Thursday, July 28, 2011

Parenting Your Parents

Once I hit 47 years old, I realized many of my contemporaries were losing either their mom or their dad. As each year passed, it seemed like it was becoming a growing epidemic. Sometimes the death of a parent is expected due to terminal illness. Other times it's sudden like a stroke or an accident precipitated by failing health or aging. When my dad died last year, it occurred to me that very few of my friends were lucky enough to have both parents alive.

When the loss of a parent is a long time coming, there is usually a series of hospital visits, followed by hard decisions about extended care before mom or dad slowly shuffles into the darkness of death. For others, like myself, the loss of a parent is preceded by a roller coaster of harrowing events. My dad couldn't find his way back to my house one night when he drove down the hill to buy cigarettes. Then he escaped to New York City another time when luckily a woman observed him mumbling to himself in Grand Central Station about whether he should take a train to Minnesota or Florida. This kind lady notified the police then safely ushered him on to a Metro North train into the safety of my brother's keeping.

Then on St. Patrick's Day 2010, dad went to take the garbage out and my mom found him 30 minutes later laying dead in the garage. Yes, it was a shock, but we feel he couldn't have gone in a better way. So with many of us left with just one parent, all the dynamics change. Suddenly you realize that it's time to saddle up and take more responsibility for the only parent you have left.

When my mother came up here to Connecticut for a month, I was gung-ho. I took her to New York City to see a jewelry exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt. I spontaneously booked a weekend trip to Maine. And that's when I realized that for all mom's perkiness at 77 years old, the harbinger of old age was insidiously creeping in.

When we got to Maine, mom started rifling through her jewelry satchel and proclaimed that one of her rings was missing. She was thoroughly convinced that she had left the ring on the bedside side table and put the hotel staff into a tizzy moving furniture to find it. Then she accused the hotel maid of stealing the ring. When the staff refused to bring the cleaning lady before her in handcuffs for an interrogation, she called the police.

That's when I started to get pissed. The hotel staff called to inform me the police arrived and to please come down. I walked outside to find flashing red lights, parents grabbing their children and pretty much every one on the grounds scattering like ants towards their hotel rooms.

And there was my mom, with red neon lights shadowing her face, calling out accusations into the dusk: "I've been robbed!"I walked down to the scene and was informed my mother was filing a report. I said mater-of-factly: "Officer, this isn't the first time this has happened and it certainly won't be the last. I will bet money that ring is sitting on a table in my guest bedroom in Connecticut."

Mom didn't like that comment and started yelling at me for not supporting her since she was clearly a victim. The officer told us to break it up. Long story short, when we got back to Connecticut, there was the ring sitting in a dish in my guest bedroom. Mom started to cry. I just called the hotel staff and apologized. I followed up with an email and commented somewhat jokingly that if we came back to Maine, I hope they wouldn't refuse our reservation.

Then it occurred to me this is only going to get worse as the years go by. So what do I do? Create a checklist before mom and I go on a trip? At 54 years old the scales have finally tipped the other way. Mom's not getting any younger, and I need to be the responsible one. The time has come for me be the parent to my mom.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Some Antidepressants Interfere With Hormone-Therapy Drugs

Some Antidepressants Interact with Tamoxifen
Several Antidepressants Cancel Out the Anti-Estrogen Effects of Hormone Therapy

By Pam Stephan, Guide

Created July 26, 2011 Health's Disease and Condition content is reviewed by the Medical Review Board
See More About:hormone therapy tamoxifen prevent recurrence

Tamoxifen is a hormone therapy drug taken by many premenopausal women after completing their initial treatments for estrogen-sensitive breast cancer. To treat the side effects of Tamoxifen and to help with depression, doctors often prescribe antidepressants. However, research shows that some of these drugs can cancel out the benefits of Tamoxifen, and should be avoided.

Once a young woman is past surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, she may need to take Tamoxifen for five years to block estrogen receptors in breast tissue and prevent a recurrence of the cancer. In some cases, Tamoxifen may be given to women at high risk for breast cancer as an effort to forestall or prevent the development of a breast tumor.

The side effects of Tamoxifen often include menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, low libido, vaginal dryness and osteoporosis. In rare cases, some women experience endometrial cancer, cataracts and circulatory problems. In addition, many women who have been treated with chemotherapy for estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer develop some depression during or after primary treatment. You may not develop these problems, but you should be aware of them and discuss these side effects with your doctor if these appear.

Here is a table of antidepressants that may affect the benefits of tamoxifen in women with estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer.

Antidepressants And How They Interact With Tamoxifen

Antidepressant Drug Interaction with Tamoxifen Safety Range
Paxil (paroxetine)

Prozac (fluoxetine)

Prevents antiestrogen benefit Avoid Use
Cymbalta (duloxetine)

Wellbutrin (bupropion)

Zoloft (sertraline)

Medium interefence with antiestrogen benefit
Note: Studies confirm that Zoloft inteferes with Tamoxifen.

Increases Risk
Saint John's Wort
(hypericum) Modest inhibition of antiestrogen benefit Increased Risk
Celexa (citalopram)

Lexapro (escitalopram)

Pristiq (desvenlafaxine)

Remeron (mirtazapine)

Mild interaction
Note: Pristiq and Remeron have not been well-studied for interaction with Tamoxifen.

Slight Risk
Black Cohosh
(actaea) May enhance the antiestrogen benefit
Note: There are just a few studies for interaction with Tamoxifen.

Slight Risk
Effexor (venlafaxine)

Almost no interaction with Tamoxifen Best Choice
Black Cohosh. Kligler, B. Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York. Am Fam Physician. 2003 Jul 1;68(1):114-116.

Interactions between tamoxifen and antidepressants via cytochrome P450. Desmarais JE, et al. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (Dec. 2009): Vol. 70, No. 12, pp. 1688-97.

Tamoxifen treatment and new-onset depression in breast cancer patients. Lee KC, Ray GT, Hunkeler EM, Finley PR. Psychosomatics. 2007 May-Jun;48(3):205-10.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Participating in Yale HOPE Study

It's official. I have been accepted in the Yale HOPE (Hormone & Physical Exercise) study and through random computer selection I got into the exercise group. That means I get a personal trainer twice a week, and must commit to doing 30 minutes of cardio at least five times a week. My trainer's name is Scott and I start next week. I am so psyched!

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Power of Cancer Support Systems

David Haas asked me if he could be a guest blog writer. Here is his article.

The burden of facing cancer alone

It seems that cancer can strike anyone at any time. Those of us who have survived cancer each have our own unique story to tell. We have had episodes with fear and sadness as well as challenges with drugs and treatments. This is true for cancers of all types, ranging from common cancers like breast cancer and skin malignancies to rare disease like mesothelioma. We've had ups and downs, good days and bad days and times that went too slowly. Through it all, we always remember those that were by our side - our support. 

The value of local support groups

A battle with cancer can be an eye opening experience in that it often reveals the best in people. The support you gain from friends and loved ones is immeasurable and cannot be administered by your doctors but is nonetheless integral to holistic healing and cancer treatment. Those that can be found locally allow us to meet others in person and have conversations and interactions that uplift and strengthen us. There are meetings in conference rooms, coffee shops and even yoga and meditation for those that want to and are able to participate.

Support on the Internet:

The web is home to a number of great resources for cancer patients and survivors. These online cancer survivor networks help us to find the right support programs and also help us to connect with others. There are several services you can find online.

Member search can help to find a specific person. There are also discussion boards where you can post thoughts or questions. If you like, there are chat rooms where you can interact with others by conversing in real time. For those who seek a more personal interaction, you have the option to send private email messages to others.. If you like the idea of sharing more, you can even create a profile area to tell others about yourself. You can share pictures and even audio and video. Some people like to write a blog and some like to share with others advice and information that they've come across.

How to take advantage of the support available

When we share with others, we gain so much more. It's the writing and the interaction and the openness to others that can help in the process. For example, someone challenged with mesothelioma may have questions or concerns about mesothelioma life expectancy and other details about the condition. Finding people online at places like the American Cancer Society patient and survivor network provides many ideas about support services from the American Cancer Society and affiliated programs. Whether you are just not facing a cancer diagnosis, have survived cancer, or are aiding a loved one facing cancer, don't underestimate the importance of support through networks and programs both in person and on the Internet. It can make a true difference.

By: David Haas

Monday, July 11, 2011

Just Do The Next Right Thing

A few months ago I was invited to this support group meeting that allowed women to vent about current situations and figure out how to go about solving issues that come in and out everyone's life through a revolving door. One women offered this simple pearl of wisdom: Just keep asking yourself, what's the next right thing to do and everything will work out fine.

I've been using that little gem of advise lately and I'm amazed at how just stopping for a minute to dig into my soul and put my best foot of integrity forward is such a simple act. Yet it's not always the easy path. It's easier to buy on impulse than put money aside. It's less complicated to tell someone you are too busy and not extend yourself than to jump in a work hard for a volunteer project. And yet, when you do the right thing, you ulitmately feel so much better about yourself. I also truly believe the good karma that comes back to you by doing the right thing will be ten-fold.

I am learning to go beyond lip service and stand up for what I believe in. The death of Betty Ford has made me realize, once again, there is never a day that goes where I cannot make some kind of positive difference. I cleaned out a lot of crap out of my closet this past weekend and was ashamed to find boxed of new shoes on the top shelf that I never worn once. Most of those shoes cost more than $25--many were closer to $50. And there they sat doing nothing but taking up space.

I figured that money could have gone towards one of my two pet causes--breast cancer or animal rights and protection. I bought a $19 monthly membership to the American Humane Association--and that felt a hell of a lot better than any DSW shoe sale!

Betty Ford Quote On Using Her Breast Cancer for Change

On getting breast cancer)

"...I never felt hopelessly mutilated. After all, Jerry and I had been married a good many years and our love had proved itself. I had no reason to doubt my husband. If he'd lost a leg, I wouldn't have deserted him, and I knew he wouldn't desert me because I was unfortunate enough to have had a mastectomy. Neither of us can walk away from the other."

"Lying in the hospital, thinking of all those women going for cancer checkups because of me, I'd come to recognize more clearly the power of the woman in the White House. Not my power, but the power of the position, a power which could be used to help."


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Breast Reconstruction: Keep Tweaking Till You're Happy

Yesterday, I underwent my seventh surgery in three years in order to further tweak my slightly lopsided breasts. When I went on my Mediterranean Cruise a years ago, I noticed in the vacation pictures that my left breast looked noticeably smaller when I wore T-shirts. Those pictures bothered my so much that I deleted them from my camera. I thought I was stuck with a left boob half a size smaller than the right one until I went for my annual check-up last spring. I voiced my complaint to Dr. Ott. She took a quick look and said,"Here's what were gonna do. Replace your left implant with a bigger one, suction out some fat from the right breast and transfer it to the top of the left breast, to fix the scar dent that makes your cleavage less than perfect."

Yesterday, mission accomplished! The reason for this lopsidedness, is because the radiation had prevented my left breast from getting plumper over time while the right breast continued to grow! So if any of you out there are less than satisfied with your current breast reconstruction, keep going back to your doctor to fix the problem. In case you didn't know, these surgeries are covered under the law. Bill Clinton signed a bill in 1998 stating that any women who has had breast cancer is entitled to have breast reconstruction covered by their insurance. This is federal law! So my advise is to go for it!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Thank You Betty Ford

This article was written by Gina Maisano on her blog

Former First Lady, Betty Ford has died at the age of 93. She was an incredible woman who triumphed over cancer and addiction. We owe her a great deal of both thanks and respect.

In 1974, just a month after her husband suddenly became president, she discovered she had breast cancer. She underwent a mastectomy and did not hide it. As a result, she took the whisper out of the words, "breast cancer." She was our first, true advocate. Because of her example, other high profile women opened up about their own personal battles. Barbara Bel Geddes had a radical mastectomy around the same time as Mrs. Ford and made sure it was included in the storyline of her hit television show, Dallas. We all watched as Miss Ellie fought her cancer and her emotions about her body image and whether her husband would still desire her. This had never been seen or discussed before.

All of this led to empowering women to speak with their doctors about getting screened themselves, a topic that was not as open as it is today. The birth of the breast cancer advocacy movement can be traced to Mrs. Ford and Ms. Bel Geddes. Soon, radical mastectomies were stopped and less drastic and deforming surgeries were perfected leading to the beautiful reconstructive surgery available today.

Mrs. Ford did not keep anything secret for long. She was also an alcoholic. After she overcame her addiction, reached out to those who needed to break the bonds of substance abuse. The Betty Ford Clinic is famous for the work it does and the lives it has changed... all because Mrs. Ford wanted to help others yet again.

She may not have been flashy or known for her designer outfits. She was soft spoken and stood by her best friend, her husband, through good and bad times as he stood by her through her struggles. Quietly, without looking for credit, she went beyond herself to help others conquer what she had endured before them.

A quiet warrior who won many wars, she was the friend you didn't realize you had. Who among us has not in some way been touched by breast cancer or substance abuse? Because of Mrs. Ford, there is no shame or embarrassment anymore. Courage, dignity and the knowledge that you can fight any battle is her legacy to us. We are incredibly lucky she was there for us. May she rest in peace.

Thank you, Mrs. Ford

Friday, July 1, 2011

Gratitude List

I learned that whenever a tape starts running through my head repetitiously with the mantra: This is not the life I ordered! I have to stop focusing on what I don't have and list all the things I do have. For example, my list includes:

1. After a serious brush with breast cancer, I'm healthy again!

2. I have a job, and there's way too many people in this country today that don't.

3. I have a fabulous boss and six months ago, I didn't. That's why I changed jobs. (I still believe that was a good decision.)

4. I have a roof over my head, and it's not too shabby.

5. I have wonderful friends.

6. I have enough money in the bank to know I won't go homeless.

7. I have my mom, my brother, my nephews and many aunts, uncles and cousins that love me.

8. Thanks to my cats, I have kept high-blood pressure medication at bay.

9. I have a pool, I live in the Connecticut countryside, and that's why people love to come visit!

10. I have a state-of-the-art Mac laptop, that let's me write anytime, anywhere. Now that's what keeps my sanity!