Breast Cancer Survivorship Conference Reminds Survivors They’re Not Alone

Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center

While the 4th Annual Breast Cancer Survivorship Conference featured a wide range of talks and sessions that covered many topics, a theme emerged: You’re not alone.

“We want everyone to know that there are others going through what they’re going through, and learn how others are dealing with issues of treatment and life after treatment,” said William Farrar, MD, Director of the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center and breast cancer surgical oncologist.

About 130 breast cancer survivors and their caregivers attended the September 24 event presented by JamesCare for Life that included an emotional keynote address from a 10-year breast cancer survivor, numerous breakout sessions and a Q&A with a panel of doctors. The conference was timely, as October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and a reminder that enhanced screenings and better treatment options have led to more and more breast cancer survivors.

Lauren Miller, a stress-relief motivational speaker and author, was the keynote speaker. One of the themes of her talk was “shake it off,” and Miller meant this quite literally.

“Your attitude is your closest friend or your worst enemy, and you get to choose,” Miller said.

She talked about how a lot of laughter, riding her bike between coaching sessions and shaking and moving her body all helped her stay positive during tough times. Laughter and exercise boost the immune system, while anger compromises it, she said.

“Which do you choose?” Miller asked.

The often-difficult path to the proactive and positive outlook that Miller described was the theme of several of the breakout sessions. Topics included: The Power of Mindfulness, Healthy Lifestyle Choices, Coping with Cancer, a caregiver panel, and Tips for Managing Common Side Effects.

“The goal is to teach the techniques of how to cope with your disease and help your family cope,” Dr. Farrar said.

A few of the things that women who have undergone treatment for breast cancer must cope with are fatigue, anxiety, balance issues and the memory and cognitive issues that comes with “chemo brain.” Several of those issues were addressed in the Managing Common Side Effects panel.

Cancer-related fatigue is a persistent type of weariness that sleep just doesn’t reduce, said Lynne Brophy, MSN, RN-BC, AOCN, CNS and a breast cancer clinical nurse specialist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center ­– James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

Fatigue can lead to emotional distress and cognitive dysfunction, Brophy said. She also talked about the brain’s cycle, in which it’s “on” for 90 minutes and then needs 20 minutes of rest. Meditation and exercise are two ways to help the brain rest and recover.

Karen Hock, PT, MS, CLT-LANA, and Rehab Services Manager at the OSUCCC – James addressed peripheral neuropathy, a common problem for women who have been treated for breast cancer. It results in balance issues.

“It’s caused by the chemo drugs, and it affects the peripheral nerves at the end of the extremities, the hands and feet,” said Hock, who then went through several exercises designed to increase balance.

In The Power of Mindfulness, Maryanna Klatt, PhD, Professor of Clinical Family Medicine, explained how guided meditation can reduce stress. Chronic stress, a condition that impacts many cancer patients, she said, speeds the aging process, weakens the immune system, increases inflammation and slows the healing of wounds.

Klatt guided the attendees through a five-minute version of her longer mindfulness course. The demonstration included relaxing music and gentle movement.

“Allow the weight of your feet to settle into the ground, wiggle your toes,” Klatt began. “Now, bring your attention to your knees and your thighs.”

In the Q&A session, several women had questions about lymphedema.

Lymphedema is a chronic condition that causes painful and uncomfortable swelling of the arms and fingers, which can also be present in the legs and feet. It occurs after a patient’s lymph nodes are removed as a necessary part of surgery. It’s most common in breast cancer patients, but occurs after other types of cancer and non-cancer surgery.

One woman wanted to know if anyone else had the symptoms of lymphedema in their breast, as she did.

“You’re not alone; this happens to other women,” said Maryam Lustberg, MD, assistant professor and breast cancer medical oncologist at the Breast Center.

Another woman wanted to know how long after surgery lymphedema can occur.

Dr. Farrar said improved surgical techniques have greatly reduced the incidence of lymphedema, but he’s seen it impact women 10 or even 20 years after their surgery.

“But, if you don’t get it in the first two years, there’s a 91 percent chance you won’t get it,” said Roman Skoracki, MD, Division Chief for Oncologic Plastic Surgery.

Tracy Townsend, a news anchor for WBNS-10TV and a breast cancer survivor, also spoke at the conference.

“This is inspirational and empowering,” Townsend said of the overall impact of the conference. “Everyone’s cancer is different, but we’re all going through a similar journey. And from the moment you hear those words, that you have cancer, it’s the fight of your life. It’s so great to have all these tools available here at The James.”

JamesCare for Life offers a wide range of programs and classes. Visit our website for more information.

For information about the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center, visit our website here.

Learn more about breast cancer research, treatment, clinical trials and more at the OSUCCC – James.