Season’s Grievings

Author: Sonia Malhotra, MD, MS, FAAP, and Director of Palliative Medicine and Supportive Care at University Medical Center New Orleans

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The Holiday Season is one full of celebration, joy and gathering for so many.  But for many individuals, especially those living with a serious illness, the Holiday Season can seem like more of a burden than a joy. Coordinating appointments, making sure there are enough supplies to last through days when pharmacies and stores are closed, and contacting healthcare providers are only some of the challenges those living with a serious illness have to face.

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Additionally, the Holidays often bring about stressors, anxiety and grief over the inability to travel and the loss of other abilities, the diagnosis of a serious illness, and often the loss of loved ones.

Palliative Medicine is the interdisciplinary care of patients with serious illness such as cancer, blood disorders, heart disease, neurologic disease, liver and kidney disease and advanced lung disease to name a few.

It provides this level of care in 4 areas:

  1. Pain and Symptom Management, including managing symptoms that affect the quality of life
  2. Communication about Healthcare Decisions, Plans of Care and Coordination of Care
  3. Emotional & Spiritual Support for Patients and their Caretakers
  4. Hospice, End-of-Life Decision Making and Support, and Bereavement Services

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November marked the celebration of National Hospice & Palliative Medicine month. 

However, each month in the life of our patients LIVING with serious illness brings awareness of the challenges and struggles we need to celebrate. Serious illness and Palliative Medicine are NOT about end-of-life care. Rather, Palliative Medicine and its care of the seriously ill focuses on finding ways to ensure that our patients and their caretakers are LIVING with the best quality of life they possibly can.2017-NationalHospiceMonth_Logo

So how can patients and their families survive this Holiday season with a Serious Illness?

  1. Establish Priorities: Choose the Holiday traditions and activities that have the most meaning to you. Create and prioritize activities based on your state of mind and energy level.
  2. Depend on Loved Ones to Fill In: This can be especially tough for those who like to do things independently. However, it is important to be realistic about what you will have energy to do. Ask for assistance, take assistance when it is given and be clear about your own limits.
  3. Plan Ahead: This is especially important if you have dietary restrictions while undergoing treatments. Talk to your healthcare team about rescheduling treatments that may leave you feeling under-energized during important family gatherings or traditions.
  4. Be Selective with Your Time: Do things and be with the people who energize you, not those who deplete you. Don’t feel the pressure to fulfill obligations, do the things that matter the most
  5. Acknowledge and Share Your Feelings: It is okay to feel sad, anxious and even angry. Give yourself the permission to have these feelings and share them with trusted loved ones and healthcare professionals. Use support groups and online communities as often or as little as you need.

The Holidays can be a stressful time for those living with a serious illness and those caring for a loved one with a serious illness. Keep in mind that nurturing yourself and allowing others to nurture you will help in the celebration and reflection of these times.

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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.