Cancer in Context

How the truth, cancer and kids brought me to my knees

August 12, 2013

I can put up with the medical aspects of cancer treatment: the pinch from needles to draw blood or infuse drugs into me, the noisy MRI and other scans for which I must stay perfectly still for long periods. I can deal with the outsized bills and confusing insurance statements for the many tests and treatments. And I can put up with the pitying looks people give me when I tell them I have cancer. What got me was having to tell my children — Alex, who’s 14, and Stella, just 11 — that I have a particularly dangerous form of cancer. It was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

How I kept my hair during chemo

August 1, 2013

 I’ve never liked my hair much. For 40 years, I have tried to tame my frizzy curls with blow driers, flat irons and chemicals that promised, but rarely delivered, silky, straight hair. 

To screen or not to screen

July 22, 2013

I began hearing from people who I hadn’t been in touch in years after posting my first “Cancer in Context” blog entry, roughly two months ago, in which I wrote that I have stage 4 lung cancer. Initially, friends sent condolences. Some expressed fears about their own lifetime smoking habits, asking me if I thought they should get screened for the deadly disease.

Closing the Gender Gap in Cancer Research

July 12, 2013

Women are under-represented in cancer studies, a bias that has concerned researchers for years yet has gone largely unaddressed.

Angelina Jolie’s mastectomy puts cancer genetics in spotlight

July 9, 2013

Did you know that one in three Americans will get a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime? If you want to know what your risk is, talk to a genetic counselor, like the friend I introduced in a recent post, Melody Perpich.

How to assess cancer risk: talk to a genetic counselor

June 26, 2013

Melody Perpich is one of my closest friends. We met during my smoking days. We were in our twenties, just getting started in our careers, buying our first condos in the same building near Lake Michigan, and always on the lookout for fun, handsome and intelligent men.

New law may cut patient access to Gamma Knife

June 18, 2013

There are only 130 Gamma Knife machines in the United States.

States that do not have one include Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota, says Catherine Gilmore-Lawless, who is employed by Elekta to keep track of clinical data on Gamma Knife.

Under the Gamma Knife

June 14, 2013

What if I lived in Anchorage, Alaska, and contracted lung cancer, and didn’t have the money to go elsewhere for treatment? The question occurred to me after I underwent a Gamma Knife procedure to treat my metastatic brain tumors at Houston’s renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center in April.

Does embracing religion make dying easier?

June 11, 2013

I’m not a religious person. But lately, having absorbed that I have Stage 4 lung cancer, I’ve wondered if it might make it easier to contemplate death if I were. Wouldn’t faith make leaving this Earth less complicated for me? Would I be comforted if I thought there was a God waiting to welcome me in Heaven with Belgian chocolates?
Maybe not—according to some of the latest research. A study of more than 300 patients suffering advanced cancer found that people who received spiritual support from religious communities tended to want aggressive end-of-life care.
The research, published May 6 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that patients who wanted more aggressive care were more likely to die in a hospital Intensive Care Unit (ICU), and to get cardiopulmonary resuscitation or a ventilator before they died, than were people with no support from religion groups. The more devout patients in the study were the more likely to die in the ICU.
Religious patients also were less likely to receive hospice care, which is known to reduce stress associated with desperate end-of-life measures and improve quality of life for terminally ill patients.
The study, by Dr. Tracy Balboni, a radiation oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, also showed an intriguing counterweight: Religious medical teams. Among patients with strong religious ties, those who received spiritual support from their medical team had a higher rate of hospice use, fewer aggressive treatments, and fewer ICU deaths.
See Reuters story

Does Researcher Turned Activist = No Funding?

June 4, 2013

Dr. Hagop Kantarjian, chairman of the leukemia department at the prestigious MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, has collaborated with drug makers for years to discover new ways to battle the disease.