The Cost of Surviving Cancer

Photo: geishaboy500, Flickr
Photo: geishaboy500, Flickr

Surviving cancer is a good thing. Really, it is. I mean, look at the alternative. Still, living on and on after a cancer diagnosis comes with a little bit of a price tag.

My personal bottom line: the potential for heart disease, maybe some additional cancers and increased cancer risk for some family members. No one can promise these curses will come to life, but no one says they won’t either. And that’s why I visited today with a very nice doctor at the forward-thinking Cancer Survivor Program at Shands Hospital, to learn all about what might face me, and what I can do about it all.

My heart. In the past five years, I’ve had three treatments with the power to compromise cardiac function. There’s that toxic Adriamycin chemo drug (four doses, two weeks apart, over eight weeks time), and the radiation that zapped the area directly over my heart (every day for six weeks), and then Herceptin — the potential life-saver that sailed through my veins every three weeks over the course of one whole year. The good news is that I’m probably out of the woods with Herceptin, it usually does its damage during treatment or shortly thereafter. But the chemo drug and the radiation, these still have time, and usually, adverse reactions occur eight to ten years after chemotherapy. Enter the echocardiogram. I’ll have one in three years to start monitoring my ticker. And I’ll keep exercising and (mostly) eating right to keep in good shape. (Today’s resting heart rate: 50.)

More cancers. Sometimes leukemia comes as a side effect of chemotherapy (ironic, isn’t it?), but I’m likely beyond the risky time frame for that one. Bladder cancer isn’t entirely out of the question, however, because one of my poisonous chemo drugs was processed through my bladder, and apparently, that’s not a great thing. Skin cancer, too. My risk is higher now. Perhaps the basal cell cancer I had removed from my left arm last year can be linked to this risk. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. I should pay attention to the left side of my body, though, says my doc, because that’s where another cancer might show up.

My kids. My kiddos — both boys — are not really at risk. Of course, they can get breast cancer, it’s just not very probable. And their kids, if they have girls, are not at higher risk, either, even though their grandma (me!) had the disease. Had I tested positive for BRCA, they would have been. But I didn’t, so they aren’t.

My sister’s two girls — no one knows for sure, but they probably will be fine. Same for my mom — the risk travels mostly from older to younger, not younger to older. My sister (sorry, Tracy!) is the one who gets the short end of the stick. My having had breast cancer ups her risk, which is why she gets a mammogram every year, and why she’s already had a baseline MRI.

Am I scared by the cost of surviving cancer? No. I have every reason to believe none of this will ever affect me. And if it does, worrying about it now won’t do me a bit of good. If anything, I’m just happy to be alive and thrilled that I had the chance to sit with a doctor five years after I wasn’t sure I’d survive at all.

Ellen Pompeo Says: Choose You!

Ellen Pompeo (left) / LiGado em Série, Flickr
Ellen Pompeo (left) / Photo: LiGado em Série, Flickr

Grey’s Anatomy” star Ellen Pompeo has teamed up with the American Cancer Society, and she’s spreading a very important message: Choose You. Here’s what she wants you to do:

Eat right.
Get active.
Quit smoking.
Get regular health checks.
Protect your skin.

Some pretty good advice, eh?

May 12 is National Choose You Day, but why wait until then — get started now! Here are some resources to help you get the ball rolling.

Life Over Cancer

A new book made its way to my mailbox the other day, and here it sits on my kitchen counter, full of good stuff for treating and beating cancer. Since it might be just the book you need for your library, here’s a little rundown of what you’ll find on its 594 pages.

Life Over Cancer is all about integrative cancer treatment, and the guy who wrote the book — Dr. Keith I. Block (Director of Integrative Medical Education at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago) — has treated thousands of patients who have lived long, full lives beyond their original prognoses.

Dr. Block is an expert at understanding how the mind and body work, he believes that lifestyle plays a major role in combating cancer, and he uses his wisdom to help folks meet the demands of their treatment and recovery. His book features the following:

  • Innovative approaches to conventional treatments, such as “chronotherapy” — chemotherapy timed to patients’ unique circadian rhythms for enhanced effectiveness and reduced toxicity.
  • Dietary choices that make the biochemical environment hostile to cancer growth and recurrence, and strengthen the immune system’s ability to attack remaining cancer cells.
  • Precise supplement protocols to tame treatment side effects, relieve disease-related symptoms, and modify processes like inflammation and glycemia that can fuel cancer if left untreated.
  • A new paradigm for exercise and stress reduction that restores your strength, reduces anxiety and depression, and supports the body’s own ability to heal.
  • A complete program for remission maintenance — a proactive plan to make sure the cancer never returns.

Ready to buy the book? Place your order here. And to dive a little deeper into what Dr. Block has to offer, take a look at the following exclusive article he is sharing with us (breast cancer people: see purple).

Avoiding Refined Sugar Helps Prevent Breast Cancer Recurrence
By Keith I. Block, M.D.,
Author of Life Over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Treatment

Several years ago, we saw tremendous growth in the consumption of fat-free and low-fat products. Believing we now had “healthier” versions of everything from salad dressings to our favorite desserts, these products began flying off the shelves, and formerly “forbidden” foods for those watching their diets became acceptable in their reduced fat versions. While perhaps reducing their fat intake, most consumers were unknowingly increasing their sugar intake, as refined sugar was the ingredient most often used in place of fat. The increased consumption of refined sugar can have serious health consequences, including a greater vulnerability to cancer, and possibly, even a worse outcome. Let me explain what happens when too much refined sugar and other food products are consumed.

If you ingest whole foods, insulin will be secreted slowly and the body will manage this well. Insulin is needed to carry glucose into your tissues and is essential for providing much needed fuel. However, ingest a candy bar, your favorite brand of cookies, or 12 ounces of soda pop — what I like to refer to as carbonated belly wash — and the cells in your pancreas will respond with a surge of insulin.

In recent years, researchers found that women with early stage breast cancer who had the highest insulin levels were twice as likely to have their tumor metastasize, and three times as likely to die of breast cancer, as women with the lowest insulin levels. For this reason, I believe any patient combating breast cancer or trying to avoid a recurrence would be wise to have their doctor routinely monitor their insulin and blood sugar levels, as well as their insulin growth factor (IGF-1). Choosing a whole foods diet and staying fit can reduce the deleterious effect that elevated sugar and insulin levels can have on both the risk of recurrence and risk of death. In addition, following a nutritional, fitness and therapeutic supplement program can help achieve or maintain improved levels.

Even though all therapeutic interventions should be individualized to match the needs of each patient, I’m convinced that certain dietary recommendations are fundamental to achieving improved health.

These include:

  • Eat a diet lower in fat, and make it a better quality fat. Ideally, fat should represent no more than 18% of your daily caloric intake. “Good” fats include monounsaturated and Omega 3 fats.
  • Examples of monounsaturated fats include olive oil, almond oil and walnut oil. Omega 3 fats include flax seed, canola, and, of course fats contained in cold water fish.
  • Eat abundant cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, bok choy, kale and brussel sprouts — which contain plant phytochemicals that result in lower blood levels of estrogen by increasing the estrogen detoxification and dumping capacity of the liver.
  • Eat a diet high in fiber, with plant-based sources of protein. Consuming more fiber in the form of whole grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, and beans can reduce harmful circulating estrogen levels.

Ghost Whisperer Stands Up to Cancer

The folks at the TV show “Ghost Whisperer” are teaming with the organization Stand Up To Cancer in the hopes of bringing together the best and the brightest in the cancer community. Throughout the seasons, “Ghost Whisperer” has created promotional materials they’d love for you to check out. They’ve got an interactive game. And The Constellation. And information on teaming up yourself. And if you want to be inspired, check out these touching and moving videos:

“Ghost Whisperer” is standing up to cancer — how about you?

A Gift Idea and a Giveaway


There are a few reasons this post might please you:

1. You are a die-hard scrapbooker, and getting your hands on Creative Memories products makes you silly happy.

2. You’re a weekend warrior, slapping pics in books when a free moment presents itself (that’s me!), and so you always need some gear on hand.

3. You have piles and piles of photos surrounding you, and you desperately need to stick those things in books.

4. You care not about photos and albums and supplies, but you need a crafty little gift for someone in need.

I like No. 4 the best, because folks are always asking me to suggest a gift for someone newly diagnosed with cancer, someone heading toward a scary surgery, someone about to face chemo. I always say a candle, a book, some comfy socks. But I’m thinking this is a pretty grand idea, too: How about a small scrapbook with blank pages inside? A pen, some stickers, inspiring embellishments, maybe? Perfect for journaling a cancer adventure — I promise the act of writing it all down can heal lots of wounds.

Another idea: You create a book for your special someone. Add a few photos, some favorite quotes, let your imagination run wild. Need ideas? Here are a few.

OK, time to head on over to the Creative Memories website and browse around. (Be sure to check out these two options, my favorites: Paper Album Kit and  Faithbooking Bundle.)

Now, here’s the best part of this post: For every purchase made by a reader through my friend Mischelle (she’s a CM consultant), she will donate 20% of the order (before tax and shipping) to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation. And for every $25 you spend, your name will be entered into a drawing for a fancy gift. So, get this: If you order $100 worth of product, your name will go in the hat four times.

And what could you win?

  • One White Pearl True 12×12 album with white pages and page protectors
  • Tape runner (adhesive)
  • Scissors
  • Photo-safe black journaling pen
  • Blooms Decorative paper pack
  • Pastel card pack
  • Simply Beautiful Title stickers.

The prize package is worth $100 (before tax and shipping).  If you order online with a credit card, please make sure your orders are made through this link, and click on the wording above each item that says: Credit this order to my Host. If you wish to order directly through Mischelle, you can pay with cash, check or M.O. — but not a credit card. Regardless of how you order, please leave a comment here to let us know you’ve made a purchase. Just say something like, “I ordered!” That’s how we’ll know you are part of the giveaway!

And please note these few rules:

  • Open to legal residents of the United States and Canada only, who are 18 and older.
  • One winner will be selected in a random drawing.
  • No P.O. boxes, please.
  • Winners will be notified by email, so make sure to check next week to find out if you’ve won!

Ready to shop? We’re giving you two weeks (time is up Sunday, May 2, 2010 at midnight) — then we’ll reveal the winner!

Note: Mischelle dedicates her participation in the project to two incredible ladies in her life: Carmen Morrison (her my mom #2) and her dear friend Chris Overstreet, both of whom are battling breast cancer.

Hard Boys, Soft Mom


The following post is a reprint from Braving Boys.

I’m soft. I know this. And I’m OK with it. But it kind of goes against the grain of what John tries to teach the boys. Example: the other day, while at a lake for some fishing, Joey and Danny started whining about sunscreen. They hate it, especially the kind that sprays, because it gets in their eyes. So, we do our best to slather faces without blinding them, but as it always turns out, they are gun-shy and get all worked up about the event.

John is sick of it.

“You guys need to get hard,” he told them.

“Here’s how I do it,” he declared, then pretty much sprayed the stuff directly into his own baby blues to prove his point.

Explanation: John is a Marine, and he’s encountered some rough living. There was a period of time in boot camp when he was so hungry, he’d eat from sugar packets in the mess hall to fill the void in his gut. He hiked until his feet bled, marched until he couldn’t see straight, and for months on end, he was worn down and challenged to the core. He’s hard. He can spray sunscreen in his eyes.

Getting hard is good. It’s preparation for life’s tough times. It’s why Joey should eat fish, even though he doesn’t like it — because maybe, one day, fish will be the only thing available. It’s why learning to defend yourself is key, because when you’ve got to fight for your life, you’ll be ready.

I get it.

It’s just not me.

  • I don’t like sunscreen in my eyes either. Bug spray is yucky, too.
  • I do like fish, but I don’t like Chinese food, and heaven help me if, one day, it’s the only thing available.
  • I don’t want to camp — I like running water and cozy beds too much — and I don’t want to climb a rock wall or a mountain or jump from a plane, a cliff, or anything, really.
  • I am hesitant to play a “real” game of football with Joey, because he weighs 90 pounds and his power is pretty amazing.
  • I shy away from “real” games of basketball, too, because I’ve had few balls smack me right in the face, and ouch!, that really hurts. (I am up for a mean game of catch or P-I-G, however).

Don’t get me wrong. I can be tough. I’ve white water rafted, parasailed, driven a jet ski, completed a few ropes courses, traveled Europe all by myself, run a 1/2 marathon, pushed two large babies from my body and fought breast cancer.

Still, soft is my fall-back.

This worries me, and sometimes I fear my boys will come to know me as the wimpy mom. It’s why I choose to engage in some battles. Will I ski down a snow-covered mountain when we finally take a ski vacation? No. But I am fully prepared to let the waves knock the crap out of me during our next beach trip. I’m also on board this year for a very long road trip (in one cramped mini-van), even though my better judgment says, “Don’t do it.” And this summer, I’ll take on one-too-many roller coasters with my little theme-park thrill seekers, even though these rides give me a throbbing head and wobbly knees.

It’s a good thing there’s a John and a Jacki in our family. It’s like we’re the anchors supporting our family tree. John is at the top (of course, he climbed up there), I’m at the bottom (because I don’t want to climb up there), and Joey and Danny are right in between, observing the qualities that define their parents and deciding which ones to embrace.

My wish is that Joey and Danny do get hard. I hope they also realize that, at times, it’s OK to be soft. Because really, I’m convinced there’s value in both.

The Rose Run: Register Now!


I’ve got the perfect 5K for you. It’s called The Rose Run, and it takes place on Saturday, July 17, 2010 in Petersburg, Michigan. Well, that’s one place it takes place. It also happens wherever you’ll be on that very day — Cleveland, Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, heck, any location in the United States, really. You name it, you can run (or walk) it.

Call it a virtual run, a run from a distance, whatever you want — just gather a few of your friends, form a team, and plan to participate, because I promise you it will make Race Director Jessica Cribbs one happy girl. You see, Jessica lost her mother to breast cancer in January 2009, and this run is in honor of the brave and courageous Rose Hunt. It’s also in support of everyone out there fighting the same disease, and the money raised through the event will benefit breast cancer research. Last year, Jessica raised more than $10,000. Her goal was $2,000.

If you’re game for helping Jessica raise a bunch more cash this year, check out this scoop on registering. And if you do register, leave a comment and let us know from where you’ll be pounding the pavement. We’d love to know.

Charting My Survival, One Kid at a Time

Easter 2010
Easter 2010

All I have to do to chart my progress post-cancer is to look at these kiddos. The one on the far left is Danny. He was 18 months old when I was diagnosed. He’ll be 7 in May. Next to him is cousin Jordan,  a brand new baby at the time (and now 5), she sat with my mom at all of my chemo infusions. Jordan’s sister Tori, almost 3, was not even a thought when breast cancer consumed our lives. And Joey, almost 4 all those years ago, is now a big ‘ol 9-year-old.

What did I count this Easter, besides the 125 eggs I hid in our yard? My blessings. Here are four of them!

Cancer Cells Are Addicted to Sugar

Not this kind of sugar, but might want to minimize it anyway / Photo: norwichnuts, Flickr
Not this kind of sugar, but you should minimize it anyway / norwichnuts, Flickr

Maybe, like me, you have no idea why you got breast cancer — no family history, you eat right, exercise your butt off, don’t smoke, don’t drink, and generally take rockin’ good care of yourself. Here’s one possibility: you might have too much natural sugar in your body.

That’s what researchers at Drexel University College of Medicine are saying, now that they’ve discovered that a certain type of sugar found naturally in the body (called O-GlcNAc) is elevated in breast cancer cells and is thought to cause cancer growth and movement.

But get this: If levels of this sugar are reduced and normalized, the growth of cancer cells can possibly be slowed. Sounds good to me — now if someone can just turn this discovery into a way to target breast cancer, then I’ll be happy!

More here.

Peeking in at Breast Cancer: Lynea

Lynea was diagnosed at age 39 with breast cancer following a “baseline” MRI. She’d had a mammogram 8 weeks prior, and her OB/GYN’s office pushed for a MRI due to family history, just so she’d have records to look at years from now. Forget years from now — the cancer was already there! Lynea is stage I, triple negative, and her treatment plan includes 4 dose-dense AC and 4 T. No need for radiation. Here is a snippet of her story:

First day of chemo, 2/2/10
First day of chemo, 2/2/10

I came up with the idea of taking pictures at the beginning of my treatment, at mid-point and at the end. I joked that presidents have their pictures taken to show how old they got, so why shouldn’t I have pictures to prove how bad it has made me look — or how well I did!

Halfway done with chemo, 3/30/10
Halfway done with chemo, 3/30/10

I think so far, I don’t feel like I look much different, although, unfortunately, I have found some weight due to the lovely steriods they give me, but I figure there is always time to worry about my weight later.

Just think, Lynea: one day, that tree will be covered with leaves, and your head will be covered with beautiful hair!

Teen in Trouble Over Breast Cancer Bracelet

A better bracelet?
A better bracelet for Frankie?

One Florida teenager had been wearing a breast cancer bracelet to school for months.  It read: I love boobies and Keep A Breast. School officials said it was a distraction, and so they asked 14-year-old Frankie Rodriguez to remove the bracelet. He did, officials took it, and it was later returned to him.

The kid was upset, claiming he was only supporting family members affected by breast cancer.

He wore it again.

Administrators told him if he continues, he’ll be suspended.

“They just took it as sexual, and it wasn’t anything like that at all,” says Frankie.

Not true, say the administrators, citing disrespect for teachers as the reason for disciplinary measures.

Will Frankie wear the bracelet again? Nope, he says. “I kind of just don’t want to get into trouble anymore.”


Happy National Doctor Day!

Photo: mariemontoya52, morgueFile

To all the doctors who pulled together to save my life — Dr. Copeland, Dr. Lynch and Dr. Mendenhall — I say thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Today is National Doctor Day.

Have you thanked your doc yet?

Slash Breast Cancer Stats: Eat Less, Exericse More

Up to a third of breast cancer cases in Western countries could be avoided if women ate less and exercised more.

Photo: ppdigital, Flickr
Photo: ppdigital, morgueFile

Breast cancer may be a mystery in many ways — why did I get it, for example? — but it’s becoming more and more evident that eating too much, exercising too little and packing on the pounds can spike your risk of developing the disease that already gets 1 in 8 women.

This news, which isn’t really all that new, was sprawled across the front page of the Gainesville Sun this morning, reminding me once again that nixing the packaged goods (I know, it’s so hard) and moving my muscles is the smart way to motor through life. It’s why I’m renewing my vows with all things healthy — starting. right. now.

Here’s one way to think about it: there is so much about cancer we cannot control. But what we put in our mouths and how we move our bodies — totally up to us! Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t have moments of indulgence (I’ve been having a moment since Halloween). It just means that mostly, we need to monitor our input and ramp up our output, because, well, our lives depend on it.

Ouch Pouch For All of Life’s Boo Boos

I’ve written about her before, and on several occasions, she’s graciously allowed me to give away some of her greatest gear, but until recently, I had never seen her smile up close or talked face-to-face with the woman behind Out of the Blue Delivered. Now, I am honored to say that Dawn and I have met — all because of our chance encounter on the Internet, our close proximity to one another (we live just an hour apart) and the convergence of her last-Friday medical appointment and my desire for a Cinnamon Crunch bagel at Panera — which happens to be located right down the road from her doc’s office. It was perfect — our chat over breakfast, our connection, our mutual love of carbs (well, to be fair, I ate more than she did)!

Also pretty cool about our pow-wow is the Ouch Pouch my friend gave me just after I’d scarfed down my dessert-for-breakfast. It’s something new and exciting she’s offering at her online shop, and here’s what she says about it on her website:

These trendy little pouches are PERFECT for holding items for life’s little boo boos. Measures 4″ x 5″ with clear poly front. It’s a chic first-aid on the go kit! Comes with bandaids, alcohol wipes and a lollipop to take away the pain.

Pouch ideas
Fill-your-pouch ideas!

My pouch features a black and white zebra-like stripe fabric, but yours might be different depending on the artist’s preferences. If you order, Dawn says to tell her if you would like specific colors, like girl fabric or boy fabric.

As you can see from the photos above and to the right, this is just the right token of love and friendship for so many on your gift list. It’s also quite handy for your own bag or purse, don’t you think? Only $9, too.

And if the Ouch Pouch is not right up your alley, Dawn has so many other goodies for you to check out — there’s even something named after me. See why I’m so honored to have met Dawn? Out of the blue she came into my world. And what a gift she is.

Surviving Cancer — and Its Side Effects

Oncology: a branch of medicine that deals with tumors (cancer).
Oncology: a branch of medicine that deals with tumors (cancer).

I went for another cancer check-up this morning, the first since my 5-year cancerversary. Mostly, everything is A-OK — so well, in fact, that I now get to see my favorite doctor once a year instead of every six months.

But with the happy hooplah of surviving cancer for a good amount of time comes the fact that I need to start thinking about surviving the side effects of cancer for a good amount of time. There are certain issues that come with life after cancer. For me, it’s mostly heart stuff.

Three things that might affect my heart: the chemo drug Adriamycin (I had four doses), radiation (it was delivered right on top of my heart) and Herceptin (the wonder drug I received for one year). All three of these life-savers can compromise heart function over time. “You should be so lucky to get heart disease in 20 years,” someone once told me, “because it means you will have survived cancer for 20 years.” Yea, that doesn’t make me feel so relieved. In fact, it’s apparently cause for a consultation.

Someone is going to contact me soon to discuss survivorship issues, says my doc, and this person will notify my primary physician of potential concerns, too, so he can monitor me appropriately. I’m not overly concerned about this, really. I’m basically just thankful to be alive, with a heart that today is very strong. For now, that’s just enough.

The Cause Bag

I have a thing for shoes, jackets, purses and bags. I don’t buy them much for myself anymore, due to kids and a budget and that little question I keep asking myself: Do I really need this?

But that doesn’t mean I can’t dream, and that’s exactly what I’m doing with The Cause Bag.

It’s just too cute, isn’t it? With it’s black microfiber and the pink ribbon detail, and apparently there’s an elegant pink lining on the inside. The cost: $25, and approximately 55 percent of the profits from its sales will be split between The American Cancer Society and Breast Cancer Options.

And what if you aren’t a fan of the pink ribbon? That’s OK, there are other options that might tempt you — there’s the Baglett (like The Cause Bag, minus the ribbon), the Classic Healthy Back Bag, the Metro and, well, there’s lots more to dream about on the Ameribag website! See for yourself.