Monday, April 13, 2015

Joan Lunden: Attitude of survival

Joan Lunden at the River Center
I had the privilege of hearing Joan Lunden speak at our local Gilda's Club luncheon the other day in Davenport at the River Center.

I knew Joan had been diagnosed with breast cancer (triple negative - a very aggressive form of breast cancer) last year but did not read any more about her treatment or prognosis.  Honestly, Joan looked FANTASTIC.

Midway through her talk I noticed that Joan had some of the same patterns in her life that my mom has had in her life. Joan was a caregiver to her mother, who suffered from Alzheimer's. My mom went through the same thing with her mother, my grandmother, Dolores who also suffered from Alzheimer's. Joan's mother died in 2013, and a year later Joan was diagnosed with breast cancer. My grandmother Dolores passed in 2008, and almost exactly a year later my mom was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer in 2009.

And, just as my mom was surprised about her cancer diagnosis, Joan was surprised as well. Both had no family history of cancer. Joan said she has always been an advocate of healthy eating and being active - just like my mom. I have always considered my mom one of the healthiest, fit people I know - my mom was the Geneseo Jazzercise All-Star and has been going to the Jazzercise studio for years. I remember going to Jazzercise once or twice and I had a heck of a time keeping up. And that was 20 years ago.

I was surprised to hear Joan talk about feeling guilty over being diagnosed with breast cancer. She said she felt that somehow she must have done something wrong along the way. But Joan made a good point: don't let anything zap your attitude. She knew that she needed strength and energy to battle cancer, and she had to stay positive. My mom also knows that attitude is the key to battling cancer and I believe that my mom's positive attitude has enabled her overcome her cancer and keep it at bay.

Joan also talked about being your own patient advocate and being persistent in your health care. She made the analogy of being "shot out of a cannon" after she was diagnosed with cancer, and I couldn't agree more. After diagnosis, it is a whirlwind of information, opinions and treatment options. You have to first and foremost advocate for your own care and make the decision. No one else can make it for you.

The one thing that saved Joan's life: early detection. That is the one thing that we don't have for ovarian cancer - early detection and screenings. The standard of care for ovarian cancer has a long way to go. The best we can do is tell women to "pay attention to their bodies" and act on those "subtle symptoms." Education and awareness.

So until then, we have two stories of two women who want to be cancer survivors. Saying to yourself that you will "beat this no matter what" is the most important thing you can do for yourself, and having a positive mental attitude is the key.

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