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From Breast Cancer Diagnosis to Survivor: A Journey of Strength and Resilience

During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Rev. Arlene Christopherson from the Northern Illinois Conference shares how she dealt with her diagnosis 10 years ago, and how she still uses the lessons learned to manage her physical and emotional well-being.

photo of Rev. Christopherson

Rev. Arlene W. Christopherson, Northern Illinois Conference

Christmas Eve 2013 took a turn I never could have predicted. That afternoon, my doctor phoned to give me the results of a biopsy on a tumor found in my breast during a routine mammogram a few weeks earlier. There is no breast cancer history in my family, but this was cancer, a lobular tumor. Within days I was swept up into the world of internet searches, oncologists, medical jargon, surgeons and scans. During the first 24 hours, I was numb, which was good, because I didn’t want my news to overshadow our family’s Christmas Day gathering.

The early days of the treatment were intense, but after a time, the work of beating cancer became part of my routine. For five years following the more aggressive treatment, I stayed faithful to a drug therapy that altered my body chemistry in challenging ways but gave me some insurance against future recurrence. In the spring of 2019, I was glad to begin a new chapter as a survivor, having finished my course of treatment.

It took almost another year for the side effects of the ongoing treatment to lift. I was feeling normal again and ready to celebrate just as we entered into our new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. On came another period of unpredictability.

In those early days of learning to live with the stress of a cancer diagnosis, I found strength in routine which included my job as Assistant to the Bishop, a focus on exercise and weight loss and desire to find “a new normal” in relationships, physical appearance and activities.

I was already a faithful Virgin Pulse tracker, but the monitoring of my activity now took on deeper meaning. I linked the MyFitnessPal app to Virgin Pulse (a well-being tool available through the Wespath health and well-being benefit plans) and learned more about healthy eating. I never went on a “diet,” but I built better habits, balancing my protein, carbs and fats. Eventually, I lost 50 lbs. I found acupuncture to be a good alternative to taking more medications that counteracted the side effects of my cancer treatment drugs, and I learned to value the benefits of a good night’s sleep.

Much of what I learned to do to address stress during cancer has helped me to maintain balance in these unprecedented times. I haven’t arrived, there are still days when circumstances can feel overwhelming, but now I have some solid habits and practices I can fall back on and embrace. Virgin Pulse continues to be at the heart of my routine.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women in the United States, and accounts for about 1 in 3 of all new female cancers each year. Here are a few tips from the Mayo Clinic as well as information you can use or share with family, friends and loved ones during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. If your weight is healthy, work to maintain that weight. If you need to lose weight, ask your doctor about healthy strategies to accomplish this.
  • Be physically active. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, which helps prevent breast cancer. Most healthy adults should aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly, plus strength training at least twice a week.
  • Limit alcohol. The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer. The general recommendation is to limit yourself to no more than one drink a day, as even small amounts can increase risk.
  • Schedule your health screenings. Keeping an eye on your health—with annual check-ups and well-woman exams, mammograms, and other important screenings—in consultation with your doctor can help spot problems early.
  • If you are a Wespath HealthFlex participant, use Virgin Pulse to support your well-being. Whether you need support for your physical or emotional health after a breast cancer diagnosis, or if you need support while a friend or family member is dealing with a diagnosis, Virgin Pulse has a variety of self-directed or one-on-one options that can help.
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Dimensions Newsletter

Financial, Health and Well-Being Information

Dimensions Newsletter

Financial, Health and Well-Being Information