This time last year I found myself laying topless on a bed with laser beams dancing across my breasts. How strange, I remember thinking, to so cavalierly take my shirt off for so many different people after being married for over 20 years.
I can’t say I’d ever been terribly modest about my breasts. My hippie parents never told me that I couldn’t run around topless as a child like my older brother. I only became aware of my chest by being teased at summer camp. The first day of swimming I showed up wearing only a bathing suit bottom. I was probably only 5 or 6 and remember being baffled but not terribly upset by being laughed at. I thought “who cares? There is nothing to hide”! I don’t remember how the rest played out but I’m sure the next day I wore a top. Later on at camp I remember being called a pirate’s dream because of my sunken chest. It never bothered me, my breasts have always been small, and even once they had developed, I remained unselfconscious about them.
When I was young and perky I rarely wore a bra. (Looking back at photographs, I now really wish I had.) I’ve gone topless on beaches and may have entered a wet t-shirt contest or two during college spring break. I admit I even relished showing off the cleavage that came with breast feeding each of our four babies. All this is to say is that I’d never perseverated on my relationship with my breasts. Until just over a year ago, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I lost my mother to breast cancer on October 18th, 1998 when I was seven months pregnant with our first child. We rolled a mobile ultrasound machine in to her hospital room so that she could hear the baby’s heartbeat before she passed away. If I were ever diagnosed with breast cancer myself, I thought, I would definitely get a double mastectomy. She had treated her breast cancer with a lumpectomy and radiation and died 6 years later. When it came down to my own course of treatment, I realized that it was not so easy to let them go. As my surgeon had cautioned, I realized how deeply emotionally attached to my breasts I actually was.
At 53 I was shocked by my diagnosis. I knew that I had to be diligent about my screening due to my mother’s history. She hadn’t been diagnosed until she was 69 years old. I thought I would have time before I really had to worry.
Three years ago my mammogram was normal. I called my physician when I received the letter afterwards stating that I had dense breast tissue, and that a breast MRI is a better way to detect breast cancer in dense breast tissue. She assured me not to worry. Our state had just passed a law where that letter had to be sent to all patients with dense breast tissue. Dense breasts are not uncommon in smaller breasted women like me. At my physical the following year I mentioned that once again I had received the same letter after my mammogram. We decided, that with my family history, I should get the MRI.
My first MRI indicated the need for a follow up in 6 months to track two small spots of concern. One of the reasons breast MRI is not more widely recommended is because of a high false positive rate due to its sensitivity. I was not worried. It wasn’t until 8 months later that I remembered to make the appointment for the follow up MRI. Sure enough one of the spots had doubled in size requiring a biopsy. To our great relief that biopsy came back negative. It was all a big false alarm and we were breathing easy. I still needed the lumpectomy to remove the growth since it could keep growing but there was no rush since it was benign.
We scheduled the lumpectomy after our family summer vacation. We took a two-week whirlwind trip through Scandinavia, hiking peaks and cruising through fjords. Since she would be doing surgery my breast surgeon suggested an ultrasound biopsy of the second small spot on my MRI that had not changed. It was too small and did not show up on the ultrasound. We had to do an MRI biopsy on it. When I got the call with the results I was not nervous at all, so when the surgeon told me that that smaller unchanged spot actually was breast cancer I was stunned.
Because I did not have the BRCA gene a mastectomy was not recommended. I still had school aged kids at home so decided on the less radical treatment of lumpectomy and radiation. I am grateful that my breast cancer was caught early, and that my state had mandated the letter about dense breast tissue be sent out. The surgery successfully removed the cancer and I was fortunate to have the amazing support of my husband and friends.
Lying on the table topless with laser beams dancing over my breasts a year ago seems like a distant memory with all that has changed in the world since. I felt good through my radiation treatment and continue to feel good while taking Tamoxifen. I have confidence in the research and improvements in treatment since my mother went through breast cancer 22 years ago. According to cancer.net the survival rate due to early detection had increased by 40% between 1989 and 2007. The key is early detection! October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the USA. To me it is also the month I lost my mother to breast cancer, the month I underwent radiation therapy for my own breast cancer, and the month to spread the word, and remind women of the importance of routine screening.
Elizabeth Atalay is a Digital Media Producer, Managing Editor at World Moms Network, and a Social Media Manager. She was a 2015 United Nations Foundation Social Good Fellow, and traveled to Ethiopia as an International Reporting Project New Media Fellow to report on newborn health in 2014. On her personal blog, Documama.org, she uses digital media as a new medium for her background as a documentarian. After having worked on Feature Films and Television series for FOX, NBC, MGM, Columbia Pictures, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, and Castle Rock Pictures, she studied documentary filmmaking and anthropology earning a Masters degree in Media Studies from The New School in New York. Since becoming a Digital Media Producer she has worked on social media campaigns for non-profits such as Save The Children, WaterAid, ONE.org, UNICEF, United Nations Foundation, Edesia, World Pulse, American Heart Association, and The Gates Foundation. Her writing has also been featured on ONE.org, Johnson & Johnson’s BabyCenter.com, EnoughProject.org, GaviAlliance.org, and Worldmomsnetwork.com. Elizabeth has traveled to 70 countries around the world, most recently to Haiti with Artisan Business Network to visit artisans in partnership with Macy’s Heart of Haiti line, which provides sustainable income to Haitian artisans. Elizabeth lives in New England with her husband and four children.
Ruth Heidrich, Ph.D. is an internationally acclaimed speaker and authority in health, nutrition, and fitness. Known as the “other Dr. Ruth”, this six-time Ironman Triathlon finisher has held age-group records in every distance from 100-meter dashes to 5K road races to ultramarathons, the pentathlon, and triathlons, including 8 golds in the Senior Olympics. She has completed more than 60 marathons all over the world, including Boston, New York, Honolulu, Moscow, and has held 3 world fitness records in her age group at the famed Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas. She has also been named one of the “Top Ten Fittest Women in North America”.
She is the author of Senior Fitness, A Race For Life, an e-book, The CHEF Cook/Rawbook, and Lifelong Running, and has an “Ask Dr. Ruth” column on her website, www.RuthHeidrich.com. A graduate of UCLA, she holds a Master’s degree in Psychology and a doctorate in Health Education. She has also lectured in this field at the University of Hawaii, Stanford University, and Cornell University.
As of the year 2018, she has been vegan for 36 years and a daily runner for 50 years.
Here is her amazing story:
Cancer Caused Me To Step Out of My Comfort Zone
It’s been said that it’s harder for folks to change their diet than change their religion. Talk about comfort zones! If you, dear reader, are eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) or the more common Western diet, what follows should illustrate this quite well.
I grew up eating the SAD diet and in college studied nutrition. I was taught that we needed lots of protein with the “best” and “complete” sources being lean meat, especially chicken and fish. For strong bones, I was told that dairy products were required as the “best” source of calcium. As a result, I ate this way for the first 47 years of my life, confident that I was providing the best possible nutrition for my body. Confidence was bolstered by the fact that I’d taken up daily running fourteen years before and had worked up to running marathons. Since I was lean and fit, and, I thought, healthy, you can imagine the shock I felt when told by the surgeon that the golf-ball-sized tumor he’d just carved out of my breast was cancer — in fact, a 5 cm infiltrating ductal carcinoma (IDC), a moderately fast metastasizing form of breast cancer. This explained the severe bone pain I was having which not even narcotics could dull. It explained my sky-high liver enzymes.
Then they found a tumor in my right lung. This made it Stage 4! My life as I knew it had just been dumped on its ear! My burgeoning, exciting career as a fast-rising female management-type in the U. S. Air Force suddenly lost all importance to me.
Comfort zone? What comfort zone! For the next few days, I walked around numb, alternating between tears and anger at the betrayal of my body. After all, hadn’t I done everything right? When I asked my doctor why I got cancer when I was doing everything right, he said nobody knows why we get cancer. Somebody must know, I thought. I got a second opinion. When that agreed with the first, I got a third and even a fourth. All said, “We don’t know why we get cancer and, yes, yours is definitely advanced cancer.” I went to the library and checked out every single book they had on cancer and searched through them all – and still, no answers.
Since I hadn’t yet gone back to work, I happened to see an item in the local paper and the words, “breast cancer” jumped out at me. It read: “Wanted: Women with breast cancer to participate in diet-related research. Call Dr. McDougall…” with his phone number. I found myself talking to the doctor himself. I was so surprised I sputtered the words, “I’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer.” I barely heard his response, “Get your medical records. I need to talk to you.”
As he was going through my records, I heard “Hmmm. Y’know, with a cholesterol of 236, you have as great a risk of dying of a heart attack as the breast cancer.” As this information sank in, I was thinking, first, breast cancer, and now, heart attack? I was stunned! Wait just a darn minute — I am running marathons, I eat a good diet, but then the thought occurred to me. I’ll show him that my diet has nothing to do with cancer and heart disease.
My next surprise came when I was told the conditions of entering the study. First, no chemotherapy or radiation because there had to be only one variable – the diet. Then came the conditions of the diet. “No meat…” I interrupted, saying I only eat chicken and fish. He explained that the muscle that moves a hoof is the same as the one that moves a wing or a fin, so, meat is gone. Going on, he said, “No dairy” I interrupted again. “Oh, I only drink instant powdered milk”, thinking that because it was so low-fat, it had to be okay. Turns out that animal protein, and dairy protein, in particular, are cancer promoters, he told me.
My comfort zone shrank further. What was I going to eat, thinking that there wasn’t much left. He and his wife, Mary, gave me all the bad/good news. I could eat all I wanted of whole grains, potatoes, yams, vegetables, and fruit. Then, another surprise, no oil – not even olive or coconut oil. More comfort zone shrinkage!
A full two hours later, I left the office full of a mixture of hope and despair. My whole dietary world was turned upside down. I was told that animal products both initiated and promoted cancer and that by eliminating these from my diet, my immune system could start doing what it should have been doing all along. He pulled open a file cabinet drawer, saying “Here are the epidemiological studies and also the results of the animal research. You are welcome to spend as much time as you want to go through these files.”
The next attack on my comfort zone came when I broke the news to my husband. His reaction was a shocker. “You’ve fallen into the hands of a quack!” I countered with “No, I’ve seen the research.” Then, scoffing, he said, “I gave you credit for having more intelligence than this.” This was really insulting because I was a graduate of UCLA, had a master’s degree, and at that time, had all but the dissertation for my Ph.D. I knew at that moment that I was going to do this but that it was going to be without his support.
A few days later I was transferred from Surgery to Oncology and met the oncologist who would be in charge next. When he talked about scheduling me for chemotherapy and radiation, I told him that my only treatment was going to be a low-fat vegan diet. I imagined what was going through his mind, probably even having to suppress some laughter as he heard what he must’ve thought was the most ridiculous treatment for advanced breast cancer he’d ever heard. He said, “Diet has nothing to do with breast cancer, and besides, you can’t possibly get enough protein without meat. And there’s no way you’ll get enough calcium for your bones without dairy.”
Back I went to Dr. McDougall who pulled out the USDA food analysis graphs showing how all my dietary needs would be met. I’d also started feeling the results of the new diet in the form of bone pain disappearing, liver enzymes normalizing, chronic constipation is gone, no more need for the prescription for my disappearing arthritis, and, a wonderful surprise, my running got faster and I took 17 minutes off my next marathon! I was totally convinced!
Then I heard about the Ironman Triathlon, a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike and then you run a 26.2-mile marathon! I thought this would be a great challenge and a chance to prove that Dr. McDougall was on the right track, that if I could do the Ironman on this diet AND reverse cancer, that the whole world would soon take notice and change their diets as well.
Cancer is gone and Ironman completed. That’s when I discovered how hard it is for most people, husbands, and doctors included, to step outside their comfort zones.
In this webinar, you’ll learn how Dr. Ruth reversed a shocking diagnosis of Stage 4 breast cancer, changed her diet and went on to win hundreds of gold medals in races ranging from the Ironman Triathlon, dozens of marathons, to eight gold medals in the Senior Olympics. She will cover the benefits of daily exercise, how it helps the heart, lungs, muscles, bones, and even the brain. She’ll describe the ideal human diet, and how easy it can be, to implement. You’ll also learn the importance of eating a whole food, a plant-based diet which gives the body the carbohydrates it needs, the right amount of protein and fat. She will also discuss how money drives most diet decisions and how that causes the most common health threats we face today: obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, and dementia.
Overview & Takeaway
What the ideal human diet looks like and how it provides all our nutritional needs.
How the right diet supports your goals and sets the stage for better meditation.
Why daily exercise is important, the best time to exercise, and the best exercise to do.
How to reverse the most common conditions causing the need to be put on medication.
An experiential session of Heartfulness Relaxation and Meditation.
World Moms Network is an award winning website whose mission statement is "Connecting mothers; empowering women around the globe." With over 70 contributors who write from over 30 countries, the site covered the topics of motherhood, culture, human rights and social good.
Most recently, our Senior Editor in India, Purnima Ramakrishnan was awarded "Best Reporting on the UN" form the UNCA. The site has also been named a "Top Website for Women" by FORBES Woman and recommended by the NY Times Motherlode and the Times of India. Follow our hashtags: #worldmom and #worldmoms
Not everything that happens in life is warm and fuzzy and wonderful. Sometimes life is absolutely terrifying and paralyzing. This has been one of those weeks. Without sharing too many of the gorey details, it’s enough to say that I am now missing a golf ball size piece of my shin and had to have a skin graft taken from another part of my body to close up the hole. This story ends well as I heard yesterday that the margins are clear and the tumor was completely excised. But that is not actually what I want to talk about.
In the early moments after hearing the doctor say ‘it’s aggressive skin cancer and we need to get it out,’ my mind began to race…not so much about what the implications might be to my life if this was really bad news, but to ‘who are the people who are going to get me through this?’
Between biopsy and then surgery there was less than twenty four hours but I managed through Facebook and email to rally my global tribe. My doctor friend who could talk me through probable outcomes and what my shin will look like when it heals, to the endless Whatsapp messaging I did with Vanessa over days when she was meant to be studying for an important exam, to the mimosa morning my Amman Core came to sit on the couch with me and just listen, to the friends abroad who sent karma into the world, meditated with monks or convinced me to shop online for Furla bags to pass the time.
Too often we try and face situations alone, to be the strong one, the one who can manage everything. Society seems to value that and see it as the ultimate success.
I sit here and type this knowing that I dodged a bullet by getting the cancer out when I did. I also know that my life is richer for having a tribe of amazing people in my life. Maybe that’s what I am meant to learn from this experience…. Gather your tribe when you need them.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by our contributor Jackie Jenkins in Jordan.
We are a few months into our new 'home of our heart' location in Amman, Jordan. Originally from Canada, I have been moving around the globe for more than twenty years as my husband works for UNICEF. While we were a carefree couple in Uganda, Lesotho and Bangladesh, Meghan joined our family in 2000, while we were living in Myanmar. She was joined in 2005, while we were posted in India by Charlie, her energetic younger brother! Since then we have lived in Mozambique and New York. I am an educator and have been incredibly fortunate to have found rewarding jobs in international schools wherever we have been posted. Most recently I was the Elementary School Principal at the United Nations International School in Manhattan. Since arriving in Jordan, I have been a stay at home Mum, exploring, photographing and learning about the incredible history of the region and the issues facing not only the Jordan population but the incredible number of Syrian refugees currently residing in the country. While I speak English and French, I have not yet started to learn Arabic; a big goal for our time here.
I write to record and process this incredible journey we are on as a family. Time passes so incredibly quickly and without a recording of events, it's hard to remember the small moments and wonderings from each posting. Being a mother in this transient lifestyle means being the key cheerleader for our family, it means setting up and taking down a house with six weeks notice, it means creating close friendships and then saying goodbye. All this, while telling yourself that the opportunities your children have make the goodbyes and new hellos worthwhile. Raising a child in this lifestyle has incredible challenges and rewards. The challenges include culture shock every single time, even when you feel the move will be an easy one. It means coaching yourself, in your dark moments to be present and supportive to your children, who have not chosen to move but are trusting you to show them the world and the meaningfulness of the lifestyle we have committed to as a UNICEF family. The upsides to this lifestyle are incredible; the ability to have our children interact and learn about cultures, languages, food, and religions firsthand, the development of tolerance and empathy through relationships with many types of different people and the travel, they have been to more places before the age of ten than some people do in a lifetime! My commitment to raising children who believe in peace and feel responsible for making a difference in creating a better world is at the core of everything I do.
Many of us might hear the word “cancer” and automatically think that such a diagnosis would be a death sentence. This could be based on things we’ve heard, images we have seen portrayed in the media, or perhaps a personal experience – a friend or relative who has been affected by this “c” word. The truth is it greatly depends on the type of cancer…how early it is diagnosed…and whether or not a person has access to treatment.
In the US, January is #CervicalHealthMonth. Today we are talking it about it here because cervical cancer is an international issue and I’m sharing on World Moms Blog because it is an important topic to me, too. More than half a million women around the world are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and over half of them die from the disease. The majority of these cases and deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.(1) (more…)
Eva Fannon is a working mom who lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her hubby and two girls. She was born and raised on the east coast and followed her husband out west when he got a job offer that he couldn't refuse. Eva has always been a planner, so it took her a while to accept that no matter how much you plan and prepare, being a mom means a new and different state of "normal".
Despite the craziness on most weekday mornings (getting a family of four out the door in time for work and school is no easy task!), she wouldn't trade being a mother for anything in the world. She and her husband are working on introducing the girls to the things they love - travel, the great outdoors, and enjoying time with family and friends. Eva can be found on Twitter @evafannon.
This summer, we found out that my grandpa has cancer in the bile duct of his liver. This word is not new to my family. In 2010, we lost my grandma to a five year battle with ovarian cancer. But, what is new is my children’s awareness of what is happening now as opposed to five years ago. They were only two and five at that time; almost still considered babies.
Now, they are seven and ten, and they question everything. The first question they both asked me was “Is Grandpa going to die?” (more…)
Meredith finds it difficult to tell anyone where she is from exactly! She grew up in several states, but mainly Illinois. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana which is also where she met her husband. She taught kindergarten for seven years before she adopted her son from Guatemala and then gave birth to her daughter two years leter. She moved to Lagos, Nigeria with her husband and two children in July 2009 for her husband's work. She and her family moved back to the U.S.this summer(August 2012) and are adjusting to life back in the U.S. You can read more about her life in Lagos and her adjustment to being back on her blog: We Found Happiness.
It was my eldest asking. She has a way of noticing these things.
Although the question took me by surprise, I had no alternative but to answer it. Truthfully.
Yes dear, yes. Mommy is sad.
“Why are you sad, Mommy?”
Mommy is sad because bad things are happening to good people. Mommy is sad because she will have to say goodbye to somebody very dear to her much too soon. She is sad because she kept hoping for a miracle of sorts, but it never came.
I know it is OK to feel sad, but I try not to show it in front of my children, for fear that the sadness in my heart will to spill over into theirs. And I don’t want that. My first instinct is – and has always been – to protect my children. Protect them from harm, from illness, from heartbreak. To prolong their innocent happiness.
So instead of crying I try to be cheerful, hiding my worries behind a smile. I try not to upset their secure world more than necessary. But they noticed anyway. Apparently my eyes weren’t smiling anymore.
Serious illness and death which sometimes follows in its wake are new to them. When my father was diagnosed with colon cancer two years ago they were too young to really grasp what was happening. Granddad was sick and in the hospital, the doctor could make him better. He was in the hospital for a long time and visiting was no fun, because the hospital smelled weird.
But now, at 4 and 5 years old, my children are at that age when curiosity for EVERYTHING is at its peak. Although they may not fully grasp the situation or understand the permanence of death or the seriousness of illness, they do notice something is off. And they want answers and when they want answers they turn to ‘Mommypedia’.
There is no need to sit them down at the kitchen table and discuss for half an hour. I let them come to me of their own accord. This usually happens when they are colouring or when I’m driving them somewhere. It is impossible for them to NOT be active in any way, so when the body is forced to remain stationary the mind starts to work.
I try to keep things as simple as possible, try using the same words over and over so they won’t be confused. I compare the body to a clock which is broken and no watchmaker can fix. I explain why I’m sad, what will happen. If necessary I explain four or five times in a row.
But I don’t always have the answers. Even though the questions are so simple.
How do you talk to your children about death and grieving?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Tinne of Tantrums & Tomatoes from Belgium. Photo credit to the author.
Born in Belgium on the fourth of July in a time before the invention of the smart phone Tinne is a working mother of two adorably mischievous little girls, the wife of her high school sweetheart and the owner of a black cat called Atilla.
Since she likes to cook her blog is mainly devoted to food and because she is Belgian she has an absurd sense of humour and is frequently snarky. When she is not devoting all her attention to the internet, she likes to read, write and eat chocolate. Her greatest nemesis is laundry.