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Living with Breast Cancer – Dealing with diagnosis and treatment

Living with Breast Cancer – Dealing with diagnosis and treatment

More women will be diagnosed with breast cancer than any other form of cancer, almost 250,000 women in the US alone will be diagnosed. However, as frightening as this statistic is, you should realise more people are surviving breast cancer than ever before with the 5-year survival rate now at 99%. Whereas this is not a threat which cannot be ignored, cancer is something which, when caught early ,can be fought and beaten.

Recognising the signs of breast cancer

On the 27th of May 2013, Vanessa felt a change in her breast tissue, she was regularly checking herself as she had a family history of cancer, but nothing changes the feeling you get when you find a lump in your breast. She immediately knew that something was wrong, that this was not just a cyst and so when to visit her doctor. Days before she had been hit in the chest by accident as someone walked into her, what she thought was a bruise from a clumsy encounter was  something more sinister.

She was immediately referred to hospital, where there was a thirteen day wait which felt like a lifetime, an emotional roller-coaster wanting the appointment to come sooner but dreading it simultaneously. Finally, standing outside the hospital with a feeling it had to be cancer, in the waiting room there were a number of older women, everyone assured her that she would be too young to have breast cancer, sadly, this was not the case.

Initially the consultant said it was just a bruise, but just as he finished the ultrasound scan he told her the news that it was malignant, his exact words “I’m afraid to say, you have a little cancer”. Vanessa asked the nurse to hold her hand, a human touch to help her cope with the impact of the news.

“It is the feeling that, despite the fact it is you who have cancer, you have to be strong for those around you as well as yourself. It is hard to watch people around you dealing with emotional distress.”

Looking at the x-rays and being able to see the thing which was growing within her was sobering.

“My first question was, ‘am I going to die?’ I was ready for whatever the answer was.”

It was a feeling that cancer was no longer something ‘out there’ which happened to other people. “Why me?” was soon replaced by “Why not me?”, she felt that the lack of control over what was happening was difficult to cope with.

Know yourself and check regularly

Vanessa went through treatment and is now in remission, however her message to any woman is how important regular checks of your breasts are. There are many signs, from lumps or bumps to fluid or heat. There are many great sites to advise you such as knowyourlemons.com.

Vanessa’s one wish is that she could encourage more women to carry out checks regularly, to make it a habit to check themselves monthly. Carry out a check on the first of the month, put it in your diary, make it part of your foreplay with your partner – “do whatever it needs, just make sure you do check”.

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Potential side effects of cancer treatment

Vanessa was one of the 99% – she had pretty aggressive treatment but is now in remission. It was only after treatment that she discovered she had contracted an often unspoken side effect: lymphedema.

Lymphedema can be brought on by breast cancer treatments such as surgery or radiation treatment. Lymph is the clear fluid which circulates throughout our bodies, it is vital to remove waste substances and bacteria from tissue. An Edema is a build-up of excess fluid and can occur almost immediately or even years after treatment.

The build up often occurs because the cancer treatment will often involve the removal of a number of the lymph nodes around the chest or under the arm. Even if the nodes are not removed, they can be damaged by the treatment causing the lymph to build up in the tissue, causing a range of symptoms, including:

  • Aching or discomfort in the arm or chest
  • Tingling or increased warmth in the limb
  • Tightness or a reduction in flexibility in the joints such as the elbow or wrist
  • Your bra fitting may have change, it may feel tighter or not fit in the same way

Managing lymphedema

Lymphedema is sadly a condition which cannot be cured, however the swelling of limbs and pain levels can be controlled. One of the most effective treatments is the use of compression garments such as a bra or sleeve. They put pressure on tissues to stop fluid build-up and encourage the lymph fluid to drain, limiting the amount of fluid which builds up in the limb.

Compression garments reduce the excessive flow of fluid from the bloodstream into the tissues and encourages the fluid within the limb to move into the body where it can drain away. Additionally, the massaging effect of the garment helps soften the hard tissue which can form as part of the lymphedema.

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Compression Bra

    An example of a compression garment – this bra is designed to provide a level of compression and support which would not be found in a normal bra.

    A compression garment fitted by a specialist will give the best therapeutic effect, starting with a few hours wear per day, you gradually increase the time worn until you can wear it for most of the day. It should be especially worn during exercise to gain the maximum effect as it will give resistance for your muscles to work against, improving the lymphatic flow.

    Wear it with style!

    Of course, just because you have to wear a medical garment it doesn’t mean you can’t still be stylish! There are a number of fun and colourful sleeves which you can wear over your bandages or sleeves because treatment doesn’t have to mean you have to stop being sassy!

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     An example of a slip-on cover for a compression garment

      An example of a slip-on cover for a compression garment

      Cancer changes you

      You could not go through something like cancer without it changing you. Vanessa’s outlook on life changed, but it was not in a negative direction. She lives for the day and is now doing things she would not have thought possible before and is now studying a university course in screenwriting.

      Check regularly, if you find something act promptly but be aware it is not the end of the world and, with support you are not alone!-

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      Last Updated on November 11, 2019

      How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

      How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

      Have you ever noticed that some people are able to effortlessly remember even the most mundane details and quickly comprehend new things? Well, you can too!

      To unlock the full potential of your brain, you need to keep it active and acute. Wasting time on your couch watching mindless television shows or scrolling through facebook is not going to help.

      Besides getting out flashcards, what can you do to help remember things better and learn new things more quickly? Check out these 10 effective ways on how to improve memory:

      1. Exercise and Get Your Body Moving

      Exercising doesn’t just exercise the body, it also helps to exercise your brain. Obesity and the myriad of diseases that eventually set in as a result of being overweight can cause serious harm to the brain.

      Furthermore, without regular exercise, plaque starts to build up in your arteries, and your blood vessels begin to lose the ability to effectively pump blood. Plaque buildup leads to heart attacks and it also reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that your blood carries to your brain. When the nutrients don’t make it there, the brain’s ability to function is compromised.

      To prevent this from happening, make sure you get moving every day. Even if it’s just a brisk walk, it’ll help you maintain and increase your mental acuity. Brisk walking, swimming and dancing are all excellent activities. Take a look at these 5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise.

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      2. Eliminate Stressors and Seek Help If You’re Depressed

      Anything that causes you major stress, like anger or anxiety, will in time begin to eat away the parts of your brain that are responsible for memory. Amongst the most brain-damaging stressors is depression, which is actually often misdiagnosed a a memory problem since one of its primary symptoms is the inability to concentrate.

      If you can’t concentrate, then you might feel like you are constantly forgetting things. Depression increases the levels of cortisol in your bloodstream which elevates the cortisol levels in the brain. Doctors have found that increased cortisol diminishes certain areas of the brain, especially the hippocampus which is where short-term memories are stored.

      Prolonged depression can thus destroy your brain’s ability to remember anything new. Seek professional help to combat your depression – your brain will thank you.

      3. Get a Good Night’s Sleep and Take Naps

      Getting a consistent 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night will increase your memory. During sleep, the brain firms up memories of recently acquired information.

      Getting enough sleep will help you get through the full spectrum of nocturnal cycles that are essential to optimal brain and body functioning during the waking hours. Taking a nap throughout the day, especially after learning something new, can also help you to retain those memories as well as recharge your brain and keep it sharper longer.

      4. Feed Your Brain

      Fifty to sixty percent of the brain’s overall weight is pure fat, which is used to insulate its billions of nerve cells. The better insulated a cell is, the faster it can send messages and the quicker you will be thinking.

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      This is precisely why parents are advised to feed their young children whole milk and to restrict dieting – their brains’ need fat to grow and work properly. Skimping on fats can be devastating even to the adult brain.

      Thus, eating foods that contain a healthy mix of fats is vital for long-term memory. Some excellent food choices include fish (especially anchovies, mackerel and wild salmon) and dark leafy green vegetables. Here’re more brain food choices: 12 Foods that Can Improve Your Brain Power

      Deep-fried foods obviously contain fat but their lack of nutritional value is not going to help your brain or your body, so think healthy foods and fats.

      5. Eat Breakfast and Make Sure It Includes an Egg

      According to Larry McCleary, M.D., author of  The Brain Trust Program, an egg is the ideal breakfast. Eggs contain B vitamins which help nerve cells to burn glucose, antioxidants that protect neurons against damage; and omega-3 fatty acids that keep nerve cells firing at optimal speed.

      Other foods to add to your breakfast include fruits, veggies and lean proteins. Avoid trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. Trans fats diminish the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other and HFCS can actually shrink the brain by damaging cells.

      Having a healthy breakfast in the morning has been shown to improve performance throughout the day. If you’re too busy to have a healthy breakfast, this maybe just right for you: 33 Quick And Healthy Breakfasts For Busy Mornings

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      6. Write it Down

      If there’s something you want to remember, writing it down can help.

      It may sound like a no-brainer, but do you really know why? Writing it down creates oxygenated blood flow to areas of your brain that a responsible for your memories and literally exercises those parts of it. Here’s How Writing Things Down Can Change Your Life.

      You can start a journal, write yourself emails or even start keeping a blog – all of these activities will help to improve your capacity to remember and memorize information.

      7. Listen to Music

      Research shows that certain types of music are very helpful in recalling memories. Information that is learned while listening to a particular song or collection can often be recalled by thinking of the song or “playing” it mentally. Songs and music can serve as cues for pulling up particular memories.

      8. Visual Concepts

      In order to remember things, many people need to visualize the information they are studying.

      Pay attention to photographers, charts and other graphics that might appear in your textbook; or if you’re not studying a book, try to pull up a mental image of what it is you are trying to remember. It might also help to draw your own charts or figures, or utilize colors and highlighters to group related ideas in your notes.

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      Here, you can learn How to Become a Person Who Can Visualize Results.

      9. Teach Someone Else

      Reading material out loud has been shown to significantly improve memory of the material. Expanding further upon this idea is the fact that psychologists and educators have found that by having students teach new concepts to others, it helps to enhance understanding and recall.

      Teach new concepts and information to a friend or study partner, and you’ll find you remember the information a lot better.

      10. Do Crossword Puzzles, Read or Play Cards

      Studies have shown that doing crossword puzzles, read or play cards on a daily basis not only keep your brain active but also help to delay memory loss, especially in those who develop dementia.

      So pick up the daily newspaper and work on that crossword puzzle, read a book or enjoy a game of solitaire.

      Pick one to two of these tips first and start applying them to your everyday life. Very soon you’ll find yourself having better memories and a clearer head!

      More About Boosting Memory

      Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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