Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Radiation--Curse or Cure?

Jim’s physicians have chosen Tomo Therapy to treat his latest (fourth) recurrence of lung cancer. What is it and how does it work?

Radiation for cancer therapy utilizes ions that pass through tissue causing the death of the cells in their path in two ways: 1. apoptosis(cell death within a few hours of radiation) 2. radiation-induced failure of cell division which in turn leads to eventual cell death.

In 2003 following surgery and chemotherapy, Jim took 30 treatments of conventional radiation to eliminate the lesion that penetrated the lining of the lung. The procedure required multiple applications because the total amount of radiation had to be divided into small doses to minimize damage to surrounding healthy tissue. At that time the doctor told us Jim would not be able to take any more radiation to the thoracic area because he had received the maximum lifetime amount.

Thankfully, by 2008, when the cancer metastasized to a spot near the spine, doctors were using IMRT, or targeted radiation making it possible to hone in on specific areas. IMRT, intensity-modulated radiation therapy, is an advanced mode of high-precision radiotherapy that uses computer controlled linear accelerators to deliver precise radation doses to a malignant tumor. Treatment is carefully planned using CT images in conjunction with computerized dose calculations—all to conform with the tumor shape.

Simply, IMRT is a custom tailored radiation dose that maximizes tumor dose and minimizes the dose to adjacent tissues. Because of this innovation, Jim was a candidate for more radiotherapy which successfully obliterated that initial metastasis.

Tomo Therapy is an even more advanced type of IMRT. The patented machine divides the radiation beam into tens of thousands of beamlets delivered so that the intensity can be controlled throughout the tumor and delivered from all angles with great precision. (Conventional radiation allows penetration from only a few directions.)
”Tomotherapy is a quick and painless process, with daily treatments that usually take about 20 minutes. The machine is shaped like a large ring, with a bench — sometimes known as a couch — that slides through the ring’s opening. The radiation therapist positions you on the couch, usually on your back. Once treatment starts, you move slowly through the center of the ring while lying on the couch.”
Bottom line: The patient can take higher doses of radiation in fewer treatments with less damage to surrounding tissue.

Tomorrow jim will take the last of the 5 prescribed treatments. We are meeting with the oncologist to discuss whether he will want to follow up with adjuvant chemotherapy . Jim is praying that it won’t be necessary but we trust Dr. Rios to make the right call. He hasn’t steered us wrong yet. Pray for wisdom as he makes this decision.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Poor Pitiful Pearl's Post

After a three hour wait for the verdict, we learned that Jim didn’t pass the test. Another recurrence. More cancer. Additional radiation.

Pollyanna says, “At least it is treatable. We know what we are dealing with. He has always responded to treatment.”

Poor Pitiful Pearl says, “What next? When will the chemo stop working? How much more can he take? Woe is me."

In January of 2012 when Jim was told, after his third recurrence of lung cancer, that he was cancer free, I tried to believe that we were done, that the beast was conquered. Over the next eight months we basked in the glorious sunshine of remission unhampered by cancer’s dark cloud. I dared to hope that cancer was gone forever.

It was not to be. While we were enjoying the respite, the cancer cells were regrouping for another silent attack. Now I wonder if I was right when I wrote in Cancer Journey: “Once cancer is outside the organ of origin, a cure is not possible.” And if the doctors were right when they said in 2002: “This cancer is unpredictable and incurable. ”

I hesitate to express my doubts and fears because I don’t want to bring the wrath of God down upon me for failing to appreciate all He has done for us.

But here is the ugly truth: I am afraid; I am weary; I am discouraged.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Test Anxiety

November will mark ten years since we had the first of what would become a long string of anxiety provoking diagnostic tests. You might think that by now I am an expert in managing the stress surrounding these scans. You think wrong.

I have always been plagued by test anxiety, but careful preparation kept the nerves in check. Even now, with my school days long past, I awaken in a sweat from nightmares in which I neglected to study for some big exam—a scenario that never happened in real life. I was far too motivated by fear of failure to let that happen.

Now ACTs and SATs have been replaced by CATs and PETs. Unfortunately, studying does nothing to alleviate the anxiety preceding these tests. There is no way to prepare for this kind of test—and there is a lot more riding on the results.

Tomorrow we will walk the four blocks to the oncologist’s office for our two o’clock appointment. If we are lucky, the nurse will call us back to the inner sanctum by three. I’ll work on my crossword puzzle or read a book while listening for the doctor to approach the room. More than likely he will not yet have looked at the scans. I may hear him on the phone discussing results with the radiologist—usually bad news if it requires discussion. Finally, he enters the room. After two hours, or more accurately, two days of waiting, my stomach is upset. What will the verdict be? New Growth. It's back. We see something suspicious. Or those most welcome of words: All clear.

Will we pass the test? God only knows.

Monday, July 30, 2012

When FaceBook Becomes Toxic

I like FaceBook. At best, it is a marvelous marketing tool and a connector of people with similar interests. I love keeping up with friends, seeing pictures of old schoolmates, and hearing about activities of far-off relatives. I get new recipes, healthy living tips, and book recommendations.

At worst, it is a colossal waste of time, a tool for procrastination, and a source of tremendous stress. FaceBook exposure can even lead to a newly identified malady—Face Book depression. Although unrecognized by the American Psychological Association :) the Urban Dictionary defines it thus:

“When you're on FaceBook and see your friends looking like they're living amazing lives while you're feeling like you're just barely making it and you become sadder and sadder with each update you see.”

FaceBook provides a digital replacement for the much-maligned, often ridiculed, stereotypical Christmas newsletter. You know the kind. “We had to cut our trip to Rome short to make it home in time for little John’s graduation from Harvard. Hard to believe he’s our third to graduate magna cum laude from an Ivy League school. Deidre is enjoying married life and so grateful that she can be a stay at home mom since Gottfried sold the business to Dell last year. Both of the grandchildren will be in camps this summer—Hermione at Interlochen and Sebastian at the Duke Early Talent Identification Program. You may have read about Oliver’s grant for cancer research. We’re so proud of him. Just hoping they can all find time to visit us in the Hamptons this summer.”

Cancer patients and caregivers are particularly vulnerable to this “grass is greener” phenomenon. When your only vacation is to a comprehensive cancer center for scans or treatment, reading about tropical get-aways replete with poolside service and turned down beds, rubs salt in an already painful wound. When your exercise consists of running up and down steps to take care of your husband, watching your friends skiing down mountaintops is a bit hard to take.

If your mood takes a plummet after a stint on FB, you might try:

1. Limiting your exposure. FaceBook can be addictive. You don’t need to get on every day. Try every other day or once a week or you might even consider abstinence.

2. Clean out your friend list. If there are particular people whose posts rub you the wrong way, temporarily block them. The gag reflex is a good measure of which friends should go.

3. Find some new “friends.” Search for pages that have a positive effect. I, for instance, “like” Lung Cancer Alliance, Lungevity, Caregiver, WTF (Where’s the Funding for Lung Cancer), and other pages that are either informative or uplifting.

4. Don’t feel guilty if reading about others’ good fortune is difficult. There are times when you have to protect yourself by separating from anything or anyone who brings you down—intentionally or more often, thoughtlessly.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Are Diagnostic Scans Killing You?

We came to Houston Sunday for Jim’s scans—the first since November when he was declared to be in full remission from stage IV lung cancer. The scan was to be a combined CT/PET. At least that is what we expected. But when Jim reported for the scan early Monday morning, the radiologist informed him that they would only be doing a PET—to be followed by a CT scan if anything lights up on the PET.

Obviously, the doctors are concerned about the excessive amount of cumulative radiation exposure Jim has incurred over the past nine years. I don’t have a precise number but I would be safe to say he has had 30 PET scans, 30 CT scans, 10 chest X-rays, 8 bone scans plus CT guided surgeries, and therapeutic high dose radiotherapy. It’s a wonder he is allowed to pass through airports! Initially no one thought he would live long enough to experience problems from the multitude of diagnostic tests and therapeutic procedures he has endured. But, he surprised them.

All of this got me thinking—and subsequently researching. How many scans are too many? What risks are involved? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

Most diagnostic tests use a form of radiant energy. X-rays have been around since 1895 when Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen accidentally discovered that cathode rays penetrated many kinds of matter. He took a picture of his wife’s hand and was amazed to see the clear image of her bones. His study led to the discovery of a new kind of electromagnetic wave which he called the “X-ray.”

At about the same time, scientists in other parts of Europe were working with other forms of penetrating radiation. The implications of these discoveries for the medical field were immediately apparent. What was not immediately apparent was the risk involved with prolonged exposure. Marie Curie whose work with uranium led to the discovery of radium and polonium died of pernicious anemia—more than likely a result of repeated exposure to the radioactive materials.

The risks inherent in the chemical structure of these elements present the same problems for us in the twenty first century.

We are exposed to radiation in every day living. In fact, you might say we are showered with it. The amount depends in part on where one lives and how much sun exposure one receives. The average exposure from natural sources is thought to be between 2 and 3 mSv per year. (An mSv is a measure of radiation--the effective dose or risk averaged over the entire body.) This is an oversimplification but gives us a comparison point for the ensuing discussion of exposure from tests and procedures.

One chest X-ray is equivalent to the amount of naturally occurring radiation one would absorb over a ten 10 day period. In other words, it is negligible.

But what about a CAT scan? I was surprised to learn that the radiation from a CAT scan of the abdomen and pelvis is equivalent to five years of naturally occurring radiation. If done with contrast—ten years!

Tomorrow I will discuss the risks verses benefits of routine testing.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Confucius say: Don't throw out baby with bathwater.

If you read my last post, Chinese Medicine: Panacea or Poppycock, you might conclude that I fall into the Poppycock camp. I don’t. But neither do I belong the Panacea camp. It is difficult for me to accept a mode of treatment which is not based on the anatomical structure of the human body. However, I concede that some aspects of Traditional Chinese medicine are helpful in certain situations even if I can’t accept the theories and philosophies on which they are based.

For example, Qigong, a “TCM system of exercise and meditation that combines regulated breathing, slow movement, and focused awareness” undoubtedly helps with relaxation, flexibility, and strength whether or not it controls the flow of “chi.” The gentle exercise probably does not have a direct effect on cancer, but it does effect the overall well being of the patient—possibly even boosting the immune system. Should you try it? Why not? Can’t do any harm.

There is emerging clinical evidence that acupuncture is effective in alleviating some medical conditions—side effects of chemotherapy, osteoarthritis, migraines, depression, and many other pain related symptoms. Because acupuncture has been deemed safe and without complications, I wouldn’t hesitate to try it for pain control. However, it is not a cure for the underlying condition.

Tui Na is a form of massage akin to acupressure (from which shiatsu evolved). Oriental massage is typically administered with the patient fully clothed, without the application of grease or oils. Choreography often involves thumb presses, rubbing, percussion, and stretches.” Again, I see no reason not to try this form of gentle massage. You don’t have to understand how it works to enjoy the benefits.

“Regarding Traditional Chinese herbal therapy, only a few trials of adequate methodology exist and its effectiveness therefore remains poorly documented.” Some of the herbs used in Chinese medicine are probably effective. No surprise, since many of our modern medicines are made from herbs. The problem with using herbs is in quality and quantity control. I have, in the past, taken herbs for energy, general well being, and minor health concerns, but I am always aware that they are not to be taken carelessly. Over the years I have tried the “herb a la mode” including cats claw, goldenseal, echinacea, ginkgo biloba, arnica, and a host of others. I no longer take herbs because I didn’t see any difference when taking them and, frankly, I got tired of taking (and paying for) so many supplements. I would not recommend herbal medicines for anyone with a serious disease.

Chinese food therapy according to Wikipedia is a practice in the belief of healing through the use of natural foods instead of medications. The underlying idea behind this practice is the balance of energy, Yin and Yang, through the use of “hot” and “cold” foods. This has nothing to do with temperature but rather the very essence of the food ingested. Who can deny the nutritional benefits of onion, garlic, ginger, tomato, mushrooms, and cucumber? But if my health practitioner asked me to eat a bird’s nest (that is the literal nest of a bird not the yummy noodle dish served in Chinese restaurants) or swallow broth made of duck gizzards, I don’t think I’d partake. Nor would I intentionally ingest ear wax, toe nails, or dandruff. But then “Chacun son gout” or “‘Everybody to their own notion,’ said the old lady when she kissed the cow.”

In my opinion, which is supported by controlled studies, the afore mentioned modalities of Traditional Chinese Medicine are harmless and possibly helpful in treating some medical conditions or or symptoms. I would not use them instead of conventional medicine for the treatment of cancer but would consider them as complements to a physician- directed cancer protocol. If you are a caregiver trying to reduce stress and maintain your health, you might consider these treatments.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Chinese Medicine: Panacea or Poppycock

“Chinese medicine refers to a broad range of medical practices sharing common theoretical concepts which have been developed in China and are based on a tradition of more than 2,000 years. These practices are a common part of medical care throughout East Asia but are considered alternative medicine in the Western world.”(Wikipedia)

Today’s proponents of traditional Chinese medicine seem to think that because it is old it is better. In reality, many of the theories on which it is based have been disproven by modern science. Others may not have been disproven, but they have not been “proven” to be effective in treating disease. I am amazed that rational people who would dismiss other ancient medical practices—voodoo, bloodletting, leeches, and trepanning, to name a few—are able to embrace medical practices based on the mysticism of an ancient culture. The theory in simplest terms on which Chinese medicine is based: Energy moves through meridians in the body, traveling to the organs. Illness results when this energy or “chi” is blocked. For healing to occur the flow of energy must be restored. Among the methods used to accomplish healing are cupping, qigong, moxtibustion, acupuncture, and various herbal remedies.

Medical education in most of China, until recent years, was inferior to medical education in Western countries. In fact, during the 1960s it was nearly non-existent. Admission to medical schools in the last decades of the 20th century required limited prior education. Some students had no more than a junior high education. Much of the curriculum was devoted to political ideology rather than rigorous medical training. However, doctors in the large cities were well trained and practiced conventional medicine.

Another interesting phenomenon peculiar to Chinese medicine was the institution of “barefoot doctors.” In 1968, in order to provide medical care to the largely rural population, farmers were trained to travel throughout their provinces giving basic care to the poor. Candidates were required to be high school graduates who then received three to six months training in a community hospital. The services they provided were basic and primarily preventive—first-aid for injuries, prenatal care, immunizations, childbirth, and health education. Because of the unavailability of many medications, they relied heavily on herbs and folk treatments. They were provided with a textbook, A Barefoot Doctor’s Manual, which gave instructions for the doctors when care in a modern facility was out of reach.

When the manual reached the Western hemisphere, “Chinese alternative medicine went from being a vague curiosity to being an all-out pop culture fad.”(Brian Dunning) People failed to realize that the information was written for lay “doctors” doing the best they could for a population that had no access to modern medicine or hospitals. The methods were not the first choice but better than nothing in less than ideal conditions.

If you are considering an alternative medicine for a life threatening disease like cancer, be sure you have all the facts. Natural doesn’t always mean better. Purge the poppycock.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Alternative Treatments and Cancer

Complementary/alternative treatments, CAM, are becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Perhaps because we seem to be losing the war on cancer, many are seeking less toxic treatments with fewer long term side-effects.

Are you considering a “natural” treatment for cancer? What exactly are alternative treatments?

The U.S. government, on its website devoted to Complementary and Alternative Medicine, breaks down these therapies into five categories:

• Biologically-Based, such as herbal supplements, botanicals, animal-derived products, vitamins, proteins, probiotics and other organic approaches.

• Energy Medicine, such as veritable energy like sound, electromagnetic forces, and light or putative energy fields (also called biofields) which work to identify a body's own energy field, also called "chi." Alternative medicine professionals believe that when these biofields are disturbed, it causes illness in the body.
Examples of energy medicine are acupuncture, reiki, Qi gong, homeopathy, healing touch and intercessory prayer in which the prayers of one person help improve the health of another. These particular therapies are among the most controversial of the CAM therapies.

• Manipulative and Body-Based, such as chiropractic, osteopathic, reflexology, and therapeutic massage. These therapies rely on the structures and systems of the body, making adjustments to them to heal symptoms and medical problems.

• Mind-Body Medicine, which focuses on the interactions among the brain, behavior and physical health, such as meditation, yoga, biofeedback, tai chi, even spirituality.

• Whole Medical Systems that have evolved totally separately from what we consider to be conventional medicine in the United States. These systems have names like naturopathy, homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, Eastern medicine and Ayurvedic medicine. You will see some of these names already mentioned in the categories above. The distinction here is in the way they developed rather than the therapy itself.

These alternative treatments hold great appeal for me, as they do for anyone seeking a more natural approach to health. The problem is that there is little scientific based evidence of their efficacy. During the next few weeks, I will delve into these therapies to help you decide whether and how you might incorporate them into your cancer treatments.

Tomorrow, we will discuss, Chinese Medicine: Panacea or Poppycock?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cancer Economics

Before cancer, I didn’t pay much attention to health coverage. No one in our family had been seriously ill and we had excellent group insurance through Jim’s employer. Our deductible was negligible. When we were deciding on an oncologist, I remember in my naiveté telling Jim, “I don’t care whether the doctor we choose accepts our insurance, we are going to the place that is best for you even if it means paying out of our own pockets.” Little did I know that our pockets would be emptied along with our piggy banks after first week of cancer treatment.

We were fortunate. For the first five years of cancer treatments, our insurance paid 100%. Even the Neupogen and Epogen injections I gave Jim at home were fully covered. Thank God because the shots would have cost 4,000 dollars a week or 128,000 dollars for the sixteen weeks of treatment.

By the time of Jim’s first lung cancer recurrence, our benefits changed—requiring a 10% co-pay, a sizeable amount considering the astronomical cost of cancer treatment—but still manageable. Manageable, but enough to make us question the cost verses benefits of every recommended drug and procedure.

In 2011, we, the first of the baby boomers became card carrying members of AARP. Medicare is now our primary provider and we had to choose which part, which supplement, and which drug plan we wanted for secondary. After much research and professional advice, we chose AARP for our prescription drug coverage. We followed instructions, contacted our physicians to send in prescriptions, and waited to begin receiving our meds.

Instead we received calls to tell us that several of our drugs had not been approved. Nearly all of those that were approved tripled in cost.

I only take four medications: Boniva, Lexapro, Singulair, and Lumigan (an eye drop for Glaucoma). I could probably live without all but the Lumigan, and I may choose to do just that.

Jim who took no meds prior to his cancer diagnosis now takes a whopping fifteen. And that excludes any chemotherapeutic agents since he is off chemo at the present time. To be fair not all of his medications increased in cost, but the eight that did, skyrocketed.

I have always been sympathetic to the plight of senior citizens who are unable to afford life sustaining medications. I never imagined I would be one of them.

When I fear that we won’t be able to afford Jim’s medications or more accurately that our savings will be wiped out by rising medical costs, I must remind myself that God has provided for us throughout this journey, indeed, throughout our lives. He will continue to provide what we need when we need it. “Therefore, take not thought, saying what shall we eat? Or what shall we drink? Or Wherewithal shall we be clothed...for your heavenly father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.”

Insurance providers will change; Medicare might fail; Social Security might come tumbling down. But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The remaining resolutions concern time management.

Keeping my other resolutions—blog more regularly, juicing, daily Bible reading, more frequent exercise—requires better time management.

Lack of time is a fundamental stressor in the life of a caregiver. Finding time for oneself is often impossible. This was true for me even before I became a writer. Three years ago when I first began writing for publication, I pared down my schedule and adjusted my priorities so that I would have time to take care of my husband and fulfill my own desire to write. Giving up tennis gave me ample time to write, publish, and market my first book.

Writers are great procrastinators. As time passed, I’ve found ways to waste the time I gained. If I vow to write for an hour each day, I sit down at the computer and waste 30 or 45 minutes reading emails and checking facebook, my favorite shopping sites, and e-bay. By the time I get around to working on my book, articles, or blog, I am sleepy or hungry. Once I get up from my work station, I am likely not to return.

I’m trying something different this year. Instead of devoting an hour a day to business, I am committing to ½ hour. And most important, I don’t do anything else on the computer until that time is up. No facebook, no Pinterest, no emails until I’ve done something constructive. Surprisingly, getting started is half the battle. When the half hour ends, I often plunge ahead with what I’m working on.

I encourage you to consider how you are spending your time. Can you become a better time manager? Take a look at those activities that suck precious minutes from your day. Would you be better off without them? Such pastimes can masquerade as tension relievers but actually result in creating tension when they keep you from productive activities (exercise, Bible Study, social interaction, reading). Maybe you need to limit your time on Facebook or computer games.

Betty White summed up my feelings about Facebook when she hosted Saturday Night Live:

“I didn’t know what Facebook was, and now that I do know what it is, I have to say, it sounds like a huge waste of time. I would never say the people on it are losers, but that’s only because I’m polite. People say ‘But Betty, Facebook is a great way to connect with old friends.’ Well at my age, if I wanna connect with old friends, I need a Ouija Board. Needless to say, we didn’t have Facebook when I was growing up. We had phonebook, but you wouldn’t waste an afternoon with it.”

Right on, Betty!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Juicing-- Drink Your Veggies

Let’s take a look at juicing--resolution #7.

I have been “cleaning” up my diet for so long, my insides should be Mr. Clean-sparkling. Unfortunately, they are not. After failing to adhere to many New Year’s resolutions, this time I’ve decide to ratchet my expectations down a bit. Rather than deny myself anything, I’m going to add something--a nutrient brimming, daily juice.

The NCI, National Cancer Institute, recommends 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Juicing is an excellent way to reach that goal. Early in our cancer journey—actually between Jim’s lobectomy (that's lobectomy not lobotomy) and the time he started chemo (6 weeks)—I incorporated juicing into his daily routine. I started with the more palatable carrot combinations and eventually cajoled him into drinking three, eight ounce glasses a day. My hope was not to cure the cancer but to build him up before he began treatment. Evidently, it worked.

Once he started chemo, we gave up juicing. With the loss of appetite, nausea and mouth sores, getting him to eat anything was an accomplishment. Over the last 10 years, during periods of remission, I tried juicing again. We bought a Blendtec to make fruit smoothies into which I would sneak an occasional handful of spinach. Fruit combinations go down easy—vegetables, not so much.

My friend, Jess Ainscough, The Wellness Warrior, who is fighting cancer with the Gerson method has some excellent advice on juicing. This is her recipe for basic green juice.

Caution: Items in picture appear much tastier than they are :)

1 stalk kale
1 stalk silverbeet or Swiss chard
1 leaf Cos (Romaine) lettuce
1 frozen banana
Coconut water or purified water
1 tsp spirulina

What to do:

1. Add green leaves to the blender and cover with coconut water and/or water. Blend until smooth.

2. Add frozen banana and blend again.

3. Add spirulina and blend again.

4. Enjoy!

The first three steps are easy enough, but the last step gives me trouble. I don’t really enjoy the concoction. The addition of fresh lemon juice helps somewhat.

Juicing—even once a day—is a chore for me. During the busy holiday, on a trip to Costco for more processed, fat laden foods, I noticed a bottle of familiar looking green sludge on the shelf in the refrigerator section. After examining the list of ingredients, I decided to give “Naked-The Green Machine” a try.

I recommend it, not as a replacement for fresh juice, but as an option for those days when you are in a hurry. And, it tastes good—so good that I wonder how much of the beneficial greens are included in the fruit mixture. Evita Ochel, editor of Evolving Wellness and a certified nutritionist, biologist and educator, says about Naked, “This product is way better than 99% of all the other bottled beverages out there,” but it still loses something in the processing.

If you are a novice juicer you might give Naked a try. I’m hoping this tasty alternative will prepare my picky palate for the more potent home-brewed potion.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Dose of Gratitude to fight Cancer

Enough about exercise let’s move on, or rather back, to my second resolution:

2. Before getting out of bed, give thanks for five things.

If you have read my first book, Cancer Journey: A Caregiver’s View from the Passenger Seat, you may remember that one of the first lessons I learned when confronted with cancer was that I was to respond to my situation with thanksgiving—not for the cancer, of course, but for the good that God could bring from it.

It should be easier to give thanks when all is well in life, but after a long period of adversity, often we are lulled into thinking that we have earned our blessings. Not wanting to fall into that trap, during this welcome time of Jim’s remission, I decided to make a conscious effort to thank God for the blessings of the day—morning and night.

The Bible gives clear instructions about giving thanks. "At all times and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father" (Ephesians 5: 20). Like many commands in the Bible, to give thanks in all situations seems not only difficult but counterintuitive. However, life experience has shown me that all of God’s laws were designed for our own good that we might have joyful abundant lives. This one is no exception.

Gratitude has lately become a buzz word among health experts. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reported that people who maintain an “attitude of gratitude” tend to be happier and healthier than those who don’t.

Robert Emmons, a scientific expert on gratitude and the editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology has done research indicating that gratitude not only can increase happiness but can even help people with chronic health problems.

If gratitude goes against your grain, don't worry. Change your behavior, and the attitude will follow.

1. Follow my lead and start and end the day with thanksgiving. If you can't find five reasons to be grateful, start with one. Even if you don't "feel" thankful, do it anyway.

2. You might also keep a gratitude journal, recording daily the blessings you have received.

3. Make it a point to thank those who perform a service for you.

4. Write a note or send a card to someone whom you appreciate.

Start today. After a few weeks you should see a change in the way you feel.

And, Thanks for following my blog.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Exercise and Cancer

The benefits of exercise are indisputable but you may not know that physical activity has been shown to effect cancer recovery and cancer prevention. Today's guest blogger is David Haas, a cancer survivor, patient advocate, and researcher for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Cancer and Exercise: The Benefits are Enormous

No one wants to hear the word cancer, ever. There is nothing good about the word and what it means for anyone that has to hear it because it typically means that someone you love, or even you yourself has been diagnosed with the terrible illness and the road ahead is going to be a long, arduous one. Unfortunately, too many people are diagnosed every year with different forms of cancer, especially rare cancers such as mesothelioma. Mesothelioma doctors, and other doctors that treat other forms of cancer, believe in the benefits of exercising whether you were recently diagnosed with cancer, are undergoing treatment for cancer or you have overcome cancer and are currently in remission.

You know that the benefits of exercise are enormous in your everyday life; healthier bodies are just a few of the benefits of exercise. But did you know that exercising while you are fighting cancer also has enormous health benefits? According to the New York Times, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center sponsors an aerobics class for cancer patients because doctors are so positive that the effects of good health and exercise are beneficial to patients in their attempt to overcome cancer.

It is no secret that working out is not everyone’s favorite activity, but it does make you feel better when you are finished. You feel healthier and your mood is improved because you’ve just done something good for yourself and your body. When you are undergoing cancer treatments, recently learned of a diagnosis or are in remission, the positive attitude – and other health benefits – attained from exercising is helpful to you. Doctors recommend exercising as much as possible, when possible during the course of your cancer treatments or diagnosis. Of course, not all cancer patients are in the position to work out at all times, but even light exercise such as a short walk each day is enough to boost health, both mentally and physically.

Wendy Rahn, a cancer survivor, stated that once she underwent her double mastectomy, her shoulders were in so much pain she was often hunched over and unable to stand straight. After doing some research she discovered that she may be able to alleviate the pain with exercise and decided to give it a go. Upon exercising, the pain was alleviated and she has since opened a fitness center in Minnesota designed to help cancer patients and survivors with their pain.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Get off the Couch, Potato

4. Exercise at least four days per week. (mixing Pilates, Barre Tone, walking)

Don’t worry. You didn’t miss resolutions 2 and 3. My original intention was to discuss the resolutions in the listed order. However, today I am skipping ahead to # 4 because the topic goes hand in hand with a book I am recommending written by my friend and colleague, Kathi Casey. If you are fighting cancer or if you are caregiver for someone who is, you probably have little time to devote to organized exercise. Kathi's book will give you some creative ways to incorporate fitness into your daily routine--however hectic it might be.

You probably know by now how these promotions work. If you purchase the book today, you will receive hundreds of bonuses from authors (including me), business leaders, and experts in various fields.

Note: I am recommending Kathi’s book not endorsing the products or services included in the bonuses. That said, I’m sure there are some among the many partners that you would find helpful and in keeping with a Christian world view.

About the book:

“Get Off the Couch Potato!” is a powerful, yet fun, 30-day fitness program you can begin while lying on your couch watching TV! Each day's exercise is demonstrated by Kathi's lovable Couch Potato!

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Tomorrow guest blogger, David Haas, cancer survivor and patient advocate with the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, will share more on this topic.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Magic of Melatonin

In the early nineties, long before Cancer arrived at our doorstep, I started taking melatonin as a sleep aid. We were traveling a lot at the time and moving across time zones which exacerbated my pre-existing sleep problems. When I saw that it helped with jet lag, I wanted to try it for insomnia but I was concerned about side-effects, the correct dosage, and any problems that might arise with self medication—even though it was touted as natural and harmless.

We didn’t even own a computer at the time which made research a little more difficult. So when I saw The Melatonin Miracle in the book section at our natural food store, I snatched it up. This is what I learned:

1. Melatonin is a hormone produced in all mammals by the pineal gland.

2. The pineal gland, sometimes referred to as the “aging clock,” is part of the endocrine system and located in the center of the brain.

3. The production of melatonin, affected directly by the circadian cycle, decreases as we age.

4. Melatonin has proven to be a safe and effective sleep aid.

The authors, Walter Pierpaoli and William Regelson, included much more in the book about the benefits of melatonin supplementation: slowing the aging process, boosting the immune system, increase in sexual function, improved memory, and more. I wasn’t thoroughly convinced the pill was a miracle solution to all of these problems, but if it would help me get a good night’s sleep, it was miracle enough. If it delivered on all the other promises, all the better.

I started taking melatonin regularly in 1994 and have continued to this day. I take two, one milligram pills, sublingually, between 10 and 10:30 every night. I seldom have any problem going to or staying asleep. The only side effect I have ever experienced is intensified dreaming.

In 2009, during Jim’s fourth episode of lung cancer, his oncologist recommended that he take 20 milligrams of melatonin each night along with metformin a drug used for diabetics. Recent research, he explained, indicated that the two drugs, or I should say the supplement and the drug, in combination, were being used to slow the progression of solid tumor cancers.

It seems Pierpaoli and Regelson were on the right track; maybe melatonin is a miracle.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Tips for a Restful Sleep

“When thou liest down, thou shall not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down and thy sleep shall be sweet” (Proverbs 3: 24).

I have had sleeping problems most of my life. I suffered from insomnia, night terrors, sleep walking and talking, and most other sleep disturbances. In college and during my young adult years, my main problem was falling asleep. In later years I had trouble staying asleep.

I’ve tried every method to cure insomnia—warm milk, a hot toddy, a clean conscience—and finally hit on a routine that helps. A warm bath, an hour or two of reading, a comfortable bed (preferably my own), high count cotton sheets, a room with good feng shui, and a few melatonin upon retiring. The room temperature has to be just right—not too hot, not too cold. The covers must be the right weight and the pillow neither too firm nor too squishy. When I am worried, I don’t count sheep, I repeat Bible verses.

These tips might help you get the quality sleep essential to mental and physical health:

1. Try to adhere to a regular bedtime.

2. Take a warm bath before retiring.

3. Keep the room cool. (68 degrees is good for me.)

4. Use natural fibers in bedding.

5. Avoid caffeine after 5 p.m.

6. If you are disturbed by noises, try a sound machine. (white noise, waves, birds chirping)

7. If you are over forty, consider melatonin supplements.

8. Keep a notepad by your bedside to record last minute thoughts.

9. Practice gratitude. Fall asleep thanking God for the blessings of the day.

10. Memorize scripture verses to repeat when you awaken in the night.

Tomorrow, I will discuss the benefits of melatonin as a sleep aid and as an immune system booster in cancer treatment.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

How much sleep is enough?

Day five and holding.

Let’s take a look at the motivation behind my resolutions so that you can decide whether to incorporate some of them into your personal list.

1. Set alarm for fifteen minutes earlier.

Notice I didn’t mention the specific time I wake up.

I’ve always required a lot of sleep—at least eight hours, preferably nine. My mother who was lax about most health habits held firm on an early bedtime. The habit stuck with me. When my college friends were burning the midnight oil, I was fast asleep with my earplugs firmly inserted. Since my oldest child left for college, I set my alarm at the embarrassingly late hour of 8:30 a.m. on days that I have nothing scheduled which is most days since I rigidly avoid early morning activities and appointments.

Turns out Mom was right. Authorities agree that most adults need 7-9 hours of quality sleep for optimal health and performance. Recent research indicates that not getting enough sleep can contribute to a multitude of problems—even cancer. “....individuals [who do not get enough sleep] are not only immune suppressed, but they are also at an increased risk of developing a number of different types of cancer.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19095474

Jim was always an early riser—awake at 5 or 5:30 for a three to five mile run and then off to work by 7. He slept soundly and insisted he only needed five or six hours. That may have been because of the cat naps he grabbed in the middle of conversations, during movies, and, most alarmingly, while driving down the road. Now I wonder if those years of sleep deprivation contributed to the onset of lung cancer.

Why, then, if sleep is so important, am I beginning the year with the intention of getting less? Time management. I don’t think I’ll miss the fifteen minutes and I can use that time for some of my other resolutions.You, on the other hand, may need more sleep.

If you are a caregiver, sleep is essential to combat stress. If you are fighting cancer, sleep is essential to healing. Tomorrow I will give you some tips for getting a good night’s sleep.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Caregiver's New Year Resolutions

Although New Years Eve is my least favorite holiday, I love the onset of the New Year. A New Year signifies a new beginning, a fresh start, a chance to look at where we’ve been and where we are going.

I, like most people, make resolutions but seldom keep them all. Rather than berate myself for my lack of follow-through, I recognize the value of making the resolutions in the first place. I view them as goals which if practiced long enough might become habits. At the very least, I am headed in the right direction.

A caregiver’s goals should not add stress to an already stressful existence. They should be attainable and designed to improve well-being, both in mind and body.
Here are ten goals I have set for 2012. Remember, my husband is in remission; I have more time than when he is in treatment. My goals might be too ambitious for you or not ambitious enough.

A Caregivers New Year Resolutions

1. Set alarm fifteen minutes earlier.

2. Before getting out of bed, give thanks for five things.

3. Read Bible and daily devotional.

4. Exercise at least four days per week. (mixing Pilates, Barre Tone, walking)

5. Spend average of 30 minutes per day writing. (newsletter, blog, new book) No FB or email until writing is finished.

6. Blog. Blog. Blog.

7. Drink one vegetable smoothie or fresh juice drink five days per week.

8. Read and respond to emails twice daily—only.

9. Limit FB, Pinterest, and on line shopping to 20 min per day.

10. When I hit the bed, give thanks for five things.

On day three, my resolve is holding. In upcoming posts, I will elaborate on my resolutions AND let you know how I am doing.