Posts Tagged 'breast cancer'

Cancer, Chemo, Emotions: It’s OK Not to be SO OK

In the past few months, I’ve blogged a few times about my admiration for those strong women on TV who are in the process of, or have transitioned through, chemotherapy.

Yesterday Robin Roberts (ABC) shared her chemo hair loss story during Good Morning America. Once again, Robin rose to the occasion, showing incredible strength, and it seemed to me, almost afraid of her own emotions — as if she had put her emotions on a shelf, perhaps to be dealt with later.

That was in great contrast with Hoda Kotbe’s (NBC) sharing of several weeks ago. Hoda shared her experience, after it was all over, but was still incredibly emotional and, it seemed to me, very real.

Then later last night, a woman named Lynn posted a comment to one of my blog posts about Robin’s experience, saying she was diagnosed a week before Robin was, and has had difficulty watching Robin’s reports, because she just doesn’t feel so strong. Her challenge is not about putting on a very public positive appearance; rather, she is challenged by paying her bills. (Thanks for writing, Lynn.)

This morning, I went to the ABC website to see what kinds of comments had been added to the story Robin shared yesterday. There are well more than a thousand comments — I read only about a dozen. But they are overwhelmingly atta-girls, and written by other strong women like Robin. So where were the comments by someone like Lynn?

And then it struck me. There was no allowance for individual differences… the role model had become not just a role model; rather, now she has become the expectation.

I do think there is an incredible amount of power and confidence (and healing) to be gained by doing anything you can to control your situation when faced with adversity. Robin shared her mother’s wisdom which I loved, “Make your mess your message.”

It worked for me. Taking control of my own situation, tightening my grip — I steered my own course and as a result, avoided chemotherapy all together.

But some people choose not to do that, and I think it’s unfair of those who are more public in nature to create a new expectation level that is impossible, and not even necessary for someone’s health. Hoda’s example was probably the best. She showed us her true and difficult emotions. But her emotions did not make her weak; instead they made her very real.

So that’s my message for today. No matter who you are, no matter how public or private your health situation, no matter what disease or debilitation it is — don’t let these public figures set YOUR standard. Don’t wonder what is wrong with you if you can’t meet their levels.

Instead, find your own strength, and transition through your treatment in your own way. If dragging yourself to work is the best you can do — that’s still fantastic! If wrapping yourself in a blanket, lying on the couch, and sipping hot chocolate makes you feel better, then go for it! If putting on a smiley face and pretending you haven’t been affected actually makes you feel better — then more power to you.

But do NOT let anyone else’s managing of their disease and treatment become your own expectation for yourself. Lynn figured out what she can handle. I figured out what I could handle. Robin and Hoda figured theirs out, too. None of us let anyone else define our expectations of ourselves. We have all just met our own expectations.

It’s up to each of us — man or woman — to figure out what our own individual levels are, and then to rise to our individual levels of expectation for ourselves. That’s patientude, too.

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Cancer and Bravery: Those Strong TV Women

I remember hearing in 1976 about Betty Rollin, a TV reporter who had written a book about her experience with breast cancer called, First, You Cry.

I was in my 20s, and a new mom. In fact, my daughter Becca turns 31 today and I remember watching book-tour type interviews with Ms. Rollin as I rocked Becca to sleep. (Happy Birthday, Becca!)

Then 8-10 or so years ago we heard about Katie Couric’s husband — dead at 40 something of colon cancer. So what does Katie do? She has a colonoscopy with TV cameras rolling so others will see that it’s not so bad — but it certainly does so much good.

Fast forward all these years — and news in the past few months about both Robin Roberts, ABC’s Good Morning America host, and now Hoda Kotbe from NBC — breast cancer, and sharing their stories to help other women.

How powerful! These four brave, strong women, sharing their experiences so others can learn, and eventually, be saved from the horrors that later stages of cancer can bring.  They share the medical, the emotional and everything in between.   And there are others, people in the limelight who use their own experiences to help others.

I feel a bit of a kinship. My disease may not have turned out to be cancer, but my reaction has been the same. To share, in hopes that others won’t suffer.

The strength of women astounds me sometimes. It’s patientude for sure. I’m proud to be counted among the strong ones.

And my very best thoughts and wishes go out to Robin, Hoda, and all you women who are out there, today, using your incredible strength to carry you through the emotions and treatment, while you hold the hands of others who must follow in your footsteps.

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Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis on Today Show: Learnings

My heart goes out Darrie Eason, the woman who appeared on this morning’s Today Show who was diagnosed with breast cancer, had a double mastectomy, and learned later that they had made a mistake — in fact, she had no cancer at all.

In her case, her biopsy specimen was mixed up with another woman’s — and that woman was told she did not have cancer. Of course, for the woman who does have breast cancer, she has now had a delayed diagnosis, too.

I’ve walked in Darrie’s shoes. I’ve faced a horrible horrible cancer diagnosis, and I’ve faced all those demons about treatment choices and prognoses. Then I learned they were wrong — I didn’t have cancer. I wouldn’t wish that horror on my worst enemy.

I applaud the young woman and her attorney. Instead of filing (what Dr. Nancy Snyderman called) a “blanket of lawsuits,” they have gone back through the process to isolate the lab that made the error, CBL Path(ology) Laboratories. They have sued the lab, and have demanded a review of their processes.

CBL Path says one of their technicians took a shortcut that created the error, and that no systemic problems exist at their lab. Dr. Snyderman explained that the error that took place was a result of “batching” — meaning — instead of reviewing one biopsy specimen for one patient at a time, the tech was processing a number of specimens from a number of patients at the same time. Thus, they got mixed up.

(Pardon my cynicism, but throwing one lab tech under the bus does not fix the problem, nor does it improve the results. In fact, a system problem MUST exist, or the short cut could not and would not have been taken to begin with.)

Have you been diagnosed with cancer? or any other disease that is diagnosed based on lab work? Before you make treatment decisions with your doctor, heed Dr. Snyderman’s excellent advice so you can make sure the same kind of mix up doesn’t happen to you.

The idea always goes back to getting a second opinion. In this case, you need to get a second opinion based on your lab work. But here’s the important part — the second opinion needs to be read from the slides developed from the biopsy and NOT from the paperwork!

Like this: lab #1 creates slides from the specimen, decides what the diagnosis is, and records it on paper.

To get an accurate second opinion, ask lab #2 to read the slides to proffer their second opinion, and not just review the paperwork from lab #1.

Would this have helped me? I’m not sure. I was told two labs had independently confirmed my diagnosis — but — I don’t know whether lab #2 read the slides, or read the paperwork from my biopsy. I didn’t even know to ask the question.

So that’s why I share all this with you…. I hope if you are in a situation where your diagnosis is based on lab work that you will be assertive enough to ask that the slides be reviewed a second time.

It’s something Darrie Eason and I share — the hope that what happened to us will never happen to you.

Thanks for the lesson, Darrie. And bless you for taking your message out to those who may face such difficulty in the future.

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