Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday's health links

I am peeling myself away from WikiLeaks to put this post together.  Someone better be reading this. 
  1. Mushroom blend a possible new weapon in the fight against breast cancer.
  2. More bad news about BPA and triclosan exposure. I don't allow most anti-bacterial soaps into the house because of triclosan. Now I need to get more vigilant about looking for it in other household products.
  3. Europe votes in favour of banning BPAs in baby bottles.
  4. A Swedish research team suggests the health benefits of fish may outweigh the risks of mercury exposure.
  5. Canada brings in the toughest legislation in the world aimed at decreasing lead exposure for kids.
  6. New World Health Organization report exposes even more dangers of second hand smoke.
  7. Update - new item - Vancouver researchers receive funding to explore new computer modelling techniques for speeding up prostate cancer treatment.
OK - that is IT! Back to the leaks. I'm serious, why are you still reading this when you could be reading THIS?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving thanks

To all my American family and friends, I hope you take a moment to be thankful today. And I hope you are able to share your thankfulness with someone you love.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday's health links

This morning, I had my port-a-cath removed. Many thanks to the lovely nurses and surgeon at Richmond Hospital. One more line has been cast-off as I ease back to the middle of the river.

Back to today's health links...
  1. New options in breast reconstruction. By the way, I don't have a clue what I am going to do. Does anyone who has already gone through it have any advice? Let me know - I'd love to start a dialogue about it here.
  2. Add this to the "You have to be frickin' kidding me" column - tumours grow their own blood supply. Apparently, the big bugger who had taken up residence in my left boob was playing twister with my blood vessels. My surgeon gasped (yes, gasped) when he saw it. Back to school for you, Buddy. Never gasp in front of the patient.
  3. to lower your risk for prostate cancer. Not sure what role genetics plays, but my dad and my father-in-law both had prostate cancer* and now we have to protect their sons and grandsons from it. [*Great Uncle Carl had it too - but, Carl,  I'm pretty sure a shared love of gross toys isn't enough of a connection to raise their risk. :-) ]
  4. Mo...vember - how successful will this campaign be? And are they doing any better job at raising awareness of prevention or is it still focused on early detection?
  5. Purple sweet potato pie? Kansas State University comes up with a cancer-fighting pie. I may cry. Don't worry - they're happy tears.
  6. Nova Scotia is proposing legislation that would prevent people under 19 from using tanning beds.
  7. Canada's Food Guide recommends we eat two servings of fish a week. A seafood-rich diet has been linked to improvement of heart, brain and vision health and reduced risk of cancer and stroke. Yes, please, I want all of that. This may seem obvious to you, but I was happy to be reminded that canned fish and seafood represent an easy way to meet this challenge. Cloverleaf, one of Canada's main canned seafood companies is doing the reminding and providing some quick recipes. In addition to the traditional canned fish offerings, such as wild salmon and water-packed tuna, Cloverleaf also offers tuna pre-flavoured with a variety of chilies, herbs and other ingredients. I cannot speak to what they taste like, but I may be tempted to try some of those products with a few of these recipes, like 5-Minute Tuna Chili, Spicy Thai Chili Tuna with Noodles, and Mild Curry Coconut Soup. Also, I don't think I'll wait until next summer to make Salmon Cucumber Couscous.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ingredient of the week - Turmeric

Turmeric, the bright yellow spice adding zip to Indian curries and the bright yellow colour to ball park mustard, may be one of your new best friends.  

Why would I use it?
Well, what ails you? Turmeric is currently being used to treat a range of conditions and diseases: indigestion, ulcerative colitis, osteoarthritis, atherosclerosis, diabetes, kidney stones, infections, liver problems, blood clots, irregular menstruation, inflammation, gallstones, wounds, and eczema.  But it has received more media exposure in recent years as evidence grows that this cousin of ginger may be a powerful weapon for three other health concerns. It contains natural agents that may block the formation of the substance responsible for the plaques that, over time, obstruct cerebral function in Alzheimer's disease. Turmeric also has anti-inflammatory properties and curcumin, the main active ingredient, has been shown to reduce the symptoms of arthritis. Studies have also found that turmeric may help with prevention and/or treatment of breast, prostate, esophogeal, oral, skin, and colon cancers. If we focus for a moment on breast cancer, research conducted at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston in 2005 suggested that curcumin may help prevent its spread. Researchers were sufficiently impressed to suggest that it might be worthwhile for women at a high risk of breast cancer due to a family history to take curcumin.

How do I use it?
1) As a supplement
You can take turmeric much as you would any herbal supplement. According to the Livestrong website, the University of Maryland Medical Center says that a standard medicinal dosage of turmeric for adults is 1.5 to 3 grams of cut turmeric root per day, 1 to 3 grams per day of the dried, powdered root, 400 to 600 milligrams of standardized powder in capsule form up to three times per day, 30 to 90 drops of fluid extract per day, or 15 to 30 drops of turmeric tincture up to four times per day. There is no recommended dosage for children, though it is believed they may safely consume small amounts of the herb. If you are considering adding turmeric to your daily supplements, please discuss it with your health care provider.

2) As a tea
Dr. Weil believes that one of the best ways to get the benefits of turmeric is to follow the example set in Okinawa, the island nation with the world's longest average lifespan - cold turmeric tea.
  • Bring four cups of water to a boil.
  • Add one teaspoon of ground turmeric and reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Strain the tea through a fine sieve into a cup, add honey and/or lemon to taste.
He suggests adding a teaspoon of ginger along with the turmeric. You can also substitute fresh turmeric at a rate of one inch of fresh root for every teaspoon of dry.
3) As a cooking ingredient
One of the easiest ways to give turmeric a try is to simply begin adding it to your diet. Dr. Andrew Weil says that because turmeric's anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects are seen at doses well below "pharmaceutical strength", you could begin by simply adding the spice to your foods.You may be most familiar with turmeric as one of the spices making up Indian curry. But there are certainly other ways to incorporate it into daily cooking. On Saturday I purchased fresh turmeric in its root form at the South China Seas Trading Company at Granville Island and I am itching to get started. So I am in search of recipes!

So far, I am most excited about these ones:
Alice Water's Spicy Cauliflower Soup from Jane Spice
Tomato Soup with Lentils from Delicious Days 
Casbah Wings from Food 52

As I try out these recipes, I will post the results on my other website - the river and the sea recipes. And if you have any recipes you would like to share, please send them along! Help me help others fight cancer! If I try them out, I'll post my experience and pictures there as well.

If you are coming up with your own recipes, one point you should remember from the Livestrong website is that turmeric is fat-soluble so it is best absorbed when taken with some form of fat. So, if you want to toss some with cauliflower before roasting it, add some olive oil as well. 

High dosages or long-term use of turmeric may cause indigestion, stomach upset or ulcers. If you have gallstones, obstructed bile passages, gastrointestinal disorders or diabetes, or are undergoing chemotherapy, only take turmeric supplements after discussing it with your health care provider because it may worsen these conditions or cause adverse affects in some cases. Women who are pregnant or nursing may eat foods containing turmeric, but should not take supplements. 

Find out more
For more information on turmeric, there are informative articles on Livestrong and on Dr. Andrew Weil's website:  Three Reasons to Eat Turmeric and Turmeric for Breast Cancer Prevention

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Prevention - Kicking Treatment's Butt for a Gazillion Years!

Anyone reading this blog knows that I am a big believer in the need to push prevention if we are going to make any headway in stopping breast cancer. One of the best sources of prevention information I have found is the Breast Cancer Fund. The focus of their work is making connections between breast cancer and exposure to chemicals and radiation in our daily lives. They look at current research and try to increase awareness of it through public education campaigns. And, they provide lots of good information if you are trying to educate yourself on what you can do to prevent cancer.

They offer tips for prevention and information with which to educate friends and family. If you are interested in helping to bring about change, and you should be, they also provide easy ways to lend your name and voice to the cause. For example, if you visit their site today, you have the opportunity to send President Obama a request to prioritize breast cancer prevention by:
  1. creating a national cancer prevention plan,
  2. issuing a federal mandate to eliminate BPAs from food and beverage containers,
  3. expanding the FDA's authority to ensure that cosmetics are safe, and
  4. supporting reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act so that it more adequately helps the public, industry and government assess and control chemical hazards.
Take a look at their site. And come back to visit for updates on new research and education campaigns.

Finally, their report The State of the Evidence 2010: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment should be considered required reading. From a press release for the report:

The report’s lead author, Janet Gray, Ph.D., professor at Vassar College, said that widely understood risk factors for breast cancer such as primary genetic mutations, reproductive history and lifestyle factors do not address a considerable portion of the risk for the disease. “A substantial body of scientific evidence indicates that exposures to common chemicals and radiation also contribute to the unacceptably high incidence of breast cancer,” Gray said. “This report focuses on these environmental issues.”
The report states that a woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is 1 in 8—representing a dramatic increase since the 1930s, when the first reliable cancer incidence data were established. Between 1973 and 1998 alone, breast cancer incidence rates in the United States increased by more than 40 percent. Strikingly, the increasing incidence of breast cancer since the 1930s parallels the proliferation of synthetic chemicals. Today, approximately 85,000 synthetic chemicals are registered for use in the United States, more than 90 percent of which have never been tested for their effects on human health.

Go on - make a pot of tea and at least give it a scan. Your breasts (or those of someone you love) will thank you. :-)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday's Health Links

  1. The World Health Organization thinks Canada has been too premature with our BPA policies. They report that there are very low levels of BPA in our bodies, indicating that we eliminate most of it in our urine. But earlier studies have shown that most of us do have it in our bodies. And this study from August of this year says that our children have more BPA in their urine than we do.
  2. Speaking of the WHO, they are an outstanding source of information on cancer prevention.
  3. I have started seeing the effects of lymphedema, and it has only been eight months since my surgery. This article says that it often goes untreated, and unacknowledged,  by doctors. These researchers are using the World Wide Web to help them work together to cure it. If you are looking for information on managing lymphedema, this is a good place to start.
  4. Pathways to breast cancer - researchers hope they are key to targeting drugs that lower the cancer risk.
  5. Unpleasant side-effects of aromatase inhibitors may lead some women not to stick with their treatment schedules.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Why my kids make me laugh

Yesterday I was talking with my son, Bunny (not his real name), about the possibility of my undergoing breast reconstruction.  Don't ask how we got going on that topic! But we did and he asked what reconskrukshun meant (he's 5).

Me: "Reconstruction means the surgeon would give me a new breast."
Bunny: "Can you get one?"
Me: "What do you mean by that?"
Bunny: "Well, the one you have now isn't very girlish. Maybe he could give you one that's more girlish."
Me: "What would that look like, Bunny?"
Bunny: "Well, maybe one that's blue."
Me: "A blue breast?"
Bunny: "Yeah, blue! Or pink! Or blue and pink and purple. And sparkly!"
Me: "Well, I guess I could ask." 


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Because I couldn't have said it better

I have been flopping about all day trying to write something important meaningful coherent. My brain is just plain shot. It happens. Perhaps it's because I spent too much time helping my son study for his spelling test. Maybe it's because I've been using too much Drixoral to unplug my allergy swollen nasal passages. But, there you go, today I'm an idiot.

So I thought I would share the brilliant words of another breast cancer survivor, Marika Holmgren, contributor to The Huffington Post. On October 22 of last year, nearing the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, she put together The Top Ten (actually eleven) Things Cancer Survivors (Probably) Don't Want to Hear. I haven't heard anyone say it as well.

October used to be my favorite month. I live in Half Moon Bay, and the coast becomes an ocean of gorgeous gold pumpkins as far as you can see. The weather is clear and crisp, just cool enough to remind me of autumn in New England where I grew up.
But since I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer at age 37 on February 1, 2007, October has become a month of conflicted feelings, and well, some pink ribbon dread. While others may view the month as a great gift to the breast cancer community, raising awareness and providing funding through the thousands of pink ribbon cause marketing efforts, when you've had the disease, seeing the ubiquitous symbol around every corner has the potential to bring on a slight wave of nausea.
So I figured rather than just complaining and moaning, I'd try to provide my own little bit of "awareness" during the last, waning days of BCAM. Here you have it.

Top Ten Things that Young Survivors (Probably) Don't Want to Hear

Let me preface by saying that we understand that these statements are all uttered with great love and only the best intention.

1) "You have a beautifully shaped head! In fact, you look great bald!"
We know this is not true. We don't feel pretty. We don't want to stay bald. We want our hair back.

And when you hear, "You look great. I wouldn't even know you had cancer if you hadn't told me!" it makes us think that we must look pretty horrid when we're healthy as well, because, truth be told, chemo doesn't do much for your looks. 

2) "Oh, you have breast cancer. My (aunt, grandmother, mother, sister, friend) died from breast cancer. But I'm so glad to see you're doing well."
I don't know how to say this politely, so I'll just say it: some of the people you say that to will die of breast cancer, even though they look great and are doing well now. Your mother/aunt/grandmother etc. may have also seemed to be doing well at one point. The reality is that cancer stalks you like that horrible ex-boyfriend that won't leave you alone; you never really know if it's gone for good.

We want to hear the stories of long-term survivors. I love hearing, "My mom had breast cancer 27 years ago and she's great." 

3) "You're young, so at least you caught it early."
This may be the single biggest misconception out there, and it drives me nuts because I have to have the awkward conversation with people that in fact, my cancer was already quite far along and very aggressive.

When you are under 40 and you've been diagnosed with breast cancer, it's usually because the lump was large enough to be felt since you're not yet having mammograms. When a lump is large enough to be felt, it's often pretty big. My lump was 4 centimeters. Not small.
Cancer in young, pre-menopausal patients, is typically more aggressive than in older patients, and your chances of getting a second cancer when you've been diagnosed with a first cancer at a young age is increased.
So unfortunately, when you're talking to someone young who's been diagnosed, it's less likely that they caught it early, so just tread carefully.

4) (after treatment is complete) "So, you're cured now, right?"
Currently, there is no cure for cancer. I'll know I'm cured when I die of something else.

5) "Well, if you have to get cancer, breast cancer is the one to get."
That's like saying, "Well, if you had to lose a family member, a second cousin is the one to lose." It all sucks. It's all bad. We do not sit down and thank god or whomever that we "only" got breast cancer. At least I don't. 

6) "Surviving cancer is a gift that will allow you to truly appreciate what's important."
If cancer is a gift, can I return it please? A gift card would have been better. 

7) "Isn't it great that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month? Think of all the awareness and money that's raised."
Perhaps if Target wasn't hawking pink rice cookers where a nickel goes to Komen (ok, I made that up, but it's possible), I wouldn't quite feel so nauseated at the site of all this cause marketing. It's great that more money is going to fight the disease, but I do worry that companies are making lots of profit off this disease and that makes me a bit pissed off. 

8) "You'll get back to where you were before cancer."
I know that people only mean well here, but the reality is that my body, is completely different than it was before cancer and before all the drastic treatment. I don't know that I'll get back to where I was, and frankly, I'd rather spend my energy making peace with my new body rather than spending all my time trying to get back to my pre-cancer self.

Rather than push me to get back there, accept me as I am and help me love my new scarred, crazy body.

9) "Free boob job. Lucky!"

10) "I can relate. When I was pregnant, I (insert comment about weight gain, not sleeping, hair thinning/changing)...."
I know that cancer seems to have a lot in common with pregnancy with all the nausea, hair changing, hormones, etc., and it's particularly tempting to make the comparison because that's what most of our peers are doing now - having babies, not getting cancer, but there's a pretty damn big difference. And again, I know you're just trying to connect, but it's a painful comparison (particularly since some of us, as a result of the disease and treatment, will not likely be able to have children).

And because 10's not quite enough, one more...

11) "You know what you should do? You should (insert do yoga, drink green tea, take evening primrose, see an acupuncturist, etc. here)".

I heard these all so much that I used to joke with my brother that if I died from this stupid disease, I wanted the words, "Guess she should have done yoga" on my tombstone.

So now that you've got my Top Ten of things not to say, you're probably sitting there stewing, "what the hell does she want me to say then?"

Here you go. Some of these are the things that people actually said to me during treatment that made my heart sing and reminded me that I was never alone.

1) (upon hearing my diagnosis) "Well, what are we going do to about this?"
2) "You are not alone. We're here with you."
3) "I will be right over."
4) "You are strong." (when spoken as a reminder when you're in doubt, not as praise for doing simply what you need to do to stay alive.)
5) "Hair grows back and boobs are overrated." (from an email from a male friend when I was having a particularly bad day.
6) "Can I come to chemo with you?"
7) "I don't know what you're going through, but I know it sucks."
8) "I'll be over to watch movies, sit with you, cook you bland pasta, and laugh with you when you singe your wig opening the oven."
9) Nothing. Sometimes we just need someone to listen to us and not try to fix it.
10) Anything. It's better to say anything, even if it's one of those top ten above than to say nothing and pretend like this crap is not happening. 

Take this all in the spirit in which it is written. As survivors, we're not perfect, and we know that no one is perfect and no one says the right thing all the time. But if we all help each other along in this insane journey, we're one step closer to getting it right.
Marika Holmgren
The Huffington Post, October 22, 2009


Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday's health links

  1. A new study suggests that in the US food, canned food especially, might represent a significant way that BPA, or bisphenol A, is making it into our bodies. Researchers found the most BPA in specific brands of green beans and soup, and in smaller amounts in some canned spaghetti and meatballs, infant formula, tuna, vegetable and fruit juices and other soups. Again, the brand mattered - for example, BPA was found in Chicken of the Sea Chunk Light Tuna in Water but not in Bumble Bee. BPA has been linked to serious health concerns such as cancer, heart disease, and developmental problems. Last month, the Canadian government declared it a toxic substance, starting the process from which regulations will be developed for managing the risks it poses. From the lead researcher on the US study, "The so-called safe levels of acceptable daily intake are derived as though there are no other chemicals present, and that's not true," he said. "I do not feel comfortable with finding these levels of BPA in U.S. food."
  2.  Spring ahead, fall back...and take your vitamin D. Canadians, especially those living in the north, are being reminded that with the switch back to standard time we will be seeing less and less sunlight.
  3. Sugar and the health risks it poses, whatever its form. I've started substituting agave syrup for sugar in tea and in some recipes. Dr. Andrew Weil talks about it here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Monday's health links - one day late

Sorry - still recovering from Halloween. :-)
  1. Rethinking eggs. Three Canadian cardiologists argue that they are not a good choice for anyone at risk for cardiovascular disease - and they feel that's most of us. They say that one egg contains more cholesterol than most of us should consume in a day. The egg lobbyists disagree.
  2. Monounsaturated fats can help boost your good cholesterol if part of an overall diet that curbs bad cholesterol. So we're learning more about cholesterol - but keep in mind there were only 24 people in the study.
  3. Radiation cuts the risk of breast cancer recurring, more than we thought before, according to this new study. My radiologist told me basically the same thing. The article also reminds us of the odds for dying from breast cancer within 15 years. I hate it when they do that. Why do they do that? Can we get one of those "warnings" at the beginning of the article like they give you before possibly disturbing tv shows? Warning: the article you are about to read will drop statistical bombs without warning. Anyone recently diagnosed with or recovering from cancer may be troubled by their sudden appearance. Reader discretion is advised.
  4. And because we've all read enough scary stuff, a yummy healthy recipe that I am making today: Blueberry Health Muffins 
Update: I've also uploaded my own variation on the muffin recipe along with a picture of the finished product. Go visit my recipe website!