Updated: Sep 30, 2020
Almost everyday, I receive cancer-related questions from social media followers. So I'm finally able to gather most of them right now and create an FAQ along with my response. My sources for these info are from personal experiences, my medical team at UCSD and reputable websites from American Cancer Society and Mayo Clinic. Here goes!
1) What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
A lump or thickening in the breast that was never there before, change in appearance, size or shape of the breast, dimpling, a newly inverted nipple, peeling or flaking of the skin around the breast, redness or pitting of the breast skin similar to an orange skin. If you notice one or more of these symptoms, it's best to have it checked because the earlier breast cancer gets detected, the better the chances of survival.
2) How do I find the right medical team?
Find a medical team that you trust and feel comfortable with because you'll be constantly tossing decisions with them about your treatment and life decisions. Hence, I advice to shop around for doctor/s and trust your gut on the selection process. They should feel right for you. Take a look at options available on level funded health plans.
3) How do I know what the right treatment is for me?
Breast cancer is a case to case basis. There are different stages and types so the treatment will vary. It's always a good idea to seek second and even third opinion and do your personal research online about what your oncologist suggested. As much as comparing notes with other breast cancer survivors is reassuring, what works for them may not be what's best for you. Bottom line, it's still up to you to decide. And you gotta trust your deeper intuition on this one. If there are hesitations, talk it out with your medical team, keep researching and get clarity on the matter.
4) Should I join clinical trials?
In my experience, clinical trials are a hit or miss. They aren't proven to work yet and that's why they are on trial. My first 6 rounds of chemo was a clinical trial and it didn't work so the study was stopped. However, I've heard other cases where their cancer responded well to the trial drug they were on. I would say, it's worth joining if your onco would recommend it. Worse case scenario, you're still contributing to further cancer research.
5) Should I shave my head before chemo?
I think it's more traumatic to see your hair fall off when certain chemo drugs start taking effect in terms of hair loss. I'd rather be in control of the situation and initiate to shave my head. That way, it feels like I'm just being adventurous with a new hairdo rather than being a "victim" in the situation. Shave it off when you're in a good mood and think of being bald as an experience you'd like to try.
6) How do I prepare for "hard" chemo?
Aside from shaving the head, I'd recommend getting a port-a-cath in the chest if you'll be getting infusion frequently. It just makes the whole process easier and less painful than through an IV. Bring water, snack (if your hospital doesn't provide it), things to keep you amused while the infusion is happening (book, iPad, knitting, etc.) and company for support. After chemo, make sure to get some rest, hydrate A LOT, moisturize your skin, take epsom salt warm baths, give in to any food craving you have (if you have no appetite, eat mashed food in small portions yet frequent) and force yourself to move even for 10 minutes a day (gentle yoga or going for a walk). Your body is going through so much so spoil yourself like crazy. Be patient with yourself along the healing process because it takes time for your energy to bounce back but it will, given the right diet and exercise.
7) Should I get a lumpectomy or mastectomy?
In the Western medicine, they don't recommend resorting to mastectomy right away unless it's really necessary or if the patient prefers it. They want to preserve the breast as much as possible. In the Eastern way though, they like to cut immediately if cancer is present. In my case, I don't want to amputate anything unless it's a totally hopeless case that's why I opted for lumpectomy. Again, this is a personal decision that should be made by you based on what your oncologist suggested.
8) How do I prepare for radiation?
Radiation isn't as bad as chemo especially if your skin has olive or yellow undertone. They have higher tolerance for it. I used Calendula cream after every session to protect the radiated area from drying and burning. Aloe Vera is also an alternative. Make sure to hydrate and rest as radiation can cause mild fatigue. But overall, it's much more tolerable than chemo, in my opinion.
9) How do I handle hormone therapy?
I've been experiencing mood swings and hot flashes with my hormone therapy. I manage mood swings by doing yoga, going for a walk, listening to music, talking it out, doing art, eating good food... basically anything that will make me happy. I don't get so bothered with the hot flashes so I just let it be. If the side effects of your hormone therapy is too much for you, talk to your onco and ask for other options that you can try. Finding the right combo of drug always takes time to figure out.
10) What should be my diet now?
I still eat everything at this point but I focus more on fruits, vegetables, whole wheat and seafood on daily consumption. I cut back on dairy, sugar, alcohol and processed meat but once in awhile, I still give in and reward myself especially on social occasions. My medical team informed me that as long as I'm not indulging on the bad stuff every single day, it should be okay. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating MOSTLY healthy food and doing some physical activity are essential. It's all about balance and being as stress-free as possible.
I hope this helps and gave clarity. Feel free to comment below if you have other queries. I'd be happy to compile them for the future post. Let's keep WINNING! :)
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