A New Sense of Normal: Figuring Out Life After Breast Cancer

The end of treatment was both exciting and terrifying, much like riding a roller coaster, and I found the finish confusing. For months, I had a routine and aggressive therapy to fight the cancer, along with a great team of doctors and the wonderful support of family and friends. Then, it was over and I had to figure out my new sense of normal.   

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Jennifer and her son, Parker, in 2000.

Our world turned upside down in 1999 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 27 while 22 weeks pregnant with our first child. With no family history, I was fortunate that my obstetrician took it seriously when I showed her the lump in my breast. A normal pregnancy quickly changed into a high-risk one while I underwent a mastectomy and three months of chemotherapy. The day after my last treatment, our son, Parker, made his entrance into the world five weeks early, but completely healthy.

Once treatment ends, friends and family are often hoping to see the return of the “old you.” However, I wasn’t the same person I’d been before my breast cancer diagnosis. I didn’t consciously let it change me; but still, I was a different person. I was figuring out how to be a new mother, dealing with a completely altered body and facing my mortality at a young age. I had lost my innocence. I had also lost trust in my body’s ability to fight anything that might be lurking. After receiving so much attention from my doctors, family, and friends, I felt a bit alone when it ended abruptly. Suddenly, I was supposed to move past this episode and go back to life the way it used to be. That was impossible, so I had to find my own new sense of normal.

Finding a New Normal

It has been more than 16 years since I heard the words “You have breast cancer.” Visits to the doctor are less frequent, but the anxiety of waiting for medical test results serves as a sharp reminder of my new normal. Although having cancer is anything but a blessing, it has brought many wonderful things in my life. The greatest gift has been meeting so many incredible women and men over the years because of our shared cancer experience. I don’t know that our paths would have crossed otherwise.

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Nordie’s at Noon co-authors Jana, Patti, Kim and Jennifer

My new normal has evolved over the years to include:

Being an advocate for myself and others – My advocacy training has taught me how important it is to stand up for those who are unable.

Paying it forward – It is important for me to give back and be there for other women facing breast cancer. Being a SurvivorLink volunteer allows me to help others when they need it most.

Finding my inner cleavage – It has not been easy, but I have learned to love the body I now have – scars and all.

DSCF4226favLearning to take time for myself – As a Mom, it is hard to be selfish with your time, but I know it is important. The time I allow for exercise each week is a huge stress reliever.

Learning to not take life too seriously – Anyone else find themselves on the AARP mailing list after your diagnosis? I could share many funny stories on mishaps with my breast form before my reconstruction.

Taking risks – Having cancer allowed me to be more of a risk taker – including co-authoring a book with four “breast friends,” saying yes to things like zip lining, riding 200 miles in YSC Tour de Pink and having the courage to leave my comfortable corporate marketing career to follow my passion and work for YSC.

Valuing each and every day – Life after breast cancer included the wonderful surprise of our daughter, Emma, born in 2003. Life is not perfect and some days are harder than others, but I am truly thankful every day to celebrate this roller coaster of life with my family and friends.

Celebrating Cancer Survivors Day

National Cancer Survivors Day® is a worldwide Celebration of Life that is held on the first Sunday in June. It’s a day when people around the world come together to recognize the cancer survivors in their community, to raise awareness of the challenges these survivors face, and, most importantly, to celebrate life. There are an estimated 250,000 breast cancer survivors who were diagnosed with breast cancer before their 41st birthday.

Anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer knows that each day is a gift that often comes with a lifetime of side effects. While we are celebrating survivorship, it is also a time to reflect on the many who have been taken too soon by this horrible disease. Each year, breast cancer takes 1,000 young women – interrupting lives and dreams, and forever changing those who love them. My dear sisters, you are not forgotten.

We each have to figure out our new normal and the YSC Community is here to help. No matter how far out you are from your original diagnosis, you always have a home.


More Info

Read more about Jennifer’s story of “Battling Breast Cancer While Pregnant”

Download or order a copy of YSC’s Post-Treatment Guide to help you navigate life after treatment ends. YSC has guides to help you from diagnosis, post-treatment, long-term survivorship and living with metastatic breast cancer.

Interested in learning more about advocacy? Find out how you can make a difference.

Learn facts about young women and breast cancer and the issues they face.



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Recognizing the LGBT Community

1024px-Rainbow_flag_breezeJune is Pride Month – 30 days dedicated to taking a stand against discrimination and violence toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people to in order to promote their self-affirmation, dignity and equal rights, increase their visibility as a social group, build community and celebrate sexual diversity and gender variance. Although this is a time to highlight many of the wins the LGBT community has achieved over the years, this community continues to face a wide range of health disparities. As an organization focused on young women affected by breast cancer, we recognize the many barriers that LGBT people face and their negative impact on breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and beyond.

Barriers to care

LGBT people face a number of barriers to receiving quality healthcare. First, they’re less likely to have health insurance, because many employers do not provide health insurance coverage for unmarried domestic partners. Another major barrier for LGBT people is that they’re less likely to receive routine health screenings, which can result in later diagnoses. LGBT people may not seek routine care for various reasons, including insensitivity from healthcare providers who aren’t knowledgeable about their health needs and concerns; varying levels of discrimination within the healthcare system, including from healthcare professionals; and discomfort discussing sexual orientation with healthcare providers.

One of the first steps to encouraging LGBT people to better utilize their healthcare options starts with the healthcare professionals themselves. Healthcare providers should be culturally sensitive to and knowledgeable about the specific health concerns of LGBT people, and create an environment where they feel safe. Improving the cultural competency of healthcare providers will improve the level of care that LGBT people receive and ultimately translate into better health outcomes.

Some organizations, like the National LGBT Cancer Network, provide trainings to increase healthcare providers’ cultural competence to enable them to more effectively treat LGBT populations. Interested in learning more about cultural competency trainings? Their website has more information about their offerings, including their LGBT Cultural Competence Best Practices Manual.  

Higher rates and risk factors

Besides the many barriers that LGBT people face in accessing quality care, they also experience higher rates of breast cancer compared to heterosexual women. This may be attributed to a cluster of risk factors that tend to be more prevalent among LGBT people such as smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity and either giving birth later in life or not at all. All of these may stem from the stress, stigma, and discrimination associated with their sexual orientation.

Not enough research!

We need to more fully understand the barriers and risk factors that LGBT people face so their healthcare needs can be better addressed. Research on this population is lacking, particularly in regards to cancer incidence. Data that is available is limited and contradictory, often based on sample sizes too small to draw meaningful conclusions. Without adequate data, meaningful policies and interventions cannot be developed to combat cancer disparities and LGBT communities are left without the information needed to advocate for change.

Future research focused on breast cancer among LGBT people is essential if any progress is to be made to support this community. As an initial step, all national health surveys, cancer registries and medical records should include sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) questions. With more accurate and complete information, the health disparities that LGBT people affected by breast cancer face can be addressed.  

To learn more, read The National LGBT Cancer Action Plan, a white paper from the 2014 National Summit on Cancer in the LGBT Communities.

Where do we go from here?

The first thing YOU can do is be your own best health advocate. Keep up with routine health exams.  Regardless of your sexual and gender identity, you should feel completely comfortable with your current healthcare provider. If you don’t, find another one! Ask friends, family or your community for a recommendation on a healthcare provider who is going to make you comfortable and address your individual needs.

Check out our Community Forum, which offers a whole section on LGBT Topics and an opportunity for you to connect with others within this community. There are already engaging conversations happening, but feel free to ask your own questions and seek support.

Order a free YSC ResourceLink Guidebook. This guide offers a wealth of information and resources, including a section just for women who partner with women.

Take advantage of our support programs that will connect you either online, in-person or one-on-one with other young women affected by breast cancer. YSC staff can help put you in touch with someone you can relate to, including people from the LGBT community.

If you’re a healthcare provider, consider taking a cultural competency workshop with your colleagues to better ensure that your LGBT patients receive the care they need. Additionally, it’s important to provide relevant health materials to LGBT patients and to update all medical forms to be inclusive of different sexual orientations and gender identities.

Additional Support

National LGBT Cancer Network: Advocating for Health Equality

Whitman Health & Wellness: The Mautner Project

CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Center

Howard Brown Health: Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Health

As we look forward

At YSC, we are committed to offering programming that is inclusive and addresses the needs of women from every background. In order to ensure we continue to do so, we are reviewing the results of our recently concluded Diversity and Inclusion Survey. Although the survey results are still pending, we intend to use our findings to improve our offerings for specific populations, including young LGBT people affected by breast cancer.


Research Sources:

 – National LGBT Cancer Network: Lesbians and Cancer
 – Susan G Komen: Breast Cancer Statistics: Lesbians and Bisexual Women
 – Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation: What do we know about lesbians and breast cancer? Not enough! by Liz Margolies
 – The National LGBT Cancer Action Plan: A White Paper of the 2014 National Summit on Cancer in the LGBT Communities by Burkhalter, J. E., Margolies, L., Sigurdsson, H. O., Walland, J., Radix, A., Rice, D., Maingi, S. 
 – Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Lesbian and bisexual health fact sheet
 – The National LGBT Cancer Network: Barriers to LGBT Healthcare  

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Our Decision To Adopt

This month, with many of our thoughts focused on Mother’s Day, YSC featured a blog post on fertility and breast cancer, exploring options available to those who have experienced issues due to treatment. “Infertility After Breast Cancer” was a wonderful and informative piece, but in thinking about it – I wanted to share my own journey to becoming a parent.

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Our wedding in France, 2014

I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 31, had chemotherapy and radiation, and I’m now on monthly Lupron shots and Tamoxifen. One of the hardest things my husband and I had to deal with was knowing my fertility would most likely be compromised. What we didn’t consider was the safety of coming off hormone treatment. The first oncologist I spoke to was happy for me to take a break from my medication after two years. I met with another oncologist who felt differently. Based on the aggressiveness of my cancer, the fact it had spread to my lymph nodes and was hormone responsive, his advice was for me to wait five years before trying to have a baby naturally.

This information was the catalyst for my husband and I to consider all the options available to us. I should say here that everyone is different. For some people taking a break from treatment and trying to have a baby or using frozen eggs/embryos or working with a surrogate is right for them. While we definitely researched these options, we felt adoption was the route for us. It means I can stay on my medication and, ultimately, we can become parents – the most important thing for us. Of course, not having a child naturally is a difficult thing to accept, but it might be an option for us a few years from now.

Before we decided to adopt, we met with friends who recently adopted a little boy. It’s so important to connect with people who have experienced and gone through the process. Their first piece of advice was to attend the annual conference of the Adoptive Parents CommitteeWe attended wonderful sessions and heard from both adoptive and birth parents on the experience. We really educated ourselves on the process and options available to us. A social worker’s advice was to leave the conference, go home, watch a silly movie, eat take out and not talk about adoption! It really helped by giving us time to process everything we’d heard. A couple days later, we went for a walk and I asked my husband “so, how do you feel? Do you want to adopt a baby?” His answer was a lovely “yes!” And so begins our exciting adventure. 


Grace FoxtonYSC’s Northeast Regional Field Associate, has agreed to share her adoption journey with us, offering a glimpse into the process. As a young woman affected by breast cancer, she hopes her experience will help other young women with the logistics of the adoption process. Please stay tuned in the coming months as Grace checks in with us!





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Legacy: New Meanings & Methods

“The quest to understand and fulfill life’s mission has stimulated Philosophical and Spiritual literature for millennia. Each of us is faced with the issue of re-examining what we have done in our lives and reflecting upon “Who am I, Why am I here… and what is there still to do?”
Roshi Joan Halifax

Normally we have our whole lives to answer these existential questions, but for a young person living with incurable or metastatic cancer there is an urgency – a feeling that the end is near and there are bucket lists that haven’t been checked off or completed.

Rethink Breast Cancer created a film called I AM ANNA which tells the insightful story of Anna Craig: a mother, wife, artist, architect and young woman living with metastatic breast cancer.

The film follows Anna’s inspiring journey to create her legacy by building an addition to her house that fulfills her artistic dreams and leaves something for her family. Through this process we watch her help build a support network for young metastatic women and come to terms with the conflict of achieving her “bucket list” or legacy and balancing that with the needs of her family.

The film also explores the meaning of legacy and the many ways one can leave their mark on the world and in the lives of those they love.


Here are some steps to take in developing a strategy to help fulfill your dreams:

Explore Ideas

The word legacy has different meanings for everyone. It can be a bit intimidating and burdensome when we think about it in literal terms. However, we can think about it in broader strokes – what is that you want to leave in the world? How do you want to be remembered, and who do you want to remember you?

In I AM ANNA, Anna Craig talks about wanting to leave a legacy in three aspects of her life: as a mother, as an architect and as an advocate in the cancer world. During the film she is engaging in various art projects and the larger project of renovating her house, presenting the audience with the idea that legacy is everything from creating a list of your favorite films to going on a safari in Africa. It is about making memories and being true to yourself and the way you wish to live your life, no matter how long that is.

A good place to start is asking yourself the following question: What aspects of yourself and your life story are you passionate about sharing? And then: Who do you want to share it with?

Here’s a short list of ideas for legacy projects:

 – Scrap books + photo albums
 – Cards for loved one’s birthdays or special occasions
 – Short video diaries
 – Quilts or blankets for the crafters
 – Playlists of favorite music or movies
 – Time capsule

Create a plan

Before you set off on a project or task, it is a good idea to take stock of the issues that may get in your way. For example, what’s doable? What is the impact you are hoping to have? What research do you need to do to get there? What is the impact on family or friends? What is the impact on your health?

Think about it like a thesis statement or a road map of getting to where you want to be and what steps need to happen to get you there. If you want to go on a big trip, what type of financial planning needs to happen? If you have a photo project that you would like to complete, what platform will you use to put it together? Do you need help with your plan? Who are the people that can help you?

I always suggest some cautious optimism when making plans as things can change quickly. Symptoms and side-effects of treatment can side-line an art project or a trip. It’s a good idea to re-evaluate your plans as needed as priorities can change.

Engage your network

It’s really important to engage the people you love in the things that you are passionate about and the ideas you have for your future – however long that might be. Not only do more hands make less work, but there is the opportunity to share some special moments with those in your close circle through projects, tasks and conversations about your legacy.

Talking about end of life issues, including legacy, can be really difficult with the people you love. In my Psychosocial column, I give some suggestions for how to choose the right people to talk to and suggestions for starting that conversation.

Be good to yourself

“…You somehow have to find yourself in your diagnosis and be able to live with it as you’re living every moment for what it is; but also you are living life fast…not every second has to count, you also have to accept that you are a human being and embrace being human.” – Anna Craig

Part of living with an incurable and debilitating illness is the process of coming to terms with change. It’s important to grieve your losses, especially the loss of your idyllic dreams or future goals. You might feel a lot of pressure post diagnosis to get everything on your bucket list done, tomorrow.

As you begin to experience what a metastatic diagnosis means for you, consider that legacy is not always about big goals or making major marks in the world. Sometimes it’s as simple as nurturing the relationships with the people we love and making memories that you can both treasure through the time you spend together, while you have it. Being present and finding ways to live in the moment, instead of steps ahead in the future can help create space for you to live your dreams.

For more on legacy check out:

 – Rethink Breast Cancer’s LiveLaughLearn Series, featuring topics such as Metastatic Breast Cancer, talking to kids about cancer, and care for the caregivers.

 – Metastatic Diaries

 – YSC Metastatic Navigator: A Young Woman’s Guide to Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer

 – End of Life Series: Let’s Have Dinner & Talk About Death, featuring Michael Hebb, founder of Death over Dinner, who explores a unique way to gather friends and family, fill a table and have an important discussion on our end of life wishes.



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It’s OK, Mommy’s Here

2014-11-06 18.14.05We understand that facing cancer is difficult, especially so when diagnosed while raising children. Melissa Eppard, today’s guest blogger, really gets that. She understands the challenges of motherhood while facing breast cancer. She was diagnosed when her young son, Julian, was only 3 years old. Her inspiring blog features a post that explores the challenges of communicating with a small child about breast cancer and the difficult task of reassuring them that “It’s OK, mommy’s here.”


The impact of a serious diagnosis on a family is far reaching and the healing continues long after treatment is over. “Mommy’s dying,” Julian declared, his sticky half boy-half baby fingers stuck to the short hairs on my neck. He looked into my eyes to gauge a response and I could tell by his little smirk he had no idea how hard that blow just hit me. I took it in with a deep inhalation, tempering the sinking heart feeling with my best grownup face.

At the age of 5, what does he really know about death? I can see him trying to understand, trying on words and concepts that creep in from school or television, but certainly not from home, the hushed tones of uncertainty kept to nighttime whispers and secret diaries. Last summer we found a garter snake in the yard, already stiff with the rigors, a little blood around the mouth and head where some bird of prey struck the final blow. “Awe, poor snake!” he kept exclaiming. I told him it was dead, that dead things can’t move and feel anymore. I spoke very basically about the food chain, my simplified circle of life talk. The next day it was gone, neatly removed by nature, proving my point that everything has its use and place.

064Then in the fall, his beloved Chloe died. The sweetest, smooshiest yellow lab that ever was. She would let him climb over and under her belly and spoon with him like he were her very own pup. Arriving home the first time without Chloe, I had to explain she would never return, that she was in Heaven now with her sister Hannah. I tried to find soothing words. He just wailed and his heartbreak was sadder for me than the loss of the dog. I could feel a little piece of his childhood breaking off and dissolving in this moment as I held him, his little face soaking my shirt.

Julian was only 3 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Just 1 week after his 4th birthday, he came home to find his Mommy sequestered in the bedroom, barricaded by a baby gate. In drug induced semi-consciousness, I remember hearing him screaming at the gate, anguished that we dare be separated. I choked back my sobs, lest I tear at the surgical seams. Each shudder of sorrow brought a new wave of pain. Never will I forget the sound of him crying for me and my arms and chest unable to bear him. Mixed in with the muddy memory is my husband crying too, the two of them holding each other. Joey trying to convince himself, even more perhaps, that I was going to be alright.

Maybe it was a day or two later, after much soothing and cuddling, he was carefully brought to me. I was the delicate newborn, lying on the other side of a pillow buffer. Joey controlled his spindly little limbs as his hands found my face and hair and he pressed his soft baby cheeks to mine. His eyes looked so old as he peered into my face for understanding and reassurance.  “It’s OK, mommy’s here. I’m resting. Mommy just needs to sleep.”

For weeks beforehand, we read Nancy Reuben Greenfield’s “When Mommy Had a Mastectomy.” I can’t say if it registered. He didn’t care to stay in my lap and look at the pictures as they weren’t nearly as riveting as the Thomas the Train stories. At that point I didn’t even get into Sherry Kohlenberg’s “Sammy’s Mommy Has Cancer.” I was still wallowing in my shock trying to find preschooler words to convey something I couldn’t understand.

How did I get here at age 36? After all the organic food and exercise, holistic medicine and mind/body awareness, law of attraction, talk therapy, forgiveness… certainly I was not perfect, but this? Early childhood Catholicism colluded with eastern thinking. Was this karmic payback for the sins of my past lives or perhaps for the old shadow thoughts of my unworthiness of love?

The doctors ministered their science. BRCA1+ hereditary cancer was the proclamation. The very thing that took my grandmother at age 57, just a year before I was born, would resurface in me. I found the lump in my left breast one day while Julian clambered over me like a jungle gym. Surely it was a swollen lymph gland I thought, as I doubled up on the homeopathic medicine and waited. It would be 5 months later when I finally saw a doctor and the wave of probing, testing, second and third opinions swept over my life. Going with the most aggressive course of western medicine, a double mastectomy and chemotherapy, was what everyone recommended to combat the “Triple Negative” tumor, known best for fast growth and high recurrence rates.

091I looked everywhere for a way out, for absolute proof that I could kick this with colloidal silver or pure essential oil of orange or megadoses of Vitamin C. Everyone in my local Woodstock, NY and online communities rallied with well-intentioned advice. One man, touting a sure-fire cannabinoid oil cure called me just a few days before surgery saying, “Don’t let them take your boobs!” That night I stared at my little boy’s sleeping face for a long time.

One year a survivor now, with my son perched on my lap, I want to reassure him that all these sacrifices were not for nothing. I speak quietly and simply about death. “When you die, you go away and you don’t come back.  I would be in heaven and you wouldn’t see Mommy anymore.” He is quiet as this sinks in. I add, “Mommy is not dying. I’m staying right here with you and Daddy for a long, long time.” In my heart this is the loudest prayer. I hope I am telling the truth.


There are a number of useful resources and tips on children here, as well as the Helping Children Cope with Breast Cancer printable.

Interested in chatting with other parents? Then check out the parenting section YSC’s Community Forum!



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Mothers, Daughters & Alphabet Soup

acronymnsI think most people would agree, open communication with your kids is a good thing. Unfortunately, when it comes to talking with our daughters about their risk of getting breast cancer, it’s not always easy. The acronyms alone are hard to keep straight; BRCA, ER+, HER2, PALB2… it’s a crazy alphabet soup! Then you throw in words like “mutation,” “risk” and “recurrence,” which makes the conversation even scarier and more overwhelming.

Here’s what we know: a family history of certain types of cancer can increase your risk of breast cancer. This increased risk may be due to genetic factors (known and unknown), shared lifestyle factors or other family traits. But here’s where it gets confusing again! Most women with breast cancer do NOT have a family history of the disease. Inherited gene mutations account for only 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers diagnosed in women in the United States. A mother with a breast cancer diagnosis increases a daughter’s chance of getting breast cancer. However, just because you have breast cancer does not mean that your daughter will also get the disease. See what I mean by confusing?

Girls 2015

Me and my daughters last year.

I have two daughters, Jaya (22) and Sejal (11). I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer twice under age 40. So, I knew early on it was important to TALK to my daughters about breast cancer. But, through trial and error (and fights and tears), I also figured out it’s important to LISTEN to their concerns. What are they worried about? What words don’t they understand? Have them tell you. If you don’t know the answer, tell them you will do everything you can to figure it out.

It’s also important to talk to them about getting to know the look and feel of their healthy breasts. That way they can be aware if anything changes.  And, hopefully talk to you about it. Since I was younger at diagnosis, my daughters will also be talking with a medical provider at a younger age than most of their peers usually would about when to start any type of screening like mammography or ultrasound. They can then talk about prevention. Yes, while we don’t have a cure yet, there are steps a healthy young woman can take to reduce her risk of getting breast cancer:

 – Limit alcohol
 – Don’t smoke
 – Control your weight
 – Be physically active
 – Breast-feed
 – Limit dose and duration of hormone therapy
 – Avoid exposure to radiation


Lastly, knowledge is power. There are great resources out there on genetics and breast cancer, accessing your risk, and support for children with a parent diagnosed with breast cancer. Learn more about risk factors, family history and genetics. Below are a few other resources to check out: 

 – Bright Pink
 – Breastcancer.org
 – Sharsheret
 – Kids Connected
 – Get in Touch Foundation

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Good Sex Starts Within

WHW-EmailHeaderWe’re closing out Women’s Health Week with a round-up of our favorite tips for a healthy sex life during and after cancer treatment. Sex drive and sexual desire is often tied to our general health. But, let’s face it: whether you’re single or in a relationship, sex after cancer isn’t always easy.      

We’ve asked some of the best in the business to share their advice on the topic. Our biggest takeaway? Good sex starts within. Self-love, positive body image, freedom from negative self-talk, a readiness to accept pleasure—these are the building blocks of a fulfilling sex life. But these things take time, healing and sometimes professional therapy (and almost always lots of lube), so remember to go easy on yourself.

We think these tips (mental and practical) are worth a reminder:

 – Each time you see your face in a mirror, look into your eyes and say, “I love you” out loud. Say it like you mean it.

 – Take yourself on a date. Dress up so you feel beautiful, and go out for coffee, a movie, dinner or for a walk in a beautiful place.

 – Enjoy the journey. The big O is not the whole point. A round of sex is over when you feel like it’s over. The journey matters as much as the destination.

 – Use lubrication (especially if you’re experiencing vaginal dryness). Or at least have it nearby at all times. Wet and slippery feels good—dry not so much.

 – Own your own orgasm. Develop the skills and knowledge on your own to make yourself come. Then bring that knowledge to the bedroom and share it with another person. Just remember, you have a lifetime to work it out, so keep the self-love flowing.

 – Laugh. Sex at home isn’t like the movies. Be ready for things to go wrong, and have a laugh about it.

 – Ask for what you want. Check in with your partner using eye contact, sounds and words. We don’t believe anyone has magical intuitive powers to be a good lover. It takes some effort.

Let’s keep Women’s Health Week going! To learn more about breast health, download our Breast Health and You booklet. It’s full of information on breast cancer risk factors, common breast cancer myths and what you can do to take charge of your health today.  

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Thanks to our friends Claire Cavanah, Co-Founder of Babeland, and Barbara Musser, CEO of Sexy After Cancer, for their words of wisdom. You can check out their original posts on sex and intimacy after cancer here and here.  



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Six Ways To Cope with Breast Cancer

WHW-EmailHeaderWhether you’re dealing with the shock of a diagnosis, struggling with the effects of chemo brain or living with the fear of recurrence, mental well-being is an important aspect of your overall health. Taking care of your mental health can support your treatment and help you feel better physically.

For National Women’s Health Week, we curated a list of tips from our resources and blog to help you cope because you deserve to live a full and meaningful life.

Let Your Creative Juices Flow.
A breast cancer diagnosis can often lead to a mixture of emotions that are difficult to process and communicate. Expressive arts – journaling, painting, music/theater – is a way to cope with a breast cancer diagnosis and to create a legacy. It’s an opportunity to express the range of emotions you experience on your journey with breast cancer.

Read Ali Schaffer’s Inner Creative Goddess blog for inspiration and learn about the benefits of journaling from our Associate Director of Survivorship Programs, Jean Lowe, LCSW, OSW-C, CJT.

Don’t ignore what you’re feeling. Feelings of anger and grief are natural; acknowledge them and take time to mourn your losses. They are real and you have the right to grieve. With grief comes growth. Recognize that you are more than cancer and look for new ways to feel good – inside and out.

Visit our Quality of Life section for more in-depth information on the physical and psychological challenges young women with breast cancer face.

Regular meditation can help calm your mind and body and improve health. There are many types of meditation including mindfulness, yoga, qigong, tai chi, transcendental and aikido. Find one that works best for you and your needs. One easy way to do this is to take a few minutes in the morning to close your eyes and set the energy and tone for your day.

Learn about the benefits of spirituality and meditation from National Cancer Institute and in the Nutrition & Physical Wellness section of our Multi-Media Learning Library. Check out popular meditation apps here!

Seek Professional Help.
There are some topics and emotions that you don’t want to discuss with friends and family. A healthcare provider, such as a social worker or psychologist, make great objective listeners and can help you cope.  

Visit the American Psychological Association’s Breast Cancer & Mental Health fact sheet to understand the relationship between mental health and breast cancer and what role psychological treatment can play in your breast cancer treatment.

Ask For Help.
It is important to remember that you are not alone. Your friends and family want to help you during this difficult and exhausting time. With great websites like Lotsa Helping Hands, Take Them a Meal, Care Pages, you can create a support circle allowing friends and family to help schedule meals, give rides to/from treatment and assist with daily duties like cleaning.

Utilize the YSC Community.
Whether you are looking to connect in-person, online, or one-on-one, YSC SYNC has a program for you. Our Face 2 Face networks offer an opportunity to connect with young survivors in your community. Sometimes you just want to talk to someone who understands what you’re going through. YSC’s SurvivorLink offers peer-to-peer mentoring to help you find crucial support from someone who has been there.

F2F Blog Graphic (2)Other Helpful Resources:
 – Stress reducing tips by Christina Hill, Regional Field Manager (South)
 – National Cancer Institute’s section on Psychological Stress and Cancer
 – YSC’s Multi-Media Learning Library


Don’t forget to check out the other awesome resources from YSC this week in celebration of National Women’s Health Week! We encourage you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.




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Born to Move

WHW-EmailHeaderWe are born to move.

And when I say move, I mean something as simple as walking two blocks instead of hopping in your car. Exercise is great, but I’m simply referring to an active vs. sedentary lifestyle.

According to the research of Dr. Oliver Glass at Duke University, women with early stage breast cancer that are physically active post-diagnosis have a 30% reduction in breast cancer specific mortality and a 25% reduction in breast cancer recurrence compared to sedentary women.

So let me ask you this, when you approach escalators and stairs, do you automatically pick the escalator? Maybe it’s something you’ve never thought about, or maybe you decided “I’m just too tired today.” That wasn’t your body telling you that, that was your mind.


Zionna leading a group stretch.

So, let’s take it a step farther and talk about exercise. Sami Mansfield, an Oncologist Exercise Specialist from The University of Kansas Cancer Center says, “Exercising during treatment, to recover from surgeries is a key piece of survivorship.”

I can’t count the times I have witnessed people overthink exercise and fitness. When you break it down, it’s just movement. It’s simple decisions you make every day to be better. You’re allowing your body to do what it was meant to do.

Fitness and nutrition is 90% mental. I always say, showing up and warming up is the hardest part of my training. You have the right to test your muscular and skeletal structure. You just have to mentally say yes.


Zionna addressing the crowd.

I’m not saying you should start training like an Olympian. You know your body better than anybody else. Listen to it and consult a medical professional. An exercise plan for a young women after a diagnosis should be as personalized as her cancer treatment plan.

My background is in weightlifting, and I’m not going to lie, that’s a really intimidating place to start. Trust me, I’ve been there. I was intimidated by the barbell. I was intimidated by the gym. Mainly, because I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t want to look stupid. But after conquering my fears, I learned that movement is an art. Movement is something that I’m supposed to do.

I’m here to challenge you to not be scared of returning to the life you knew pre-diagnosis and to not use cancer as a crutch. My challenge to you is in regard to your mental approach. I’m not saying to be a rebel and ignore everything the medical experts or your oncologists tell you. I’m challenging you to ask yourself, “Can I do this? Am I capable? Am I just being lazy? Am I making excuses?”

Ask yourself those questions when you see an opportunity to move, and be conscious of it. You’ll be surprised once you do. You’ll start to realize how many opportunities a day you can challenge yourself without even going into a gym.


Zionna giving some 1 on 1 coaching.

Exercise is the one thing you can give yourself every single day. It’s something that cancer can never take away from you. So, if you’re not sure where to start, it’s as simple as hitting the pavement and moving.

Change your mindset, challenge your body, and just move.

You can get started by studying great movement patterns. I highly recommend watching the squat contraption video from my friends at Vaughn Weightlifting. The squat is for everyone. If you want to move better, you are going to have to invest some time in studying it. Stay tuned for more to come on post diagnosis and treatment movement!


A huge thank you to Zionna Hanson of Barbells for Boobs for working with us for National Women’s Health Week! Don’t forget to check out the other awesome resources there were provided this week and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

YSC also offers a number of fitness resources including audio presentations from past conferences. You can listen in and review the presentations under “Nutrition and Physical Wellness.”






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Take Charge of Your Diet!

WHW-EmailHeaderProper nutrition is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. A good diet is even more important for young women facing breast cancer. Some types of chemotherapy may leave women with challenging weight problems—they can cause survivors to gain weight in a particular way by losing muscle and gaining fat tissue. Unfortunately, this can make losing weight more difficult since many of the usual ways won’t work. It’s normal to feel some frustration—but be patient with yourself. You have the ability to control a lot of things and make some positive choices, like eating a healthy diet.

To help you take control of your healthy diet, we created a Meal Planning Worksheet – an easy way to get you started on the road to healthy eating. The Meal Planning Worksheet will help you keep track of your weekly meals since planning ahead is a good way to understand your food choices.

A few key tips on nutrition that most of us are aware of, but forget to incorporate in our weekly meal plans:

 – Eat a plant-based diet and have at least 5-9 servings of fruit and vegetables daily.
 – Try to include beans in your diet, and eat whole grains several times daily.
 – Choose foods low in fat and salt.

Some young women face a different challenge after their diagnosis – they have no desire to eat, and they lose weight. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist about your appetite and weight challenges. Try eating several, smaller nutritional meals daily.

Now that you have a Meal Planning Worksheet, below are a few favorite healthy recipes from YSC Staff. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Megan Farmers Market

Megan shopping for fresh produce at the Farmers Market in NYC.

Megan’s Favorite Vegetarian Bean Chili
by Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home
This is my favorite “big batch” recipe. The chili is delicious and it’s so easy to make a hearty pot that lasts the whole week.

It’s full of protein with two different types of beans and for extra health benefit – add some turmeric!

Turmeric is believed to, among other things, have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.

Click here for the recipe.

Tastes great with coffee!

Tastes great with coffee!





Lily’s Breakfast Bars
I’ve always struggled to fit in a nutritious breakfast in the morning before work, unfortunately my nature is to usually prioritize a pot of coffee over food. This recipe is super simple and flexible; I make some variation of it every Sunday to last us through the work week. Having these bars on hand and ready to go helps me get some fuel in my body early in the day.
 – 2.5 cups Rolled Oats (can be toasted in the oven for about 15 minutes)
 – 1/3 cup Honey
 – 1/3 cup Nut Butter (almond, peanut or cashew)
 – 2/3 cup Dates (or dried fruit like apricots or cherries)
 – 1.5 cup Chopped Nuts (Ex: almonds or pistachios)

In a food processor, pulse the dates (or other fruit) until it’s finely chopped and forms a sticky ball. In a big bowl mix this with the oats (cooled down if they’ve been toasted), coarsely chopped nuts, honey and nut butter. You can also add anything else you like! Sometimes I throw in a handful of sunflower, pumpkin, sesame seeds, chia or flax. Mix it all well then turn the mixture out into a 9″x 13″ dish lined with parchment or plastic wrap. Use your hands or the bottom of a glass to compress the mixture firmly and let it set on the counter or in the fridge for a while. Then turn it out of the pan and cut into bars. I cut 10 to last two people for one work-week. They can be stored out on the counter in a container, or even frozen for later!

Mary and Irene

Mary’s little helper Irene enjoying some strawberries – a great and healthy snack!


Mary’s Super Simple Spinach Dip
I love this super simple Spinach dip recipe that my friends and family request I make for every get together! I make it a little lighter by using light sour cream and light cream cheese. Then serve the dip with tons of different veggies for a tasty appetizer everyone is sure to love.

Extra Health Tip: As soon as you get home from the farmers market or grocery store, clean and prep veggies and fruits so they are ready to eat and easy to grab when you want a quick snack!

Click here for the recipe.




You can add tempeh or chicken if you want more protein!








Jenn R.’s Baby Bok Choy with Shiitake Mushrooms and Red Bell Peppers
This is my go-to favorite delicious and healthy recipe from Women’s Health Magazine. I love it because it takes 30 minutes and I get to whip out my wok.

Sauce: 5 tsp low-sodium soy sauce 1 tsp roasted sesame oil 3/4 tsp cornstarch 1/2 tsp sugar

Stir-Fry: 1 Tbsp (packed) peeled, minced fresh ginger 2 tsp minced garlic 1 Tbsp peanut oil 8 cups sliced baby bok choy (from 3 heads) 2 cups sliced shiitake mushrooms 1 cup sliced red bell pepper 2 tsp roasted sesame seeds

1.) Whisk soy sauce, sesame oil, cornstarch, and sugar until smooth. Set aside.

2.) In a large wok over high heat, stir-fry ginger and garlic in peanut oil for 1 minute. Add bok choy, mushrooms, and bell pepper, and stir-fry for 2 more minutes. Add the soy mixture, then stir-fry for another minute.

3.) Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve immediately.

Makes 4 Servings Per serving: 140 cal, 6 g fat (1 g sat), 20 g carbs, 330 mg sodium, 5 g fiber, 5 g protein


They’re delicious even without the bun. Don’t forget the avocado and brown mustard for a tasty meal!

Jean’s Veggie Sliders
These veggie sliders are adapted from the Oh She Grow’s Perfect Veggie Burger recipe. For my version, I add corn, leave out the bread crumbs and make them smaller. You can eat these without a bun. They taste great with sliced avocado and some really good brown mustard. I love them because they are delicious, easy and healthy!

Click here for the recipe.







Keep a look-out for other awesome resources from YSC this week in celebration of National Women’s Health Week!
Don’t forget to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.





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Categories: Women's Health Week