What not to say…to someone who has cancer

Posted by in Blog, Diagnosis, Uncategorized, Well being | 0 comments

It’s hard to know what to say when your friend or relative tells you they have cancer. In that painful moment our tact, good sense, knowledge and insight is put to the test – and so easily fails us.  As Joanna Moorhead of the Daily Mail recently wrote, the most inappropriate comments and messages have, at least, provided some laugh-out-loud moments after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. But with just a little effort, we really can do better. Here’s a guide to What Not To Say, and a few suggestions of better options. 1. Nothing at all. Not saying anything is fine if you have another way to be there for someone who’s hurting. Eye contact, a compassionate smile, a (welcome) gentle hug or hand squeeze, a small act of courtesy or kindness – all so important, and so much better than a verbal blatt. Actions really do speak louder (and often better) than words. Yet even the blattiest, dumbest remark (“My friend died of breast cancer”, “Not another one with cancer, it’s too much”, “Oh no, I can’t lose you”, “What bad luck!”) may be better than silent avoidance, which leaves the person feeling isolated and rejected.  People with cancer know it’s difficult for others -they’ve been through those emotions of shock too – but your absence is noted, and it hurts. It comes across as not caring, even though the truth is that you fear saying the wrong thing. Rather, go for simple sincerity: “I don’t know what to say, that’s terrible news” is absolutely fine. You don’t need sophistication: “That sucks, I’m so sorry” is also quite OK. After that, let your friend or family member’s response guide what happens next. You are part of her life for a reason, so just being yourself is all that’s needed. 2. Meaningless platitudes. If you woke up with stomach flu and spent a couple of days feeling utterly washed out and miserable, would you appreciate a walking, breathing Hallmark card suggesting that you count your blessings and be strong for your family? No, you would not. So why would dealing with a longer term but equally unpleasant illness be different? The fact that someone has cancer (or any other chronic illness) does not mean that he or she is unaware of the many wonderful blessings in life. Quite the reverse, in fact. Yet an ‘attitude of gratitude’ does not do away with pain and suffering, and “being strong” does not require an elaborate pretence that this doesn’t hurt. So dig deep and find a way to be there, alongside the suffering – be one of those blessings instead of talking about them. 3. False optimism. It’s good to get...

Read More

Benign changes to the breast

Posted by in Blog, Diagnosis, Prevention, Procedures, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Unlike many other organs or tissues of the body, a woman’s breasts are shaped and defined by time. Before puberty, there’s nothing there at all. Then – exciting or intimidating as it may be – breasts begin to grow, taking a few years to reach their final shape and in the process becoming an important part of our body image. In human beings breasts are sexual organs, and it doesn’t take girls (or boys for that matter) long to discover that! Their exquisite sensitivity gives pleasure and their rounded shape helps define our womanly style – small and sporty, large and motherly, firm or soft. During pregnancy and after birth, breasts have a new lease on life as we discover their miraculous capacity to feed our babies as much and for as long as we need to. Though not all women are able to breastfeed, with the right help and support most can enjoy this simple, natural way to bond with and nurture our young. As breasts age, other changes take place which are completely normal – or at least common. Some are medically insignificant, such as the gradual change around the time of menopause from firm, dense glandular tissue to softer fatty tissue. Others tend to draw attention and cause anxiety because until investigated we cannot be sure that they are harmless. These are the benign conditions of the breast or “aberrations of normal development”. Lumps within breast tissue Lumps are common, occurring not only in aging breasts but also sometimes in younger breasts. A lump is a small piece of tissue or area under the skin that feels firmer than the surrounding tissue and can be felt from the outside. It doesn’t usually develop overnight and won’t be noticed until it reaches a certain size – at which point finding it can cause alarm and concern. Lumps that are medically concerning are those which stay there regardless of the menstrual cycle. Some women have naturally lumpy or uneven breasts and when the tissues swell under hormonal influence these “lumps” are more easily felt. For your own peace of mind, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor or nurse to check anything that worries you, but it’s the distinct lump which will require further investigation. Worrying as they are, many such lumps turn out to be “benign”. This means that although it is not normal breast tissue and may be growing larger, it does not spread or invade other tissues, either locally or by travelling through the lymph system (as cancer cells do). If you visit your doctor with a breast lump that worries you, he or he will ask you how long it has been there, whether you’ve...

Read More

Birthday parties – 14 million of them

Posted by in Blog, Diagnosis, Prevention, Treatments, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Any excuse to celebrate, and millions of birthday parties around the world tell the story – cancer, though still a big public health concern, is not a death sentence. Since reaching a peak in the early 1990’s, cancer death rates have been steadily falling – at around 20% for women and over 25% for men. This is according to Cancer Research UK and the American Cancer Society. Probable reasons for this improvement are: – fewer people smoking – improved screening and early diagnosis for common cancers – more treatment options – targeted drug and/or radiotherapy treatment – new surgical techniques – more effective treatment and prevention of co-occurring conditions such as diabetes, obstructive airways disease, stomach ulcers, chronic infection and so on “We needed to give patients more options and better news about their future. I was impatient for more advances sooner and I still am. But clearly we’re moving in the right direction” – Prof Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK There are still challenges. Pancreatic cancer appears to be on the rise, and amongst women, lung cancer has increasing by around 8% (whilst falling amongst men). This is thought to be the tragic harvest of 1960’s cigarette marketing, which successfully targeted millions of women by promoting tobacco smoking as an aid to slimming. Whilst older women tend to take better care of their health, younger women sometimes fail to notice or to report symptoms that could serve as early warnings of cancer. These include: – unexplained weight loss – bloating – breast changes: lumps, thickening, persisting rash, discharge, nipple changes – unusual bleeding – skin changes (moles, pigmentation, scaling) – difficulty swallowing – blood in urine or stool – gnawing abdominal pain especially associated with depression (may indicate pancreatic cancer) – indigestion for no apparent reason – white patches or spots in the mouth (especially if you are or were a smoker) – unexplained pain: not likely to be cancer but get it checked out – a swelling under the armpit, in the neck, or anywhere else – unexplained fever (sometimes associated with early blood cancers) – persistent fatigue, even if you think you have reasons to be so tired – persistent coughing There are a few ‘wild cards’ in our future whose effect on rates of cancer diagnosis and death are still unknown. The most worrying of these is the so-called “obesity epidemic”, especially insofar as it affects younger people. Recent research has connected excessive sugar consumption with a variety of conditions including auto-immune and inflammatory conditions which may predispose to some forms of cancer. We really need to start dealing with this!  ...

Read More

Calling nursing professionals!

Posted by in Blog | 0 comments

Port Elizabeth’s nursing professionals – community nurses, midwives, nurse trainers and hospital nurses – have a fantastic opportunity to develop clinical skills in breast care and the nursing management of breast problems. And thanks to sponsors Netcare, Carecross and Pathcare, the Breast Course for Nurses (BCN) is absolutely FREE. Cape breast-cancer surgeon Dr Jenny Edge has run this training course for some years in Cape Town, and is now bringing it to Port Elizabeth. The BCN has been adopted in University settings (UCT, US and UJ) as well as by Baragwanath Hospital and Netcare nursing. It is not formally accredited (in order to keep it affordable and accessible to all nurses) but has been well received over the past few years – see the BCN website for more information and feedback from colleagues.  The course begins with an Introductory day (19th May, 2014)  in which two modules are presented. To take home, each participant receives a course manual specially written by Dr Edge and Prof Dave Woods. This book uses the popular Perinatal Education Programme (PEP) format of affordable,enjoyable, practical education at a pace suited to busy nurses, to update knowledge of the most common and important breast conditions. Over the next six months, regular Multiple-choice Questionnaires keep participants motivated and up to speed with the main learning content. The course rounds off in November with two days of practical workshops (details to be advised). Places are limited to a maximum of 50 participants and booking for the PE course is already going well, so don’t snooze or lose – call Lieske to book your place or ask your questions. Date and Time: Monday, 19th May, 9am-3pm Place: Netcare Training Academy, 1st Floor, Pamela Arcade, 2nd Ave, Newton Park            ...

Read More

Crowning glory – from PE with love

Posted by in Blog, Looking Good, Well being | 0 comments

“People always ask me how long it takes to do my hair. I don’t know, I’m never there.” ― Dolly Parton When we think of wigs, the picture coming to mind might be something that screams “Diva”. As Dolly herself often says “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap!” Patients undergoing chemotherapy face a dilemma: whether to “go bald” and brave it out with caps and scarves, or cover up with a wig. Tracey Gervais (Wigs@Hair@Tracey’s, Amble In Centre, Main Road, Walmer) understands that helping a woman find the perfect wig is a ministry to her soul. Patients at Bay Breast Care had recommended Tracey, so we got together with her recently.  Here’s what we learned. After running a successful hair salon in Port Elizabeth for 33 years, Tracey was given a golden opportunity last year, to take over a long standing wig-fitting business. She’d always loved wigs, but sharing premises with expert wig fitter Norbert for a year in 2012 really inspired Tracey as she saw the clients come in looking ordinary, and go out with their new wigs “looking fantastic”. Tracey even asked Norbert if she could work alongside to learn from him – but he turned her down, explaining that his approach was always very personal, sensitive and extra-respectful of clients’ privacy so he wouldn’t be comfortable with that – an attitude that made Tracey respect him even more. But when the time came a year later for Norbert to retire, he offered Tracey the business, and she couldn’t have been more honoured that he was putting his trust in her. (We aren’t surprised. Tracey’s caring approach and love for people is obvious). Women undergoing treatment for cancer form the majority of clients, then and now. Tracey says that her clients often fear losing their hair more than breast surgery: “So many women tell me, ‘Maybe my hair won’t fall out’. I ask them, ‘What does your doctor say? That hair loss is a side effect? Then it is going to fall out, so let’s make a plan before it happens”. With chemotherapy, hair usually takes at least a year to return fully – and it may not look the same as before. It could grow out grey if hormone replacements have been stopped, or have a different texture. Keeping it under the wig until you’re ready buys time to decide on a style that works for you in the longer term. “My word is ‘enhance’, because the right wig makes a woman look and feel so much better than she did before, yet it’s still her own look”, says Tracey.  “When a client is so happy and excited to go out with her new wig, well,...

Read More