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Articles / 2007

Plain talk offered on breast cancer
Ventura event covers reconstruction, therapies

Ventura County Star
Sunday, 10/21/2007
By Sue Davis

In the middle of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, about 200 people took the opportunity to go beyond pink ribbon campaigns and spent the day learning more about the disease and its treatments.

Community Memorial Hospital offered a free seminar at the Ventura Beach Marriott, bringing together physicians and therapists from a variety of disciplines to talk to community members about the disease.

"It touched on a little bit of every area — who is at risk, how you diagnose breast cancer, how you treat it, alternative therapies — a lot of seminars don't touch so many things," moderator Dr. Thomas Fogel said.

The seminar was an extension of an ongoing monthly series of educational events presented by the Ventura hospital.

"It is a mission of the hospital to provide educational opportunities to the members of our community," said Michael Ellingson, vice president of marketing at Community Memorial. "We believe hospitals should be involved in education."

Seven medical doctors spoke for about 20 minutes each on topics including breast imaging, surgical options, reconstruction after mastectomy, and innovations in treatment.

Dr. Samuel Bern presented a talk on reconstruction options after mastectomy, showing an extensive set of slides of women before and after surgeries.

One option is to slowly stretch the skin of the breast area using expandable inserts, followed by saline or silicone implants. Another uses the patient's own belly fat to create a new breast, a procedure that takes more time to heal but that tends to look more natural than an implant.

"There is about six weeks of recovery time, but once people get through that, people are usually very happy with the results," Bern said.

Dr. Ann Kelley talked about the emotional and psychological effects of a breast cancer diagnosis, including some surprisingly positive ones.

"It can give an opportunity — dare I say a wonderful opportunity — to re-evaluate what we want to do with the rest of our lives ... how we can go forward in a better way," Kelley said.

One audience member said Kelley's talk was especially relevant to her because she was being treated for another form of cancer. "Her talk was excellent because I am learning how important that sort of thing is," said Janet Roberts of Ventura. "The power of the mind and the importance of keeping a good attitude."

Participants were also offered the chance to try different relaxation and energy therapies including massage, Reiki and reflexology.

"We had lines of people waiting during the break," said Ellen Fogel, the director of integrative therapy at the Breast Cancer Resource Center of Santa Barbara, who also spoke at the seminar. "There's a curiosity about these techniques but also a real desire to get some nurturing."

Joan Gaiser volunteered at the event to provide Reiki, a form of therapy that seeks to work with a person's energy to provide comfort and healing.

"It makes them relax completely," said Gaiser. "People can just let go, sometimes cry if they want to."

David Colbert of Ventura was one of the few men in the audience.

"It was very informative," he said. "I don't know if most men are scared of the subject, but I'm here with my fiancee and I have a lot of concern for the women in my life."

Ellingson said having the seminar at the hotel provided a way to reach a larger audience than those held at the hospital, and he hoped to do three or four such events per year in the future, focusing on different areas of health.