Thinking Pink: ACH Community Lecture Focuses on Topic of Breast Cancer
By Shannon Harsh, The Review, Published October 28, 2015
Alliance Community Hospital offered a lecture topic in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month Friday, when “Breast Cancer: Detection, Treatment and Enjoying Life after Breast Cancer” was presented by David Meir, director of cardiac and oncology services, and Dawn Wagner, registered dietician and breast cancer survivor.
Meir focused his talk on the medical aspects of breast cancer, including risks, types, testing and treatments.
He explained that breast cancer begins as a mutation of a single cell that abnormally divides. “Eventually, they continue to multiply and grow until they become this large mass or large clump of cells kind of stuck together; that’s when we start seeing things on X-rays or when you start feeling things within your body, when they become this large mass growth.”
Meir said anyone can get breast cancer. There are about 230,000 women diagnosed every year (about one every three minutes), and it is the leading cause of death in women ages 35-54. Although only about 2,000 men are diagnosed every year, he said a higher percentage of men die from breast cancer because they don’t realize they have it and it is caught late in the process.
If breast cancer is noninvasive — meaning it hasn’t spread beyond the breast tissue — and caught early, five-year survival rate is greater than 95 percent.
In order to catch it early, Meir said it is important to know what’s normal in the appearance and feel of your breasts, to be aware of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and to be aware of family history and discuss the risks with your family physician.
He said the new recommendation from the American Cancer Society is for ages 20-45 to do a breast self-exam monthly and a clinical exam every three years; 45-55 to do a breast self-exam, clinical breast exam and mammogram every year; and after 55 to do a mammogram every other year because of the change in estrogen production, which is strictly related to breast cancer (excluding those undergoing hormone replacement therapy).
Meir said there is help available for those who can’t afford these preventive measures, such as Ohio’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Project. He said the hospital also offers financial assistance to women of all ages who fall into certain criteria. “(At) Alliance Community Hospital, we care about your health; we don’t care about whether you fall into this criteria or not. We want you to be healthy, and if you have something going on, we want you to catch it as early as possible so that we can treat it as early as possible.”
Meir explained the treatment options include breast-sparing surgery of lumpectomy or segmental mastectomy to remove the tissue, or breast removal — whether total or modified radical mastectomy, which allows for easier reconstruction.
Besides surgery, treatment may include chemotherapy, biotherapy or radiation therapy.
“Chemotherapy and radiation, they have a lot of side effects; they’re different for everybody,” he said. “One thing that chemotherapy and radiation therapy both do is that not only do they kill the bad cancer cells, but they also kill some of the good cells that are kind of around that area. One thing that often affects is your blood cells, your red blood cells and your white blood cells.”
He said other side effects may include nausea and vomiting, generalized achiness or muscle pain in isolated areas or whole areas, abdominal pain, sores in your mouth, diarrhea or constipation, anemia, loss of appetite, loss of hair, chronic fatigue, sexual or reproductive issues, psychological issues, changes in body or in thinking, and trouble with memory.
Meir said ACH takes a multidisciplinary approach to health care and cancer care, which includes diet. “Your diet is key to your health during and after your cancer treatment,” he said. “Chemotherapy treatment, radiation treatment causes a lot of changes in your body, causes you to lose your appetite, causes you some nausea (and) some different symptoms, and it makes you not want to eat.” He said a dietician can help you know which foods to eat and to avoid and what to eat when you’re not hungry.
One of the newer offerings at ACH is the Nurse Navigator program, which pairs patients with a person who oversees their health care experience and facilitates testing in a timely manner. “If we do suspect that you have cancer or we know that you have cancer, we want to get it accurately diagnosed and accurately treated as quickly as possible,” he said.
He said the Navigator also makes sure all those involved in the treatment — which could potentially include a surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, dietician and psychiatrist or counselor — are on the same page.
To help patients cope while in treatment for breast cancer, Meir stressed the importance of exercise, diet, family and friend, support groups, financial assistance, head coverings and prosthetic breasts or breast reconstruction.
Wagner shared her own story of breast cancer through a video produced by the hospital detailing her 2011 diagnosis. “It’s an important message that we want to get out there,” she said of the importance of mammograms like the one that caught her cancer.
From lumpectomy surgeries to chemotherapy and radiation that left her bald, Wagner said what she went through still affects her emotions.
She talked about the support she received from her family and her experience as a member of the Dragon Dream Team, an all breast cancer survivor dragon boat racing team she discovered while going through treatments. Wagner also shared how her hospital colleagues have supported her by putting together a dragon boat team to race at a festival the past three years. The team went from last place to earning a bronze medal this past year, which was on display.
Dawn Wagner shows a video telling of her diagnosis with breast cancer Friday at Alliance community Hospital (Courtesy of The Alliance Review, Oct. 28, 2015).