H.O.P.E. Blog

Embrace Thanksgiving

embrace thanksgiving By Jeff Hoffman

As I walked through the woods, the cool, crisp air rustled the now colorful leaves, creating a shower of color cascading down around me. There is no doubt that fall has settled in upon the Susquehanna Valley and with it the Thanksgiving holiday. For most of us living in this part of the country, it’s a much anticipated respite from the hot summer days and a gentle reminder that in the not-too-distant future winter snows will cover the landscape. It is hard to believe that during this time we’re also living to witness one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in modern history. The rhetoric from all corners of the political spectrum has caused serious damage to our national psyche, creating a climate of despair and a loss of hope. A sense that we’ll never be able to heal from these self-inflicted wounds.

For many of you reading this, you or your loved one’s battle with cancer dredges up the same sense of hopelessness and despair. Perhaps you’ll worry about what tomorrow might bring or you are sensing a dark gloomy cloud that seems to follow you everywhere. However, I’m hoping that as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I can appeal to the better angels in all of us and ask that we pause to see what is so amazingly awesome about the world we’re blessed to live in.

If you look, you’ll see things that offer both promise of a bright future and examples of incredible kindness and compassion. You just need to open your eyes and your heart. I recently spent the day with my seven-year-old grandson. We had a chance to stop at a local bookstore where I purchased a book for him. While we were driving along, he decided to read to me. Even though almost every evening I’ll read before calling it a night, something struck me as I listened to that little voice reading his book. I discovered that I had lost my ability to read with emotion. My words seem to all sound similar in my mind as I read – each pronounced with the same monotone expression. But, listening to my grandson, I heard the words of excitement and discovery. Maybe it was the vacillating cadence with which he spoke as he sounded out the “bigger” words or the emphasis he placed on the speaker’s voice as he read in the first person. Regardless, his reading intrigued me, pulling me further into the story. Something as simple as hearing the voice of a seven-year made me take pause and reflect on what is good with the world.

Thanksgiving is nothing more than an affirmation of the blessing one has been given. Not all blessings will be counted as the sum of personal possessions. How many times have we heard that things can be replaced but lives are precious? The quality of life is often a reflection of our own attitude. The old adage, “you reap what you sow,” can never be more apt than when it comes to reflecting on one’s life. I recall spending time with a cancer patient during his last days. He had been bedridden for several years, his cancer had ravaged his body, and yet through all the pain he smiled. He shared with me that he was blessed to have a loving family and compassionate friends, and for that he was both happy and thankful. I vividly remember watching as his 18-month-old grandchild crawled around on his bed. I knew that caused incredible physical pain yet he doted over the child because, as he would tell me later, she filled his heart with happiness.

Your world might seem in chaos and you might feel you’re trapped in a situation with no way out. Sometimes we have to look outside of ourselves to be reminded of the amazing blessings we have. Sometimes we can look inward and find the answers to the happiness we’re seeking. Whichever solution works for you, you simply need to take the first step and open yourself up to the wonders that surround you. Listen for the voice of a seven-year-old or watch the leaves sweeping across your lawn. Embrace the hug from a loved one, accept the kind words from a stranger, and be tolerant of those that might not share the same ideas you have. Stepping away from the feelings of hopelessness and despair starts with you recognizing what makes you thankful.

This article is reprinted from H.O.P.E. Lifeline (November, 2016) - monthly newsletter distributed by H.O.P.E. Click here to view the full newsletter.  If you would like to receive the newsletter by e-mail each month, you may subscribe today (no cost or obligation and you may unsubscribe at any time).

What do You Know About Lung Cancer?

November: Lung Caner Awareness MonthBy Jean Lillquist

November is Still Lung Cancer Awareness Month —Despite Its Preventability

Lung cancer is the second most preventable cancer in the US. About 70% of the cases are a direct result of smoking or regular exposure to second-hand smoke. Nevertheless, more than 200,000 new cases of lung cancer are diagnosed a year, and it is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women, killing more people each year than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.

Lung cancer mainly occurs in older people. Two thirds of new diagnoses are 65 and older, while less than 2% are under 45. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 70. Lung cancer is slightly more common in men than women, although the gender gap is narrowing. Obviously smokers run a far higher risk for developing lung cancer than non-smokers. Despite its difficulty of diagnosis and serious prognosis if not found quickly, there are more than 430,000 people alive today who were diagnosed with lung cancer at some point.

Causes of Lung Cancer

Cigarette smoking, and to a lesser extent, pipe and cigar smoking, are the major cause of lung cancer. The risk increases with the number of cigarettes smoked over time. Among people who smoke two or more packs of cigarettes per day, one in seven will die of lung cancer. Pipe and cigarette smokers, although at less risk, still have five times more likelihood than nonsmokers of developing lung cancer. The good news is that the risk decreases each year following smoking cessation as normal cells grow and replace damaged cells in the lung. in former smokers, the risk of developing lung cancer begins to approach that of a nonsmoker about 15 years after he or she quits.

The saying “You’re judged by the company you keep” can be extended to you’re as healthy as the company you keep. Meaning, if you live with a smoker, your risk of developing lung cancer increases 24%. An estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths occur each year in the U.S. due to passive smoking.

Other causes of lung cancer include exposure to asbestos (less common in the past couple decades), radiation, and radon gas. Radon gas can travel up through soil and enter homes through gaps in the foundation, pipes, drains, or other openings. The EPA estimates that one out of every 15 homes in the U.S. contains dangerous levels of radon gas. It is invisible and odorless, but can be detected with simple test kits. And for people who live in industrialized urban areas, air pollution is also a major cause.

Types of Lung Cancer

Lung cancer starts when abnormal cells grow out of control in the lung. They can invade nearby tissues and form tumors. Lung cancer can start anywhere in the lungs and affect any part of the respiratory system. The cancer cells can spread, or metastasize, to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body. Unfortunately, most lung cancers do not cause any symptoms until they have spread, but some people with early lung cancer do have symptoms. Lung cancers are divided into small cell lung cancers (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC).

  • Small cell lung cancers usually grow more quickly and are more likely to spread than non-small cell.
  • Small cell lung cancer is rarer, occurring in 10-15% of cases.
  • It is usually found in smokers, and symptoms include a persistent cough, bloody phlegm, chest pain, and shortness of breath
  • Non-small cell lung cancer is more common; about 85% of cases.
  • Causes and symptoms are the same as small cell.

Diagnosis of Lung Cancer

Most lung cancers are found because they are causing problems. If you have possible signs or symptoms of lung cancer, see your doctor, who will examine you and may order some tests. These include such imaging tests as chest x-ray, CT scan, MRI scan, PET scan, or a bone scan. The doctor might also look at some of your lung cells under a microscope or conduct tests to see if the cancer has spread to the chest.

Treatment of Lung Cancer

Patients with small cell lung cancer will probably be treated with chemotherapy if they’re healthy enough. Chemotherapy is the major treatment because by the time this type of lung cancer has been diagnosed it has usually already spread so quickly that other treatments such as surgery or radiation would not reach all areas of the cancer.

Depending on the stage of non-small cell lung cancer, surgery can be an option, which provides the best chance for a cure. Surgery may involve removing part or all of an affected lung as well as nearby lymph nodes.   Radiation and chemotherapy may be used before or after surgery or instead of surgery.

As researchers have learned more about the changes in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cells that help them grow, they have developed newer drugs to specifically target these changes. Targeted drugs work differently from standard chemotherapy drugs. They sometimes work when chemo drugs don’t, and they often have different (and less severe) side effects. At this time, they are most often used for advanced lung cancers, either along with chemo or by themselves. Immunotherapy is the use of medicines to stimulate a person’s own immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells more effectively. Immunotherapy can be used to treat some forms of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

This article is reprinted from H.O.P.E. Lifeline (November, 2016) - monthly newsletter distributed by H.O.P.E. Click here to view the full newsletter.  If you would like to receive the newsletter by e-mail each month, you may subscribe today (no cost or obligation and you may unsubscribe at any time).

A True Reason for Thanksgiving

giving thanks 2016 picBy Jean Lillquist

A Thanksgiving Story to Inspire You

Last month readers of The Baltimore Sun were introduced to Willard ‘Neal’ Mills, who went from having less than six months to live two years ago to looking forward to retirement and golf in Florida.

Doctors discovered lung cancer in Mr. Mills two years ago, and despite months of different types of treatment the cancer spread to his liver and bones. Yet today the 67-year-old Owings Mills resident is cancer free.   Medical professionals attribute this to the “abscopal effect,” where a small dose of radiation is used to target one tumor and somehow the rest of the cancer cells in the body are reduced. For Mr. Mills, his oncologist believes the radiation triggered the immunotherapy drugs that were still in his system. You may recall nearly a year ago the same sort of ‘miracle’ happened with former President Jimmy Carter’s advanced melanoma—immunotherapy involving a drug known as a checkpoint inhibitor was used.

The National Cancer Institute and Harvard medical School are conducting more studies using radiation combined with immunotherapy drugs. Mr. Mills, in the meantime, continues to be cancer free a year later, although to be on the safe side he continues immunotherapy treatments every two weeks.

This article is reprinted from H.O.P.E. Lifeline (November, 2016) - monthly newsletter distributed by H.O.P.E. Click here to view the full newsletter.  If you would like to receive the newsletter by e-mail each month, you may subscribe today (no cost or obligation and you may unsubscribe at any time).


Family of Teddy Bears

A service that we offer here at H.O.P.E. to help with grief is our Teddy Bears. We have a volunteer who will use the clothes of the deceased to create outfits for the Bears so that family members hugging them will help relieve the sorrow and loss. It has been our good fortune to be able to offer this to families in their time of need.

As shown below this month's delivery of Family Teddy Bears.

2016 teddybears

Recent Developments and Findings in Breast Cancer

breast cancer findingsBy Jean Lillquist

It seems that there are new findings and new diagnostic tools available to help breast cancer patients all the time.  Below are a few of the most recent ones -- a new genomic test and studies offering good news to patients battling chemo-fog and trusting the power of communication. 

The MammaPrint Test

Testing and treatment of all types of cancers are changing by the minute. The MammaPrint is a new genomic test made by Agendia, a molecular diagnostics company, that is being used to analyze the activity of certain genes in early-stage breast cancer. Research suggests this test may eventually be widely used to help make treatment decisions based on the cancer’s risk of recurrence within 10 years after diagnosis.

The MammaPrint test looks at the activity of 70 genes and then calculates a recurrence score that is either low risk or high risk. This can help doctors understand how a cancer is likely to behave and respond to treatment. Knowing if a woman has a high or low risk of early-stage breast cancer coming back might help women and their doctors decide if chemotherapy or other treatments to reduce risk after surgery are needed.

The MammaPrint test can be performed on fresh or freshly frozen breast cancer tissue or tissue that has been treated or “fixed” with a special solution to preserve genetic material. The test can also be done on a sample of preserved tissue that was removed during the biopsy or surgery.

Some insurance companies will pay for the total cost of the MammaPrint test, while others may bay a portion of the cost.

Exercise and Chemotherapy

Many women treated for breast cancer say they have problems remembering, thinking, and concentrating during and after treatment. These problems are commonly called “chemo brain” or “chemo fog” - though women treated with hormonal therapy also complain about memory issues. Doctors call these issues “cognitive impairment” or “cognitive problems.” In a study conducted with over 1,400 women who had been treated with breast cancer, researchers found that women who self-reported more moderate or vigorous physical activity reported fewer memory problems.

Moderate to vigorous physical activity includes brisk walking, biking, jogging, or aerobic exercise class. Women who did more physical activity also had more self-confidence, less stress and anxiety, and less fatigue.

Another study looked at peripheral neuropathy (also called chemotheraphy-associated neuropathy), a side effect that can be caused by some chemotherapy medicines. Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage in the hands, feet, arms, or legs caused by chemotherapy. Symptoms include burning, tingling, or numbness in the hands and feet.

This study suggests that maintaining a healthy weight and exercising five or more hours per week may help reduce the risk of neuropathy in women being treated with taxane chemotherapy for breast cancer.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

A study suggests that women who talk to other people online shortly after being diagnosed with breast cancer may be more satisfied with their treatment decisions.

To do this study, the researchers surveyed 2,460 women who had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer about their use of online communication tools and their satisfaction with the treatment decision-making process.

The women were ages 20 to 79, and all were diagnosed with stage I to stage III breast cancer. They tended to use social media sites and web-based support groups to interact about treatment options and physician recommendations. Women also reported using all of these outlets to deal with the negative emotions and stress around their breast cancer diagnosis. They’re using these communications to cope.

Remember: H.O.P.E. offers a support group the second Wednesday of every month. Participants include current and former cancer patients. It’s a great forum for support and exchange of ideas.

This article is reprinted from H.O.P.E. Lifeline (October, 2016) - monthly newsletter distributed by H.O.P.E. Click here to view the full newsletter.  If you would like to receive the newsletter by e-mail each month, you may subscribe today (no cost or obligation and you may unsubscribe at any time).



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