You wake up on Christmas morning and realize you have a million things to do before your family arrives. You try to eat breakfast, but you just can’t convince yourself that anything you put in your mouth will taste good. You were in bed for almost 10 hours, yet you feel tired and exhausted. No matter how hard you try, you seem to be losing ground. The clock ticks on. Christmas waits for no one – including those like you who are battling cancer.
Unfortunately, this scene plays out thousands of times each Christmas. Those battling debilitating diseases like cancer try to battle the weakness in an effort to make their holidays as “normal” as possible for their families. The reality is that battling cancer creates an entirely “new normal”. A world where you have to cope with your limitations. A world where you learn that you can’t continue to do things like you used to.
Holidays are a stressful time for everyone. We’ve been influenced by the media and marketing moguls to believe that celebrating that picture perfect holiday is the only way to show your family that you love them. To help you cope with the holidays, we’re providing a few items to consider.
Make a Commitment
“God helps those who help themselves”. It isn’t any different whether you are battling cancer, starting a family or attending grade school, if you want to be happy and succeed at what you are doing, the results depend on your own actions. Happier holidays have to start with you. More specifically, with your attitude. To be happy you must act happy. For someone battling cancer that can be a challenge. I’m not asking you to fake it. Instead take a moment to recognize that you’re going to have side effects from both your disease and your treatment. Don’t succumb to the pressures that others might place upon you. Take care of yourself because you are your own best advocate.
Just Say No!
Remember the “Just Say No to Drugs” program? The idea was that to show that people who just said “no” showed courage in the face of social pressure to use drugs. Well the same can be said for the pressure to create the perfect holiday event. Instead of a huge turkey with all the trimmings, maybe this year calls for a trip to someone else’s home or plan to have dinner out at a restaurant. Instead of inviting all the aunts, uncles and cousins for a feast, consider reducing this year’s dinner to immediate family. All those decorations, Christmas Eve parties, baking cookies and endless shopping trips could fall upon the shoulders of others. This year be brave and just say no if you feel too tired to cook or travel.
Make a Plan
Every journey begins with a first step. Planning your schedule ahead of time can relieve a tremendous amount of stress. Not everyone is compassionate and caring when it comes to the holidays. Some people become incredibly self-absorbed and might not even consider your disease a valid reason for changing their plans. You can’t control what other feel and say. You can control what you feel, and the choice is yours to ignore the negative Nellie’s out there. By announcing ahead of time what your intentions are, you give everyone an opportunity to know what they can expect from you.
Embrace the New Normal
I remember as a child that each Christmas morning was basically the same. My mother would gather all of us at the top of the stairs. My father would go down first to check for Santa (because we all know kids aren’t supposed to see Santa). Then the chaos would ensue as we made a dash for the gifts under the Christmas tree. Those were traditions that remained in our family for years. Last Christmas, I awoke in a small cabin in the mountains of Virginia. No Christmas tree and no kids. It was certainly different. I wasn’t sure how I would react. It was a wonderful day, just my wife and I enjoying the company of one another out in nature. It was a new normal as we adjusted to the fact that our children had grown, and now they had their own family traditions. The point is that there isn’t anything wrong with changing things up.
Having a Happier Holidays is a choice. You don’t have to allow cancer the chance to define who you are. You can take control of your life and still enjoy family and friends. Just remember to do it on your terms, working within your own limitations and doing what makes you both happy and healthy.
A New York woman’s difficult-to-treat triple negative breast cancer was defeated by eight rounds of chemotherapy, surgery, and then radiation. She is in complete remission, but this doesn’t guarantee the cancer will not recur, especially since she is unable to take Tamoxifen, a drug taken by thousands of women at risk for breast cancer.
But this woman has another weapon – mice. As a result of President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative, rolled out in his state of the union speech at the beginning of 2015, a laboratory in Manhattan has injected cells from her breast cancer into a dozen laboratory mice that were bred to have no immune system. Doctors will test different types treatments on these mice to determine which ones are most effective, so should her cancer come back, they will have a drug that specifically targets it.
Most medical treatments have been designed for the “average patient.” As a result of this “one-size-fits-all-approach,” treatments can be very successful for some patients but not for others. This is changing with the emergence of precision medicine, an innovative approach to disease prevention and treatment that takes into account individual differences in people’s genes, environments, and lifestyles. You could describe it as getting the right treatment to the right patient at the right time.
The Precision Medicine Initiative is a $215 million proposed investment in the President’s 2016 Budget to accelerate biomedical research and provide clinicians with new tools to select the therapies that will work best in individual patients.
Seventy million of the 215 million dollars of this goes to the National Cancer Institute to advance the field of precision oncology. On their most basic level, cancers are diseases in which normal cells grow more quickly than they die. Genes regulate this cycle of growth and death. Mutations in these genes can affect a person’s cancer risk, but they can end up in the genome in different ways. Some are inherited (the BRAC 1 and 2 genes), while acquired mutations develop over time due to environmental and lifestyle factors. Cancer happens when several of these mutations converge in one or a cluster of cells. And the same mutation can happen in lots of different places in the body. Thus it’s no longer important where the cancer originates, whether the lung or the breast or the brain, but what is driving the mutation.
With precision medicine the doctor will take a tiny sample of the tumor and sequence the genes in the cells. Once doctors identify the mutations driving the cancer, they can prescribe drugs that target only the cells with that mutation. Patients who are treated this way experience fewer side effects, feel better, and recover more quickly from treatment. Goals of the initiative include discovering more and better treatments for cancer by expanding clinical trials and establishing a network so scientists can share knowledge.
The largest part of the money, $130 million, is going to the National Institutes of Health in order to create a population-scale study of how peoples’ genes, environment, and lifestyle affect their health.
The ultimate goal is to have scientists build better tools and databases by using data from nearly one million volunteers. The data will be studied to develop a better understanding of their genetics and personal health traits to in turn, develop individualized treatments. The data may include information from medical records, lab tests, genetic pro-files, and other details such as diet, tobacco use, lifestyle and environment.
To this end volunteers are being sought. Participants will undergo a standard baseline exam for vital signs, a medication assessment, and provide a medical history and a blood sample.
They will be asked to volunteer key data including their electronic health records and health survey information. The study is looking for people of all ages and all health. It will follow these people and maintain regular contact. If researchers see something that looks medically alarming (high blood pressure, high cholesterol) they will alert the volunteer. More important, as data accumulates and is studied, breakthroughs in treatments and cures for all kinds of diseases that affect millions of people will continue to be made.
Indoor pesticide use has been linked with an increased risk for childhood leukemia and lymphoma, according to an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. These pesticides include professional pest control chemicals, indoor flea foggers, flea and tick pet collars, and various ready-to-use roach and ant sprays.
Researchers reviewed 16 studies of children exposed to indoor pesticides and concluded there is a 47 percent increased risk for leukemia and a 43 percent risk for lymphoma. They emphasize this is a very small percentage and not proof that these pesticides directly cause cancer; however, common sense dictates that use of any such chemicals be minimized indoors.
The Mediterranean diet – that of fish, nuts, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains – is known to protect against heart disease. But now a major component of it, extra-virgin olive oil, is thought to reduce breast cancer.
Researchers from the University of Navarra in Spain assigned 4,152 women between the ages of 60 and 80 to one of three diets: the Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, the diet supplement with mixed nuts, or a control group instructed only to reduce its dietary fat. Results indicated that the women who consumed the extra-virgin olive oil Mediterranean diet were 68% less likely to develop cancer than the ones who modified their diet for fat. The difference in the group that consumed the nuts and oil was negligible.
The women in the group with the lowest rate of breast cancer consumed about four tablespoons of olive oil in their diet a day. Extra-virgin olive oil is what is extracted from the very first squeezing of the olives.
Cancer treatment can be life-saving and life-costing. Women who undergo cancer treatment typically have less than a 5 percent chance of getting pregnant later as a result of chemotherapy and radiation. However, through a procedure that doctors began doing in the early 2000s, fertility can be restored in some women by removing all or part the ovary, freezing the tissue before cancer treatment, and then transplanting it back afterward.
Danish researchers looked at 41 women who underwent the procedure between 2003 and 2014. They found that about one-third who tried to have a baby actually succeeded.
Each year millions of people are robbed of their heath, as well as their financial and emotional security by cancer. It is an insidious disease. While pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, it has one of the highest rates of mortality (This year the American Cancer Society estimates approximately 48,900 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Of that number 40,500 are expected to die from the disease). One simple, yet tragic reason for this is that pancreatic cancer is rarely detected in its early stages. Left unchecked, the disease spreads rapidly, while the signs and symptoms of the disease don’t appear until the cancer has become quite advanced. By the time pancreatic cancer is diagnosed, surgical removal of the affected area becomes difficult or in many cases impossible.
The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach. In adults it measures about 6” in length and 2” in width. The pancreas contains two very important types of glands—exocrine and the endocrine glands. The exocrine gland creates enzymes that assist in digesting food. The endocrine gland produces hormones such as insulin and glucagon. These hormones are used by the body to regulate the amount of sugar in our blood.
Symptoms of the disease include upper abdominal pain that may radiate to the back, loss of weight, loss of appetite, blood clots, and depression. Risk factors include race (higher incidence in African-Americans), excess body weight, chronic inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), family history of the disease, and smoking.
Treatment can include surgery. Removal of the head of the pancreas (called a Whipple Procedure) or removal of the tail or body of the pancreas. In some cases the entire pancreas is removed. A technique called ablation or embolization may also be used to destroy tumors rather than removing them with surgery. Radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy may be used as means of treatment.
For more information about pancreatic cancer visit the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network website at pancan.org
Information provided in this article is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or other health care services. If you have questions or concerns, you should always seek the advice of a medical/health care professional.