Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis

We understand what you are confronted with and we are here to help.
A diagnosis of cancer is a life-altering experience that impacts every aspect of your life. During this difficult time, it is important to recognize what information you need and where to get it. Touro’s Cancer Program website provides you with the basic information and recommendations to better enable you to prepare for what’s to come.
cancer program
Get the facts about your diagnosis: Try to obtain as much basic, useful information as possible about your cancer diagnosis. Write down your questions and concerns beforehand and bring them with you. Because this is a stressful time that may make it difficult for you to concentrate, if possible, bring a family member or friend with you to your first few doctor appointments to write down the information you receive.
Below are a list of questions that may be helpful to have on hand when visiting your doctor. What kind of cancer do I have?
  • Where is the cancer located and what is the size of my tumor?
  • Has it spread?
  • Is it slow-growing or aggressive?
  • Can my cancer be treated?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • What are the success rates for the treatment options?
  • What can I expect during treatment?
  • What are the side effects of the treatment?
  • When should I expect to start treatment?
Keep the lines of communication open: Maintain honest, two-way communication with your loved ones, doctors, and others after your cancer diagnosis. This may not always be easy to do; however, the emotional support that family and close friends can provide is important in helping you cope.
Anticipate possible physical changes: Now—after your cancer diagnosis and before you begin treatment—is the best time to plan for any physical changes you may experience. Prepare yourself now so that you’ll be better able to cope later. Some suggestions for you to consider:
  • Ask your doctor to tell you what changes you should anticipate.
  • Contact organizations, like the American Cancer Society that, provide cancer patients with a wig and prosthesis at no cost. You may also want to contact your insurance provider to determine if you have coverage for any other adaptive device you may need.
  • If the drugs you will be given will likely cause physical changes, get advice from hair and makeup experts on what you can do to feel more comfortable and attractive. Contact the American Cancer Society for information about their Look Good, Feel Better program designed for women facing hair loss and changes in skin tone due to cancer treatment.
  • Participate in a cancer support group. You may find this experience to be particularly helpful as group members can provide you with information, support, and helpful tips.
  • Keep in mind that your memory function and energy level will fluctuate due to your treatment and medications. Let those around you know when you need help.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Examine how you are living your life and consider changes in the way you eat, sleep, and exercise so that you can maintain a healthy lifestyle. Consider these suggestions:
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet based on a variety of foods
  • Getting adequate rest may help you combat the stress and fatigue of cancer treatment
  • Participate in enjoyable activities that provide regular exercise. Recent studies suggest that people who maintain some physical exercise during treatment not only respond better to treatment, but may also live longer.
Let friends, family, and others help: Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help. However, cancer can be an experience that consumes your life which leaves little time for everything else. Don’t resist the offer of help when you feel you can use it. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help, it’s an indication that you’re human.

Consider the following suggestions:

  • Get friends and family to run errands, prepare meals, and help you with daily household chores.
  • For safety’s sake, when you’re not feeling your best, ask for assistance driving to and from your medical appointments.
  • Participation in a cancer support group can help you learn from others.
  • Seek help from a mental health professional if you are having difficulty expressing your feelings or simply coping with cancer.

As hard as it might be, learn to accept help. Accepting help from others gives them a sense of contributing to your care. Also, encourage your family to accept help if it’s needed. A cancer diagnosis affects the entire family and adds stress, especially to the primary caregivers. Accepting help with meals or chores from friends and neighbors can go a long way to limiting caregiver burnout.

Review your goals and priorities: For many people, a diagnosis of cancer is a life-changing experience that causes them to look at their life and reassess what is important. You may view cancer in a similar way and begin reviewing your personal goals and priorities. Some things you may want to consider:
  • Make an effort to eliminate or reduce undesirable activities.
  • Use cancer as an opportunity to become closer to loved ones by sharing your thoughts and feelings with them.
  • Cancer affects all of your relationships so make an effort to stay in contact with people you care about. Communication with others can help reduce the anxiety and fear that cancer can bring.
Make an effort to maintain your normal lifestyle: Cancer can affect every aspect of your life; therefore, it’s important to try to keep your lifestyle as normal as possible. Because cancer can be life-changing, remain open to change should it become necessary. Some things to consider regarding the affects cancer can have on you and your lifestyle:
  • Just be yourself and continue to do the things you enjoy doing.
  • If you are employed, continue to work if you are physically able.
  • Stay in the present—take each day one at a time
  • Allow yourself private time apart from your family and friends to do something that’s important to you, or simply do nothing.
Take care of your spiritual health: The human spirit is connected to mind and body. Research has shown that spiritual health plays an important role in the healing process, particularly when serious illness is involved. It’s important to be aware of the impact your diagnosis has had on your spirituality. There are things for you to consider regarding your spiritual health:
  • If appropriate for you, nourish your spirit through prayer. The guidance from a religious leader can help.
  • Regularly schedule time for relaxation. Some popular techniques to help you relax are deep breathing exercises, guided visualization, and meditation.
  • Read inspiring/uplifting books.
  • Consider ‘complementary’ therapies such as massage, aromatherapy, acupuncture, or yoga to help relieve stress and other symptoms.
  • Engage in activities, like painting, drawing, or listening to music that can bring about serenity.
  • If you have a significant person in your life, nourish your relationship by selecting romantic movies to watch.
  • Make time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, such as taking a warm bath, reading a book or magazine, or getting a foot massage.
Develop your own coping strategy: Just as every person’s cancer treatment is individualized, so are coping strategies. What comforted you through difficult times before cancer is likely to help ease your worries now. Whether it’s a close friend, religious leader, or a favorite activity to distract you, turn to these comforts now, but remain open to trying new ways of coping to help you navigate your cancer experience. Ideas for you to consider:
  • Keep a personal journal by writing down your thoughts and feelings.
  • When faced with a difficult decision, list the pros and cons for each choice.
  • Set aside time to be alone.
  • Keep a calendar and a log of activities and appointments to help you stay organized.
Don’t forget to laugh: Maintaining a serious disposition throughout your cancer experience can be stressful; however, things will happen along the way that you may find humorous. Remember, it’s okay to laugh. Despite the fact that cancer is serious business, life does go on and having a good laugh at times can relieve stress, while helping you to maintain a positive outlook on life. Try to find something to laugh about each day. Humor is healthy for your body and good for your soul.
Adopt a fighting spirit: Research has demonstrated that the people who cope best and have the most favorable results tend to adopt a ‘fighting spirit’ throughout their cancer treatment. They approach the challenge that cancer presents by saying to themselves, “I’m going to do as much as I can to fight my cancer.” You might also hear them say, “I’m going to learn everything I can about my cancer, so that I can work with my doctor to fight this,” or “I’m going to enjoy as many of my normal activities as I can while fighting cancer.”
Positive thoughts and actions can help you cope with cancer treatment and give you extra energy to carry on, even when it’s hard to do.
Additional information can be obtained through reputable organizations like the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute.

Men Can Get Breast Cancer Too

While breast cancer in men is rare, it does happen. In the U.S., about one percent of all breast cancer cases occur in men. In 2014, it is estimated that among men in the U.S., there will be:

  • 2,360 new cases of invasive breast cancer
  • 430 breast cancer deaths

Rates of breast cancer incidence and mortality (death) are much lower among men than among women.


A man’s risk

Known factors that increase the risk of male breast cancer include:

  • Klinefelter’s syndrome (a genetic condition related to high levels of estrogen in the body)
  • BRCA2 gene mutation
  • family history of breast cancer (especially with a BRCA2 mutation)
  • getting older
  • chronic liver disorders
  • heavy alcohol use
  • obesity and
  • exposure to large amounts of radiation early in life


Click here to read more about breast cancer in men from Susan G. Komen, including symptoms, risk factors and treatment information.

More on Cancer Fighting Foods

It’s true that we cannot choose our genes.  However, we can choose to be proactive with how we treat and nurture our bodies.  Longevity may just be somewhat in our control, especially as it pertains to fighting or warding off chronic disease.  With October as breast cancer awareness month, our goal is to focus on those “external factors,” which are within one’s control.  It has been well documented in the literature the link between a healthy lifestyle and cancer risk reduction.  We now know that smoking cessation, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and consuming a healthy diet, can greatly reduce one’s risk of developing or dying from cancer.

Wwhat are superfoods?  Foods that contain antioxidants are considered superfoods.  By definition, antioxidants are substances that prevent or slow oxidative damage.  Our bodies use oxygen and naturally produce free radicals, which can cause damage.  Antioxidants work to prevent the damage caused by these free radicals and are typically referred to as “free radical scavengers.”

Ingredient Spotlight:

Tomatoes have been thought to be poisonous by colonial Americans, the “gold apple” by the Italians and even an aphrodisiac by the French.  But no matter where you are from tomatoes are a part of a tasty and healthy diet.  Tomatoes are a good source of potassium, vitamin C and A.  When cooked they also provide lycopene, an antioxidant.  Lycopene is thought to reduce cancer risk, cardiovascular disease and macular degeneration.  Tomatoes are the biggest source of lycopene in the American diet.

158876982Gazpacho with Cilantro Croutons

4 medium plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 medium cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
4 medium scallions, sliced
2 cups canned tomato juice
3 tbsp cilantro, chopped
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp hot pepper sauce
4 tsp olive oil
1 clove garlic
2 slices bread cut in 1 inch cubes

Purée the tomatoes, cucumber, pepper and scallions in a food processor.  Pour into a large bowl.  Stir in the tomato juice, 1 tbsp cilantro, the vinegar, lemon juice and pepper sauce.  Cover tightly and refrigerate until well chilled.
Heat oil in pan, toss in bread cubes and cilantro and toast.  Top gazpacho with the croutons.

Recipe from weight watchers

Breast Cancer Warning Signs & Symptoms

Understanding Breast Cancer:

In a healthy body, natural systems control the creation, growth and death of cells. But when these systems malfunction, more cell growth than death can occur. The result is a mass of tissue we call a malignant tumor—or cancer.

Cancer is a group of diseases more than 100 types that occur when cells become abnormal and divide without control or order.

Click here to learn more.

Warning Signs & Symptoms:

Due to the use of regular mammography screening, most breast cancers in the U.S. are found at an early stage, before symptoms appear. However, not all breast cancers are found through mammography.  The warning signs of breast cancer are not the same for all women. The most common symptoms are a change in the look or feel of the breast, a change in the look or feel of the nipple and nipple discharge.

Click here to learn more about warning signs from Susan G. Komen.


Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

What is a risk factor?

A risk factor is anything that may increase a person’s chance of developing a disease. It may be an activity, such as smoking, diet, family history, or many other things. Different diseases, including cancers, have different risk factors.

Knowing your risk factors for any disease can help guide you into the appropriate actions, including changing behaviors and being clinically monitored for the disease.

What are the risk factors for breast cancer?

Any woman may develop breast cancer. However, the following risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing the disease.

Risk factors that cannot be changed:

  • Gender. Breast cancer occurs nearly 100 times more often in women than in men.
  • Race or ethnicity. It has been noted that white women develop breast cancer slightly more often than African-American women. However, African-American women tend to die of breast cancer more often. This may be partly due to the fact that African-American women often develop a more aggressive type of tumor, although why this happens is not known. The risk for developing breast cancer and dying from it is lower in Hispanic, Native American, and Asian women.
  • Aging. Two out of 3 women with invasive cancer are diagnosed after age 55.
  • Personal history of breast cancer
  • Previous breast irradiation
  • Family history and genetic factors. Having a close relative, such as a mother or sister, with breast cancer increases the risk. This includes changes in certain genes, such as BRCA1, BRCA2, and others.
  • Benign breast disease. Women with certain benign breast conditions (such as hyperplasia or atypical hyperplasia) have an increased risk of breast cancer.
  • Dense breast tissue. Breast tissue may look dense or fatty on a mammogram. Older women with high dense breast tissue are at increased risk.
  • Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure. Women who took this drug while pregnant (to lower the chance of miscarriage) are at higher risk. The possible effect on their daughters is under study.
  • Early menstrual periods. Women whose periods began early in life (before age 12) have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer.
  • Late menopause. Women are at a slightly higher risk if they began menopause later in life (after age 55).

The most frequently cited lifestyle-related risk factors:

  • Not having children, or having your first child after age 30
  • Recent use (within 10 years) of oral contraceptives
  • Physical inactivity
  • Alcohol use (more than 1 drink per day)
  • Long-term, postmenopausal use of combined estrogen and progestin (HRT)*
  • Weight gain and obesity, especially after menopause

Environmental risk factors:

  • Exposure to pesticides, or other chemicals, is currently being examined as a possible risk factor.

Click here to learn more about breast health.


Magazine Street Pink Out: Oct. 18 & 19

Join Touro and the Magazine Street Merchants Association and shop to support breast cancer awareness.



  • Visit participating businesses and receive pink shopping bags and giveaways with your purchase.
  • Many merchants are offering promotions or during the Pink-Out to benefit the Supportive Cancer Care Program at Touro*.
  • Visit with staff from Touro at sidewalk tables on Magazine Street and learn about breast health, screenings, purchase this year’s Fleurty Girl “Tackle Breast Cancer” t-shirt, receive giveaways and more!

*The Supportive Cancer Care Center at Touro provides free resources and services for cancer patients and their loved ones for nonmedical needs through patient navigation, mental health counseling, support groups, nutrition assessment, relaxation training and more. Supportive care is an important part of the cancer program at Touro. Our comprehensive program
provides mental, emotional and spiritual support from cancer diagnosis through treatment and beyond.

Special Promotions from Touro’s Pink Partners

Nola Flora: Purchase a dozen pink roses during the month of October and Nola Flora will donate $10 back to Touro. They will also donate $5 from any other all pink flower sale.

B Boutique: will donate 10% of the proceeds from the Pink Out weekend, Oct. 18 & 19.

Café B: will donate 20% of beverage proceeds during the Oct. 14 Pink Cocktail Social to Touro

Je T’aime: will donate 10% back to Touro from every Courage, Strength, Hope Bracelet with Ribbon Charm sold during October.

Fleurty Girl: will donate $5 from every “Tackle Breast Cancer” t-shirt sold during October.

Barre3: will donate all proceeds from Barre3 tanks (heather gray with hot pink lettering) to Touro during October. Barre3 will also donate all proceeds of sales from a class on the 18th and the 19th.

Villa Vici: will donate 10% of sales during pink out weekend Oct. 18 &19

Salire Fitness: will donate 10% of sales from Body Blitz classes during October to Touro.

Zen Pet Retail: will donate 10% of sales from Pink Out weekend, Oct. 18 & 19

Modern Market: will donate 10% of sales Saturday, Oct. 18

Waxing the City: will donate 10% of sales sales Saturday, Oct. 18

• Franco’s: will donate all “Class Pass” proceeds to Touro the week of Oct. 13-19

• Joey K’s Restaurant: will donate 10% of dinner sales on Saturday, October 18

• Shades of Blue: will donate 10% of sales from Saturday, October 18

Special thanks to all of the participating Magazine Street businesses:

Under Cover Breast Cancer Patient

In May 2010 life was busy and hectic.  I was a 32 year old stay at home mom of two.  Eliza was 2 ½ and Libby Kate was10 months old.  I was consumed with the day to day chores of a wife and mother.  Making snacks, breastfeeding, and changing diapers were my main chores. I did my best to attend play dates so we could all socialize.  I struggled daily to balance keeping my house clean, cook dinner, and play with my girls.  Just thinking about that time period makes me anxious.  My lifelong dream of being a stay at home mom was in progress, but much harder than I had ever imagined.  It was fulfilling and completely exhausting at the same time.  I was in love with my family, but not my life.  I placed so much pressure on myself to do too much.  I focused so much time on worrying about insignificant details.  I was constantly stressed…or so I thought.

Melissa, her husband and two precious little girls!

Melissa, her husband and two precious little girls!

In the midst of this whirlwind I began having neck pain.  This was not unusual for me.  It had been something I dealt with off and on for a few years.  I got relief from physical therapy in the past, so I did just that.  The pain did not subside.  It only increased.  My primary doctor gave me a couple injections for the pain over the course of a few weeks.  They only took the edge off for a few hours.  By June the pain was so extreme that my doctor took a few preliminary x-rays at her office and scheduled and MRI for the following week.  That day was the last day of my old life.  The last day I would ever take anything for granted.  The last day I would be able to say that I was a “healthy.”  The last day I would be “normal.”

Ten minutes after I got home from my x-rays I got a phone call from my doctor.  I will never forget the urgency in her voice.  She told me to go to the emergency room immediately.  She saw something terribly wrong in the x-rays and wanted me to have further testing.  I was a bit relieved because I felt like they would finally be able to stop the pain since they found the cause.  I was anticipating a few hours in the ER.  I was pretty sure that the diagnosis would require a surgery or round of medication.  I knew it would be fine, because I was young and healthy.  After all, my 15 year high school reunion was the next night.  I planned on having quite a tale to tell to my old friends.  I knew that the pain was not going to stop me from having fun and enjoying my reunion.

The next 20 hours were spent in the hospital.  I was poked, prodded, scanned, and questioned constantly.  It was horrifying.  My husband and I left the hospital with no answer.  I was advised to take it easy and call my primary doctor on Monday.  Needless to say, I did not make it to my reunion.

My doctor called me Monday and asked me what hospital I would like to go to for testing.  I told her Touro.  I had a great experience delivering my second daughter there, so I felt very comfortable at Touro.  My doctor told me she would get me an appointment with an oncologist there.  Most people would have realized what that meant.  I knew an oncologist was a cancer physician, but why did I need to see one for neck pain?  I did not have cancer!

First I was sent to the imaging center for a mammogram and biopsy.  I had a biopsy of a lump in my breast that I had for a little over a year.  It appeared during my pregnancy with Libby Kate.  I was avid about exclusive breastfeeding.  I never used bottles.  I did not spoon feed my babies until they were 6 months old.  My gynecologist new this and believed I had an enlarged milk duct that would shrink once I began nursing. The lump remained the same size when I nursed and never caused pain, so I ignored it.  During my yearly well woman exam, a few months later, my doctor recommended that I get a mammogram when I was done nursing.  I planned to be done nursing in early August.  I did not see how this lump could be involved in my neck pain.  I was totally confused.  I spent the next two weeks in a daze going to the oncologist, the radiologist oncologist, and others I cannot recall now.   I had x rays of every bone in my body.  I learned my way around Touro quickly going from test to test.  It had never been to so many doctors.

The final diagnosis came from the oncologist two weeks after this crazy process began.  You have, “metastatic breast cancer which will require multiple surgeries, medications, chemo, and radiation.”  I do not know what he said after that.  I was numb all over.  My husband and I just sat there in a trance.  We left after the appointment and went to the car.  We sobbed and held each other.  We immediately prayed for the strength to tell this to my family.  I had to face them and say, “I have STAGE 4 CANCER.” I had to tell them that I had spots in my bones, in my chest, pelvis, and spine.   I kept thinking to myself that I did not do anything to cause cancer.  I never smoked.  I nursed two babies.  I had never had a health problem before.  This could not be possible!  My family came over and my husband told them the news.  I sat there crying as I looked into the faces of my parents, my sisters, and their husbands.  They all looked at me like I was on my death bed.  I could not believe that this was my life.

I reluctantly began my new journey living my life as a cancer patient.  I always had faith and tried to be a good Christian, but felt in control of my life. I had to completely surrender my life and place it in God’s hands.  Cancer was bigger than me; I could not fight it alone.  I could not control my life anymore.  My treatment began in July with two weeks of radiation on my neck and back.  The radiation relieved the pain in my neck.   I began taking daily medication and receiving monthly injections.  I felt like a trial and error science experiment.  I had one surgery to remove my ovaries because they were feeding my estrogen positive cancer.  I had another surgery to remove my tumor.  The main focus of my health is protection of my bones.  The injections have worked for 3 years now.  I have been in and out of remission.  My medications will continue to change each time they stop working.  I will never be completely rid of my cancer.  It will appear off and on the radar for the rest of my life.

My current life:

Eliza and Libby Kate, Melissa's daughters.

Eliza and Libby Kate, Melissa’s daughters.

I look healthy, so I am able to live “undercover.” I have not had traditional chemo, so I still have my hair.  I donated 12 in of my hair to Children With Hair Loss this summer.  I chose this organization because they did not have a ton of stipulations.

I had a stubborn spot on my lungs show up this summer.  My medications changed.  I am now taking an oral chemo agent.  It took a while for me to get used to the side effects.  I get excited when I feel like I have enough energy to make it without a nap.  The worst part of my meds is that I cannot drink alcohol.  I am adjusting to dealing with my 4 and 6yr old daughters without wine!!!!

Over the past 3 years I have had many ups and downs.  Good news and bad news.  I have changed.  I am a different person.  I trust with all my heart that God will take care of me and my family.  I do not sweat the small stuff.  I have learned that God will not give me more than I can handle.  I know that I am a strong woman.  I cannot control my future, so I refuse to have anxiety about.  Instead, I choose to embrace the present.  I focus on the gift of each day.  It is up to me to choose to be a survivor each day.  I know that God’s timing is perfect and He will help me to be strong.  Being diagnosed with cancer was the worst and best thing that has ever happened to me.  It is a terrible disease, but it brings out so much love, giving, generosity, and caring in people.  I have never felt more supported and loved as I do now.  I have tons of people praying for me and doing random acts of kindness in my name.   One of the greatest blessings in my life has been my rosary group. The saying, “it takes a village” is so true.  They are a big part of my village.  I cannot stress how important having a great village is for cancer patients and all moms.  The support and encouragement from this group, my family and friends get me through the day sometime.   It took a stage 4 cancer diagnosis to bring peace to my life.  It took time and therapy, but I am proud to say that I am my best self.  I am able to love and be loved unconditionally

I used to think my purpose in this life was to be a good mother, wife, and person.  I know now that I was wrong.  My purpose is to be a survivor.  Being a survivor has made me a much better wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend.  It has opened my eyes to life and love in so many ways.  In closing I leave you with two of my favorite quotes,

“Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances.  1 Thessalonians 5:16

“Be thankful for the bad things in life.  For they opened your eyes to the good things you weren’t paying attention to before!” –anonymous

*I am always available to talk to other survivors and family members of survivors.  Please do not hesitate to email me at