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What Young Moms Need to Know About Breast Cancer

Friday, April 11th, 2014

This guest post is from Marc Hurlbert, Ph.D., executive director of the Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Crusade. He shares important research showing the large disparity in breast cancer survival rates between white and black women—mainly due to societal factors, such as access to early detection programs, screenings, and quality treatments—and tips on what can be done to close the gap.

Many young mothers are often too busy to think about their health between running on little-to-no sleep and worrying about their around-the-clock childcare schedule. But it is critical to take care of yourself and understand your health risks, especially since women are at an increased risk for developing breast cancer for up to five years (or longer) after giving birth, known as pregnancy-associated breast cancer.

Why? Because the hormones that prepare the breast to lactate can also fuel a cancer cell. Although pregnancy-associated breast cancer is rare, and less than 5% of breast cancers cases are found in women younger than 40 each year, moms in their 20s and 30s who are too young to be screened still need to be aware and report any changes in their breasts to their doctor.

And while medical researchers have made significant advancements in improving breast cancer survival rates, many women—especially black women—have not benefitted, and the disease remains the leading cause of cancer death among women worldwide.

An Avon Foundation for Women-funded study on racial differences in breast cancer found a significant disparity in breast cancer mortality between black and white women in the United States over the last 20 years. Researchers found that 39 of the largest U.S. cities studied have a black:white breast cancer survival gap, and of the 39 cities, 23 were statistically significant. The disparity has also widened in 35 cities, from 1990 to 2009, because even though there have been advances in diagnosis and treatment, many black women were not able to access them.

The study’s results are alarming, but because the contributing factors are largely societal, we believe this problem can be remedied. Here are four important steps all women can take to reduce their risk and help close the gap:

  1. Seek access to early detection programs and screening. Low-income, uninsured, and underinsured women can visit www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast to find low-cost breast cancer screenings across the United States.
  2. If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, follow up immediately with your doctor to ensure timely and higher quality cancer care. Patient navigators can help you, your family, and caregivers navigate the medical and financial maze of the health care system, from an abnormal screen through diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship. Click here to find an Avon-funded hospital in your home state.
  3. New moms should breastfeed immediately after giving birth, if they are able to. Breastfeeding may help lower breast cancer risk. Experts recommend nursing a newborn within an hour of giving birth, if possible, and not supplementing with formula while in the hospital. Doctors recommend new mothers should breastfeed for at least six months.
  4. Get some exercise. Brisk walking for one hour a day can your reduce risk by more than 15%. The American Cancer Society recommends you engage in at least 45 minutes of physical activity at least 5 days a week. Why not sign up for an Avon Walk for Breast Cancer?

For more information on how all women can reduce their risk, read more facts here. Learn more about the study and what the Avon Foundation is doing to address disparities in breast cancer.

Pain-Free Breastfeeding
Pain-Free Breastfeeding
Pain-Free Breastfeeding

Image: Women wearing pink for breast cancer via Shutterstock

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Fighting Pediatric Cancer One Flower at a Time

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Editor’s Note: This guest post is by Jessica Hester, mother and founder of Brooke’s Blossoming Hope for Childhood Cancer Foundation, the nonprofit that was featured in our February 2014 “The Power of Parents” column. Since the organization’s official start in October 2012, Brooke’s Blossoms has distributed more than 12,500 handmade flower headbands to pediatric cancer patients in 34 countries. 

Brooke always had a head full of wispy, curly brown locks we called “wild child” hair—which also happened to fit her personality since she was happy and curious, and always smiling.

In September 2010, when Brooke was 3 and a half, she developed a painless limp. We thought she had unknowingly sprained something during her dance lesson the week prior. It didn’t take long, however, for the painless limp to become painful. Less than a month later, she was no longer able to stand or go to preschool because of it. The pediatrician, perplexed, assumed juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and put her on a specialist waiting list and pain medication.

Brooke began to experience nausea. The pain got worse. She was switched to stronger pain medication. The nausea got worse. She was given stronger medicine for that, too. But then, our tough little cookie who rarely ever cried, was not only entirely crippled, but was pointing to her belly button and spine tearfully explaining how badly it hurt all the way through her.

We demanded a sonogram.

They found something shadowy above her kidney. Suspecting a serious kidney stone, they ordered more tests, but after an MRI that November, the doctors explained it was a tumor—a large, malignant abdominal tumor that had metastasized throughout her lymph nodes and bones. At stage IV, this aggressive cancer, called Neuroblastoma, was killing our daughter quickly.

Three days later, Brooke’s chemotherapy began, and her hair loss was the very least of our worries. But for Brooke, it was more traumatic than we expected—and it has continued to be, even after countless cycles of chemo and radiation over the last three and a half years.

During her initial course of chemotherapy, however, a gift from our neighbor Sunnie Jo helped Brooke cope with losing her hair. Sunnie Jo gave her a handmade flower blossom headband that she could wear to feel girly. It was soft and stretchy and perfect for the sensitive skin on her newly bald head. Brooke was delighted.

But when she saw another patient staring at her bright daisy headband, Brooke took it off and gave it to her to keep. She wanted the little girl, who had also lost her hair, to feel as happy as she did when she wore it.

When I called Sunnie Jo to explain that Brooke had given her gift away, she said not to worry and that next time she would make two of each color—one for Brooke to keep and one for her to share. And before we knew it, Brooke was saying, “Hair doesn’t matter. It’s just stuff.”

Thus, Brooke’s Blossoms was born.

Watching the joy on children’s faces when they receive the blossom headbands—or hats and silly water squirting “boutonnieres” for the boys, since Brooke didn’t want to leave anyone out—is really special. By October 2012, we had raised enough money to not only file to become 501c3 official, but also to meet the second part of our mission: to begin giving money to pediatric cancer research.

We know awareness leads to action and action to more advocacies on behalf of children like Brooke who fight and endure more than most adults do in a lifetime. And so even in the midst of Brooke still fighting, we turn with gratitude to our faithful followers and volunteers who make what we do possible.

If you’d like to join our team of volunteers, please reach us at buddies@brookesblossoms.com, or request a patient care package at requests@brookesblossoms.org. We hope you will find us on Facebook to see what’s happening today!

Parents donated $500 to Brooke’s Blossoming Hope for Childhood Cancer. To nominate your community-service project and to be considered for a donation, e-mail advocacy@parents.com.

Photo: (From left) Jessica Hester, daughter Brooke, and Sunnie Jo Stewart making blossom care packages. 

>>>Looking for a way to give back? Learn about some of our favorite organizations that are making a difference. 

For Kids Who Conquer Cancer, Focus Is On Fitness
For Kids Who Conquer Cancer, Focus Is On Fitness
For Kids Who Conquer Cancer, Focus Is On Fitness

 

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Stay Safe in the Extreme Cold

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

You’d think I’d be prepared for this type of weather after living in the frozen tundra of upstate New York for four years. But on this bitter cold morning, not even my multiple layers, gloves, hat, scarves (yes, plural), and down jacket that falls below my knees could keep me from forgoing my 5 minute walk to the subway and beelining for the first cab in sight.

Here, in New York City, we’re experiencing a bit of the painful cold front that has been making its way across the country, causing temperatures to plummet into the negatives, schools and offices to close, and families to stay cooped up at home. More than just a nuisance, this type of extreme weather can be very dangerous without the proper precautions and bundling. Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to help you and your family stay warm, but most importantly, safe, when temps drop far below freezing.

1. Take wind chill into account. The wind chill is the temperature your body feels outside when the air temperature is combined with the wind. (For example, even though my trusty IPhone tells me it’s now 9 degrees Fahrenheit, it happens to feel like -4 with the wind chill factor. Awesome.) Keep in mind that it may be even colder than the temperature you read, so prepare accordingly.

2. Dress in layers. Seems like it goes without saying, but there is actually a right way to pile everything on. The CDC suggests making sure inner layers are light and loose fitting, and preferably made of wool, silk, or polypropylene, since those materials hold more body heat than cotton. Ideally, the outer layer of clothing should be tightly woven and water resistant. Also, keep in mind that your child generally needs to be wearing one more layer than you since kids lose body heat faster than adults, according to the AAP.

3. Focus on the head, hands, and feet. Those other layers are important too, of course, but the head, hands, and feet are number one priority since this is where the most heat is lost. A hat, scarf or mask to cover the face, mittens – which happen to be warmer than gloves – and water-resistant boots are all a must.

4. Limit outdoor activity. Some experts advise that kids should stay in when wind chills fall below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, no matter how bundled or excited they are to play in the snow. Try to make necessary trips outdoors as brief as possible and avoid exertion since cold weather creates more work for the heart to keep the body warm. Put shoveling or outdoor activities on hold in extreme weather, and if there’s no getting around it, dress as warmly as possible and work slowly.

5. Beware of frostbite. Any exposed areas of the body are at risk of getting frostbite, which can cause permanent damage and amputation in serious cases. If you see skin that has turned grayish-yellow and feels unusually firm or waxy, or has gone numb, seek medical care right away. If you’re unable to, the CDC recommends getting into a warm room as soon as possible and soaking the affected area in warm (not hot) water, or using body heat to warm it. Avoid artificial sources of warmth, such as heating pads, fireplaces, or stoves, and do not rub or put pressure on the area since that can cause more damage.

6. Pack dry clothing. Send your child to school with extra clothes if it’s wet or snowy out so he can get out of damp layers and warm up quickly.

7. Make an emergency survival kit. You can find a full list of ways to prepare your home for extreme winter weather, here, but you should also have a few essentials on hand. Create an emergency survival kit stocked with foods that don’t need to be cooked or refrigerated (crackers, canned goods, dried fruits, etc.), baby formula if you have a little one, water in case the pipes freeze (5 gallons per person), and any necessary medications.

8. Conserve heat. Cut down on drafts inside your home to keep in as much heat as possible. The CDC recommends closing off unused rooms, stuffing towels under doors, closing draperies, and covering windows with sheets or blankets at night to help insulate the house.

9. Prepare your car. Keep the gas tank close to full to help prevent ice from forming in the tank and fuel lines. And, if you haven’t already, check the antifreeze level and battery, replace windshield-wiper fluid with a mixture appropriate for winter, change worn tires, and check air pressure. Don’t forget about keeping an emergency survival kit in the trunk in case you’re ever stuck in cold weather.

 

Stay warm, everyone!

How to Protect Baby's Skin in Winter
How to Protect Baby's Skin in Winter
How to Protect Baby's Skin in Winter

 

 Image: Family warming feet by the fireplace via Shutterstock

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8 Ways to Get Your Picky Eater Through The Holidays

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

Whether your child has an aversion to many foods due to sensory processing disorder (SPD) or is just plain picky, getting through those big holiday meals can be more stressful than joyful. I recently tuned into a picky eaters webinar by the SPD Foundation, and Kay Toomey, Ph.D., a pediatric psychologist with more than 30 years experience working with children with feeding problems, provided some great ways to help kids she categorizes as picky eaters (children who will only eat a limited number of foods) and problem feeders (kids who suffer from SPD and are extremely selective about what they will eat). Here are some of her excellent tips for getting through—and enjoying!—the holidays, as well as special occasions all year round.

1. Talk about the holiday plans. Unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations can be overwhelming for kids and ultimately decrease their appetites. Before you travel or have extended family over, pull out the family photo album, have your child draw pictures of what she thinks the holiday meal will look like this year, or chat about the upcoming plans—anything that will give her a better idea of what to expect.

2. Mask the scent. The smell of food can be too much for problem feeders, so it’s best to lessen it as much as possible. Try placing an isolating fan in the room where you’re having the main holiday meal. Or ask family members if they can open some windows while they cook so the smell isn’t completely permeating the house.

3. Feed her before the main meal. You can’t expect picky eaters or problem feeders to mind their manners and try new foods during a holiday meal. They realistically will only be able to do one or the other, so you’ll have to decide which is more important to you. It’s helpful to put something in their bellies beforehand so they’re not starving at the dinner table and so there’s less pressure for them to eat what is offered. This way they’ll be able to concentrate more on participating in the conversation and bonding with family, less on stressing over the fact that they’re hungry and have to eat unfamiliar foods. Remember: it’s more important they’re at the table and a part of the celebration than whether they’re eating what everyone else is.

4. Add one food they are sure to eat to the table. Even if children eat beforehand as recommended, you still want them to come to the table and take part in the meal as much as possible. To help them feel included, bring one food you know they’ll nibble on—even if it’s as simple as a roll, apple slices, or crackers. If they do happen to try something new on their own, don’t make a big deal out of it. You can mention something to them afterward or quietly at the table, but you don’t want to embarrass them in front of the family. And if they don’t eat at all, that’s also okay since they did eat a bit beforehand.

5. Bring something familiar from home he’s used to eating with or on. His favorite utensil, placemat, or cup can serve as a reminder of how he normally eats at home and cue the same eating habits in an unfamiliar place.

6. Create a secret signal. It’s a good idea to come up with a way for your child to let you know if she is getting overwhelmed during the meal and needs a break. You can give her a small card to hold up or establish a simple tap on the arm or leg to signal it’s time for a breather. This can also go the other way and you can signal to let her know she’s excused before a pleasant situation turns sour.

7. Control and limit the sweets. This can be difficult because those Christmas cookies and Hanukkah chocolates are a large part of the holiday, but it’s important to stand your ground. Not only does sugar cut down kids’ 20-minute appetite window to only 10 minutes, it also suppresses their appetite for substantial food and leads to cravings for more sweets. Aim for one sugary treat a day, and make sure they know to ask permission beforehand—they can’t just raid grandma’s cookie jar at their leisure.

8. Start making unfamiliar foods throughout the year. Most family traditions are about eating specific foods (ham, latkes, turkeys, yams, elaborate desserts, etc.), many of which children may not encounter during any other time of the year. If an unfamiliar food appears in front them, chances are they’re not going to eat it and even seeing it on their plate can cause a great amount of stress, especially for problem feeders. After the holidays, consider making some of these foods throughout the year so by the time the next festive family dinner comes around, your child will know what they are and how they taste, making him more likely to eat them during special occasions.

Picky Eaters: 3 Ways To Encourage Healthy Eating
Picky Eaters: 3 Ways To Encourage Healthy Eating
Picky Eaters: 3 Ways To Encourage Healthy Eating

Image: Ham dinner via Shutterstock

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