Rita’s 40cm Hair Donation

Model, beauty queen, television host, fashion stylist, wife, mother – and most recently – blogger, Rita Lamah Hankach is a woman of as many titles as the passions she pursues in life. Rita has proven to be an ideal role model for young Lebanese women with her radiant beauty, both on the outside and on the inside. Alongside earning the second runner-up “Miss Lebanon” title in 2003 and honors in other beauty pageants, Rita has hosted a range of different television shows on Future TV and worked as the executive manager of famed Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad.

Rita on the left at Miss Lebanon 2003 (Photograph source: Lebanese Pageant)

Rita, on the left, at Miss Lebanon 2003 (Photograph source: Lebanese Pageant)

Earlier this year, Rita donated a record 40 cm of her long locks for our “Make the Cut” hair donation campaign. It came as a delightful surprise to us and a gesture that has undoubtedly inspired others around her to also follow suite.

We took a few minutes with Rita to get a more intimate understanding of that experience and what it meant for her:

1. You recently made the cut and donated a generous 40 cm of your hair to our campaign. What inspired you to take this drastic step?

My cousin, Karen. One day, she came to my place with a totally new haircut and told me about how she had donated her hair.

Karen, Rita's cousin showing her new cut - Photograph source: Life and Style and Co

Karen, Rita’s cousin, with her new haircut after donating (Photograph source: Life and Style and Co)

2. How was the experience for you? Did you decide in advance how much you would end up cutting?

The moment Karen told me her story, I decided that I would do it too and cut my hair short. It would grow back before I even knew it!

3. Have you donated your hair before? If so, when?

No, never.

Rita

It would be the first time Rita would make such a drastic cut (Photograph source: Life and Style and Co)

4. How have people responded to this change in your hairstyle and to your reasons for doing this?

My hair was very long and I took really good care of it. Everybody around me knew that. They called me crazy at first when I made this decision, but once they knew the reason behind doing it, they were very encouraging.

As for the hairstyle itself, I guess it wasn’t easy for my close friends to quickly adapt to it, especially since I’ve had long hair forever. It took me some time to get used to it myself.

5. Would you encourage others to make the cut? If so, how?

Definitely yes! I have also done two interviews on TV about the experience and have shared about it on my blog to encourage people.

Before, during and after the cut

Before, during and after the cut (Photograph source: Life and Style and Co)

6. Although many women don’t like wearing wigs during their treatment, the majority in Lebanon do whether for discretion of their sickness or to regain a sense of self. What’s your perspective on the role of wigs in helping a breast cancer patient cope? Are you for or against a patient wearing a wig during this period in their life?

Wearing a wig during treatment is very important and helpful – especially for a woman who might have already lost a very valuable part of her body because of breast cancer.

On the other hand, we should also work more on encouraging our society to accept this disease as cancer could happen to any of us. It should not be treated as a taboo.

7. We’ve all unfortunately been affected by cancer in one way or another – whether directly or indirectly through a friend or family member who’s had it. What is your relationship to this cause and what have you personally discovered through it?

Well, the person that I needed most in my life got affected by cancer. My mom fought it for two years before passing away at the age of 36. I was only 14 at the time! I remember I didn’t know what was wrong with her back then because of the social taboo I mentioned before.

My mom used to wear wigs and I guess I was in a state of denial. I didn’t want to admit or even think for a second that a disaster could happen to us – and it is a disaster indeed!

What did I discover? That cancer is a despicable, ugly, mean, evil disease that could happen to anyone at anytime in our lives.

We just have to live with it, try to enjoy our lives with our loved ones, and if we pray to God, we will definitely survive this awful experience.

8. Do you think there’s enough awareness about breast cancer in Lebanon? What do you think can be done more to help the women being diagnosed with it?

The campaign you’re doing is definitely helpful and different, however, I think it should be promoted further so that more women are aware of it.

Offering a free diagnosis in order to encourage everybody to get checked is also very important.

We’d like to thank Rita for donating and for sharing with us so openly about this important subject. If you wish to keep up with her latest news and projects, be sure to follow her blog: Life and Style and Co

Find out more about our “Make the Cut” hair donation campaign and check the hair donation guidelines here.

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Breast Cancer Yoga

A few weeks ago, we came across Breast Cancer Yoga led by New York-based breast cancer survivor and certified TriYoga teacher Diana Ross. This sort of yoga is a growing trend that has many benefits to both the mental and physical recovery of the survivor. We explored more about this form of recovery yoga through this interview with Diana:

1. How long have you been practicing and teaching Breast Cancer Yoga? Tell us more about why and how you started this program in New York.

Breast Cancer Yoga was founded in 2009. As a practicing Certified TriYoga teacher of 17 years, it was a natural progression to teach to students that had injuries and illnesses. One illness that seemed to present itself more often then not was breast cancer. Teaching Breast Cancer Yoga felt like the right thing to do, in that my sister, two sister-in-laws, cousin and myself all had breast cancer in common.

2. How does this specific type of yoga differ from other yoga practices?

Breast Cancer Yoga is specific as it targets primarily the entire breast region, including arms and shoulders. Other poses are incorporated to round out the practice but it primarily focuses on circulation and stimulation of lymph, increased ROM and breast health. There are many specific back bends, chest openers and flowing arm movements whereby other disciplines have a wide varied blend of poses. Not all being targeted for breast repair.

Diana Ross, the founder of Breast Cancer Yoga

3. What are the main benefits for breast cancer survivors practicing it? What are some reactions you’ve received from the women in your classes or workshops? 

There are so many benefits to these flowing sequences of poses for breast cancer recovery. Benefits such as increased blood flow and lymph drainage when twisting, arm extension that stimulate healthy blood flow to axillae, increased circulation which promotes healing and lessens fibrosis tissue, repairs post-surgical adhesions and scar tissue, strengthens and stretches weakened muscles, releases muscles of the chest allowing circulation to flow freely to the heart and lungs, breaks up muscle tension and stress so an inner calm surfaces. All theses benefits are only part of a total reach.

The breath too plays a large part in developing relaxation and building immune function. Breast Cancer Yoga works with the breath and movement of the pose.

The womens’ reactions give me the enthusiasm to continue because they keep coming back and they keep getting better and better both with a healthy recovering body and a happy attitude. I will also say that there have been many tears of joy, or expressions of tension release and many many laughs in class.

This yoga is a restorative therapy so eyes are typically closed and the focus is to go inward.

There is not doubt that the first thing you commit to is “yourself”

4. Are there types of poses that benefit breast cancer survivors more than others? Please give us an example of such a pose and how it helps.

Yes, there are specific yoga poses that isolate the pectoral muscles or lymph nodes, such as the classic arm extended pose below that has a nice twist to it.  It can be slowed down and modified.

Classic arm extended pose, as recommended by Breast Cancer Yoga

Just looking at it makes you feel a sense of “freedom” to the breast area.

5. Are the classes and/or workshops you lead directed only towards breast cancer survivors? Can restorative yoga flow also benefit patients still undergoing treatment?

Breast Cancer Yoga is Restorative Yoga Flow, except that BCY focuses a lot on the circulation of blood and lymph. It helps restore strength and promotes relaxation in action (meaning flowing movements coupled with an awareness on the breath) create an inner quiet and calm to heal.

When I teach at an event or workshop, there are students in recovery, passed recovery, just diagnosed and others that are working through lung cancer, chronic lung disorders and friends that are there to support family and friends.

6. With yoga as a healing practice for cancer patients on the rise recently, what makes your program stand out from others? Are there special considerations one should take before signing up for such a class?

I, too, have noticed an increase in specialized yoga’s for a wide variety of illnesses and injuries. I can only speak for my yoga and I say that because in reviewing others, some do stay focused and others just present a bunch of poses without any true direction. Breast Cancer Yoga truly focuses on recovery and on breast health.

There are a ton of flowing arm movements, chest openers and gentle backbends. Then as the student progresses, we add in arm strengtheners and core poses.

As far jumping in to any yoga class; not all yoga’s are the same. Thank God. My first comment as far as considerations of which class would be a good fit would be to find out about the teachers credentials. Nowadays the teachers need to be registered with the Yoga Alliance and should have training under their belt in this area, or lots of anatomy. The more hours teaching the better. For example I am an E-RYT 500 (Experienced Yoga Teacher) – the highest category – and I have taught over 28,000 hours, traveled to India several times and continue to enroll in medical and therapeutic workshops.

7. You lead weekly classes at The Restorative Yoga House in Northport, New York but have you given similar classes or workshops elsewhere? If not, do you have any future plans to do so in other parts of the world? 

I do this as a calling, and I love it too. Workshops and events seem to work out the best for me. I have done BCY workshops at YOUCANTHRIVE in NYC, Sisters Network, HBCAC, the Huntington Hospital for survivors and so on. We have some more upcoming breast cancer coalition groups this fall so I will be posting them.

Workshop led by Diana at “A Jewel in The Lotus” earlier this month. The students are captured here in the “Puppet Pose Flow” which is great for core strength.

I do not have plans to travel outside the country.

8. On your website you also have a section about Alkaline Water, Herbal Teas, Aromatherapy, Massage Oil and Recipe Books. How do they tie into your Breast Cancer Yoga program and is it necessary to adopt a holistic lifestyle for post-cancer treatment recovery?

I feel strongly that good health takes a total body and mind approach. We talk about the three necessary pranas in yoga, i.e., air, water and food. Alkaline water provides negative ions that drive out or neutralize free radicals and remove toxins. “A have to have.” Water now days are so polluted and chemicals are added freely frequently. Plus we really need to remove all the chemicals that our bodies have been introduced to via chemo. Herbal teas are soothing and nourishing. Great certified organic foods are a must to help support our body by way of good nourishment, strong immune function and increased energy. We are working on a healthy, exciting and tasty cookbook.

The worse thing about going through treatments is how it make you feel, so getting physically right is paramount. As for aromatherapy for recovery; nothings seems nicer than the smell of lavender or peppermint. It shifts your state of mind, repairs an upset tummy and reduces stress.

We are not just our mind, or just our body; we are a grand total of all things divine. We need to make sure that we take the best possible care during recovery and there after so that we can shine for ourself and for others.

Thank you for letting me share my experience, strength and hope.

For more information, videos on poses to try and workshops, check out the Breast Cancer Yoga website or Facebook pageAll photographs in this post are courtesy of Breast Cancer Yoga.

My Wife’s Battle with Breast Cancer

“In September of 2007, I married the girl of my dreams. Five months later, Jennifer was diagnosed with Stage 3B Breast Cancer.” starts the story of an American couple’s battle against breast cancer and how it changed both their lives forever. Following plenty of ups and downs in her cancer treatment, Jennifer unfortunately passed away but the photographs taken by her husband Angelo stand as a honest testament of what this part of their life was like and the beauty she has left behind to inspire others.

This sharp and evoking photo-documentary project, entitled My Wife’s Battle with Breast Cancer: The Battle We Didn’t Chose, is intended to show the daily life of a cancer patient and, in Angelo’s words, to “humanize the face of cancer, on the face of my wife.. They show the challenge, difficulty, fear, sadness, loneliness and also love that we faced, that Jennifer faced, as she battled this disease. These photographs do not define us, but they are us.”

After seeing the photographs (they stir up emotions each time we look at them) and reading the moving story behind them, we wanted to share it with others in this part of the world in the hopes of spreading Jennifer and Angelo’s message.

A passerby stares as Jen hails a cab.

Below is an interview we recently conducted with Angelo himself about the couple’s unbreakable bond, the battle, the photographs and what’s next for this project:

1. What was your first reaction upon hearing your wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and how did you deal with it?

When we found out that Jennifer had breast cancer, I remember immediately going numb as the world, except for Jen, blurred out of focus. Jen and I were close from the beginning of our relationship and we had a wordless bond that would never be and could never be broken. I remember looking into each other’s eyes and knowing that as long as we had each other, we would deal with everything that came our way.

From the beginning of our battle with cancer, Jen and I communicated with each other. We listened and knew that we were still in love, still a married couple, still best friends. There were times when our relationship was heavier on my shoulders and other times when Jen carried the load. On our wedding day we said “forever, in good times and bad, in sickness and health,” – both Jennifer and I took that seriously and we lived for every second with each other.

2. What was your main role, as her husband, during her treatment and what advice can you share with other men whose partners are going (or about to go) through the same thing? 

A home nurse cleans and inspects Jen’s PICC line, a catheter that is inserted into her vein and runs to a large vein near the heart for intravenous access of in Jen’s case, chemotherarpy and pain medications.

My main role was whatever Jen needed. If Jen needed to laugh, I was a comedian. If Jen needed quiet, I didn’t talk. If Jen needed love, my arms were open. I don’t think there is any set way to be or road to follow but what helped me was listening to Jen and trying to stay a step ahead of her.

Flowers, doing the dishes or laundry, making the bed… all of these little things made life easier and more enjoyable for Jen. Jen made things easy because she was so positive and graceful but I still had to pay attention and at times read her mind.

It is also important for partners to take care of themselves both physically and emotionally. Find something that distracts you, something to channel your emotions into. For me it was my camera. Exercise, friendships, art – find something to rejuvenate your spirit.

3. What inspired you to start documenting your daily life with cancer through photography? Was it a conscious choice?

Jen and I lived in Manhattan but most of our family members and friends lived in Ohio. After Jen’s re-diagnosis, we found that they didn’t understand how serious things were and how much we needed from them. We tried talking and sending emails but it seemed like people were still not getting it. Then we realized that unless they saw our day-to-day, they wouldn’t be able to understand. Without walking in our shoes, how could they really understand?

That’s when I started to make photographs. The photographs were initially intended just for family and friends so that they would become more involved – we needed them to be with us. When I started posting the photos online, people reacted and Jen and I realized that this was a way that we could make a positive impact during such a trying time.

4. Did Jennifer feel uncomfortable at all with being photographed in this sensitive state? 

From the beginning of our fight against cancer, Jennifer was open and shared her experiences. Jen wanted people to know what she was learning and she was very aware of how, by sharing their experiences, others before her had helped her get through each day.

A nurse pushes chemotherapy treatment, so toxic that the nurse must wear protective clothing, into Jen’s medi-port.

When I started to make these photographs, I told Jen that whenever she didn’t want the camera around all she had to do was say stop. I told her that if she wanted all of the photos to go away I would break the hard drives with no questions asked.

There was only one time when Jen asked me to put the camera away. and in a typical Jennifer style, she said, “One more photo, then stop.” When she said this I was so happy because I knew how much she trusted me.

Jen rests with our cat Brea while I prepare her daily pill regimen.

5. Is there a particular reason you chose black and white photography to share her story?

I’ve always loved black and white photography, and felt that by “removing” the color I could really focus on what was in the image.

6. Which of the photographs from the series was her favorite? Which was yours? 

All of these photos are so close to my heart, I don’t know that I can choose one image as my favorite. The best I can say is the photos of Jen and I together are my favorites because it was Jen and me.

I think Jen would say the same.

7. What have you been able to achieve so far by showing the photographs? How have people, and especially cancer patients, reacted to them?

Late for a brain radiation apointment, nauseated and tired, the smells from our neighbrohood were nearly too much for Jen.

The reactions to these photos has been quite humbling. I have received more than a dozen emails from women who scheduled mammograms because of Jen. I cannot put into words how this makes me feel. Some days it is all that I can hang onto to keep moving forward.

When I started to share these photos, I was concerned that I would scare people, especially people who were recently diagnosed or in the midst of their fight. Thankfully, people with cancer have been inspired to keep fighting and Jen has become a hero and inspiration to many people.

8. What are your future plans with this project? Are there any breast cancer groups you’re currently (or planning on) collaborating with?

Right now, I am about 75% finished with editing these photos and will be publishing a book about our story.

I am also starting a non-profit organization in Jen’s name that will assist people with cancer as they deal with the daily financial struggles that come as a result of cancer treatments.

Waiting to speak with a radiologist about treatment of the cancer in her bone and on her liver, Jen is anxious and irritated.

This July-September, my photos will be exhibited at The Gathering Place in Cleveland, OH. The Gathering Place is a non-profit with a mission “to support, educate and empower individuals and families touched by cancer through programs and services provided free of charge.”

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Cancer is not a battle that should be fought alone. Support from family and friends is so important. Don’t stay away from someone who is fighting cancer because you don’t know what to say or do: you do not have to “say the right thing,” or know all the answers.

Just be there.

Send a card and say “I love you.” Send a text message with a smile, bring dinner, what ever.. Just don’t run away.

Celebrating our 4 year anniversary at a retaurant in Greenwhich Village, Jen stares off in the distance.

Jen always said to “Love every morsel of your loved ones” and she was right. No one knows what tomorrow will bring. You don’t have to be happy every second, just don’t take any seconds for granted.

Check out the “My Wife’s Battle with Breast Cancer: The Battle We Didn’t Choose” website and facebook page for more information. All the photographs in this post were shared with us by and are copyright of Angelo Merendino.

Image Source: Real Age

Q & A #3: Time to Get Moving!

Nutritionist Diane Nicolas is back again to share her valuable insight for breast cancer patients. We all know the general benefits exercise (although sometimes we get a bit lazy and don’t do enough of it), we wanted to find just how important it was and, who knows, her answers might give you that added boost to get moving.

Our Question: How important is exercise for these women and are there any preferred forms suggested for them?

Expert’s Answer: Evidence is quickly growing about the role of physical activity (in the form of exercise) for reducing the breast cancer risk. The amount of exercise is just as important a factor in this and 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week of jogging can actually reduce a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer by 18%.

Image Source: Real Age

Image Source: Real Age

Some helpful tips to reduce sitting time:

  • Limit time spent watching TV and using other forms of screen-based entertainment.
  • Use a stationary bicycle or treadmill when you do watch TV.
  • Use stairs rather than an elevator.
  • If you can, walk or bike to your destination.
  • Take an exercise break at work to stretch or take a quick walk.
  • Walk to visit coworkers instead of phoning or sending an e-mail.
  • Go dancing with your spouse or friends.
  • Plan active vacations rather than only driving trips.
  • Join a sports team.

To get in touch with Diane Nicolas for an appointment or other questions, feel free to email her on: diane.nicolas@live.com

Q & A #2: 16 Food Items and their Link

Following our recent Q&A with nutritionist Diane Nicolas (read our previous Q&A with her here), we had another important question – or shall we say several mini-questions – to ask her.

We’ve all heard the rumors that soy sauce may be linked to cancer.. Are they true? Find out more below. Image Source: People’s Pharmacy

Question: Some studies (not fully proven) have stated that certain foods play a role in raising the risk of developing cancer. Please let us know if the below food items are in fact linked or not: 

(Yes = Linked, No = Not Linked)

Diane’s Answers: 

1. Sugar: No, but gaining weight is linked to breast cancer.

2. Red Meat/Processed Meat (such as hot dogs and bacon): Yes, it contains food    additives harmful to the body.

3. Vitamin D: No

4. Acidic Foods: No

5. Soy Sauce: In moderation, no.

6. Drinking from Plastic Bottles: If it’s a single use then no but if it’s repetitive then yes. We should not use the same bottle more than once.

7. Soda: If its only 1 can per day, then no.

8. Caffeine – Coffee, Tea and Chocolate: No, but of course we should eat chocolate in moderation because gaining weight can cause breast cancer.

9. Milk and Dairy Products: No, they are good. Even breast-feeding can decrease the risk of certain cancers for the baby when it grows up.

10. Alcohol (except Red Wine): In moderation it doesn’t cause breast cancer. Even red wine if you exceed in drinking it can be harmful. In general red wine is better than any other alcohol because it contains resveratrol which is an antioxidant that fights free radicals in our body . However, some studies (not fully proven) claim that red wine has no advantage on other alcohols.

11. Hydrogenated Oils/ Trans-Fat (in French fries for example): Yes, of course. If once a week it wouldn’t be harmful eating a very small amount of French fries (like 10 pieces), but it shouldn’t be consumed daily. Same thing goes on everything fried.

12. Doughnuts & Cookies: Yes, if abused due to the hydrogenated fat in them.

13. Avocados & Grapefruits: No, in fact they have a beneficial effect.

14. Salt: We must limit our consumption of salt for other reasons, such as hypertension, and sometimes during the breast cancer treatment it should be even less consumed, or stopped depending on the dose of the cortisone that the patient is taking during his/her treatment.

15. Salad Dressings: No, but we should always be careful about gaining weight and we should check for the source of the oil in it.

16. Skin from Poultry and Fish: As the skin from poultry contains fat, then yes, it is better to avoid it. But on the other hand, fish skin is very important because it contains Omega 3 which is very healthy so of course it is completely fine to eat it.

The consumption of over-fried (burnt) foods or any other foods that contain harmful additives should really be avoided.

They might look tasty, but you’ll regret it later on. Avoid fried foods! Image Source: cdtbk

On the other hand, the following are some healthy foods that may play a role in helping you reduce your risk of breast cancer:

  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli and Cruciferous Vegetables
  • Cranberries
  • Flaxseed
  • Squash
  • Beans
  • Berries
  • Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
  • Garlic
  • Grapes and Grape Juice
  • Green Tea
  • Soy beans
  • Soy milk
  • Tomatoes
  • Whole Grains

Image Source: My Recipes

The Mediterranean diet contains all the foods mentioned above, so for example fattoush, makhlouta, spinach and rice, and stuffed vine leaves are all great recipes for your health.

To get in touch with Diane Nicolas for an appointment or other questions, feel free to email her on:  diane.nicolas@live.com