PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - A breast cancer diagnosis is devastating at any age, but for younger women, it's especially difficult - dealing with treatments and keeping up with normal, everyday stresses.
A new program hopes to help those women carry some of that burden.
Lissa Yanak, 27, was shocked by a devastating finding.
"My husband and I just moved to Pittsburgh in October," Yanak said. "And a few months after that, during a self-exam, I found a lump in my breast. It was a shock when it came back positive. Even during the biopsy I thought it was going to be nothing. Most 20-year-olds have this sense of invincibility, and life is infinite. And I think you sort of lose that."
"There's a lot of speculation on why younger and younger women are getting cancer, they're getting more aggressive form, and more advanced stages at diagnosis. And although research is being done, the question became what can we do today to help women?" Allegheny Health Network Dr. Shivani Duggal said.
Because of where they are in life, young, pre-menopausal women with breast cancer have special challenges - not just their medical treatments, but juggling the day-to-day activities including kids and school activities, aging parents, jobs and spouses.
To help these women, a foundation called Glimmer of Hope has helped to start with a pilot program called Home of Hope.
"It's really designed to sort of take the burden of cancer off the shoulders of people who are premenopausal," Yanak said.
"What we're hoping to do is minimize the stress level associated with going through the medical part of treating breast cancer," Dr. Duggal said. "Let's provide a means to do that without disrupting their daily life too much."
The program provides nutritional counseling, massage therapy, acupuncture, and child care.
"My favorite part has definitely been the massages, and just the general support that you feel," Yanak said.
In fact, the massages helped her get through some tough rounds of chemotherapy.
"I was kind of nearing the end of my chemotherapy, and I was feeling kind of discouraged about having another one coming, and it really encouraged me to have a massage to look forward to," Yanak said.
It also makes medical sense to reduce stress.
"We know that stress increases levels of oxidative distress," Dr. Duggal said.
It's a process that can foster cancer.
The pilot program is open to ten women referred by their cancer specialists, and the hope is to someday expand it to other types of cancer and to a wider age range.
"The word that comes to mind is peace. It provides peaceful pockets and moments in a time of turmoil and big decisions," Yanak said. "To have that respite from all of that is huge."
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