Tag Archives: Previvor

FORCE Conference, BSO, HRT, and more

This past weekend, I attended the 9th Annual Joining FORCEs Against Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Conference in Philadelphia. This is the only event of its kind; created by and for the members of the HBOC community. To say that this event was awesome is a gross understatement. It was an amazing weekend packed with relevant content and activities.

Leading researchers and experts in related fields presented on latest research. I learned about newest options for cancer screening and prevention. Most interesting to me were the sessions related to ovarian cancer, since I am currently considering a risk-reducing bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (BSO).

My personal takeaways on the topic of Ovarian Cancer: Early Detection and Prevention, presented by Dr. Beth Karlan, Cedars-Sinai (slides):

  • Taking tubes only (salpingectomy) and sparing the ovaries is a reasonable intermediate step for younger women (I’m 34). It is still recommended to remove the ovaries in natural menopausal age (early 50s).
  • Taking one ovary does not change age of menopause.
  • In general, there is no need to remove uterus at time of BSO or salpingectomy alone, based on current info and this varies by individual.

The tube-only and one ovary option is very attractive to me at this point. However, if I choose the BSO, surgical menopause will very shortly follow, so I also attended a session about Managing Menopause Without Hormones by Dr. Ann Steiner, Penn (slides) and Dr. Diljeet Singh, Permanente (slides). If you’ve been reading my blog for a bit, you may have noticed that I maintain a plant-based lifestyle and stay away from processed or synthetic products. When it comes to managing menopause symptoms with hormone replacement therapy (HRT), I am hesitant. I understand there are bio-identical hormones available and Premarin is an option, but I am uncomfortable with the idea of any HRT, because essentially I will be introducing something my body didn’t produce itself naturally/synthetic. After this great session about other options for managing symptoms, I stuck around to ask each of these experts their opinion on HRT for someone like me, who will need to be on it for 10+ years. Would they recommend HRT to manage long-term issues (osteoporosis, heart disease, loss of cognitive function, etc.) or can these symptoms be successfully managed without HRT? I didn’t get a clear answer and the advice was conflicting, so the jury is still out. If I choose to spare an ovary or both, this will be a non-issue, but nonetheless it was great to learn about the non-HRT options.

I will be discussing this topic again with my gyn onc in October, when it is time for my bi-annual screening (TVU and CA-125). At this time, I know I will be having some risk-reducing surgery in the future, but have not yet decided which type and when.

dinnerOne of tbeBRCAwarehe other awesome things about the conference is that many other women (and men) from our relatively small HBOC community attend (650 this year), so it’s an opportunity to finally meet in-person some individuals I’ve been chatting with online. Also, got a chance to catch up with those that were there last year. Loved spending time with my FORCE buds!

And lastly, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT to all those that came to visit nope2BC and bought jewelry. All the proceeds are donated to FORCE and with your help, we raised a lot of money! Hope you enjoy your pieces.

Will you join us next year? The 10th Annual Joining FORCEs Against Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Conference will take place in Orlando, FL, October 6-8, 2016. I’ll be there!

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Angelina Jolie Pitt: Diary of a Surgery

Once again, the HBOC community is buzzing. If you haven’t already seen, Angelina Jolie Pitt has published another NY Times Op-Ed. This time about her choice and reasons for undergoing a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of fallopian tubes and ovaries). She explains that she has been planning to have this procedure for some time, but recent test results pushed her to go through with it to reduce her risk.

She is careful to point out that this choice is her own and right for her after carefully considering options, but may not be for others. Surgery is not the only option.

I did not do this solely because I carry the BRCA1 gene mutation, and I want other women to hear this. A positive BRCA test does not mean a leap to surgery. I have spoken to many doctors, surgeons and naturopaths. There are other options. Some women take birth control pills or rely on alternative medicines combined with frequent checks. There is more than one way to deal with any health issue. The most important thing is to learn about the options and choose what is right for you personally.

I am again so thankful that she chose to share with the world her genetic status and decisions related to her health. She is bringing global awareness to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, what many organizations have been striving to do for years. Also empowering women and families facing hereditary cancer to discuss and seek out options available to them.

As I read and react to her piece, I think of my own family history and my health. I lost my mother to ovarian cancer a little over a year ago (29 year old sister to breast, great grandmother to ovarian, and have an aunt undergoing treatment for colorectal). We do not carry any of the known genetic mutations that increase risk of cancer (we are uninformed negative; read old post on the topic), however, my doctors and genetic counselor are convinced something is there, just hasn’t yet been identified. I am managing my healthcare assuming same. In just a few days I will be meeting with my oncologist for the regular bi-annual appointment, which will include the same blood test Jolie Pitt mentions as well as an ultrasound. I know that just like her, the moment those results are abnormal, my surgery will be scheduled. I have also done lots of research and considered other options, but already know this surgery is the right answer for me personally. It will greatly reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, just as the prophylactic mastectomy does for breast cancer. When is the question. I dread the aftermath, which includes surgical menopause, and have thus far been putting it off. Cross your fingers for me.

For more information about genetic mutations, hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome, screening and prevention options, local support group finder, and much more, visit the FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered website. Talk to your doctor about your family history and whether genetic testing is right for you. To find a genetic counselor in your area, check the National Society of Genetic Counselors website.

Tissue expansion

And we’re off! We have begun round three of tissue expansions. I initially got 100ccs during the expander placement surgery to which we just added 50ccs for a total of 150ccs. We are going all the way up to 550ccs, so this is going to take a while. Started off slow with only 50ccs to see how I would tolerate it this time around. So far, so good. I’ll be asking for more next time.

What is tissue expansion?

Reconstructing the breasts after a mastectomy can be achieved in a few different ways, including using tissue from other areas of the body or breast implants. In some scenarios chest skin and muscle are first expanded (stretched) before the breasts are reconstructed. A post from a couple of years ago further explains how this works:

Tissue expanderTissue expanders, which are like “pre-implants” (pictured on left), are inserted underneath the pectoralis major muscle. They are similar in shape and size, but are more rigid, unnatural, and uncomfortable. A round magnetic port in the top half allows for insertion of a needle, without compromising the expander. The tissue expanders are slowly filled with saline to stretch said muscle and the skin that covers them, until the desired volume is reached.

Breast Reconstruction Guidebook Figure 7.1

The process of filling the tissue expanders is pretty quick and uneventful. First the nurse uses a little plastic contraption with a metal pin at the end to find the magnetic port in the tissue expander. Once the center of the port is identified, the nurse sanitizes the area and injects the needle attached to a syringe holding the saline. She then slowly pushes the plunger until all fluid has been injected into the expander. This takes less than one minute. After completing the fill, she places a little round band-aid over the injection site. The end. This procedure itself is painless.

The hours or days after a fill, however, can be uncomfortable and this will vary from one fill to the next and from one woman to another. Some women have no pain at all, some experience a gradual increase in pressure and pain, and some are surprised going from one completely painless fill to another one that knocks them off their feet. During round one I was fine until about fill 6, which was not fun. Days after 7 were so uncomfortable, that I split fill 8 in two. Some women take muscle relaxers or pain meds before their appointments.

Here are a couple of great videos explaining the process:

Source of Figure 7.1: Steligo, Kathy. Breast Reconstruction Guidebook: Issues and Answers from Research to Recovery. Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012. Print, third edition.

Nipple tattoos

WARNING: NSFW / graphic content below.

I recently attended a local FORCE support group meeting. As always, it was fantastic! Our group meets quarterly, varies in size from five to 20, in age from 20 to 60ish, and is comprised of mostly previvors (in various stages: just found mutation to done with surgeries), but also women currently undergoing treatment, as well as survivors. There’s something for everyone facing hereditary breast and ovarian cancer to relate to. I highly recommend you find a group near you and attend at least one meeting. You may find that it’s not for you, but it’s worth a try. Find a FORCE group near you by visiting the local support page. Other organizations also have in-person support group meetings, so check with your doctor or do some googling.

Sometimes we have guest speakers come to share their research, work, products, or information relevant to our community. Our most recent guest was tattoo artist Amy Black of Amy Black Tattoos and Pink Ink Fund. Since 2011 Amy has been specializing in nipple and areola repigmentation as part of the breast reconstruction process for patients post-mastectomy due to breast cancer or as a prophylactic measure. Her 3D nipple tattoos look like the real thing! See for yourself below. Pink Ink FundAmy also founded the Pink Ink Fund shortly after beginning nipple and areola tattooing in response to seeing clients concerned about costs and having no health insurance. Amy’s work both in restorative tattooing and supporting the community is amazing! I plan on paying her a visit once I am done with my reconstruction. In addition to 3D nips, she also does touch ups, repigmentation, and artistic designs.

Here are some examples of her work:

1 5 4 6 3 2

Amy is located in Richmond, VA. If you are interested in contacting Amy, click here.

Breast cancer and diet, cleanse edition

At this point we all know that maintaining a healthy diet, exercising on a regular basis, and avoiding known pollutants and carcinogens in our environment are all key to optimal health. To that end, we all make related decisions in our lives based on what we believe.

There are no guarantees that if we live well, we won’t get cancer or another disease. But, there is enough evidence showing that how we live and what we eat can impact our health. Why not give yourself the best fighting chance you can to stay healthy?
-Dina Coleman (Top Nutrition and Lifestyle Tips for Preventing Breast Cancer)

I feel like I should take advantage of the little control I do have over my health. I maintain a whole foods, plant based lifestyle .. I would say I eat healthier than the average Jane. I’ve never been one for fad diets, with the exception of South Beach, which was the beginning of my long-term lifestyle transformation many years ago. I have done 30-day green smoothie and other similar challenges. My most recent endeavor was a 21-day cleanse. I went through that program back in November and am preparing to do it again now. Join me!

The Fresh Start 21 Cleanse from the girls at Simple Green Smoothies is a really great program! It can be purchased and completed at any time, but there are four “group” events throughout the year. The next group cleanse starts on Monday, February 2. The SGS crew partnered with a holistic nutritionist to create awesome and tasty dishes, a full 21-day meal plan, shopping lists, and a handy dandy cleanse guide. There is also a Facebook group for cleansers to support each other, offer tips, ask questions, commiserate. Having completed this once before I will say that this program is really worth the $59 (on sale). That’s a pair of shoes or jeans or a couple of dinners out. The food is wholesome, healthy, nutritious, and really tasty. I’m excited to it is all again. If you’re interested in exploring the whole foods menu or just looking for some fresh recipes, get more info here.

Long road of expansions ahead

WARNING: NSFW / graphic content below.

The follow up appointment after tissue expander placement surgery was Friday. The drain output was not high, but too close to Dr. M’s threshold for removal (50mL), so we decided to leave it in until Monday. I Had an opportunity to see how the incision is healing. So far everything looks goodt. I have been arnica montana and have very little bruising.

Low healthOverall feeling OK .. as long as I stay on my med schedule. Slowly trying to ween off of it, but not in a big hurry. Last night I didn’t set an alarm to wake up and take meds at night. Well, my body woke me up at 6 with a not-so-gentle reminder that I just had surgery. That was not pleasant at all.

The prune juice, Smooth Move tea, water, pears, and other fruit worked their magic. I went #2 on second day of recovery, but still have a bit of bloating and discomfort. TMI? If you’ve ever had general anesthesia surgery, then you understand how important this is. If you haven’t, then I hope you never do! Pain meds, no food/drink after midnight, inactivity, and anesthesia cause constipation. 

At the appointment Dr. M removed my dressings, which means I can now take a shower. I’m excited to do that today. Reviewing an old post (Shower time) and gathering supplies while I wait for hub to get home and help. This time around I didn’t get any tape or glue on my incision. If you recall, it was a suture knot that caused my last complication and the removal of the implant. To avoid that scenario, Dr. M used a single-filament type of suture (vs. braided) and only placed sutures and knots where absolutely necessary.

I also found out that my tissue expander is filled with 100ccs. We are filling all the way up to 550ccs, so that’s a long way to go. I start the expansion process six weeks post-op and will be getting fills every other week. In the past I have done 50ccs per fill, but may be doing a bit more this round to speed things up a little bit. Looks like July 23 may be just right after all.

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