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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and since one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, it is important to be not only proactive but informed about the disease. We support looking out for your “girls!” This month, we are taking a look at different aspects of breast cancer—from screening and diagnosis to prevention and treatment, from fundraising and research to healthy nutrition and supporting people you know battling the disease.
Being diagnosed with any kind of cancer is scary and the start of a life-changing journey. As a medical oncologist for Edith Sanford Breast Cancer Foundation (ESBCF), Keely Hack helps guide her patients from that initial stage through treatment and survivorship. There are many doctors a woman will encounter once being diagnosed with breast cancer. Keely explains that medical oncologists are “the physician that serves as the ‘go to’ for the patient—from the time we initially meet with them to several years after their diagnosis, whether they are cancer-free or if they have a reoccurrence. We tend to maintain a relationship for many years in the future.”
When a woman is initially diagnosed with breast cancer, she and her medical oncologist will discuss what type of cancer the woman has been diagnosed with, how far it has spread and what kind of treatment plan will work best for her. Keely meets once a week with all of the doctors who play a part in a patient’s treatment, including a surgeon, radiologist and geneticist, and they discuss those who have been recently diagnosed. Keely states, “We look at their age, risk factors, family history and overall health to decide which route they should take.”
Once a woman has gone through treatment, ESBCF has a special survivorship program. “Once a patient finishes treatment and enters survivorship, Edith has a program where the patients get a summary of all of their treatment that they have had up to that point,” she says. “They receive an outline of follow-up visits with a timeline and options of different continuing therapies as well as reviewing lifestyle changes, such as exercise.”
Keely adds, “Exercise plays a huge role for many different reasons.” She jokes that during treatment she advises patients not to ‘start training for a marathon’ but does recommend low-impact exercise during that time. After treatment is finished, introducing exercise is a key component to survivorship. Keely states, “Studies have shown that if women are positive for estrogen receptors and progesterone receptors, if they do incorporate regular physical exercise into their life, it does reduce the chance of having the breast cancer come back in the future.”
While Keely recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, and says, especially for breast cancer survivors, exercise should be a priority. “We know exercise is a really effective coping mechanism for dealing with all of the long-term social issues that goes along with breast cancer—the anxiety and worry. Is this cancer going to come back?” Keely refers patients to ESBCF’s Launch program, where patients meet with an exercise specialist to determine what pace is safe to get back into exercising.
During survivorship, Keely sees her patients a little less: every three or six months. As someone who sees a patient through the entire treatment process, she says her favorite part of her job is “how much I get to share with people in the joys that come out of breast cancer. My best days are when someone comes in and finds out their tumor is completely gone and we get to share in that and celebrate. It is awesome to share in people’s victories.”
Learn more about Edith Sanford Breast Cancer Foundation at edithsanford.org.