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4 Women Discuss On One Of The Least Talked About Breast Cancer Issues

Health

It's the beginning of October, and as with every year, the month will be dedicated to raising awareness and funds for breast cancer causes.


A side to the disease that perhaps gets forgotten in the mix, is what happens after a woman has beaten it, and how their general health and body has been affected.

The AiRS foundation, short for Alliance in Reconstructive Surgery, is a non-profit, founded by two successful female entrepreneurs, Janet Denlinger and Morgan Hare. Their work began when they realized how many women, following breast cancer and the mastectomy procedure, could not afford to have reconstructive surgery after beating the disease. “While the treatment of breast cancer has progressed, one third of all breast cancer patients will inevitably have a mastectomy. In addition, more women are being diagnosed with the BRCA gene mutation and will opt for a risk reducing mastectomy. It's crucial that the medical community help educate and inform patients about their reconstruction options as an integral part of cancer treatment which can lead towards healing emotionally and physically," says Dr. Rod Rohrich, founder and board member.

Below, SWAAY speaks to five women who have been helped by the foundation following their mastectomies, about their journey from diagnosis, to the discovery of the foundation's work and how they helped with their reconstructions.

Heather Allen.

Heather M. Allen, Age 36
Under what circumstances did you detect the disease?

I found a lump while taking a bath. I didn't have any symptoms that I knew of at the time.

After your diagnosis, please describe your journey in terms of treatment and how it affected you.

I had a very hard time with the diagnosis because I had just buried my mother 6 months earlier who died from ovarian cancer. I didn't know how to process what I was going through, at the same time I had six children at home to take care. I felt as if someone had given me a death sentence because I had no clue how I was going to be a wife, a mother, a homeschooling mom and battle cancer at the same time. Emotionally I was a mess and didn't know what to do. I had no one in my inner circle I could talk to besides an aunt that had breast cancer 25 years ago before me. The treatments were hard and they made me sick and I was weak all the time. Even though things started out rocky I thank God every day I made it through and am still here to talk about it.

Can you talk about any of the emotional side-effects of going through a mastectomy?

I felt as if cancer had taken away my ability and right to be a woman. In my eyes women have breasts and when they are gone then what? Will I still be beautiful? Will my husband still love me? Will my children be ashamed? Will people stare at me with disgust? After the surgery emotionally I felt broken, hurt, mad and not beautiful.

How did AiRS help you get your reconstructive surgery and how has this changed your life?

I was at a crossroads. My insurance didn't offer anyone that specialized in the field. The only way for me to get the surgery was to pay out of pocket and that was impossible with my family size and only my husband working. I told my doctor if I can't find help to pay for the surgery then I'm not having the surgery. I found AiRS online and spoke to a woman by the name of Tamara and explained to her my situation and prayed she would be able to help. After a short while I was approved to get help! It's really hard to explain how getting help from AiRS changed everything without shedding tears. My cancer made all my choices for me and I didn't have a say so. This was the one thing I wanted to be in control of and because of the financial help from AiRS I was able to feel that I was in control of my outcome, not cancer.

Looking back, can you give some advice for people going through similarly difficult circumstances?

It's okay to cry, it's okay to be angry. You didn't choose cancer nor did you do anything wrong. It's not your fault! Having cancer does not mean your life is over it just means you have to fight harder to enjoy it. Giving up is not an option! You're stronger than you think and you can push through it. There will be hard days, weeks or months but if you fight with everything inside you and never give up you can beat it! You are not alone.

Jenna Lynn Trout, Age 31
Under what circumstances did you detect the disease?

After I had my baby in 2014, I stopped breastfeeding and I developed mastitis and it lead into chronic subareolar abscesses. My symptoms were hot breasts, lump, and drainage.

After your diagnosis, please describe your journey in terms of treatment and how it affected you.

I had so many incisions and a lot of drainage. It was very painful, depressing and felt like it was never going to end. I was on antibiotics for about a year along with pain pills. I had to deal with packing and drains over and over till after a year the doctors felt like I had no cure and had to get both my nipples removed.

Jenna Lynn Trout.

Can you talk about any of the emotional side-effects of going through a mastectomy?

After having my partial mastectomy, it was a relief because I had been in pain for a whole year with pus filing in my breasts, it felt hot constantly and was always cut. But the actual emotional part of it was rough because I am so young, it was so unexpected, I didn't feel like a complete woman and my intimacy went down because I was insecure.

How did AiRS help you get your reconstructive surgery and how has this changed your life?

The AiRS Foundation completely changed my life! Since my diagnosis was not cancer and I did have a mastectomy, insurance said it was cosmetic. So I hit another low point in my life. I was depressed, discouraged and I felt like I was never going to be fixed. The AiRS Foundation has wonderful support! I was able to get my breast reconstruction and see Vinnie Myers to put on my areola tattoos. I, for once felt wonderful and complete again!

Looking back, can you give some advice for people going through similarly difficult circumstances?

Looking back on my difficult journey the best advice is to surround yourself with loved ones and talk about it as much as you need to. I've realized that when you do finally get the chance to reconstruct and get tattoos you will feel amazing again even though at the time you think it won't matter. I, in fact, happen to love my tattoos more than my real nipples! Again I am truly blessed to have had the AiRS Foundation along my side.

Lydia Amaya
Under what circumstances did you detect the disease?

I was diagnosed October 19,2015, on a routine visit to my OB. I never detected anything as cancer does not run in my family. I am the youngest of 15 siblings.

After your diagnosis, please describe your journey in terms of treatment and how it affected you.

As soon as I was diagnosed I had a Port put in for Chemo. I had a great team by the grace of God. I underwent 16 rounds of chemo and 28 rounds of radiation! The damage was done from that moment on, my children live in fear as do I. I can't so much as cough without my kids fearing the worst. I do my absolute best to look at each day as a new day, without the fear and anxiety. The truth is that I am a woman of faith and rely solely on the Lord above to heal this fear for all of us.

Can you talk about any of the emotional side-effects of going through a mastectomy?

Initially I thought I was okay with a flat chest! I have been married since the age of 15. My husband insisted on my beauty being deeper than my breasts. As time passed I became angry, even bitter and some might say depressed. I started to hang my head low and walk around as if I was ashamed. The reality was that I missed my female/ feminine curves, my breasts, my body and I hated the fact that I lost them. Eventually I realized I wanted reconstruction so bad.

How did AiRS help you get your reconstructive surgery and how has this changed your life?

AIRS made it all possible for me. I am a full time mom and I work full time. I have private insurance as well, however my deductible was an extremely large amount. I didn't think it was going to happen for me until I read about AIRS. I am happy to say that I had my reconstruction because of AIRS support and help on May 30, 2017.

Lydia Amaya.

Looking back, can you give some advice for people going through similarly difficult circumstances?

My advice would be, don't give up! Get online and do some research. Get information. There are amazing organizations like the AiRS Foundation that are willing to make things possible. My missing piece of the puzzle was completed when AIRS answered the call for help.

Sandra Joly, Age 44
Under what circumstances did you detect the disease?

I had a lump on my left breast and was not sleeping well, and had a lot of bags under my eyes.

After your diagnosis, please describe your journey in terms of treatment and how it affected you.

After being diagnosed, I felt as though I was going to die at any moment, and I worried about my 12-year-old daughter being left without a mom, and about my mom and dad being left without their only daughter. It was like if I was living a nightmare and that my beautiful life had come to an end. Cancer affected me emotionally, financially and physically.

Can you talk about any of the emotional side-effects of going through a mastectomy?

The emotional effect of a mastectomy was not as bad physically because I lived. It did affect my self-esteem, but I overcame that by buying a sports bra that had a little cushion, since I used to be a 36 DD my surgeon didn't leave me completely flat because I had a lot of mass. But the worst was the pain after surgery and having the five drains and open wounds. I healed pretty well because I had my mother taking care of me and of course I also had a nurse that would come to the house.

How did AiRS help you get your reconstructive surgery and how has this changed your life?

AIRS provided financial support as well as emotional support, and they were there when I most needed them, they paid part of my deductible for my surgery. It was amazing to know that there are people who care and understand, I didn't feel alone.

Looking back, can you give some advice for people going through similarly difficult circumstances?

My advice is that life is precious and that everyone that is going through Breast Cancer needs to be strong, and that we need our families, friends, and organizations like AIRS Foundation to ease our pain, in order to focus on healing. Always believe that we are warriors of life. We are survivors, and we need to stay strong in mind, body, and soul and not give up.

God gives his best battles to his best warriors. I consider myself very lucky and I want to continue to be on earth. I would do anything in my power to grow old and see my daughter grow, finish middle school, high school graduate from college, get married, have children and all a mother can wish for. I was given a second chance and I'm not letting it go.

3 Min Read
Health

7 Must-have Tips to Keep You Healthy and Fit for the Unpredictable COVID Future

With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.

When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.

Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan

Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.

Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.

The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.

Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits

The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.

With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.

Tip 3: Start slow and strong

If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.

Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.

Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize

In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.

When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.

Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness

From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.

Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.

Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.

A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.

Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition

In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.

If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health

While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.

For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.

While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.