Breast Health, Mental Health Awareness, and Infertility
Today, in New England, everything is turning khaki green, yellow, orange, red and maroon. And just about every brilliant shade in between.
Given that it’s October, everything’s also turning pink.
Not the trees, but just about everything else. I was watching a football game and couldn’t quite tell, but yes, they were wearing pink sneakers. Professional football players wearing bright pink sneakers.
Good thing that pink is not about being girly or feminine or less than masculine. Pink means something entirely different these days.
If it’s pink, it must be October and that must mean that it’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM).
Infertility is often likened to a life crisis similar to the one that is faced with cancer. The level of stress, exhaustion, isolation and depression, to name just a few pieces of it. Both, in their own ways, make you question your own mortality and longevity. Both make you question what you have done with your life so far and if you will be able to have your life at all, what it will look like.
And, just as with infertility, there are things that you can do to protect yourself with breast cancer. While you can’t do a single thing about the genes and DNA that you have inherited, even there, you can cut your losses. You can improve your odds.
Photo: SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget (Flickr)
Interestingly enough, you do it the same way you would with preventing infertility. You eat right, exercise properly, sleep enough, and find a way to deal with the ordinary stress that comes to everyone.
When it comes to breast cancer, you also do self exams regularly. Once a month. If you’re not sure how, ask your obstetrician/gynecologist or internist to show you. If you are over 50, the guidelines state getting a mammogram every two years, (although I’m happy that my physicians recommend every year). If you are under 50 and believe that you have significant risk factors (family history, cystic breasts, etc.), speak to your physician and find out what he/she recommends. Find out more about mammorgrams from the Office on Women's Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Infertility doesn’t excuse us from taking care of the rest of ourselves. Our bodies, minds and emotional health all still need to be attended to.
Considering Mental Health During Fertility Treatment
In fact, this week (October 6-12) brings our attention to mental health as well, as it is also Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW). If you’re in the midst of fertility treatment, have you considered making an appointment with a mental health professional? Checking in with someone who can help you in case you are really struggling? Infertility and fertility treatment is often isolating, emotionally painful, exhausting and life-altering. Without even realizing it, your life may be affected dramatically as you go through testing, treatment and disappointments when/if fertility treatment cycles are unsuccessful. None of these responses indicate mental illness; they can mean that it’s a good idea to get some help. There’s a lot of help out there and you can feel better.
Photo: faxpilot (Flickr)
Peer Support Groups: Ladies Night In and More
One way that we offer help at Reproductive Medicine Associates of CT (RMACT) is through peer support groups. The leaders (Carrie Van Steen and I) are not mental health professionals. Together, we have been leading Ladies Night In (peer support group) for almost five years. We have both experienced infertility and fertility treatment; we know what it’s like. A peer support group is a place to discuss with people that are experiencing similar challenges all the different aspects of that challenge. It’s a place to go and realize that your responses are normal. It’s a place to go where when you speak of your pain, the others in the group nod their heads. It’s a place to go to have cheerleaders that remind you that you are stronger than you may feel in that moment. It’s a place to go to have a good laugh, so good that the entire group starts laughing with you; it’s that infectious. It’s a place to go to vent and let off that steam that threatens to build up. It’s a place to go to have a question answered and an answer questioned. It’s a place to make friends. (We also have two wonderful mental health professionals at RMACT: Lisa Tuttle, PhD and Melissa Kelleher, LCSW, who offer professional therapeutic care and support.)
Tomorrow night (new night), Tuesday, October 8, is Ladies Night In at the RMACT Danbury office -- 67 Sand Pit Road, Danbury, CT -- from 6-7:30 p.m.
This group is open to the public. It is free and we provide a lovely and delicious dinner.
It’s a place to come to know that you are not alone.
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