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Turning Breast Cancer Into Something Positive

It's been wonderful to be recognized for my work, but when a life threatening illness strikes and you lose your zest, not to mention all your hair, the honor you want most is the Lifetime Cancer Survivor Award...

My name is Jacqueline Marcell, a breast cancer survivor. I am the author of "Elder Rage", a true story about my obstinate elderly father's rage at me for trying to help him and my ailing mother. I think my own rage and the stress of caring for my parents for several years, while foolishly ignoring my own health, contributed to the breast cancer I've battled all year. But finally, I'm back to my advocacy work on behalf of caregivers—but with an added insight and mission.

Overwhelmed caregivers have a 63% higher premature death rate than their peers because of stress and inattention to their own health. I was under the most incredible stress of my life while caring for my parents (both with Alzheimer's Disease), and I was so infuriated I wasn't getting the help I needed from the professionals I turned to. That's why I wrote "Elder Rage", so that no one else would have to go through what I did.

More than a year into my caregiving journey, I finally solved the crisis with my challenging father and sweet but frail mother. The experience compelled me to give up my nearly 20-year career as a television executive to become a first-time author, publisher, radio host, national speaker and advocate for eldercare awareness and reform. I'm proud to say that "Elder Rage" is a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, receiving over 50 endorsements, including Hugh Downs, Regis Philbin, Dr. Dean Edell, Duke University Center for Aging, and Johns Hopkins Memory Clinic. It is required text at several universities for courses in geriatric assessment and management and is being considered for a feature film.

It seems odd, but I never felt better when I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. I had no symptoms whatsoever—until I felt the lump myself. I've had so many false alarms over the years with cysts that were always benign, so I assumed this was just another one. Since there was no history of breast cancer in our family, I mistakenly thought I was immune. I was so stunned to learn that 85% of women who develop breast cancer have no history of it in their family, and that more than 1.2 million women worldwide will be diagnosed this year.

After surviving a lumpectomy, 6 months of dense-dose chemotherapy, a double mastectomy (with complications), and 28 radiation treatments, I feel compelled again to turn a devastating experience into something positive by telling my story to help others. My doctors say stress probably didn't cause the cancer directly (the cause of breast cancer is unknown), but that the prolonged stress of caregiving compromised my already weakened immune system (from a series of stressful situations), and then I foolishly put off my own checkups and mammograms, which let the cancer grow unchecked for several years.

Everyone asks if I will write Cancer Rage next. No, but I am including the topic in my speeches, during interviews, and on my own Internet radio program, Coping With Caregiving. Since my illness I've featured numerous breast cancer specialists, because I know I can help prevent others from going through what I have and even save lives. My missions have been funding for (and the importance of) early diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease; prevention of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation; and Adult Day Care Services. I testified before the Assistant Secretary on Aging about the need for more national funding and delivered a keynote address to the Florida House of Representatives on this and numerous eldercare issues.

Now with caregiver stress and breast cancer added to my missions, I emphasize the importance for caregivers to attend a support group as soon as caregiving duties begin; enroll elderly loved ones in Adult Day Care; ask for specific help from family and friends; closely monitor their own health; and for women to regularly do self-exams and to get yearly mammograms—no matter how busy they are.

The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), honored me with Advocate of the Year at their Remarkable Women Awards, and the National Adult Day Services Association (NADSA) presented me with their Media Award. It's been wonderful to be recognized for my work, but when a life threatening illness strikes and you lose your zest, not to mention all your hair, the honor you want most is the Lifetime Cancer Survivor Award—and I am going to do everything in my power to make sure I get that one!

I learned caregiving the hard way, and now breast cancer the hard way, and I'm committed to bringing attention to these issues on a national scale. But I have to say I have enough missions now and I really don't need any more important causes to keep me busy... Thank you very much!

Jacqueline Marcell, BS
Author, Publisher, Radio Host, Speaker, Eldercare Advocate, Breast Cancer Survivor
Elder Rage, or Take My Father... Please! How to Survive Caring for Aging Parents
Coping With Caregiving (Radio Program)







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Updated  09/29/2010