500 years of Women in Healthcare and Medicine

500 years of Women in Healthcare and Medicine

Women have worked as physicians, surgeons, nurses, midwives and various other medical/healthcare related jobs in a male dominated medical world for centuries. Their involvement through much of this time provoked intense debate as to their capability. Thankfully, in 2018 this has totally changed in most countries around the world. We take a look back over 500 years of women in healthcare and medicine and review the journey that women have made in contributing to the evolution of the medical profession.

A Colorful History

Looking back today it is hard to fathom the difficulties women faced when trying to forge their way in Medicine. The 1511 Act of Parliament in the UK was the first piece of legislation which referred to women working in medicine. The Act however was not supportive of women and in fact made it illegal for a woman to practice medicine.

In essence the Act suggested that women are ignorant of medicine and unfit to practice.

For as the Science and Cunning of Physick and Surgery…. is daily within this realm exercised by a great multitude of ignorant persons….Women…. take upon them great Cures, and things of great difficulty in which they partly use Sorcery and Witchcraft…”

For over 400 years, the Royal College of Physicians used their powers to license doctors and define who could or couldn’t be a doctor – and they chose to continuously overlook women.

At the time what was needed was someone to succeed in changing the status quo and break into the completely male dominated industry. As it turned out that person was Elizabeth Garret Anderson, who in the mid 1800’s became the first female doctor. She wrote to the College of Physicians in London numerous times putting pressure on them to recognize her medical qualifications. It wasn’t until 1876 that a new Medical Act passed allowing the British medical authorities to license all qualified applicants regardless of their gender.

In 1895 she become Dean of the London School of Medicine for Women and ultimately, her achievements are seen as significant in helping to increase the role of women in medicine.

The First World War

A crucial turning point in the history of women in medicine was the First World War. A consequence of the millions of young men leaving to fight in the war, was that women physicians and surgeons were able to show they could make a positive impact in medicine. Circumstances allowed women to prove they were capable of not only treating other women, but also treating men with the same level of skill as any other male practitioner.

In London, the Endell Street Hospital was at the center of the treatment of casualties during the war. It was the first ever hospital to be completely run and staffed by women and was funded by the Royal Army.

The women around this time faced exceptional challenges forging careers in medicine and had to be extremely strong and courageous to push back the boundaries. The progress they made ultimately set the tone for the big strides that would be made in the decades that followed.

Pioneering Women

The progress during the 20th century was none more evident than in Ireland, several women have played key roles in changing the perception of women in medicine. Below are two such examples:

Dr Victoria Coffey was born in Dublin in 1911 and become one of the first ever pediatricians in Ireland. She went on to become the first woman president of the Irish Paediatric Association and was one of the first to investigate metabolic disorders in new born babies in Ireland. In 1936, Coffey graduated from the Royal College of Surgeons and conducted ground-breaking work such as investigating Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. She also carried out important research into the effects of the thalidomide drug being used on women and their children.

Dr Emily Winifred Dickson is another important figure in Irish medical history. In 1893, early in her career, Dr Dickinson was the first woman fellow in any of the Colleges of Surgeons in both Ireland and the UK. She originally applied to Trinity College Dublin but was refused a place as she was a woman. Later she was appointed assistant master to the Coombe Lying-in Hospital in Dublin and worked as an examiner in midwifery at the Royal College or Surgeons after completing her doctorate in medicine.

Today women still face a variety of challenges but thankfully things have come a long way, owing in no small part to the achievements of their predecessors.

Trulife – Shaping the Future

We are extremely proud of these trailblazing women and are truly inspired by them. At Trulife we fully embrace gender balance in the workplace. Right throughout our organization – from research and design to manufacturing to business operations and senior management – we have a blend of both female and male employees.

In the past it is clear that women have been discouraged from entering the world of healthcare and science. Here at Trulife we look towards the future and are very excited to see so many women studying in these fields. Many of our new recruits are women and they make a wonderful contribution to our company. It’s a trend we will continue to embrace and support in the coming years.” Olive Gunning – Trulife General Manager

Trulife has a long history of creating products that make a real difference to the lives of women all around the world through, in particular though our Trulife Breastcare products.

Trulife was responsible for the first commercially successful Breast Prosthesis, created by Walter Kausch in 1958 for his wife who had had a mastectomy following treatment for breast cancer. We have continued to be a leader in the empowerment of women through healthcare and we are passionate in driving this ethos forward – for our team, clients and communities around the world.

Living a Regret-free Life After Cancer

When faced with my mortality after a breast cancer diagnosis, like a lot of other survivors, I questioned whether I’d see another birthday or holiday. More importantly, I took a personal inventory of my first 40 years. I waited, anxiously, for my test results. Hoping my cancer was contained, but fearful it might be roaming free in my body, all I could think about were the things I hadn’t done yet – all of my regrets. Did you run through your list of life experiences? Did your mind settle, like mine, on all the things you hadn’t done yet? So, what have you accomplished since your breast cancer diagnosis? Do you make plans? Set goals? Take steps to achieve them? Keep track of your progress? If you’re nodding your head, I’m right there with you, but if you’re not, maybe now is the time to start living your regret-free life.

Over the last 7 years since my diagnosis, I’ve tracked my life events, and it has provided me with two things. One, a way to stay on top of truly living life every day, and two, a tangible way to really remember what I’ve achieved. How many times have you experienced something new only to tuck it away – never to be retrieved from the corners of your mind again? I’ve discovered that the more I write on my list, the more I’m inspired to keep living. And I find that with every experience and achievement – big or small – I gain more post-cancer confidence. And let’s face it, increased self-confidence after cancer is in high demand.

I’m highly tech-dependent, so my life record isn’t really an “old school” book anymore. I’ve abandoned journals, and instead, I keep a list on my phone. It contains my basic goals and intended experiences for the year, and I check them off as I complete them. Sometimes, it’s something small. Can I do 30 pushups back to back? Often it’s larger stuff. Can I stick to a plan and save what I intend over the course of a year? Can I plan a special getaway and actually go? I find that when I write my desires down, I don’t forget them or lose interest, and yes, when I make a focused effort to achieve, I do.

Pre-cancer I went through the motions, so to speak, doing what I thought I should, worrying about some pretty insignificant things and spending a lot of time on unnecessary and petty drama. That’s not to say I sought those situations out on purpose, but I sometimes forgot I had a choice. I didn’t realize I could cut the cord with toxic people and situations. When I discovered this, it really opened the door for me. I was surprised at how much free time I actually had once I let go of my “time suckers.” As soon as I finished treatment, I began making plans, setting goals and keeping track of my progress. And guess what? I loved making the most of my bonus days.

A lot of people call me “driven,” and maybe to the outside world it looks that way, but really I’m just a woman who faced cancer and decided to get on with it. Today, I actively create my own opportunities, and I constantly have something to look forward to. That keeps me living in the moment and from becoming stagnant. It’s how I avoid living in “the rut.”

You might be asking, “So what does all this goal setting look like?” First, I don’t ever set unrealistic goals or make a “wish list.” I find that approach just sets me up for failure and disappointment. We ALL want to go to that far away vacation destination, buy our “dream” home, and a lot of other things that, quite frankly, may be out of financial reach – especially with cancer treatment bills rolling in! I set goals that I know are realistic and able to be accomplished in a reasonable amount of time. For example, rather than charge an upcoming vacation on credit cards, I devise a payment plan that I can effectively manage. I pay myself each month until I finally reach the magic number – then I book it! I pick a destination, research costs, and divide by six months or nine. The amount I need to pay myself each month takes some sacrifice, but the feeling of accomplishment when I pay cash for it is incredible. I now pay in full BEFORE I go, and I don’t owe for a year on a trip I already enjoyed. But the best part? I no longer feel guilty, talk myself out of a valuable life experience and say, “It’s too expensive. I’ll go next year.” Those thoughts used to be dream killers, but with a plan in place, I’m able to make valuable memories and experience new things. And it feels great!

This October, I’m getting ready to celebrate my “cancerversary”. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy almost 7 bonus years now, and I’ve filled them with treasured experiences. If you haven’t started really living, I urge you to make a plan. It’s a great way to express your gratitude and live a regret-free life.

Victorious Val.

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Expert Advice I Gave Myself After Cancer

I’m not a breast cancer authority. I muddled through my diagnosis in 2011 just as haphazardly as anyone else, but in the last 7 years of my survivorship, I’ve learned a few things. This month I’ve decided to write about getting back on track after cancer, the discovery that things weren’t going back to normal immediately and the unrealistic expectations with which I was forced to grapple. Take it with a grain of salt, however, because like I said, I’m not an official authority. I am an expert at my OWN experience, however, because, well, I’ve lived it. So here are a few of my top personal cancer epiphanies. And maybe they’ll help you too.

Straight out of the gate, I learned to cut myself some slack and adopt a new pace. After treatment, our bodies are recovering. We’ve pumped a lot of drugs into them and we’ve undergone multiple surgeries. I’d never experienced such an intense medical ordeal, so why would recovery be a piece of cake for me? Wait, it wasn’t going to be like that time I had an outpatient procedure?!?! Huh? My notion of a hunky-dory, happy post-cancer existence was naive at best. I had no idea what it’d be like, and I was genuinely surprised that it wasn’t just a couple of days of “taking it easy.” Looking back, I see how absurd that was, and I was forced to re-examine my expectations and adjust them. That was a real whopper of a realization. I had no idea that my recovery would translate into months – and then years – as new developments unfolded.

It wasn’t long before I was also forced to re-prioritize. If you like to keep a nice house, make sure everyone is taken care of, and really find some fulfilment in how well you do it, I’m sure you can relate. You’re probably going to have to let that go too. Yes, I know the dishes are piling up, the laundry is mounting, and the floors need vacuuming. Trust, those dishes aren’t going anywhere, the laundry will still be there tomorrow, and the dust on the floor doesn’t mind if you get to it later. Furthermore, if anyone in your home is REALLY that bothered by it, they’ll pitch in. If you still find it in disarray the next morning, I think it’s fair to say that nobody else in your house really cares all that much after all. I made healing my body my main priority. This experience took a toll on me, and I realized that if I exhausted myself more, I’d never catch up.

Eventually, after the Tamoxifen took full effect, I had to lose my negative self-talk. When I looked into the mirror, I saw the extra pounds that treatment piled on. I didn’t want to take photos or look into the mirror, and when I did, I was disgusted. Listen, it’s a catch-22. I didn’t feel like exercising because I was tired. And I was tired because I wasn’t getting exercise. When I finally did get to the point where I could actually work out, I realized that the weight wasn’t going to come off like it did pre-cancer. That was a huge slap in the face. Welcome to cancer and its side effects! The weight gain was a hard pill to swallow, and I failed to mention that it took me 3 years to even get to the point where I had the stamina to address it. Let that sink in. And that brings us right back to number one – you might consider cutting yourself some slack and adopting a new pace. I had to start off small and work my way up. I wasn’t able to pick up where I left off. I finally got the weight off after 15 months of 5 days a week in the gym – after I paced myself, built some strength and hired a personal trainer. It was not easy, and you shouldn’t expect an overnight “bounce back.”

And probably most importantly, I had to let go of the negative people in my life. I’ve touched on this one before in a blog post. And like I’ve mentioned before, this one can be both easy and difficult. It’s easy to cut out friends and acquaintances when they are dragging us down, but it’s much harder to draw the line in the sand with family. The stress of strained and/or drama-filled relationships wasn’t doing much for my psyche or my cancer predisposition, so I just separated from the friend circle who didn’t support me. And now, I routinely cut off interaction with new people who eventually reveal their negative true selves. And with family, well, I’ve had to create boundaries. While I may not completely cut them out, I do take a break when I feel they are not behaving in a positive, appropriate manner. Pre-cancer, I allowed a lot of poison in my life because I thought I had to endure it. Nonsense. Today, I am much happier emotionally because I take good care of myself without hesitation.

There are additional things I’ve adopted as my survivorship has unfolded, but I do want to save some of it for a later blog post. If I had to sum it up with one real nugget of non-qualified advice for anyone recovering from a critical disease, it would be this. If you don’t figure out how to take good care of yourself, nothing else matters. Quite frankly, you won’t be able to take care of the other people in your life. I don’t have to be a breast cancer authority to tell you this. And I think, deep down, we all know this to be true. We either have to realize we’re not invincible or relinquish our control. Or both.

Regardless, give yourself a break and be kind to yourself.

Victorious Val.

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Cancer Revealed a New, Improved Me

A lot of survivors write about lessons learned from cancer and how grateful they are for them. As a glass-half-full kinda gal, I relate to this school of thought more than the blogs and social media posts I’ve seen lately adamantly insisting that cancer is not a gift or something to be grateful for. While I agree that I am not happy to have been diagnosed with breast cancer, like any trial and tribulation I’ve endured over the years, it’s changed me. The impact it’s had on me has not been entirely negative, and I like who I am more afterwards. I guess I can, and do, appreciate the experience to some extent. Honestly, I’d be pretty ticked if something of value hadn’t come from it because it sucked. So I embrace the lessons it served up, and I incorporate them into my daily life as much as possible.

Here’s what I learned:

Erase people if needed

I bet you’re nodding your head right now. You know what I mean, don’t you! True, if I say this to the wrong person, sometimes I get “the look” like I’m cold and heartless. But, you know, I don’t feel called to be anyone’s doormat, and I certainly don’t feel called to spend any of my time wrapped up tightly in others’ drama. Quite simply, if it’s emotionally exhausting, requires too much physical energy, or steals my joy, it’s gotta go – and that applies to situations AND people. The moment I see things going south, I bail. After coming face-to-face with my mortality, I panic when any sort of drama reveals itself. All I can think is that I’m losing valuable, precious time that I will never get back. And so I walk away. I don’t look back. I don’t investigate or probe further to see if I can fix it. I just erase. And guess what? It’s not even hard anymore. Maybe the first time or two it felt weird not giving someone another chance, but before long, it seemed perfectly okay and even my right.

Keep co-workers as co-workers

My biggest lesson during cancer was that my co-workers were people I shared work space with and NOT my friends. I get a lot of looks on this one, too, but after some pretty hurtful things were said and done behind my back while I was fighting off cancer, I cleaned out my social media, emptied my social calendar, and deleted every last one of them. I won’t allow anyone I work with to be on my social channels. I don’t hang out with any of them after hours, and I don’t consider them my friends. Once I retire, or once they quit and move on, if I like them at all, I’ll let them into my personal friend space. But until that moment, they are simply co-workers. I can still like them, enjoy them, laugh with them and appreciate my time with them. But I must say that my life has been simpler since I decided to keep it entirely professional in 2011.

Do as much as possible

I jam pack my days with fun plans and adventures. And just to make sure I’m making enough memories, I keep myself accountable by recording the stuff that I do. I like to look forward to upcoming events, so I make plans constantly. I try to pick one thing a month that brings me great joy, and I put it on the calendar. Sometimes it’s an activity. Sometimes it’s a travel destination. Sometimes it’s something HUGE, and other times it’s something simple that I’ve been meaning to do. Whatever it is though, I challenge myself to live big. Each morning, when I wake up, I like to know that I’ve got something ahead. It puts a spring in my step and pops me out of bed. And each night, when I go to sleep, I know I’m one day closer to whatever dream I’m dreaming.

Do as little as possible.

Ha ha. I know I just said to do as much as possible. But after cancer, I also do as little as possible. What do I mean by that? Well, here’s a great example. Pre-cancer I was a slave to my yard. I spent hours planting, mowing, edging, fertilizing and making things Martha Stewart-esque. But let me tell you, once I was home from the hospital, I quit that. I hired someone to cut my lawn, and I stopped knocking myself out. Because it just wasn’t that important to me anymore. Those hours I spent in the Texas heat trying to keep things alive – not worth it. The blood, sweat and tears – not worth it. I’d rather go to the gym and work out, hang out with my husband, Jack, go out with friends or take a nap. I really stopped caring about things being perfect and just let it go. The same went for the house. Nobody is ever going to accuse me of keeping an immaculate house, that’s for sure, because I stopped spending so much time making sure everything was perfect. At the end of the day, I’d rather spend my hours doing things I love vs. things I feel I must do. And I lay around when I feel like it. Zero guilt there, too.

Seek opportunity

The worst someone can say is “no.” I open myself up to opportunity. I don’t say no to the absurd or the unimaginable, and actually, I invite that into my life. Since cancer, I’ve appeared in a breast cancer survivor photo shoot for a catalog, written this blog, learned to rally race a real-live race car, competed in 5 bodybuilding competitions, gotten married on a glacier in Alaska on the popular reality show, Say Yes To The Dress, rescued multiple shelter animals, became a legitimate published author in books and magazines, started my own web content writing and social media managing side business, gone vegan, expanded my travel horizons, and honestly, a whole lot more. I don’t shut the door on anything that make me uncomfortable before asking myself the question, “Has the average person done this?” If the answer is no, then I kinda feel compelled to do it!

So what have you learned? Has this experience shaped your life in ways you never imagined it would? Have you found your power? And if you have, are you actively using it? Yes, with Breast cancer comes long-term effects and anxiety, and if I could undo it, I would. But since I can’t, I’m happy that it could be the catalyst for change. And I’m grateful for the personal growth, self-awareness and new, improved me.

Victorious Val

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First Fitting – A Canadian Fitter’s Experience

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian women (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers) and on average, 72 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every day. Following treatment, acquiring a breast prosthesis that is right for each individual is vital. This is where a qualified fitter comes in.

In the  3rd article in our “First Fitting” series, we spoke to Sue Teschke, owner and certified fitter at Mastectomy Lingerie & More who detailed what is involved during the process of fitting for a breast prosthesis.

 

What should I look for when selecting a Breastcare boutique?

Our customers can expect a comfortable atmosphere, knowledgeable staff and selection of products.

From my own experience after my surgery 10 years ago, I had no idea what mastectomy bras or breast prostheses looked like. I was looking for information and to see what my different options were.

Having a place where you see a selection of products (and note that mastectomy bras and prosthesis are not ‘medical looking devices’!) and feel comfortable to ask questions and discuss the products with knowledgeable staff can help ease any anxiety you may be having.

In our store, we showcase a variety of styles of mastectomy products, including bras, breast prosthesis, clothing and swimwear. Customers are welcome to browse and touch and feel the products to help them see what their options are.

 

Why should I go to a professional fitter?              

A professional fitter has the knowledge of products and experience in bra and prosthesis fittings so they can help you find products that will be a good fit for you.

 

I have recently learned I require breast surgery, how can a fitter help me?

If you can speak with a fitter before your surgery, they can provide you with information on products and give you guidance on your next steps for mastectomy bras and prosthesis.

A helpful product that is meant for use right after your surgery is a post-surgery camisole.

The camisole is designed to hold removable drain bulb pouches that will help you manage the drains that will be in place after surgery.

Trulife offers the Jennifer post-surgery camisole that is not only comfortable, it’s also easy to put on because it’s a step-in design, and it’s very pretty with a little lace accent at the front.

This camisole also includes 2 soft puffs that have a soft cotton cover and are filled with adjustable material, and you can wear the puffs to give you a little ‘something’ while your surgery site heals and before you are ready for a more fitted prosthesis.

 

How soon after my surgery can I be fitted for a prosthesis?          

For a silicone prosthesis, it is recommended to wait about 6 – 8 weeks after surgery.

You want to make sure your surgery site is healed and swelling has minimized.  And you want to make sure you are comfortable wearing a fitted bra around your ribcage.

There are also some non-silicone options, such as the Active Flow that may be comfortable for you before that time that offer a little more shape and can be worn in leisure bras which offers a lighter support until you are ready for a fitted bra.

 

Do I need to book an appointment?                

At Mastectomy Lingerie & More appointments are not necessary so you are welcome to drop in during our store business hours when it is convenient for you.

We do offer some appointment times during the week if the customer prefers. They can contact us for availability and to schedule a time.

You can also visit our website to view products available in our store. We also offer online shopping and if you are not sure about size you can contact us with your questions.

 

I am still body conscious following my surgery, is the fitting facility discreet?      

We have individual change rooms where you will try on the products in privacy and discuss with the fitter.

 

Is it ok for me to bring a friend/sister/daughter along with me?       

Yes! At our store, you are welcome to bring along spouses, family or friends for support and to help you decide what looks good on you.

 

How long does a fitting normally take? 

For the first fitting after surgery, it could take about 1 hour as we try different styles of bras and prosthesis to see what is a good fit for you in sizing and style.

We understand that this is a new experience for you so we don’t want to rush as we want you to be happy with your new purchase(s)!

 

Do I need to wear a special bra with my prosthesis?   

While you can just set a prosthesis in a bra cup, mastectomy bras are designed to offer support and hold the prosthesis in a pocket to keep it securely in place.

 

How do I look after my prosthesis?

With the silicone prosthesis, you want to give them a wipe off with a mild soap on a regular basis (just like a body part!).

When not wearing the prosthesis, you should store it in its ‘cradle’ in the box it came in. That will help to keep its shape and will protect it from pets or young children who may think it is a new toy!

The silicone prosthesis is designed to be worn every day and when properly taken care, could last for a few years. They will start to lose their shape over time and you could start to see air bubbles in the silicone as they break down with regular wear.

The silicone prostheses do have a warranty of 2 years from date of purchase against manufacturer’s defects (i.e. if the air bubbles appear before the 2 years).

You may want to be re-fitted after this time to ensure the size and style is still a good ‘match’ for you. Also, there may be a new style available that you like better!

Prostheses of any kind should never be put in the washer or dryer.  If you have a non-silicone prosthesis you will want to confirm what the care procedures are with the fitter.

The Active Flow is a non-silicone prosthesis which can be used for swimming and other ‘active’ activities and it is easy to clean by giving a rinse out in a small basin with mild soap (especially after swimming). Then just a gentle squeeze and pat in a towel. With its quick-drying outer fabric, it will be ready to wear almost immediately!

This Is Not What I Expected After Breast Cancer

I know I’ve talked about survivorship with you guys before, but it’s such an expansive topic. I feel like there’s always more to discuss.  As I’ve said before, it’s something that I really never gave a thought about when I was diagnosed. I never wondered “What will life be like after I’m done with treatment?” Naively, I just assumed breast cancer was a blip on the radar of my life and that all would be the same the day I walked out of the hospital. I was so focused on counting down the days – trying to make it through all the appointments and treatment – that quite honestly, I never considered what my future life might look like.

Looking back on my 2011 diagnosis, I find it amusing – well, kinda but not really, I guess  – that I never imagined I’d come out differently. And the women I talk to say the same. We followed the plan, took the necessary steps and then got our minds blown after we tried to merge back into our familiar existence.

A lot of us slammed into a brick wall.

Lots of things happen during survivorship – and quite frankly, none of them are easy. I always say I had some unrealistic expectations that the sky would part, trumpets would sound and everyone would be elated. We’d celebrate. And I’d just go right back to being Val. It really sucked when the final day of treatment was nothing special. I rang a bell, had some confetti tossed my way, gulped down some really sweet, iced cookies and a big unhealthy cheat meal, and then went home. My house was quiet. There were no marching bands in my driveway or people lined up for the Val-Kicked-Cancer parade. It was pretty uneventful overall. And the next day, I was like, “Hmmm.”

Lots of things changed for me after I finished treatment, but there was one thing that went back to normal. The people in my life carried on, and it was as though I’d never been sick at all. I would have originally lumped this into a positive survivorship category except it ended up causing feelings of isolation later. When we’re no longer the cancer patient (something we honestly can’t wait for), and people no longer think of us that way (something we also can’t wait for), it can land us smack dab in the middle of a depressive slump as we begin experiencing side effects and/or lingering problems after cancer. People don’t understand what the big deal is because our cancer “is over” – except it’s really not.

It’s stressful when we can’t remember pretty much anything. Try going back to YOUR job, especially if it’s detail-oriented, with no recollection of 5 minutes ago. Many patients experience chemo brain – something that they weren’t prepared to cope with after cancer. I did not undergo chemo myself, but I had a very hard time on my after-drug, Tamoxifen. My brain fog was terrible. Something as simple as playing Yahtzee with my husband was frustrating because when adding up multiple dice, I’d lose count of my previous total. How many times did I start over – only to give up and finally use a calculator? It really “dumbed” me down, and I felt inadequate at basic tasks. As a teacher, I couldn’t remember my students’ names, what they’d just asked me or pretty much anything outside of a 30 second time period.

Let’s see, there were also the hot flashes. The sleeplessness.The emotional outbursts.The weight gain.The lymphedema. Dude, survivorship sucked. Except I guess it really didn’t because I was still alive. Which brings me to something else I was not prepared for – the recurrence of many of my new breast cancer friends. The funerals started and the guilt ensued. I realized that I wasn’t in danger of returning to old Val anytime soon. That was a sad realization. I mourned my old life, and I had trouble embracing the new.

My problems pale in comparison with so many of my survivor sisters, so I can only imagine the difficult transition many of them have experienced. I have dealt with the lymphedema, the nagging worry of recurring, the endless tests, and a whole host of things over the last 7 years, yes, but I’ve also seen women go through much more harrowing experiences than me. The courage and grace with which they face these adversities is inspiring. No one should have to deal with cancer aftermath such as lifelong neuropathy, failed surgeries, random aches and pains, secondary diseases caused by treatment, loss of employment, failed marriages, strained relationships and/or a number of other things I haven’t mentioned here. But cancer is tricky. It ends up penetrating areas of our lives that we never imagine it will, and it wreaks havoc in ways that we can’t quite comprehend.

What have your experiences been like? Please leave a comment about the challenges and triumphs of your survivorship.

Keep livin’ victoriously,

Victorious Val

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First Fitting – A USA Fitter’s Experience

Breast Cancer is the most common cancer affecting women in the United States. The majority of women with breast cancer will have surgery in combination with chemotherapy and/or radiation. More than 80% of those treated will incur some level of clinical distress associated with the surgical results, or side effects of chemotherapy.

In the 2nd article in our “First Fitting” Series we spoke to Marianne Kelly CMF at Image Recovery Center who detailed what is involved during the process of fitting for a breast prosthesis.

What you should know:

It is important that you schedule your fitting with an experienced certified mastectomy fitter. The fitter becomes a partner in your journey, providing you with available options and professional opinion on what best suits your post-surgery body type and lifestyle.

The provision of post-mastectomy external breast prosthesis is designed to restore the woman’s self- confidence in her appearance, thus curtailing the impact of the disease on her psychological health.

Some Frequently Asked Questions:

Should I plan to meet with a fitter prior to my surgery?

Once your treatment plan has been finalized, you may want to schedule a time t meet with a fitter to explore some options that you may be available post-surgery.

How soon after surgery can I have my fitting?

Your fitting will normally take place 6-8 weeks post-surgery. Most of your swelling will have subsided and your surgeon will remove drains. At this time, you should obtain a prescription for mastectomy products to present to your fitter.

What are the benefits of having a breast prosthesis?

  • Helps prevent muscle-skeletal problems
  • Keeps your bra from shifting
  • Gives you warmth
  • Protects your chest and scars
  • May produce a more natural look under clothes
  • May produce a more balanced look

What are the benefits of a custom breast prosthesis?

The breast form is tailored to your own needs

Precisely fits the chest wall

Exactly distributes your weight

  • May entirely alleviate stress and friction on sensitive areas of the chest wall
  • More precisely matches skin tone, breast shape and areola size/color

How accepting are women about wearing a breast prosthesis?

Most women realize they will need to make changes in their lifestyle but find that when they are fitted well and have good support systems they feel an improved self-esteem, and improved body posture & quality of life. Most women are pleasantly surprised at how well their clothes fit even while wearing a prosthesis. Sharing your expectations with your fitter will assure a good outcome.

Will my health insurance cover my post-mastectomy products?

Yes, U.S. legislation passed in 1999 mandated that commercial carriers must provide post-mastectomy coverage for prosthesis and mastectomy bras as a medical necessity. Additionally, all federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid will also cover. However, coverage may vary by carrier for the custom prosthesis. You should review your policy for coverages. An experienced mastectomy fitter should verify your coverage. The amount and frequency of coverage is usually determined by medical necessity and policy limits.

How often should I be measured?

Changes in our body can be influenced by our health, lifestyle and aging. In order to maintain optimal comfort, you may want to be measured once a year unless you experience a fluctuation in your weight or experience any discomfort from your bra or prosthesis.

We are based in Baltimore, Maryland where we operate four hospital-based Image Recovery Center Clinics that have serviced more than twenty-five thousand patients since 1993. Additionally, another one hundred thousand have been serviced thru our licensing program to other cancer centers across the United States. The premise of our program is that appearance rehabilitation for cancer treatment related body image issues are part of the oncology treatment protocol.

We understand the importance of a good quality prosthesis and prosthesis fitting and how it can restore the woman’s body image, femininity and psychosocial well-being following breast cancer surgery.

At Image Recovery Centers our passion is to empower women to fight their battle one step at a time. For more information you can visit us at www.imagerecovery.com

Four Reasons to Go Light

Choosing a breast prosthesis that’s right for you can be a difficult task. For years women were advised that they should opt for a prosthesis that matched the weight of their natural breast to provide better balance. However research in recent years has found that a lightweight prosthesis is a better option. Below we examine four benefits of a lighter breast form that women should consider when choosing a prosthesis.

As recently as a decade ago, women were advised to wear a “weighted” prosthesis that would simulate the weight of their missing breast. Doing this they were told would restore balance and prevent them from developing problems with balance, with their spine or with “shoulder drop”. Unfortunately these claims that a weighted prosthesis was necessary to prevent knock-on issues have proved untrue and not evidence-based.

In particular a condition termed “shoulder drop” is one that was cause for most concern. It referred to a problem that could occur when a shoulder is lower than the other, brought on by using a lightweight prosthesis. However, research conducted by Irene R. Healey among others found that there exists no published research stating that shoulder drop may occur if a woman doesn’t wear a weighted prosthesis. These claims along with others pushing the wearing of weighted prostheses on medical grounds have all proven untrue.

So why choose a lightweight prosthesis?

Given that the wearing of a lightweight prosthesis does not produce any of the negative results mentioned above, what are the benefits of wearing one over a weighted prosthesis?

Breast prosthesis technology has evolved greatly in the last 50 years since the first commercially available breast form was created by Trulife. It’s hard to imagine women wearing a vinyl shell with glycerin inside nowadays but at the time women appreciated that they didn’t have to roll up a sock in their bra cup, or fill a sock with seeds or grains in an effort to restore a more normal appearance after a mastectomy. But weight and heat have always been factors of discomfort. Many advances have been made since then, to the relief of millions of women around the world. That brings us back to the original question, why choose a lightweight prosthesis? We outline four excellent reasons below.

Comfort

Breast prostheses are usually worn for many hours in any given day; the wearer’s comfort is of utmost importance. Heavier products become uncomfortable because the bra cup and strap are supporting the weight of the prosthesis. Shoulder indentation and pain can occur. This can be alleviated by making a lighter choice – The Sublime Arís breast form by Trulife is the lightest, most comfortable breast form available on the market.

Heat

A person wouldn’t wear a heavy winter jacket during the hot summer days, would they? The same can be said when it comes to a prosthesis. Temperature and moisture on the chest wall increase significantly in hot and humid weather, to the point it becomes intolerable to wear the prosthesis. New technologies with cooling gel and breathable 100% silicone breast forms offer the relief women have been looking for – The BodiCool Triangle breast form by Trulife uses an advanced gel cushion design with TruCool technology to draw excess heat away from the body.

Lymphedema

Approximately 35% of women will suffer from lymphedema after breast cancer surgery, due to lymph node removal or destruction by radiation. The National Lymphedema Association strongly recommends that large-breasted women wear a lightweight form “because heavy prostheses may put too much pressure on the lymph nodes above the collar bone” – Trulife breast forms offer the same lightweight properties no matter the cup size.

Osteoporosis

This bone density disease affect women as they get older, typically over 60 years of age. Bones become porous and fragile, with a risk of fracture. Heavy weighted prosthesis can exacerbate and perhaps accelerate the problem. Therefore the choice of a lightweight prosthesis should be helpful – Trulife breast forms are available in a variety of options, our Silk Curve prosthesis is designed with a natural drape to match the mature breast.

While choosing a lightweight prosthesis may not work for all women, especially those with larger breasts who find a weightier breast form to be more suitable, lightweight prostheses have been proven to be successful in dealing with the four factors of Comfort, Heat, Lymphedema and Osteoporosis.

Ultimately the reasons for choosing a breast prosthesis that is right for an individual comes down to personal choice. Finding the right prosthesis not only improves a woman’s physical wellbeing but also their mental wellbeing, making ‘you feel like you again!’

Grateful After Cancer

I write a monthly blog here at Trulife Breastcare, and I never seem to run out of topics. I find this to be somewhat disturbing as it signals that my tangle with breast cancer is not over and likely never will be.

It’s been almost seven years now, and still the blog posts flow. The never-ending breast cancer saga is something that we learn to live with, and after a reasonable amount of time, I think we eventually come to terms with our life changes and maybe even accept them.

To some degree, though, many of us will continue to struggle and maybe even harbor some resentment regarding the aftermath it brings. In spite of this, I think we can all agree that gratefulness is something we don’t run low on in the breast cancer community.

If you’ve ever gotten the cancer news, I’m sure you know first-hand that we also don’t run low on survivor’s guilt, recurrence fear and “scanxiety”. And I think that’s why it’s such a sting when, in response to our feelings about issues we still deal with, others sometimes tell us we should “just be grateful.”

We ARE grateful. We are grateful every day that we wake up, take another breath and kiss our kids, parents and spouses. We are grateful for our ability to function even if it’s at a reduced rate due to chemo, radiation, surgery and medication after-cancer issues. We are grateful to live another day, go to work one more time, take a vacation, and watch our kids play sports, dance in a recital, cheer at a game or graduate from high school. Trust.

No one is more grateful than us. And that’s why it’s hard to read the comments I see on other survivor friends’ posts as I’m scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed. I think we generally post what we know, so while others are posting pics of their holidays and family time, we’re posting about our surgeries, treatments, and more importantly, our feelings about them.

Treatment is a very trying experience – one that can take months, well over a year, and in some cases, a lifetime. And it never fails. There’s always that one person who plays the “at least you’re alive” card and solicits the “you should be grateful” advice.
Huh?

Of course we’re happy to be alive. Of course we’re grateful. And, of course, some of us might still be mourning our losses and working through them. Listen, if you’re reading this, and you haven’t gone through cancer yourself, the well-meaning advice is not so helpful, and sometimes, it’s not received well by the person you hope to comfort with it. In fact, often it only promotes guilt within us.

We tend to mask how we really feel because we already deeply internalize our experiences and truly feel we actually SHOULD just be grateful. To feel anything otherwise seems selfish.

Missing breasts, scars, phantom pains, neuropathy, weight gain, and a vast array of other side effects and lingering reminders are difficult to process. In the midst of our conflicting feelings alternating between gratefulness and resentment, we struggle.

If you’ve never experienced a cancer diagnosis, the “at least you are alive” comments might seem logical to you. But the count-your-blessings statements I read all too often undermine the survivor’s healing process. We are not having a pity party.

We are feeling loss, sadness, and yes, even resentment to some degree after a critical illness. I think it’s the only way to move forward to acceptance. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t grateful. On the contrary, it’s quite natural to want our old lives back – especially when we naively think life will return as we once knew it.

I really don’t think people mean to sucker punch us like this. To others it may seem like we complain a lot. Maybe we do, but I maintain that cancer is a complicated psychological process, and long after the physical threat is gone, we peel back the leftover mental layers of our diagnosis. Just when we think we’ve finally reached the core, we find there are more hidden layers. It’s frustrating.

Have patience with us. Let us get it out. Love us anyway. We’ll work through it, but it will take time. And we will be forever grateful for your understanding.

Keep livin’ victoriously,
Victorious Val

Follow Val on Facebook at Victorious Val & the Breast Cancer Crusaders

Coping with Breast Cancer

How did you deal with your breast cancer diagnosis?

If you are anything like me, you probably tried to gain control over an out-of-control situation by changing anything – or everything – ASAP. For me, it was a diet makeover, an increase in exercise, a complete re-evaluation of household products, the ditching of unnecessary and stressful relationships, and probably a whole host of other things I’m forgetting at the moment. It was like a huge, personal spring cleaning at my house – except it was in October, my breast cancer diagnosis month.

Within that first week, I took a trip to the bookstore, immersed myself in the diet section for what seemed like hours, and then came home armed with an array of books to aid in my personal crusade against breast cancer. I researched cancer fighting foods and read the online studies on exercise, and although I did say yes to traditional cancer treatment, I tried to supplement it with as much holistic stuff as possible. I blazed through those breast cancer how-to manuals in record speed. And it made me feel better. That was a good thing at such a low point in my life.

I started taking vitamin D3, and I ate copious amounts of garlic and brussel sprouts. I stopped the sugar because everyone always says, “Don’t eat sugar!” I don’t even really know whether or not that has any real validity, or even made a bit of difference, but it somehow made me feel like I was doing something in the fight against this invader.

I put some self-care routines into place. I religiously scheduled massages during my treatment, and I divorced a whole lot of negative people out of my life. Just flat-out wiped my slate clean and started over. Whatever caused this awful cancer to overtake my body had to be in one of these categories – or multiple ones – and I was determined to 180 my life and eliminate the culprits. I planned more fun activities, took more trips and stopped worrying about anything that wasn’t life-threatening.

The day after my diagnosis, I threw away the diet soda. I went from “Aspartame is fine! Why would it be in my soda if it’s bad for me?” to “Fake ingredients are making me sick!” Everything I’d ever thought about pretty much anything was challenged overnight after getting that dreaded cancer call, and I guess you could say I was in full panic mode. Can you relate?

“Nope! Not buying THAT anymore!” I screamed to myself as I rounded the aisles at the grocery store. I quit the processed foods cold turkey, and I went strictly organic. I stocked my fridge with fresh produce and lean meats. No more steak or barbeque for me, and as a Texas girl, that was pretty hard. I limited my protein to chicken, turkey and fish. That menu eventually dwindled to just fish. And, now, six years later, I’m strictly plant-based.

I gave away all my chemical cleaners and purchased plant-based substitutes. I threw away all my lotions and makeup and replaced them with paraben-free products. I stocked up on essential oils. I limited alcohol. The list goes on and on.

So why am I sharing all of this with you? It’s not about the changes I made because, quite honestly, I can’t even guarantee that any of them will do the trick and keep me in remission. And I’m certainly not recommending anything to anyone. I’m not a doctor. I’m just recognizing that all of my actions stem from a very real place. First, my need to do something in the fight against cancer. If I can’t do anything large scale for mankind, at least I can do something on my own personal front. And second, I did something to gain control of what was happening to me as I faced my biggest life obstacle to date. Even if all my efforts turn out to be in vain, it’s allowed me to feel more secure in an otherwise insecure situation.

Some people have expressed opinions that my response to cancer has been overkill – that breast cancer was purely my dumb luck, that none of the stuff I essentially erased from my life caused my cancer, and that quite honestly, I should just “live it up” and quit limiting myself because “you only live once.” Granted, not a single one of them has ever faced cancer.

Whatever YOU’RE doing, I get it.

 

Keep livin’ victoriously,

Victorious Val

Follow Val on Facebook at Victorious Val & the Breast Cancer Crusaders