There is at least one thing that many boomer women have in common and wish they didn’t. But Santa Barbara transpersonal psychologist and author Diana Raab faces it head on, and wrote about it for fellow boomers in her book Healing with Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey. It’s her way of healing.
A short time ago, the food media celebrity Sandra Lee shared that at the age of 48, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Both she, born in 1954, and I are smack in the middle of the booming age. So she joins me and others, such as Martina Navratilova and Wanda Stykes, as women afflicted with DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma in Situ), a relatively common form of early breast cancer.
DCIS begins in the mammary ducts. If it breaks outside the ducts, then it’s considered invasive. DCIS is most commonly treated with a lumpectomy, followed by radiation. After the lumpectomy, if the tumor margins are unclear, then further treatment is required because the cancer may have spread.
This was the scenario for both Ms. Lee and me. After consulting with her breast surgeon, Ms. Lee decided to undergo a double mastectomy, even though only one breast was affected. She didn’t want to face the chance of additional breast cancer in the future. Her doctors told her she was a “ticking time bomb.”
Since my own diagnosis in 2001, my life has never been the same. The first thing my oncologist told me after the diagnosis was, “If this does not rivet you, nothing will.” He was so right.
Some women opt for the double mastectomy, but I opted to keep my healthy breast. I was also warned that because my DCIS was so widespread in the one breast, a lumpectomy would leave me severely deformed, so I chose to have a mastectomy. Having a double mastectomy meant that I would never again feel any nipple sensation and as a sexually-active boomer, I did not want to forego that pleasure, so I opted to leave my healthy breast intact. The decision was a result of positive thinking that cancer would not invade my good breast. I viewed my diagnosis as a wake-up call to take care of myself physically, psychologically, and emotionally.
While the stigma of cancer was less than it would had been in earlier decades, it was still not easy to share the news, “I have breast cancer.” Until recent years, many were of the mind that breast cancer was more common during the golden years, but we’re hearing more and more that the diagnosis can strike during mid-life. Even though the risks do increase with age, other factors come into play such as genetics, family history, ethnicity, breast density, weight, and general emotional, physical, and psychological health.
As a former nurse and survivor, I advocate self-breast exams. Those with dense breasts, like myself, might have a difficult time identifying tumors, and regular MRIs might be recommended. Studies have shown that women with dense breasts are six times more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Maintaining healthy physical and emotional health is vitally important in all aspects of life, especially when it comes to breast cancer.
- maintain a healthy body weight
- avoid cigarettes and recreational drugs
- avoid processed foods
- avoid unrefined sugars
- minimize alcohol intake
- eat a plant-based diet of cruciferous vegetables
- be aware of your genetic history
- minimize stress
- remain active
- meditate and/or do yoga
- be educated about your health
- do daily journaling
Diana Raab, Ph.D.is a transpersonal psychologist based in Santa Barbara, CA. She is the author of eight books, including her latest poetry collection entitled, Lust. She’s editor of two literary anthologies, and the author of two memoirs, and her writings have appeared in numerous trade and professional publications and anthologies. She is a regular blogger for Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, BrainSpeak and BoomerCafe.