Breast Cancer is Something That I Always Pay Attention To

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*This is a sponsored post by me on behalf of Lifescript.com. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

breast-cancer

Breast cancer is a topic that I ALWAYS pay attention to.

I began my sophomore year of college away in New Hampshire worrying terribly about my mother back home in PA that was going through rigorous breast cancer treatments and would ultimately have a double mastectomy just before I went back for spring semester. Though I was surrounded by a supportive environment at school, it is one of the least favorite memories that I have. The emotions, the fear, the terrible feeling of being completely out of control. My mother is alive and well and I consider myself lucky. I am able to bring my children up in a world that their grandmother can be a part of. We are lucky.

Three years ago I went for my yearly exam. It was a rainy summer day, just days before we would leave on a vacation with a then 3 1/2 year old and a 2 year old. As the nurse practitioner performed her exam, she stopped. She had felt something “suspicious” (a terrifying word that no one ever wants to hear). Immediately I was sent for an ultrasound and while there, the radiologist found something that she couldn’t quite be sure of. Again, not something that you ever want to hear. Luckily I am blessed to work in the healthcare field and have a wonderful set of friends, one of which worked in a leading cancer center and was able to help me get an appointment for an MRI…right after I got back from vacation, 10 days later.

Those 10 days became some of the most traumatizing. I remember my mom saying that, for her, the waiting was the hardest part. The emotional roller coaster that is not knowing what is in store. I was waiting. I was laying awake at night planning out how I would make sure that my 3 1/2 and 2 year old knew how much I loved them and knew what kind of person their mother was and what she was all about. I was planning for bad news. We were on an active vacation with friends that had always been huge parts of our lives and I was cherishing the memories. Every.single.one of them.

When we got home, I researched. I tried to be prepared for the meeting with the surgeon. Key word: tried. People always say don’t Google. I always say don’t Google, but what did I do? Google. I had to know. What was the likelihood that a 29 year old would have breast cancer? What was the likelihood that I would carry the gene? What was the likelihood that I would die from this? I came across some websites that were reliable (or so they seemed) and some that weren’t.

As I met with the surgeon, underwent a B/L MRI that was inconclusive, and another mammogram the same day, some of the myths became dispelled and I was able to understand more and more. I went on in the coming weeks to have b/l breast biopsies (neither or which were malignant) and genetic testing. I continue to have yearly MRI’s as well as yearly mammograms and biannual exams. I continue to research, and I continue to pay attention when people talk about breast cancer.

I was introduced to Lifescript, an informational website used to research many medical conditions. Lifescript features a Breast Cancer Health Center where you can go to find information about prevention, treatment, news on breast cancer, or just the disease process in general as well as find emotional support through reading other women’s accounts of breast cancer. Learning is geared toward all types of people with quizzes, recipes, and articles on breast cancer. All information is written by physicians, experts, and professional health writers.

One thing that I am always trying to keep up on is Breast Self Exams (BSEs). The guidelines on these change and I find it important to know what the latest research/stance on them it. While I was researching the newest information on Lifescript, not only did I find information on BSEs, but a wealth of other information on breast cancer as well.

It is certainly a site that I plan on browsing more frequently when making sure I am up to date on the latest breast cancer news. I also found Diet and Breast Cancer interesting as well as Are Antiperspirants Safe?

Lifescript’s Breast Cancer Health Center features tips, quizzes, recipes and articles – all by professional health writers, experts and physicians – covering new breast cancer breakthroughs, best antioxidant foods, interviews with famous women who have struggled with breast cancer and more. Please visit the Lifescript Health Center on Breast Cancer for more information.

And to check out this free website, click here!

 

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*This is a sponsored post by me on behalf of Lifescript.com. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

 

About Lauryn Blakesley


A woman out to explore, celebrate, and enjoy everything that my community and living locally has to offer. Blessed with three beautiful children and an incredible husband, our family embraces adventure while dreaming of what is to come. Lover of knitting, running (although mostly after little ones right now), the color orange, fun accessories, fall, tea, and a clean kitchen floor. I spend my days in awe of my family and trying to teach my three to treat others as they would want to be treated.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your story, Lauryn. It’s such an important topic to talk about.
    Becky recently posted…Sustainability in Farming with Russ KremerMy Profile

  2. Againstthegrain says:

    Me, too, though I’ve been monitoring my breast health via a different route – high resolution color and B&W thermographic imaging with Bales thermographic cameras (*not* the same as the low resolution color-only cameras used by some chiropractors and the majority of thermography services).

    I’ve long been vigilant about my breast health, though I didn’t always have the best information about how to go about it. My awareness began when I found a pea-sized lump on the side of my right breast in my mid-twenties, just before I was moving alone to a new region many states away from my home state. A needle biopsy indicated it was probably benign. The health insurance from my new job hadn’t kicked in yet, so with some trepidation, I waited a while before I had it removed with a lumpectomy – the lab result said it was a benign fibrous tumor – what a relief.

    I probably have had hormone imbalances for most of my adult life, but because I didn’t have pain or obviouss symptoms, I wasn’t aware of it until I couldn’t become pregnant when I married and started drying for a family in my early-30s. Infertility testing indicated uterine fibroids, and a laparoscopy surprisingly revealed widespread endometriosis – excess estrogen are associated with these conditions. Could the birth control pills I had taken throughout much of my 20s and early 30s be a cause? I wonder. I did manage to conceive and give birth to one child, and I breastfed him for nearly 10 months. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t weaned him so early, as longer breastfeeding is protective for BC, as well as better for the baby. 20-20 hindsight, what can I say?

    I began yearly or nearly yearly mammographies at age 38 or 39, despite the discomfort during the machine’s compression. In my 40s I began to have very painful breasts during the week before my period (which were increasing in frequency to the point that I annoyingly had a full period start about every 2-3 weeks, but that improved with use of bioidentical progesterone cream prescribed by my fairly enlightened HMO network gyno. But I was was applying the cream to my inner thighs and belly as directed – initially I knew it was having an effect because my nipples tingled just like they did when I knew I had conceived, but otherwise I didn’t think much about progesterone’s effect on my breasts – I was just glad it was working to to return my too frequent periods to a more normal frequency and reduced the pre-period breast tenderness to the point that I wasn’t avoiding hugs anymore.

    In my late 40s my gyn dr noticed “suspicious” areas during manual exams two years in a row, and sent me for ultrasounds and diagnostic level mammograms (higher radiation). The “suspicious” areas always corresponded to the most tender & lumpy pre-period spots. But the ultrasounds and high radiation mammograms never found anything at all.

    But it’s great to hear there are no tumors, I wasn’t relieved by the lack of results, either – something abnormal *was* happening in my breasts, which my doctor also said had very dense breast tissue and tended to be just generally lumpy anyway, making it hard to assess during manual exams, which required her to make the recommendations for further diagnostic testing. I read some medical literature (my husband is a research scientist, which helps a lot) and listened to podcasts of UCTV lectures for their medical community.

    I learned that what mammography does and doesn’t do is often very misunderstood, not just by women patients, but by doctors and gynecologists, too (& the influential manufacturers of mammography equipment and the facilities that buy them don’t do anything to clear up the murkiness because they want us to use their equipment).

    Mammography doesn’t image dense breast tissue as well as it does on breasts with less densely packed breast cells – on a mammogram image, dense breast tissue looks dark, nearly the same as tumorous tissue (fat tissue looks lighter), and if the breast tissue is densely packed it’s hard to distinguish breast tissue from tumor tissue at the earliest stages. MRIs are more effective at imaging dense breast tissue but the radiation level is much too high for routine screening, except in the cases of other abnormal test results and/or women at very high risk of BC.

    So I kept digging through the research literature, and eventually learned about thermographic imaging with a high resolution Bales camera. Unlike the low resolution cameras often used by some alternative and complimentary health practitioners, the highly detailed color images from a Bales thermographic camera, when used in a properly temperature controlled environment, shows precise areas of inflammation in the breasts and abnormal breast physiology (esp over time) and the B & W images can show patterns of vascularization. Why is vascularization important? Cancerous tumors are energy-intensive and need a dedicated blood supply. Before a tumor develops, a blood supply network to support a tumor develops (angiogenesis). Healthy breasts do not show abnormal & irregular vascular patterns or rapid vascular growth. See images using this camera at www dot mypinkimage dot com (disclaimer: this is the site of the thermography facility I use in Southern California, but I have no other interest in it than as a client – but I think the website is very informative).

    Unlike mammography, thermography is a no-touch, no pain method, no risk method of imaging breasts, as the camera remains several feet away from the patient. There is no radiation, no painful compression, no health risk of any sort, so it’s appropriate for women of any age, who are pregnant, who have breat implants, who have dense breast tissue, and/or find mammograms too painful/uncomfortable. Similar to mammograms it’s important not to use deodorant or any lotions on the skin prior to the image session, as well as avoid sunburn or anything that will heat up/inflame the skin. It’s very important that the camera be a high resolution camera, the technician is trained and board-certified, and the image reader is trained and board-certified (I’d avoid thermography services that only offer low resolution cameras that are also used for pain management and musculoskeletal injuries). It’s also important that the imaging room be continually cooled to a constant temperature and the patient’s skin temperature is cooled prior to imaging with fans for several minutes so that the camera image is accurate and clear (for that reason, I wouldn’t recommend a “mobile” service). The patient must hold her arms above her shoulders, hands placed behind her neck or head for about 3 minutes, and held very still for a few seconds while the images are being taken from several angles.

    For the past few years I’ve done the recommended high resolution mammograms, but I’ve also scheduled a thermogram appt for the same day, prior to the mammogram/compression. I wanted the different imaging technologies to “see” the same hormone levels/conditions in my breast, etc.

    The thermograms picked up the same abnormal areas as my doctor noticed in her exams and the tender areas I felt (but the yearly ultrasounds and mammograms, even the high resolution mammograms, didn’t see anything unusual). After the first abnormal thermogram, on the advice of the thermography technician, I began applying the compounded Rx bioidentical progesterone cream directly to my breasts instead of my inner thighs and belly. I also began going for quarterly thermograms – initially the abnormal areas got a little worse, then they stabilized for two quarters, then after a year of using the progesterone cream on them, the thermogram images reflected a reduction in abnormality compared to the initial images. The next year I went half-yearly for thermograms and my images reflected stability, as did my annual exams with my doctor. Now I am annually going for thermography and I have skipped a mammogram this year, and probably will next year if the thermography results are good, but at the first hint of any changes (positive or negative), I will have more frequent thermogram images done with, and if I do another mammogram, I’ll do it in the afternoon on the same day of a morning thermogram.

    I don’t consider thermography to be a substitute for a mammogram, but rather a different tool in my toolbox to monitor my breast health. So I am not suggesting anyone should ditch mammography in place of thermography. They image different things, and have to be viewed in different contexts. I am trying to use both tools to their best advantage, at the same time minimize my risks. High resolution thermography seems to be more adept at identifying physiological abnormalities in breasts that *could* (but may not) progress to cancer. Comparisons of repeated thermograms over time would be helpful. Mammography, on the other hand, can’t detect abnormal breast situations that aren’t tumorous but could eventually become cancerous tumors, in other words, mammography detects anatomical abnormalities (which can happen in between yearly mammograms with some very aggressive types of cancers). Thermography could be an excellent tool for younger women in particular (esp those younger than the recommended ages for routine mammography screenings) – for baseline images to determine what is “normal” for their breasts, the lack of cumulative radiation exposure that adds to their future BC risk, and because the aggressive breast cancers that often occur in younger women can grow so fast that a yearly mammogram isn’t often enough to catch it early. A very abnormal thermography trend could indicate that other tests, including a mammogram or MRI is warranted.

    Here is the rub, though. Thermograms pick up abnormal changes in breast tissue long before a tumor even forms or is visible to a mammogram, even years before. Mammograms identify presence of tumors, but that’s often too late for the least invasive/aggressive treatments. The difficulty is what to do with early information that something in the breast isn’t right but isn’t cancer or even a benign tumor – what does a doctor and patient do with information? Conventionally, we are told without a tumor there is nothing to treat. Also, since mammography has become the dominant form of routine breast screening (besides manual exams), most insurance plans don’t pay for thermograms, and most medical facilities don’t offer it (they have to pay for their expensive mammography machines, eh?).

    But that isn’t strictly true. Correcting a hormone imbalance with bioidentical progesterone cream can often reverse abnormalities due to excess estrogen, as can *avoiding* excessive estrogen exposure to dietary, medical, and environmental estrogens (plant estrogens from flaxseed/flax oil, soy, HRT, & various medicinal herbs or HRT alternatives; paraben preservatives, fragrance compounds, and other synthetic estrogen-mimics that are rife in conventional and many organic/”green” and “natural” personal care and household products).

    Personally, I’m finding the thermography to be worthwhile enough to pay out of pocket for it, even though my HMO health insurance plan *must* by law cover the cost of a yearly mammogram screening.

    There’s also an interesting recent MD-written blog post up on the myths surrounding mammography at http://principleintopractice.com/2013/07/03/mammography-what-we-know-what-we-think-we-know/. Worth a look. Please forgive the lengthy comment. I just find it hard to share my experience on thermography without all the background context.

    • What a fabulous comment. Reading this makes me happy for people like you that will spend so much time sharing their knowledge about such important subjects. Thank YOU for taking the time to genuinely care about making others aware of diagnostic tools that may not be obvious in our culture today.
      I worked as a research scientist at a well known cancer center (actually the one I am being followed by) before I went back to school to become a nurse. I feel like my background gives me a wealth of knowledge but also a wealth of anxiety that sometimes causes me to opt for certain diagnostic methods (I suppose this can either be taken as a good thing or a bad thing).
      While I am comfortable with where I am in my plan, I do feel like I work very hard and ask many questions to maintain a personalized form of medicine like the one mentioned in the wonderful blog post you suggested reading. I am however ALWAYS interested in learning more about new diagnostics or even ones that may be off the “mainstream” radar. Thank you so much for your description of thermography and for your story. This is something that I will be spending sometime researching before my next appointment.
      Amazing…thank you!
      -Lauryn

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