Monday, May 5, 2014

Preparing for Breast Cancer Treatment

Here you are at the Breast Care Center waiting to talk with one of the Breast Surgeons about your recent diagnosis of Breast Cancer.   How OVERWHELMING is this!   Hopefully, once you sit down and discuss the diagnosis and the next steps with the surgeon who will be able to get your thoughts around this diagnosis.
There are many very important things to consider and our surgeons are excellent guides and listeners and will address all your concerns.

Our Nurse Navigator is here for you, too!

So, if all that is not enough to think about, I am going to give you a few more things to think about.
These items are also listed on the Susan G. Komen website and the American Cancer Society website.

Flu shots  

  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend everyone age 6 months and older, including breast cancer suvivors and their caregivers should receive the seasonal  flu  shot.   People currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer and long-term survivors are at higher risk for complications from the seasonal flu.   You should get the shot when it is available.. NOT the nasal spray vaccine. 


  • Some breast cancer treatments will affect your fertility or your ability to become pregnant.  If you wish to consider a pregnancy after treatment talk with a fertility specialist before your treatment begins so you know all your options.

GYN exam

  • Talk with your gynecologist and make sure you are updated with your pap smears and exam. Chemotherapy may interfere with pap smear results and this test should be done prior to chemotherapy treatments.  Your gynecologist is also an important member of your Survivorship Team. 

Dental Visits

  • If you will need chemotherapy treatments it is best to do dental cleanings prior to treatment or after treatment has ended. Your immune system is weakened by chemotherapy and you would be more prone to an infection in your mouth during treatments. 


  • In general, it is safe to travel during  chemotherapy treatments.   Discuss this with your Oncologist (another important member of your Survivorship Team) .  Remember your immune system is weakened so washing of your hands frequently is recommended and using hand sanitizer. 

Massage Therapy

  • Many health care professionals recognize that massage can be a useful noninvasive addition to standard medical therapy to help decrease stress , anxiety, depression, pain and fatigue.    Massage therapy should be provided by a Trained Professional with expertise in working safely with people with cancer and cancer survivors.   
  • It is important to let your massage therapist know that you have cancer as they may need to refer you to a specialist.  You should also let you Oncologist know that you are receiving massage therapy.
  • There is concerns that in theory, tissue manipulation on or near a tumor area should be avoided.  Medications you may be taking may lower your platelet count or thin your blood causing increased risks of bruising.  
  • There is no evidence that massage can slow or reverse the growth or spread of cancer, but it is promising at helping to improve quality of life. 

I am sure you may have more questions as you go down this new path and we are here to help and answer your questions!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

You are a Survivor!

We are hearing so much about survivorship in cancer.  You have just been diagnosed and can't "get your head around the word cancer"…That has to mean you won’t have a long life, your kids and grand-kids will be here without you!

WAIT!!  One hurdle at a time. You are a Breast Cancer Survivor from the minute of diagnosis through the rest of your life. This word Survivor also includes all those close to you as they are also impacted by this new diagnosis.

This is new and  "uncharted" territory in your life and you do not have to go "it" alone. We are all here to help.

Our goal is that you function at the highest level possible while having cancer treatments and after!

Please check out the PinnacleHealth STAR Program. This is a Training and Rehabilitation Program whose goal is to minimize any side effects of treatment or surgery you are having and to give you the best quality of life possible.

I love the name because you are the STAR and you are beginning a life dedicated to better living and good health.

You are supported by a team of certified STAR Clinicians and Providers that specialize in cancer rehabilitation. Each team member will provide you with the expertise, guidance and training you need.  You will learn how to set new goals for exercise, nutrition and sleep as well as guidance on the best ways to treat or improve any symptoms you are having related to your cancer treatment.

You can call for more information about the program and insurance coverage at 717-214-STAR(7827), or contact your nurse navigator for more information.

Remember you are a STAR and you deserve the best!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Are You Your Aunt Gert???

Have you ever looked in the mirror and tried to decide if you look more like your Father’s side of the family or your Mother’s side of the family?  

If only we could use the mirror to look at our insides, all the way to our individual  cells and our DNA.

The mirror can give us important information, yes, I have green eyes and so did my father and yes, I think I have a great smile and so does my Mother.

What else about your family can you find out and probably more importantly what else do you want to know?

When I started my Nursing career 36 years ago, we were asking family history questions  and doing what we could to help patients decrease risks for certain diseases such as heart disease.

Over the years our knowledge and our ability to test people for genetic diseases has increased by leaps and bounds.

People with a presumed hereditary risk for cancer now have more options than ever when it comes to calculating the reality of that risk.  The possibilities are both empowering and daunting states Suzanne Mahon, RN, DNSc and professor in the School of Nursing at Saint Louis University in Missouri.

This type of personalization of your history does enable you, as the patient, to make difficult choices about care with more solid information.

It is not uncommon in the Breast Care Center for women newly diagnosed with breast cancer and who are trying to make decisions about Lumpectomy versus Mastectomy,  to do genetic testing to help them make a better informed decision about surgery.

Genetic testing has allowed us to become more proactive about our health and our future health care decisions.  We now have options and choices about surveillance schedules, prophylactic surgeries and medications that may help us PREVENT certain types of cancer.

It gives us the opportunity to really look at our lifestyle and change the things we can.  No, I can’t change my DNA , but I can eat a healthier diet, stop smoking, decrease intake of alcoholic beverages and exercise more.

Recent studies noted that woman ages 50-74 that walked about 1 hour daily had a 14% lower risk of breast cancer !!    Even small changes in our lifestyle can make a difference in preventing breast cancer.

Here at the PinnacleHealth Breast Care Center we have started a High Risk Clinic to help our patients and family members understand genetic risks for Breast Cancer and navigate options for care.

We will help “ organize” your Family Tree and discuss testing and surveillance.    There are some  “ Red Flags” that may help you make that phone call to our clinic.

  1. Any family member with a known gene mutation such as BRCA.
  2. A young age at onset of cancer ( this could be younger than 60, depending on the type of cancer) 
  3. Male breast cancer in the family
  4. Multiple family members with cancer ( not just breast cancer) 
  5. Certain Ethnicities ( such as Ashkenazi Jewish)
  6. Two or more types of cancer occurring in the same relative.

A website you may be interested in to help organize your family history is

Genetic science is exploding and understanding what this means for all of us is complicated.   We don’t know how to test for all genetic diseases and having a negative result such as a negative BRCA gene mutation does not mean that that person will never have breast cancer.

It is moving us away from the “One Size fits all Medicine” to a personalized medicine that recognizes how unique we all are.

So next time you look in the mirror think how unique you really are!