Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Redwood Forest

I titled my blog “It’s a Strong Tree that Withstands a Hurricane” as I believe that a strong, healthy body is a formidable defense against cancer, similar to how a strong tree can withstand the fierce winds of a hurricane.  A body that lacks nutrients or that suffers relentless stress is at a disadvantage.  Stress, particularly when perceived as inevitable and uncontrollable, is a key factor in vulnerability to cancer. I will discuss nutrients later, but for now, I want to talk more about stress and trees, specifically the redwood trees in Northern California.   These trees are the tallest trees on earth, yet the roots are actually quite shallow.  The tallest trees on the earth have a shallow root system.  They stand tall because they stay close and intertwine their roots with the trees around them.  This strong support system allows them to stand tall whilst otherwise they would fall.  In order to avoid the beast called cancer and in order to beat this beast, we need to intertwine ourselves with a solid support system of friends and loved ones.

 Some women are lucky enough to have a built in support system of family and friends.  Others find that their current circle just doesn’t understand or are even involved in toxic, draining relationships. The immune system is often suppressed in people who feel they are not able to change the negative conditions of their lives.  Situations in which a woman has a physically or emotionally abusive man in her life or is stuck in a non-nurturing marriage or even in one where a husband is unable or unwilling to support his wife’s emotional needs can trigger a cascade of biochemical changes that help create a fertile field for breast cancer to grow.

This is not to say that everyone involved in a toxic relationship or who has relentless, unaddressed stress will develop cancer.  However, to avoid a recurrence of breast cancer, you need to change the environment in which cancer was permitted to grow.  If you suspect negative relationships to be part of the cause, it’s time to make some changes. Make a commitment to yourself and eliminate the toxic relationships in your life, celebrate you and make sure you are a priority in life, not an afterthought. Consider stress reducing therapies such as Reiki, yoga, meditation, or kinesiology. Join a support group to talk through your frustrations and to connect with others.

Support groups and online support groups and chat rooms give cancer patients a new place to belong.  Many of us have joked “once you have breast cancer, you become a member of the club…the initiation is rough, but the women are amazing.”  Since my diagnosis, I have met the most amazing people, met so many wonderful new friends.  Friends who understand what is like to live with cancer, to be declared NED but who still look over their shoulder every day, and who understandably fret over every scan, odd symptom and toxin that might cross their path.  If your husband says he doesn’t know you anymore, that cancer has changed you, take him along; let him see that your cancer fears and insecurities are not unique to you.  If he still doesn’t get it and is unable to support you, divorce him (ouch, did I say that?).  Embrace life, live life and love life….it’s yours and it can be gone with a blink.
May your tree stand tall.

Elyn Jacobs

Many thanks to Julia Fikse for reminding me of the redwoods….and more to come on beating cancer, not just treating cancer….
Elyn Jacobs is President of Elyn Jacobs Consulting, Executive Director for the Emerald Heart Cancer Foundation, a certified cancer coach and a breast cancer survivor.  Elyn helps women diagnosed with cancer to navigate the process of treatment and care, and educates to prevent recurrence and new cancers.  She is passionate about helping others get past their cancer and into a cancer-free life. To learn more about Elyn’s coaching services, please visit:

Monday, November 14, 2011

Chinese Herbal Medicine in Today’s Cancer Care

Disease (is) not an entity but a fluctuating condition of the patient’s body, a battle between the substance of disease and the natural self-healing tendency of the body.             HIPPOCRATES

CHM is a major aspect of traditional Chinese medicine, which focuses on restoring a balance of energy, body, and spirit to maintain health rather than treating a particular disease or medical condition. Unlike modern medicine, CHM is not symptom based, but rather seeks for the underlying conditions which may contribute to the symptoms.  I like this, a lot. If you take ten people all with the same symptoms, Western medicine would likely disperse one diagnosis for all; Eastern medicine would likely come up with ten completely different diagnoses.  The medicine itself is not a one-size-fits all, but rather a formula put together based on the needs of the individual.  “CHM is beautiful like a puzzle or game of chess” is how herbalist Aaron Teich, L.Ac. described it to me. The medicine is never a single herb, but rather more like a chess game where pieces are not moved independently, but rather synergistically to win the game.

Chinese herbs and cancer

Chinese herbs offer considerable defense against the recurrence of breast cancer, as well as to slow the progression of the disease should it already be metastatic.   Short of a cure, I learned from Dr George Wong that he has had great success in the prevention of breast cancer as well as recurrence to an astounding 1% rate of recurrence with the use of his herbs (that being only 1 out of his 1000 patients suffered recurrence, most of whom were at high risk for recurrence).  Treatment with herbs offers a better quality of life (in most cases…some people cannot get past the terrible taste) and longer life span than conventional treatments.  Long term remission of those with metastatic breast cancer is not as promising, but still better than with conventional.  Sadly, herbal therapy has become terribly costly, due to hoarding in china of these precious herbs, and this has resulted in a 30% hike in prices.

So, who might consider Chinese herbs?

It’s an individual choice.  Chinese herbs are not traditionally intended to be anticancer herbs, but herbalists have found that they are effective against cancer.  There is strong evidence that Chinese herbs suppress cancer cells, improve immunity, promote cancer cell death through apoptosis, and block blood vessel formation associated with cancer development and growth, and work against metastasis.  When used in conjunction with conventional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation, CHM has tremendous supportive capabilities:  the herbs can enhance therapeutic effects while reducing side effects, improving quality of life, restoring health and helping to prevent recurrence and cancer metastasis.

CHM comes in three forms, teas, powders with which you make tea, and pills. The teas are the most flexible and effective, but are usually rather unpleasant to drink.  Each formula is actually a group of herbs; perhaps a combination of plants, bark, roots and minerals.  This version allows the herbalist to create a medicine that is extremely individualized. Cooked, you will have a nasty tasting, but quite potent tea.  However, in modern practice, many herbalists offer more appealing versions. This version is a derivative of the traditional.  The herbs are boiled until hard, a starch is added and then the mixture is crushed into a powder.  Boiling water is then added to make tea. The powders are a bit less flexible as the formulas are pre-made and less individualized, and the pills are the most appealing, but the least individualized.  The herbs are condensed into pills and are taken with water. However, by taking the pills, you still get the benefits while avoiding the nasty flavors. 
Keep in mind that the herbs affect the body and its systems, acting like any other medication.  Just because the herbs are natural and, well, herbal does not mean they are perfectly safe or without side effects.  They cause changes to the cells, affect pathways, etc. so it is important to work with an experienced herbalist.  However, the side effects are typically digestive issues, similar to those experienced by suddenly switching to a diet of broccoli and beans. 

Many thanks to Aaron Teich, L.Ac and Dr. George Wong for sharing with me their expertise in Chinese Herbal Medicine.  Both are incredibly talented healers.  Should you wish to learn more about them, please contact me or them directly.

Elyn Jacobs

 George Wong received his doctoral degree from Harvard University on 1978. He had taught at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor from 1978 until 1982 when he moved on to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to pursue a career in cancer research. From 1993 to 2009 he was appointed Director of Preventive Oncology Research at Strang Cancer Prevention Center and a full professor at Weill Cornell Medical College. At present, he is a faculty member with the Department of Integrative Medicine, Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. He has published over 100 peer-reviewed articles in the area of cancer clinical trials and cancer prevention. His main research interest is in breast cancer.  Apart from his academic research in conventional cancer prevention and treatment, Dr. Wong has for many years devoted his time and energy to Chinese herbal medicine. or 917.710.7888

Aaron Teich, L.Ac. is the founder and director of Shuniya Health & Healing, a holistic health practice in Manhattan and the Hamptons. His healing practice uniquely integrates classical acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, and Sat Nam Rasayan - the meditative healing tradition of Kundalini Yoga. In his work, Aaron guides people inward to an experience of heightened awareness, and creates a state of balanced prana, which becomes a catalyst for physical healing, personal transformation, and spiritual growth.

After graduating from Harvard University with a degree in Comparative Religion and Philosophy, Aaron received his Masters Degree from the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in San Francisco.  Aaron is a Licensed Acupuncturist in the states of New York and California, and is nationally certified as a Diplomate of Oriental Medicine (Dipl.OM). For over a decade, he has trained with Guru Dev Singh, the lineage holder of Sat Nam Rasayan.  Aaron has traveled extensively to study with traditional healers and shamans around the world, including in China, India, Mongolia, Brazil, Africa, and Europe.  He currently maintains a private practice in New York City and the Hamptons, and teaches and writes on health, healing, and meditation.
Phone: 212-203-5425

Elyn Jacobs is President of Elyn Jacobs Consulting, the Executive Director for the Emerald Heart Cancer Foundation, a certified cancer coach and a breast cancer survivor.  She helps women diagnosed with cancer to navigate the process of treatment and care, and 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, November 9, 2011

The Illusion of Protrusion

For many women, feeling better about themselves involves cosmetics, hair color, a new dress.  For others, it involves a bit more.  For cancer patients, it takes on a whole different meaning. The last thing a breast cancer survivor wants is to be reminded of the tragic ordeal they’ve been through.  Those who have had to endure a mastectomy, whose nipples are either removed or left asymmetrical or changed, are often saddened by looking down or in the mirror. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder; but when cancer survivors look at themselves in the mirror, they focus on the scarred tissue from cancer surgery, the doughy flesh of reconstructed breasts and the baldness left by chemotherapy. The person they see in the mirror is unfamiliar, ugly, and unfeminine. Yes, cancer survivors will agree, they’re lucky to be alive, but it’s not enough. They long to look attractive and feminine again, to feel whole. Physicians may be able to restore the body, but artistically-applied paramedical tattoos and permanent cosmetics can help to revive the soul, restoring the natural beauty and self-assurance that cancer stripped away.

Quality of life is important to me, and is a critical part of my blog content, so I spoke to two incredible permanent make-up artists about this issue.  The First was Vicki Maierle. While working with a plastic surgeon that specializes in breast reconstruction, Vicki saw the devastation that cancer can bring to a woman’s body and confidence. As a permanent makeup artist, she creates new eyebrows, eyeliner and lips. When she saw the scars and the lack of any color in the areola and nipple of the reconstructed breasts, she knew that she could help.  She expanded her focus to restore the color back into the areola and nipple and to camouflage the scars to make these women feel whole again. For those women who cannot or prefer not to have the nipples, a hand tool can be used to create shading with different colors to make it appear as though they have a nipple, it's an optical illusion! She also creates eyebrows for patients who have lost the hair from treatments, as well as eyeliner.

Vicki travels to many different cities so that the patient does not have to travel to have this done. She then return a couple months later to follow up, as this is not a one-time procedure; the color softens and each individual holds the color differently. She calls this visit "Fine tuning" as she works on making the breasts as symmetrical as possible.

For Vicki, it’s an amazing feeling to see women get all excited about their breasts again.  The smiles and comments she gets are priceless, but for her, the important thing is knowing that what she does helps to improves the lives of cancer patients. 

I then spoke with artist Melany Whitney at the Whitney Center for Permanent Cosmetics.  In working with breast cancer survivors who had undergone mastectomy, Melany was struck by the importance women placed on having a normal-looking breast. Blank breast mounds were a daily reminder of their struggle with cancer, preventing them from moving forward with their lives. The absence of a natural-looking areola and nipple intensified their loss, making women feel unfeminine and incomplete. Doctors’ offices, spas and tattoo shops have begun offering cosmetic tattooing. A nurse or ink tech may be able to tattoo a bull’s eye on a breast mound, but that won’t make it look like a real breast.

Melany explained how she uses her three-dimensional cosmetic tattooing technique to create what she calls “the illusion of protrusion” that makes breasts look completely normal and natural. The signature Whitney technique combines a decade of microdermal training and experience with her unique understanding of scale, proportion, shading and color theory...that truly only a fine artist has, and is her company’s logo. "Only an artist makes science so beautiful, ever since I saw that first woman without a ‘face’ on her breast, I knew I had to do this. The completion of the areola complex through tattooing provides an opportunity for women to move forward with their lives.” Melany’s artistry is also exhibited in her technique of single hair line stroke brows, expertly positioned to take advantage of the strength of a woman’s facial morphology and to create symmetry and balance that often women are not born with but can now have if they have lost the brows to Chemo. Many thanks to Melany for the use of her beautiful paintings, they really pay tribute to her work! 

 Many people who could benefit from paramedical tattooing do not realize that, in many cases, it is covered under their medical insurance plan. Paramedical tattooing is often performed to complete breast restoration after mastectomy or hide scar damage from accidents or surgery. In 1998 Congress passed the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act that forced traditional health insurance companies to cover reconstructive surgery and related services associated with breast cancer reconstruction when those services are recommended by the patient’s attending physician. Elected medical ancillary services, including paramedical tattooing to complete breast restoration after mastectomy, provided by qualified providers are covered by most insurance plans. This gives breast cancer survivors the freedom to select a paramedical tattoo professional based not on cost but on the quality of the services provided. Too often recovering breast cancer patients are unaware of their legal rights and believe their only option is to return to the hospital to have the final step in the reconstruction of their breast performed by a physician or nurse without the practiced experience and artistic eye of a permanent make-up artist.

Vicki Maierle-Foss is President and CEO of “The Pink Icing on the Cake”. Vicki provides permanent make-up creating beautiful eyebrows, eyeliner, and lips and restores the color in the breasts. Her passion is to educate all women that this is part of the reconstruction and that most insurance companies are now paying a portion of this procedure. Vicki has recently been honored with the Cambridge Who’s Who award for Achievements in Permanent Make Up. For more information about Vicki, please visit:

Melany Whitney, CPCP, DAAM, CMI is President of the Whitney Center. She has been named "the voice of permanent cosmetics" by the largest professional industry society, the Society for Permanent Cosmetic Professionals, due to her expertise and her prominence in the NYC media arena. Melany practices in medical offices in New York City, New Jersey and So. Florida where she sees clients from all over the world, and is the preferred artist for referrals from the top reconstructive physicians in the New York metropolitan area. For more information about Melany and the Whitney Center, please

For more information on permanent makeup for cancer patients, please visit:

Elyn Jacobs

Elyn Jacobs is Executive Director and the Director of Grants for the Emerald Heart Cancer Foundation, a certified cancer coach and a breast cancer survivor.  Elyn helps 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.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It’s My Cancer

  The following is a guest post I wrote for Breast Cancer Partner's Blog..... It’s My Cancer

“You have cancer” Three of the most dreaded words you can hear from your doctor.  Your world has changed and you feel a loss of control.    A moment ago you were a student, parent, wife, maybe even a doctor. Now, suddenly, you are a patient.  In the ensuing panic, disbelief, fear, and confusion you have to make decisions.  Likely right now you think “I can barely breathe, let alone function…how am I to figure all this out?”  Well, unfortunately, your life and your quality of life depend on it.  Now is the time to get help, but from who?

A cancer diagnosis leaves one so very vulnerable, not only to the illness, but also to the people all around us. Given all the options today, we have many decisions to make.  We may choose conventional, alternative or a combination of both, and within each modality, there are yet more options. Friends often think they are helpful when criticizing a chosen treatment plan.  Many women diagnosed with breast cancer choose not even to discuss with friends their choice for surgery, as surely some friends will be adamant about mastectomy and others lumpectomy, and this is terribly unfair.  I always say that when a friend or loved one is diagnosed, support is essential, information is helpful, but advice is unacceptable.  It is for us and us alone to choose and be confident with a path chosen, and it is unfair of others to cast doubt or offer opinions. Doubt will bring fear and stress, both of which can be detrimental to healing and survivorship and can compromise all efforts for a positive outcome. 

The recent press regarding Steve Jobs is a perfect example. One might say that Steve Jobs was a bright man.  One might say he made many critical decisions in his life.  One might say that he was not afraid to take chances.  One might even say that he was a trendsetter.  Why is it that friends, family and the media felt they had the right to challenge his choice of a treatment plan and have the right to second guess it now?  To say that “he refused potentially life-saving cancer surgery for nine months, shrugging off protests from his family and opting instead for alternative medicine” is unfair.  Potentially life-saving surgery? Some doctors have argued that his cancer was curable, others say the opposite. Given a diagnosis of a cancer for which conventional medicine has not been particularly successful, it would only make sense to explore all options.  This was his cancer and it was his decision to choose a plan of treatment.  Andrew Grove told Jobs he was crazy.  Art Levinson was frustrated that he could not persuade Jobs to have surgery. It wasn’t their cancer. What matters is that Steve Jobs had confidence in his choice.  What matters is that Mr. Jobs made the final decision on each new treatment regimen.  What matters is that he had the freedom to choose and to change his mind. What is not acceptable is for others to challenge his decisions. What is important is to have an unbiased advocate to assist and support you through treatment. We will never know if it was the destructive mind-body criticism of others that brought on his demise.  We do know that Steve Jobs made sure he sought out all the options and did all he could do to battle his cancer. Knowing your options and obtaining the necessary information is critical in order to make the right choices for you, for your cancer.

There are many options for treating cancer.  Conventional (allopathic) medicine offers surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and other medical interventions to battle cancer.  For many, this is the route to take.  For others, surgery may be acceptable, but radiation and or chemotherapy either are not an option or are not acceptable to the patient.  Some will take the integrative approach, combing conventional with alternative therapies.  Massage, acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine, nutritional therapy and other treatments associated with complementary medicine can support patients during and post treatment by lessoning the side effects, improving quality of life and improving long-term survival. Still others will choose to use only alternative methods.  The important thing is to choose what feels best to you.  Keep in mind that within these methods, there will be further decisions to make, for example which of the surgeries available would be best or which alternative treatment would be the most effective. Doctors differ in their methods and protocols.  Many women find it a challenge to find a doctor who can hear and respond to her opinions and questions, and all too often women are pushed into a path for treatment that does not suit her core needs or desires. Sadly, some doctors forget that we endure treatment to live, and therefore quality of life is important.

Information is power and it has never been more important to be informed and knowledgeable about your medical care.  My goal is to get this information to women and to empower and support them to make choices that fit their own individual needs. As a survivor and experienced coach, I understand the questions and concerns faced by the newly diagnosed, and I make sure that my client’s voice is heard.  My mission is to help women find the right treatment, doctors and post cancer care, even if that means second or even third opinions and firing a few doctors.  I know firsthand, that under these circumstances, it is very difficult to concentrate on all that a doctor is saying, so I accompany women on visits to the doctor where I take notes and ensure the tough questions get asked. Once team and treatment plans are chosen, we work together through the process. I feel strongly that no woman should have to face cancer alone.

In good health,
Elyn Jacobs

Elyn Jacobs is President of Elyn Jacobs Consulting, and a breast cancer survivor and certified cancer coach.  She helps 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. To learn more about Elyn’s coaching services, please visit: