Monthly Archives: February 2017

Finally, good news for metastatic breast cancer

Breast cancer and exerciseProbably the hardest thing for me to embrace about my situation is the lack of answers. My doctor can’t tell me if a med she’s prescribing will work, or if it does, for how long. The only thing she can guarantee is that at some point it will stop working.

So a study released today that says exercise can reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer by 40% is probably the best news I’ve heard since the advent of chemotherapy.

To put it in perspective, many cancer drugs that the FDA approves have success rates lower than that.

The study goes on to debunk the myth – and relieve our guilt – that what we eat has anything to do with combating the disease. “Women with breast cancer don’t need to make extreme diet changes (like cutting out meat, dairy, sugar, soy, etc.),”  said Dr. Ellen Warner from Odette Cancer Center at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, who coauthored the review of more than 70 research articles and publications. “There is no evidence any of these are effective. They can eat anything in moderation and following Canada’s food guide would be helpful if they don’t know much about nutrition.”

Yes, she concludes, a diet in high-saturated fat definitely spells trouble, while soy products – which at times get a bad rap because they mimic estrogen – can actually improve longevity.

Exercise, on the other hand, is the Holy Grail. The study recommends 150 minutes of activity per week, which it says less than 13% of breast cancer survivors do.

I count myself among that 13%. And I can only add my own anecdotal evidence, that exercising is what is keeping me sane. Working out improves my mood. It chases away the fear. It grounds me. It’s my Xanax. Yes, it helps me keep my weight in check. And I’d hazard a guess that by using my body more, it makes it healthier, more robust and therefore, on some level, able to fend off the rapid spread of this disease. If I had any recommendation to give someone in my situation, vigorous, heart-pounding, sweat-gushing exercise would be it.

More importantly, though, this study gives me something I can actually DO to keep my disease in check. It takes away my helplessness which can lead to hopelessness.  And it takes away the guilt that I’m not doing enough.

As cancer patients, we need more information like this – studies that show us habits that lead to better outcomes. I’m willing to make many lifestyle adjustments, but I need to know that they are having an impact. Someone telling me that he beat cancer by juicing or she did by ingesting a lot of cannabis is all well and good.  But a study that shows that thousands of people did one thing and changed their lives – well that’s something I can take to the bank.



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Hitting Reset

old-energySo there comes a time in this journey where all the battles I can fight are fought. Where all the calls that have to be made are done. Where the research can take me no further. The tests are performed and the results forthcoming. When there are no more decisions to make or actions to take. When it’s time to get back to life. And in this, I suddenly understand what it must be like for a soldier returning home from war.

“Warriors have found the journey home, the journey back to normal as trying as the battle itself,” writes Navy SEAL Eric Greitens in his book Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life.

That’s where I am right now. And I’m feeling a little lost. This should be the easy part. This is what I’ve been fighting for – the chance to get my life back. To get back to writing about something different. To make up entertaining stories rather than writing from the trenches. To work on a publishing career. To get back to training for spring 5ks and summer triathlons. To enjoy long walks with dogs. To plow through the pile of magazines and books alongside my bed. To laugh with the kids in my life. To enjoy my husband’s company. To relish in the excellent health I am experiencing in this moment.

So why am I feeling drained and defeated? What is this fear bubbling below the surface? Why am I feeling so inert? And how am I going to push past it?

I admit my head is still spinning from all it’s taken to get me here. The second-guessing myself, the fear of change, fear of the unknown. Will I be able to afford the new choices I’ve made? Just getting to my new doctor is costing close to $100 round trip. My new health insurance policy took a hit on the prescription coverage so drugs are costing another $100 a month or more. And I haven’t even received the bills for the new medical procedures and the deductibles they’ve hit. These are the things that worry and confound me as I try to move forward.

I know life has a way of working itself out. Paying jobs will come. It’s only a matter of time before I’m besieged by writing assignments, right? And despite threats of an impending snow storm, spring IS just around the corner, signaling hope and rebirth.

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering,” said Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn. “Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” Is this what I’m doing to myself?

I don’t have any answers right now, just a vague notion that it’s time to hit the reset button and “get on with it,” as my great-grandmother used to say. Does anyone out there want to give me a push?