Archive for October, 2012

Breast Cancer Awareness, Day 24

Today’s post is from Lorraine Kerz. She lives in Greenfield Massachusetts. She is the founder of Sy’s Fund, a tribute fund to her son Silas “Sy” River Bennett. Sy’s Fund provides meaningful gifts and integrative therapies for young adults with cancer ages 18 through 39. It is a national fund.

In the autumn of 2007, my son Silas “Sy” River Bennett was not thinking about cancer. He had returned to college to study journalism, and with the presidential elections coming up, Silas was excited about meeting the candidates and asking the tough questions. In fact, he was due to graduate in the spring of 2008, and it was clear that he had found his calling with journalism. Outspoken and brave, with an electric mind and hilariously dry sense of humor, Silas was ready to take on the world.

He had been plagued by what he thought was a pinched nerve in his neck since early that summer; like many young adults, Silas did not have health insurance, so had put off seeing a doctor for financial reasons. Several weeks into the school semester, my son woke up one morning to find that he could no longer get out of bed on his own. He called for an ambulance, and was taken to the local ER. There, with one simple x-ray, Sy’s world was shattered. It was October 1st, four days before his 29th birthday, when Silas found out that cancer had eaten through a vertebra in his neck. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with non small cell adenocarcinoma lung cancer. The cancer had moved outside of his lung and spread to his bones, making it stage IV.

I cannot imagine getting such devastating news at the age of 29; the news that there was no cure, rather, that doctors would try to control the cancer for as long as they could. I do know that as a mom I felt that we had to fix it. After all, it was 2007, and with advancements in the medical world, it had to be possible. Little did I know then that Silas had been diagnosed with the most highly stigmatized and underfunded cancer possible.

Silas endured chemotherapy, radiation treatments, two separate surgeries to stabilize his neck, and a clinical trial. He was very sick, and was hospitalized more often than he was happy about. Silas fought hard, and he did everything within his power to stay on this earth for as long as he could. Yet on May 27th, 2008, less than 8 months after his cancer diagnosis, my beautiful son took his last breath.

When Silas was sick, we talked about the stigma and lack of education around lung cancer. We talked about helping people to understand “when he got better.” I had promised him that I would do my part to help spread awareness. In my mind, my son was the one standing beside me, doing the talking; he was, after all, the journalist… In my mind, Silas would get well again, and continue working for social change. After Sy’s death, I knew that this was a promise I had to keep for both of us now.

Some facts:
• Lung cancer is the number one adult cancer killer in the United States.
• Lung cancer kills more people each year than breast, prostate, colon, and melanoma cancers combined.
• 65% of new lung cancer cases are diagnosed in people who are former smokers, or who have never smoked.
• Over 50% of new lung cancer cases will be diagnosed at a very late stage.
• For each person who dies of breast cancer, over $26,000 will have been spent on research, while for each person who dies of lung cancer, a mere $1,200 will have been spent. (Lung cancer advocates do not want less money to be spent on other cancers; rather, we are looking for equal opportunity funding.)
• Lung cancer can be caused by radon, lead, chemical exposure, unknown pollutants, house fires, and there are possibly hormonal and genetic links as well.

Some people who get lung cancer are smokers, and some are not. I like to think that eventually we will evolve enough as a society to recognize that a person is far more than their nicotine habit, and that by virtue of being human, we are in fact imperfect. It’s time to get on with the important business of demanding funding for lung cancer research. It’s time to move on from the shame of lung cancer and recognize that each human life is precious, and that people we love will continue to die needlessly until we become a united voice for change. As Sy’s mom, I am heartbroken. Yet with Sy’s courage and ability to speak up for social change, I know that I must find courage of my own to speak for those who are no longer here, and to fight for those hundreds of thousands who will become victims of this horrific disease if we do not lend voice to ending the stigma and insist on funding for early detection, research, and cures. It’s not too much to ask for, truly, it isn’t…

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Fun 5K!

Nichol is here to share some more random thoughts.

I did the Neon Splash Dash 5K on Saturday night. It’s sort of similar to the Color Run I did last year but instead of powder, it’s liquid! Instead of running around Tempe Town Lake, we ran around Firebird Lake! Instead of daytime, it was nighttime!

It was so fun. We got all colored up and then drank beers (oops) and danced like crazy people until 10 p.m. Party animals!

I had a great time and got a lot of good exercise. Which hopefully offset the beer that I drank.

But most importantly, I realized when I got home that night that it’s important to get out and socialize more. Aside from exercise, hanging out with some girls that I really like spending time with was really good for my mood. I was exhausted the next day while interning for 12 hours, but it was worth it.

So friends, my new goal is to be more social. I have to make sure I’m taking time to leave the house and have fun. It’s hard, especially when I’m tired all the time and have papers to write, but I was so happy and I want to stay happy.

That’s been the point of this whole year is healthy living. Happiness and changed for the better.

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Breast Cancer Awareness, Day 23

Today’s personal cancer account is from Michelle who has posted here before.

My name is Michelle, and I’m a two-time cancer survivor.  Since April, I’ve been shaving my head — the chemotherapy I was on caused itching and sensitivity on my scalp.  This outward symbol of my fight has often prompted conversations with strangers, and I’m surprised at how many people assume that, because I’m a 30-something woman, I have breast cancer.

Usually, these conversations center around someone telling me about their mother/sister/aunt/friend/cousin that battled breast cancer, and that person’s story, and how the well-meaning stranger just knows I’ll beat it and be a survivor and…

Then, they see my blue bracelet on my wrist and stop, and look at me with a perplexed smile on their face.  Or, they ask how I was diagnosed, and I tell them I had a colonoscopy.  I’ve even had someone ask me where I had my reconstruction done, since “they” look so good.  *sigh*

These moments can (and often do) become a teaching moment.  I’ve become, whether I like it or not, a walking billboard for colon cancer.  I tell my new friend that I’m a colon cancer survivor, and more often than not, the reaction is confusion.

“But that doesn’t happen to women.”

“I didn’t know it could happen to someone so young.”

Colon cancer does not discriminate.  Traditionally, it’s diagnosed in people over the age of 50.  However, recently, there’s been an increase in the number of people diagnosed under the age of 50.  Matter of fact, the age group with the largest increase in diagnoses is 20-29 years old.

There is a lot of research currently taking place to try to determine reasons for this disturbing statistic.  I won’t use this forum to speculate on those reasons.  I will, however, provide you with a few things you can do to help lower your risk.  I’ll also provide you with some of the most common signs and symptoms, so that you are armed with what you need for early detection.

Consider your car: you put fuel into it, you get the oil changed, and you perform routine maintenance on it.  These steps are required to ensure that it will start when turn the key.  Your body requires the same upkeep — proper fuel, routine check-ups, etc.

It is a proven fact that cutting down your intake of red meat can decrease the potential of colon polyps, which are the pre-cursors to colon cancer.  I’m not asking you to never eat steak again.  Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and increase your intake of whole grains.  Remember that the food you eat is fuel for your body.  If you don’t put the proper fuel into your body, it may not run as well as you’d like it to.

Exercise is a must — it’s not an option.  Our bodies are meant to be used; if we are sedentary because of our jobs, it is our responsibility to make sure that we carve out regular time to work out.  I’m not recommending that you go out tomorrow to run a marathon – but, start out by walking for 20-30 minutes daily.  Regular exercise increases your body’s ability to fend of disease, recover from illness, fight off germs, and increases your endorphins (those feel-good hormones).  It helps provide your body with the strength and endurance to fight and recover from the awful things that can (and, let’s be honest, will) happen to it.

Be aware of the signs of colon cancer.  Be aware of your body, and be strong enough to talk with your doctor if you have concerns.  Colon cancer is much easier to beat when it’s found in the earliest stages.  If you have blood in your stool, changes in your bowel movements, unexplained weight loss or gain, or you feel like you are not emptying your bowel after a movement, talk with your doctor.

Typical screening for colon cancer begins at 50, if you are asymptomatic and you have no family history of colon cancer.  However, if a first- or second-generation relative (parent, sibling, child, grandparent, etc.) has a history of colon cancer, you should start getting colonoscopies 10 years prior to that person’s diagnosis.  For example, I was originally diagnosed at the age of 31 — my children will need to start getting colonoscopies at the age of 21.

In addition to the above, you must also get screened if you have symptoms.  You may be able to explain away some blood on your stool, occasional diarrhea, constipation, or bloating…but, wouldn’t it be nice to know that what you’re experiencing is nothing more than a hemorroid, a reaction to your diet, or dehydration?  That peace of mind?  Yes — it’s worth it.  Believe me, it’s better than the alternative.

This month, the pink ribbon is everywhere.  We are all more conscious about breast self-exams, mammograms, and general awareness of this awful disease.  Please remember that you need to be aware of your body all year long, and to talk with your doctor if you have any questions.  If something doesn’t feel right, don’t blow it off.  In my case, talking about my concerns saved my life.  Because I had an uncomfortable conversation with my doctor, I’m here to raise my children.

And, for the record, while my fight isn’t over yet, I’m winning.  🙂  Michelle 2, Cancer 0.

Breast Cancer Awareness, Day 22

This week, I have some personal accounts of cancer for you. They are not all breast cancer, but really, “You have cancer” has a smiliar effect on anyone, regardless (more or less) of what kind of cancer it is.

Today’s personal account is from a woman who wishes to remain anonymous. She is a breast cancer survivor.

As I pondered about what to write for this piece, it occurred to me that I did not wish to dwell on the physical aspects of this journey, because in reality it has been a much more profound emotional and psychological experience.

I am a believer that all things happen for a reason. That reason may not be apparent to you at first, or even for many years. However, the journey you take may not just be about you. It may be for someone else’s benefit. Perhaps someone you love needs to learn lessons from your experience. We are always teaching.

I have learned that so much of what we have to deal with daily is insignificant and unimportant. Many people are so wrapped up in themselves…what they wear, what they drive, what kind of electronic device they own etc. These “things” do not define who we are, no more than this diagnosis defines me!!! Are you kind? Are you compassionate? Are you emotionally intelligent? Are you emotionally available to others? This is what really matters…at least for me!

I have learned to be careful not to be too quick to judge others, for everyone is struggling with their own battles. Say a kind word, smile more, lend a hand, and speak softly.

I have learned, most importantly, that I am loved!! The support and immense love I have felt from my family and friends through their acts of kindness and caring have been overwhelming and humbling. When we are faced with our own immortality, these are the things that matter. It may sound cliché, but remember that every day is a gift, that is why it is called the present.

Epilogue:

What a coincidence!!!……..

As I am writing this, I am on a flight to Salt Lake City. The airline is selling “pink” lemonade for $2.00, with 50% of the proceeds going to breast cancer awareness and research. I don’t like the “pink thing” much. It is corporate’s way of capitalizing on someone else’s tragedy to make a buck. Distasteful to me….just my thought.

Breast Cancer Awareness, Day 21

Men have approximately a 1 in 1,000 chance of developing invasive breast cancer.

All of the statistics from the past week have been courtesy of www.breastcancer.org.

Breast Cancer Awareness, Day 20

Overall, white non-Hispanic women develop breast cancer more often than black women, but it is more likely to be fatal in black women.

Native American, Asian, and Hispanic women are lower-risk for both contracting and dying from breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Awareness, Day 19

From 1999 to 2005, breast cancer rates decreased in women aged 50 and older by about 2% per year. Hypothesis in the medical community: this was the result of the decreased use of HRT in menopausal women, now suspected to be a cause of breast cancer.

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