How Does Exercise Combat Depression?

Participants enjoying an exercise class at Cancer Support Community Greater Philadelphia

Participants enjoying an exercise class at Cancer Support Community Greater Philadelphia

A cancer diagnosis can be difficult to handle. Cancer affects your physical body as well as your attitudes, thoughts or feelings. You may experience a range of emotions like fear, anger, sadness and helplessness. When these feelings interfere with daily normal functions you may be experiencing anxiety or depression. It is important to talk to your health care team about these feelings so you can discuss ways to cope with these emotions. Some people participate in support groups or individual counseling while others talk with family and friends.

Another beneficial coping strategy people turn to is exercise. Daily exercise has been shown to improve symptoms of depression, release muscle tension and reduce levels of cortisol,–a stress hormone. When you exercise, chemicals called endorphins are produced in the brain, spinal cord and many other parts of the body. Endorphins can decrease your awareness of pain and trigger positive feelings in the body. Additionally, research shows that physical activity improves the quality of life for people in active cancer treatment.

Exercise does not have to be strenuous to be effective. The following are some examples of ways to stay active. Be sure to talk to your doctor before participating in any form of physical activity. Some simple and effective forms of exercise are:

  • Walking
  • Gardening or cleaning
  • Light jogging
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Dance
  • Tennis
  • Swimming
  • Golf

There are also many other benefits to exercise. Doctors often recommend staying as active as possible. Exercise not only combats depression, but it can also:

  • Improve sleep
  • Reduce stress
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Strengthen the heart
  • Increase energy levels
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve muscle tone and strength
  • Strengthen and build bones
  • Help reduce body fat
  • Reduce the risk of cancer recurrence
  • Improve quality of life

The Cancer Support Community offers resources to help you cope and live healthy with cancer. Click here for more information on emotional health and physical activity .

If you have questions or would like more information you can call CSC’s toll free Cancer Support Helpline® at 1-888-793-9355 to speak with a call counselor who can answer any question you may have.

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Elevating the Patient Voice: 3 things we learned from Cancer Experience Registry data

“I cried all the time. I was so anxious and afraid. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. It made a huge difference when I told my manager what was happening and he told me that he was a melanoma survivor. He said my job was safe and I should do whatever I needed to take care of my cancer. I signed up for the Cancer Experience Registry to give back to other women going through what I did, let them know they can get through it” Linda P. – Cancer Experience Registry member

“I cried all the time. I was so anxious and afraid. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. It made a huge difference when I told my manager what was happening and he told me that he was a melanoma survivor. He said my job was safe and I should do whatever I needed to take care of my cancer. I signed up for the Cancer Experience Registry to give back to other women going through what I did, let them know they can get through it”
Linda P. – Cancer Experience Registry member

Since its launch in March 2013, the Cancer Support Community has asked people impacted by any type or stage of cancer to share the issues and concerns that defined their cancer journey with the Cancer Experience Registry. As of today, more than 7,000 participants have done exactly that, and have helped identify the social, emotional and financial needs of people living with cancer.

Today, the Cancer Support Community is excited to announce that the index report of these findings, Elevating the Patient Voice, is now available online! The Cancer Support Community will be commemorating the release of the first year findings at a presentation and reception at CSC’s Research and Training Institute in Philadelphia, PA. The event features Keynote Speaker Peter Bach, MD of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who has shared his experience as a physician and caregiver for his wife after her diagnosis, treatment and death from cancer.

What have we learned from the Registry findings so far?

  1. There are significant challenges regarding the cost of cancer care. About one-third of patients  reported having to reduce their grocery expenses, and one-third  have depleted their savings due to cancer-related costs.
  2. Many people are concerned about long-term side effects. Nearly half (42 percent) of patients are seriously concerned about nutrition, and about a third (32 percent and 34 percent, respectively) are seriously concerned about fatigue and exercise.
  3. There is an ongoing need for social and emotional support. 37 percent of patients have serious worries about the future, and 35 percent have serious financial worries.

CER report coverHow will the Registry help people impacted by cancer?

The Cancer Experience Registry is the first of its kind, and it consists of items that measure the total cancer experience on the person diagnosed as well as his or her family. After completing the profile and questionnaire, members can compare their responses with others in the community and be connected to online educational content relevant to their concerns and interests.

“We hear over and over that patients feel uncomfortable bringing up their issues with their doctors. They don’t want to bother them, or be seen as a ‘bad patient.’ We put a lot of effort into asking questions that are sensitive to our population—and our respondents often tell us, ‘no one ever asked me that before,’” said Joanne Buzaglo, Ph.D., VP of Research and Training at CSC.

More highlights from the Registry data and more patient stories can be found in Elevating the Patient Voice, and for insights and updates from the event follow CSC on Twitter @CancerSupportCM.

Anyone who has ever been diagnosed by cancer at any time is invited and encouraged to join the Cancer Experience Registry. Click here to get started.

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RECAP: 4 things you should know about metastatic breast cancer

mbc photo

October, as most people know, is widely recognized as breast cancer awareness month. As the official breast cancer awareness month color, we see pink nearly everywhere we go this month to help raise awareness for this disease, which is diagnosed in about 1 in 8 women and about 1 in 1,000 men every year in the United States. However, what a lot of people may not know is that October 13 was Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day. About 155,000 people are currently estimated to be living with metastatic or stage 4 breast cancer, meaning the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Earlier this month, during an episode of Frankly Speaking About Cancer, Kim Thiboldeaux, President and CEO of the Cancer Support Community, talked with Shirley Mertz, Board President of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network (MBCN), Stacy Lewis, Chief Program Officer and Deputy Chief Executive of the Young Survival Coalition and Khadijah Carter, who was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2010 and has used her story to inspire others.

What is metastatic breast cancer?

Shirley: Metastatic breast cancer means that cells, cancer cells, in the breast have travelled to other parts of the body, usually the bone lungs, liver or brain. The cells get to other parts of the body by way of our blood stream or lymph nodes. We don’t know exactly why, but it does happen. This disease is different than early stage disease; early stage disease is confined to the breast. Our challenge for those of us who live with metastatic breast cancer is that our disease is incurable. People die from metastatic breast cancer. Unlike early stage breast cancer, where the treatment aim is to cure the person of their disease. Right now there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer. The goal is to try to extend our life as long as possible, while helping us live the highest quality of life that we can.

How is metastatic breast cancer treated versus early stages of breast cancer?

Shirley: During the month of October, many people get the idea that breast cancer is one disease. It’s really many diseases, both at the early stage and at the metastatic or advanced stage. Because there are different subtypes of metastatic breast cancer, there are different treatments. The most common thing I can say that makes them all similar is that they are all aimed at what is making the breast cancer grow. Different subtypes receive different treatments. For metastatic breast cancer patients, they are in constant treatment. For example in my case, I have been in treatment for eleven years. There is just no end because we don’t know how to cure it.

How is metastatic breast cancer diagnosed?

Khadijah: Metastatic disease is usually diagnosed when breast cancer has reoccurred months or years after treatment for early stage breast cancer. Approximately, six to ten percent of people are initially diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. If a woman exhibits some symptoms after she has been treated with early stage breast cancer–for me I had a persistent cough. I went to my doctor and they conducted a chest x-ray, and they saw multiple tumors and a blood clot. That’s when I had a biopsy and when he determined that I had metastatic disease at that point.

Are there any risk factors for this diagnosis?

Stacy: I think what we know from having both Shirley and Khadijah as part of this great call is that it can, unfortunately, happen at any age. While less young women are diagnosed with breast cancer as well as metastatic breast cancer, the reality is that, unfortunately, younger women are dying at an increased rate when compared to the general breast cancer population. In brief, when you look at what they call the five-year survival rate, the general breast cancer population is doing slightly better than the population of young women diagnosed with breast cancer. Age is not a barrier, and too many women are being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.


Click here to listen to the full episode to learn more about the unique issues facing people impacted by metastatic breast cancer,  the importance of raising awareness of this disease and much more. For more information about metastatic breast cancer click here, and check out Frankly Speaking About Cancer: Metastatic Breast Cancer.  If you or someone you love is impacted by this diagnosis and is in need of support or resources call the Cancer Support Helpline at 1-888-793-9355, available Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m.

About Young Survival Coalition

Young Survival Coalition (YSC) is a global organization dedicated to the issues facing young women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. YSC provides information, education and resources for women, from diagnosis to long-term survivorship. YSC allows those impacted by any stage of breast cancer to connect to others through online community boards, in-person support groups or one-on-one peer support.

About Metastatic Breast Cancer Network

Metastatic Breast Cancer Network (MBCN) is a national patient-led advocacy organization dedicated to the unique concnerns of the women and men living with metastatic breast cancer. The mission of MBCN is to empower people living with this disease to be their own best advocate by providing education and information on treatments and ways to cope with metastatic breast cancer—physically, socially and emotionally.

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CSC on Capitol Hill

CSC's Joanne Buzaglo, Vice President of Research and Training speaking at Capitol Hill with other representatives from the Partnership for Part D Access

CSC’s Joanne Buzaglo, Vice President of Research and Training speaking at Capitol Hill with other representatives from the Partnership for Part D Access

On Tuesday, September 30th, Cancer Support Community, along with various other members of the Partnership for Part D Access, a coalition of organizations working toward a collective mission to preserve Medicare beneficiary access to vital medications, attended briefings on Capitol Hill to express their perspectives on the importance of preserving the six protected classes of drugs under Medicare Part D and to urge Congress to maintain the protected status of these six classes.

Under current policy, individuals with Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage are guaranteed access to “all or substantially all” drugs within six protected classes: anti-cancer, anti-convulsant, antidepressants, antipsychotic, immunosuppressant, and HIV and AIDS drugs. Medications in these classes help manage health conditions such as mental illness, organ transplants, epilepsy, Parkinson’s Disease, lupus, HIV, and cancer.

In January 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed changes that would remove this protected status for two of the drug classes—antidepressants and immunosuppressants. The agency’s proposal also left open the possibility of further exclusions of additional classes in coming years. Due to the efforts of the Partnership for Part D Access, patient advocacy organizations and other affected stakeholders, CMS withdrew their proposal.

CSC applauds CMS for withdrawing the proposal and continues its work with the Partnership for Part D Access to highlight the need to preserve the six protected classes policy.

Cancer Support Community participated in the September 30th briefings on Capitol Hill to discuss the importance of the protected classes for Medicare beneficiaries facing cancer diagnoses. Joanne Buzaglo, Ph. D.,  Vice President of Research and Training at CSC’s Research and Training Institute (RTI) spoke on along with other representatives from the Partnership for Part D Access, including Dr. Nicole Brandt (UMB School of Pharmacy), Dr. Matthew Cooper (MedStar Georgetown), Dr. Raymond Martins (Whitman-Walker Health), and Dr. Jeanie Tse (Institute for Community Living). The panel also included the brave and insightful voices of Trudy Lapin, an individual living with bipolar disorder, and Carlton Ziegler, an individual living with epilepsy.

During the briefings, Dr. Buzaglo spoke about the importance of treating “the whole patient,” the complexity of cancer treatments, particularly for those with multiple diagnoses of cancer and other chronic diseases (RTI’s Cancer Experience Registry data show that people with cancer over the age of 65 report an average of 2-3 additional “comorbidities” or diagnoses). She and other speakers stressed that with the increasing complexity of care and drug regimens for multiple illnesses among the elderly, that patients (and their physicians) need access to the full range of available medications in the protected classes. They noted that often, finding the right medications is a process of trial and error, and that some drugs may cause varying side effects or interact with other medications a patient requires. Finally, there was a strong underlying theme around mental illness and the critical importance of having a full range of options for treatment of depression, not only because depression and mental illness affect the quality of life of so many people but also because of their impact on health and cost-related outcomes.

For more in-depth information about CSC’s position on this issue, see our letter to Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of CMS. For more information on this issue, please see the Partnership for Part D Access website.

Posted in Cancer Advocacy, Cancer Policy Institute | Leave a comment

When men get breast cancer

To kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month, this week’s guest blogger is Darrell Skaggs, a breast cancer survivor from Indiana. Darrell’s story reminds us that breast cancer affects us all and does not discriminate.

DarrellI work in the Security/Safety department at a distribution center in Indianapolis, Indiana. I am 63 years old and have been married to my wife Wanda for 41 years. We have two sons, a daughter-in-law and four beautiful grandchildren. I guess we would be considered a “normal family,” but the challenges we were given in March 2010 were less than normal.

On March 6, 2010, I went to the emergency room with severe pain on my right side. Several years before I was diagnosed with gallstones, so I was sure I would receive something for pain and everything would be fine. After several tests the doctor informed me what I was already aware of—that my gallbladder was bad. He stated my gall bladder would need to be removed but he would still like to do a CT scan just to see how bad it was. What I didn’t know was that the CT scan was going to save my life.

After the scan was reviewed, the doctor came back to my room and informed me that my gall bladder was bad, but that they had also noticed a large mass in my left breast. The doctor scheduled an ultrasound of my left breast two days later at the “Women’s Center.” (I wasn’t real happy about going to the “Women’s Center”)

When my wife and I arrived at the Women’s Center, I was told I would need a mammogram. I asked the technician, “Are you serious?” Mammograms are bad enough for women, but God did not design men for the mammogram. Then, a doctor came in and said she would like to do the ultra sound herself. She found the mass and asked when would be a good time to schedule a biopsy. I said, “right now,” so she proceeded. She took several samples and said she would have the results by Friday. I told her as soon as she gets the results to just send them to my family doctor, and have him call me immediately.

Thursday of that same week I received the call. Now, for someone who has been in the security field for 26 years and who served in the United States Army in the 70’s, I have always been trained to be prepared and ready for the unexpected. What I was about to hear was the unexpected. My family doctor said, “Darrell, I didn’t want to tell you this on the phone, but you said you wanted to know immediately. It’s breast cancer.” I wasn’t prepared for that. To be honest, I don’t remember the drive home from work that day. When my wife got home, I told her the news. After many tears and prayers we started researching on the Internet for surgeons who specialize in breast cancer. We found a surgeon who had specialized in breast cancer for 24 years. We were able to get an appointment two days later. She was very caring and talked with us for over an hour explaining the procedure. She had a team of three other surgeons and two oncologists that would be assisting her. On March 31st I had a six hour surgery to remove my left breast and woke up to receive some great news, they got all the cancer! The doctors told me they removed my gallbladder and the cancer. They also removed two lymph nodes and tested them in the operating room. The lymph nodes tested ok but they would still send them to the lab to make sure. Two days later I was hit with the news that one of the lymph nodes had cancer in it, so I would need another surgery to remove another row of lymph nodes.

The ups and downs of this journey were more than I was expecting. I spent ten days in the hospital. The next surgery was successful, and after four rounds of chemo I am now cancer free. Don’t get me wrong. I still think about it every day, and in the back of my mind I think about the possibility of the cancer returning. But, this story is not all gloom. I have tried to stay positive during this whole process.

Good things have come out of this experience, and I’m sure more will come. Each morning when I step out of the shower and I see this ugly scar on my chest, it reminds me of my journey and how fragile life is. The scar also reminds me that I have to keep telling men about breast cancer.

My family and I are now involved with the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. I have also been an ambassador for Komen. In 2012 and again in 2013, I was chosen to be a “Model of Courage” for Ford Motor Company’s Warriors in Pink. They chose 11 breast cancer survivors (one other male) from all over the United States to help promote breast cancer awareness and raise funds for research. Ford sells Warriors in Pink apparel where 100 percent of all net proceeds go to the fight against breast cancer. The 11 of us modeled the apparel. (And I thought my modeling days were over) We also did a breast cancer documentary. All of this and more can be found at Recently, I started volunteering for The American Cancer Society. When a male is diagnosed with breast cancer anywhere in the United States they can call me if they just need someone to talk to.

This is not just a woman’s disease, or a man’s disease. It affects the entire family. My family has been my best support. Men, breast cancer is serious.

If you are a man impacted by breast cancer, you’re not alone. Call the Cancer Support Helpline at 1-888-793-9355 for support, resources and more. The Helpline is open Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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