Coping with cancer: Where spirituality comes in

Spirituality can mean different things to different people. Prayer to a higher power, connecting with nature or creating a work of art can all be ways of expressing spirituality. A cancer diagnosis or the challenges of treatment can influence your spirituality by strengthening your beliefs or bringing them into question. We recently spoke with social work counselors Annabelle Bitter and Tiffany Meyer about the role spirituality can play for cancer patients and caregivers. Here’s what they had to say. Spirituality and religion are different While religion and spirituality may be similar for some people, they’re not the same thing. “Spirituality is a relationship you have with a higher power that gives you meaning or purpose,” Bitter says. Spirituality means something different for each of us, and we express it in our own ways. Religion, on the other hand, is usually more structured, with a set of beliefs and standards shared by a group of people. “You can be religious and not necessarily spiritual. You can be spiritual and religious, or you can be spiritual but not religious,” Bitter says. “What I love about spirituality is it varies from person to person, but it’s all about what gives you a sense of connection,” Meyer adds. When cancer puts faith into question Fear, doubt and anger are all normal emotions when facing a cancer diagnosis. These emotions can cause you to question your spiritual beliefs. Patients or caregivers may ask, “Why me?” This may be especially true if you feel you’ve been faithful or lived a good life based on your spiritual beliefs. These crises of faith are an important part...

9 questions about inflammatory breast cancer, answered

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) accounts for only about 2-4% of new breast cancer diagnoses each year. But because it’s so aggressive, it makes up a disproportionate number of breast cancer-related deaths annually, even though it’s rare. “IBC has been called both ’the silent killer’ and ‘the master metastasizer,’ because it’s often misdiagnosed and it spreads so quickly,” explains Wendy Woodward, M.D., Ph.D.  “That’s why speed is so critical in both the diagnosis and treatment of inflammatory breast cancer.” We spoke with Woodward to learn more. Here’s what she wants people to know about inflammatory breast cancer. What are the symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer, and how do they differ from other types? Classic inflammatory breast cancer symptoms develop fairly quickly (3 months or less), and can include swollen breasts, red skin and nipple inversion. Unlike other types of breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer doesn’t usually show up as a lump or appear in a screening mammogram, which is why it’s often misdiagnosed. Is there a genetic component to this disease? Are any screening tests available? Unfortunately, no. There’s no inheritable component of inflammatory breast cancer that’s useful for genetic testing today. And because its symptoms can come on so quickly — often between mammograms — scan-based screening is largely ineffective for this disease. Its widespread distribution throughout the breast tissue (often, without a lump you can feel) can also make mammograms appear negative, even when there are obvious changes to the skin. Are some people more likely to develop inflammatory breast cancer than others? Yes. IBC tends to occur most in two groups: post-menopausal women and young mothers. In...