Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Terror of Losing Your Hair

This is an important announcement for all of you ladies out there about to undergo a chemo-therapy adventure. The bad news? If the doctor says you have to go through chemo, nine times out of ten, you WILL lose your hair. Now, if you've heard some people don't lose their hair, I bear witness to the fact that is indeed true. My very first day of chemo I sat next to a woman with a full head of hair. Of course I asked the nurse what that was all about. Her response? Every once in awhile someone will go through a full round of chemo and never lose their. But those cases are few and far between--even though I did see one before my eyes at the Norma Pfriem Center.

The good news? Once you lose your hair, you will realize hair is highly over-rated. When you are bald, all you have to do is throw on a wig, a hat, a scarf or any combination of those two items and you are good to go. Add some big earrings, and you are really stylin'. Forget about the mousse, the gels, the blow-dryers and flat-irons. You can put all that stuff in the back of your bathroom cabinet for awhile. My bald days lasted from May to November 2008. And true to what my doctor told me, eight months of baldness during my 51-year life span is but a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things.

Enjoy your bald days ladies. Relish the fact that humidity and rain no longer rule over your confidence level. Feel good that for once in your life, you are immune to bad-hair days. Baldness is powerful. Why do you think so many guys are running around bald today? They figured this out long ago. Enjoy. Because before you know it, your hair will grow back again. That's when you've got to start making appointments to get your hair cut and colored. That's when you have to start pulling all that crap from the back of the bathroom cabinet in order to make yourself presentable for the day. And that's when you realize managing hair is a big job that takes way too much time out of your life!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Change

I took a leap of faith by quitting my job of three and a half years on January 31st, and started a new job on February 7th. My new health insurance finally kicked in on April 1st. I started my breast cancer treatment on April 24, 2008, so upon the urging of Dr. Pronovost and Dr. Anke Ott-Young, both of whom I bumped into at the Westchester Airport last February 4th, I made follow-up checkups.

I decided to crash their offices today in Fairfield, CT to get these appointments. When I walked into the building, I was surprised to see that they had expanded their facility from just the second floor to both the second and third floor. Clearly, business has been good for the Norma Pfriem Breast Cancer Center. The lobbies were re-decorated with new flooring, fresh paint and updated furniture.

Despite our faltering economy, it seems the business of cancer treatment is immune to any economic downturn. The revamped offices also made me realize that time marches on, and thank God, I am not a weekly regular at those offices any longer.

I remember 2008 as the period of my life when I spent many long hours in doctors' waiting rooms. From April to July of that year I was in a reclining chair once every week with an IV that lead into a port implanted into my collarbone area. The nurses called the fluid pumping into my body a "chemo cocktail." Since the fluid was pink, I liked to think of it as my cosmo martini that flushed through my system to kill off cancer cells. It was a year when I spent October and November with my left arm lifted getting my chest radiated on everyday. At one point, they had to stop the radiation because my skin got burnt up very badly. I will have a "radiation suntan" on the left side of my chest for the rest of my life. My underarm hair has never grown back since then. That's what radiation does. All I can say is, thank God they didn't have to radiate on my head. And then of course it was the year I was completely bald from May till the end of November. Which, when I look back, wasn't such a big deal after all.

The good news is my time spent in those offices was not in vain. But now that those days of doctor's visits are over, it's time to take advantage of my recovered health. For all of us survivors, we owe that to ourselves after all we've been through. We owe it to those that are going through what we went through now. We owe it to the world because we learned something during our cancer battle. I am participating in the Susan G. Komen walk once again this June. It's my responsibility to use my re-found health to make a difference.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Watching A Fairytale

I am so excited about the upcoming royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. I plan on setting my alarm clock next Friday promptly at 4:00am--just like I did to watch the nupitals of Princess Diana and Prince Charles way back in 1981. There is something magical about the way the British do Pomp and Circumstance. No other country in the world can come close to doing weddings and funerals like they do. There's the bright-red uniforms and black-plumed head gear of the Royal Guard marching in perfect unison. There's the masses of British citizens waving the Union Jack while watching the newly-wed prince and princess riding in a glass carriage--just like the one Cinderella took to the ball.

I think that's what makes us women go ga-ga over royal weddings. We feel like we're little girls again, reading happily-ever-after stories of Snow White and Cinderella. In our daily lives we are all too often reminded that fairytales don't come true. But when we see the likes of Princess Diana, and now Kate Middleton walking down an aisle towards a life of royalty, we regain hope that maybe the stories we believed in as a kid are real.

It's as though these newly-crowned princesses resurrect our child dreams of an idyllic future. Just watching the whole spectacle makes us feel hopeful and excited for them. And that optimism brightens the view of our own future. So cheers to our future king and queen of England!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Biodentical Hormones & Breast Cancer

This was written by Brenda Coffee, who's excellent breast cancer blog is: www.breastcancersisterhood.com All I can say is bravo Brenda! My sentiments exactly.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Last week the TODAY Show invited me to Skype in live and ask medical expert Dr. Nancy Snyderman a question about bioidentical hormones and estrogen positive breast cancer. Because bioidentical hormones are all natural and custom made by a compounding pharmacist, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all synthetic estrogen made by a pharmaceutical company, some women with estrogen positive breast cancer think bioidenticals are OK. I wanted to know if Dr. Snyderman agreed with their thinking.

According to Dr. Snyderman, “You can call them biodenticals, or you can call them the hormones you get from your pharmaceutical company, and hormones are still hormones are still hormones.” Dr. Snyderman went on to say that if she ever received a diagnosis of breast cancer, she would not take an estrogen that might in fact put her “at harm’s risk for fueling another breast cancer.” In other words, women who’ve been advised by their oncologists to avoid all forms of estrogen should pass on bioidenticals as well.

Most of us didn't hear of bioidentical hormones until actress, Suzanne Somers, began singing their praises in her 2006 book. Ms. Somers claims bioidenticals are not drugs and that by taking them, a 60-year-old woman can achieve the hormone levels of a 20-year-old woman, along with all the benefits that accompany a full tank of estrogen. It’s easy to understand why Ms. Somers loves bioidentical hormones. Because of estrogen, our skin and muscle tone is more youthful; we have a stronger libido; our vagina self-lubricates, and in general, we have more energy. In many ways, getting older sucks! I would love it if all of those areas of my body were still firing on all cylinders, but let’s get real, girls. Mother nature didn’t intend for us to have estrogen coursing through our bodies for most of our life.

Many medical professionals disagree with Ms. Somers and her beliefs. For starters, drugs are not just synthetic medications made by pharmaceutical companies. Drugs naturally occur in nature as well. The coca leaf, for instance, is all natural but chew on a few leaves and you’ll find yourself revved up on cocaine, the naturally occurring alkaloid found in the coca leaf. Regardless of whether you chew the leaf, or receive the synthetic version for medical reasons, both are drugs. To suggest bioidenticals are more “natural” and therefore better, is reckless and alarming, especially for women who want to lessen the risk of their estrogen-fueled breast cancer returning. For those of you who haven’t had breast cancer, there are a few things about bioidenticals you might consider as well.

Breast cancer is a disease of aging. Girls are starting their periods earlier, possibly because of the parabens they’re ingesting and absorbing into their skin. Add to that the fact that many women are taking either estrogen replacement therapy or bioidentical hormones. As a result, there are women who’ve had estrogen in their bodies longer than any previous generation, and subsequently, may be at an even greater risk of developing breast cancer as they age. Besides, who wants to be having a period when you’re 80? Advocates of bioidentical hormones lead us to believe they’re the fountain of youth, like Shangri-La, the mystical setting for James Hilton’s novel, Lost Horizon, where people remain young and vibrant and this side of immortal forever.

As Dr. Nancy Snyderman said, she’s not a big believer that “these things are safe for the long-term,” so for women who want to take bioidentical hormones or any kind of estrogen replacement therapy for the perimenopausal symptoms of hot flashes, etc., do it for a short period of time. “But no longer than five years because then we know the incident of breast cancer really goes up.”

Here’s a personal side note about our sex, estrogen and youth-driven society: Hollywood and the media have always made women feel the need to look younger and sexier. Let’s face it. Sex sells! Some retailers are even sending little girls the message they need to look sexier. Tom Cruises’ 5-year-old daughter, Suri, has been wearing “kitten heels” since she was barely old enough to walk and now clothing manufacturers are selling bikinis with push-up bras to prepubescent girls!

We’re too old. We’re not old enough! Yes, estrogen makes the world go ‘round, but sexualizing little girls? And yes, I know Barbi began flaunting her sexuality to little girls in 1959. I was one of those little girls, and it took me years to figure out my feet would never permanently affix themselves in the tiptoe position. However, like pouring fuel on a fire, estrogen, man-made or synthetic, it is a fire that should carefully and thoughtfully be stoked.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fast Forward

I cannot believe this. My neighborhood Blockbuster is closing up shop. I thought maybe it was because they were re-locating, but no, it's finito for Blockbuster in my neck of the woods. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. It's been awhile since I took advantage of my membership because it's easier to watch pay-per-view movies through On Demand Comcast. Little did I know that I was just part of the critical mass doing the very same thing that pushed Blockbuster over the edge toward extinction.

Similarly, thanks to this whole craze with Kindle and ipad notebooks, all the Borders book stores are closing down in this area, too. Now that's where I draw the line. I DO NOT want to be reading a book off a laptop screen. I like the tactile feeling of touching a book and reading the last page before I even start a book. What's next, the closing of Barnes & Noble?

Then there's the gradual disappearance of huge CD inventory in stores. I know what that's about, and once again, I am one among millions that are to blame. For the past six years, I've downloaded all my music off the internet. I've gone years without buying one single CD. So why should I be surprised when suddenly you can't find half the music you want in stores? Now I'm feeling sentimental about CDs. I've begun buying them again, along with DVDs because I am certain one day they will become collector's items that I can sell on Ebay. Then again, I've never heard of anyone getting rich selling obsolete VCRs or vinyl record albums.

I want the original CDs of classic Beatles albums with their iconic covers instead of some generic disk with a black magic marker scribble as a label. Yes, I contributed to the demise of these institutions, but it's upsetting that I no longer have options between On Demand and Blockbuster or between Borders and Amazon.com.

Our technology is moving at warp speed, and while many people embrace the latest and the greatest in iphones, TV screens and laptops, others go kicking and screaming into this changing world. Within that mix, I sit somewhere in the middle. Now I'm realizing that when things like Wifi and text messaging come along, I might as well jump on the band wagon because I'll have to adapt sooner or later.

Besides, it makes you more marketable as an employee. But it's still sad. I liked hitting Blockbuster and loading up on movies when an impending Noreaster was about to hit New England in winter. I loved lounging through Virgin Records on a lazy Sunday afternoon listening to all the latest CD releases through headphones. That's how I discovered Zero 7 and Michael Buble. Those days are over.

When I went into Blockbuster today, I had hoped to get some great closeout deals on movie classics like Gone With The Wind, Citizen Kane and The Sound of Music. But the sales associate just laughed and said those were the first to go three weeks ago. Then he continued giving his colleagues the details of when and where the store closing farewell party would be. I guess I'll just have to give Amazon.com and itunes more money for movies and music. But Kindle and ipad will NOT get my money. The real books stay!

P.S. Speaking of change, Here are two versions of the song, God Bless The Child, which Billie Holiday wrote in 1939. See how Blood Sweat & Tears re-invented the song 30 years later. I guess the evolving technology of music isn't all bad.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Peel Me A Grape

I will never forget a few years back when I started dating this guy and we had a fight. I don't remember what the fight was about, but everything pretty much fell apart when he shouted at me: "Ask me if I care!" I frantically grabbed my purse and rushed out of this restaurant. Once I got safely into my car, I had a good cry, because I knew he was serious. That was the end of that.

Today I understand that fight wasn't entirely about me. He just wasn't up to the task of getting involved in a relationship during that time. I have since talked to this guy, and he confirmed that is precisely where he was coming from. Today, I find myself in the same place. I rejected a man that wanted to date me last fall not because he wasn't a nice guy, but simply because I didn't want to expend energy into a relationship. A lot of my friends were puzzled about that. To them, on paper, he was clearly what you would call a good catch. But he didn't want to take the time to properly court me. He just wanted to elbow his way into my place and get laid. That didn't go over very well. As far as I was concerned, if he couldn't treat me like a lady, I couldn't be bothered. Having sex doesn't have the same appeal it used to--back in the day. So by God, a man's gotta earn it.

That's a first for me. Who would have thought I would reject a Saturday night date in favor of being alone? But by golly, I've done it not just once, but several times. The fact of the matter is, sometimes I'm just not up for all the bullshit that dating entails. These days, someone has to really dazzle me in order for me to get all dolled up. If that's high maintenance, so be it.

When I think of the days in my 40's trolling on Match.com, I feel I've come a long way. I'm not desperate anymore. So here's a heads up for any guy who might be interested. Wine me, dine me, throw petals on the floor. Peel me a grape. And if you ain't willing to do that, ask me if I care.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Is Eating Soy A Risk for Recurrence?

New Study Suggests Soy Will Not Increase Risk of Return of Breast Cancer

By Denise Mann
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

April 5, 2011 -- For years, breast cancer survivors were often counseled to avoid soy foods and supplements because of estrogen-like effects that might theoretically cause breast tumors to grow.

Now, a new study of more than 18,312 women shows that eating soy foods did not increase risk of breast cancer recurrence.

The new findings are being presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) 102nd Annual Meeting in Orlando, Fla.

"If you regularly eat soy, you don't need to worry or avoid it, and women who want to lead a healthy life, can safely include some soy in their diets," says study researcher Xiao Oh Shu, MD, PhD, a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.

In addition to the isoflavones which may act like estrogens in the body, "soy has many anticancer properties, antioxidants, nutrients, micronutrients, or vitamins that may contribute to its beneficial effect on health," Shu says.

Shu and colleagues analyzed data from four large studies of women with a history of breast cancer diagnosed between ages 20 and 83. Soy intake was assessed using questionnaires in all of these studies. The study only looked at soy foods, not supplements.

They found that the odds of breast cancer recurrence were not increased among women who consumed the highest amount of soy in their diet, compared with women who ate less soy foods. Women who were from Shanghai, China, where one of the studies took place, consumed more soy than American women.

Checking for Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence

After an average of nine years after their breast cancer diagnosis, women who consumed the highest amount of soy, or more than 23 milligrams of soy per day, had a 9% lower risk of dying from any cause and a 15% reduced risk for breast cancer recurrence, compared to women who consumed 0.48 milligrams of soy per day or less.

These results were not considered statistically significant and therefore may be due to chance.

According to Shu, 23 milligrams per day of soy consumed is the equivalent of one glass of soy milk or a half cup of tofu.

Leif Ellisen, MD, PhD, of the Gillette Center for Breast Cancer at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston, says women often ask him whether soy is safe after breast cancer.

"There are a lot of health benefits in soy, but there has been some theoretical concern that soy has molecules that resemble estrogen which may increase risk of breast cancer recurrence," he says.

But "rather than any negative effect, this study suggested a benefit for these patients in terms of overall health and breast cancer recurrence," he says. "This is quite reassuring for women who were concerned that they might have to eliminate healthy soy foods from their diets."

Ellisen says the news will affect how he counsels patients. "I used to say 'the potential negative effects are only theoretical,' but now I am much more likely to say 'the good evidence suggests that if anything soy may be beneficial,'" he says. "This is a strong study and it gives us a lot of support to say you should not be eliminating soy and if anything, you could increase soy in your diet."

SOURCES: Leif Ellisen, MD, PhD, Gillette Center for Breast Cancer, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Recharging In Aruba

I am just finishing up a week vacation in Aruba. My neighbor that lives part time in Connecticut has a beautiful home here in Aruba and it was a pleasure to spend some time and get to know her better. We hiked up the highest peak on the island and had a wonderful dinner in her home.

It's also been great to spend some quality time with my Aunt Sue and cousin Mona. Making family a priority is one thing I vowed to do after cancer. This is what I'm doing right now. And I feel good about that.