Long Beach breast cancer patient helps nationally funded research projects

Debra Blumberg was diagnosed with two different types of cancer – one in each breast. Knowing that mental and spiritual health are just as important as physical health during the cancer journey, Debra received her care at the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center.

Psychosocial oncology support helps patients improve their quality of life by reframing their way of thinking. Research has shown that cancer patients who can reframe their thinking can dramatically improve their quality of life, decease anxiety, reduce stress, and improve sleep.

First, Debra met with Erin Sommerville, mind-body oncology coach. Erin helps patients feel confident and empowered along their cancer journey through guided imagery, relaxation techniques, mindful breathing and meditation. Then, she was referred to Beat the Odds with Mariusz Wirga, M.D., medical director, psychosocial oncology. In this 10-week program, Debra learned additional tools to help her cope with the effects of cancer treatments.

After participating in various programs and in the annual Team Spirit Long Beach Cancer 5K, Debra was asked to become a mentor in the Women Guiding Women: Cancer Support & Education™ program. Through this program, newly diagnosed breast and gynecologic cancer patients are paired with a mentor – a cancer survivor – that has gone through a comparable experience. Also, Debra volunteers at the MemorialCare Breast Center in the Todd Cancer Pavilion.

Through a nomination by the Women Guiding Women team, Debra was introduced to an opportunity of a lifetime. After a rigorous application and interview process, Debra was chosen as a consumer reviewer for the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs’ Breast Cancer Research Program. Consumer reviewers are asked to represent the collective view of patients by preparing comments on the impact of the research on issues such as diagnosis, treatment and quality of life. As a consumer reviewer, she voted, along with prominent scientists, to help determine how the $150 million appropriated by Congress for Fiscal Year 2020 will be spent on breast cancer research.

“It was an honor to represent Long Beach Medical Center, and a privilege to work with scientists and clinicians as a voice for breast cancer patients and survivors,” says Debra. “Reading these research proposals was challenging, but uplifting. The fact that you have people from all over the world who are looking for a way to beat a disease that seems to be unbeatable puts a whole new perspective on the huge effort going into finding treatments and a cure.”

Debra is a member of California’s first breast cancer survivor dragon boat team.

In addition to reviewing research studies, Debra volunteers at the MemorialCare Breast Center in the Todd Cancer Pavilion, and races with the Los Angeles Pink Dragons – California’s first breast cancer survivor dragon boat team. A dragon boat is a boat of traditional Chinese design and propelled with paddles by a large crew. Each race includes 20 paddlers, a front drummer and a back steersperson, but the entire team has 40 members. Debra has raced throughout the United States, as well as in several international competitions in Spain, Italy, Fiji and Argentina.

“I immediately fell in love with dragon boat racing,” says Debra. “Even on my worst day, when I get on the water, everything is better. It’s a group of women who are very supportive of each other and very enthusiastic.”

“My cancer journey provided many challenging moments, but I realized how important it was to adjust my mindset to cope and move on,” says Debra. “I’m grateful for the opportunity as a mentor, and a reviewer for the research proposals, to impact the lives of future cancer patients.”

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