November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month

Everyone knows that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but we keep the fact that November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month a better secret. Unfortunately, the flood of pink will not be replaced by a flood of white (the color assigned to lung cancer) on November 1.

But, we can all do our small part in helping raise awareness about and funding for lung cancer during November (and throughout the year). It is important that we get the word out about this deadly disease. Lives are depending on it!

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Lung Cancer Awareness Month – it’s here again!

I always look forward to November. I love this month. Temperatures are mainly cooler … and when you live in Texas, that’s a very good thing. We are scorched for way too many months out of the year.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love the food (we go traditional with turkey, cornbread dressing, green bean bundles, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, a family tradition of banana salad, corn, pies, yum!). I love the whole idea of concentrating on what we’re thankful for – purposefully thinking about what’s good in our lives, even things that don’t always seem so good.

Our family is very patriotic and many of my family members have served in the military. I love to celebrate Veteran’s Day and the USMC birthday and the day my son graduated from USMC boot camp.

And, it is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. It probably drives people crazy, but I post every single day something about lung cancer for those who are my friends on Facebook. This year, I’ll be also posting something to the WhatNext pinboard. Everyone there has been touched by cancer of some kind so maybe it is overkill, but I’ll do it anyway.

Six years ago, November was a month full of firsts for me – first PET scan, first visit with an oncologist, first biopsy. I guess those aren’t firsts most people want to experience. Nevertheless, November of 2012 was full of those things for me. Lots of new memories. They seem like so long ago now.

So, I celebrate November and all I love about it. And, I celebrate that I am here another November to enjoy all that I love. I am among the lucky ones. I don’t know why and I am well aware that one of these days my time will run out, but until then, I thank my God and carry forward.

Lung Cancer Drives My Passions

Before I got lung cancer, I was passionate about grant writing for K12 education and running my dogs in agility. As a lung cancer patient, I am very passionate about the following five things…

Advocating for funding to support research

Anyone who knows me or reads much of what I write knows that I am absolutely consumed with trying to get more money for lung cancer research. Not only do I attempt to fundraise for various lung cancer-related organizations, but I also write to my state and federal legislators on a frequent basis. I always request funding in amounts as significant as the death rate from lung cancer demands.

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Clinical Trial Participation Contrasted with Standard of Care Treatments

Back in 2013, I opted to join a clinical trial. My first-line chemotherapy treatments had worked briefly, but once we stopped the treatments to give my body a rest, the tumors took full advantage and made up all the ground they had lost during treatment.

Joining a clinical trial

When I joined the trial, I had basically run out of other options. I could have opted to undergo docetaxel treatments, but my first oncologist had dissuaded me. He told me that docetaxel often was not as effective as my first-line treatment and that people frequently did not tolerate it as well. I had been extremely ill while undergoing my first-line treatment. I chose not to participate in a treatment where there was a big possibility that I would feel even worse.

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Green Cleaning to Save Money and Help Weakened Immune Systems

It was just a couple of months ago that I attended a seminar at our local Cancer Support Communities clubhouse on essential oils. Now, I have heard about essential oils for years. I’ve used a few – lavender to make my laundry smell good and peppermint to try to keep mice and ants away. But, that was really about the extent of my knowledge. That all changed after I took part in the class. I don’t know what clicked with me, but something did and suddenly I am knee-deep into learning all about essential oils.

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Tips for the Newly Diagnosed

Newly diagnosed patients often feel like they are on a raft in the middle of the ocean without a paddle, surrounded by sharks. There are so many questions when hit with an unexpected diagnosis like lung cancer.

Below are a few of my top suggestions for the newly diagnosed and even for those of us who have been on this journey for some time.

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Don’t Eat the Sugar … and Other Cancer Myths

Once you are diagnosed with cancer, you’ll start hearing all kinds of things. Many of them are simply not true. Let’s take a look at a few of the myths that surround cancer.

Go ahead…eat the sugar (in moderation)

One that you’ll hear most often is that you have to give up sugar when you get cancer. “Sugar feeds cancer,” they say. Well, it is true that all of our cells, including cancer cells, need and use sugar (glucose) for energy. However, just not eating sugar does not deprive your body of the blood sugar it requires to survive.

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I admit it. I’m jealous of Pinktober

Are you ready for it? October will be here before we know it. You know what that means. Everything will be covered in pink.

A closer look at the statistics

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), breast cancer killed slightly more than 51,000 people, mostly women, in 2015¹. If one of those who died was your mom, sister, daughter or best friend, it hurt a lot to lose them. Fortunately, the American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that the five-year survival rate for women diagnosed with breast cancer is 90%.²

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Reminiscing … The Day My World Shattered

My six-year cancerversary is upon us so I guess it has me thinking about the journey I’ve been on. I might have chemo brain that robs many of my memories, but I surely remember hearing the words, “You have cancer.”

Cancer … But What Kind?

While I already suspected that I was getting a cancer diagnosis because my primary care doctor (PCP) had ordered a PET scan, I didn’t know what kind of cancer. I was hoping against all hope that it was going to be thyroid cancer. After all, it was weight gain that had sent me to see her in the first place. It would make some sense that my thyroid had a malignancy.

While I waited for my diagnosis, I reasoned that we could just go in, take out the offending thyroid, prescribe some pills to replace the missing hormone, and all would be well. Cancer gone. Life restored. Carry on.

I hoped against all hope that I wasn’t going to hear that I had lung cancer. I had no reason to think that would be the case. I had quit smoking years before, I was more active than I’d ever been, I felt great. Really, the only problem I had was the unexplained and seemingly uncontrollable weight gain. Surely, I wasn’t going to be told I had lung cancer.

“The” Call…

My husband and I had just pulled up into the parking lot of an Asian barbeque restaurant when my PCP called me to finally tell me the results of the PET scan. My husband and I had been waiting not so patiently to learn the results of the scan I had undergone about a week earlier. So, I was happy … and scared … when my doctor’s name showed up on the caller ID.

The call didn’t last very long. My doctor told me that I had lung cancer. My heart sank like a ton of bricks. I had watched my dad die of lung cancer back in the 1970s. I knew enough to realize this was not a diagnosis anyone wants to hear. There was a (very) tiny sense of relief when she told me it was non-small cell lung cancer. I’d read that small cell was even more difficult to treat than non-small cell.

My husband was sitting in the driver’s seat of his truck, looking at me with questions in his eyes. Whatever my diagnosis was, it would affect many more lives than just mine, especially his. I wrote “lung cancer” on a scrap of paper and showed it to him.

I remember my doctor telling me that she’d set me up with an appointment the following day to see an oncologist. I was so grateful that (1) she had handled finding me a cancer doctor and (2) that I wasn’t going to have to wait except overnight to go see him.

Keeping Up Appearances

After I hung up, my husband and I sat in his truck and discussed the call for a couple of minutes. I shed a few tears. Then, we went inside to eat so that I could get back to work. I was really happy the call had come while I was away from the office. Processing the news away from prying eyes was definitely easier.

I remember sitting at that small table in the crowded restaurant, looking around, and wondering what secrets the other patrons had that no one else knew. Outwardly, no one would suspect that I had just taken a call that shattered my world. It was surreal to be sitting there, eating a meal as if we had not a care in the world.

And, So It Began…

And, so began the journey that has taken me to places I would have never guessed I would go. What an adventure it has been.

What’s your story? Will you share it with us?

AICR – What Role Do Exercise and Diet Have on Cancer?

Have you heard about the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR)? It is a foundation that is dedicated to exploring the role diet and exercise have on cancer. They believe that as much as 40% of cancer in the United States can be prevented. The foundation also believes that “every individual has the power to reduce his or her cancer risk.”1

I am a bit cynical about whether we can prevent nearly half of all cases of cancer in the United States simply by controlling our diets and exercise, but that’s just me. The AICR does include weight control and smoking among the risk factors that are under our control but correctly notes that many thousands of smokers never develop lung cancer and that many Americans who are overweight also do not develop cancer.

The exact percentage of cancers that might be preventable notwithstanding, it makes sense to pay attention to diet and exercise while we are fighting the disease. Lifestyle definitely affects how well we are able to boost our immune systems and, perhaps, counteract some of the side effects of treatment.

While the report says that as much as 90% of lung cancer cases among men and 89% of cases among women throughout the world have a direct relationship with smoking, it includes two other potential causes:

  1. drinking water that contains arsenic and
  2. taking high-dose beta-carotene supplements if you smoke or have ever smoked.

In addition, researchers believe processed meats, red meat, and alcoholic drinks may increase our chances of developing lung cancer. I can easily give up most processed meats (you bacon lovers, don’t forget it is considered processed meat) and alcoholic beverages, but I do love to eat red meat occasionally. I thought that pork was considered a “white” meat, but I heard recently that it is also considered red meat.

Fortunately for those like me who haven’t given up their red meats, AICR does state in its latest report, “The evidence suggesting that consumption of red meat increases the risk of lung cancer is limited.”2 I’m going to go with that! Please note that the same report also says, “The evidence suggesting that consumption of alcoholic drinks increases the risk of lung cancer is limited.”2

If you are interested, you can download a free, 71-page PDF document from AICR called, “Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Lung Cancer.” The document is part of the Continuous Update Project (CUP) of the World Cancer Research Fund’s ongoing program to analyze cancer prevention and survival research and was updated in 2018.

 

1American Institute for Cancer Research. “About American Institute for Cancer Research.”  http://www.aicr.org/about/about_cancer_research.html. Accessed 9/30/2018.

2World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project Expert Report 2018. Diet, nutrition, physical activity and lung cancer. Available at dietandcancerreport.org. Page 39. Accessed 9/30/2018.