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  • Book Excerpt: Chemo Muscles: Lessons Learned From Being a Psycho-Oncologist by Renee A. Exelbert,...
Book Excerpt: Chemo Muscles: Lessons Learned From Being a Psycho-Oncologist by Renee A. Exelbert, PhD
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In Chemo Muscles: Lessons Learned from Being a Psycho-Oncologist and Cancer Patient, Exelbert reflects on her experience of confronting her cancer diagnosis, as the doctor becomes the patient.

Exelbert was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 after working as a psychologist in a pediatric cancer center in Long Island, NY. A wife and mother of two young children, she struggled with vulnerability and identity. As a medical professional, she had both challenging and elevating experiences with healthcare professionals. And ultimately, she became a certified personal trainer and bodybuilding figure competitor to regain a sense of control over her body.

With unflinching candor and detail, Exelbert shares her story by pairing it with psychological theory, well-researched coping techniques for patients and families, and guidance to aid healthcare professionals in treating people with greater dignity, understanding, and respect. 

 

“By sharing the inner-most thoughts and emotions she experienced throughout her breast cancer journey, Dr. Exelbert provides validation that “life-altering” doesn’t necessarily condemn a cancer patient to a life that is “less than” it once was. Her dual perspectives as both a patient and a psychologist provide a unique opportunity to merge the raw emotional impact of the diagnosis with clinical training, thereby allowing her to process and understand the experience in a way that is both reassuring and empowering.”

— Jane E. Austin, Ph.D., Professor, William Paterson University

“This is less a book about cancer and the healing effects of exercise and diet as much as it is about the power of resilience; about confronting the unimaginable and what it takes to come out the other side. By allowing the reader into her personal journey, Dr. Exelbert invites us to explore the human dimensions of illness, seamlessly weaving between best psychological practices and the simple needs that we all have as members of the human family. For those of us working in the cancer community – or in any other community for that matter – this book is a must-read. It summons us to remember our humanity – to not hide behind cold clinical jargon and artificial barriers – and reminds us of the power we each possess to not only ease our own fears and pain, but those of our fellow travelers.”

— Arnie Preminger, CEO/Founder, Sunrise Association International summer and year-round programs for children with cancer and their siblings

“In this important and inspiring book, Dr. Exelbert shares her personal and emotional journey through cancer, with the vulnerability of a patient, the expertise of a psycho-oncologist, and with a generosity of heart that makes this book an essential guide for cancer patients, their families and clinicians alike. Lessons gleaned from personal suffering and transformation, combined with valuable knowledge from psychological and medical research, nutrition, and exercise, will undoubtedly leave the reader not only better informed, but empowered with hope and courage amidst the struggle with serious illness.”

— Anthony P. Bossis, Ph.D., Psycho-oncologist, New York University School of Medicine

ORDER YOUR COPY

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2snRyTo

B&N: https://bit.ly/2tk9lvi

 

Book Excerpt:

One Breast or Two?
I still had not decided if I was going to have the requisite single
mastectomy, or a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. There were some
studies that showed a miniscule chance of breast cancer spreading to
the other breast. My plastic surgeon had discussed that there would
also be a lack of symmetry between my breasts had I elected to have
the single mastectomy. He commented that they would be “sisters”
rather than “twins.” Two days prior to having surgery, I was sent for
a final scan of my breasts. My right breast was the one that had the
malignancies, however, there was some concern that the cancer might
be present in the left breast. The amount of terror I experienced about
the possibility of having more cancer was beyond measure. It turned
out to be nothing, merely dense breasts. However, my doctor notified
me that from this point forward, I would be checked much more
frequently in the existing breast. The prospect of experiencing more
scares due to dense or cystic breasts was something I could not handle.
I decided then and there that I would opt for the prophylactic bilateral
mastectomy. It was not an easy choice, as I could have kept one breast
and therefore preserved some sense of my existing identity, femininity,
and beauty. I had several people close to me as well as Dr. A, my old
boss from the pediatric cancer center, try to convince me that having the
bilateral mastectomy was a drastic and unnecessary measure. On
the other hand, I had been so freaked out by cancer and the possibility
of future trauma, that I felt it best to minimize any and all risks. When
I arrived for surgery, my surgeon, Dr. M, still had not been notified of
my final decision. She asked me in a perfunctory tone, “One breast or
two?” as this was her common vernacular, and illustrative of surgery
that she routinely performed. I couldn’t help but be struck by the metaphor
to coffee—would I like one lump of sugar or two? Additionally,
Dr. K and Dr. M had asked me if they would be removing a mole that
I had between my breasts, as surgery was the perfect time to get rid
of it. It was not attractive, but it had become a part of me. I told them
that I did not want to lose any more of me than I needed to, and that I
wanted to keep my mole. They both joked with me about how hideous
my mole was going to look with my brand-new boobs. They made me
laugh and brought levity to an agonizing experience. Nonetheless, I
am so glad that I kept my mole. We have been through a lot together.
I spent a few final minutes alone with Billy, who gently touched and
kissed my boobs. He then said “goodbye guys.” We cried and held each
other. His unconditional love and acceptance let me know that no
matter how this surgery altered my body, he would always love me and
find me beautiful. And with that, I was wheeled into surgery.
As the anesthesia was administered and I was lying down, terrified
for how this next chapter of my life was about to unfold, Dr. M held
my hand and supported me. It was such a small gesture, but meant the
world to me.
 

 

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