Mammo Is Ammo: How Early Screening Saved My Life

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Author: Tamira Armwood, Breast Cancer Survivor, University Medical Center New Orleans

I clung to the words like I do to my rosary when I pray: tightly. What was supposed to be a routine mammogram screening at age 40 turned into a quick discovery of a mass on my right breast. Immediate emotions of fear and worry consumed me. But then a moment of relief came: After the biopsy, we determined the mass was benign.

That was July 2014, but the start of my journey against cancer did not begin until six months later.

Fast-forward to January at my follow-up appointment. My radiologist performed another biopsy, but this time, the results were not so favorable. “Stage 2 Breast Cancer,” she said, which means the cancer inside of me was growing, but still contained in the breast and nearby lymph nodes.

Because of the cancer’s aggression, a treatment plan was immediately created.

I can’t remember any thoughts that weren’t concerned with my own disbelief.

I couldn’t have cancer. I have no family history of it! Did she really just say those words? How am I going to tell my daughters? What if I don’t make it?

I prayed for strength, courage, wisdom, hope and support, and the amount of each of these needs I received from my husband and daughters was nearly two-fold. Like me, they had no certainty of what was going to happen. Unlike me, fear was not their focus but, rather, the fight.

When my treatment plan was established, my breast surgeon informed me I would need a lumpectomy performed to remove the lump from my breast. In addition, I would have to experience 18 weeks of chemotherapy treatment plus 33 days of radiation. The information, tests and costs were overwhelming, but then I meditated on Jeremiah 29:11, which says, “For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to give you hope and a good future.”

What this told me was that I was not near my end.

In my diagnosis, there was hope. After my treatment, there would be a good future.

If there is anything this disease has taught me, it is how to embrace the little things in life.

On this journey, I experienced a great degree of setback: hair loss, excessive weight gain, nail discoloration, lymphedema and periods of extreme fatigue. What I gained, however, was far greater. After my diagnosis, I smiled more. I shared more information with family and, even, strangers. I got excited more. I displayed courage more.

In the most unexpected way, I have become more grateful for the little blessings this experience has given me. It has brought my family closer together, mended broken relationships and been a common cause for which we can all show passion and compassion.

If you are someone who has recently been diagnosed with cancer, my advice to you is this:

Know there is hope. Stay the course. Stand in Faith. And never quit.

I didn’t have a family history of breast cancer, but genetic breast cancers only account for about 15%-20% of all breast cancers. That’s why it’s so important to get screened.

Because of this mantra, I preserved through the fight.

Because of my annual mammogram, I became a breast cancer survivor.

Thank you so much for allowing me to share my story with you.

Tamira Armwood

 

For more information about mammograms at UMC, visit http://www.umcno.org/mammograms.

 

 

 

You Are What You Eat: Lifestyle Tips for Managing Your Cholesterol

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Author: Rosetta Danigole, Lead Dietitian at University Medical Center New Orleans

September is National Cholesterol Education Month, a good time to consider food and lifestyle choices that benefit your health and prevent illness like heart disease.

For a long time, dietary cholesterol was considered a risk factor for heart disease. More recent recommendations suggest foods high in dietary cholesterol and low in saturated fats – foods like eggs, shellfish and liver – are acceptable and not of as great a concern as once thought in increasing cholesterol levels for most of the population. Keep in mind, however, that saturated fats – those fats found in animal products and solid fats, such as red meat and butter – are still considered to raise cholesterol levels.

Nutrition is an emerging science and dietary recommendations may change, but there are some tried and true guidelines:

A healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits and whole grains, low or nonfat dairy, seafood, legumes and nuts.

It is moderate in alcohol and lower in red and processed meat and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.

More studies show it is not only about the cholesterol numbers.  It’s about the inflammatory process associated with disease.

In order to reduce inflammation and reduce the damage caused by oxidative stress and the negative effects of so-called “bad cholesterol,” here are some dietary tips:

  • Fruits and vegetables: At least 4 to 5 cups a day.
    • Nutrition Staff Tip: Try to make it 3 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit for reduced sugar and calories.
  • Fish (preferably oily fish, like salmon): At least two 3.5-ounce servings a week.
    • Nutrition Staff Tip: While eating tilapia, for instance, is a good choice, the oily fish has more benefits — try it twice per week.
  • Fiber-rich whole grains: At least three 1-ounce servings a day.
    • Nutrition Staff Tip: Breakfast is a great time to get this one in. Try oatmeal instead of grits this month — but go easy on the brown sugar.
  • Nuts, legumes and seeds: At least 4 servings a week, opting for unsalted varieties whenever possible
    • Nutrition Staff Tip: Keep this as your snack daily — you only need a small handful. Portion it out when you get home and make 4-5 small bags per week so you won’t forget!

Other dietary measures:

  • Sodium: Less than 1,500 mg a day.
    • Remember: One teaspoon of salt contains 2,400 mg if sodium per day. Processed food is packed with sodium, so avoid processed foods and the salt shaker. Read labels!
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages: Excessive sugar is very inflammatory.  Avoid if at all possible. Drink water and herbal tea instead. Natural sweeteners such as Stevia seem to be a good choice.
  • Processed meats: Most people should try to avoid this altogether.  We suggest peanut butter, fresh tuna and chicken salad sandwiches with olive oil mayonnaise, and grilled chicken sandwiches to name some options. Also, there are other options such as bean burgers and hummus burgers if you want to try something new and vegetarian.
  • Saturated fat: The American Heart Association continues to recommend no more than 7% of your fat intake come from saturated fats. Trans fats have been of special concern over the last few years. Read your labels and be aware that anything that is a commercially baked good has the potential of some trans fats.

NOTE: Having a cholesterol level that is very low also has potential negative effects and may increase risk of dementia, autoimmune disorders and infections.

Try not to focus on the numbers. Focus on healthy lifestyles, healthy diet and exercise. Epidemiological data reveals that cardiovascular disease occurs within people who have low, normal and high cholesterol.  The implication from this is that total cholesterol is not the only marker for the assessment of cardiovascular risk.

 

Facing Cancer: Head On

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Author: Rohan R. Walvekar, MD, Mervin L. Trail Endowed Chair in Head & Neck Oncology and Director of Salivary Endoscopy Service at University Medical Center New Orleans

When most people hear the word “cancer,” it’s likely that breast, prostate and lung cancers first come to mind.

However, few people realize that head and neck cancer accounts for four percent of all cancers in the United States.

Affecting twice as many men as they do women, head and neck cancers are projected to affect nearly 65,000 people in the world this year alone, killing roughly 14,000 of those afflicted.

Oral and head/neck cancers are unique because they directly affect the organs that allow us to communicate. Often living in the oral cavity of people’s mouths, these forms of cancer can also be found in the tonsils, voice box, throat, tongue or neck – specifically in a person’s lymph nodes. They leave lasting effects on appearance, speech, the sense of smell, eating, swallowing and even breathing.

Tobacco and alcohol are the most common risk factors for these forms of cancer.

Early screening is important before it’s too late.

University Medical Center New Orleans is offering free head and neck screenings on September 22 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the UMC Conference Center Room J.

If you are unfamiliar with head and neck cancer or want to learn more about the screening process, here’s what you should know:

About Screening

  • UMC is offering free oral cancer screening to the public on September 22.
  • Screening for head and neck cancer takes 1 minute or less.
  • An experienced physician will examine you using a non-painful and effective method for detecting oral cancers. He or she will examine your oral cavity and neck to evaluate and diagnose abnormal lesions of the mouth, neck, thyroid and salivary glands.
  • Oral screenings are NOT dental screenings.
  • If you are experiencing problems with your voice box or throat, a UMC physician will happily discuss these concerns in-person at the screening and then set up an appropriate follow-up appointment with our hospital’s ENT Clinic.

Why It’s Important

  • If detected early, cancer prognosis in stages 1 and 2 is significantly better than that of later cancer stages (stages 3-4).
  • Treatment can be administered with limited consequences to function.
    • Smaller and more functional operations (surgery or radiation) are possible; recovery times are much faster.
    • For late stage tumors, multiple treatment modalities have to be included (surgery + radiation + chemotherapy). Prognosis can be poor and recovery time often takes longer.
    • In later stages, there is a higher recurrence rate, longer rehabilitation and, often, permanent impact on function. This is when the need for a permanent tracheotomy, a feeding tube or disfiguring surgery comes into play.

How to Know if You Should Get Checked

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it is best that you get screened:

  • Ulcer or growth or discoloration in the mouth that may not have gone away with treatment
  • Neck lump or mass (suggestive of spread to the lymph nodes in the neck)
  • Pain in the ear (with no prior ear disease)
  • Difficulty swallowing or changes in voice

How to Register for your Free Screening

Walk-ins are welcome, but we encourage you to pre-register using the form here on our website.

For more information on head and neck cancer types, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, please visit the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance online.