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What No One Tells You About Surviving Cancer

Written by Jane Donald on March 28th, 2014. Posted in magazine article

Learn about the lifestyle adjustments and reevaluated priorities that survivors face post-chemo

By Nina Strochlic

This story originally appeared

It was a hungover morning in Las Vegas when Kathryn McPeake noticed a lump in her chest—again. “I had just gotten my hair back and was feeling pretty,” she remembers of that day in 2012.

In the year and a half since being declared lymphoma-free, the 32-year-old had slid back into her life with gusto, launching her own business and going out with her friends. But when she returned to San Jose, CA, the doctor confirmed her fears: she had relapsed. It was a nightmare scenario—a realization of a nagging fear that occupies the thoughts of most post-treatment survivors for the rest of their lives.

Overshadowed by a focus on recovery through the months or years of chemotherapy and medical procedures, the aftermath of being declared cancer-free can be unexpectedly harsh. In the year following treatment, survivors say they’re unprepared for the reality that dawns instead of the expected bounce back into “normal” life. There are the long-lasting side effects, dismissal and isolation from family and friends, financial burden, and constant anxiety that sickness could return. Finishing treatment, they find, is just the beginning of lifestyle adjustments and reevaluated priorities that fall into place in the post-chemo year.

“It’s almost like you’re holding your breath through treatment and then, after, you breathe and everything else comes to the surface,” McPeake says. Suddenly, survivors find the help from their friends and family drops away. “I was almost bothered when people were like, ‘Congratulations, you’re done,'” she adds, because for her it felt like just the beginning. The dismissal made her hesitant to ask for continued assistance from people who already helped so generously during treatments.

“Once you hit the ‘you’re-cancer-free’ mark, you’re kind of forgotten about,” says Traci Brundage, a 29-year-old mother of two who finished treatment for triple-negative breast cancer in February 2013. “People say, “Move on…why do you keep bringing it up?'” she says. “I can’t snap my fingers and be back to who I was.”

To battle the isolation and find the help she felt she needed, Brundage, who lives in Utah, started an online survivor’s support group one month after finishing her last treatment. “It’s a club you don’t wanna join, but the bond is unbreakable,” she says. The Facebook page now boasts 150 members across 20 countries, and they delve into topics not covered during a doctor’s appointment, from battling depression to the foods you should or shouldn’t be eating to an ever-changing physical appearance. “Yes we’re alive and supposed to be grateful for it, but it hurts,” she says of post-chemo ailments.

The lack of preparation for these after-affects isn’t the doctors’ fault, McPeake says. ‘”They’re just there to cure cancer, and once the cancer’s cured you almost don’t want to tell them about problems you’re having.”

The first time around, McPeake had eschewed support groups, but secluded by a weakened immune system after her second remission, she joined two on Facebook. “A big thing we talk about is how stupid we are,” she says of her fried mental capacity known as “chemo brain.” For a few weeks after treatment, she sought professional help. “I don’t really have anyone to talk to so I just come here to hang out,” she told the therapist. She wasn’t there for the medication, hoping to avoid the pill after pill she’d seen her survivor friends take.

For younger breast cancer victims it’s especially hard, Brundage says, because the diagnosis is associated with a later generation. “I think there’s a lot more support for older women than for us,” she says. “I think they think we think we’re invincible, but cancer brings us to our knees.” Due to her treatments, she’s since been diagnosed with degenerative arthritis, vascular disease, and neuropathy, an ailment in which your hands and feet go numb that affects many survivors. She’s also unable to have more kids, which she had hoped to. Many women suffer early onset menopause triggered by the chemo.

But it’s her young son and daughter who’ve kept her focused on making it through year one as the anniversary of her remission approaches. “Thank heavens for children when you go through crazy things like cancer,” she says. The moments she hears them laughing instead of fighting makes the days easier to get through.

Though it can be a difficult return, transitioning back into a routine of hobbies and work is a lifesaver post-cancer, McPeake says. A brutal 6 month slump when finishing her second round of treatment was overcome by focusing on things she loves to do: taking jewelry making classes and furniture design at the local community college and spending more time with her 10-year-old daughter.

“We don’t know how much time we have or what kind of time we have, thats why every moment is so important,” says Daniel Bachove. That’s why this past New Year’s Eve, less than one month after the 36-year-old finished his last dose of chemotherapy for stage 4 small bowel cancer, he celebrated in the best way he thought possible: he got married.

Just days after leaving the hospital, the 36-year-old and his fiancée crammed the normal months of wedding planning—securing a venue, dress, DJ, photographer, and cake—into three weeks. Unexpected donations meant Bachove didn’t have to cut corners for his fiance Mindy just because of the strain cancer put on their finances. “I want her to have a real wedding, not something to look back on and say, ‘Because I had cancer we couldn’t do this and couldn’t do that.'”

For now, though, a honeymoon is out of the question. The crippling toll cancer takes on finances, even with insurance coverage, bears down after treatment when survivors finally have time to survey the damage to their bank accounts. McPeake, despite having a government job and insurance, owes more than $10,000 in medical collections. Even the little costs add up, like wigs and hats, travel costs for treatment, and babysitters.

Now that he’s danced at his wedding, Bachove is ready to start figuring out his next chapter in New Jersey, and is itching to get back to work where he, in a bit of twisted irony, raises awareness for rare diseases. “I got used to a life of treatments every other week,” he says. “It’s kind of like being released from jail. You are incarcerated when you have chemo, everything stops.”

Survivors live with a nagging anxiety every time an ache or pain creeps up. During the first year after cancer, patients return to the doctor around every three months for scans. “You talk to anyone in first-year remission: you are sick with worry, sick with anxiety, sick with terror,” Brundage says. But the nerves build an appreciation for having made a recovery in the first place. “Every day means a little more—you don’t take life for granted, you just take every moment and treasure it.”

Breast Cancer: New Ways to Beat the Odds

Written by Jane Donald on March 24th, 2014. Posted in magazine article

pink-ribbon-breast-cancer-awareness-poster-c12330381There’s a lot of advice out there. Some of it is right on target — but some isn’t. Here’s the latest on what really works.

That’s how headlines about breast cancer have been coming at us over the past year. Every study seems to contradict the last. Many of us wonder what — if anything — to believe. Actually, you can believe a lot. Behind the blare of headlines lies a deepening understanding of breast cancer. If the reports seem confusing, it’s because experts are realizing more and more that recommendations about prevention, detection, and treatment need to be individualized. Some guidelines apply to every woman, but many don’t. What’s right for you? Here, the advice you need now.

Prevention: What Really Helps
You’ve probably heard the statistics: Over a lifetime, about one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer. But seven out of eight will not.

Why the difference? Researchers can reel off a list of risk-raising culprits, but pinpointing exactly which ones forever shift the course of a life isn’t yet possible. And even if it were, there are some risks that you can’t eliminate — being female, for example, growing older, family history, flawed genes.

But you can still lower your odds, says Michael J. Thun, M.D., head of epidemiological research at the American Cancer Society. “The steps you have to take aren’t always easy,” he acknowledges — something that new research shows as well — but the payoff can be significant.

Move It (Faster! Harder!)
Swimming laps, doing aerobics, jogging — women who engage in strenuous activities like these at least five hours a week, and have done so for most of their adult lives, are 20 percent less likely to develop invasive breast cancer than are sedentary types who get no more than 30 minutes of exercise a week, reports the California Teachers Study, which has been tracking more than 110,000 women ages 20 to 79 since 1995. But the report yielded encouraging news for less-active women: Moderate workouts, like golf or walking, cut the odds of developing one form of breast cancer (estrogen-receptor-negative) for which there are fewer effective treatments.
Action plan: This study is the latest of many to show the benefits of vigorous exercise. Shoot for 45 to 60 minutes of heart-thumping workouts five days a week. Too hard? Start with brisk walks and work up.

Watch the Wine
Women who have more than two drinks a day increase their risk of invasive breast cancer by 43 percent, compared to those who don’t drink at all, researchers from the large Women’s Health Study recently announced. Lighter consumption is healthier, but risk still inched up by 9 percent among women who averaged just under one drink a day.
Action plan: There’s no way to soft-pedal this: If you really want to minimize your risk of breast cancer, don’t drink at all, advises Dr. Thun. Other experts say that if you do drink, make it an occasional treat.

Restock the Fridge
Two large-scale studies this year showed that food choices do affect breast cancer risk. The National Institutes of Health–AARP Diet and Health Study found that postmenopausal women whose daily diets average 40 percent fat — a very high percentage — raise their breast cancer risk 11 percent compared to women whose diets include a lean 20 percent fat. The other study, from England, found that postmenopausal women who eat about 4 or more ounces of red meat daily are 56 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who never eat any meat. (Red meat includes beef, pork, and lamb.) Processed meats like bacon, ham, and sausage have an even greater effect, raising risk to 64 percent.
Action plan: Diet studies like these may not be the last word, because so many other factors can confuse the issue. In any case, dietary fat and meat have less impact on breast cancer risk than your weight gain in adulthood — experts agree that obesity actually doubles your odds. So paring off extra pounds makes more sense than fussing over red meat ratios. Make fat no more than 30 percent of your daily intake, choose healthier mono­unsaturated over saturated or trans fats, add whole grains to your diet, and enjoy meat occasionally and in small portions. Fish, beans, and tofu are protein-rich substitutes for meat. And eat colorful (red, yellow, green, orange) cancer-fighting fruits and veggies in supersize portions.

Extra Help

Written by Jane Donald on January 28th, 2014. Posted in magazine article

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How will I know if my child needs extra help?

Deciding if your child needs help can be confusing as parents try to sort out what’s a “normal” response to a new cancer diagnosis and what’s not. This is new to all of you, and it will take some time to figure out what works best for you and your family. But while you are learning for the first time how your children react to cancer, you already have experience with how they deal with other stressful events. Most parents can tell exactly how each of their kids acts when they are upset. Because children, especially young ones, are often unable to identify their feelings and talk about them, they show us by their behavior. Some children will become withdrawn, while others may fight, whine, and complain. The most important thing to look for is how extreme the change is and how long it lasts.

Depression in children can look different than depression in adults. For instance, a common sign of depression in a child is a change in behavior, like suddenly getting poor grades in school or losing friends. Most children whose parents have cancer seem able to cope, but there may be times when it gets to be too much. If a child seems to be having trouble, it may mean a more serious problem than the normal, sad response to cancer. Extra help is needed if a child:

  • Is unable to handle the feelings of sadness
  • Feels sad all the time
  • Cannot be comforted
  • Admits to thinking of suicide or of hurting herself or himself
  • Feels extra irritable
  • Becomes very angry very quickly
  • Has changing grades
  • Withdraws or isolates himself or herself
  • Acts very different than usual
  • Has appetite changes
  • Has low energy
  • Shows less interest in activities
  • Has trouble concentrating
  • Cries a lot
  • Has trouble sleeping

When a child shows 1 or 2 of these symptoms, it may help to offer more support. But if the usual methods of handling these problems are not working, or if the problem goes on for more than 1 or 2 weeks, the child may need extra help. (For more serious problems, such as if the child is planning to hurt himself or herself, urgent help is needed.)

It may be useful to talk with the child’s pediatrician, school counselor, or with the social worker or counseling staff at the hospital where the parent is being treated. Since these experts know how other children have reacted in situations like this, they may be able to offer a useful way of looking at the problem. They can evaluate the child and make sure that any needed help is given. They can also suggest books, videos, and children’s support groups that may help. Rarely, a child may need to see a psychiatrist for medicine or counseling.

Finally, if one of the child’s parents or main caregivers becomes depressed, the child is more likely to have problems. Sometimes the child’s problem may not look very serious because the child or teen may say very little and hold everything inside. If you or other family members start to feel overwhelmed or distressed, see a mental health professional to get an idea of what kind of help you and your family may need. You can talk with your cancer team to find out where to start. Ask your doctor or nurse, “Who can we talk to if one of us feels overwhelmed or depressed? I am worried about how this will affect the children.

Words To Describe Cancer and its Treatment

Written by Jane Donald on January 27th, 2014. Posted in magazine article


Here are a few words about cancer that your family might need to know. You may want to explain them in a family meeting, so that all the children (and adults) know what you mean when you use these words. Be sure to check to find out if there are other words they’ve heard that they don’t understand. Also tell them who they should ask if they hear other words they don’t know. Older children can look up some of the words for themselves, but some of the more specialized medical terms may still be hard to understand.

Benign (be-nine): not cancer (see also cancermalignant).

Biopsy (by-op-see): a procedure that removes a piece of tissue from a person’s body so that a doctor can look at it under a microscope. This is done to see if a person has cancer and if so, what kind it is (see also tissue).

Cancer: a name for the more than 100 diseases in which cells that are not normal grow and divide quickly. These abnormal cells usually develop into a tumor (or mass or lump). Cancer can also spread to other parts of the body from where it started. Certain kinds of cancers can grow in places like the bone marrow, where they don’t make a tumor.

Chemotherapy (key-mo-THER-uh-pee); also called chemo: a treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Common side effects of chemo include short-term hair loss, nausea and vomiting, mouth sores, feeling tired (fatigue), and a greater chance of getting infections. The kind of side effects a person has depends on the drugs they are getting. All chemo drugs do not cause the same side effects, and the same drug may cause somewhat different side effects in different people.

Clinical trials: research studies that are set up using human volunteers, to compare new cancer treatments with the standard or usual treatments.

Fatigue (fuh-teeg): a common symptom during cancer treatment, a bone-weary exhaustion that doesn’t get better with rest. For some, this can last for some time after treatment.

Malignant (muh-lig-nunt): cancerous. Malignancy is another word for cancer.

Metastasis (meh-tass-tuh-sis): The spread of cancer from one part of the body to another. The plural is metastases(meh-tass-tuh-sees).

Oncologist (on-call-uh-jist): a doctor who specializes in treating cancer. There are medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists.

Prognosis (prog-no-sis): a prediction of the course of disease; the outlook for the chances of survival.

Protocol (pro-tuh-call): a detailed, standard plan that doctors follow when treating people with cancer.

Radiation therapy: a cancer treatment that uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. This treatment is given by a machine or by materials put in or near the tumor. The side effects of radiation therapy usually show up in the part of the body being treated. For example: reddening of the skin where the radiation is given, hair loss if the head is being treated, nausea if the stomach is being treated, and trouble swallowing and eating if the head and neck area is being treated. Tiredness (fatigue) is the most common side effect of radiation.

Recurrence: the return of cancer cells and signs of cancer after a remission (see also remission).

Relapse: the same as recurrence; cancer that has come back after a remission (see also remission).

Remission: the disappearance or reduction of cancer symptoms. Remissions can be partial or complete; but a complete remission means no sign of cancer is found on tests, scans, and physical exam. Also reported as “no evidence of cancer.”

Side effects: problems caused by cancer treatments or other medicines. Two people with the same cancer and even the same treatments may not have the same side effects. Your doctor can tell you what happens to most people, but cannot say for certain what will happen to you. Not having side effects does not mean that the treatment isn’t working. Tell your children what the doctor has told you, and promise to tell them if you start to feel the effects of the treatment.

Surgery: a procedure that usually involves cutting open part of the body. It is done by a doctor who is an expert in doing operations.

Tissue (tish-you): a collection of cells that work together to perform a certain job or function in the body. Different parts of the body, such as the skin, lungs, liver, or nerves can be called tissue. Tissue can be cancerous or normal. Doctors often biopsy tissue in a certain area to find out if it has cancer cells in it (see also malignantbenignbiopsy).

Tumor: an abnormal mass of tissue. Some tumors are cancer and some are not.

There will be other words that apply to your or your family member’s treatment that your child may want to learn. You can learn more about these words and what they mean on .

Explanations of Dying

Written by Jane Donald on January 26th, 2014. Posted in magazine article


How do I explain to a young child that their parent is dying?

The first thing children need to understand is there has been a change in their parent’s response to treatment. Children who have been told that the treatments are supposed to control or get rid of the cancer need to be introduced to the fact that this is no longer happening.

It helps parents if they can get an idea of how their kids think things are going. An open-ended question like “How do you think Mom or Dad is doing now?” is a good way to start. Often children sense that the situation is becoming more serious just by the way their parent is acting, by the way they look, or by how much or little they are able to take part in normal family activities. This usually is a gradual process in which Dad can no longer play ball with them, relatives or friends are helping out more, or Mom can no longer take part in parent-child activities at school. Family life seems to revolve around trips to the hospital and there is less time for the family to enjoy their usual routine. So children should be asked, “How do you think Mom (or Dad) is doing?” Find out what the child thinks these changes in their parent and in their family life mean.

Parents should explain that the treatment is no longer working. The doctors have said that they have tried their best medicine or treatment, but the cancer is not going away. During a talk like this, ask children to tell you what they think this means. Have they worried that their parent might die? What do they think of all of the changes that have gone on in the family lately? Most children sense that things are worse, but they are often too scared to talk about what they fear the most.

You can tell your children that what everyone hoped for is no longer possible—the cancer is still there and it’s growing and spreading—and this means that the parent will probably not live much longer. Sometimes people die from cancer in spite of the treatment, and it looks like this is going to happen to the parent.

Despite the temptation to avoid them, it’s important to use the words “die” and “death” rather than “pass on,” “go away,” “go home,” “go to sleep,” or other terms that make death sound nicer. Children often don’t understand what these nicer-sounding words really mean and may not fully understand what you are trying so hard to say.

Depending on their age and many other factors, some children may not be able to really grasp that a parent is dying, and their first reaction is often one of disbelief. This is a normal reaction, often shared by the patient is who is thinking, “How can this be happening to me?” A child’s response may be anger, and sometimes he or she is angry with the parent who is sick. This is normal, too.

All children depend on their parents to provide security and love and to make sense of life. Children have fears about being abandoned by the people they depend on the most to keep them safe. Since young children are rarely able to talk about these feelings, it’s up to the person telling them this news to also tell them about changes the family has thought about and the plans that have been made to keep the child’s world as safe as possible. The immediate and most pressing issue is “Who will take care of me?” Parents need to tell their children what arrangements have been made to provide the care and security the sick parent can no longer provide.

Since children’s understanding of something is based on what they can directly experience, death should be explained in terms such as these.

• Death means that we will no longer see the person we love except in our hearts and minds.

• Death means the person will no longer be physically there in our lives.

• They will no longer be with us as they were before, but we will still have memories of them.

Young children will probably not be able to understand the full meaning of this the first time they hear it. It may be important to repeat this discussion many times for them to fully understand. If children do not want to believe what’s being said to them, they may ask the same questions over and over again as if the conversation had never happened. They do this hoping that the answer may be different the next time, hoping that somehow what they are being told is not true. Although this is painful for the adult, in time the child will be able to accept the reality. This process is how the child gradually accepts the painful truth that life will go on without the parent.

Helping Children Understand

Written by Jane Donald on January 22nd, 2014. Posted in magazine article

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Helping Children When a Family Member Has Cancer:Dealing With a Parent’s Terminal Illness

For most people this is a painful and personal topic, and the information shared here may be hard to read at times. You might want to set aside a time when you can read it without interruption.

A terminal illness cannot be cured, treated, or controlled and is expected to lead to the person’s death. By the time you are told your cancer is terminal, you have probably already been dealing with it and its effects on your family for many months or even years. A few people find that they have cancer when the disease is quite advanced, so they may not have as long to deal with its effects on their family. But no matter how long cancer has been part of your life, it can be very hard for you and your family to think about all the things that go along with the end of life.

As hard as it might be to think about what children need during a terminal illness, we hope your burden will be eased in some way by taking steps to help them prepare and cope. All parents want to protect their children from the pain that life can bring. Although it’s not possible to control the reality of having cancer, it is possible to make a real difference in how your children handle the experience and go on with their lives after you are gone.

This is one of six documents covering topics to help children when someone in the family has cancer. The others cover information on: diagnosis, treatment, recurrence or progressive illness, losing a parent, and psycho social support services.

Will this experience affect my child’s happiness and ability to enjoy life in the future?

Patients with terminal cancer often worry that this experience will destroy their children’s ability to enjoy life in the future. Health care experts who have worked with many families dealing with cancer say that this is rarely the case. In fact, children can and do go on to live normal lives even with the impact of a parent’s illness and the loss they go through when a parent dies. This may be hard to believe, but most children, with the help of family and others, learn to be happy again and enjoy their lives. It may give you strength to know that you can affect how your children feel about your illness and how well they are able to move beyond it in the months to come.

Remember that your experience with cancer is only one part of your child’s life. Unless your children are very young, there have probably been many years in which you were not sick. If your children are very young, the memories of your illness will fade into the background. Having a parent with cancer is only one part of your child’s development and does not, by itself, lead to lasting damage to them as adults. The essence of parenting is to love your children and help them feel secure. You can continue to do this in spite of the stresses that cancer may cause you and your family.

How will I know my illness is terminal?

People usually think that if cancer is “terminal” it means the cancer cannot be cured and the person is dying. But just because an illness cannot be cured does not mean it cannot be treated. In many cases, cancer can be treated and controlled—sometimes for long periods of time. The goal is to manage the symptoms, even if you can’t get rid of all the cancer. Over time, your body may give you signals that the cancer is still there, things like weight loss, tiredness, and increased pain. These problems can be treated to keep you as comfortable as possible. This is different from treatment to cure the disease (curative treatment), although some of the treatments used are much like those used to try to cure cancer.

Some people feel they are considered terminal when active curative treatment is no longer helping. Others may want curative treatment until the very end whether or not the doctor thinks it will help. Regardless of what your medical team tells you, or even the signs of physical decline in your body, it may be hard to think of yourself as dying when you may have many months of life ahead. In this way, the process of dying is how you define it. As your cancer worsens, your doctor can give you an idea of how long you may expect to live. But keep in mind it’s only a guess based on past experience with other patients—there’s no way to know for sure. Most people try to be realistic about what the future holds and accept that their time is limited, but at the same time they focus on living one day at a time and making the most of each day.

Parents facing this situation often wonder when their children need to be prepared for death. Children, especially young ones, have trouble expecting a parent’s death for a long period of time. This “not knowing when” is a very tough reality for anyone, but especially for children.

It’s important to manage your own emotions as much as possible before you talk to your children. Of course you cannot expect to be in total control of every feeling you have, but you need to try to deal with your own feelings first. Once you have spent some time coming to terms with your own fear, anger, and sadness, you are better able to help those who depend on you.

If you are having trouble sorting through all of the emotions that surface at this time, think about talking with an expert who has worked with other patients facing similar problems. While you may solve some of these difficult issues on your own, you may lose valuable time if you depend only on yourself. Oncology social workers, nurses, psychologists, and other cancer care counselors have experience and education that prepares them to work with families in your situation. Let yourself be helped by their experience and what they have learned about coping with the problems of a serious illness.

You and your family will benefit if you stay involved with life and do the things you enjoy as long as you can. If your health care team has not talked to you about services that can help you at this time, tell them you need more information so you can make plans for yourself and your family.

This may be a good time to look into hospice services in your community. Hospice services can be delivered wherever the patient lives, be it the hospital, a nursing home, or an inpatient hospice facility. Hospice programs use a team of people and services. This team may come into your home in the months before death to help you and your family manage the problems or issues related to a terminal illness. The team usually includes doctors, nurses, home health aides, social workers or other types of counselors, and a member of the clergy. Hospice services are covered by Medicare and at least in part by most insurance plans.


Top Cancer Fighting Foods

Written by Jane Donald on January 9th, 2014. Posted in General, magazine article


What is a Cancer Fighting Food?

Recent anti-cancer research has identified specific foods and food elements that can offer protection against cancer. Here’s a list of cancer fighting foods.


Kale is a vegetable with green or purple leaves that is extremely nutrient-dense and carries glucosinolates that provide cancer preventive benefits. Research has shown that kale can help prevent against cancer of the bladder, breast, colon, ovary, and prostate.


Cabbage is another leafy vegetable. It’s also packed full of cancer fighting phytochemicals called glucosinolates. Glucosinolates help the body get rid of carcinogens, which are known to cause cancer.

Collard greens

Collard greens are part of the cabbage and broccoli family and are known for their thick, slightly bitter leaves. Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have recently discovered that collard greens contain nutrients that help fight viruses, bacteria and cancer.


Broccoli, a cruciferous vegetable, is known to be packed full of nutrients such as folate, potassium, dietary fiber and magnesium. Similar to cabbage, research has also discovered the presence of cancer-fighting phytochemicals called glucosinolates.


The onion, a round vegetable with an edible bulb, is known for its pungent taste and smell. However, research has found that onions contain chemicals that have potential anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and anti-oxidant properties.


Garlic, a vegetable related to the onion, is a bulb shaped plant that is used for flavoring in cooking. Preliminary research has shown that garlic may reduce the risk of developing cancer, especially cancers of the gastrointestinal tract.


Blueberries are a fruit that are high in dietary fiber and vitamin C. Blueberries contain anthocyanins, ellagic acid, and urolithins that can help fight against cancer.


Spinach leaves are known to contain large amounts of vitamin C, vitamins and minerals. However, a new research study has discovered that spinach can help protect against aggressive prostate cancer.


Beans are full of folate and dietary fiber, which can have numerous health benefits including lowering cancer risk and helping with weight control.


Flaxseed is a fiber crop that is grown in cooler parts of the world. Along with being high in dietary fiber, researchers have also identified alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fat. Dietary fiber is known to help reduce the risk of cancer while the presence of ALA increases anti-inflammatory properties.


Tomatoes are red because of a phytochemical called lycopene. There is research that suggests foods containing lycopene could protect against forms of cancer, including prostate cancer.


Walnuts are packed full of nutrients including high amounts of polyphenols, which can have antioxidant properties. Walnuts also contain alpha-linolenic acid and ellagic acid which research has shown, can help with the prevention of cancer.

Green Tea

Green tea is one of the most popular drinks in the world but you may be surprised to find out that it is packed full of polyphenol compounds. These polyphenol compounds are antioxidants and may help with cancer prevention.


Ginger is a plant native to Asia that has been used as an herbal remedy for upset stomach, motion sickness, loss of appetite and as a spice for cooking. Research suggests that ginger may also be an aid in cancer prevention.


Winter squash are vegetables that contain certain carotenoids, dietary fiber and vitamin C. Research has shown that the presence of these chemicals in food can help with preventing cancer.


Cherries contain multiple phytochemicals and nutrients including dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is linked to a lower risk of colorectal cancer, and consuming high amounts of dietary fiber may help people control their weight.


One of the world’s most consumed beverages, coffee, also contains many different phytochemicals which can have antioxidant properties. According to many studies, coffee is known to help with the prevention of certain types of cancer.

8 Ways to Lower Your Breast Cancer Risk

Written by Jane Donald on January 8th, 2014. Posted in magazine article

Experts estimate that about one in eight women born in the U.S. today will be diagnosed with breast cancer. You may already know someone who is battling it. “Much of what causes breast cancer is not something that a woman has control over,” says Dr. George Sledge, professor of medicine and chief of the division of oncology at Stanford. That’s a scary thing to hear about a disease that kills nearly 40,000 U.S. women a year.

But there’s hope: Some of what causes breast cancer can be controlled — they’re what doctors call “modifiable” risk factors. By making a few positive changes now, you can lower the chance that you’ll get a diagnosis. “I’m not going to say all of them are super easy, but I think they’re doable,” says Dr. Therese Bevers, professor of clinical cancer prevention and medical director of the cancer prevention center at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. “And if need be, your physician can help you with resources to do them successfully.”

1. Keep your BMI in a healthy range.
Fat cells make estrogen. The more fat you carry, the higher your estrogen levels. And the higher your estrogen levels, the higher your risk, especially in women who gain extra weight post-menopause. Of course, losing weight is easier said than done. But it’s worth it, especially over a lifetime. “It’s this long exposure to moderately high estrogen levels that’s bad for you,” says Virginia Kaklamani, co-director of the cancer genetics program and director of translational breast cancer research at Northwestern University. So keep tabs on your body-mass index and make sure it stays bellow 25.

2. Stay active.

Research shows that women who exercise regularly have a 25 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer compared to the most inactive women. The American Cancer Society recommends that adults do moderate-intensity exercise at least 150 minutes a week — that’s just three gym classes. But you don’t need to go nuts to make a positive impact: Simple activities like walking count. Researchers looked at 73,615 post-menopausal women and found that those who simply put one foot in front of the other seven hours per week — about an hour a day — had a 14 percent lower risk of breast cancer compared to their inactive peers.

More good news? You don’t have to be slim to benefit from working out. “Even overweight women who exercise routinely are at lower risk of developing breast cancer,” says Bevers. “[But] clearly her risk may be even lower if she, through exercise, were able to attain a healthy body weight.”

3. Drink less alcohol.
The more booze you consume, the more you increase your risk. Researchers don’t yet know why alcohol increases risk, but they do know “it’s related to how many drinks you have,” says Sledge. According to Kaklamani, “The mechanism is not clear, but usually women who drink have higher estrogen levels.” Alcohol increases cholesterol, which gets converted into estrogen. Limit alcohol intake to no more than one drink a day.

4. Breastfeed if you have children.
It’s good for your baby — and your breast health. “The more months you breastfeed, the lower your likelihood of developing breast cancer,” says Sledge. Why? “Starting periods later, ending periods sooner, and having fewer periods because you’ve been breastfeeding or exercising a lot all reduce your risk,” he says. It boils down to decreased exposure to estrogen.

Giving birth to your first child at a younger age also decreases the likelihood of developing breast cancer, though no one knows why. “One thought is with the first pregnancy, the breast undergoes an irreversible change that makes it less sensitive to carcinogens,” says Sledge. “It might be related to the milk-producing hormone prolactin.”

5. Keep hormone therapy short.
The Women’s Health Initiative study showed that a combination of estrogen and progesterone increased the risk of breast cancer. If you and your doctor feel you need hormone-replacement therapy because of menopausal symptoms, take the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time. If you’re on birth control, keep in mind that taking the pill slightly increases your risk — but it seems to go back to normal over time once you stop taking the pill, according to The American Cancer Society.

6. Get regular mammograms.
While mammograms don’t prevent cancer, they make a cure more possible. “You’re detecting it at a stage where it’s more likely to be curable,” says Kaklamani. Breast cancer is curable in 90 percent of stage one cases, 80 percent of stage two cases, and 60 percent of stage three cases, she says.

The American Cancer Society recommends that women receive the low-dose x-ray procedure annually beginning at age 40. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which is concerned about false positives for women in their 40s who have denser breast tissue, recommends getting them every other year beginning at age 50. Which rule should you follow? “We’re approaching an area where we try to individualize,” says Sledge. “Not all women should get the same diagnostic techniques.” Work with your doctor to find a screening schedule that’s right for your particular factors.

7. Research your family history.
Check if any family members have a history of breast and ovarian cancer — and, remember, even men can get breast cancer. If you’re related to a carrier of an inherited mutation (known as BRCA1 and BRCA2), make sure to get tested. And tell your doctor if you’ve had any radiation exposure to the chest at a young age — another risk factor.

8. Make your doctor your ally.
Check the National Cancer Institute’s Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool, which looks at variables such as age, time of first menstrual cycle and birth of a first child, history of first-degree relatives, and race. (For unknown reasons, white women are more likely to develop breast cancer after menopause and black women before menopause.) Then talk to your doctor to interpret the test. She may suggest specific tests and a more aggressive screening schedule. The most important thing is that you work together — and that you do what you can to reduce your modifiable risk factors. “Maintain a healthy body weight, be as active as you can be, and, if you drink alcohol, don’t have more than a drink a day,” says Alpa Patel, PhD., a strategic research director at The American Cancer Society.

How to Conquer Every Kind of Stress

Written by Jane Donald on January 6th, 2014. Posted in magazine article


You know the feeling — tense muscles, a knot in your stomach, maybe a headache. No matter how hard you try, being calm and collected isn’t in the cards. Stress happens to all of us, and a recent American Psychological Association poll revealed that we’re feeling it more now than ever. Women in particular seem to be bearing the brunt: More than 80 percent reported having prolonged stress about money and the economy, and 70 percent say they’re worried about health problems affecting them and their families.

“Women have more on their plates when it comes to the work-life balance, which takes considerable emotional resources,” says Alice Domar, PhD, executive director of The Domar Center for Mind/Body Health and coauthor of Live a Little! Breaking the Rules Won’t Break Your Health. The comforting news is that stress isn’t always bad. “If you know how to manage it, stress can give you the extra energy you need to succeed and get through difficult situations,” explains Jay Winner, MD, director of the Sansum Clinic Stress Reduction Program in Santa Barbara, California, and author of Take the Stress out of Your Life. There’s even a term for this good kind: eustress. “I tell my patients to think of eustress just like it sounds: ‘use stress,’” says Dr. Winner. “When you’re in a situation that’s making you produce all that high-octane adrenaline, how can you put it to productive use?” For example, think about how the stress of nearing a project deadline might push you to focus more intensely and come up with creative ideas. Or how entering a competition motivates you to do your very best in an attempt to win.

The key distinction: Good stress feels exciting and energizing; the bad type feels scary and paralyzing. Unfortunately, you can’t always control when and if you get stressed, but you can learn to cope so that you minimize its negative impact and, whenever possible, make it productive. To help you do just that, we’ve put together this playbook for how to handle just about any kind of tension — be it an in-the-moment crisis or a chronic worry. So take a deep breath and get ready to feel better.

You’re already late trying to get your family out the door when your husband starts freaking out about a lost set of papers, your kids start whining, food gets spilled and the dog starts barking. Oh, and did we mention it’s all happening as your mother calls to say she’s planning to visit — and wants to stay with you — for two weeks?

What’s going on:
Your body’s stress response — called fight-or-flight — kicks into gear. It dates back to prehistoric days, when a quick pick-upand- run reaction meant the difference between life and death. Once you’re exposed to a stressor, your body releases a surge of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol, which divert blood flow toward your muscles, heart and brain and away from other areas. That enables you to hightail it away from danger as quickly as possible. Depending on how much adrenaline you’re producing, your heart rate may increase and you may start sweating.

What you can do:
Breathe. A common gut reaction is to jump in and try to fix the situation ASAP. But this will just exacerbate that harried, out-of-control feeling. Instead, take three deep breaths — 5 seconds in, 5 seconds out — to slow your heart rate and reduce the pace at which stress hormones are flying through your system, says Sonali Sharma, MD, a clinical instructor in psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. While focusing on your breath, remind yourself that the anxiety you’re feeling is a chemical response, or just visualize the phrase “I’m strong and I’m capable,” suggests Dr. Sharma.

Lighten up. If you can take a step back and laugh at yourself and the situation, great. If not, try to think about something else that’s funny. Like deep breathing, laughter helps scale back your physical and psychological reactions to stress, which gives you more mental resources to devote to the actual problem, says Dr. Winner. (As soon as you stop fixating on what an idiot you are for misplacing your checkbook, you’ve got a lot more energy to focus on finding it.) A study by The American Journal of the Medical Sciences found that just anticipating laughter can reduce the presence of stress hormones by nearly half.

Put it in perspective. Say you’re late for school drop-off, which means you’ll be late to work and possibly just about every other deadline that day. It may seem like the end of the world, but try to think about the situation in the context of the rest of your life: Focus on how great it is to have a job and a loving family — even if they’re getting on your last nerve at that moment. You can also focus on a mental picture of a loved one, a goal or a favorite place. If the problem is an interpersonal one — say your boss is driving you crazy — try to think about the other person’s big picture, too. If your boss is going through a divorce, that may explain why she’s been hypercritical lately. Empathy helps defuse tension.

Take steps to solve the problem. “The ebb and flow of worry can affect your focus, so if possible, make a written, step-by-step outline of what to do to deal with the situation,” says Jonathan Abramowitz, PhD, director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Clinic at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Then tackle things in bite-size pieces; productivity combats stress.

Get with the stress rhythm. If immediate action isn’t possible — say you’re waiting for a test result or answer — you may need to settle into it. In this case, Dr. Abramowitz suggests calming yourself by looking for a pattern in your heartbeat, or imagining the butterflies in your stomach actually flying in formation. The deep breathing recommended by Dr. Sharma can also help here, as can defaulting to a few simple soothing habits: A 2009 study found that chewing gum markedly reduced stress hormones and promoted feelings of calm, while another study found that drinking hot black tea seemed to double the rate at which people were able to calm down after a tense situation.

Wising Up About Sun Safety After Skin Cancer

Written by Jane Donald on December 26th, 2013. Posted in magazine article

By Jennifer Zindler,

Five years ago, shortly after I turned 40, I developed a strange bump on my lower lip. It got worse, then seemed to improve, then got bad again. I was busy with my finance job and with my daughter, Lexi, who was 4 at the time, so it took me six months to have it looked at. Although my dermatologist said it wasn’t a cold sore and even speculated that the growth might be precancerous, she didn’t want to biopsy it because cutting into my lip could leave me with an ugly scar. So we agreed she would freeze off the sore, which would cause the least damage. It healed nicely.

Two years later, however, it was back. Really worried, I went to a new, top-ranked dermatologist, also pointing out a rough red spot near my nose and a flaky patch on my cheek. He did a skillful job on the biopsies and they didn’t look bad after healing, but he called a week later to say that all three were cancerous: basal cell carcinoma for the lip and the rough red bump, an early squamous cell carcinoma for the flaky patch.

The best treatment for facial skin cancer is Mohs surgery, which has the highest cure rate and leaves the least scarring. The doctor removes the visible tumor and a thin bit of surrounding skin, then checks the sample microscopically for cancer cells. If any are found in the surrounding tissue, another layer of skin is removed, and so on, until no more cancer cells can be detected.

My first surgery was for the rough red bump; I was called back only once. After that healed, I had the second surgery, on the flaky patch, and I was called back twice. I was then feeling more confident about my lip. Sitting in a waiting room full of patients, I was the first to be called; hours later, I was the only one still there. I had to go in four times, and after the last one, I started crying, not sure how much of my lip was left.

I went straight from the Mohs specialist to a surgeon my dermatologist had recommended to reconstruct my lip. We had met previously and discussed some options, but that afternoon he just asked how many times I had been called back. I said four, and next thing I knew, I was under anesthesia. Later, as I was leaving, he said, “If it doesn’t match, I’ll fix it.”

I had no idea what he meant, but when I got home, I realized I had a bandage on my chest as well as one on my face. The doctor had taken skin from my chest and grafted it onto my lip, an option we’d never discussed. Even after healing, my lip was grotesque—a thick lump with pale, freckled flesh sewn onto it. I looked like a patchwork quilt.

I covered it with a bandage for three months. Finally, a plastic surgeon trimmed the graft down and then, in a second surgery, basically created a new bottom lip by rolling skin from the inside out. Now I have a smile that’s back to maybe 90% of what it once was.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the dermatologist with another red rough spot, and he told me that even if I never get any more sun exposure, I’ll be dealing with the damage that’s already been done for a very long time. But at least I can avoid adding to the problem—now, finally, I’m really careful about sun protection. On ordinary mornings when I’m going to work, I slather an SPF 30 moisturizer, topped with an SPF 25 powder, on my face, neck, and chest. I use SPF 50 or 75 at my daughter’s soccer games, and I also wear a visor. At the beach, I wear shorts and a top, sit under an umbrella, and set my iPhone to remind me to reapply sunblock every 90 minutes.

Want to stay protected from the sun? Here’s the latest news about sunscreen.

Important New Sunscreen Information

The FDA has finally issued new rules for sunscreen labels, banning unclear or misleading claims. The new terms have specific definitions.

– “Broad Spectrum” means the product protects you against both UVA and UVB rays. Both are linked to cancer, and UVA also causes wrinkles.

– “Water Resistant” now indicates when swimmers should reapply (after 40 minutes for lighter formulas, 80 minutes for more enduring ones).

– To find reliable products, look for sunscreens that have the Seal of Recommendation from the Skin Cancer Foundation.