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How breast cancer awareness can save your life

We're looking at how mental health and breast cancer awareness go hand in hand for Arkansas women receiving cancer treatment.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Lisa Leonard met Social Worker Tiffany Hadden at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute when she began treatment in 2021 for a small, but malignant tumor in her breast.

We spoke with both women about Lisa’s treatment and how she discovered the difference that therapy can make in a woman’s recovery.

Lisa described how she felt when she received her diagnosis from the doctor on the phone.

"I was numb, scared, speechless”, she said.

Lisa has a family history of cancer and took the precaution of learning that she carries the breast cancer gene, known as BRCA-2.

She believed it was a matter of when and not if she would develop the same disease that had taken the life of her sister during the pandemic.

But there's no way to prepare to learn that diagnosis now belongs to you.

"You're changed. Everything changes. And I was told that things change, your body will never be the same, but I didn't really understand that at all, and nobody could really tell me how because it's different for every single person," Lisa said.

However, she tried finding ways to laugh throughout the ordeal, even as her hair began falling out.

She said she leaned on her husband and family for support, but felt they couldn't quite grasp the messages playing in her mind.

“End-of-life planning went through my mind, passing away before my parents ran through my mind, not being there for my husband, just all of these things were running through my mind like a roadmap," she explained.

With help from Tiffany, Lisa eventually found a psychologist and said that therapy has proven to be a wonderful outlet where she could express any emotion inside of her in a safe and protective environment.  

All women who receive care from the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute are given an opportunity to meet with a counselor.

Tiffany specializes in oncology and said that being able to talk openly about experiences can help patients fare better in the long run.

"We don't realize the connection between our mental and physical health. Your physical health can affect you mentally. If you're in pain, you could be depressed, and you could be anxious. You're going to have anxiety, I mean, that's part of the journey," Tiffany explained. "But if you're not taking care of yourself physically and emotionally, that's also going to conversely affect your physical health."

Lisa said that she hopes her story will show other women how therapy can bring back the joy of living if they ever receive the same life-changing phone call she did.

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