I’m saddened to announce that this August I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I caught my cancer early while performing a self-breast exam and my doctors are optimistic about my chance for recovery. However, I have a long and hard road ahead with aggressive chemotherapy and multiple surgeries. Needless to say, this diagnosis has hit me like a ton of bricks. At 55, I’m healthy, vital, and have lived my entire life committed to an extremely healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, I’ve also known that I was at increased risk for developing some form of cancer in my lifetime because of my family history; two of my four grandparents come from families where everyone gets cancer if they live past 30 – and one of these families is large! In these two families, breast cancer is sprinkled among a diverse collection of other cancers. With my cancer diagnosis, I’ve now learned that I carry the gene mutation for breast and ovarian cancer (though there is no known ovarian cancer in my family). My healthy lifestyle may have helped to delay my cancer diagnosis, but it could not prevent it. Because breast cancer is so common (1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetime), I’ve always paid particular attention to lowering my personal risk factors for breast cancer and I recommend that everyone do this too (yes, even men get breast cancer).
As a doctor, I know that there are lifestyle choices we can make to lower our breast cancer risk or to make full recovery more likely should we develop the disease.
In my life, I’ve been dedicated to making healthy lifestyle choices for this reason; I’ve always kept up on my self-breast exams and my preventative doctor visits and mammograms; I’ve exercised my entire life, never smoked, kept my weight at recommended limits, and started my family before the age of 30. (This lowers the risk of breast cancer for women. I started my family when I was in medical school, which was a blessing for many reasons.) I avoided hormone prescriptions (even during menopause, which was very hard) and have eaten a mostly plant-based organic diet. I was still not able to avoid my genetic fate. Hopefully these choices will help me now as I fight my new disease.
Unfortunately I’m not able to practice medicine while I’m under treatment for breast cancer. I am, however, determined to help people like me who are being treated for or who are living with cancer. I’ll be creating blog posts for patients undergoing cancer chemotherapy now that I’m a living laboratory for the journey. My main focus will be on what happens to our skin when we receive chemotherapy and how we can best take care of ourselves during our treatments. I’ll also share what I’m learning about tolerating some of the other challenges we cancer patients face as we go through all this.
We all know that cancer can hit anyone at any time and joining the fight against the disease is important. Scientists and doctors are working towards a better understanding of the causes of cancer, including breast cancer. They are also working for more effective (and more tolerable) treatments. Research is important to cure the disease. Early detection is very important too. Cancer-detecting exams and health education should be available to everyone regardless of income. If I had delayed my diagnosis, my chances of recovery would be much different. That’s why I’m asking you to join me and to consider helping the fight against cancer.
How can you join us in the fight against cancer?
This is one of those battles that takes friends, family, community, and all of us to fight. I’m lucky because I have the education, resources, and availability of excellent doctors to treat my particular diagnosis of cancer as best we know how in 2013. Not everyone does. My staff and I want to help change that. We’ve researched worthy cancer organizations whose funds go almost entirely to support the good efforts of their fight against cancer. My office is donating to them and we ask for your support too. We are organizing a yearlong fundraising campaign starting this October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We have chosen three extremely worthy organizations that support a combination of research, education, support and early detection of cancer, specifically breast cancer. To make donating even more enticing, we are holding a fundraising raffle with the first organization, Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE) - donate to FORCE and you may win our favorite professional skin care products that we are donating to the cause! Please click the link below to see our FORCE fundraising site. We are donating our favorite professional skin care products – when you donate to FORCE on our site you are entered in our raffle to win these products.
What are my top three cancer fighting organizations that we are supporting during Breast Cancer Awareness Month and beyond?
National organization near and dear to me and my personal disease:
FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered), an organization dedicated to funding research, detection, and treatment of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
Local organizations near and dear to me:
“Cancer is the leading cause of death in Sonoma and Marin Counties” according to the North Bay Cancer Alliance
The North Bay Cancer Alliance (NBCA): an organization that provides financial assistance and information for those in our community who need critical cancer care and services but who cannot afford them.
Ceres Community Project: a local organization where teens prepare nutrient-rich meals for people with serious illnesses such as cancer. Meals are free and created in the Ceres professional kitchen then delivered to patients by volunteers. As part of the Ceres mission, Ceres educates our community (including health professionals) about the connection between fresh healthy food and healing and wellness – I love that mission.
Photo attribution: Thanks and gratitude to © Harry Choi/TongRo Images/Corbis and © Wavebreak Media Ltd./Corbis