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5 Health Care Careers on the Front Lines of Fighting Breast Cancer

Like many woman faced with a breast cancer diagnosis, when psychologist Paulette Sherman initially received the news from her doctor that she was suffering from the disease, she was plagued with a flood of emotions.

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"When I first got my diagnosis, I was scared and perplexed. It seemed to come out of nowhere at a very busy time," she explained. "I was hearing doctors tell me that I had to do eight chemotherapies, 33 radiations, and treatment for almost a year. I was thinking about how I would do this, keep working, and care for my two kids under five years old. I hoped I wouldn't die because I had a lot more living to do and kids to care for."

Once she processed her feelings and underwent treatment, Sherman found that she could use her experience as a platform to help others and enhance her relationship with her patients. She received a great deal of support from the medical professionals she worked with, so she wanted to pass that experience on to breast cancer patients in her care.

"My previous specialty as a psychologist was dating and relationships, although in the past twenty years, I have worked in a large range of settings and counseled clients on a long list of issues. I have helped clients through illness, but now, having been the patient, gives me a different perspective," she said. "I got to see what worked and what did not work with healers. I was able to see the hospital system and how hard it can be to navigate getting ones needs met. I think it is very helpful to have experienced the other side, for practical reasons, as well as for empathy."

In addition, Sherman expanded her reach outside of her practice by writing a series of books to help breast cancer patients -- including "My Date with Cancer: 21 Spiritual Lessons," "The Create Your Own Cancer Path Workbook," and "The Cancer Path: A Spiritual Journey into Healing, Wholeness and Love."

Five careers that support breast cancer patients

Sherman uses her psychology practice in order to help women fighting breast cancer, just as her oncologists had helped her. But, there are a myriad of professionals out there who also assist cancer patients in their time of need, including those in the following five occupations.

Radiologic and MRI technologists. These professionals are responsible for performing the diagnostic imaging examinations that help to determine whether or not a patient has breast cancer. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, radiologic and MRI technologists have job duties such as preparing patients for their x-rays, operating and maintaining imaging equipment, updating patient records, and communicating with patients and physicians about the testing procedure.

Oncology social workers. Oncology social workers provide a myriad of services to breast cancer patients and their families, including financial assistance, psychological and emotional counseling, transportation, and child care services. In addition, these professionals also work to educate the public about breast cancer and advocate in the community on behalf of these patients.

According to Heather Edmonson, LCSW, Program Supervisor of the Adelphi NY Statewide Breast Cancer Hotline and Support Program, the services that oncology social workers provide are particularly important for low-income families who may not have access to, or even awareness of, how to get the help they need while fighting breast cancer.

"As much awareness as there is about breast cancer nowadays, there is still a lack of resources, and living in New York where there is such income disparity, it really is a challenge working with the low-income and no-income families who cannot afford to put food on their table, and cannot afford to miss a day of work," she said. "The challenge is getting them connected with the resources they need, so they can continue to function and can get their treatment."

Nurse practitioners. Oncology nurse practitioners can be a vital part of a woman's cancer team, as they help provide quality care for breast cancer patients. The duties of these health professionals include examining patients, performing health assessments, interpreting medical histories and diagnostic tests, prescribing medications, and monitoring patients' progress during their treatment programs. In addition, nurse practitioners also provide support for caregivers, advising them on the best practices for taking care of breast cancer patients.

Nutritionists. Alexandra Rothwell, nutrition coordinator at Mount Sinai Hospital's Dubin Breast Center, always had an interest in people's relationship with food. After her father battled kidney cancer, she developed an interest in the relationship between food and cancer -- particularly after witnessing how the disease caused him to become malnourished. As she progressed in her career, she found that focusing on cancer patients was a good fit for her professional interests, because working with this population entails nourishing patients, rather than restricting them. And she was especially drawn to breast cancer patients because of the nature of the disease compared to other cancers.

"Breast cancer is really unique compared to many other malignancies. It's very treatable today, so a lot of the research that's gone into this disease has helped to improve screenings and treatments," she said. "I'm always thinking about the connections between all chronic diseases and I try to use the diagnosis of breast cancer to work on things like reducing inflammation, insulin resistance, and other markers of disease, just to improve overall health and wellness."

In order to improve the wellness of breast cancer patients, Rothwell provides nutritional counseling that helps these women change their lifestyle and eating habits. After discussing each individual patient's symptoms, eating and sleeping habits, and lifestyle, she is able to make recommendations on a diet that will improve their quality of life and help with their recovery.

Yoga instructors. Yoga is well-known for its therapeutic benefits, and when breast cancer patients practice yoga, recent research published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology shows that their stress and fatigue can be dramatically reduced. In addition, yoga practice has emotional and spiritual benefits, allowing patients to gain the inner strength they need to face their fight with cancer and put their journey in perspective. Yoga instructors provide guidance that helps these patients get the most out of their practice by teaching them the proper way to do poses in order to avoid injuries. In addition, yoga instructors teach students about breathing and meditation techniques, further helping breast cancer patients relax.

It takes a village to successfully complete many tasks, and beating breast cancer is no exception. These health care and wellness professionals are dedicated to working every day to help patients survive this devastating diagnosis and regain their health and vitality.

Sources:

Alexandra Rothwell, personal communication, September 19, 2014

Heather Edmonson, personal communication, September 19, 2014

Health Professionals Associated With Cancer Care, American Cancer Society, Accessed September 19, 2014, http://www.cancer.org/treatment/findingandpayingfortreatment/choosingyourtreatmentteam/health-professionals-associated-with-cancer-care

How Yoga Can Help Breast Cancer Patients With Radiation, Cleveland Clinic, Accessed September 19, 2014, http://health.clevelandclinic.org/2014/07/how-yoga-can-help-breast-cancer-patients-with-radiation/

Paulette Sherman, personal communication, September 19, 2014

"Radiologic and MRI Technologists," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2014-15 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiologic-technologists.htm

Scope of Practice, Association of Oncology Social Work, Accessed September 19, 2014, http://www.aosw.org/iMIS201/AOSWMain/professionals/scope-of-practice/AOSWMain/Professional-Development/scope-of-practice.aspx?hkey=4b9dc2ae-bd4f-47a7-9cf7-0337628e34c1

Spotlight On: Oncology Social Workers - Part I, a Q&A, American Society of Clinical Oncology, Accessed September 19, 2014, http://www.cancer.net/blog/2014-04/spotlight-oncology-social-workers-%E2%80%93-part-i-qa

Yoga for Cancer, Yoga Journal, Accessed September 19, 2014, http://www.yogajournal.com/article/health/yoga-for-cancer/

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