Adapting to Body Changes
Cathy Nobil-Dutton carries the genetic variant for Lynch Syndrome which puts people at risk for a number of different cancers. She was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2013. Her mother, who also carried this genetic variation, was diagnosed three times with colon cancer.
Cathy’s mission is two-fold: to help her clients deal with the challenge of body changes that occur as a result of cancer and to raise awareness about Lynch Syndrome.
“Cancer presents physical challenges because whether it is surgery, treatment, or side effects, your body changes. The challenge is figuring out how to be active while adapting to those changes.”
Cathy, can you tell us about your cancer diagnosis and what Lynch Syndrome is?
I was diagnosed with uterine cancer in April of 2013. It was detected with a routine pap smear and then an endometrial biopsy and D&C were immediately scheduled. The cancer had spread into my upper cervix and I had a radical hysterectomy. They removed part of my cervix and also removed and tested 22 lymph nodes.
The pathology report indicated that I had clear cell carcinoma of the uterus, which is a more unusual (5% of all uterine cancers) and more aggressive type of cancer. Because it occurs in fewer women, there is less funding for research into clear cell carcinoma and how to treat it.
Six weeks post-surgery I began a 5-week course of pelvic radiation and then two intra-vaginal radiation sessions. I learned about Lynch Syndrome when my mother was diagnosed with her second bout of colon cancer. When I began my cancer journey, I had genetic testing that confirmed that I too had Lynch Syndrome.
According to Lynch Syndrome International, “Lynch is a hereditary disorder caused by a mutation in a mismatched repair gene. People who have Lynch Syndrome have a higher than normal chance of developing colorectal, endometrial, ovarian, stomach, kidney, brain, breast and pancreatic cancer.
Lynch Syndrome is an under-diagnosed predisposition. In the United States, up to one million people are projected to have Lynch Syndrome but only 5% are currently diagnosed.” More information can be found on LynchCancers.com.
The great news is that I have been cancer-free for three years and work very hard to take care of my body.
What message do you want to tell women about hereditary disorders like Lynch Syndrome? What should they be aware of and what questions do they need to ask?
Because Lynch Syndrome encompasses a number of different cancers, it is very important that you have a good history of cancer illness in your family. If someone in your family has had colon cancer and another member has had breast cancer there is a possibility these cancers are genetically linked.
The emphasis needs to be on your relationship with your primary care doctor who can assist you in gathering a complete family history. The family cancer history becomes your guidepost for genetic testing. Unfortunately, often times what happens is you are unaware of underlying issues until you receive your own cancer diagnosis. Knowledge, prevention and testing are key powerful tools for you to utilize. If you only go for your annual gynecological exam then that doctor should help you with your family cancer history. The current trend for biannual pap smears in post-menopausal women does not serve women who have cancer in their family. If I had opted not to have my annual pap smear in 2013….who knows what would have happened.
Both of my parents had colon cancer and that was my sole preventative focus. Even though I had annual gynecological exams I wasn’t concerned about any of the other possible cancers because I assumed that my cancer would be colon. Make no assumptions! Lynch Syndrome shows up in different places in different people. Once you have a Lynch Syndrome diagnosis you must do routine screenings for all the possible cancers.
Can you tell us when and why you started your practice BodyEsteem?
I have been a Licensed Clinical Social Worker for over 25 years. In my practice, working with many women, it became clear to me that most women have issues with their body. I wanted to move into a practice where I could work with my clients both physically and emotionally with the goal of minimizing the self-loathing of their bodies. To that end, I became certified as a personal trainer and as a certified health coach with the American Council on Exercise 20 years ago. My approach is three-pronged: exercise, nutrition and mental wellness.
After my cancer diagnosis and treatment, it was clear to me that there is a need for survivors to use this multi-pronged approach in dealing with treatment and recovery. For some people, one area more than another but no one comes out unaffected. Cancer doctors focus on ridding your body of the cancer. In general, they do not have the time and resources to take a holistic approach. In 2015, I was trained and certified as an Integrative Oncology Navigator so that I could expand my practice to include cancer survivors.
What services do you offer that will help support the cancer community?
As an Integrative Oncology Navigator I am able to work with individuals from the moment they get diagnosed. Everything from formulating questions for your doctors, attending appointments, researching your particular cancer, providing information on different treatment approaches, providing holistic practitioners to support your body during treatment and giving you nurturing tools to reduce the stress on both your mind and your body.
If you are local to Philadelphia then we may meet face to face. I also do Skype sessions and phone sessions for clients all over the world.
How important is the mind & body connection to someone who is healing from cancer treatment? How did it help you?
When someone is dealing with cancer there is a certain amount of compartmentalization of emotions because you feel like a science experiment. The blood work, the scans, the poking and prodding make one into a human pincushion. One of the coping mechanisms we all have is to disconnect our body from our mind. Cancer is all consuming on both a physical and emotional level. It puts you face-to-face with your mortality and that is scary. The tricky part is allowing those difficult emotions and the painful and sometimes humiliating treatments to exist side by side.
One of the best ways to manage these overwhelming challenges is through complementary and integrative treatments. The mind-body connected is well studied. Acupuncture, massage, yoga, Reiki and meditation are all wonderful support tools. I took advantage of regular massages, Reiki treatment and guided meditations to get me through the day. During and after radiation treatments I had significant digestive issues. For a long time, my weekly massage was about the only time that I could feel okay in my body.
Towards the end of my cancer treatments I also sought out a great therapist to help me navigate the deep well of emotions that I was experiencing.
Lastly, as someone trained in the areas of exercise, health and wellness, have you seen a change in the needs of cancer patients?
Absolutely! There are physical challenges because whether it is surgery, treatment or side effects, your body changes. The challenge is figuring out how to be active while incorporating those changes. From neuropathy to lymphedema and everything in between, you may need to alter the way you eat, the way you exercise and how you feel about all of these adjustments.
All cancer survivors can benefit from a healthy diet, regular exercise and stress reducing techniques. I urge all of my clients to take one step at a time so that it isn’t an overwhelming or debilitating project.