Support Resources for Breast Cancer Patients and Survivors

Support Resources for Breast Cancer Patients and Survivors

Imagine receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, going through the treatment process and moving on. It sounds like a simple 1-2-3 process, but it is no easy task. This can all take a toll on us physically, mentally and emotionally. The desire to go back to our ‘normal’ way of life can at times overwhelm us. This can bring about range of emotions such as shock, fear, sadness and sometimes even anger. All this has been found to be a coping mechanism for cancer patients, but no one has to go through it all alone.

Did you know that there are a number of support services available to you and your loved ones to help you get through this difficult time. These are all out here because you matter! These services can include, but aren’t limited to:

Support Groups: A support group is a safe space to share your feelings and expand your personal network. And in the process, you can learn how to cope with the emotional issues associated with the diagnosis and the treatment process. Groups meet regularly (ie. monthly or a weekly basis). Most support groups are tailored to individuals of a particular age, race/ethnicity, gender or the recovery stage.

Financial Assistance: The costs for breast cancer care can quickly add up and become a financial burden on the patient, their family or friends. Medical bills can pile up from right, left and center from each doctor of each department you will deal with along the way as well as all the medications. Particularly for those in the US, not all medical care expenses are covered by your health insurance provider. Any balances are up to the patient to cover. However, there are a number of non-profit organizations, hospitals and financial counselors who can help provide any needed financial aid and guidance you may need.

Transportation: Depending on where you live, you may need to travel to get access to health care. Lack of available and reliable transportation can be a huge barrier between you and the care you need. Many community based organizations provide patients with free transportation to and from the treatment facility. This can be done through volunteer drivers, ride sharing programs (i.e. Uber and Lyft) or church groups.

Exercise Programs: Physical activity is very vital for our well-being. It is also now becoming an integral part in cancer recovery. You can work with a cancer fitness specialist who is knowledgeable with exercise training that is safe during and after cancer treatment.

Wigs and Head-coverings: A common side effect of cancer treatment is hair loss. This process can cause fear and increase insecurities amongst the cancer patients. However, I encourage you to remember that this is only temporary and that your hair will grow back. In the meantime, feel free to wear a wig, a head scarf, a hat or anything that will make you comfortable.

For more information on these options and many more, speak to your hospital’s patient care navigator or social worker.

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To learn more about Dance to Wellness, group fitness classes or other services offered, please contact us to discover your options.

Nutrition for Breast Cancer Health

Nutrition for Breast Cancer Health

Nutrition and healthy eating is an essential component for our overall well being. The components of a nutrient-dense diet is particularly important when it comes to our breast health. It can help to reduce your risk of breast cancer and its chances of reoccurrence. To speak further on the topic of cancer and nutrition, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gina DeLuca.

Gina DeLuca is a Registered Dietitian for NYU Langone Health Perlmutter Cancer Center at Winthrop Hospital. She provides outpatient oncology nutrition care to patients, individually and in groups, on prevention-, treatment-, and survivorship-related topics. Gina received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from New York University and completed her Dietetic Internship at Massachusetts General Hospital prior to becoming a Registered Dietitian. Gina is currently pursuing specialized certification in oncology nutrition.

Q: What are the benefits of a well-nutritious diet for your overall well-being?

A: There are so many benefits! These include optimal physical and mental health, increased energy and strength, immune support, and prevention of chronic disease.

Q: Why is nutrition particularly important in breast health?

A: Healthful nutrition supports breast health to decrease inflammation, as chronic inflammation can create an environment that potentially increases breast cancer risk.

Q: What are some nutrients that our body needs to support our breast health during cancer treatment?

A: Adequate, though not excessive, protein intake is essential to support healthy, non-cancer cells during cancer treatment. Lean plant-based protein, if digestively tolerable, is encouraged as it provides an array of nutrients, including fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, which are plant compounds with beneficial effects. Plant-based protein can be used to replace protein sources that contain cholesterol, saturated fat, excess sodium, and added refined sugars and starches. It’s important to keep in mind that the treatment phase for each cancer patient is a unique chapter in that person’s cancer journey, and each patient tolerates treatment in unique ways. With that in mind, I focus on optimizing our patients during that time by collaborating with them to maximize nutritional intakes based on individual food preferences, all foods being potentially inclusive.

Adequate water and non-caffeinated fluid intake is especially essential during treatment as it maintains proper hydration and reduces potential toxicities/side effects from treatment modalities, such as chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

Q: What are some foods that are good for breast cancer patients? And why?

A: The “prudent and healthy” diet pattern that includes vegetables, fruits, fish, poultry, whole grains, low-fat dairy products has shown to decrease cancer risk, and this applies to breast cancer risk as well. These foods offer lean protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics, and phytochemicals. In particular, cruciferous vegetables–broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, turnips, cabbages, brussels sprouts, and leafy greens including kale, bok choy, and arugula–as well as garlic, onions, and apples, have shown to offer an especially protective effect against breast cancer due to their particular phytochemicals.

Q: What are some foods we should limit when it comes to breast cancer prevention? And why?

A: Our Western, so-called “unhealthy” diet pattern, contains concerning components prevalent in many common foods. Processed meat, excessive red meat from non-organic sources, and excessive high-fat dairy products contain saturated fat. Saturated fat, processed meat, and alcohol have been shown to increase breast cancer risk and should be avoided. In addition, consumption of refined grains, flours, and sugar can cause a hormonal response involving excessive insulin–hyperinsulinemia–and refined oils provide hydrogenated/trans-fats which can cause inflammation. Therefore, refined grains/flours, refined sugars, and refined oils should be avoided to reduce or eliminate risk for inflammation caused, or made worse, by hyperinsulinemia.

Q: What are some nutrition tips to consider when meal planning/meal prepping for breast cancer patients?

A: The “plate method” is visual tool for maintaining focus on the types of foods and portion sizes to consume at meals, with half of a 9-inch plate to contain non-starchy vegetables and/or salad, and the remaining quarters to contain lean protein and whole grains, respectively. A fruit serving and a dairy serving can be provided on the side for nutritional balance to compliment this plate. I encourage a diet pattern that includes a “rainbow” of colored foods that provide a wide array of protective phytochemicals for disease prevention. These lead to a whole-foods, plant-based (WFPB) diet pattern, and within that, I especially appreciate the “flexitarian” creative approach to eating. This is a foundation of plant-based whole foods where either animal or plant protein source can be included, i.e. “flexed,” based on a person’s food preferences and nutritional needs. It’s perfect for those who may not be able to consume a solely plant-based diet but can still reap many of the benefits of it and maintain necessary protein intake.

Q: How did you get into the field of cancer nutrition?

A: I am so grateful for the opportunities that have come my way! My assigned undergraduate fieldwork experience was in oncology nutrition, and my love for this area of our dietetics field began there. That experience was enhanced by the outpatient oncology rotation in my dietetic internship, which was complemented by a food service rotation in the cafe that stood adjacent to the outpatient cancer center. My post-internship position in acute care was a natural next step as my focus there was largely dedicated to inpatient oncology care. Though my favorite position thus far is my current one in outpatient oncology care at Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Winthrop Hospital. I love being part of our multidisciplinary teams, across various diagnoses, caring for patients whom we are fortunate to help in preparing for treatment, undergoing treatment, and readjusting post-treatment. We also develop and provide resources for cancer prevention within our community. It is very rewarding to help so many people along the continuum of cancer prevention, treatment, and survivorship.

Q: What are some of your favorite recipes you like to share with your clients?

A: The American Cancer Society offers numerous recipes, and their cookbooks are very user-friendly. Registered Dietitians Barbara Grant and Colleen Doyle and food columnist/cookbook author Jeanne Besser do an amazing job at creating many of these references. I especially enlighten patients to look at cancer-nutrition cookbook recipes by Holly Clegg and Rebecca Katz, as well as Cook For Your Life founder Ann Ogden Gaffney.

Q: Do you have any resources you would like to share?

A: Absolutely! These include (though are certainly not limited to):

  • American Institute for Cancer Research
  • National Cancer Institute
  • American Cancer Society–especially the recently released 2020 American Cancer Society Guidelines for Diet and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention
  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics–Oncology Nutrition Dietetics Practice Group

References (for this piece) include:

Cardiovascular Disease and Breast Cancer: Where These Entities Intersect: A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association (American Heart Association Circulation journal, February 2018)

Dietary Guidelines for Breast Cancer Patients: A Critical Review (Advances in Nutrition journal, July 2017)

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Benefits of Exercise During Breast Cancer Treatment

Benefits of Exercise During Breast Cancer Treatment

Upon receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, you should first start out by talking to your doctor about the various options for treatment. During your conversation, it is important to know the goal of the treatment and any side effects that can happen as a result of the procedure. This will help you to make the best decision for you when developing your treatment plan.

Common treatment options for breast cancer can include:

  • Surgery: to remove the cancerous tissue
  • Radiation therapy: to remove any remaining cancerous tissue after surgery
  • Chemotherapy: a drug treatment to kill any fast-growing cancer cells

Although these treatments can help stop or slow down the growth of cancer cells in the body, there are a number of side effects one may experience. Some common side effects include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue (feeling tired most of the time)
  • Lymphedema (the buildup of lymph fluid in the body that can cause swelling of the feet, ankles, legs, hands or arms)
  • Neuropathy (the damage of nerves- particularly in the feet- causing tingling and numbness)
  • Cognitive issues (difficulty remembering things or concentrating)

When dealing with these side effects, one of the best things you can do is participate in a gentle exercise program. One fitness program I want to highlight is Moving for Life (MFL). Moving for Life is a dance exercise class that was carefully designed to address the needs of those dealing with cancer and the side effects often accompanied during and after treatment. Founded by Dr. Martha Eddy, the program is based on somatic movement education that focuses on the listening and paying attention of body cues. This in turn, enhances safety and healing through self-awareness and body knowledge.

During a class, it begins with an easy breath-based warm up, some aerobic movements (cardio) to increase the heart rate, resistance training to build strength and increase range of motion, sequence challenges for the brain, and ending with a relaxing stretch. This fitness program has been endorsed by surgeons, oncologists and exercise experts across the US. The program is perfect for anyone regardless of fitness level.

Some of the amazing benefits of exercise during breast cancer treatment include:

  • Increased stamina
  • More energy- relieves fatigue
  • Increase range of motion
  • Helps to maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduces swelling

I am passionate about this work and am a certified cancer exercise specialist through this organization. I have been teaching this class for a number of years and can attest to the benefits of the work.

For more information, visit

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The Truth About Breast Cancer

The Truth About Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an annual campaign to call attention and increase the awareness of breast cancer disease that takes place every month of October. But what is breast cancer? Breast cancer is the result of changes in the breast tissue that divide at uncontrollable rates, in turn causing a lump or mass to form. According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the US.

According to the American Cancer Society, The death rate of breast cancer patients has fallen by 40% between 1989 and 2017. Statistics by indicates that 1 in every 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer over the course of her lifetime; 1 in 39 will die. As of January 2020, there are more than 3.5 million women with a history of breast cancer. This includes patients currently in treatment and survivors who have completed their treatment.

The American Cancer Society has estimated that there will be 1,806,950 new cases and 605,520 cancer deaths this year (2020) alone. This is approximately, 4,950 new cases and 4,950 deaths every day. Although not as common, breast cancer can affect men as well. Early diagnosis can reduce one’s risk of dying from breast cancer. Early signs can be detected by a mammography screening (or an x-ray of the breast.)

The goal of the mammogram is to spot any tumors or breast abnormalities to detect cancer before the signs and symptoms become noticeable. While there is no exact age to start screening due to different risk factors, most people begin screening around the age of 40. Common signs of breast cancer include a change in the shape or feel of the nipple and/or nipple discharge.

Common risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Use of post-menopausal hormones
  • Family history
  • Age
  • Alcohol consumption.

There are 4 stages of breast cancer. The stages alert us of the size of the tumor and where it is located. The treatment depending on the stage and personal preferences can include:

  • Surgery: to remove cancerous tissues
  • Radiation therapy: to remove remaining cancerous tissues after surgery
  • Chemotherapy: drug treatment aimed to kill fast growing cancer cells

Breast cancer affects our lives from the patient, survivor, family member and caregivers. I encourage you to speak to your healthcare provider if you believe you have any symptoms or have an increased risk. Here, time is on our side. The earlier it can be diagnosed, the better.

However, if you are formally diagnosed with breast cancer, make sure you have a good understanding of the type of breast cancer you have, where it is located in the event it has spread to other areas, what stage is the cancer in, and your chances of survival. This will help you to make the best decisions in terms of your treatment.

When developing a treatment plan, make sure you know what your treatment options are, the goal of the treatment, how long it will last, its side’s effects, and what are chances of a recurrence.

Staying on top of the health of our breast is important. If you or a loved one has been affected by breast cancer in any way, please share the knowledge and join the movement to find a cure! We are in this together!

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