Living Beyond Breast Cancer - 2010 Atlanta, GA

The 10th Annual Conference for Young Women Affected by Breast Cancer in Atlanta, GA seemed like a sea of pink, fuchsia and every other shade of pink imaginable. They arrived in force with an energy and determination to experience a weekend of fun, education and to reconnect with friends that they had met at other conferences.

The atmosphere seemed less than serious with the frivolous hats, husbands walking around wearing a bra in support of their wifeís organization, campy pictures to take back home to remember friends and back again the fairy godmother sprinkling fairy dust on attendees. Quickly, though, it was apparent that the attendees were here to do serious work as well.

The workshop sessions included topics on how to survive and thrive after treatment was completed, how to cope with the toxicity of treatment, how to manage lymphedema or prevent it from occurring. Other topics of interest were: understanding your pathology report, a closer look at Triple Negative Breast Cancer, money and legal issues, supporting the caregiver, breast reconstruction and body image.

If that isnít enough to think about there was a talk on workplace rights and the Breast Cancer Legal Project was there throughout the weekend. Mindfulness Meditation workshop offered tips on living in the moment. Fertility and Pregnancy was discussed and seeing pregnant survivors or proud moms showing their baby off was truly a memorable moment. Grandma holding her grandchild as her daughter received a massage was visual testament to freezing your eggs prior to treatment.

Listening to a young survivor tell her inspiring story of caring for her sister as she battled breast cancer and then lose her only a few weeks ago is something I will long remember. But seeing this beautiful young woman with her head covered in a flowing scarf tell about her journey from being a caregiver to patient and wanting to do right by her sister, as she told her story, was remarkable.

Three Oncology Massage Therapists worked for 3 days to offer chair massages. I was especially grateful that the other 2 Massage Therapists were located on the Society for Oncology Massage website. We had the training not only to offer safe massage to the attendees but to also offer evidence-based research on the benefits of oncology massage during and after treatment for cancer.

We shared information with the attendees on simple stretches to help with the side effects of surgery, relaxation techniques and caregiver massage during their massage time with us. We were touched by their comments on how much it meant for us to give our time and be there to help them deal with the chronic issues of tight muscles and scar tissue after surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

I was also able to offer private Lebed classes as I finished their massage. Turned on the music and demonstrated the lymphatic opener. They were thrilled to know that there was a program designed for them that could help with their lymphedema and promised to search out an instructor when they went home.

Quality of Life issues, during and after treatment, seemed to be a hot topic. Many of the talks were around the side effects of treatment. As young survivors they are living with hot flashes, lymphedema or the fear of lymphedema, neuropathies that donít go away after treatment, skin conditions, anxiety of reoccurrence, osteoporosis brought about by treatment, fatigue, and pain.

If that is not enough there is body image, family relationship issues, early menopause, hair loss, figuring out the right exercise to combat decreased range of motion, what to eat to maintain a decent BMI, and always being encouraged to be upbeat and live for the moment. Itís enough to make someone want to drink, oh no, alcohol needs to be decreased as well.

The attendees took this all in stride, listened attentively on how proper nutrition, exercise, relaxation techniques, PT and massage are being shown to be beneficial to surviving and thriving. They learnt that survivor care should include an interdisciplinary team that coordinates their care for prevention, surveillance, and helps with side effects of treatment. Charts and diagrams showed them the latest research on new drug combinations and surgical procedures. All the information will be on LBBC web-site for all those that could not attend.

Judging by the dance party I can attest to the fact that these young women do know how to live in the moment, grab the support and camaraderie that comes from this large community of young women touched by cancer that they so deserve. Armed with the information from the workshops they return home to help their support groups, friends and families.

Written by Toni Muirhead, Oncology Massage Therapist

A Caring Touch For Cancer - www.acaringtouchforcancer.com 954-434-7563

This is an annual meeting that draws many young women. Information can be found at youngsurvival.org or lbbc.org



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