BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH
October has come to be known throughout our country as “breast cancer awareness month.” Someone asked me the other day, “What the hell does that mean?” We are all pretty aware that breast cancer is rampant. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t been touched by it in a profound way, or is unaware it exists. Everyone seems to have a sister who had it, a friend who is dealing with it, a friend’s parent who died from it, or the neighbor who is suffering from it- most of us have a number of people we know who have been through it, if it hasn’t hit us personally.
People who aren’t too close to it may not realize how financially devastating dealing with cancer can be. Some think that everything is covered by insurance- so what’s the big deal? However, many things aren’t covered at all. Some only partially. My good friend thought she had a great insurance policy, until she got cancer. Then she realized that “outpatient” procedures weren’t covered. Chemotherapy and radiation are outpatient procedures. She had bills in the tens of thousands in a matter of one treatment round. (She has been getting treatment now- every 3 weeks for over 6 years…… add that one up!)
Then there are the treatments. There is a biopsy. Then possible mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. None of the 3 are a walk in the park. A combination of them is a very tough nut to crack. The way one person’s body reacts is completely different than how another’s reacts. No one knows what to expect until they go through it. And while they are going through it, day-to-day life goes on. After the actual treatment there may be reconstructive surgeries. More recovery. More missed work and downtime to deal with, not to mention the pain!
Then….. there is the stress. Stress of the unknown. Stress about how to continue working, taking care of a family and paying your bills. Stress over the fact that the treatment your doctor would REALLY like to see you have isn’t covered by your insurance plan. Stress about how you look, how you feel, if you will recover. Stress about whether the treatments are working, will continue to work, and if they will completely cure the cancer, or if it will morph to another area of your body, or if it will show up in another form. Once you are considered “cured”- stress over the tests years later to make sure you are still clear of cancer.
The stress is ironic, because what’s the first thing EVERY doctor tells you? AVOID STRESS! Sure doc, that’s just what the little ladies facing their breasts being cut up, throwing up from chemo, and being burned by radiation are going to do. They are going to AVOID STRESS! That’s a great piece of advice.
I could describe the journey of woman after woman. Many who I know personally. My longest-time friend, Linda has been battling cancer for over 6 years. My sister went through it 5 years ago. Two different wonderful women I know through business networking groups we were in years ago recently went through it. A friend I know from dancing is going through the battle right now. Every one has had a different journey, every one has had a different treatment, everyone has had a different attitude.
Instead of those stories, I decided to share some resources that I am aware of that help women going through breast cancer. A few are national and some are local to Southern California. (If we have something here, there is likely something like it near you too. )
SHADES OF PINK CALIFORNIA
Shades of Pink California is an amazing resource for women here in the San Diego area. (There is also another Shades of Pink in Michigan, which our local group was modeled after.)
What they do is to provide $2,000 grants to women going through active breast cancer to help with unexpected financial challenges. Potential grantees are referred to the organization by oncology nurses and nurse advocates at local San Diego area hospitals. About 90% of the grants are used to pay rent. Almost all grants are awarded within 48 hours of the application, quickly easing a bit of the stress the women are dealing with.
Local Encinitas resident Vembra Holnagel currently heads up the 6 year old foundation which she helped to put together with her daughter and a few other friends. I know Vembra to be a “giver” since WAYYYYY back. We worked on fundraisers together when our children were in grade school. She hasn’t changed. She continues to make our community a better place for those in it!
Stories about the women they have impacted, or how to donate to this small, but powerful organization can be found on their website. This is an article that the Union Tribune recently published about Shades of Pink California.
CLEANING FOR A REASON
This is the best thing EVER! In fact, it is what originally got me thinking about doing this article. Cleaning for a Reason is nationwide with 547 partner companies donating their cleaning services. If a woman is undergoing chemotherapy they provide FREE housecleaning once per month for 4 months!
How amazing is THAT? All she has to do is sign up and have her doctor give them a note confirming the treatment.
As women, when our house is out of order it adds to our stress. When you are ill, the last thing you want to do is clean your home, and adding a paid house-cleaner would just add to the financial burden already mounting up. I have to give Kudos to whoever came up with this idea, and God bless the companies that participate! Pass the word on this one to someone you know who might be able to use the help. I’m sure that if you felt so moved, you could also donate to this great cause!
Have you ever thought about the logistics of someone getting to and from chemotherapy and radiation treatments? Sure, many may have a spouse, friend or loved one who can pitch in and help them. But what about those who don’t? What about people who aren’t well enough to drive, or don’t own a car?
A young man named Zah Bolster, living in the Charlotte area saw the need firsthand when he took his own mother to her treatments. He came up with an ingenious plan, and partnered with Lyft and Uber to provide special ultra low rates to transport patients. So far, ChemoCars is only in the Charlotte area, but he hopes to expand the service to help other patients throughout the country.
Yoga is known to be a stress reliever, and Be Well offers Yoga for those working through cancer, those in recovery and their caretakers. Classes focus on using the breath as a vehicle to cleanse the body and calm the mind, building strength, improving balance, increasing flexibility, improving the body’s immune system, and creating a state of deep relaxation to help promote self-healing. Classes are offered throughout San Diego and Riverside counties. Their website also lists a number of resources that I have not covered in this article! Be sure to check out their fabulous list
Alissa Leahi is a cancer surTHRIVor. At 39, still reeling from the breakup of her marriage and with 2 small daughters she found out she had breast cancer. Her first surgery removed all breast and nipple tissue. It was followed by other surgeries and chemotherapy.
Alissa’s attitude throughout was pretty amazing. Her mom brought up the idea of masectomy tattoo art. It was a new idea to Alissa, who had never heard of it. However, there was one problem. Alissa couldn’t decide on just one piece of art to live with permanently. So, she came up with the idea of Tattoobies- temporary tattoos designed especially for women with breast reconstruction following mastectomy. These beautiful temporary tattoos help women to feel beautiful and in charge of their body and body image. I love their tagline, “Tattoobie is on a mission to reconnect every woman with her inner artist, warrior, and exhibitionist through playful sensuality and bold self-celebration.”
For every set of Tattoobies sold, one is donated to a woman going through cancer. Isn’t that impressive? Go to their site, and tell a woman who can benefit from Tattoobies to visit too!
SUSAN G. KOMEN
The Susan G. Komen foundation is best known for the big “3 Day Breast Cancer Walk.” It was suggested to me that I might connect with them to see what they offer. The link here goes to the San Diego area, however, I’m sure you can find them anywhere. When I went to their link, services include care coordination, food assistance, financial resources, healthcare assistance, support groups, transportation assistance and more. They seem to be very well rounded in the services and help they can provide to women dealing with this beast!
THE CARE PROJECT
The CARE Project Inc., is a non-profit organization created by a breast cancer survivor to emotionally and financially support male and female breast cancer patients. Located in The Inland Empire in Southern California, they give one time grants for utility bills, rental assistance, gift cards for groceries and household items, Chemo “CARE” packages and more. The even have a Prom Project, where they will help a teen of a patient get to prom by sponsoring all their prom expenses!
Their website also lists a number of fabulous resources to be found in their area.
What an amazing group! This organization doesn’t just help cancer patients, but also veterans who have been through trauma. The founders knew that body-confidence and relationships deteriorate during treatment and surgeries. This effects both the survivor, their partner, and the family. The patient often isn’t given the tools and resources to deal with the changes in their bodies, the reaction of others, and the way this will effect intimate relationships. Check out their website to learn more!
My mother went through cancer over 40 years ago. Back then there was a national support group called Make Today Count, which was for people with long term or life threatening illnesses and their families. My mother and I attended regularly, and my sisters were also involved. Having other people who were going through, or HAD gone through similar experiences helped us more than I can say.
I don’t know that Make Today Count even exists today, but many hospitals, hospice organizations and cancer organizations offer support groups. Google your area and you will see what is available.
Keep in mind, each and every one of this type of group will have a different “personality.” Depending on who is leading the group, what the organization over the group is, and the particular attendees, they will all feel very different. If one doesn’t seem to be a fit for you, try another. Just like every Zumba class you attend will have totally different songs, energy and passion, so will a support group! Make sure the one you choose “dances” to your beat!
In sharing these resources, I obviously haven’t even put one drop into an ocean the size of the Pacific. However, if one of these resources can be of help to even one woman that is reading this, or one woman that you know, or I know, it’s worth having written it.
KEEP ‘EM HEALTHY!
Meanwhile, ladies- do what you can for breast health. Many of you do mammography. I personally don’t do that any more. I believe that the crushing of my breast, which have implants, along with the radiation is a bigger risk than it’s worth.
Personally, I use thermography– which is said to find breast cancer 6-8 YEARS before it will be found on a mammogram, and I do breast ultrasound. Many insurances won’t cover these procedures, but whether they would be covered or not, I feel it’s worth it to keep my breasts healthy, happy, unradiated and unsmooched!
I am by no means giving medical advise, I’m just sharing what I believe and what I do to know my boobies are safe. My sister went through breast cancer about 5 years ago, and should anything ever decide to take up residence in my girls…….. I want to know as far ahead as possible!
So, as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel says, “Tits Up!”