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The Lyre, Fall 2010 / Prescribing Knowledge: Breast Health and Awareness

by Jane Longo Hanscom, M.D.
(Delta Theta, University of Maine)

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. There were 192,000 new cases in 2009, and 40,170 deaths from breast cancer occurred that same year. Breast cancer can be diagnosed in women in their 20s through their elderly years. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women between the ages of 40 and 49. Caucasian women have a greater risk of developing breast cancer than African American women, but breast cancer in African American women tends to be more aggressive.  Asian, Hispanic and Native–American women have a lower risk for breast cancer. Approximately 80% to 85% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have none of the known risk factors and are asymptomatic.

Controversial Guidelines

The United States Preventive Services Task Force made public guidelines for screening mammograms. These guidelines were “AGAINST” routine screening mammography for women under the age of 50. This is definitely controversial and has been roundly criticized by the medical community. Since this publication was made public, the radiology groups I work closely with have seen a decline in the number of women getting screening mammography. In my opinion, I think this is a disservice to women. Almost half of the newly diagnosed breast cancers I see in my practice are under the age of 50.

The “harms” that the task force noted from increased screening was for example: Fear, Anxiety and Unnecessary Biopsies and/or Surgery. Given the choice between anxiety associated with routine screening and the risk associated with finding a more advanced breast cancer at a later date, I think we would always choose early screening and hopefully early detection. The impact of early diagnosis allows women many choices of treatment and more likely a better long term survival. As a breast cancer surgeon and a survivor myself, I understand the anxiety associated with being called back for additional screening or biopsy after an initial mammogram. I know how it feels to sit in a physician’s office waiting to hear whether or not you have breast cancer.

Helping Yourself With Breast Health

The symptoms I feel you should be aware of are, of course, a lump you can feel. Also, you must look for any changes in the appearance of your breast, such as a dimpling of the skin, a nipple that becomes inverted when it had not been this way before, or any discharge from the nipple that is new and certainly if it is bloody. Do not forget to examine under you arm for any lumps. This is a part of the self-exam that many women forget about.

Although there have been suggestions that breast self-examination is not helpful, I still advise all my patients to learn to do this. An individual should start when they are a teenager and get comfortable doing this. The shower is a great place to perform this self exam. You will become familiar with the “lumpy” feel of your breast. If you feel something out of the ordinary and it does not go away after one cycle, then please go to your doctor and get it checked. The best time to do a breast self-exam is the week after your period; the worst time is the week before your period. If you no longer have a cycle, then just pick a certain day of the month and do it each month on that day. The next important part of your breast health is getting your screening mammogram beginning at age 40 and then each year after that. There are reasons to begin screening earlier then forty, but that is up to you and your physician. Some reasons for younger screening would be a strong family history of breast cancer in first degree relatives (i.e. mother, grandmother, sister, etc.), a personal history of breast cancer, or a carrier of the breast cancer gene in a first degree relative. Remember, you cannot treat breast cancer until you find it. If breast cancer is found earlier rather than later, smaller rather than bigger, then there is a much better chance for breast conserving surgery and less radical treatment.

Screening Options

Mammograms are not perfect, but at this time, they are the best diagnostic tool we have. An ultrasound is very good also, but does not take the place of mammography. Rather, it works with mammography. Ultrasounds can differentiate between a cyst (fluid filled) mass or a solid mass; however, an ultrasound is not helpful for calcification in the breast—possible first signs of early breast cancer. An MRI of the breast is also available, but not as a routine screening tool.

Mammography, ultrasound, MRI and clinical breast exam. Each of these modalities has benefits, but each one of these cannot and should not be used by itself. It is a combination of all of these that provide the greatest opportunity for early detection of breast cancer. For example, there are changes on a mammogram that can be a sign of very early breast cancer (known as micro calcifications), but definitely cannot be seen on an ultrasound. So again, each different study is good, but each one has limitations by itself.

Genetic Traits

There are two genes that can currently be tested for breast cancer: BRCA1 and BRCA2. The carriers of either of these genes do have a significantly higher risk of breast and/or ovarian cancer, but you must understand the frequency of these genetic mutations accounts for less than 10% of breast cancer. The guidelines for the genetic test (a blood test for the patient) are several and include a diagnosis of pre-menopausal breast cancer and/or ovarian cancer in multiple first degree family members or if the patient is of an Ashkenazi Jewish background. This test is very expensive and may or may not be covered by your insurance. If you are a genetic carrier, the breast surveillance begins at a much younger age and can include breast MRI in addition to mammography.

Treatments Available

The earlier we discover a breast cancer, the more likely that the primary surgical treatment can be a breast conserving surgery. A more advanced breast cancer might not be amendable to this more conservative surgical approach and might necessitate a mastectomy.. It should be noted that at least 75 percent of breast cancer cases occur in women who are not considered high risk, and nearly 25 percent of breast cancer cases occur in women in their 40s.

If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, in most cases there will be options for treatment depending on the stage of the breast cancer. These options range from the following:

A. Lumpectomy
B. Lumpectomy with radiation
C. Lumpectomy with chemotherapy and radiation
D. Hormonal therapy (anti–estrogen/progesterone)
E. Mastectomy with or without chemotherapy and hormonal therapy
F. Double Mastectomy

Any patient when considering a mastectomy, or someone in which this is the only choice, should be seen by a plastic surgeon and given the option of reconstruction. For example, any of my patients who do have a mastectomy have the process of reconstruction started at the time of the initial surgery. There are several different options for reconstruction that a plastic surgeon can offer.

This Is Your Health

Be vigilant. Do your breast self-exam. Report anything you are concerned about to your doctor. Start screening at age 40. Early detection of breast cancer is key to a more conservative treatment and a significantly better opportunity for a long cancer-free life. A little anxiety when you have your imaging studies is much better than not detecting a problem. Although this can be very overwhelming, do not be frightened—you have a sisterhood surrounding you.

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The Lyre, Fall 2010 / Saving the Vulnerable

real strong womenSharing the Connection Between Animal Care and Domestic Violence

A self-proclaimed “animal person,” Dr. Maya Gupta, an initiate of the Theta Psi chapter at Columbia University, grew up in rural Indiana caring for pets and riding horses. Maya embraced change as she moved to New York City to pursue a degree in psychology and French. Subways, skyscrapers, crowd after crowd, the urban campus atmosphere was very isolating, but her Alpha Chi Omega family kept her going. Learning of and being involved with Alpha Chi Omega’s philanthropic efforts, Maya became very interested in domestic violence awareness. However, her love for animals was her focus, even fostering animals when living off-campus. She never imagined where a simple coincidence would take her and the good that she would create.

A Chance Coincidence

One day on the subway, Maya’s attention landed on a domestic violence hotline poster. Among the list of warning signs was the question: “Has your partner ever threatened your pets?” Before that moment, the connection between domestic violence and pets had never occurred to her. Pursuing her Master’s and Ph.D. in clinical psychology in the area of domestic violence, Maya chose the animal care and domestic violence connection as her topic of study. Throughout the degree programs, Maya found information and gained insight into a side of domestic violence that many do not think about or understand. She was able to speak with domestic violence survivors and learn that the majority admittedly stayed longer in the violent relationship fearing for their pet’s safety. There was no doubt in her mind, Maya wanted to help these victims, both two-legged and four.

Saving Those Who Couldn’t Save Themselves

Today, Maya serves as the executive director of Ahimsa House, Inc.—a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose name means “nonviolence” and is dedicated to helping the human and animal victims of domestic violence across Georgia reach safety together. The organization was created to fill a gap that was just not there. The organization offers general public outreach and education, alongside its main purposes—Ahimsa House offers an initial 60 days of assistance in fostering and kenneling a victim’s pet(s), assists in orders of protection for victims, provides police escorts to retrieve pets from the home, provides a 24-hour crisis line, and aids the victim in finding pet-friendly housing by negotiating pet-fees and policies with rental properties and management. No pet, no matter the kind, is ever turned way. In 2009, 89 percent of pets were reunited with their safe, loving families.

Maya has worked to grow the organization’s purpose, and now, veterinary care and legal support are major aspects of the organization. Besides the care of abused animals, there is a large focus on veterinary forensics. Even if an animal has passed away, the organization’s partners are able to declare whether it is in fact abuse. This has been extremely helpful in court proceedings, both as an example of prior violent histories and to charge domestic violence offenders with animal abuse—a charge that can lengthen a prison sentence or create one if a charge of domestic violence is not accepted. Maya also works with animal law attorneys to prevent the abuser from using the law to their benefit and to
establish ownership for the victim.

Awareness, Outreach and Hope

Maya is completely hands-on with her work, answering calls on the 24-hour crisis line, transporting animals, training other agencies and domestic violence shelters, speaking with field workers, and more. “Even if I wanted to sit behind a desk all day, I couldn’t,” states Maya. She understands that if agencies—those aiding victims, those aiding children, those aiding pets, and more—work together, awareness will spread much faster and domestic violence cases may be noticed much sooner. Because
of this, Maya educates professionals in the fields of domestic violence and social care on the connection between animal care and domestic violence.

Alongside her work with Ahimsa House, Maya is a member of the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence Board of Directors, is working to raise national awareness of the animal care and domestic violence connection through the National Links Coalition, and is the Chair of the Section on Animal-Human Interaction for the American Psychological Association.

Maya still has her eyes on the future and the growth of Ahimsa House. With over 16,000 nights of safety provided since 2004, the organization continues to offer safe haven for the pets of domestic violence victims. Sharing the connection between animal care and domestic violence is a major priority for Maya and she hopes to continue the efforts, both amongst professionals and the court systems. And when she gets tired, all she has to do is think of every time a pet is reunited with its family—a happiness she can’t even describe.

To learn more about Maya or Ahimsa House, visit ahimsahouse.org.

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Healing in Relationship

pennyhauserby Penny Mary McClellan Hauser, MSN
(Alpha Psi, UCLA)

Let me tell you a “sister” story.  About a year ago a long distant friend asked me (through another friend)  if I had an address for a sister from Alpha Psi, UCLA. I had lost track of this sister about 20 years after college but the inquiry got me thinking of those years and the bond we felt, the laughter and the tears we shared. We were so innocent about how our lives would unfold. Through the internet we were able to reconnect and even managed a visit together when I visited California last summer. Again such laughter and tears. And then she and her husband recently visited me and my husband here in Vermont. The bond of sisterhood was incredibly strong. I had promised myself I would be authentic and real in telling her the story of my intervening years. And wouldn’t you know she has had some of the same challenges.

I tell this story because it underscores the reason I would like to connect with you. I believe that we grow and heal as real, strong women through mutually empowering relationships. And I believe one place we formed such relationships was during those years as we grew and were shaped by the ideals of Alpha Chi Omega. I have been a psychiatric/mental health nurse (BSN-UCLA/ MSN-Medical College of GA) for 30 years primarily working with women and women in recovery from addictions. Through my work, my reading, my education and through my own story, I am convinced that we as women all have challenges and even shadowed areas as part of our ordinary lives. Women who have the courage to explore the challenges of finding our “real” authentic selves and voices are real, strong women. 

I have recently published a book which explores these issues from both a clinical and spiritual perspective, Broken by Addiction, Blessed by God: A Woman’s Path to Sustained Recovery.  Though the book is written for women in recovery, its broader audience is all women who find the courage to explore the changes necessary to lead an authentic life. The book has two major themes:

  1. The issues of recovery (and of general challenge) for women are organized in the acronym of S.T.I.G.M.A. Healing and growth in these areas are different for women than for men.
       
    S: self image
    T: traditional roles
    I: ineffective communication
    G: grief and loss
    M: medical aspects
    A: anger and abuse
      
  2. Long term healing and recovery from these issues are centered in mutually, empowering relationships and in exploration of one’s spiritual core.

In my book and in “conversation” with you I’d like to talk about the challenges and the changes that are part of finding and sustaining the joy of being real. I’d like to share some writings of authors who have amused and challenged me, some food for thought. And I’d love to hear from you about what works and what doesn’t. I truly believe my Alpha Psi sister and I are not the only ones challenged by addiction and certainly not the only ones with shadowed areas that concern us. And one more thing, yes it was years ago that we started this friendship but what that gives us is a sisterhood of writers, lawyers, educators, mothers, doctors, wives with a wealth of life to share in mutally empowering relationship. Please!

You can comment here, or visit my personal blog, Broken by Addiction, Blessed by God.  My book is available on Amazon.com (reviews available there as well), Liguori Publications or through your local bookstore.

Penny Mary Hauser, MSN, has been a psychiatric/mental health nurse for 30 years.  Since 1985, her clinical practice has focused on treating women addicts in public and private institutions and private practice. 

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How to Network in 140 Characters or Less

mandy_sheppard_headshotby Mandy Sheppard
(Tau, Brenau University)

Let’s face it: Social Media is the way we communicate in today’s society.   We use sites such as Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on the latest relationships of our friends, stay on top of who is moving where, and look at pictures from our sisters’ latest beach vacations. We use social media sites for personal reasons, but whether you chose to or not, social media sites are being evaluated for professional networking as well. Sites like Facebook are being evaluated when applying for jobs. Blogs are being monitored to see how well you can write about your passion. There are positives to these sites as far as the social aspect, but there are some negatives that can be combated with a little how-to I will call “How to network in 140 characters or less”.

Build your personal brand: Create a cohesive brand for yourself across multiple social media platforms that suit you best.  Make sure you use a professional color scheme and name.  Avoid adding nicknames to your Facebook or Twitter handle. Keep it simple. Keep it consistent.

Keep it clean: The content you put on your private social media site is now in the public domain. Keep it clean by only uploading or tagging yourself in pictures that showcase you in a positive light. Avoid posting pictures of the latest late-night activities you have been doing, but rather post pictures of the latest volunteer efforts you have completed. Post pictures that depict you as a real, strong woman. 

Connect: Embrace social media by becoming a part of social networks that reflect your passions and career goal. Create a LinkedIn profile that highlights your skill set. Join professional groups online to become connected with up-to-date information about workshops, job opportunities, and networking opportunities.

Spell Check is your Best Friend: Use spell check. Do not let your content transport a message to your viewers of ignorance or inability to pay attention to detail. Use proper grammar and avoid foul language.

Embrace technology: Use the various social media platforms to express your interests. If you love to write, start a blog. Tell people about your passion and get blog viewers excited about your content. If you want to act, start a VLOG. Not only will this put you in front of the camera, but it will allow you to connect with your viewers on a visual level. If you love photography, use sites such as Flickr to showcase your work. Choose a platform where you can grow personally and professionally.

Ultimately you should keep an open mind when networking with social media. Define your use for social media, recognize that it is a public domain, and showcase your best self.

Visit Mandy Sheppard’s Blog, Social Media and Other Ideas Worth Buzzing About.

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Keeping It Real: Appreciating YOUR Body through Yoga

Mrs. Rene M. MacVay_51by René MacVay
(Theta, University of Michigan)

Each day advertisers are trying to get us to purchase a new product to either make our lives easier or enhance our appearance. How often do we hear commercials that ask us, the viewer, to assess our negative self-image and entice us to feel better by purchasing a new product? This can occur multiple times during an hour-long show. We can encounter ideas that foster a negative self-image when we open a magazine or walk through a mall.

How do we stay POSITIVE amid all of the negative advertisements? One way I found to truly appreciate my body and who I am is through the practice of yoga. Like many young women, I battled with my self-image. I was introduced to yoga as a means to recover from an injury. The yoga not only helped with the injury but it also made me appreciate my body and helped me develop the strong self-awareness. Because yoga gave me so much, I became a yoga teacher so I can pass that gift forward to others. 

A good yoga teacher will guide students not only through the poses but teach students in the class to become aware of what their bodies are capable of doing AT THAT MOMENT. Through a yoga practice, students learn to understand their body and work to make it stronger and more flexible. Students are encouraged not to compare themselves to other members of the class. After all, each body is unique and should be appreciated for what it can do. Clinical research has shown that the practice of yoga has medical benefits. A few of those benefits include decreasing risk factors of cardiovascular disease, assisting with control of blood sugar, improving stamina, strengthening the bones and facilitating weight loss/maintenance.

Each of us has a busy schedule. We balance our jobs, families, our home, and try to take time to see our friends. Fitting something else into our day, or week, may seem impossible. Not everyone has time to take a yoga class on a regular basis. A co-worker once asked me what poses would I suggest one do if they did not have time to take a class. That was a challenge since there are so many that I think are beneficial. The four I chose work the body in different ways so you do get a full body workout and many of the benefits that come from a class. (You can go to Yoga Journal’s Website for pictures and videos)

Seated Twist (Marichi’s Pose Variation)

Begin with your right leg bent and your left leg straight. (Always start a twist on the right as it aids with digestion as it follows the ascending colon.) Keep the straight leg active by flexing your foot. Face forward. Inhale and lift your left arm to the sky and press your right hand into the ground behind your back as a “second spine”. Exhale and bring your left arm to the outside of your right leg and bend your elbow. As you follow your deep inhalations and exhalations wring out your belly like a washcloth. Draw the left ribs to the bent leg and the right ribs away from you. Breathe for 3 to 5 breaths. Untwist on an exhalation. Switch Sides and repeat.

Cat and Cow

Begin on your hands and knees. Proper alignment is key. Have the joints in your arms stacked. Place your knees under your hips. Keep your arms shoulder distance apart with your fingers spread out like starfish. Keep your knees hip distance apart. As you inhale begin to round your spine by tucking your tail and chin and drawing your navel to your spine to protect your back. Imagine becoming the image of a “Halloween Cat”. As you exhale lengthen your spine and gaze forward. Imagine holding a piece of paper between your shoulders. Take slow breaths and repeat 3 to 5 times. You can even reverse the breath pattern. This pose allows you to lubricate your spine.

Add balance by bringing your spine to neutral and extending opposite arms. Make sure your are looking down, lengthening from your spine and reaching your hand as if you were to shake hands with someone.

Downward Facing Dog/Dolphin

Begin on all 4’s like your were at the start of cat and cow Inhale into cat and straighten your legs. As you inhale and exhale peddle (lowering a heel and bending opposite knee) your feet to lengthen your Achilles. Do this for 3 to 5 slow breaths. Inhale high on your tip-toes, exhale lower your hells in the direction of the ground. Engage your quads and glutes to have your major muscles do the work and free your wrists. Draw your navel in toward your spine to strengthen your lower back. Draw your shoulder blades together to strengthen your upper back. Gaze at your navel.

Add balance by extending one leg to the ceiling at a time.

If your wrists are sensitive, modify to Dolphin. You place your elbows under your shoulders and clasp your hands in prayer distributing weight along your forearms rather than your wrists.

Warrior II

Start standing. Reach your arms out and step your feet wide so that your ankles are under your wrists. Stay there if you feel stable. Shorten your stance if you do not. Take your right foot and pivot it so your toes aim forward while keeping both heels in alignment. Turn your left foot in slightly so your ankle is at about a 45-degree angle. Stack your spine; imagine a wall is behind you. As you exhale bend your right knee into a lunge. (Make sure your knee is bent over your ankle for safety!) Breathe here for 3 to 5 long breaths. Think lengthening your spins and pressing through your back little toes and your front big toe. On en exhalation straighten the bent knee, pivot your feet in the other direction and do the pose on the second side.

Alpha Chi Omega is about REAL, STRONG WOMEN. We need to find ways to appreciate who we are and not try to make ourselves into something we aren’t. The more we can become aware of our bodies, the more we can appreciate what each of us is capable of doing. Not everyone is built to be a professional athlete or a model. If we work to our potential in all aspects of our lives, then we know we are successful.

René is an advisor at Gamma Nu, an alumnae engagement specialist and a Foundation regional volunteer.  Visit her blog at http://healthybodyhealthylifestyle.blogspot.com/.

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The Weight We’ve Carried

victoriaby Victoria Cardamon Gigoux
Alpha Psi, UCLA

Until recently, I was the last sitting President of Alpha Psi Chapter.  After a 71-year tradition at UCLA, during the beginning of my 2nd term of office, Alpha Psi went away.  I speak from my own perspective but I know I am not alone, this is a burden I have carried in my heart, for over 13years.  

The first time I walked into the Alpha Chi Omega house on Hilgard Avenue, there hung a composite of over 100 beautiful faces.  Many of those women were in the room and it was incredible to think I might get to join such a wonderful group.  I had instantly bonded with many of them.  They were smart, funny, and beautiful – inside and out.  When I was offered my bid, I could hardly sleep that night from sheer excitement.  That Spring, more than half of those women graduated and the following Spring close to half of those left graduated.  What had been more than 100 women were now about 30.  House capacity at the time was about 120 members, and now we were the smallest group on campus.  That same composite of 100+ women stayed in our foyer, so we could appear larger but our fate had been sealed.

For anyone who doesn’t understand how expensive it is to live in Los Angeles, or how hard it is to be a sorority but have no money to do anything but pay the bills and constantly recruit, I can tell you it is miserable!  Even with as much as we enjoyed the company of our sisters, we were no longer having fun.  We were floating bills to buy ourselves time and were no longer doing anything social.  My college boyfriend was a member of the most “popular” fraternity on campus, and while many of my sisters were dates at their events, the fraternity wouldn’t even co-host social events with us because it would have been uncool for their image.  The mid-90s were the time of Affirmative Action laws in California and as a result of an influx of minority groups on campus, groups that were considered “elitist” suffered.  Although we all knew them to be false, unfortunately, Greek Life fit such stereotypes.  Recruitment numbers were atrocious and to be the smallest chapter on campus, we were believed to have something wrong and avoided like the plague.  We also stuck to our guns and recruited to our Membership Standards.  By the Greek community, we were considered “too picky”, as if we had no choice but to take anyone who was left over.  We did often question whether or not these were the “right” decisions but always most important was maintaining the quality of Alpha Chi Omega.  Our very last new member class was 2 women, who we released prior to initiation to give them the opportunity to join another sorority and live their dreams of sisterhood.  This is the reality we lived with those last 18 months.

We took the abuse and listened to a lot of ranting and raving, people putting us down for “how dare you close the chapter” or “why don’t you try harder”.  On many occasions it outright shocked me that anyone who knew us would even think we were giving up.  We were the hardest working sorority on campus and probably one of the hardest working, most proud, want-to-succeed groups of Alpha Psis in the chapter’s history.  But, even as collegians, we knew what we had to do.  If we had any hope of still liking each other in the end, we were going to have to do something drastic.  The craziest thing is that we loved each other too much to let our circumstances come between us.  With the help of advice from several key members of the National Council, from some very supportive alumnae and from a quick tearful call to my own parents, I walked into our chapter room and lead a vote to write a sad chapter in the history books of Alpha Psi.

The composite that hangs in the foyer of the house today still is not that of the final group of ladies, the photos of my sisters and me.  Even through re-colonization, it wasn’t the RIGHT image to put forward.  I have always understood, and respected, the reasoning behind this decision.  But, that small composite and the few women who grace it are still the very reason I hold Alpha Chi Omega so dear.  The 30-something women on my composite are as close as any sisters can be.  We have been through many of the happy and sad times in our lives, together!  From that fateful evening we became a “family”. 

I can’t express how happy I was to be an Alpha Psi the day I heard the news our chapter was being re-colonized.  But, in all honesty, I have never been more honored to be an Alpha Chi Omega, than the evening I sat in our chapter room, with all of my sisters and with tears in our eyes and pain in our hearts, we voted unanimously to close our chapter.  It was at that very moment that I realized we had sealed our bond of sisterhood.  Even before it became our by-line, we were real, strong, women.

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Your Beach Body Isn’t the Only Thing You Should Shape Up this Summer!

melissagarciaby Melissa Garcia
(Gamma Iota, University of Florida)

“Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.”  ~Russell Baker, American journalist and humorist

While many of us may be concerned with losing a few extra pounds around our midsection or toning up our pecks before hitting the shores this season, this might not be the only shaping up that needs to happen.  This summer, treat your resume like you do your bathing suit bod and you will find much more ease with your job search! You may want to evaluate your current situation and determine the best strategy to boost your chances of getting a call back. Depending on where you stand, you may find yourself bulking up, slimming down or simply just toning up your resume a bit over the summer: 

Need to bulk up: Is your resume looking a little bare? Need to beef it up? If you need to add to your resume, you may want to consider doing some volunteer work at local charities, alumni associations, community groups, professional interest groups, etc.

Volunteer work gives you a chance to gain important workplace skills and some extra experience. You can take it a step further by getting involved on the leadership level of an organization! Consider an elected or appointed position, the Board of Directors or possibly acting as a community advocate. Getting involved in higher levels of volunteer-based organizations will not only show you are self-motivated but will also let potential employers get to know a little more about what your passions are. Not to mention that volunteering can also lead to good job references and loads of networking opportunities.

Another way you can bulk up your resume would be taking additional courses and certifications. They may require a bit of a time commitment but you’ll be able to attend them at most local community colleges and educational facilities. Listing additional courses and certifications on your resume show you have some initiative, something all employers are looking for in potential employees.

Slim Down: Feel like you’ve got too much weight carried around on your resume? Is it bogging you down? Slimming down your resume may be just the trick, but it can be hard to do. We’ve all felt the need to include as much as possible on our resume, but in fact, you may end up jeopardizing your chances by including too much. The most important thing you can do on your resume is to have clearly described your skills and strengths. If you’ve done this and get asked in for an interview, feel free to go in depth at that time. So make sure you trim the fat. Avoid long lists of duties for jobs you’ve held and keep it to the facts that emphasize your accomplishments and successes. The most important thing you can do to keep a lean, mean resume is to keep it straight forward and concise.

As a rule of thumb for your resume, try to remember that less can actually be more!

Side note: If you are a more experienced job seeker and need to trim down your resume, a good way to do this (as well as prevent any possible age discrimination) could be leaving off the year you graduated from college. You may also leave off older work experience as well. 

Just a little tone up: Some of you may only need a few touch-up revisions to your resume. If this is you, congratulations on winning half the battle! As you tone up your resume, you’ll want to make sure to look over your resume for keywords. These keywords will be crucial in grabbing a hiring manager’s and recruiter’s eye. If you want to spark up interest, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got keywords scattered throughout your resume. Take a look at job postings in your field to determine some of the common keywords that you should include in your resume. If you find a job you’d like to apply for and the posting lists certain skills that are required to apply, make sure you include those on your resume, too (as long as they are valid, of course).  You may also want to consider adding a brief “special skills” section in addition to employment history. This can be a collection of the words that best summarize your experience and skills. Lastly, if you’ve trained and worked with certain computer programs (for ex. Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Excel), particularly if it’s unique and/or relevant to your profession, make sure you detail them as well. 

Follow these tips and you’ll find yourself ready to beat the summer heat and feel your best throughout your entire job seeking process!

Sources:

Want to land an interview? Bulk up your resume with keywords! – ExecuSearch group
How to bulk up your resume – ehow
Opportunities to add keywords to your resume – Quintessential Resume Resumes and Cover Letters Tips

About Melissa: Melissa Garcia is a 2005 initiate of  the Gamma Iota Chapter at the University of Florida. She is currently employed as a Marketing Coordinator at StormStaff, a professional services company that specializes in providing Administrative, Clerical, Legal and Financial professionals to various organizations. She is a frequent writer for the The StormStaff Career Tips and Tricks blog which covers a vast array of career-related subjects for every level of the job search, ranging from cover letter and resume advice, social networking tips, personal branding strategies and more.

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Alpha Chi Omega Convention 2010, In My Words

betaetareunionnightby Britain Dwyre
(Beta Eta, Florida State University)

According to Webster’s dictionary a Convention is a large meeting or conference, esp. of members of particular profession. While this definition works, I argue that Alpha Chi Omega Convention is SO much more. Convention to me is five days to reconnect with sisters and friends and a time to make new connections! It is a time to celebrate, to learn, and to shop. Convention is a time to stay up late and wake up early, and to do as much in between the prior as possible. Convention is the most fun you will have with 800+ of your sisters, that only happens every two years.

In the weeks leading up to convention many emails, tweets, and Facebook messages are sent coordinating meetings, presentations and reunions. Packings lists are made, analyzed and amended. Blog posts are done sharing past conventions, offering wardrobe advice and showing support for the Star Booth. Pre-Convention shopping takes place for: reunion night dinner decorations, Stars honoring those Alpha Chis who have impacted us, last minutes wardrobe “essentials” for convention, etc. After all of this is complete I had a suitcase weighing 49.5 pounds (*sigh* I am under the Delta imposed limit). I am ready for convention. 

I was able to travel to convention with a fellow alumna, Amy Zoldak (Zeta Upsilon).  We have made it our convention “tradition” to arrive a day early, allowing us to check in at registration, unpack, enjoy the area and potentially dine with sister-friends before the whirl-wind of convention begins. This year was no different.  We arrived in DC and found our way to the convention shuttle to be greeted by Alpha Chis from across the nation. Our “shuttle group” traveled to the Marriott, and the Alpha Chi Omega Convention fun began.

Over the next five days, I was able to experience my fourth Alpha Chi Omega Convention. I attended the luncheons and dinners celebrating Alpha Chi Omega’s organizational, chapter and individual-accomplishments. I attended chapter meetings where delegates were able to vote on legislation that would affect the future of the organization. I attended and facilitated workshops for Alpha Chi Omega collegiate and alumnae members-where members where able engage in conversations and gain knowledge in a vast array of topics benefiting both the individual and/or their collegiate/alumnae chapter. I attended an alumnae chapter installation, tweet-ups, regional meetings and impromptu meetings with sisters and vendors I have worked with over the years and sisters I will be working with in the future.  

In the end, Convention 2010, like the conventions I attended prior, was an amazing experience. And as I left DC and returned to Tallahassee, Florida, I reflected back on the prior 5 days.  Upon doing so is easy for me to Declare that I look forward to doing it all again in St Louis for the 2012 convention! And I hope to see each and everyone of you there.

Britain is the recipient of the 2009 Young Alumna Award, in addition to holding numerous volunteer positions.

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The Lyre, Summer 2010 / Best Practices of the National Housing Corporation

aggieby Aggie Smith Steiner
(Βeta Eta, Florida State University)

When I was growing up, my favorite colors were yellow and green. Pollyanna was my favorite movie and a yellow daisy my favorite flower.

Pollyanna was the story of a young woman who lived her life by seeing the best in others, and expecting the same of herself. Every Sunday, she and her cousins were made to dress-up and sit for hours on uncomfortable wooden  pews in a stifling hot church where a minister preached fire and brimstone. When told that there was no way she could find good in that, she quickly responded, “Sunday only comes once a week.”

I joined Alpha Chi Omega as a shy, naïve 18-year-old. My sisters always expected the best from me. They saw something in me of which I was unaware–a potential for leadership–and gave me opportunities to succeed. Fast forward 40 plus years and I am serving as the National Housing Corporation President. When I was asked to write the “Corner Office,” I began by thinking about what makes our NHC the best. Quite simply, it’s our philosophy.

We believe that a premier living environment adds value to the overall Alpha Chi Omega experience. And, we believe this provides a competitive Panhellenic advantage. We are in the business of providing our sisters a home away from home.

In mid-March, Alpha Chi Omega leaders met in Indianapolis to determine future directions. We reviewed where we are today with read-outs on the Strategic Plan 2005-10 and discussed where we want to be five years out. We discussed best practices and agreed upon a shared vision.

In 2005 the NHC embarked upon a forward-looking plan to work more closely with all Alpha Chi Omega facilities by being the best that we could be.

  • We seriously focused on operating within our means and becoming revenue neutral.
  • We grew total assets by 12% and our general fund to 108%.
  • We refinanced our owned/managed properties to secure more favorable interest rates and pay-back periods.
  • We grew inventory of our owned properties by 20%, leased 60%, custodial 10% and developed new models to support un-housed chapters and locally owned properties.
  • We reduced administrative costs and facilitated cash positive positions for the majority of NHC properties while providing 10-year maintenance and repair plans for 100% of them.
  • We implemented a vibrant housing volunteer structure and supported the creation of a Housing Advisor position to better focus the Chapter Advisor on programming and member issues.
  • We further defined our grant policies and provided $30,000 for health and safety related projects such as sprinkler and fire door installations, replacement windows and bathroom remodels.

For me, I think that is a very good list of results for our best practices work!

Over time, my favorites have changed. I learned that I should never wear yellow and most greens aren’t that good either. My current favorite color is red and movie is The Blind Side, a movie about seeing the best in others and providing opportunities to achieve. I guess I haven’t really strayed that far from my youth. Oh, and my favorite flower—a red carnation.

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The Lyre, Summer 2010 / Finding Financial Freedom

Finding Financial Freedomby Lisa Young Stiers
(Epsilon Omicron, Indiana State University)

Graduating from DePauw University last spring, Caitlin Cavanaugh thought she was prepared for life in the “real world.” After all, she had been successfully managing her own spending money for years. But the financial world still held a few surprises — particularly the cost of establishing an apartment.

 “You don’t think about how much a new ice cream scoop is going to cost or how much toilet bowl cleaner is going to cost,” Cavanaugh remembers. “Budget liberally because everything’s going to cost more than you think it will.”

Financial surprises await most college graduates. According to a recent study by Sallie Mae, 84 percent of undergraduates said they needed more education on financial management topics.

Now a year later, Cavanaugh, an initiate of Alpha chapter, has a year of graduate school under her belt and a firm grasp on fiscal responsibility — even giving up her favorite steaks to live within her budget.

“Know what you can and can’t do, and stay within your boundaries,” recommends Cavanaugh, who plans visits to her parents when she craves red meat. “The more aware you are of how you spend your money, the better shape you’ll be in.”

Still, it can be a stressful adjustment to living on your own limited income.

“You get to the end of the month and have just a little money left, but you still have to pay bills,” says Cavanaugh, a grad student in Industrial and Organizational Psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “It can be difficult.”

To help new Alpha Chi Omega alumnae make a smooth financial transition, we gathered tips from some financial savvy Alpha Chis. Here is their advice.

Don’t Go Crazy

Job equals paycheck equals new things, right? Not so fast!

“Don’t be anxious to get a new car or great apartment,” urges Nancy Cooper Pitt, JD, a certified financial planner and representative of Miller Cunning & Pitt, part of Financial Partners Group. “You’ll have time to grow in to those. It’s important not only to plan for your immediate needs but also have a plan for your future.”

An essential first step is building an emergency fund — money that is readily and easily available. Do everything you can to keep expenses low for the first few months so that you can sock the extra away, says DeLynn Moring Zell, a certified financial planner and Managing Principal at Bridgeworth Financial in Birmingham. This might even mean moving back in with parents, staying in your college apartment with roommates, or living in someone’s basement.

When she graduated from Birmingham-Southern College, Zell moved into the basement of Virginia Bailey, her Alpha Omega chapter advisor. The two exchanged free board for evening babysitting— a barter that benefited them both.

“It was huge for me,” Zell remembers. “I was able to save my first few paychecks. When I moved out, I had money in the bank and was able to pay the first and last deposits on an apartment and get utilities turned on. I had an emergency fund in place, and I was able to move on to the next step.”

Cavanaugh recommends finding a roommate, who can split the cost of utilities, household supplies and furniture.

Don’t go crazy with job expectations, either, Pitt says. Be flexible and realize your first position may not be ideal. View it as continuing education in the workplace.

“This may not be the job you stay with the rest of your life,” she says. “But it is important to use your skills and do something you enjoy.”

Once you find a job, Pitt recommends investing in an appropriate work wardrobe.

“Even if purchased at a thrift store, this can be a wonderful investment,” she explains.

Build a Budget

Despite what many believe, “budget” is not a punishment. Experts urge new graduates to create a budget as a tool, a guide to get you where you want to go.

“Some people look at a budget as a bad word,” says Pitt, an initiate of Alpha Chi chapter at Butler University. “I look at it as a way to structure your income and build a pathway to your future.”

In addition to the necessities — food, clothing, shelter — include savings as a budget line item.

“Pay yourself first,” Zell recommends. “What you accumulate in life is not based on what you make but on what you spend. Living below your means is the key. If you can’t put away 10 to 15 percent of your paycheck every month, then your expenses are out of whack.”

Another budget essential is insurance— from health to automobile to renters insurance. At the urging of her father, Cavanaugh invested in a renters insurance policy.

“I wouldn’t have known about renters insurance if my parents hadn’t told me,” she admits. “If anything should happen, it covers your belongings.”

Once a budget is in place, it’s crucial to stay on top of your spending. Cavanaugh tracks her banking online, so that she can be alerted to any discrepancies quickly. She uses Quicken to keep spending details organized and categorized — and make preparing taxes at the end of the year easier.

Dig out of Debt

In 2009, the average college senior graduated with $4,100 in credit card debt, up from $2,900 five years earlier, reports the Sallie Mae study. Nearly all had charged direct education expenses, including textbooks, supplies and even tuition, to their cards.

If you have credit card debt, take careful inventory of each debt — amount, interest rate, terms — to determine the best strategy to eliminate them.

Zell recommends ordering debts from highest to lowest interest rate. Make at least minimum payments on all outstanding loans, but put all extra money toward the card or debt charging the highest interest rate. Once that is eliminated, take the amount of the monthly payment and roll it into paying off the loan with the next highest interest rate. Resist the urge to add new debt — such as mortgage payments — until your clear out past debts.

“People have been sucked into thinking they should forget about these other things so they can get the down payment for a house,” Zell says. “I think they should get debt paid off and then worry about a house.”

Revisit Student Loans

If you have student loans, talk to an expert about your options, which might include changing your payment plan, consolidation or deferment.

Don’t assume your current repayment plan is your only option. Depending on your situation, federal student loan repayment options might include extended repayment; graduated repayment (lower payments at the beginning with increasing amounts due later); and income-sensitive or income-based plans.

“You have to know your options for payback,” Cavanaugh says, “and you have to have all the right paperwork filed with the right people.”

Create Good Credit

A credit score — sometimes referred to as a FICO score — is the grade of your credit behavior. Credit scores range from 300 to 850 — the higher, the better.

A good score can mean lower interest rates and more choices on potential loans.  A bad score can lead not only to loan rejection but also difficulty renting an apartment or setting up utilities.

“You should treat it as one of your most valuable possessions,” Pitt says. “It will stay with you the rest of your life.”

Ways to improve your credit score include:

  • Paying bills on time
  • Making more than the minimum payment on credit cards
  • Keeping credit card balances to less than 50 percent of the available credit limit on the card
  • Having a long credit history — canceling an old credit card may hurt your score because it may shorten the length of  your credit history

Avoid actions that might lower your credit score, such as:

  • Exceeding your limit on credit cards
  • Opening and closing too many credit accounts in a short period of time
  • Making late payments
  • Defaulting on a loan
  • Writing bad checks
  • Declaring bankruptcy

Be cautious about any potential loan, including credit cards that offer rewards or low interest rates. In exchange for these perks, you might find an annual fee or other unfriendly terms. “You have to know the benefits as well as the pitfalls,” Pitt warns. “Do some searching and find the one that’s right for you.”

Fund Your Future

Even though you’ve just started in the workforce, now is the perfect time to begin saving for retirement. Time is on your side. Consider this example from the U.S. Department of Labor publication Saving Fitness: A Guide to Your Money and Your Financial Future. “Let’s say that you put $1,000 at the beginning of each year into an IRA from age 20 through age 30 (11 years) and then never put in another dime. The account earns 7 percent annually. When you retire at age 65 you’ll have $168,514 in the account. Your friend doesn’t start until age 30, but saves the same amount annually for 35 years straight. Despite putting in three times as much money, your friend’s account grows to only $147,913.”

The earlier you start saving, the more your money can work for you, thanks to the power of compounding. For every 10 years you delay before starting to save for retirement, you will need to save three times as much each month to catch up.

Even a small investment can make a big different. And, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Start by investigating your employee retirement options, and enroll as soon as you’re eligible. Strive to invest as much money as will be matched by your employer.

“That’s free money,” Pitt says. “Take advantage of that.”

Keep Learning

Educate yourself about your financial options. The internet, books, TV and seminars are great ways to become familiar with terminology and basic financial knowledge. When you’re ready, find a financial planner you can trust to help build your financial future, Pitt says. One place to start is the national Financial Planning Association, which lists professional members who adhere to a code of ethics, says Pitt, immediate past president of the Financial Planning Association’s Indiana organization. Learn more at http://www.fpaforfinancialplanning.org/.

Find Financial Freedom

Sure, a new car or designer dress may make you feel great right away, but being fiscally responsible can bring much greater contentment.

“People need to find what brings them joy,” Pitt says. “Worrying about money is one of the quickest ways to dampen joy. Don’t let money overwhelm you. You can find richness in friends and family as well as dollars and cents. Let dollars and cents help you get there. Don’t let it be the goal.”