October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but at St. Luke's Mountain States Tumor Institute (MSTI), we think about breast cancer every day.
We think about preventing breast cancer by promoting healthy lifestyle choices and offering genetic counseling for women at high risk. We think about encouraging women to do self-exams and get regular screening mammograms to find breast cancer early, when it's most treatable. We think about providing the most effective treatment, and how to support women and help them stay strong through the process. And we think about helping them live healthy, joyful lives as cancer survivors.
We're inspired every day by the courage and resiliency of our patients, who teach us to be better clinicians, better caregivers and better people. Each one is different, with different needs, different risks and a different journey. We believe each deserves a personalized plan of care, and that each should be invited and encouraged to take an active part in that care.
Jody Zauha is one of our inspiring patients. She writes and produces the "Health Matters" website for the state of Idaho, designed to bring the latest, most reliable health information to state employees and residents. She's also a two-time breast cancer survivor.
Zauha's cancer journey began in 1994 when she found a small lump. It turned out to be stage 1 breast cancer, caught early and successfully treated at St. Luke's MSTI.
When treatment ended, she increased her physical activity, improved her diet and monitored her health through regular mammograms and checkups. And she kept her fear at bay.
"In the back of my mind, I put the fear of a recurrence into a little tiny space," Zauha said.
In late 2012, a regular mammogram found her second cancer, again when it was still very small. She was happily surprised by the dramatic changes 19 years of research and experience had brought to the world of cancer care.
In addition to remarkable advancements in medicines, technology and knowledge, cancer treatment today is concerned with the whole patient, not just the cancer.
"Treatment has such a personal feel now," she said.
The MSTI team encouraged her to take part in integrative therapies to help her stay strong and focused as she dealt with treatment and its side effects. Although integrative medicine is a relatively new field, research has shown that therapies such as strength training, meditation, nutrition, yoga, acupuncture and art can ease stress and anxiety, help with symptoms, and support the body and mind in healing.
Another major change in cancer care has been the emphasis on survivorship. No one walks away alone. Patients at St. Luke's MSTI can rely on the knowledge, experience and support of their survivorship team to help them tackle post-treatment issues such as nutrition, exercise, physical symptoms, intimacy and more.
"They armed me to take part in my care and survivorship," Zauha said. "So how well I do depends a lot on me."
She has increased her fitness through the LiveStrong program at the Treasure Valley YMCA and participated in a six-week "healing circle" at the Cancer Connection in Boise. She has learned to rely on her family and friends when she needs help, she passes their kindness on to others, and she's grateful for every day. Through her work with Health Matters and in her daily life, she promotes health, well-being, education and motivation.
I congratulate her for being actively involved in her cancer experience and taking charge of her health. You can read more of her story, running throughout October in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, on the Health Matters website. Just go to healthmatters.idaho.gov, look under "Hot Topics," and click on "Success Story."
At St. Luke's MSTI, we know that programs such as Health Matters, LiveStrong and the Cancer Connection are all crucial components in providing the whole person care each patient deserves. We're thrilled to have partners in the community offering such incredible support, and patients such as Jody Zauha inspiring all of us.
Dr. David Pate is president and CEO of St. Luke's Health System.