Category Archives: Cancer Awareness/Prevention


mesothelioma advocate

As an advocate for cancer patients and their families, I daily hear from people facing cancer. Recently, a gentleman named Virgil wrote to me about his experience, Doctors recently diagnosed Virgil with mesothelioma. This diagnosis turned Virgil’s life upside down.

What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that forms in the thin protective tissues which cover the lungs and the abdomen. Exposure to asbestos causes cancer in the mesothelium tissues. This cancer is caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a group of silicate minerals that are fibrous in nature and functions well as a fire retardant. It was once a commonly used insulator. Now that the dangers of asbestos are well known, it has fallen out of use. It can still be found in old buildings and machines. The United States is one of the only developed countries that has not outlawed the use of asbestos, entirely.

Virgil’s Story

Throughout his life, Virgil has had many jobs that have exposed him to asbestos, including automotive and demolition work, I’ve. He says, “On some jobs, the air was so thick with debris and asbestos you could taste it in your mouth.”

Virgil can no longer work and now, mostly lives off of social security disability. Because of fluid buildup in his lungs, he has to be careful about overexerting himself. He has a portable oxygen tank which gives him some mobility. Still, he must limit his activities, Virgil spends a lot of his time spreading awareness and informing others about the resources that helped him on his journey.

Finding resources isn’t always easy

Virgil says, “When I was diagnosed I needed immediate medical attention. I contacted all the top websites on the internet that are supposed to help people with my type of cancer but nobody got back to me.” Then he found Mesothelioma.net. “Even though I contacted them on a Sunday one of their patient advocates gave me a call back within minutes.”

Virgil found valuable information at Mesothelioma.net; information on mesothelioma treatments and doctors, asbestos trust funds for victims, and a lot more. They also sponsor The American Cancer Society, the MD Cancer Center, and the Make a Wish Foundation “They gave me a great deal of helpful information on doctors and resources available to me.”

Mesothelioma advocate

Virgil is now receiving cancer treatment at the National Cancer Institute. The patient advocates have even provided him with financial assistance so he could afford a place to live during his cancer treatments. “If I had not reached out to mesothelioma.net, I would likely be homeless and more importantly in hospice waiting to die. These people gave me my only chance at survival.”

Advocate: Paying it Forward

One of the most important things you can do to ensure your survival is to advocate for yourself. Virgil is an amazing example of an advocate. He searched for information and assistance and is now sharing that information with others. If you have Mesothelioma, check out the information at mesothelioma.net and the mesothelioma resource page at Facing Cancer with Grace.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-03-05 07:00:27.


caught off guard by cancer

How can you avoid being caught off guard by cancer? No one expects to be diagnosed with cancer. But there are ways to lower your risk. You can also arm yourself with information on how to handle a crisis like cancer so that if you or a loved one does face this disease, you don’t feel completely powerless.

Cancer is a lot like a C-Section

When I was pregnant with my daughter, Summer, I ate up every prenatal class with all of the excitement and anticipation you would expect from someone expecting their first child. I was determined to do everything right. So, I paid close attention as the instructor gave each new lesson, even when they taught us the breathing technique that you always see in the movies. But when the instructor began talking about c-sections, I mentally checked out. I can’t explain it, I just assumed that since I was a healthy young woman with a healthy baby, I would have a normal pregnancy, including a normal labor and delivery. Why would I take in unnecessary information?

So, I was stunned when after 3 days of labor, the doctor told me that I would have an emergency c-section on June 29. 1998, How could that be happening? I searched my memory for the information they tried to teach me in that class, but it wasn’t there.

So, it was a frightening experience. Recovering from the surgery was painful and took much longer than I had planned. To top it all off, I felt guilty as if I had somehow failed. If I had paid attention to the birthing class, I probably would have known that nearly one in three births are delivered via cesarean. Maybe then, I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself.

Caught off Guard by Cancer

15 years later, doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. He was too young to have cancer. We were too happy. Didn’t only smokers get lung cancer? The whirlwind of the diagnosis and subsequent treatment left us little time and energy to process what was happening. We had to guess at what to say to the kids and how to help them through the realization that their dad had cancer.

When you’re caught off guard by cancer you don’t have a chance to get your bearings before you lose your balance. It seemed everyone was telling us what we should do, even though most of them had never been in our position (people who had, respected our feelings and choices without judgment). We felt very much out of our element, without any good mentors.

Why would anyone want to learn about cancer?

Half of all men and a third of all women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. If you don’t already know someone who has cancer, you will. Will you be caught off guard by cancer?

Are you at risk?

  • Talk to your doctor about your risk factors for cancer.
  • Follow a healthy eating plan and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol, altogether.
  • Protect your skin from UV rays.
  • Early detection is key.
  • Know your family history and risks.
  • Avoid environmental carcinogens such as tobacco, radon, asbestos, and other chemicals.
  • Ask about cancer screenings such as mammograms, skin checks, colonoscopies, PAP test, and other screenings.
  • If you have a health complaint-don’t ignore it.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker


Prostate Cancer

In honor of Men’s Health Week June 11-17, I am writing about Prostate Cancer. We hear a lot about women’s health issues. Unfortunately, the life expectancy gender gap has been growing. This is the number of years one gender is expected to live beyond the other.

  • In 1920, the life expectancy gender gap was only 1 year.
  • By 2014, men were dying almost 5 years sooner than women.

Why the Gap?

Men’s Health Library lists the following as some of the reasons for this gap in life expectancy:

  • Men die at higher rates than women from the top 10 causes of death and are the victims of over 92% of workplace deaths.
  • A higher percentage of men have no healthcare coverage.
  • Men make ½ as many physician visits for prevention.
  • Men are employed in the most dangerous occupations, such as mining, firefighting, construction, and fishing.
  • Society discourages healthy behaviors in men and boys.
  • Research on male-specific diseases is underfunded.
  • Men may have less healthy lifestyles including risk-taking at younger ages.

All these things add up to men dying at faster rates than women. Only men can bring about the changes needed to alter these numbers. Of course, the women in their lives can advocate for them. This includes encouraging them to see their doctor for annual exams and when symptoms arise that should be looked at.

Preventative care is a huge factor in women living longer than men.

Women are 100% more likely to visit the doctor for annual examinations and preventive services than men. (1)

Prostate Cancer Facts:

1 in 7 Men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.

Risk Factors

Race

1 in 5 African-American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.

African American men are also twice as likely to die of prostate cancer than other races are, however, if diagnosed at the same stage, the mortality rate is the same. Early detection is key!

Family History

Men with a family history of prostate cancer are 2-3 times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Know your family history, especially if a blood relative has had prostate cancer

Men with the breast cancer gene, BRCA1, and BRCA2, have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer.

Diet and Exercise

Eat a diet that is high in fiber and low in fat and red meat to reduce your risk of prostate cancer.

As a preventive measure, and for your overall health, eat at least 2½ cups of a wide variety of vegetables and fruits each day.

Get physical activity daily.

Maintain a healthy weight.

According to the American Cancer Society, studies have suggested that diets high in certain vegetables, including tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower), soy, beans, and other legumes, or fish may be linked with a lower risk of prostate cancer, especially more advanced cancers.

Also, several studies have found a higher risk of prostate cancer in men whose diets are high in calcium. There may also be an increased risk from consuming dairy foods. This doesn’t mean that men who are being treated for prostate cancer should not take calcium supplements if their doctor recommends them.

Agent Orange

Vietnam vets are 2 times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and it is also more aggressive.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics, Health, United States 2015. Retrieved June 3, 2016, 2 Life Expectancy data are from CDC/NCHS, Health, United States, 2015

Prostate cancer is very treatable when caught early.

Symptoms can include:

  • Chronic pain in the hips, thighs, or lower back
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Painful or burning urination
  • Blood in the urine/semen
  • Trouble getting an erection

Because these symptoms can be mistaken for non-cancerous conditions (and vise-verse) it’s important to see your healthcare provider for regular prostate cancer screenings. See http://www.prostatehealthguide.com/ for more information of prostate health.

When to Screen

The American Cancer Society recommends you talk to your doctor about screening at:

  • Age 50 for men who are at average risk of prostate cancer and are expected to live at least 10 more years.
  • Age 45 for men at high risk of developing cancer of the prostate. This includes African Americans and men who have a first-degree relative (father, brother, or son) diagnosed with cancer of the prostate at an early age (younger than age 65).
  • Age 40 for men at even higher risk (those with more than one first-degree relative who had prostate cancer at an early age).

Treatments for prostate cancer have improved over the years, but nothing is more effective than prevention and early screening. Talk to your doctor today.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker


Internet Research

In the past, patients were often told to avoid doing their own internet research. That was because the internet really is a dumping ground for both information and misinformation. More and more, doctors are appreciating their patients’ efforts to participate in their healthcare. This is especially true when the patient uses internet research wisely.

Benefits of doing your own research:

You can decide if what is happening merits a trip to the doctor.

Often you can be put at ease when you discover your symptoms might feel awful, but you most likely have a cold. Sometimes, odd, but otherwise painless symptoms mean something more ominous is happening. For example, when my husband felt 3 hardened lymph nodes above his left collarbone (supraclavicular nodes), that specific symptom was said to indicate a 90% chance of metastatic lung cancer. It seemed improbable since he had never smoked and like most people, we thought of lung cancer as a smoker’s disease. Still, he made an appointment that saved his life.

Your doctor can’t keep up with all of the latest innovations in their field

Often, we expect our doctors to know everything. The medical field has become a complex place. Two years ago, my husband was ready to go to hospice. He could barely breathe; the cancer had so filled his lungs. He’d been following the experience of a blogger who was on a trial. Dan seemed to fit the profile of an ideal candidate for the drug. Finally, the FDA approved Tagrisso (a couple of months ahead of schedule). Dan asked his doctor to look into it. She did. She had him tested for the mutation the drug-treated and he was a match! Within two weeks of being on the drug, he was able to breathe again. He’s been on the drug ever since. His doctor appreciated his research and self-advocacy.

There are some drawbacks to internet research:

Sometimes the thing you think will be great—isn’t.

I’ve been using turmeric supplements as a way to ease the pain I experience from rheumatoid arthritis. Because it has worked well for me, we wondered if it would help with the pain Dan is in every day. We asked the palliative care specialist about it. She told us that even though turmeric is natural and over the counter, it isn’t something Dan should use. Turmeric is a natural blood thinner and Dan is a hemophiliac. It can also affect his blood counts that are already low because of the treatment he is on. We were glad we didn’t assume that an otherwise safe supplement is safe for him. Always check with your doctor about over the counter or “natural” supplements.

Internet Research isn’t a replacement for a doctor

No matter how empowered we can feel by the internet, there’s no replacement for a medical degree and years of experience. I often write posts for Quora, a user-input-based site. Every week, scared people ask me if their symptoms are indicative of cancer. I use the platform to encourage people to see their doctor when they are experiencing unusual symptoms. While most of these people don’t have cancer, there is often something happening with their health which needs to be addressed by a medical professional.

How you approach internet research is important

“Just the facts, Ma’am.”

Internet research has become second nature for most people, whether they are looking for a new car or the latest cancer treatments. It’s easy to pull up endless pages of information. But is the information factual? Is it experiential? Positive? Negative? These can be difficult questions to answer.

While the internet can be a valuable tool, it can also be a very frightening place, especially when you research cancer. Survival rates and statistics sound overwhelming when they’re not placed in the proper context. If you choose to research your symptoms or your diagnosis on the internet, use reputable websites. What makes a site, “reputable?”

User-Input Based Sites

Social Media and other user-input based sites such as forums have given everyone a platform. Because of that, there’s a lot more opinion on the internet than fact—especially when it comes to health issues. It’s difficult to wade through the endless sea of contradicting statements. Everyone has an opinion about cancer, cancer treatment, and what people should be doing. Random, anonymous people are very comfortable giving their opinions online. “Opinions,” is the keyword.

Many people use the Internet as their therapist. They post all their fears and the “what-ifs” online, where to the undiscerning eye, it can be frightening. While blogs and “cancer support” sites can be helpful for patients looking for support, they can also be a source of misinformation and confusion. The Internet tends to capture the negative. Because of this, use caution when reading user-input based sites. Keep in mind that the writer’s individual situation is different from yours.

Reading as a writer

Pseudoscience

Pseudoscience is rampant on the Internet. The Scrivener WordNet Dictionary defines pseudoscience as, “an activity resembling science but based on fallacious assumptions.”

Problems arise when patients or their loved ones believe pseudoscience and it contradicts what a health care provider recommends. This can cause a patient to delay a legitimate course of treatment. Meanwhile, cancer can spread.

This isn’t only a problem with cancer. I know of someone who didn’t follow their doctor’s advice in favor of another form of “treatment” for their diabetes. She went blind and ultimately died of a diabetic coma.

Rifts between family members often happen when they don’t agree on a treatment approach in light of a false promise made on the internet. The result is guilt, discord, and hurt feelings within the family.

What you need are facts pertaining to the cancer that you or your family is facing, rather than the cancer someone else has.

 

Using Trusted Resources

Health information, whether in print or online, should come from a trusted, credible source. Government agencies, hospitals, universities, medical journals, and books that provide evidence-based information are sources you can trust. Too often, other sources can provide misleading or incorrect information. If it makes claims that are too good to be true, remember—they usually are.

The National Cancer Institute gives the following advice on internet research:

Online sources of health information should make it easy for people to learn who is responsible for posting the information. They should make clear the original source of the information, along with the medical credentials of the people who prepare or review the posted material.

Use the following questions to determine the credibility of health information published online:

  • Who manages this information? The person or group that has published health information online should be identified somewhere.
  • Who is paying for the project, and what is their purpose? You should be able to find this information in the “About Us” section.
  • What is the original source of the information that they have posted? If the information was originally published in a research journal or a book, they should say which one(s) so that you can find it.
  • How is information reviewed before it gets posted? Most health information publications have someone with medical or research credentials (e.g., someone who has earned an M.D., D.O., or Ph.D.) review the information before it gets posted, to make sure it is correct.
  • How current is the information? Online health information sources should show you when the information was posted or last reviewed.
  • If they are asking for personal information, how will they use that information and how will they protect your privacy? This is very important. Do not share personal information until you understand the policies under which it will be used and you are comfortable with any risk involved in sharing your information online.

You can learn more about doing internet research as well as using other sources of information cancer, by checking out the National Cancer Institutes’s Website: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/managing-care/using-trusted-resources.

Sometimes it’s good to take a “digital break.”

While internet research can be really helpful, there are also times when it’s good to take a digital break.  That’s what I’m going to be doing in the month of January. I’ve noticed that I’m not getting as much writing done as I should be, so rather than spending time on email, social media, and other online activities; I will be writing and reconnecting with my goals for 2018. You will still see weekly blog posts on Facing Cancer with Grace, because I have already written them and will post them automatically, using a scheduler. Even though I may not respond to your comments right away, I will read them and appreciate them greatly. Since I won’t be sharing my posts to social media in January I would appreciate it if those of you who use social media would share my posts. Thank you!

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

Originally posted 2018-01-15 07:00:48.

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