By Mary Shank Rockman | October 6, 2020

If the past seven months of #pandemiclife have taught us anything, it’s been just how much this new normal has brought awareness to the importance of health and wellness. In my opinion, that’s good for all of us! More than anyone could’ve ever imagined, this unusual time of uncertainty has caused many people to experience significant levels of stress and anxiety resulting in new behavioral patterns and fueling a renewed self-care industry with an emphasis on helping improve mental and physical wellbeing. Whether people have taken to scheduling daily outdoor walks; exercising alongside an Instagram trainer; seeking diet and nutrition tips from apps, or meditation and yoga instruction from self-proclaimed gurus in similar digital fashion; even searching up new ways to cook quick, healthy meals or have them delivered, bake sourdough bread; or consult medical advice, therapy, and doctors’ visits via telehealth, most of us have likely tried some new types of self-care activities during shelter-in- place. While COVID-19 continually tops the daily headlines, throughout this pandemic, many other diseases continue to progress, albeit behind the scenes, but certainly no less important for those who are enduring them. One, in particular, is especially close to my heart.

October kicks-off the nationwide Breast Cancer Awareness Month. According to Breast, as of January 2020, more than 3.5 million American women have a history of breast cancer, are in active treatment, or recovery. One in eight women, or 12%, will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer throughout her lifetime. And in this year alone, an estimated 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer, and 48,530 in-situ, non-invasive breast cancer cases will be diagnosed. What’s most alarming is the NIH National Cancer Institute projection which predicts that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, an additional 10,000 people in the US will die from colorectal and breast cancer during the next decade due to lack of regular screenings and late-stage detection. Given these staggering statistics, we’re all likely to be affected by breast cancer in one way or another—whether personal diagnosis or that of a mother, sister, aunt, daughter, friend—even a male.

As a breast cancer survivor in remission four years now, I am a big proponent of self-initiated advocacy for one’s health, and ensuring continued mental and physical livelihood during and post-treatment in whatever form or capacity is possible. Several silver linings have arisen from the progressively digital new normal. Consumers now have even more access than ever to online resources and apps that educate about breast cancer, and offer suggestions to help support themselves, and/or diagnosed family and friends. What’s more, with new COVID-19 protocols, hospitals are now required to comply with stricter safety precautions for patient care. This means people can safely seek screenings and appointments in sterilized facilities with fewer crowds.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the courageous fighters, fellow survivors, and those we’ve sadly lost to this terrible disease, I’ve created a list of important reminders from my own breast cancer care team as well as links to my favorite educational resources that provide the latest data, prevention tips, and offer support for living healthfully beyond treatment and into survivorship.

1- Consistent Annual Screenings

Mammograms are critical, especially if there’s a family history of cancer. Breast cancer tumors come in many different sizes, locations, and growth rates. Some cancerous tumors cannot be felt or detected without the advanced imaging technology of a mammogram or MRI. As has been published by leading organizations such as Breast (my go-to resource) among others, preventative screenings, and early detection help save lives. With COVID-19, it’s even more important to get annual screenings. 

2- Monthly Self-Examinations

Each of us knows our bodies better than anyone else. That’s why it’s so important to perform monthly self-breast exams, and report any potential changes to a medical professional as quickly as possible. The best way to do this is to set a monthly calendar reminder to perform a self-check or visit one of the many sites that offer visual diagrams that can be printed and/or purchased–often as laminated showerhead cards or refrigerator magnets.

3- Healthful Nutrition, Exercise, and Stress Reduction

As a survivor, I’m routinely asked about the self-care methods I use to eat healthily, reduce stress, and stay fit. Since the pandemic began, a bevy of new nutrition apps, healthy food delivery services, and meditation and exercise apps have popped up to provide extra motivation to achieve these goals. A few of my favorites are the digitally nutritious Moodrise with its mind-calming images and mood-enhancing tools; OnePeloton my favorite workout app with unlimited access to talented trainers and fun classes; and my go-to for audio-guided workouts when I can’t look at a screen any longer is the Aaptiv app. For fast delivery of nutritious groceries, Instacart and Whole Foods are my mainstays. 

Finally, staying properly hydrated is critically important for good health! My choice for making sure I drink the recommended 64+ ounces of water each day is HINT water. The company is offering specials for Breast Cancer Awareness Month with proceeds going to Susan G Komen For the Cure. MSR’s client, Total Glow MedSpa, is also donating a portion of all proceeds to breast cancer research and offering complimentary services to in-treatment patients and survivors. Find out more plus tips for revitalizing skin on the blog Breast Cancer Survivor’s Guide to Healthy, Glowing Skin

4- Stay educated

Whether you, your relatives, or friends have been diagnosed with breast cancer, the best thing anyone can do is become educated. In the San Francisco Bay Area, we’re lucky to have world-class cancer research hospitals right in our backyards. From UCSF to Stanford, both offer physical cancer information centers as well as newsletters and online resources. On the East Coast, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is a leading breast cancer research hospital that regularly publishes the latest developments. Living Beyond Breast Cancer is an excellent resource for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, throughout treatment, and in recovery. 

5- Speak up and fight on!

After receiving an initial misdiagnosis and something just didn’t add up, I became my own healthcare advocate. I’m so grateful that I trusted my gut instinct, asked the tough questions, conducted research, and sought a proper second opinion. Armed with this information, I was able to create a world-class care team and a sound plan to treat my diagnosis. Challenging medical opinions takes courage, and so does fighting this disease.

By taking preventative actions such as annual screenings, and monthly self-exams, eating healthfully, and exercising, we proactively take our health into our own hands. Remember, prevention, screening and early detection help save lives!

Cheers to good health!