innate strength and courage. Tell them to own it; draw on it; make it their own. They are more than their cancer. They, and you, have lives to lead, children to nurture, husbands and families to love and sunsets to watch. Seize every day. Make it your best. Do it deliberately and intentionally. Brenda Ray Coffee, founder and CEO of the Survivorship Media Network, LLC, is an experienced entrepreneur, journalist/filmmaker, former board member and managing consultant to a publicly held company and breast cancer survivor.

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Marie Ennis O'Connor says …

The good news is that major advances in cancer prevention, early detection and treatment have resulted in longer survival among those who have been diagnosed with cancer. However, as Brenda points out surviving cancer can leave a legacy of physical and emotional problems in its wake. I passionately believe that more follow-up care is needed to give recognition to the post-treatment phase of cancer survivorship. I would like to make another important point here. In this month of October, we are awash with "pink" products, but many of these emanate from companies purporting to care about breast cancer but manufacturing products that are unfortunately linked to the disease. So it is indeed refreshing to see a company such as Whole Foods where the fit is just right. The fact is that a quarter of cancer cases could be prevented every year if people ate better, kept to a healthy weight and exercised. Buying high quality natural and organic products and foods free of artificial preservatives and hydrogenated fats at a Wholefoods market will go a long way towards protecting your health.

Cait says …

As a breast cancer survivor (4 years on 10/11) I cannot applaude your blog enough. More and more breast cancer patients become survivors every year and that is a good thing! But showing suvivors (and their families) that there is life AFTER the diagnosis is just beginning to be addressed. Along with support groups I would also emphasis the need for physical activity (of course with your healthy providers ok). Paddling, kayaking, dragon boat racing with breast cancer survivor teams are becoming extremely popular for survivors...not only because it helps strengthen our upper bodies but shows us that there is indeed a healthy ACTIVE lifestyle post diagnosis. And the self esteem of knowing that you are now MORE than just a survivor is invaluable! Doing this with other survivors provides the moral support that we cannot get elsewhere. Breast cancer survivors from Canada (they were joined this year by a team from Australia) complete a 460 mile race in voyager canoes every year on the Yukon River. To say they are inspiring would be an understatement! In Dallas, Texas this year, there was a 5 mile Paddle for the Cure with supports and survivors taking part. It was amazing to be among these women and their families and friends! Thank you again for addressing this very important issue!!!

Alecia says …

I too am a survivor. I have been in "remission" for 5 months. My form of cancer was fueled by estrogen I never heard of any foods I should or should not eat! I was never told anything about nutrition. I am now on Tamoxifen. We need help afterwards! I agree!

Lisa says …

Although I've never had breast cancer, I've seen what cancer families go through and understand how vital the support of friends and loved ones is during the hard times and beyond. Fortunately, more and more cancer patients are surviving due to advances in early detection and treatment. But whether or not those hit by cancer achieve "survivor" status or not, the patients and their caregivers truly need wise, caring human support. Thanks for making that point abundantly clear, Brenda!

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