Today is Cancer Survivor's Day. It's a day that will be meaningful to most survivors and their loved ones, in many different ways. To those who have just started their journey, it is a day of hope; that one day they may look back at the tremendous effort they made, and be proud of how they handled it, and thankful for the most special people that are closest to them, and the support they got during hospitalizations, after surgery, and during radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Many early survivors, as I once did, aspire to get to that five-year cancer-free milestone. The road there is full of surprises, changes, turns in the road, enlightenedness, and knowledge.
As I look back at my own journey, I am always amazed at how far I have come, and how my life has changed. Since my diagnosis, reading and keeping up with cancer news has been really important. As social media has become more important, cancer patients and survivors have a multitude of blogs websites and tweetchats at their disposal.
As with my lifepowerblog, many blogs by survivors, and even non-survivors, are inspiring and helpful; especially about the little things...ones that health care professionals don't bother telling you. Sharing our journey with you is also therapeutic. The words just poured out of me when I started this blog. And with every one, I became stronger and stronger. Blogs I have especially enjoyed are Lissa Rankin, for her healthy life perspective; Kris Carr, for her healthy recipes and green juice; Gabrielle Bernstein for her "spiritjunkieness" and motivation to meditate; and Sue Carter Ansari, and her beautiful and healthy raw cooking...to name a few.
But that's not all....
Not all cancer survivors will agree, but cancer gave me my life back. It was the wakeup call I didn't listen to when it was only a whisper. It encouraged me to look at my own life, and what was working and what wasn't.
As a result some friends and acquaintences became better ones, others; many of whom were too afraid to "catch" my disease, or felt awkward because they had no idea what to say, or what to do, simply disappeared.
Survivorship has been good to me in the way I treat my body. Over time I have changed my diet considerably, and have even become a good cook. Being in the kitchen and preparing fresh healthy foods is one of the ways I relax now. I can often be seen on a Sunday morning sifting through my many cookbooks for inspiration, and thrilled at the prospect of trying something new. Prepared foods don't exist in my house. Everything is made with loving care.
Regular exercise has also been key. I will always be grateful that I started running, even before my breast cancer diagnosis. Running helped me in my darkest days, and darkest moments. There have even been reports coming out regarding the benefits of running during chemotherapy. I can attest to that, as I didn't suffer from the extreme fatigue that hits many patients as a result of treatment. I truly believe that running made the difference, and provided me with that added boost of energy that was so important during eight rounds of chemotherapy. Running, along with my almost daily meditation have been the base of my support system on the road of survivorship.
There is a no nonsense attitude that has also seemed to incorporate itself in the survivor me. I mean this in a really good way...but I really don't care what people think (sorry to my three daughters, who are sometimes horrified by this). Where I used to be shy to ask a question, or ask for what I want, I am now more outspoken. Discussions with total strangers are more common, and I will ask questions until I'm satisfied with the answers, or until I understand. When I forget someone's name, I'm no longer deeply embarrassed, but simply blame it on chemobrain!
And yes...I sometimes go to the grocery store with dirt on my face, in my cut-off sweats, gardening shoes and my straw cowboy hat!
And so is life as I know it now. Mahatma Gandhi once said "My life is my message." My life IS my message. A wonderful, challenging, adventurous, peaceful, meaningful, inspirational, positive and beautiful life that I am grateful for with each surviving day.
Happy Cancer Survivor's Day. May those of us who put up the fight and won, provide the inspiration and knowledge to help those who follow in our footsteps.
Triple negative breast cancer is a difficult form of cancer to treat, but for the first time ever, an international team of scientists have decoded its genetic makeup. Knowing more about these genes could change the way the disease is diagnosed and change treatments for the next generation, creating more personalized care.
Dr. Michael Taylor, based in Toronto, was part of the international MAGIC (Medulloblastoma Advanced Genomics International Consortium) team of experts that identified abnormalities that lead to the development of the malignant brain tumour medulloblastama. This discovery has identified more effective treatments and may spare children the side effects of unnecessary radiation.
Though there are typically poor survival rates for those living with pancreatic cancer, new findings may improve these rates of survival. An NCIC Clinical Trials Group study found that patients with a rare form of pancreatic cancer – periampullary adenocarcinoma – live longer if they are treated with surgery as well as chemotherapy.
A trial led by the NCIC Clinical Trials Group found that patients with limited-stage Hodgkin lymphoma live longer when treated with standard chemotherapy, compared with those who are also receiving radiation. This will allow patients to avoid long-term side effects of radiation.
A study led by Dr. Camilla Zimmermann in Toronto found that Canadian oncologists refer terminally ill cancer patients to palliative care too late — sometimes not until the final few days. The availability and comprehensiveness of palliative care services were identified as key barriers. It was found that referring patients earlier allows care teams to relieve symptoms and distress, provide appropriate social services, and give advanced care advice to improve the quality of life for cancer patients.
Muscle wasting, also referred to as Cachexia, is the loss of weight or muscle often induced by cancer. Approximately 30 per cent of people with cancer die due to muscle wasting. Dr. Imed Gallouzi and his research team in Montreal found that a natural product from sea sponges prevents muscle wasting in mice. This study is the first to show a potential treatment option for those affected by muscle wasting.
Dr. Mick Bhatia, an international leader in cancer stem cell research, discovered that the drug thioridazine can successfully kill cancer stem cells responsible for initiating leukemias without causing any harm to normal stem cells. This is an important discovery, as cancer stem cells can sustain the growth of cancer and are also a common factor in cancer recurrence.
Dr.Torsten Nielsen and his Vancouver-based research team have unravelled how the genetic mutation which leads to the growth of a rare and often fatal form of cancer (synovial sarcoma) interacts with proteins to cause cancer. The researchers found that there are certain drugs used to suppress these proteins that can kill tumour cells.
Dr. John White and his research group in Montreal studied a protein called the cMYC protein, which is elevated in at least 50 per cent of cancers. Researchers found that vitamin D can block cMYC. This evidence will spark future studies to understand the role Vitamin D plays in stopping cancer development and growth.
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow that can become severe if not treated quickly. Dr. Aaron Schimmer and colleagues in Toronto tested several drugs to determine whether any of them could target AML cells. The researchers found that mefloquine, a medication generally used to treat malaria, specifically causes AML cancer cells to burst.
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