Friday, December 27, 2013

I Did It My Way

As  I have stated numerous time on previous posts, I hate Christmas. But this year was different because I finally put my foot down and stated this is how I want to do it, and if that's not acceptable, I'm bowing out.

Christmas day in Florida with my cousins and brother.
I hadn't gone down to Florida to spend time with my mom, aunt, uncle and cousins for probably 20 years. Neither had my brother because he felt spending Christmas with his sons was more important. This year all the circumstances were perfect to pack our bags and head down there during the holiday season. I made it clear to my brother and mom that I had no intention of buying them gifts, and they should do the same.

What I did want was to throw a great big party. And that's exactly what I did on the Sunday before Christmas. It gave me an opportunity to invite a few old friends over in addition to my family. I started cooking at at 6am in the morning but it was entirely worth it when everyone thanked me for having such a great time.

For me that's what Christmas is all about. Just gathering with all the people you love and hanging out. Forget about running to the mall. That just turns the whole season into a chore. I gotta say this is one of the best Christmases I've had in many years because I finally did it my way.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

RIP My Beloved Tigger

Today was one of those difficult days when you realize the years of joy your pet has bestowed upon you has come to end. For me, it was an abrupt end. I found my beloved Tigger laying half-conscious in my bedroom this morning, gasping for air. When I lifted him up to rush him to the car, he was limp and I knew right then it was not a good thing.

Rest In Peace Tigger
I got him to the emergency veterinary hospital and within minutes the doctor confirmed he was on the verge of dying of heart failure. I told her I didn't want him to suffer. So she rushed him into a room so I could say my last goodbye. But as  she layed him down with needles at his side to euthanize him,  his blank stare made me realize he was already dead. The vet listened to his heartbeat and confirmed Tigger was gone.

With that, she graciously stepped out of the room. I snuggled my nose into his gorgeous, orange striped fur and told him how very much I would miss him. As I looked down upon him for one last time, I told him I did the best I could to take care of him and love him for the 10-plus years of his life. In my heart I felt some acknowledgement and that's what allowed me to leave the room.

The whole ordeal took place in less than an hour. I came back home to see my two remaining cats waiting patiently outside. As they sauntered inside,  it didn't take Gypsy long to realize something was amiss. He started snooping around for his Best Bud. He jumped on the ottoman where Tigger and him usually slept together. His  eyes darted around the room looking for Tigger to jump up to his side.  He let out a few meager meows as if to call for him.

Now, tonight I see that Gypsy refuses to jump up on the ottoman or the top of the club chair where both Tigger and Gypsy had sat snuggled together a mere 24 hours ago. Instead, Gypsy makes two modest attempts to snuggle with my other cat, Mango. He meekly reaches out to Mango with his paw, inching his way closer to him, but Mango will have none of it. He has always been the Lone Ranger. Gypsy and Tigger were a pair. In fact, Gypsy is the one that lead me to Tigger laying on the floor, gasping for breath. 

Tigger & Gypsy
As sad as this day is, I can't say it was a surprise. Tigger was seriously overweight. I knew he was a ticking time bomb, but with two other cats to feed, I didn't know how to manage the problem. They say indoor cats live longer. In my case, that theory is totally wrong. Both Mango and Gypsy get outside to run at least twice a day. Mango is 12 years old and the vet tells me he's in great shape. Gypsy is about 7 years old and has energy to spare, still playing like a kitten.

While those two cats went out to burn calories off, Tigger just sat and waited. He was a couch potato his entire life. Perhaps I would have tested the waters and let him outside, but he was scared to go out. Besides, the woman that gave me Tigger as a kitten made me sign a contract promising that  I would never let him outdoors. I kept my promise.

I have done my best to take good care of all my cats. I know there are people out there who view me as this crazy cat lady who doesn't have just one, or two, but THREE freakin' cats! To them I say: I don't care what you think. You have no idea. Each one of my cats has offered me their unique brand of  unconditional love. 

With Tigger, it was in the early morning right after his two brothers--Mango and Gypsy--leaped out of the front door. There would be a moment when he would let out a slight whimper because he felt left behind. But he quickly realized he had me all to myself. As soon as I sat on the couch for my first sip of coffee, he jumped on to my lap, sprawled out and purred with gusto. That was our ritual, our daily special moment. None of my other cats did that. It was a Tigger thing.

He was big and fat and snuggly just like a teddy bear, which is why I nicknamed him Chubby Cubby. Now there is this gaping hole in my heart. It is a feeling that I am familiar with. I lost two cats back in 2000 within two months of each other. Despite this pain, I accept it as the price for loving animals.  I said it back in 2000, and I will say it again: I wouldn't have traded my 10 years of joy with Tigger in order to avoid this sad day for anything.

Tigger was the only cat that didn't show up at my doorstep--sucker that I am for strays. I searched for him. I decided I wanted an orange tabby kitten in 2003 and trolled the internet for days. Finally there he was- pictured online huddled in a cage among other kittens. All of them looked scared and a little sad. His feral mother had given birth to a litter in a garage during a rainy spring and then died. He was sequestered in a woman's basement  among countless other cats.  Tigger's rescuer, Jodi Todd, founded Castaway Cats Inc. and she lived just three miles away from me. I will never forget picking him out of that cage as a frightened baby and falling instantly in love.

I had found the orange tabby cat that I had always wanted.  But owning him wasn't instantaneous. First, Jodi took him on a field trip to my house to inspect everything and see how my other rescue cat responded to him. I passed the test.  A week later she brought Tigger (who she named Skipper) over. I gave her an $80 contribution for neutering him and giving him all his shots. Then, she made me sign a contract stating that if for any reason I  chose not to keep my little orange ball of fur, I was to return him immediately to her. Furthermore, I had to  promise that I would not declaw Tigger or let him outdoors.  I signed the contract no questions asked, and Tigger was finally mine.

I kept my three-month old kitten in my master bathroom room for a couple days until he willingly ventured out to explore. Within a week, he marched around with his striped tail upright like he owned the joint. Although he got along with my other cat well enough, it wasn't until five years later--in 2008--that Tigger found a Best Bud. I brought a stray cat inside after my condo association was trying to catch him and take him away. He would surely be euthanized. For months, Tigger pressed his nose and paw to the window whenever he caught Gypsy's eye outside.

When he finally got to unite with this scrappy alley cat, they became inseparable. For the last five years of Tigger's life, he luxuriated in Gypsy's companionship and love.  Now that he's gone, it breaks my heart to see Gypsy sitting on the living room ottoman alone.

Thank you Jodi Todd for giving me such a precious gift that I have enjoyed for more than 10 years.

Goodbye Chubby Cubby. You were truly loved.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Less is More

My name is Marcy and I am a shopaholic.  There. I said it.  This addiction has caused my home to overflow with way too much stuff.  I have been forced to face my problem every time I dig through mounds of clothes or open an overstuffed closet. It causes me great stress whenever I search anxiously through the house for my car keys, my eyeglasses or a stray boot.

There are places in my home so overrun with junk (I won't say where) that if I drop an earring, it's like dropping it into the ocean. It becomes lost in the abyss and I resign myself to the fact that I may never see that item again. I put the remaining earring in a bowl and hope for the best. That's when I have to ask myself why I even bothered to buy those earring in the first place. That's when I look at the clothes in my closet with price tags still on them and sense a knot growing in my stomach. I feel utterly ashamed.

I did get proactive about tackling the mess that surrounds me three weeks ago when I decided to have a tag sale with my friend. I sifted through the clothes. I picked through the closets, searched under beds and scoured dark corners. After that first go around of purging, I packed my car with junk that hit the ceiling. Needless to say, I relied heavily on my rear view mirrors just to safely reach my tag sale destination.

It was a long, chilly Saturday of wheeling and dealing, but at the end of the day I got rid of a big hunk of junk. It went to people that really wanted to use what I found useless. That felt good. This whole exercise made me start to rethink my spending sprees. After all the energy I spent trying to get rid of things, did I really want to start filling up the house all over again?

Absolutely not. That's when I started shopping with a list. It helped me to stay focused on what I needed, and prevented me from going off the rails into the Neverland of desires. I'm not saying I've crossed over into complete frugality, but every little strategy helps.

There is an upside to all of this. Instead of looking at all my worn pieces of furniture and believing there is no other option but to replace them,  I simply grab sandpaper, paint and refinish.  That's right. I am evolving into a DIY  diva. The word re-purpose has taken on a whole new meaning for me.

Yet my urge to splurge is not completely tamed. In fact, it is a daily battle. So whenever I think about buying something, I do this:
1. Ask myself why I need it.
2. Ask myself how useful it will be on a daily basis. (Consider the return on investment.)
3. Walk away and think about it for a day before I commit to buying the item.

It has not been easy, but I am striving for a less-is-more lifestyle. I have turned off the home shopping shows and ignored the daily emails. Today my  motto is: Use it or lose it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Avoiding Breast-Cancer Inducing Chemicals

Dirty Dozen List of Endocrine Disruptors
12 Hormone-Altering Chemicals and How to Avoid Them
Article courtesy of the Environmental Working Group

There is no end to the tricks that endocrine disruptors can play on our bodies: increasing production of certain hormones; decreasing production of others; imitating hormones; turning one hormone into another; interfering with hormone signaling; telling cells to die prematurely; competing with essential nutrients; binding to essential hormones; accumulating in organs that produce hormones.
Here are 12 of the worst hormone disrupters, how they do their dirty deeds, and some tips on how to avoid them.
Some may say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but do you really want a chemical used in plastics imitating the sex hormone estrogen in your body? No! Unfortunately, this synthetic hormone can trick the body into thinking it’s the real thing – and the results aren’t pretty. BPA has been linked to everything from breast and others cancers to reproductive problems, obesity, early puberty and heart disease, and according to government tests, 93 percent of Americans have BPA in their bodies!
How to avoid it? Go fresh instead of canned – many food cans are lined with BPA – or research which companies don’t use BPA or similar chemicals in their products. Say no to receipts, since thermal paper is often coated with BPA. And avoid plastics marked with a “PC,” for polycarbonate, or recycling label #7. Not all of these plastics contain BPA, but many do – and it’s better safe than sorry when it comes to keeping synthetic hormones out of your body. For more tips, check out:
Dioxins are multi-taskers… but not in a good way! They form during many industrial processes when chlorine or bromine are burned in the presence of carbon and oxygen. Dioxins can disrupt the delicate ways that both male and female sex hormone signaling occurs in the body. This is a bad thing! Here’s why: Recent research has shown that exposure to low levels of dioxin in the womb and early in life can both permanently affect sperm quality and lower the sperm count in men during their prime reproductive years. But that’s not all! Dioxins are very long-lived, build up both in the body and in the food chain, are powerful carcinogens and can also affect the immune and reproductive systems.
How to avoid it? That’s pretty difficult, since the ongoing industrial release of dioxin has meant that the American food supply is widely contaminated. Products including meat, fish, milk, eggs and butter are most likely to be contaminated, but you can cut down on your exposure by eating fewer animal products.
What happens when you introduce highly toxic chemicals into nature and turn your back? For one thing, feminization of male frogs. That’s right, researchers have found that exposure to even low levels of the herbicide atrazine can turn male frogs into females that produce completely viable eggs. Atrazine is widely used on the majority of corn crops in the United States, and consequently it’s a pervasive drinking water contaminant. Atrazine has been linked to breast tumors, delayed puberty and prostate inflammation in animals, and some research has linked it to prostate cancer in people.
How to avoid it? Buy organic produce and get a drinking water filter certified to remove atrazine. For help finding a suitable filter, check out EWG’s buying guide:
Did you know that a specific signal programs cells in our bodies to die? It’s totally normal and healthy for 50 billion cells in your body to die every day! But studies have shown that chemicals called phthalates can trigger what’s known as “death-inducing signaling” in testicular cells, making them die earlier than they should. Yep, that’s cell death – in your man parts. If that’s not enough, studies have linked phthalates to hormone changes, lower sperm count, less mobile sperm, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, diabetes and thyroid irregularities.
How to avoid it? A good place to start is to avoid plastic food containers, children’s toys (some phthalates are already banned in kid’s products), and plastic wrap made from PVC, which has the recycling label #3. Some personal care products also contain phthalates, so read the labels and avoid products that simply list added “fragrance,” since this catch-all term sometimes means hidden phthalates. Find phthalate-free personal care products with EWG’s Skin Deep Database:
Who needs food tainted with rocket fuel?! That’s right, perchlorate, a component in rocket fuel, contaminates much of our produce and milk, according to EWG and government test data. When perchlorate gets into your body it competes with the nutrient iodine, which the thyroid gland needs to make thyroid hormones. Basically, this means that if you ingest too much of it you can end up altering your thyroid hormone balance. This is important because it’s these hormones that regulate metabolism in adults and are critical for proper brain and organ development in infants and young children.
How to avoid it? You can reduce perchlorate in your drinking water by installing a reverse osmosis filter. (You can get help finding one at: As for food, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid perchlorate, but you can reduce its potential effects on you by making sure you are getting enough iodine in your diet. Eating iodized salt is one good way.
Fire retardants
What do breast milk and polar bears have in common? In 1999, some Swedish scientists studying women’s breast milk discovered something totally unexpected: The milk contained an endocrine-disrupting chemical found in fire retardants, and the levels had been doubling every five years since 1972! These incredibly persistent chemicals, known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs, have since been found to contaminate the bodies of people and wildlife around the globe – even polar bears. These chemicals can imitate thyroid hormones in our bodies and disrupt their activity. That can lead to lower IQ, among other significant health effects. While several kinds of PBDEs have now been phased out, this doesn’t mean that toxic fire retardants have gone away. PBDEs are incredibly persistent, so they’re going to be contaminating people and wildlife for decades to come.
How to avoid it? It’s virtually impossible, but passing better toxic chemical laws that require chemicals to be tested before they go on the market would help reduce our exposure. A few things that can you can do in the meantime include: use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter, which can cut down on toxic-laden house dust; avoid reupholstering foam furniture; take care when replacing old carpet (the padding underneath may contain PBDEs). Find more tips at:
You may or may not like heavy metal music, but lead is one heavy metal you want to avoid. It’s well known that lead is toxic, especially to children. Lead harms almost every organ system in the body and has been linked to a staggering array of health effects, including permanent brain damage, lowered IQ, hearing loss, miscarriage, premature birth, increased blood pressure, kidney damage and nervous system problems. But few people realize that one other way that lead may affect your body is by disrupting your hormones. In animals, lead has been found to lower sex hormone levels. Research has also shown that lead can disrupt the hormone signaling that regulates the body’s major stress system (called the HPA axis). You probably have more stress in your life than you want, so the last thing you need is something making it harder for your body to deal with it – especially when this stress system is implicated in high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety and depression.
How to avoid it? Keep your home clean and well maintained. Crumbling old paint is a major source of lead exposure, so get rid of it carefully. A good water filter can also reduce your exposure to lead in drinking water. (Check out for help finding a filter.) And if you need another reason to eat better, studies have also shown that children with healthy diets absorb less lead.
Arsenic isn’t just for murder mysteries anymore. In fact, this toxin is lurking in your food and drinking water. If you eat enough of it, arsenic will kill you outright. In smaller amounts, arsenic can cause skin, bladder and lung cancer. Basically, bad news. Less well known: Arsenic messes with your hormones! Specifically, it can interfere with normal hormone functioning in the glucocorticoid system that regulates how our bodies process sugars and carbohydrates. What does that mean for you? Well, disrupting the glucocorticoid system has been linked to weight gain/loss, protein wasting, immunosuppression, insulin resistance (which can lead to diabetes), osteoporosis, growth retardation and high blood pressure.
How to avoid it? Reduce your exposure by using a water filter that lowers arsenic levels. For help finding a good water filter, check out EWG’s buying guide:
Caution: That sushi you are eating could be hazardous to your health. Mercury, a naturally occurring but toxic metal, gets into the air and the oceans primarily though burning coal. Eventually, it can end up on your plate in the form of mercury-contaminated seafood. Pregnant women are the most at risk from the toxic effects of mercury, since the metal is known to concentrate in the fetal brain and can interfere with brain development. Mercury is also known to bind directly to one particular hormone that regulates women’s menstrual cycle and ovulation, interfering with normal signaling pathways. In other words, hormones don’t work so well when they’ve got mercury stuck to them! The metal may also play a role in diabetes, since mercury has been shown to damage cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, which is critical for the body’s ability to metabolize sugar.
How to avoid it? For people who still want to eat (sustainable) seafood with lots of healthy fats but without a side of toxic mercury, wild salmon and farmed trout are good choices.
Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)
The perfluorinated chemicals used to make non-stick cookware can stick to you. Perfluorochemicals are so widespread and extraordinarily persistent that 99 percent of Americans have these chemicals in their bodies. One particularly notorious compound called PFOA has been shown to be “completely resistant to biodegradation.” In other words, PFOA doesn’t break down in the environment – ever. That means that even though the chemical was banned after decades of use, it will be showing up in people’s bodies for countless generations to come. This is worrisome, since PFOA exposure has been linked to decreased sperm quality, low birth weight, kidney disease, thyroid disease and high cholesterol, among other health issues. Scientists are still figuring out how PFOA affects the human body, but animal studies have found that it can affect thyroid and sex hormone levels.
How to avoid it? Skip non-stick pans as well as stain and water-resistant coatings on clothing, furniture and carpets.
Organophosphate pesticides
Neurotoxic organophosphate compounds that the Nazis produced in huge quantities for chemical warfare during World War II were luckily never used. After the war ended, American scientists used the same chemistry to develop a long line of pesticides that target the nervous systems of insects. Despite many studies linking organophosphate exposure to effects on brain development, behavior and fertility, they are still among the more common pesticides in use today. A few of the many ways that organophosphates can affect the human body include interfering with the way testosterone communicates with cells, lowering testosterone and altering thyroid hormone levels.
How to avoid it? Buy organic produce and use EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which can help you find the fruits and vegetables that have the fewest pesticide residues. Check it out at:
Glycol Ethers
Shrunken testicles: Do we have your full attention now? This is one thing that can happen to rats exposed to chemicals called glycol ethers, which are common solvents in paints, cleaning products, brake fluid and cosmetics. Worried? You should be. The European Union says that some of these chemicals “may damage fertility or the unborn child.” Studies of painters have linked exposure to certain glycol ethers to blood abnormalities and lower sperm counts. And children who were exposed to glycol ethers from paint in their bedrooms had substantially more asthma and allergies.
How to avoid it? Start by checking out EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning ( and avoid products with ingredients such as 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxydiglycol (DEGME).

Saturday, October 19, 2013

My Breast Cancer Scrapbook

I recently cleaned out a series of drawers and closets and came across odds and ends that hark back to my breast cancer battle days. I found a plastic bag full of cotton bandanas that were my head fashion mainstays during summer 2008. I decided to hold on to the pink paisely handkerchief--the one I wore when they wheeled me in to get my first mastectomy--and get rid of the others.

My breast cancer scrapbook
Underneath the bathroom sink cabinet, I pulled out two blonde wigs. One was a  short bob. The other had long, flaxen hair. I remember when I bought that one, I thought I would finally be able to sport the long, thick hair I was never not born with.  Of course, I couldn't help but try them on.  They were all matted up needed some seriou re-styling. Should I toss them in a trash bag or keep them? In the end, I just put them back under the sink.

I found my old straw fedora hat still sitting on the top shelf of my closet. It's crumpled with a band of dirt circling the inside rim. Like the wigs, I couldn't bring myself to throw it out. It's still there.

Then I came upon the mother lode: A pink scrapbook full of cards, letters, notes and journal entries. An old friend had given it to me in the midst of my health crisis. She's one smart cookie and knew full well it was the perfect gift--even if I didn't know it at the time.

I opened the scrapbook and read the cards, the letters and of course my journal entries.  Each item helped me relive the time and place when I received the card or written the thought. To use an old cliche, if the house started burning down, this scrapbook, the photos and the cats would be the first things I'd scramble for.

It might seem strange that I would want an album full of memorabilia that marks such a difficult time. Like most scrapbooks, this was no document of a fabulous vacation. But that's just the way it is. If nothing else, it reminds me that I survived cancer. By comparision, whatever other challenges are going on in my life now is just a walk in the park.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Wine, Weight and Walking

Today on the radio I heard the top three things you can do to prevent breast cancer is to A: Dial down the wine drinking. B: Watch your weight. C: Try to walk 30 minutes every day. 

To keep these tips easy to remember, think of them as the three Ws: Wine, Weight and Walking. I trolled the internet to get the facts that support the reasons why women should abide the three Ws. I found my answers in a section of an article from Woman's Day magazine that was written by Stacey Colino. Here's why should all do WWW.

1. Having a drink a day is probably too much.
Alcohol may be good for your heart, but when it comes to your breasts, it’s another story: Research suggests that even one drink per day could raise your breast cancer risk, says Christine Laronga, MD, clinical director of breast surgical oncology at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. To be safe, limit it to three drinks per week—but don’t get in the habit of “saving” your weekly drinks and downing them all in one night. If you regularly have two or three glasses of wine or cocktails at once, your risk of breast cancer jumps to 20% higher than if you abstained completely, according to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The way alcohol is metabolized in a woman’s body may increase estrogen levels in the bloodstream, which increases your breast cancer risk.
Research has shown that getting enough folic acid (folate)—at least 600 mcg per day—may help undo some of the damage of regular drinking. You’ll find it in orange juice, leafy greens, beans and fortified breakfast cereals. For extra insurance, ask your doctor if you should take a multivitamin that contains it. Photo: iStock

2. What you weight matters more than what you eat.
Though it’s true that a healthy diet may help, whether individual foods can really lower your breast cancer risk is up for debate. But there’s no denying the powerful impact of weight. Numerous studies have found that extra pounds increase your risk of postmenopausal breast cancer or having a recurrence. “The more body fat you have, the more estrogen your body stores,” and estrogen can stimulate tumor growth, explains Dr. Laronga. The good news: If you’re overweight, slimming down may help reduce your risk.

3. Just 30 minutes of exercise five days a week can cut your breast cancer risk by nearly 20%.
Regular exercise (2.5 hours a week, which you can break up into five 30-minute brisk walks) not only helps to keep your weight in check, it can also lower estrogen levels and boost your immune system, helping to prevent any abnormal cells from growing and spreading. And if you do get breast cancer, keep moving. Breast cancer survivors who did the equivalent of one to two hours of brisk walking a week had a 40% lower risk of dying from breast cancer, according to a study from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

*Stacey Colino is an award-winning writer who specializes in health and psychology. Her work has appeared in many national magazines and books.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Breast Cancer Survivor Opens Up About Sex

Tracey Gorman at North Bondi Beach.
BREAST cancer survivor Tracey Gorman couldn't remove her bra during sex for four years after her mastectomy.
She had lost all confidence in her body and sexuality - so much so she refused to undress in front of her then husband and wore her prosthesis to bed every night.
"It became part of me,"' the 51-year-old said. "It was horrible and heavy but I never took my bra off because it was my security.
"I didn't want anyone to see me like that (naked) when I couldn't stand to see myself."
Cancer free for 15 years now, it has taken her most of that time to come to terms with the changes to her body after her treatment for breast cancer.
Ms Gorman was a sporty, mother-of-four sons under eight when she was diagnosed at age 36.
The loss of her breast and mane of red hair robbed her sense of identity, leaving her feeling "less than a whole woman.
"I don't know what was worse losing my hair or the boob," she said.
"My hair was my thing so that was really hard and after I lost my breast I always felt uneven like I wasn't balanced."
Despite the loving support of her then husband, Grahame, Ms Gorman said her husband's constant reassurances weren't enough to ease her anxieties.
"He was an amazingly supportive husband and it never changed his view of me sexually but it changed me - it was all me,"' she said.
"He would tell me I was beautiful but I didn't feel whole anymore and I wasn't comfortable in my body anymore.
"We had been together 15 years and were extremely comfortable with each other and had great sex life but after the cancer, I wouldn't show my body and started to cover up and that did put a strain on things."
Ms Gorman said her breast reconstruction at age 40 helped boost her confidence.
Four years ago she left her husband of 25 years, though she hastens to add it had nothing to do with her illness.
Ms Gorman's experience of struggling with body image and sexuality after cancer is now being recognised by experts as a growing and significant issue for survivors.
International research shows more than 40 per cent of people experience sexual problems after cancer treatment - with almost 70 per cent of patients and their partners admitting they need help to cope with the changes to their bodies, dealing with image issues and intimacy.
NSW Cancer Council's Annie Miller, who heads the Survivorship Unit, said the focus on sexual issues has grown as more and more younger people continue to be diagnosed with cancer - and survival rates improve.
"It's people in that 18-45 age bracket that are coming to us and saying we want to talk more about sexuality and fertility because no-one's talking about sex, so what are we supposed to do about this,'' she said.
In an Australian first, the Cancer Council and Sydney University researchers have been granted funding to develop and launch a web-based psycho-educational resource.
Ms Miller said the Rekindle project, which starts mid next year, will address sexual concerns and needs of survivors and their partners, across all cancer-types but tailored to the unique concerns of each user.
"The wonderful thing is we are going to be able to get to people in rural and regional areas who are really desperate for this because not many people would feel comfortable going to their GP to discuss sexual function," she said.
Relationship counsellor and sexologist, Dr Nikki Goldstein said sex was an important aspect for quality of life - a topic reluctantly broached and sometimes overlooked by people just grateful to be in remission.
"The way we feel about our body really plays a part in what happens in the bedroom and that's an issue that isnt really spoken about," she said.
"It's not just about getting this banging, hot Fifty Shades of Grey sex life back - it's about valuing yourself as a sexual being; being able to feel sexual again and being able to connect with someone.
  1. The Sunday Telegraph
  2. October 12, 2013 10:00PM

Friday, September 27, 2013

Remembering The Battle

After looking at my cluttered desktop on my Mac laptop this morning, I decided it was high time I trash a lot of files. That's when I came across this thank you letter that I wrote to my boss for sending a gift basket to the hospital right after I undwent a second mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

There were complications. I was in the operating room for 24 hours. Due to radiation, the reconstructive part of the surgery wasn't successful. I lost a lot of blood. I ended up in intensive care for three days. I was in the hospital for all of eight days. It was a scary. 

Nonetheless, I managed to find some humor through it all. I got a kick out of reading this. So here it is.

Subject: thanks for the gift basket!

Dear Joe:

A little bird told me you were the one that arranged to have that beautiful gift basket come to me while I was in the hospital. So now I'm going to have to tell you why, when I got that gift basket, I was so happy.

When I first woke up in the recovery room after my operation, a nurse cheerily pricked my arm and said: "Sorry to bother you, but I have to take some of your blood. You see, we have this vampire that lives in the basement, and we have to keep him fed. This vampire always requests blood from new patients, since he considers himself a connissour of blood varietals, and is always looking for new kinds of blood that will delight his sophisticated palate."

"No problem," I replied to the nurse. And didn't think anything more about it until I got into intensive care. That's when it seemed requests for my blood were coming every six hours. As I tossed and turned in my drugged-up state, it occurred to me, that the vampire had acquired a taste for my blood. I realized in horror that Winthrop Hospital had to keep that vampire downstairs fed, so every once in awhile someone became the vampire's sacrificial lamb. I was to be his next victim.

"You're trying to kill me to keep that vampire happy," I finally accused a nurse as she came at me with her needle to extract yet more blood. "No, no, no, she replied, we need to analyze your blood because you are losing way too much blood." 

"Hello!" I retorted. "Then just stop taking all my blood! Have the the vampire go after the elderly woman next door who keeps me up all night screaming for morphine!" The nurse bent down and whispered in my ear: "Relax. our vampire gets tired of the same blood type meals after five days. He's had his fill of O positive blood for awhile. Word has it he's requesting B negative blood. You're off the hook."

That very afternoon, I was wheeled out of intensive care on to an ordinary hospital floor. As I got settled into my digs, a woman came into the room wearing a big smile on her face and bearing this beautiful fruit basket. "Are you Marcy?" she asked. "That's me," I replied." She placed the basket on the bedstand next to me. My first thought was, it's the vampire, he wants to let me know how much he enjoyed feasting on my blood. Oh no, I'm still on his radar.

Then I opened the card. It said: "From Your Friends At Yellowbook." That's when I realized I hadn't seen any of my family or friends for four whole days. I had been totally alone fighting demons and vampires. That's when I realized I was very close to finally going back home to rejoin the people who loved and cared for me--and none of them were vampires. That was the happiest moment I had in the hospital.

Thank you so much.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Case For Reconstructive Surgery

This morning on CBS Sunday Morning there was a segment about a model Matuska, who caused an uproar some 20 years ago, when she photographed the scar that was left from her mastectomy. At the time, she believed that photograph was a source of empowerment. She wanted the world to take notice and do something about breast cancer already by lifting up her shirt and exposing her badge of courage.

But as the years went by,  it didn't change the fact that breast cancer had disfigured her, preventing her from wearing low cut tops, and chipping away at her sense of feminity. That's when she decided it was finally time to move on and do what so many other breast cancer patients do these days: Get reconstructive surgery.

When the segment finally came to the part where she was rolled into an operating room to get a new pair of boobs, all I could think was: Hey, what took you so long?

Quite frankly, the only thing that helped me face the fact that I would lose my breasts is the promise from my plastic surgeon that she would put me back to together again and everything would be just fine. Even though the end result wasn't picture perfect, it sure beat the alternative.

C'mon. We all have access to this fine medical technology today. Why wouldn't everyone want to take advantage of it? What's more, in the USA, President Bill Clinton signed a bill in 1998 that states if a woman must have a mastectomy, insurance providers must pay for reconstructive surgery.

I cannot imagine what my life would be like today if I had not been able to have reconstructive surgery.    I am also appreciative of all the added bonuses that come along with it. For example, I can wear spaghetti-strapped sundresses and raceback tops and not even bother to wear a bra because I've got what's called "high profile implants." In other words, my breasts are perky, not droopy. That does not go unnoticed among my baby boomer contemporaries.

Guys just silently stare at my "rack" a little too long and some even look puzzled because all the other parts of my body pretty much show my age. But women can be more forthcoming--especially after a glass of wine or two. At a party once a woman flat out asked: "How come you have such perky boobs?" It's such a great ice-breaker. And it sure gets me talking.

Anyway, back to this model Matuska. I am so glad she finally came to her senses after all these years. And I would bet my bottom dollar she's probably asking herself: Why didn't I do thise sooner?

If you ask me, when a life-threatening disease gives you a chance to get a free boob job, don't over think the situation. Just take it.

To see the whole segment on CBS Sunday Morning, click on the video to the right of this post.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Summer Escape

Sunrise on a Montauk beach.
Since the summers are short and sweet in New England, I make it a priority to get  away to one of our many quaint beachside towns, if only for a few days.

After all, health experts say any kind of respite from the daily stress and grind of work is good for your health.  I say its good for your soul. I'm a cancer survivor. I could argue that taking a break is crucial to preventing a recurrence. Before I got cancer, I missed out on a summer reunion trip to Norway because my employer at the time said there was too much work to do so they couldn't authorize me to take seven days off.

Of course, when I left that job, the incident was forgotten and irreverent to them, but I never got over it. I missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime event to meet 150 Norwegian cousins. From then on I learned to stand firm when it comes to my right to take a vacation--especially in the summer.

That being said, this year I opted to take the ferry boat across the Long Island Sound to visit some old stomping grounds: The Hamptons, Amagansett and Montauk. Back in the '80s I got there often since my brother once had a place there. I noted that the barren stretch between East Hampton and Montauk had significantly built up. The town of Montauk, which I remember being sleepy, is now over-crowded with rollicking 20-somethings acting like animals during mating season.

In my day, that's what was going on in East Hampton and Amgansett. But apparently, all those folks have grown up, settled down with kids and are content to huddle close to their cozy cottages and take quiet strolls along the beach. I see them hit the farmer's market in the morning, stocking up on whatever they need to sustain them for the weekend. I've gotta say, that's exactly what I would be doing, too.

How can you not resist the sound of gentle waves lapping at the beach weekend after weekend? When the scene is accompanied by a sunrise or a sunset, it becomes a fond memory for life. At least that's what it does for me.

As I look at the calendar, I see we only have three more precious weeks of August. So far the month has been wet and cool, which is a surprise for this time of year. I want more beach time before this season draws to a close. In keeping with tradition, I've already read two fast-paced novels in a week at home. But they were meant to be enjoyed along the seaside.

So if I have one wish for this month, it is for one more heat wave to fall upon one more August weekend. That way I will have one more day of summer indulgence: Spending a lazy day looking out at the sea.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Karma: A Blessing Or A Bitch?

  1. kar·ma  

    1. (in Hinduism and Buddhism) The sum of a person's actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in...
    2. Destiny or fate, following as effect from cause.
    fortune - fate - destiny

I believe in karma. I have for as long as I can remember. I think that's a good thing. It helps dictate my actions every day.

Whenever my mind starts toying with the idea of doing something devious, I stop the thoughts dead in their tracks and project to the future. I think to myself: If I go ahead and do this, which does not represent my better self, what are the repercussions? It helps maintain my dignity.

My father would call it acting with integrity, which he did very well by the way. But I like to put a more mystical spin on it. Just think, if we all strived for better karma, the world would probably be in a much better place.

In fact, it's not a bad idea to look back at where you screwed up and fix it in the present. Perhaps you will prevent some bad karma that's heading your way from come at you to bite you in the butt.

Of course, you have to wonder why some people that exude pure goodness keep getting faced with one tragedy or another. I think it's because their ancestors had bad karma and they are the ones that are paying for it. For example, everyone talks about the Kennedy curse. The patriarch of the family, Joe Kennedy, was a bootlegger and as crooked as they come. Now the whole clan has had to pay for his dirty deeds.

It's a far-fetched theory, I know. But for some of us, it's the only way we can make sense out of the world. And really, is that such a bad thing? It's better to try to do good things in the name of karma, then not try at all.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Nipping Breast Cancer In The Bud

Studies Show bioTheranostics’ Breast Cancer Index Identifies Breast Cancer Patients at Risk for Early and Late Recurrence, and Predicts Benefit from Extended Endocrine Therapy
Information could allow many women to avoid unnecessary treatment and identify those patients more likely to benefit from continued endocrine therapy
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE…July 10, 2013…SAN DIEGO… bioTheranostics, developer of innovative molecular diagnostics, reported results from two new studies evaluating the performance of its Breast Cancer Index (BCI) biomarker assay in estrogen-receptor positive (ER+), early stage breast cancer. Study results showed that BCI predicts which women with early stage ER+ breast cancer are at risk for early and late distant recurrence, and which are most likely to benefit from continuing treatment with endocrine therapy after completing five years of tamoxifen.
BCI is a combinatorial biomarker with a novel mechanism of action composed of Molecular Grade Index (MGI) and the two-gene expression ratio HOXB13/IL17BR (H/I).
In a study published online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, tumor samples from 83 patients with breast cancer recurrence were matched to 166 patients without disease recurrence from the MA.17 trial, a landmark randomized clinical study that demonstrated improved disease-free survival with extended letrozole therapy in postmenopausal patients with ER+ breast cancer who were recurrence-free following an initial five years of tamoxifen therapy. In patients receiving extended endocrine therapy, a high H/I gene expression ratio, as measured by the BCI assay, remained significantly associated with benefit from extended endocrine therapy (p=0.0061), representing a 16.5 percent reduction in the risk of recurrence with extended letrozole treatment compared with placebo. Patients with low H/I did not benefit from extended letrozole treatment. The study authors concluded that the BCI assay identifies a subgroup of breast cancer patients disease-free after five years of tamoxifen therapy who are at risk for late recurrence, and that high H/I predicts benefit from extended endocrine therapy. The study was conducted by researchers from leading institutions, including Massachusetts General Hospital.
A second study, published online in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, examined the ability of the BCI test to predict early (0-5 years) and late (>5 years) distant recurrence in ER+, lymph node-negative breast cancer patients. The study was a retrospective analysis of tumor samples from tamoxifen-treated patients from the randomized, prospective Stockholm trial (n=317) and a multi-institutional cohort from two academic medical centers (n=358). Within the Stockholm trial cohort, BCI stratified the majority (~65 percent) of patients as low risk, with <3 0-5="" 5-10="" 55="" a="" and="" as="" assay="" bci="" beyond="" both="" by="" classified="" clinicopathological="" cohort="" distant="" factor="" factors="" for="" groups="" had="" in="" larger="" low="" most="" multi-institutional="" of="" patients="" percent="" prognostic="" rate="" recurrence="" risk="" significant="" standard="" the="" tumors="" was="" were="" which="" with="" years.="" years="">5 years. The authors concluded that the ability of the BCI test to assess risk of both early and late distant recurrence has clinical utility for decisions of chemotherapy at diagnosis and for decisions about extended endocrine therapy beyond five years.
Richard Ding, president and CEO of bioTheranostics, said there is a growing need for novel biomarkers in ER+ early stage breast cancer that guide disease management beyond the initial 5-year window. “Breast Cancer Index is the only biomarker test that has been shown in prospective trials to predict the benefit of extended endocrine therapy,” Ding said. “The results of these key studies illustrate the importance of the BCI test in identifying which patients are at risk for early and late breast cancer recurrence, and who among them will benefit from extended endocrine therapy, which is of significant clinical value. This critical information should allow many women to avoid unnecessary treatment and for the clinical focus to be on those in most need of therapy.”
To obtain copies of the studies:
  • “Prediction of Late Disease Recurrence and Extended Adjuvant Letrozole Benefit by the HOXB13/IL17BR Biomarker,” click here.
  • “Breast Cancer Index Identifies Early Stage ER+ Breast Cancer Patients at Risk for Early and Late Distant Recurrence,” click here.
About bioTheranostics
bioTheranostics, Inc., is the leading solution provider for metastatic cancer management, leveraging its unique expertise in gene expression profiling to develop a growing array of molecular diagnostic tests for cancer patients. The company operates a CLIA-certified, CAP-accredited diagnostic laboratory to perform its proprietary tests: the CancerTYPE ID® molecular classification test; PRÉCIS® Precision Medicine, which includes biomarker profiles for non-small cell lung, colorectal, and other cancers; and Breast Cancer IndexSM, which quantifies risk of recurrence of estrogen receptor-positive, lymph node-negative breast cancer. bioTheranostics, a bioMérieux company, is based in San Diego. Learn more at

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Embrace Your Health

Once you have been in the debilitating throws of cancer, you look at people struggling with health issues in a new light.

The person tooling around in a motorized wheelchair tethered to an oxygen tank reminds me of when I was too weak to go grocery shopping. I had to jump into a wheeled cart with a basket--compliments of Stop & Shop.

I can spot women undergoing chemotherapy a mile away. I recognize their pale faces void of eyelashes and eyebrows, with hair on their heads that doesn't look quite right. I am tempted to approach these women to assure them that I was where they are and everything turned out all right. If it's in the right place and seems appropriate, sometimes I do.

I remember standing at a jewelry counter clad in my synthetic wig wearing too much makeup to mask the pallor of my face. The salesperson behind the counter had the courage to say: "You are sick aren't you?" I just nodded but felt grateful the elephant in the room was acknowledged. Then she reached out to hold my hand and said: God is watching out for you and you will be fine." I felt tears welling up in my eyes, but just nodded once again, and thanked her.

Now a member of my family is struggling desperately with their health. I realize I cannot heal them, I can't take away their frustration or their pain. But I can get them food, mow their lawn and take out the garbage. I can create as much normalcy in their life as possible.

I know--from experience--that just that alone can ease the experience of ill health. Life is hard enough. When it is a struggle to accomplish the most basic things--make a meal, clean a countertop, go to the store--you don't even want to get out of bed.

Every time I hoist a heavy piece of furniture and carry it up a flight of stairs, I am reminded that once I couldn't do this, but now I can. Once I was sick. Now I'm not. How fantastic is that?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Access To The Breast Cancer Gene Test

Breast Cancer Gene: Why Most 

Women Can't Do What Angelina 

Jolie Did

FILE - This Feb. 14, 2012 file photo shows US actress and director Angelina Jolie addressing the audience after premiere of her movie,
Amel Emric, AP
On Tuesday, Angelina Jolie drew headlines with her announcement that she has undergone a preventative double mastectomy. As she wrote in the pages of The New York Times, a blood test revealed that she carries a damaged BRCA1 gene -- a defect that greatly increases the odds of a woman getting breast cancer. Facing what she said was an 87 percent chance of developing the disease, she decided to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy, an operation that reduced her risk to 5 percent.

Jolie's decision to have a prophylactic mastectomy before any sign of the cancer had manifested, and her willingness to openly discuss it, is shedding fresh light on breast cancer -- as well as on the very real problems with how the American medical community deals with this disease. Every step in Jolie's process -- from the tests that uncovered her faulty gene, to the operations she underwent to protect against it, to the post-surgery reconstruction -- highlights shortcomings in the American health care system, and inequities in the care that most Americans receive.

To put it another way, when it comes to breast cancer care, your health may often be trumped by your finances: even if your best bet is to follow in Jolie's footsteps, you might not be able to afford the screening, care and surgery that may have saved her life.

Genetic Testing

The first issue is the test. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 tests, which may have saved Jolie's life, cost $3,000 to administer. Donna Faranda, helpline coordinator forShare Cancer Support, notes that there are four parts to the genetic test, but that many insurance companies only cover the first two. Paying for the last two parts is where things can get expensive.

Under the Affordable Care Act, getting the full genetic test for breast cancer will soon become a lot less expensive, at least under some circumstances. Starting in August, insurance companies will have to cover the tests, without cost-sharing, if a health care provider determines that doing so is "appropriate" -- which is to say, if the women have had breast cancer, have a family history of breast cancer, or otherwise seem particularly high-risk. In other words, the final decision on whether or not to test will come down to a doctor, nurse or other health care provider.

While it's frustrating that the ACA leaves this open to interpretation, it isn't hard to see why it does: Fewer than 1 percent of women carry flawed BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, and -- according to the National Cancer Institute -- flaws in those genes only account for between 5 and 10 percent of breast cancer cases. In other words, the (very expensive) test will only detect a small portion of potential breast cancer victims.

Who Owns Your Genes?

The equation would be a lot different if the genetic tests were cheaper -- and therein lies another tale. Myriad Genetics, the company that produces the breast cancer tests, patented BRCA1 and BRCA2 in the late 1990s. According to critics, this effectively shut down scientific research on the two genes -- and gave the company a highly lucrative monopoly on testing. Currently, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments on the case; in June, it's set to determine whether or not a company can claim a patent on a gene that naturally occurs in every human body.

But while the ACA and the Supreme Court are potentially working to lower the price of BRCA tests, a full genetic scan remains beyond the means of many women. Faranda notes, however, that there are ways of getting around the high cost of genetic tests. Universities, hospitals and government researchers regularly conduct clinical trials to study breast cancer or test new treatments -- and participants in these trials often receive genetic testing free of charge. To find a trial, Faranda advises looking at the National Cancer Institute'sclinical trials page, the National Institutes of Health's clinical trials page,, a website that works to connect women concerned about breast cancer with trials that can help them.

After the Test

But getting tested is only part of the problem. After a woman is diagnosed with a faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene -- or after a tumor presents itself -- there's still the matter of treatment. Studies have shown that prophylactic mastectomies, like Jolie's, can reduce the risk of breast cancer by more than 90 percent in women with flawed BRCA 1 and 2 genes.

Preventative mastectomies can also greatly reduce health care costs. Andrea Rader, a spokeswoman for Susan G. Komen, points out that a double mastectomy, without complications, can cost as little as $15,000. But after cancer emerges, the prices rapidly rise -- sometimes to $40,000 or more -- as doctors have to deal with more extensive reconstructions, metastasized tumors, and other complications.

While some states require insurers to cover prophylactic mastectomies for high risk women, there is no federal law mandating that they do so. Some insurers -- like Aetna -- cover the surgery; others don't.

The situation, unsurprisingly, is much worse for uninsured women. Rader notes that many women who don't have insurance also don't qualify for Medicaid or Medicare. This can have a devastating effect on diagnosis and treatment. "If you're not insured, its $300 for this and $200 for that and $3,000 for the other thing," Rader explains. "It makes you reluctant to get the help you need." And, in the case of breast cancer, delays in treatment can translate into complications and a higher mortality rate.

But even if everything works out -- if a woman is able to get genetically screened, and if she is able to get her insurance to pay for a prophylactic mastectomy -- many women don't receive the excellent reconstructive work that Jolie had. A big problem, says Faranda, is that many women aren't aware that they have a legal right to reconstruction: By law, any insurer who pays for a mastectomy must also cover reconstruction. Needless to say, insurers are often not eager to tell their customers that they have free access to an expensive procedure.

Ultimately, as Jolie herself notes, the high cost of health care makes early diagnosis "an obstacle for many women." But, while most women at high risk for breast cancer don't have access to Jolie's finances, as Faranda and Rader both point out, there are numerous resources available to help. The key, both for those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and those at risk of developing the disease, is knowing what your community, your insurer, your hospital, and your doctor can do to help you.

Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings editor. You can reach him by e-mail, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.