Another Trip

Another Trip

Today it’s been two years since I read “consistent with invasive ductal carcinoma” on my biopsy report. The time and space between then and now is unfathomable to me. Like 100 years wrapped into 730 days. I’m both surprised at how quickly I’ve jumped back into “normal” life and at how the memories of having cancer are still woven so carefully into my daily thoughts.

It probably doesn’t help that I work with other survivors on a daily basis so I’m constantly educating and supporting those people. But it’s not just that – my port scar, the faint tan from radiation, the tightness in my chest and shoulder are all physical reminders that keep me living with one foot in regular life and one in cancerland.

The healing doesn’t end when treatment ends. I am seeking out ways to calm my grief and anger over the fact that I went through something so life-altering at 30 years old. I am healing physically and trying to regain a lot of strength. I have residual pain from treatments, and my body physically reacts with anxiety any time I get a scan done. I am learning how to navigate new and old friendships without oversharing or totally withdrawing from the situation.

It might sound like a lot, and it is, but I promise that I do my best not to dwell on the hard parts of survivorship. I’m thankful to have more days to continue experiencing lovely things and connecting with my favorite people. If you want to read a more about my experience in survivorship so far, you can read my essay “Trusting the Redirection” in Wildfire Magazine’s Cancer Culture Issue from February/March 2022. Use code ‘FRIENDSANDFAMILY’ for 15% off.

I also had my annual mammogram and an additional ultrasound yesterday. The results came back clear, besides the ever/never-shrinking hematoma (so dramatic!) that I developed after my MRI biopsy in November. So all is technically well, and I’ll keep celebrating these results and anniversaries for a long, long time I hope.

I honestly thought I’d have more to say when I sat down to write this, but I think I’ll just keep it short and sweet. I wish you all health and happiness and I hope you have a great week!

Aloha ❤

Family Planning After a Cancer Diagnosis

Family Planning After a Cancer Diagnosis

As I’ve written many times before, life as a young adult cancer survivor comes with a whole host of unique challenges! One of those, specifically, is the fact that many adolescent/young adult (AYA) survivors have to face possible infertility after their treatments. Though the road may be a bit more winding, there are many options for survivors to have thriving families beyond their diagnoses. I understand that having children isn’t for everyone, but for those of you who do want kiddos, keep on reading to learn more!

*FYI – for this post, I’ll mostly focus on options for those assigned female at birth who are undergoing or have undergone cancer treatment, but know that there are also options for those assigned male at birth as well!

Before and During Treatment

Upon diagnosis, many doctors now recommend fertility preservation prior to treatment. There are a few options and you could choose either or both if recommended by your MD. The first type of fertility preservation would include freezing eggs or embryos before treatment. This is usually done by a reproductive endocrinologist and may require blood work, ultrasounds, and outpatient procedures for egg retrieval itself. Oftentimes, treatment can be delayed just long enough for egg or embryo preservation to allow for future family planning options. These procedures are usually timed with the menstrual cycle for the best results, but it can be done any time if you’re worried about delaying treatment too long or if you’re not cycling regularly!

During treatment, your oncologist may also recommend anti-hormonal treatments (like ovarian suppression) during treatment to try to minimize damage to the reproductive organs. This type of medication can put you into “medical menopause” which is usually reversible once discontinued, but can have side effects similar to those you’d experience during actual menopause (i.e. hot flashes, joint pains, weight gain, etc.).

If you’re newly diagnosed, be sure to ask your doctors about these options and weigh the pros and cons for your unique situation. Remember, there is usually adequate time to figure things out before starting treatment if it’s something that’s important to you!

If you’d like to read more about my personal experience with fertility preservation, click HERE!

Family Building after Cancer Treatment

It’s important to remember that, no matter what happens, there are always options for starting or expanding a family after a cancer diagnosis. Whether you never come out of medical menopause, your eggs/embryos weren’t viable, or you didn’t have time for fertility preservation before treatment, there are many ways to grow your family. Below are a few of the options that many cancer survivors choose. The decision is very personal and there are plenty of reasons why some would choose one option over another.

In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

IVF is a type of assisted reproductive technology. A physician would use fertilized eggs (embryos) retrieved prior to cancer treatment and then implant them into your uterus for you to carry your own pregnancy. Of course it’s much more complex than that, but I’m not a reproductive endocrinologist (learn more HERE)!

Partnering with a Gestational Carrier (Surrogacy)

For some who can’t carry their own child, using a gestational carrier can be a good option. Learn more about gestational carriers and surrogacy HERE. This site has a great breakdown of the whole process and outlines the difference between traditional surrogacy and gestational surrogacy!

Fostering/Adoption

In case IVF or partnering with a surrogate aren’t good options, you can always consider fostering or adopting a child. There, again, are many options down this path and each agency and state have varying rules/regulations. HERE is a good overview.

Financial Assistance for Family Building

One of the biggest road blocks in ALL of these processes, however, is the actual cost. For many, the out-of-pocket cost renders nearly all of these options to be out of the question. Most insurances do not cover fertility preservation as the patient (who is otherwise “healthy” – you know, besides the cancer thing) does not have a diagnosis of infertility. Some (but not all) insurances will cover the cost of IVF if a true diagnosis of infertility exists. So then, what?

Many organizations do offer some financial assistance or grants for cancer survivors seeking options for family planning around their diagnosis. Here are a few to look into:

Alliance for Fertility Preservation

A Damn Good Life (For those seeking support during their surrogacy journey)

I personally benefited from the Livestrong Fertility Program and The Heartbeat Program which discounted my fertility preservation costs and covered the costs of the medications required for my egg retrieval ❤

For those considering adoption, there may be grants or loans available as well. Check with the adoption agency you’re using or use THIS site to get you started. Know that there may be more local resources for you as well!

Virtual Family Building Panel – February 2022!

Finally, on February 17, 2022, I’m collaborating with Breast Cancer Hawaii on a virtual Family Building after Cancer Panel to bring information to AYA survivors on options for starting or expanding their families after treatment! (HOW LUCKY AM I?!) This will be a great intro for anyone who is newly-diagnosed, in active treatment, or who’ve completed treatments. We’ll have experts in oncology, reproductive medicine, fostering/adoption, and surrogacy on board to give us the details on what family building after cancer may look like for us survivors! It will be a bit heavy on options for those of us living in Hawaii, but all are welcome to join us and ask questions. For more information, please check out our Eventbrite link HERE!

The Year in Review

The Year in Review

For me, the turn of the year is a time of reflection, introspection, and setting my sights for the year ahead. If I’ve learned anything the past two years, it’s that you just can’t ever know what to expect, but I think it’s still important to have a vision, even if it’s just to be more intentional in your day-to-day life.

2020 was hard. That’s no secret, and I’m honestly still coming to terms with a lot of it.

2021 started with the last chapter in my treatments: radiation therapy. I will never forget the upheaval of emotions I felt on my last day of radiation in February. I had no idea how much I’d been holding my breath, unsure if it was all real or just a terrible nightmare. Well, turns out it was all very real, and I’m still working through it. I’m thankful to have found a good therapist who I trust to help me navigate the many emotional struggles that come with having cancer. I’m sure some things will get easier with time, but for now I’m just trying not to sweep it all under the rug like I’ve done with so many things before. I thank those around me who’ve been patient with me as I barely can get through a social situation without it all coming up.

Beyond all that, this has been a really excellent year. It was great to be able to travel again and Justin and I were able to get to Maui, Montana, Washington, Big Island and Kauai. Even before the pandemic, we’d been putting off these trips. Now, with best practices and consideration of others (because we still are in a pandemic), I just can’t and don’t want to postpone things anymore. Having cancer will do that to you. It’ll make you want to do all the things you’ve been “too busy” for.

I also went back to work and have had the opportunity to help many others thrive beyond their complex diagnoses, too. My job is truly so rewarding and I’m grateful that people have trusted me in their healing. I have always given a lot to my patients, and while I don’t believe in half-assing anything, I am still working on the finding the balance in being a patient advocate and staying on top of my own mental and physical health.

Besides that, Justin and I celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary, moved into a new condo that has exceeded all expectations, and had my dad here visiting for three weeks. We stood by friends going through triumphs and hardships, celebrated new babies being born, and spent quality time with family and friends.

The only thing constant in life is change. Not all change is good, but it’s definitely not all bad either. Last year I chose “joy” as my intention for the year. I think I did okay with finding joy wherever I could. It wasn’t there every moment of every day, but in each day, I found a little. Looking forward to finding more in 2022.

I actually think there will be a lot to look forward to this coming year! We have some more travels planned and I’m prettyyyyyy sure there won’t be any restrictions by then (right?! please pray and cross your fingers we can still go!). We have friends and family getting married and more babies on the way. I have some personal and professional goals I’d like to hit.

For 2022, I’m choosing “strength” as my intention. Strength of body. Strength of mind. Strength to uphold my boundaries under pressure. Strength to really show up in my relationships. Strength to remain present when distractions abound. Keep me accountable, will you?

With all that said, I hope you all celebrate safely this weekend! Another day is another something to celebrate. I wish you all health, love, and joy in the New Year, come what may!

Aloha ❤

BCAM is BACK!

BCAM is BACK!

I know I’ve been terrible at keeping y’all up to date on my life lately, but that’s because I’m just busy living right now. When I look back on my life one year ago, I still have a hard time believing any of this actually happened. Cancer treatments consume your life for nearly a year (or more for some), and then you’re just done? When chatting with other survivors, we all seem to comment on how none of it seems real. We were in survival mode for so long, and when the dust finally settled, we had to come to terms with the fact that, yes, indeed, we did have cancer. What a trip!

Every day gets easier, but some days all the feels creep up and you don’t know whether to be sad or angry or go hide in the corner until it passes. I try not to take anything for granted, but I’m just human, too, and I often get sucked back into the usual work, sleep, eat, repeat. With that said, I’ve been making a concerted effort to go for walks by the beach, do yoga, hit up weekly farmer’s markets, and get together with friends when I can. Those things help. A lot. Make time to do things that bring you joy.

On Monday, I had my annual MRI – just a follow up scan to keep a close eye on things. Thankfully, all looks clear. There is a small area of enhancement in the same area where I mentioned I needed a biopsy back in July which already came back benign so here’s hoping I don’t need another biopsy! In my professional opinion, I’m right in the middle of tissue healing from radiation therapy, and there’s a lot of scar tissue forming right now. With that comes a lot of tightness and discomfort in my left chest wall, and I think that friction is creating a small cyst in that region.

Again, the survivorship game is not all sunshine and rainbows. While everything is technically “all good” now, sometimes it isn’t. There are a lot of things that I still need to work through, but I just choose to take it one day at a time.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

This brings me to the main point of this post which is that Breast Cancer Awareness Month is back! I personally choose to refer to BCAM as “Breast Cancer ACTION Month” as I think it’s a great time to donate to breast cancer research, reach out to family/friends you know going through cancer and offer your support, and speak up to lawmakers and organizations with power to make change in medical care for cancer patients.

October is a time of pink ribbons and shameless promotion of products that support breast cancer. Breast cancer thrivers have coined this “pinkwashing” and want to remind you to be mindful of any products you purchase this year. Any major company that claims to put proceeds to support breast cancer better be donating at least 20% of their profits to organizations that fund breast cancer research. And, if you choose to make a donation to breast cancer organizations, choose one or two that fund research primarily or that you know directly supports thrivers with care packages, financial support, or practical support (like providing free wigs, offering transportation or house cleaning, or fertility preservation assistance).

Here are a few of my favorite breast cancer organizations to support:

My BCAM Action Plan

This October, I’ll be focusing on holding the American Cancer Society accountable for their recent change in recommendations to delay annual mammogram screening for those age 45 and older. This is a recent change in recommendations and adds insult to injury to prior recs that both breast self-exams (BSE’s) and clinical breast examinations are not indicated for early detection of breast cancer. These recommendations are based off a study out of Shanghai in 2018 that indicated that more benign lesions were found on BSE’s than malignant ones, and therefore led to unnecessary procedures like imaging and biopsies. In case you can’t guess who benefits from these recommendations, let me spell it out for you…INSURANCE COMPANIES.

For adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer thrivers (ages 15-39) who are ineligible for annual mammograms, the only way for us to detect cancer early is through BSE’s. The more frequently we do these screenings, the earlier we can seek care for any abnormal findings, and the better our prognosis if we should be very unlucky to find a malignancy. I found my lump on a BSE and it saved my life. I will advocate for BSE’s until my lungs give out. Should you feel so inclined to support this cause with me, please reach out to the American Cancer Society via phone/chat or social media to let them know how you feel about this!

I’ll also be sharing a bit on social media about how PT can be helpful before, during, and after cancer treatment because October is also National Physical Therapy Month. Follow me on Instagram for more – @bri.d.pt!

Beyond that, October is my favorite month, so I’m going to get some Halloween decorations out and get ready for Spooky Season! Maybe I’ll pull out the old purple wig for Halloween this year, too! Stay well, friends!

Aloha ❤

Oh, hey!

Oh, hey!

It’s officially been a minute (or a few months, but who’s counting?)! I had every intention of continuing to write, but in all honesty, I just needed a break from the cancer updates and info sharing.

Recently, Justin and I have been super busy! We were finally able move into our new home a few weeks ago (thanks, mom & Malia!), and then we immediately left on vacation to Montana and Washington, leaving our cute new place a mess with unpacked boxes and mismatched furniture. We are so grateful to have a new space where we can start fresh after navigating so much uncharted territory in 2020. I’m looking forward to lots of memories made here ❤

While traveling, we were able to visit with all of my family, celebrate the 4th of July in Butte, America (there’s no better place to be on the 4th – don’t knock it til you’ve tried it!), catch a few fish on the Big Hole, reconnect with our best buds from PT school, and even witness one of them get married (Congrats, Riki & Anthony!). I was so elated to be able to hug everyone and see all my favorite kiddos. Hawaii is great y’all, but it’s times like this when you realize living on an isolated island in the Pacific isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be! I cried so hard before we came back home because I know I truly have such special relationships with all of you.

Besides our recent adventures, all is well down here. I’ve been working heavy part-time and I’ve realized that I’m now able to help my oncology patients on a much deeper level. I’ve always tried to empathize as much as I could, but the reality is that, unless you’ve gone through cancer yourself, you probably can’t relate. This isn’t to discourage anyone from working with oncology patients, but rather a reminder that what they’re going through is far more than just physical discomfort.

As far as my health goes, I had an ultrasound on my left breast a few weeks ago due to a suspicious spot I found while doing one of my way-too-frequent self-checks. It turned out to be just scar tissue (as expected), but they also found a small cyst-like area above it, and I’ll go for aspiration next week just to be safe “because of my history.” I wonder if it will ever get easier hearing that, but likely not…

I’ve continued to work with my naturopathic doctor to get to the root cause of my autoimmune thyroid dysfunction. I completed a urine test to determine heavy metals toxicity and the results indicated high levels of mercury and platinum and moderately-high levels of lead. Mercury is linked to many environmental sources, but is primarily associated with high levels of dietary fish. The platinum levels are residual from the platinum-based chemotherapy (Carboplatin) that I received over 12 weeks last year, and lead is also find in many environmental sources including water, pipes and paint. So I will treat it with a chelating agent which will strip the metals from their sneaky hiding places in my body….after I eat one last giant poke bowl!

I also completed a food sensitivity test and will get those results back in a few weeks. Again, I am a huge believer in holistic care. If there are things I can do to optimize my health going forward, then it’s worth a shot to me. I still go to acupuncture about once a month and have continued seeing a mental health professional. It truly takes a village to make it through a cancer diagnosis, and you are all part of that team for me!

I’ll try to be more consistent at posting updates and sharing helpful information, but for now, I’m just going to keep focusing on LIVING and finding joy in each day. Sending you all my love!

Aloha ❤

Chemotherapy: Stretches for Health

Chemotherapy: Stretches for Health

Before beginning any exercise program, please check with your physician or physical therapist! Not all exercises or stretches are appropriate for everyone – please read my full medical disclaimer here before trying any of the exercises listed below.

It’s no secret that it can be difficult to stay active during chemotherapy. While exercise has been proven to have many physical and emotional benefits during cancer treatment, some days it’s just difficult to get moving. I’ve designed this short stretching compilation to stretch the spine and major joints of the body to promote mobility and circulation on even the most difficult chemo days. Make these stretches part of your daily routine or use them to loosen up after a nap or before bed!

Watch the video for a full demonstration:

*Note: Video plays at 2x speed! Take your time when you’re stretching!

Child’s Pose

From a kneeling, or seated position, slide the hands forward until you feel a stretch in the shoulders and lower back. Hold for 30-60 seconds as tolerated.

Modifications: For greater stretch of the side body, walk the hands to the left or right.

Cat/Cow

Begin on hands and knees in a neutral spine position with hips stacked over knees and shoulders stacked over the wrists. Inhale and slowly drop the belly to arch the back, lifting the breast bone. The, exhale and round the back from the tailbone to the neck, broadening the space between the shoulder blades. Alternate moving into each position for 5-10 repetitions.

Modifications: Perform in a seated position, reaching forward as you round the back, and allowing the arms to reach behind you as you lift the chest.

Hip Flexor Stretch

In a kneeling position, square your hips and tuck your tailbone until a gentle stretch is felt across the front of the hip. Perform deep breaths. Hold 30-60 seconds as tolerated.

Modifications: Perform in a standing partial lunge position, hold onto something for balance. To increase the depth of the stretch, sidebend the body away from the bottom/back leg.

Hamstring Stretch

In a kneeling or seated position, stretch one leg out in front of you. Square the hips and straighten the knee as you hinge from your hips to deepen the stretch along the back of the leg. Try not to round the lower back to allow for the best stretch. Hold for 30-60 seconds as tolerated.

Modifications: Lie on your back and use a strap/towel to pull a straight leg up toward the ceiling. Flex your foot to deepen the stretch.

Butterfly Stretch

Sit with the soles of your feet touching and knees dropping down toward the floor. Perform deep breaths. Hold for 30-60 seconds as tolerated.

Modifications: Place pillows or yoga blocks under the knees to reduce strain on the hips, lean forward to deepen the stretch.

All stretches are designed to be gentle, but can be progressed if they become too easy. Stretches can be performed 1-3 times per day as needed.

Happy stretching!

Aloha ❤

Breast Surgery: Post-Op Stretches

Breast Surgery: Post-Op Stretches

Before beginning any exercise program, please check with your physician or physical therapist! Not all exercises or stretches are appropriate for everyone – please read my full medical disclaimer here before trying any of the exercises listed below.

After both breast-conserving surgeries and mastectomies, people often find they have difficulty reaching overhead or behind their back, washing or fixing their hair, or feeling tightness throughout the chest wall. The following stretches are helpful to improve range of motion and help you restore your ability to complete your usual daily tasks!

These stretches should be done after a sufficient amount of time has passed post-operatively so all incisions in the breast, chest, or axilla (armpit) have healed. Be sure that any incisions are well-healed before attempting these stretches without guidance from a healthcare professional. Normal soft tissue healing of the skin and underlying tissues takes about 4-6 weeks. Stretching might be uncomfortable as you push into tight areas, but you should not typically experience pain >5/10 while performing stretches.

Watch the video for a full demonstration:

*Note: video plays at 1.5x speed – take your time when you stretch!

Shoulder Stretches

In a kneeling, or seated position, slide the hands forward until you feel a stretch in the shoulder or axilla. Perform gentle repeated stretches (10-15 repetitions) or hold for longer durations (30-60 seconds) as tolerated.

Modifications: For greater stretch of the side body, walk the hands to the left or right.

Cat/Cow

Begin on hands and knees in a neutral spine position with hips stacked over knees and shoulders stacked over the wrists. Inhale and slowly drop the belly to arch the back, lifting the breast bone. The, exhale and round the back from the tailbone to the neck, broadening the space between the shoulder blades. Alternate moving into each position for 5-10 repetitions.

Modifications: Perform in a seated position, reaching forward as you round the back, and allowing the arms to reach behind you as you lift the chest.

Sidebend Stretch

In a seated or standing position, grasp your affected arm with the opposite hand and gently lean away to stretch the shoulder and side body. Breathe deeply into the ribs on the affected side. Hold 30-60 seconds as tolerated.

Modifications: Lie on the unaffected side over a pillow or foam roller and gently stretch the affected arm overhead, limit the range of motion as tolerated.

Pec Stretch

Lie on your back and allow one or both elbows to fall out to the side. For mastectomy patients, perform only one side at a time until cleared by your physician to perform both sides together. Do not allow the back to arch away from the floor or bed. Hold for 30-60 seconds as tolerated.

Modifications: place pillow/s or a yoga block under the elbow to allow tight shoulders/chest walls to relax during the stretch. This stretch can also be performed standing with forearms placed against a doorframe.

Open Book Stretch

Begin lying on the unaffected side with knees bent to 90 degrees to protect the low back. Place the affected arm behind the head and allow the body to rotate and open up the front of the affected shoulder/chest. Breathe in as you open and exhale to return to the starting position. Repeat 5-10 times.

Modifications: Straighten the affected arm for a greater stretch or circle the arm over the head to stretch in various angles.

All stretches are designed to be gentle, but can be progressed if they become too easy or maintained if full range of motion is achieved. Stretches can be performed 1-3 times per day as needed.

Happy stretching!

Aloha ❤

365

365

It’s been one whole trip around the sun since we read the dreaded pathology report… “consistent with invasive ductal carcinoma.” And in these last 365 days, I feel like I’ve lived 100 different lifetimes. Newly diagnosed. Fertility planner. Chemo baldie. Breast conservation surgery advocate. Radiation breath-holding champion. Student. Educator. Survivor.

Now, the scars are fading. My irradiated skin is healed (although a little pale if you ask me). My energy is slowly returning. Life is going back to “normal,” whatever that is these days. I’ve been a little silent on the blog and on social media because a lot of my energy is going toward trying to remember what I told myself when I was first diagnosed…

YOU ARE NOT YOUR DIAGNOSIS.

Some days it’s difficult to remember who I was before cancer. Honestly, sometimes I come across an old photo and I don’t even recognize that girl! So I’m setting out to reinvent myself a bit. I’m prioritizing adventure, travel, learning new things, letting in old things that bring me joy, and not wasting one single second doing something I don’t feel passionate about…at least trying anyway.

I learned in the past year that I am fearless. I can do anything I put my mind to, but the one thing that scares me is missing out on doing the things I love and crave with the people I care about the most because of things I “should” be doing. Nothing is more important to me in this lifetime. From here on out, if it’s not a whole-hearted “yes!” for me, I’m not doing it.

You’ll likely be seeing a lot of different content from me in the future as I plan to continue the blog to share information about physical therapy, pelvic health, oncology, and other things that I feel everyone should know about. At heart, I am most passionate about teaching, sharing knowledge, and educating myself, so if you’d like to keep learning with me, I’m happy to share this space with you.

In the meantime, please keep me in your prayers as I have my “new baseline” mammogram today. As it usually works with true divine intervention, my scans are scheduled exactly on my 1 year anniversary of my diagnosis. While I feel deep down that everything’s going to look great, there’s always that tiny voice in the back of my mind saying “what if…” Honestly, I’m not sure if it will ever get easier to repeat imaging, but I’m choosing to see it as a privilege that I get to have these scans at all. God must want me here for something!

As my friend Kate says, “If you’re very lucky, life goes on.”

I hope you’ll do something that makes you feel wildly, beautifully alive today. Do it for all those we’ve loved and lost. I’m incredibly grateful for all of you.

Aloha ❤

Radiation Fibrosis

Radiation Fibrosis

Radiation therapy is used as an adjunct treatment for cancer to kill off any remaining cancer cells in the surrounding tissues which are often called “micrometastases.” Radiation therapy is not appropriate for all cancer patients, but for those who do have treatment plans which include radiation, the short and long-term effects can be difficult to tolerate. Today, I want to share more about one long-term effect of radiation therapy called radiation fibrosis.

What is Radiation Fibrosis?

Radiation fibrosis (RF) refers to tissue changes which occur locally after someone goes through radiation therapy. Tissues which are most often affected are the skin, subcutaneous tissues (fat, muscle, bone), organs such as the lungs or heart, or the gastrointestinal/genitourinary tracts depending on the part of the body that is irradiated. Ions from radiation beams cause DNA damage and localized inflammation around the tumor site as well as in the surrounding normal tissues. The degree of damage often depends on each individual’s sensitivity to the radiation itself as well as the dose given and area of tissue treated.

Who is at Risk for Radiation Fibrosis?

Anyone who undergoes radiation therapy as part of their cancer treatments is at risk for RF. Some factors that increase susceptibility of developing RF include:

  • Those who also have concurrent chemotherapy or surgery
  • Those with pre-existing connective tissue disorders (scleroderma, lupus, or Marfan’s syndrome)
  • Those with a genetic mutation in the ataxia-telangiectasia (ATM) gene which assists to repair damaged DNA

How does Radiation Fibrosis Present?

RF onset can be immediate, early delayed (0-3 months after treatment), or late delayed (>3 months after treatment), however most find that symptoms begin to show up 3-4 months after treatment ends. Symptoms usually come on gradually and they are, unfortunately, not reversible.

Some of the symptoms include:

  • Thickening of the skin
  • Muscle tightness or atrophy
  • Limited joint mobility
  • Lymphedema
  • Mucosal fibrosis (mouth, throat, GI tract, genitourinary tracts)
  • Pain

What Treatments are Available for Radiation Fibrosis?

Physical therapy is proven to increase range of motion lasting up to six months post-treatment (and probably longer if the person continues their exercises)! PT’s can use manual therapy or prescribe specific exercises to mobilize the skin and myofascial tissues, increase range of motion in affected joints, improve strength, and manage lymphedema (if they are a lymphedema specialist – if not, then they should refer you to someone who is a certified lymphedema specialist).

For reproductive/colorectal cancers in particular, seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist may be indicated to ensure independence with toileting (especially bowel movements) or to assist with sexual concerns like pelvic pain or tightness.

Other potentially-beneficial treatments may include hyperbaric oxygen therapy, pentoxyfilline (a drug that helps to improve blood flow to the tissues) with or without the addition of vitamine E (a powerful antioxidant), and botox injections – but the research is still pending on the true benefits of these treatments!

If you or someone you know is going through radiation therapy, let them know about RF & send them to a physical therapist to help with any mobility concerns they may have!

Aloha ❤

References:

  1. Radiation-induced fibrosis: mechanisms and implications for therapy (Straub, et al. 2015)
  2. Supervised physical therapy in women treated with radiotherapy for breast cancer (Braz da Silva Leal, et al. 2016)
  3. Radiation Fibrosis Syndrome: Neuromuscular and Musculoskeletal Complications in Cancer Survivors (Stubblefield, et al. 2011)
TNBC Day!

TNBC Day!

Hi everyone!

I wanted to share that today, March 3, is TNBC Day! In fact, the whole month of March is dedicated to raising awareness about triple negative breast cancer and fundraising for TNBC research! As you know, I was diagnosed with TNBC last April. TNBC primarily affects younger people (age <50), people with a BRCA1 genetic mutation, black & Hispanic women, and people with Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.

15-20% of new breast cancer diagnoses are triple negative, which means their tumors lack receptors for estrogen, progesterone, or the HER2 protein. Because of this, treatment options are limited for TNBC and there are no targeted therapies available as there are for other types of breast cancer. For this reason, TNBC (which is typically more aggressive and tends to metastasize to the bone, brain, or lungs) can be difficult to treat and that is why I advocate for TNBC research!

Current research is focusing on:

  • Anti-androgen hormonal therapy
  • Immunotherapy for TNBC with specific basal-like tumors
  • PARP-inhibitors for TNBC + BRCA patients
  • Development of a TNBC vaccine (whatttt?!)

For the month of March, 100% of all donations to the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation will go to research. If you are able to give, know that all of us TNBC thrivers (past, present, and future) appreciate you!

Click the photo below to use my personal link to donate to TNBC Foundation!

If you are here because you were recently diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, here are three things I wish I would have known at the time of my diagnosis (#PowerOf3):

  • O N E : 40% of breast cancers are found on a self-exam! Check you chest & advocate for those under 40 who do not qualify for mammograms yet!
  • T W O : A TNBC diagnosis is not a death sentence! TNBC is an aggressive cancer and it’s treated aggressively, but it also has a higher rate of complete response to chemotherapy than other types of breast cancer – stay hopeful!
  • T H R E E : There is an incredible online community full of young & old TNBC thrivers on Facebook & Instagram. Through these incredible people, I’ve receive comfort, advice, and comedic relief from the cancer saga – come thrive with us! Check out @tnbcfoundation and @tnbc_thrivers on Instagram.

Mahalo & Alooooooha! ❤