Episode 29: Advocating for Young Women with Courtney Shihabuddin

by | May 13, 2021 | Podcasts | 0 comments

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Advocating for young women with breast cancer became a passion and mission for Courtney Shihabuddin after her own diagnosis of breast cancer at a young age (35 years old), during a pandemic, with young children at home, and no family around to help.

As if dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis wasn’t stressful enough, Courtney was diagnosed during a pandemic when hospitals were shutting down, overwhelmed by COVID cases. To make matters more stressful, her husband is a pediatric emergency medicine doctor on the front lines.

When Courtney was diagnosed her doctor wanted to delay surgery and put her on medication that could alter the course of her treatment. Courtney emphasizes the importance of having people around you to advocate for you. Her surgeon knew this could alter the course of her treatment and supported her desire to get her surgery first.

Courtney emphasizes the importance of understanding the ramifications of doing treatments in a certain order. Taking medications can alter the course of your treatment. If something doesn’t make sense, ask questions, and get a second opinion.

Finding your tribe.

Even if breast cancer runs in your family, it doesn’t mean you have the right support network. A breast cancer diagnosis can be lonely. Courtney reconnected with friends from college and found new friends online. She also found a network of support through Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC). LBBC is an organization that supports women with information and community through all stages of breast cancer.

Young women (diagnosed under age 40) represent 20% of breast cancer cases diagnosed each year. And yet, the research and resources allotted to this group are not sufficient to discover new therapies and treatments. That is why Courtney uses her platform as a nurse practitioner, breast cancer survivor, and young woman advocate to do advocacy work on behalf of Living Beyond Breast Cancer.

Supplements, coping strategies, and mental well-being.

Young women with breast cancer often experience symptoms associated with menopause caused by medications. Though it may be tempting to reach for supplements, remember that supplements are not regulated and can be contaminated. In addition, not all supplements are safe for cancer survivors. Before you take a supplement make sure to get it approved by your oncology pharmacist. They can help you make sure supplements are safe and you avoid adverse interactions between current medications.

Getting a cancer diagnosis can be very stressful, making it easy to slip into not-so-healthy coping mechanisms. Courtney suggests finding other ways to cope with the stress like treating yourself to a massage, manicure, or facial. Find coping strategies that don’t involve food.

Finally, it’s important to do the things that will help you with mental well-being. For some that can mean engaging in physical activity while for others it means maintaining a reliable schedule, or even working to give your mind something else to focus on.

Highlights from this episode and a link to the whole episode are below.

Here are some highlights from our conversation:

  • 1:58 Cancer…. a foregone conclussion?
  • 7:00 Get a second opinion.
  • 15:30 Celebrating being cancer-free.
  • 16:06 Dealing with PTSD.
  • 19:28 Being diagnosed young and looking for your tribe.
  • 23:35 Finding support in unlikely places.
  • 26:36 Becoming an advocate and for breast cancer (for other young women).
  • 30:00 When 4% isn’t 4% – genetics and breast cancer.
  • 33:31 Hot flashes! And menopause…
  • 37:37 Supplements and your health as a cancer survivor.
  • 43:13 Eating your feelings and other coping mechanisms.
  • 47:47 Taking care of your mental well-being.

Links mentioned in today’s podcast:

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