Facebook Talk Focuses on Breast Cancer

Posted: October 12, 2016

The latest #OurDocTalk chat on the NorthBay Healthcare Facebook page was a lively discussion on breast cancer that delved into everything from the need for compassion during treatment to the hope for one day finding a cure and what to do in the meantime to avoid the disease.

#OurDocTalk is a live Facebook chat in which interested followers who visit NorthBay’s Facebook page (Facebook.com/NorthBayHealthcare) post their questions and comments and a NorthBay doctor replies.

For nearly an hour on Oct. 5, oncologist Brian Vikstrom, M.D. fielded questions posed by NorthBay Facebook followers before and during the chat.

Asked about the importance of compassion during treatment, Dr. Vikstom was resolute.

“It’s scary being diagnosed with a cancer and the medical system can often seem impersonal and uncaring,” he wrote. “People need to know that they are valued as individuals and that their providers care for them and want their input.”

The doctor had plenty to say on the subject of life during and after treatment, too.

“How can one maintain her femininity during the difficult time of hair loss from chemo? Some kind of product just for women, perhaps?” asked a Facebook fan.

“It is very important to feel that your femininity is not taken away from you. Goodness knows, we cause enough trouble with cancer treatment!” Dr. Vikstrom noted. “Most importantly, one must maintain an open and honest communication with one’s partner. Often, you will find your partner sees a woman every bit as feminine on treatment as off.

“I wish we had a cream for hair loss, but so far we don’t. We do have a glamour room for women interested in looking for a wig. It’s always better to pay a visit before the hair starts falling out and panic sets in.”

The words brought comfort to the person who posed the question. She typed a quick response: “Thanks for the encouraging words and outstanding resources.”

Other questions focused on risk factors for developing breast cancer or for the cancer spreading to other parts of the body and the hope for a cure.

“Do you think a real cure will ever be found?” asked one Facebook fan.

“I hope so!” wrote Dr. Vikstrom. “I believe that someday more effective treatment can cure even people with Stage IV disease. I have a couple of patients with stage IV cancers who have been off treatment for years without any evidence of cancer. Are they cured? I don’t know, but I am optimistic.”

The full text of the chat can be found on the NorthBay Facebook page (Facebook.com/NorthBayHealthcare). Here is an edited transcript:

Q.: October 5th is the 3rd year anniversary of my diagnosis. I've been cancer free for 2 years thanks to God and my wonderful doctors Lopéz and Marengo. My diagnosis day was not a very good one because I was surrounded by people that did not show me kindness. It made me realize how important the compassion that doctors and nurses show to a cancer patient is. Do you think this influences the attitude patients have towards their treatment?

I should say that I was diagnosed at another hospital here in Fairfield not NorthBay. At NorthBay I found wonderful people that made me feel that they care and that I was not alone.

Comment from a Fan: Yes!!!! These doctors are AMAZING!

Dr. Vikstrom: It's scary being diagnosed with a cancer and the medical system can often seem impersonal and uncaring. People need to know that they are valued as individuals and that their providers care for them and want their input. Unfortunately, there are many people out there that do not feel their physician listens or is not respectful of them. How can this not influence your attitude? Thanks for the comment.

NorthBay Healthcare: For more on our cancer program: http://northbay.org/services/cancer-center/index.cfm

Q.: Dr. V, is it possible to get cancer in other parts of your body after you have had chemo for one type of cancer already?

Dr. Vikstrom: It depends on the chemotherapy. Some chemotherapy drugs, including cyclophosphamide, can put women at a slightly increased risk of developing leukemia. Women with a history of radiation can also occasionally develop new cancers in the areas that were radiated. I hope this answers your question.

Q.: Dr Vikstrom, how can one maintain her femininity during the difficult time of hair loss from chemo? Some kind of product just for women, perhaps?

Dr. Vikstrom:  It is very important to feel that your femininity is not taken away from you. Goodness knows, we cause enough trouble with cancer treatment! Most importantly, one must maintain an open and honest communication with one's partner. Often, you will find your partner sees a woman every bit as feminine on treatment as off.

I wish we had a cream for hair loss, but so far we don't. We do have a glamor room for women interested in looking for a wig. It's always better to pay a visit before the hair starts falling out an panic sets in.

Many women on therapy can also suffer from significant changes in their estrogen levels which can lead to mood changes and vaginal dryness, both of which can affect intimacy.

The American Cancer Society has a lot of information on life during and after cancer treatment. We will provide you with a link.

NorthBay Healthcare:  Here is the ACS link: http://www.cancer.org/.../breast-cancer-after-follow-up

Comment from fan: Thanks for the encouraging words and outstanding resources.

Q.: Does a breast cancer diagnosis automatically mean all members of a family are now at increased risk of having breast cancer and should be checked?

Dr. Vikstrom: Good question. A family history of breast cancer does increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer. If you have any concerns about your family history, I would suggest that you discuss this with your physician or nurse practitioner. Some people with strong family histories of breast cancer qualify for genetic testing. Even if you do not, there are risk assessment tools available to give you an estimation of your lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. We have a genetic risk assessment clinic here at NorthBay that can help.

Q.: Can benign cysts become cancerous?

Dr Vikstrom: Not if it is truly a benign cyst. Usually, simple cysts can be separated from more suspicious ones by a breast ultrasound.

Q.: I know someone who is now STAGE #4 BREAST CANCER WITH METASTASIS To their bones. They've survived 14 YEARS already. Currently they're taking AFINITOR 10 along with EXEMESTANE these CHEMO PILLS cost over $12,000.00 for only 28 pills. Do you think a real CURE WILL EVER BE FOUND??

From a Facebook Fan: I pray we will see a cure soon.

Dr. Vikstrom: I hope so! I believe that someday more effective treatment can cure even people with Stage IV disease. I have a couple of patients with stage IV cancers who have been off treatment for years without any evidence of cancer. Are they cured? I don't know, but I am optimistic.

Comment: Awesome MD. He is very compassionate.

Dr. Vikstrom: Thanks for the feedback.

Q.: How can someone lower their breast cancer risk?

Dr. Vikstrom: There are several things you can do that may help. Exercise and weight loss may reduce a woman's risk of developing breast cancer, not to mention arthritis and diabetes! We have also found that women who drink 1 or more alcoholic drinks a day (on average) have an increased risk of developing breast cancer (even though alcohol can lower your risk of developing heart disease). For women at high risk of developing breast cancer, there is also the option of taking tamoxifen, which can cut that risk in half. Tamoxifen's sister drug raloxifene (Evista), an osteoporosis medication, has also been found to lower the risk of developing breast cancer.
 

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