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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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      How to Control Your Thoughts and Become the Master of Your Mind

      How to Control Your Thoughts and Become the Master of Your Mind

      Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

      Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality.

      I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

      You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

      Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

      When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

      I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

      Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

      Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

      Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

      1. The Inner Critic

      This is your constant abuser. He is often a conglomeration of:

      • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
      • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
      • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
      • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

      He is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

      Why else would he abuse you? And since “he” is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

      2. The Worrier

      This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

      He is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it.

      Occasionally, he is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

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      3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

      He is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

      He can be set off by words or feelings. He can even be set off by sounds and smells.

      He has no real motivation; he has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

      4. The Sleep Depriver

      This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

      His motivation can be:

      • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
      • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
      • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
      • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

      How can you control these squatters?

      How to Master Your Mind

      You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

      Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

      There are two ways to control your thoughts:

      • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
      • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

      This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

      The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

      Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

      For the Inner Critic

      When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

      You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

      For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

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      You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

      “Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

      If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

      • He riles up the Worrier.
      • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
      • He is often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
      • He is a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
      • He is the destroyer of self-esteem. He convinces you that you’re not worthy. He’s a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get him out!

      Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

      Replace him with your new best friend who supports, encourages, and enhances your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

      For the Worrier

      Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

      Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

      You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

      • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
      • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
      • Muscles tense

      Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

      If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

      Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

      “Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

      Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

      If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

      Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

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      Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

      For example:

      If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

      “I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

      Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

      “Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

      Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

      For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

      Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

      The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

      • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
      • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
      • Muscles tension

      I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

      Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

      Breathe in through your nose:

      • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
      • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
      • Focus on your belly rising.

      Breathe out through your nose:

      • Feel your lungs emptying.
      • Focus on your belly falling.
      • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

      Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

      Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

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      One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

      Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

      For the Sleep Depriver

      (He’s made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

      I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

      Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

      1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
      2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

      When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

      From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

      For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

      If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

      You can also use this technique any time you want to:

      • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
      • Shut down your thinking.
      • Calm your feelings.
      • Simply focus on the present moment. 

      Becoming the Master of Your Mind

      Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

      You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

      Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

      Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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