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December 15, 2008

Fighting Cancer with Both Hands

Handcircle_6 When my mom was my age she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The year was 1972 and the things we take for granted today like yearly mammograms, lumpectomies or cancer-fighting drugs weren't part of the plan. Things like automatic radical mastectomies and radiation were.

Shocked and scared, she left the hospital without further ado and without her breast. The doctors didn't offer any sort of counseling, just dire predictions. The only hint of personalized help was a brief meeting with a Reach to Recovery volunteer from The American Cancer Society who gave her a booklet and rubber ball to squeeze for physical therapy on her arm. Her basic exercise advice was to make sure to walk her hand up the wall everyday a few times.

My dad and brother and I were so afraid of saying and doing the wrong things and even more afraid of losing her. We didn't know what to do to help her or ourselves. Neither did my mom. She had the dubious honor of being the first woman on our block with the disease. No one at work had it. None of her close friends had been through it. No one talked about it, donated to it, walk-a-thoned it. She was without any sort of support system. She faced her uncertain future alone.

If only there had been an organization like The Wellness Community  to help us all. They empower cancer patients and help their families deal. Besides all the wonderful, free programs they offer including stress management, nutrition, and mind/body wellness workout classes like Yoga and T'ai Chi, patients can connect with others who share their  struggles and successes. They can have someone to lean on who doesn't have sympathy but rather empathy.

The Wellness Community treats cancer in a way the medical community typically doesn't. While physicians are well versed and skilled in the biomedical attack of cancer, studies show that patients who have a feeling of control and participate in their fight for recovery along with their medical treatment tend to have a much higher success rate. They call it "psychosocial" therapy. I call it fighting cancer with both hands. What a different life my mother would have had with a network of other strong women with breast cancer and caring professionals to support both her body and her mind.

I think it's fitting that Philadelphia, the city where Rocky made fighting famous, will soon be the headquarters for The Wellness Community's new national Cancer Survivorship Research and Training Institute. This new endeavor will further allow both hands to work together by educating health practitioners about the importance of combining social and emotional support with their treatment plans. Also included in the new institute will be a National Breast Cancer Survey, Registry and Index, a resource for physicians to prescribe the most effective treatments. All these wonderful resources in our own backyard.

Maybe someday, like my mom in 1972, our daughters or granddaughters won't know anyone with breast cancer either only this time it's because we've won the fight. Who knows where their life's journey will take them? I sure don't, but I do know one thing for sure: now nobody has to walk alone.

This is original Philly Moms post. Lollie wears her pink ribbon proudly in honor and memory of the many women in her life who have faced breast cancer with courage and strength. She also blogs on 50 Something Moms.

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