Monday, March 30, 2015

Must See TV

Some fascinating stuff going on in the world of cancer treatment. If you did not see 60 Minutes last night, you need to go and watch it. They are fighting glioblastomas with the polio virus and people's own immune system.  Hmm, imagine that using your immune system to fight cancer, how awesome.

Required reading for anyone who has ever known anyone who has had cancer is the Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee. Well the incomparable Ken Burns has produced a documentary on this. If you ever want to feel grateful about the treatments we have now, you need to understand where we've come from and where we are going. It airs Monday March 30, Tuesday March 31, and Wednesday April 1 at 9 PM on PBS.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Gratitude Project

Sometimes my medication gives me sleep disturbances. Currently, I am in on of those phases. It makes me an occasional cranky pants. That and winter refuses to let go of the region. That makes me put on my cranky snow pants. However, from doing a little bit of research and reading a book compiling the research of Robert Emmons, PhD I have found something that might help keep the cranky pants at bay.


In his book "Thanks!" Dr. Emmons discusses his research with gratitude journaling. The first study they randomly assigned people to 3 groups. Once a week the "gratitude" group would write in a single sentence five things they were grateful for in the past week. The hassles condition would describe five daily hassles from the previous week. The neutral group just listed five events from the past week without conveying if they were positive or negative experiments. The experiment lasted 10 weeks. The results of this first study was that the gratitude group felt better about their lives, felt less physical illness, and based on the "happiness" scale used they rated themselves 25% (25%!) happier than the other groups. They also spent significantly more time exercising (and additional 1.5 hours). 

This study kicked off many more, but the end result was always the same. The people who physically wrote down what they were grateful for were happier. People got even more benefit from writing down what they were grateful for at least 3 times a week. Those who seem to get the most benefit are those who wrote down things they were grateful for everyday for 3 weeks. And these folks were still happier 6 months later. And one of the populations they tested this in was those with neuromuscular diseases.

Overall the benefits from writing down what you are grateful for every day include:
  • 6 months of being a 25% happier human being
  • Improved sleep quality
  • Feeling that your relationships with those in your social circle are more solid; strengthens relationships
  • Being more likely to help other people and being viewed as more helpful by others 
  • Developing a positive recall bias-where when asked about the past you bring up happy/positive memories 
  • Actually exercising more instead of just wanting too
 The risks include:
  • Getting ink on your hands
  • Paper cuts 

I have documented many times on this blog how grateful I have been for everything and everyone throughout my battle with cancer and now in my full life post cancer. I decided that the month leading up to my 2 year scans was the perfect time to re-cement my happiness. And it might even help me sleep better.  I got myself a composition notebook and a pink pen. Who's with me?

Source: Emmons, Robert A. "Gratitude and the Psyche." Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007. 19-55. Print.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

We are all in this together

It is human nature to compare your circumstances to others. Cancer survivors/fighters are the same way. I always find it fascinating to watch the people in the oncology waiting room who feel the need to find out why everyone else is there; almost as if they want to establish where they rank in the waiting room hierarchy. I remember a distinct conversation between a man and a woman who were seated near each other. The man was by himself and the woman had her daughter with her. "What are you in for?" "Lung Cancer" "What stage?" "Three" "Oh, I have stage four...." "Well this is my second cancer, I already had breast cancer". A lot of sharing for people who met 3 seconds ago. I remember unabashedly staring at these two having the conversation, attempting to one up each other on cancer.

It works the other way, too. Some people feel like there experiences are different and therefor less than what your experiences and have a hard time sharing. One of my really good friends just told me that she had been diagnosed with stage 0 cancer back in November and that she "only" needed surgery to rid her of the disease. She said she didn't want to tell me because first, she didn't want anyone to know and second, because she didn't feel like what she went through was on the same level as what I went through. She felt like she didn't have cancer when she compared it to everything I went through. We were having this conversation while out with friends and the other people at the table were appalled at this. Oh, you non-cancer havers, let's hope you never understand how this can sometimes make sense. I could only smile and tell her that I understood. I told her that if she did ever want to talk about it in detail that I was here. I told her that as much as she might not think it, there is so much shared experience from all stages of cancer that she need not feel bad that she didn't have to go through as much treatment as I did to get herself healthy.  I let her know that I was happy she was sharing with me now and that I was very grateful that they found her cancer so early and that she was doing great.

Because the bottom line is whatever type of cancer you have, whatever treatment you need, the ultimate goal is what we all want: health. We are all in this together. All 14.5 million (in the USA) cancer survivors, we all have had some shared experience and we have all kicked cancer's ass. So let us try not to compare our experiences and decided who had it worse, let us continue to support each other, share our stories and all work towards finding a cure and cause for our diseases. Can I get an Amen? (Sorry preaching done, but sometimes we all need a pep talk).

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

This is why I send my blood all across the country

Did you see this story from CBS news? They are finding 15 more genetic "hot spots" for breast cancer. This way they can identify people who are high risk. Very intriguing the things being developed in the frontier of genetics. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ginger is still getting its Revenge!

After my debacle with tooth decay from ginger chews I switched to an occasional piece of candied ginger. In attempt to curb my cookie addiction, I switched to keeping dried figs in my desk. They took the soy out of Grape Nuts and I always eat them hot with raisins. I thought these were all great changes to improve my health, but they, unfortunately are not helping my teeth. Today I had xrays and 45 minutes of necessary torture that is a dental cleaning.

Here is how the series of xrays went. Me sitting there with my mouth gaping open. The Dental Hygienist, who always comments about how awesome my sneakers are, moving around telling me to bite gently taking the series of photos.

Than came the pause. As a cancer survivor you know what a pause by any health care professional means.

DH: "Hmm. That doesn't look right."
Me: "rrr? (I still had a bite wing in my mouth"
DH: "Oh, sorry I hate when people do that. Let me take a couple more photos and then show you what I'm looking at"
Me: "Poop"

The DH shows me a shadowy thing on my front tooth and then asks if I had trauma. I'm pretty sure that I would remember hitting my front teeth. She also shows all of my starter cavities. Nothing that needs fixing immediately, but lots of things to keep an eye one. The Dentist comes in as I am having visions of me and a missing front tooth to do a cold test. They take something that makes your teeth super cold and you have to tell them when you feel it. So yes, it's super pleasant. I could feel it, so she decided that they would watch my teeth and that "It was just something that showed up on the xray." I will buy that for now.

However, because my teeth are so close and I've had cavities after chemo she let me know that dried fruit is on my do not eat list unless I can floss immediately. Sigh. I guess I'll switch to ginger tea? Hmmm, can I blame this on tamoxifen? No. No I cannot. But, I don't have to go back for another 6 months.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Better off NED 2.0!

Friday was officially 2 years since I finished cancer treatment. 2 years. That was fast. And I've been having a lot of fun. As well documented I am not one to let a Survivorversary pass without celebration. And this being the biggest of them all absolutely I decided to throw myself a party entitled Better of NED 2.0. I have put in for February 27th off from here to eternity.

The warm up
I spent all day Thursday at work telling anyone who would listen why I was not going to be at work on Friday. I taught a lot of people the word survivorversay. And folks who didn't work at the hospital while I was bald asked some questions and I educated them of my cancer journey.

Pancakes and Prep
I woke up on the greatest of days, heretofore know as NED day with a sour stomach. I was not pleased because celebration involves a lot off food. However, after a call to my mother to make me feel better (yup 33 years old and this still works) I put Kelly Clarkson "Stronger" on repeat and started the day dancing.

From there my Mother took me out to breakfast. If you have a sour stomach while celebrating NED the easiest fix? Coconut Chocolate Chip Pancakes and a side of griddled mashed potatoes. True story. Fixed my stomach issues and ate nearly all of it.

She and I did a little bit of shopping to get the rest of materials for the party and then left me to my happy self to spend the day in the kitchen listening to 80's music and my new favorite Amazon Prime Playlist. Periodically I download new lists, but I didn't listen to it. Well, let me tell you I think the people of Amazon read this blog. This playlist has Kelly Clarkson "Stronger", Sarah Bareilles "Brave" , Beyonse "Girls (Run the World"), Destiny Child "I'm a Survivor", Macklemore's "Can't Hold Us" and Journey "Don't Stop Beleiving". So I maybe listened to the playlist 3 times while I danced around the kitchen. 

Boob Cake
The centerpiece for my NED party was my right boob cake. I made a 3 layer chocolate cake frosted with salted peanut butter frosting and pretzels. It's a new recipe from Joy the Baker's cookbook Homemade Decadence. However, I decorated it slightly different then the directions. I mean I'm sure Joy is cool with pink ribbon sprinkles. I put a row of them on the cake to represent the scar that I have.

Family, Friends and Fun 
People came to party later in the night. We ate food, shared a whole bunch of laughs and there was a lot celebrating. People loved the cake (both the idea and the taste of it). I made sure that one of the cookies made had ginger in it as a continue tribute to what got me through taste changes.  Here are some photos of some of the love that was sent my way for the NED day.
My niece showing her super cute support.

I'm already looking forward to NED 3.0! Just have to clear those pesky scans in April.

Oh, and this gem was the Amazon Prime Playlist. It was stuck in my head while I tried to go to sleep at night and I believe after the size of the piece of cake I had that I could fly.