Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Asbestos and Mesothelioma

The question most of us have is that when is a minor issue a problem that deserves attention.  As I mentioned in an earlier post ( I have been coughing since December. Could be asthma and allergies, they say, but I am not responding to those meds. So, the question my oncologist and internist (and husband) want to know is why. I blamed the Tamoxifen, and while no one is arguing with me, they still want confirmation that I don’t have some other issue. Since I am phobic about unnecessary tests and drugs, I have put off this question.  However, Onc strongly insisted on a chest x-ray and internist says that while that scan was clear, I must see a lung specialist (pulmonologist) as something is not quite right.  Super.  So I decide to wait until after the hurricane (clever avoidance) but alas, I will go.  I have always worried about asbestos exposure, building I worked in during the early 80’s was condemned and asbestos removed.  At the time, all I knew is being there made me very ill, despite the fact that I loved the job. I am sure that I kept the makers of Kleenex sitting pretty.  Naturally now I wonder if there is a connection to my cancer and that exposure. I also worry about my exposure during 9/11.  Sorry, but those who were to protect us lied and assured us all that the air was safe, now we see the truth, and many have suffered and died. My markers have been good, so I am not terribly concerned, but I am concerned that they will order more tests and prescribe more drugs.  Ah, I guess it is what it is and in the scheme of things, what can I complain about. 
So when is a symptom something to worry about?  I’d say when it is persistent and does not respond to remedies. This brings me to today’s guest post by Ben Leer, Outreach Coordinator for the Mesothelioma Center ( Mesothelioma is a cancer that often goes undiagnosed until late stage, so when Ben asked if he could guest blog about it, I said yes. Please remember that just because you have some of the symptoms, this does not mean you have cancer, and at the same time, just as with other diseases, you need not have all the symptoms to have the disease.
Asbestos and Mesothelioma

Asbestos was a mineral widely used in manufacturing.  It had amazing strength and heat resistant properties.  Common household items that contained asbestos products included; paint, dry wall, insulation and flooring. The uses of asbestos were not limited to the household.  It was incredibly versatile and found uses in the military, railroads, textile mills, automobile industry and more. 

In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had begun banning and a phasing out existing products that contains asbestos.  This was due to an overwhelming amount of evidence that linked asbestos to a cancer called Mesothelioma.  Asbestos exposure accounts for 4% of lung cancer cases. The same material that was meant to protect us from fire hazards actually caused cancer.  Lung cancer cases occur more than any other cancer. In 2011 there will be an estimated 221,130 new cases with 156,940 deaths.
Mesothelioma occurs when ingested asbestos fibers become lodged in the lining of our organs and irritate the neighboring cells.  Our bodies are not well equipped to remove the rigid and strong asbestos fibers. Eventually, this irritation may turn into a tumor which can lead to the growth of cancerous cells.  The latency period for this to occur is anywhere between 20-50 years after initial exposure.

The most common form of mesothelioma accounts for around 75% of cases and occurs in the lungs. Symptoms include chest pains, shortness of breath, reduced chest expansion, harsh breathing sounds, dry cough, wheezing, and pleural effusions. Early detection of mesothelioma is a key component to prognosis.  Imaging tests such as CT scans, PET scans or MRI’s are common and produce a detailed picture of the progression of the cancer.  The real key is prevention.  Being able to identify asbestos and avoid becoming exposed.

Many people may have been exposed and may not be aware.  Veterans comprise 30% of mesothelioma cases since every branch of the military had used asbestos. Ships, battle cruisers and submarines contained asbestos in the insulation of engine rooms along with several other components.  Other occupations that have been exposed to asbestos are shipyard workers, demolition, industrial plants, pipefitters, and machinists.

If you would like more information on asbestos exposure and asbestos related diseases, please feel free to visit the Mesothelioma Center, Twitter or Facebook.  You will be able to find over 3000 pages of comprehensive content that is designed to walk a patient through symptoms, diagnosis and prognosis. Additionally, we provide free informational material, as well as direct contact with one of our Patient Advocates.

Elyn Jacobs
Elyn Jacobs is President of Elyn Jacobs Consulting, Inc. and a breast cancer survivor.  She empowers women diagnosed with cancer to navigate the process of treatment and care, and she educates about how to prevent recurrence and new cancers.  She is passionate about helping others get past their cancer and into a cancer-free life.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Health & Fitness Helps Cancer Patients Improve Their Health

Today I would like to share with you a guest post by blogger David Haas. David is a cancer patient advocate who spends time writing and researching for the betterment of others.  You all know how I stress exercise during and post treatment.  David shares with us some helpful information on the subject.  Just remember, during treatment, you need to listen to your body and your mind.  Some days you may feel like exercising and some not; this is okay; really….my wish is for you to feel good about it and yourself.  Be well. 

Health & Fitness Helps Cancer Patients Improve Their Health, by David Haas

For a person who just received a cancer diagnosis or is experiencing physical pain from cancer treatments, physical activity may seem like the least beneficial thing they can do for themselves. Cancer patients may feel tired after their treatment, and they may not feel up to the challenge. However, becoming or remaining physically active is actually the best thing that a person who is battling cancer can do, and it has benefits that extend far beyond weight loss or increased agility. There is a proven connection between the body and the mind. Consequently, keeping both of them healthy is the best way to achieve a balanced life beyond a cancer diagnosis.

According to an article by the National Cancer Institute, fatigue and physical functioning are factors that directly influence the quality of life for cancer patients.  This has the same effect whether someone is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer or going through painful and overwhelming mesothelioma treatment. If a cancer patient is experiencing extreme tiredness from treatments or from mental stress, they may not want to engage in exercise. However, fatigue may soon set in as a result of inactivity. Then, reduced physical functioning is almost sure to follow. Because this will lessen the quality of life for the cancer patient, keeping a schedule of regular physical activity is of the utmost importance.

Along with keeping the body and the mind healthy, engaging in fitness activities while undergoing treatment can also help some patients keep their weight down and their muscles well toned. Weight gain can occur due to some of the medicine that a cancer patient is taking, or as a result of neglecting to carefully monitor their diets. Working with a doctor or fitness expert to create a fitness routine that can effectively address these issues will help to make sure that the patient’s body remains in the best possible condition throughout the process of diagnosis and treatment.

The National Cancer Institute article mentioned above states that there are often more gains in health that happen with cancer patients who exercise than with those who do nothing at all. This should help cancer patients understand the importance of making sure that fitness is a priority. It is understandable that someone who has just finished a chemotherapy treatment or a round of medicine may not always feel up to walking on the treadmill or biking through the park. In these cases, it is imperative that the patient remembers that balance is the key to achieving a healthy body and healthy mind. When balance is the ultimate goal, fitness can become an enjoyable part of any cancer patient’s life.

Elyn Jacobs
Elyn Jacobs is President of Elyn Jacobs Consulting, Inc. and a breast cancer survivor.  She empowers women diagnosed with cancer to navigate the process of treatment and care, and she educates about how to prevent recurrence and new cancers.  She is passionate about helping others get past their cancer and into a cancer-free life.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Terri's Big Dream

Today's guest post is by Terri Wingham.  Thank you Terri for sharing your dream with me.  I have heard countless women saying that their lives and focus changed dramatically after cancer, and that their old lives seem empty.  Her dream may inspire you to join in or find your own dream.

"It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting, he thought, as he looked again at the position of the sun and hurried his pace." - One of my favourite quotes from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.
Cancer turned me from a pragmatic realist into a dreamer. In my old life, I wrapped my fingers, like the sucking tentacles of an octopus, around anything I thought could control. I thought if I could work 60-80 hours a week, juggle my schedule to try to make other people happy, and earn a six figure salary by the time I turned 30, someone would give me the key to a mystical place where my worries would disappear and I could finally relax.
Then, October 27, 2009 arrived and as I sat on a scratchy purple couch outside the doors of one of the cavernous conference rooms at the Vancouver Convention Center, a doctor's voicemail pried the fingers of control open and I watched life as I knew it, slip right through.
Some of you know the rest of the story...18 months of treatment including 3 surgeries, 4 round of chemotherapy, baldness, a flat chest, hot flashes, depression, and disillusionment....what a ride. But, then...on New Years Day of this year, the heavy fog surrounding my heart lifted and for the first time ever, I listened to the Hell Yes in my gut and came up with a crazy dream to go to Africa.
With an outpouring of support from friends, family, and readers, I raised the money to participate in a six week volunteer program in the Townships of Cape Town. Some of you came along as I crashed into love with a group of mischievous 1-3 year olds, met women my age who had lost entire families to AIDS, and saw more joy on the faces of people who struggled to provide their families with the basic necessities of life, then I ever felt when I earned my six figure income.
If you visit the My Story page on A Fresh Chapter, you will read my (still unanswered) email to Oprah and learn about the book I am sweating through writing. But, today, I want to tell you about a different dream, a MUCH bigger dream that might involve you or someone you know. If I can just get past the anxiety building in my chest and string letters into sentences so I can share it with you, I know I will get one step closer to making it a reality.
I can hear you saying, as you think of all of the other things you need to do today, "C'mon already....what's the dream?"
So, here it is.
I want to start a Not For Profit to help other cancer survivors volunteer internationally. If you have a few moments, please come visit my new page entitled My Big Dream where I tell you more about why I think this experience might heal other survivors in the way it healed me.
I would love to hear your thoughts, positive or negative, about this idea because I don't pretend to know what will work for everyone. Each of us who have faced cancer have handled the experience in our own way and come through it with a different perspective about what we need to move forward. This idea is still a red faced, naked, newborn baby and I know your input will help shape it through the sleepless nights and dirty diapers of its infancy...
In order to start making this dream a reality, I am officially giving up my apartment in Vancouver on September 30th, lending or giving away almost all of my worldly possessions and packing my bags for a Round The World Trip. As I write these words, the old me wants to drop-kick the new me and wrap my arms around everything I own and refuse to let go.
But,  every time I feel the old tightness of fear clamp down on my chest, I look at Mark Twain's quote, written on a card, and stuck to my fridge: Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines! Sail away from the safe harbour! Catch the trade winds in your sails! Explore! Dream! Discover!
I'm not suggesting that all of us should quit our jobs and travel the world in the hopes of starting a Not For Profit. But, I would love to bring you with me as I figure out a way to partner with a volunteer organization and then raise awareness for this new venture by traveling the world, volunteering in Asia, Africa, and maybe even South America and then putting the structure in place to help other people dream big, post-cancer, reinvent your life kind of dreams.
So, what do you think?
If you want to get involved or have any ideas around shaping this Not For Profit, please email me. I would LOVE your support and to hear your feedback. I have no idea how to make this happen, but recent events in my life have taught me that Courage is Not the Absence of Fear and if I dream a big dream, anything is possible.

Terri Wingham is a blogger, world traveler, friend, sister, aunt, daughter, wine lover, post-wine booty shaker, writer, dreamer, and breast cancer survivor. Terri’s current address is in Vancouver, Canada, but after her recent return from 10 weeks in Africa, she is itching to finish her book, pack her bags, and travel the world while she starts a Not For Profit to help other cancer survivors volunteer internationally. Follow Terri’s adventures on her blog: A Fresh Chapter.

Elyn Jacobs

Elyn Jacobs is President of Elyn Jacobs Consulting, Inc. and a breast cancer survivor.  She empowers women diagnosed with cancer to navigate the process of treatment and care, and she educates about how to prevent recurrence and new cancers.  She is passionate about helping others get past their cancer and into a cancer-free life.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Early Detection is NOT the Same as Prevention

The State of Maryland recently convened a team of researchers, patients and doctors to develop an anti-cancer plan they call the Comprehensive Cancer Control Plan.  Control? Interesting word, but not one I want to hear from government.  However, the plan has some merit.   Ann Taylor, vice president of support services at Atlantic General Hospital, explains that “The state plan is superior to one released in 2004 because it focuses on individual ownership of health with emphasis on nutrition and continued screenings for cancer.”  I like this.  I also liked what Frances Phillips, Deputy Director of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, had to say: “We know now that so much cancer is preventable or survivable with early detection and good treatment. There are also chapters on pain management and support for families burdened with cancer. It’s important we keep in mind that cancer is a disease that affects virtually every Maryland family.”

 However, what I didn’t like is that they confuse readers by suggesting that prevention is the same thing as detection. “Prevention methods include blood tests for colon cancer and mammograms to check for breast cancer. Other methods for cancer screening include PET scans, MRI scans and CT scans, which can be expensive since they use advanced equipment.”  Sorry, Mr. Phillips, but while screening is great, it does not prevent most cancers (the exception being colonoscopy [before polyps become cancerous]and paps and maybe a few others).  Screening does not prevent breast cancer.  One could argue that screening sometimes discovers the pre-cancerous LCIS, but for all the women whose screening did not detect anything less than cancer, one needs to be careful.  One does not have to have LCIS to develop cancer, and is involved in very few cases.

 I have heard so many women say, “But how could this have happened, I get a mammogram every year!”  Too many women are led to believe that screening is preventive.  Not true; screening allows for early detection.  The jury is still out whether or not early detection saves lives, but for sure it saves quality of life (i.e. less horrific and toxic treatment).    Ms Taylor goes on to say “Our focus is to prevent recurrence in patients who have had cancer. We work with programs to fit patients into breast and cervical, colonoscopy screening.”  Screening does not prevent recurrence, it detects it so it can be treated or managed.

So, my feeling is that while I applaud the State of Maryland for taking action, they need to understand the facts and not delude people into thinking that by undergoing screening, they will reduce risk.  They need to beef up efforts to educate people on real preventive measures such as maintaining a healthy weight, moderate exercise, a healthy diet, giving up smoking, reducing inflammation, avoiding environmental toxins and reducing stress.

Elyn Jacobs

Elyn Jacobs is President of Elyn Jacobs Consulting, Inc. and a breast cancer survivor.  She empowers women diagnosed with cancer to navigate the process of treatment and care, and she educates about how to prevent recurrence and new cancers.  She is passionate about helping others get past their cancer and into a cancer-free life.