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Fear And Vulnerability Are Keeping Breast Cancer Patients From Asking Tough Questions

Health

Women who receive a breast cancer diagnosis often shut down. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I did just the opposite. I told everybody I knew, and invited them to share the news. This is how I found my way to individuals and organizations that empowered me to make informed decisions, including patient advocates, integrative oncologists, and global communities including BreastCancer.org. I also have an academic background that helped me research the literature, so it was easy to access the wealth of information in books, scientific journals, and online.


More than 40,000 women in the U.S. die every year from breast cancer, and many more suffer with debilitating side effects. I myself live with the aftermath of a breast cancer surgery that my surgeon now agrees I may not have needed. Some of my decisions would have been different if I had known then what I know now. When you have cancer, you are afraid, and it's easy to cave to authority. I unfortunately did. The surgeons were simply following the standard of care at the time. I call this the “one-size-fits-all-approach."

My message to you: we all need to question authority when it comes to cancer treatment. Think about how thoroughly you research any major purchase—a car, a home. Cancer treatment is a big-ticket item involving choices that determine whether you live or die.

Why do we stop asking questions?

When you first receive a breast cancer diagnosis, you may ask “Why?", then “Why me?" And very quickly, many who are diagnosed become compliant, passive, and silent.

We stop talking because of fear. Of course, we fear our own death, and we fear pain and suffering. And, some may be afraid that their illness may be too big a burden for friends, family and work associates to bear.

A history of male authority in medicine contributes to our silence, too. As women with an intimately feminine form of cancer, we may literally feel embarrassed, ashamed or afraid to ask, and definitely afraid to disagree. When we begin to ask and explore, we find out that treatment options are complex.

Much of the most cutting-edge information is not presented by mainstream medicine.

You can find this information yourself, and you can also work with a patient advocate if you need help.

When you're confronted with a breast cancer diagnosis, become informed so that you can interact responsibly with your medical team and ask the right questions:

  • What are all of the treatment options, including alternatives to the standard of care?
  • What is the statistical outcome for survival for each option?
  • What are short-term and long-term risks, and side effects?
  • How can I minimize side effects?
  • What can I do to improve my chances of a good outcome?
  • What would you do if you were in my situation?
  • What stage is my cancer?
  • How large is my tumor?
  • What grade is my tumor?
  • How quickly is my cancer growing?
  • Is my cancer invasive?
  • Has my cancer metastasized?
  • Am I a candidate for other diagnostic tests such as Oncotype Dx?
  • What is my hormone receptor status?
  • What is my HER2 status?

You can find more questions at My Breast Cancer Coach, and if you have a smartphone, download the My Cancer Coach App, which also features a list of questions for your doctor.

Ask the tough financial questions

Be sure that your doctor and your hospital will be covered by your insurance. If any part is not covered, have a financial agreement in writing prepared beforehand. Get help from a patient advocate in doing this if necessary.

Prevention is underrated, and poorly understood.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 85% of those diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history. This means that lifestyle and environment play a greater role than heredity, which is good news because it means that many of the factors that cause cancer are in our control and largely preventable.

I am convinced that our constant exposure to man-made carcinogens in the environment is a big factor in cancer incidence. Because these substances are produced by huge corporations and allied with many governments, getting them out of our environment is a lifelong mission that requires long-term legislation.

On a personal level, my experience is that removing carcinogens from your own individual “terrain" will support your health, whether you want to lower your risk of initial cancer, or lower your risk of remission. An integrative oncologist may be of help to you here. My integrative oncologist gives me regular blood and saliva tests to measure the factors that help cancer grow, and we correct whatever is off through a combination of nutrition, supplements, exercise, stress reduction, and avoidance of environmental carcinogens.

Ask, question, research, and ask again

Remember that your surgeon and other doctors involved with your treatment cannot make the best decisions for you—you must do that for yourself. Question your MD's medical directives, and get second, third and fourth opinions. Own that power, and find the help you need to make your most conscious, deliberate choices.

There are many resources available. You can get medical information from the National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov) and The American Cancer Society (cancer.org). You can get support from other patients at Cancer Support Community (https://www.cancersupportcommunity.org/), and BreastCancer.org, where I found community as well as information. For example, through the remarkable global network of women living with breast cancer, treatment and side effects, I learned how to keep my hair – for which I am forever grateful!

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, all five of the surgeons I consulted agreed that I needed the procedure.

"The story would be different today, and it can be different for you. And I am grateful that I am now empowered to bring my message as an author and public speaker to everyone whose life is changed by breast cancer."
Career

Male Managers Afraid To Mentor Women In Wake Of #MeToo Movement

Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.


In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.

What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.

Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.

Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.

While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.

According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.

In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.


Source-Alex Brandon, AP

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.

Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.

The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.