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Chemo Muscles by Renee A. Exelbert - Book Blitz + Giveaway

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By Renee A. Exelbert, PhD


In Chemo Muscles: Lessons Learned from Being a Psycho-Oncologist and Cancer Patient, Exelbert reflects on her experience of confronting her cancer diagnosis, as the doctor becomes the patient.

Exelbert was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 after working as a
psychologist in a pediatric cancer center in Long Island, NY. A wife and
mother of two young children, she struggled with vulnerability and
identity. As a medical professional, she had both challenging and
elevating experiences with healthcare professionals. And ultimately, she
became a certified personal trainer and bodybuilding figure competitor
to regain a sense of control over her body.

With unflinching candor and detail, Exelbert shares her story by
pairing it with psychological theory, well-researched coping techniques
for patients and families, and guidance to aid healthcare professionals
in treating people with greater dignity, understanding, and respect.

“By sharing the inner-most thoughts and emotions she experienced 
throughout her breast cancer journey, Dr. Exelbert provides validation 
that “life-altering” doesn’t necessarily condemn a cancer patient to a 
life that is “less than” it once was. Her dual perspectives as both a 
patient and a psychologist provide a unique opportunity to merge the raw
emotional impact of the diagnosis with clinical training, thereby 
allowing her to process and understand the experience in a way that is 
both reassuring and empowering.”

— Jane E. Austin, Ph.D., Professor, William Paterson University

“This is less a book about cancer and the healing effects of 
exercise and diet as much as it is about the power of resilience; about 
confronting the unimaginable and what it takes to come out the other 
side. By allowing the reader into her personal journey, Dr. Exelbert 
invites us to explore the human dimensions of illness, seamlessly 
weaving between best psychological practices and the simple needs that 
we all have as members of the human family. For those of us working in 
the cancer community – or in any other community for that matter – this 
book is a must-read. It summons us to remember our humanity – to not 
hide behind cold clinical jargon and artificial barriers – and reminds 
us of the power we each possess to not only ease our own fears and pain,
but those of our fellow travelers.”

— Arnie Preminger, CEO/Founder, Sunrise Association International
summer and year-round programs for children with cancer and their

“In this important and inspiring book, Dr. Exelbert shares her 
personal and emotional journey through cancer, with the vulnerability of
a patient, the expertise of a psycho-oncologist, and with a generosity 
of heart that makes this book an essential guide for cancer patients, 
their families and clinicians alike. Lessons gleaned from personal 
suffering and transformation, combined with valuable knowledge from 
psychological and medical research, nutrition, and exercise, will 
undoubtedly leave the reader not only better informed, but empowered 
with hope and courage amidst the struggle with serious illness.”

— Anthony P. Bossis, Ph.D., Psycho-oncologist, New York University School of Medicine

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One Breast or Two?

I still had not decided if I was going to have the requisite single

mastectomy, or a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. There were some

studies that showed a miniscule chance of breast cancer spreading to

the other breast. My plastic surgeon had discussed that there would

also be a lack of symmetry between my breasts had I elected to have

the single mastectomy. He commented that they would be “sisters”

rather than “twins.” Two days prior to having surgery, I was sent for

a final scan of my breasts. My right breast was the one that had the

malignancies, however, there was some concern that the cancer might

be present in the left breast. The amount of terror I experienced about

the possibility of having more cancer was beyond measure. It turned

out to be nothing, merely dense breasts. However, my doctor notified

me that from this point forward, I would be checked much more

frequently in the existing breast. The prospect of experiencing more

scares due to dense or cystic breasts was something I could not handle.

I decided then and there that I would opt for the prophylactic bilateral

mastectomy. It was not an easy choice, as I could have kept one breast

and therefore preserved some sense of my existing identity, femininity,

and beauty. I had several people close to me as well as Dr. A, my old

boss from the pediatric cancer center, try to convince me that having the

bilateral mastectomy was a drastic and unnecessary measure. On

the other hand, I had been so freaked out by cancer and the possibility

of future trauma, that I felt it best to minimize any and all risks. When

I arrived for surgery, my surgeon, Dr. M, still had not been notified of

my final decision. She asked me in a perfunctory tone, “One breast or

two?” as this was her common vernacular, and illustrative of surgery

that she routinely performed. I couldn’t help but be struck by the metaphor

to coffee—would I like one lump of sugar or two? Additionally,

Dr. K and Dr. M had asked me if they would be removing a mole that

I had between my breasts, as surgery was the perfect time to get rid

of it. It was not attractive, but it had become a part of me. I told them

that I did not want to lose any more of me than I needed to, and that I

wanted to keep my mole. They both joked with me about how hideous

my mole was going to look with my brand-new boobs. They made me

laugh and brought levity to an agonizing experience. Nonetheless, I

am so glad that I kept my mole. We have been through a lot together.

I spent a few final minutes alone with Billy, who gently touched and

kissed my boobs. He then said “goodbye guys.” We cried and held each

other. His unconditional love and acceptance let me know that no

matter how this surgery altered my body, he would always love me and

find me beautiful. And with that, I was wheeled into surgery.

As the anesthesia was administered and I was lying down, terrified

for how this next chapter of my life was about to unfold, Dr. M held

my hand and supported me. It was such a small gesture, but meant the

world to me.

Renee A. Exelbert, Ph.D., CFT, is both a licensed psychologist and
certified personal trainer. She is the Founding Director of The
Metamorphosis Center for Psychological and Physical Change, where she
integrates psychotherapy and exercise with a focus on the mind/body
connection. She maintains a private practice in New York City, Manhasset
and Nyack, New York for the treatment of children, adolescents, adults
and families. Dr. Exelbert is also an Adjunct Professor in the
Department of Applied Psychology at the New York University Steinhardt
School of Culture, Education and Human Development where she teaches
Masters-level psychology courses. She previously served as Staff
Psychologist at the Winthrop University Hospital Cancer Center for Kids,
working with children and adolescents diagnosed with cancer.



Renee A. Exelbert is giving away an autographed copy of CHEMO MUSCLES!

Terms & Conditions:
  • By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
  • One winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter to receive one autographed paperback
  • This giveaway ends midnight February 28.
  • Winner will be contacted via email on March 1.
  • Winner has 48 hours to reply.
Good luck everyone!


a Rafflecopter giveaway


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