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Livelihood vs. Life: The Occupational Well-Being of Women Musician Survivors of Breast Cancer

Sarah Schmalenberger, Charles E. Gessert, Jean E. Giebenhain, Lisa D. Starr
From: Medical Problems of Performing Artists: Volume 27 Number 1: Page 15 (March 2012)

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Abstract: The Life and Livelihood Study was designed to describe and understand the experience of women musicians treated for breast cancer. This report focuses on Phase I of the study, a web-based survey that examined subjects' physical symptoms and side effects following breast cancer treatment. Subjects were recruited nationally, using advertisements in musicians' publications and presentations at national meetings. Subjects were asked about specific side effects or symptoms they had experienced, their severity and duration, and the effects of symptoms on their capacity to make music. Subjects were also asked what aspect of their breast cancer treatment they associated with each symptom and were invited to provide comments. A total of 321 individuals logged on: 100 met all inclusion criteria. Of these, 90 completed the entire survey. Commonly reported symptoms included fatigue (70%), problems with cognition (53%), limitations in upper body movement (51%), and pain (45%). Many reported that their symptoms were of moderate or greater intensity, and that they persisted for >12 months or were ongoing. The survey documented that many subjects experienced diminished capacity to function as musicians, especially due to pain, limitations in upper body and extremity movement, numbness in the chest and/or arms, contracture/fibrosis, and shortness of breath. These findings are consistent with emerging studies that describe long-term effects of breast cancer treatments. In planning for breast cancer treatment, rehabilitation and survivorship, consideration should be given to how treatment is likely to affect fitness for ongoing professional work.

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