The Importance of Advocating for Your Health
- Lisa Dearnley, 41, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, but this winter would have marked five years in remission. Unfortunately, doctors recently discovered she has cancerous tumors in her body again after Dearnley went to her doctor with wheezing issues. She’s now awaiting more testing results to see if it’s a breast cancer recurrence or a new type of lung cancer.
- Dearnley only received her diagnosis because she trusted her gut telling her something was seriously wrong and pushed for a CT scan.
- Being your own advocate can be key to getting a correct cancer diagnosis and obtaining the best treatment possible while dealing with a diagnosis.
- As a cancer survivor, “scanxiety” is a very real thing. One of our experts recommends participating in activities that immerse you and help you achieve flow, or “lose a sense of time.” Another experts says it’s important to stay healthy in between scans to help prevent another cancer diagnosis.
Dearnley was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, and she was looking forward to celebrating five years of remission this winter. But, in a devastating turn of events, Dearnley grew concerned about her health once more when she started wheezing often.Read More
“I said, ‘I really want a CT scan. I know you’re checking for blood clots but I can’t shake this feeling that there’s a tumor on my lung,'” she said. “My partner Gavin said, ‘She’s just going to be worried at home if you don’t.’ So they said, ‘Right, we’ll do a scan for peace of mind.'”
A few hours later, Dearnely was asked if she wanted a private room.
“They said there’s a tumor on your lung right where you felt it,” she explained. “I could even have pointed to where I thought it was. I said to Gavin even though I had a feeling that it was, it was still a shock because you don’t know if you’re just being paranoid.
“I had this gut instinct but at the same time it was a shock because you think ‘am I being stupid?'”
Further testing showed tumors on Dearnely’s right lung, shoulder, neck, ribs, pelvis, spine and leg. She’s now awaiting more testing to see if it’s a recurrence of breast cancer or a new type of lung cancer.
“They said they can’t cure it because it’s too far advanced and wide spread through my body to cure it,” she said. “They said they’re going to try and control it for as long as possible to stop it from spreading and growing.”
Despite the seriousness of her condition, Dearnely is choosing to remain optimistic. And her “biggest inspiration” as she begins this cancer battle is her Aunty Val who’s been living with breast cancer for almost 30 years.
“I just have to hope really that something works,” she said. “I’ve got this hope, I don’t know if I’m just being naïve because the treatment worked so well last time.”
Advocating for Your Health
Whether you are currently battling cancer or worried that you might have it, it’s always important to advocate for your health. Cancer is an incredibly serious disease, and you have every right to insist that your doctors investigate any possible signs of cancer.
And, as we saw in the case of Lisa Dearnley, it’s always crucial to speak up about any changes to your health and trust your instincts when you feel like there might be something wrong.
“Every appointment you leave as a patient, there should be a plan for what the doc is going to do for you, and if that doesn’t work, what the next plan is,” Dr. Zuri Murrell, director of the Cedars-Sinai Colorectal Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “And I think that that’s totally fair. And me as a health professional – that’s what I do for all of my patients.”
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, April Knowles explained how she became a breast cancer advocate after her doctor dismissed the lump in her breast as a side effect of her menstrual period. Unfortunately, that dismissal was a mistake. Knowles was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at age 39. She said the experience taught her the importance of listening to her body and speaking up when something doesn’t feel right.
“I wanted my doctor to like me,” she said. “I think women, especially young women, are really used to being dismissed by their doctors.”
Figuring out whether or not you actually have cancer based on possible symptoms is critical because early detection may help with treatment and outcomes. Seeking multiple opinions is one way to ensure you’re getting the care and attention you need.
Another thing to remember is that not all doctors are in agreement. Recommendations for further testing or treatment options can vary, and sometimes it’s essential to talk with multiple medical professionals.
The lingering fear of a cancer recurrence, often referred to as “scanxiety,” is a very real thing. Some people are able to turn these check-up scans into a positive event, but the reality is that many cancer patients report that waiting for test results is even worse than the initial cancer diagnosis.
“Scan anxiety is unbelievably stressful,” Dr. Samantha Boardman, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine, told SurvivorNet. “Probably one of the best antidotes that I think psychology can offer patients is to experience flow.”
Dr. Boardman describes flow as partaking in an activity that makes you “lose a sense of time.” For some people, that activity can be a form of exercise, for others it can be creating art and for others it may be listening to music. Whatever it is, it’s important that you feel immersed in the activity in order to achieve flow.
“How can we experience flow in our daily lives? It’s usually in some form of a hobby — something we just do because we love doing it,” Dr. Boardman said. “I really encourage patients to find and experience something that they can do that gives them flow.
“It might be baking, it might be gardening, it might even be doing some housework. They are so immersed in that experience that they’re not thinking about anything else.”
Although it can be very scary waiting for uncontrollable results, it can also help to focus on the things that are in your control when it comes to your health.
Dr. Ken Miller from University of Maryland School of Medicine tells SurvivorNet the most important ways to stay healthy in between scans to help prevent another cancer diagnosis:
- One is exercise. I’m going to want you to be doing at least two hours a week of some exercise, and walking counts.
- The second is I personally recommend a low-fat diet.
- Third thing is I recommend a colorful diet. So I think there’s real value to fruits and vegetables.
And the fourth is trying to be close to ideal body weight.