When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, the treatments had not been as fine-tuned as they are today.  And that makes sense, we are learning more and more every year.  Chemotherapy was one-size-fits all and mastectomies were done routinely on EVERYBODY.  

Increasingly, women are choosing mastectomy over lumpectomy to treat early breast cancer.  But data on 112,000 patients age 50 and up shows that for Stage I and Stage II hormone-positive cancers, survival is actually 19% higher after lumpectomy plus radiation than after breast removal.  Another study found when women with cancer in one breast preventively remove both, the rate of complications (like infection) doubles.

Naturally, you must talk your treatment options over with your oncologist, who knows your case better than anyone.  I had a triple negative (aggressive and non-hormonally driven) cancer, but I was, and continue to be, ever grateful for my doctors' incredible patience and willingness to spend time discussing my specific kind of cancer and what were my best options for survival.  Thirteen years later, I am still here!  Blessings to you all.

Do anti-cancer superfoods really work? From all of the scientific research that is rolling in, the answer is "YES!" They really do. While studies are ongoing, and in many cases experts still don't know exactly how these superfoods work, there's strong evidence that certain fruits and vegetables rich in plant-based nutrients can both prevent tumors from starting and halt their growth. Here are the top foods (certainly not all) to work into the family diet if you'd like to cut cancer risk or help those with cancer recover. 

The rich, dark colors of blueberries, Brazilian acai berries, raspberries and cranberries come from phytochemicals that protect against numerous types of cancer. Most recently, researchers at the University of Florida found that the active ingredient in acai berries destroyed cancer cells when tested in cell cultures. And blueberries and muscadine grapes contain compounds that recent research shows cause cancer cells in the liver to self-destruct. In studies particularly important to women, cranberries have recently been discovered to be an important weapon in the fight against deadly ovarian cancer. Studies reported at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society found that ovarian cancer cells that were becoming resistant to platinum chemotherapy – the standard of care for ovarian cancer – became six times more sensitive when exposed to a compound in cranberries.

One of the first plant-based chemicals to be studied for its anti-cancer properties, catechins -- the chemicals in green tea -- have been known for some time to prevent and reduce recurrence of breast and other cancers. With this particular chemical, experts even know why: a chemical known as EGCG inhibits breast tumor growth. Just two cups a day is enough to do the trick.

Numerous studies over the years (more than 30 different studies to date) have documented the anti-cancer properties of garlic. The strongest evidence so far has focused on digestive cancers, but garlic appears to protect against all types of cancer, including breast and prostate. According to the National Cancer Institute, an analysis of seven different large-scale population studies showed that the more raw and cooked garlic a person consumed, the lower his risk of stomach and colorectal cancer. One study found that middle-aged women who regularly consumed garlic had a 50 percent lower risk of developing colon cancer. Scientists have isolated two active ingredients in garlic, allicin and allyl sulfur, and demonstrated that they prevent and fight cancer in both animals and humans; you can take garlic in supplement form but the capsules must be enteric-coated to protect these active ingredients. Add crushed, fresh garlic to your meals whenever possible; some experts also recommend waiting 15 minutes between peeling and chopping the garlic to get the full effects of the active compounds

.British researchers made headlines last year with a study that showed that men with early signs of developing prostate cancer prevented tumor growth by eating broccoli four times a week. Other studies have shown anti-cancer benefits from eating cabbage, brussels sprouts, and other cruciferous vegetables. While I am not a huge fan of cabbage and brussel sprouts, I do love broccoli and cauliflower and eat these delicious veggies at least three times a week, raw and cooked.

Harvard researcher Edward Giovannucci reviewed 72 different studies published by the National Cancer Institute, and concluded that lycopene, the active chemical in tomatoes, lowered the risk of many different cancers, particularly prostate, breast, lung and colon cancer. 

The hype about red wine centers on an antioxidant called resveratrol that's present in grapes and grape juice, but is most concentrated in red wine. Numerous studies show that resveratrol possesses powerful anti-cancer activity.  The problem, however, is that higher alcohol intake has been linked to cancer as well, particularly breast and esophageal cancer. The solution? One glass of red wine a day, unless you're at risk for or have one of these types of cancer, or red wine gives you a very painful allergic headache!  Resveratrol supplements are, perhaps, a better choice.

The orange-yellow spice turmeric, best known for its role in Indian curries and other Asian dishes, fights cancer because of an active ingredient, curcumin, that's a powerful antioxidant. Watch out, though; according to the American Cancer Society, turmeric made certain anti-cancer drugs less effective when studied in animals and test tubes. Cancer patients shouldn't add a lot of turmeric to their diets or take curcumin supplements without talking to their doctors first.

The active ingredient in soy is genistein, which is a phytoestrogen that protects against hormone-dependent cancers. It's also a powerful inhibitor of several proteins that are implicated in the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells. To get the anti-cancer benefits of soy, you need to consume about 25-75 grams per day of the whole food, such as raw fresh soybeans, known as edamame, dry roasted soybeans, or tofu. The research to date shows that supplements containing isoflavones don't work with the same action as soybeans themselves and in fact can be bad for you rather than good.

According to researchers in Ireland, who released studies in the past two years showing that eating watercress everyday can prevent the DNA damage that leads to cancer. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – but conducted in Ulster where people are more comfortable eating watercress -- found that antioxidants in the nutrient-rich greens prevented free radicals from damaging healthy cells. Spinach, which we're all more familiar with, is also a cancer-fighter; research conducted by the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas showed spinach to protect against bladder cancer. The chemical that gives spinach its dark green color, chlorophyllin, proved to reduce the risk of liver cancer in research by the National Academy of Sciences. Who cares about muscles? Well, I do, but here's a much more important reason to eat your greens.

When undergoing chemotherapy treatments, I supplemented my diet with these super foods as well as some Chinese herbs and some other nutritional supplements that I won't mention in this blog, but I promise I will talk about in upcoming discussions.

It's important to remember that an anti-cancer diet or nutritional supplements should not be used in place of doctor-recommended treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. The experts in this field strongly recommend that those who've already been diagnosed with cancer use anti-cancer nutrients to bolster traditional medical cancer treatment, not to replace it.  

Break time...off to eat a snack of delicious grapes!  Blessings and Health to all of you!

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Cancer is a very personal disease. Your cancer is as individual as you are (there are over 200 different kinds of cancer) and treating it cannot be formulaic. Some people believe their faith was as important as the chemotherapy; some people believe their doctor cured them, others went nowhere near an orthodox therapy, and some used a combination of faith, western medicine and alternative medicine.
Whatever long term survivors people did, whatever they took, whatever they believed, all of them are living proof that you can beat cancer.  When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 and then ovarian cancer in 2006, I was determined to do everything I could do to survive.  Am I still here because I "did" those things? As I've said many times before, I haven't a clue, but after reading success stories from all round the world - stories of people who have used a variety of Programs to overcome different types of cancer, I have come to believe that our odds for survival can definitely be increased.

There does seem to be a common thread that runs throughout the survival community...these patients related to cancer as a frightening, unpleasant intrusion or challenge who came to wake them up to how severely their lives had become toxic and out of balance.  Not only did they begin to cherish their bodies by providing nourishing food each and every day, but they placed their whole being under a psychic microscope to dial in to every aspect of their live-style choices.  This infers that those diagnosed with cancer can quite possibly regain control by making the changes to their diet and lifestyle to complement their conventional medical treatment and help them to overcome cancer. 

Most programs include these three key elements: 1) Dietary changes = eliminating cancer-causing foods and drinks from your diet,   2) Add in the most powerful cancer-preventing foods and drinks, 3) Cut your exposure to cancer-causing chemicals in your home and environment, 4) Decrease stress through exercise, meditation, increased self-awareness, and 5) Decreasing toxic people, increasing loving support.

Naturally, I began to ask myself where in my life had I become out of balance. I recall often waking up with a dark cloud of depression hanging over me. It was as if I was feeling the sun setting on my world and I wasn't ready to leave.  One morning, I reached for an old journal of mine and was brought up short by the following words from May Sarton, who was was known for inviting impeccable integrity into one's life. "To be honest is to expose wounds, and also to wound —withdrawal, censorship, the wish to keep the surfaces smooth because any eruption spells danger and must therefore be prevented, is costly also. Censorship simply drives conflict deeper inside. What is never discussed does not for that reason cease to exist. On the contrary, it may fester and finally become a killing poison."  I had read these words before and, obviously, they resonated with me. I had written them down!  I realized that my default position in life was to swallow my feelings, especially anger and shame, say nothing, and remain pleasant. Woody Allen once said,  "I don't get angry, I grow tumors instead."  Yep.

When May Sarton spoke of exposing wounds, and also to wound, I began to see that this truth had as much to do with exposing and admitting to myself my imbalances and vulnerabilities, not necessarily having the need to point out those weaknesses of someone else.That's easy...isn't it?  To criticize others with the one finger pointing out and three fingers pointing back at 'yours truly'? I discovered three big "gotta look ats" (there were more than three but hey, baby steps!). These were the super-glued tendencies I had where I felt I needed to heal;  1) Martyrdom  2) Being always pleasant and nice  and 3)  Self-defensiveness (how nicely I thought it hid my imperfections). I didn't have to grovel around in the dirt to discover my "stuff."  It all oozed up to the surface fairly quickly once I was determined to make changes, life-giving changes. Once I recognized those sneaky little devils who had been running my life, and more importantly, my SHAME around them, they began to retreat from my daily behaviors bit-by-bit. My life was beginning to feel lighter and more in balance when I discovered I had nothing to hide!  More to come... As Magnus Molliner so eloquently said, "Create yourself a great loving day!"

Please note: As you read my story, realize it is MY story, MY opinions. I am not advocating any of you adhere to the thoughts, ideas, or principles I ascribe to.  We each must walk this journey with a keen eye turned inward to what feels right for us individually.  Find out what feels right for YOU!  Isn't that what our journey is really all about!
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PictureWhite Cells Fighting Cancer Cell
I am told I have a fairly active imagination, especially when it comes to creating metaphors.  Like this one for example. It came as a bitter-sweet gift right after my breast cancer treatments in September, 2001. In many ways, my strange, yet powerful metaphor, was a kick-in-the pants wake up call to becoming more proactive and respectful towards the care of my physical and emotional bodies. At the very least, it helped me cope and quiet the scary voices that kept up their constant jabbering in my brain, "You have cancer!" 

None of us will ever forget September 11, 2001. The day when a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks was launched by the Islamic terrorist group, Al-Qaeda, upon the United States in New York City and the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.Three days before that horrendous day, I flew to Seattle to spend time with my daughter and her family. Dawn and I would drive to Portland the following week to participate in Race for the Cure with a newly created team, The Wiggle Walkers. I felt so excited and honored.

In hindsight, all of it seems prophetic to me. When I watched the tragic ever-constant media airing of planes mindlessly crashing into the sides of the Twin Towers, I was ever-reminded of the presence of cancer and how it seems to operate in one’s body. My body. After returning to Kona, those horrific images continued to play out in my mind. Cancer was to me like a terrorist who always kept me on the edge of a cruel unknown, who hid silently in the shadows, evil snipers just waiting, waiting… Then casually and without conscience take careful aim and pick off their prey one at a time until all were dead and gone. Helpless victims of hate. I detested that feeling of powerlessness.  Did I really have no recourse? Some live, some die. That’s it? Cancer was a crapshoot? That just plain sucks!

That’s also when I began to have reoccuring night dreams of borders, boundaries, and strong, ever vigilant border security systems armed and waiting to protect the innocent living within.  In my case, that would mean my immune system which I suspected must be weak and needed extreme bolstering. I knew about the immune system being the body’s defense against microorganisms that can cause a variety of illnesses. And in actuality, I had been striving to live a more balanced lifestyle since the day of my breast cancer diagnosis.  Perhaps the terrorist metaphor had some validity after all for my long term care and prevention of recurrence.

In Portland, Dawn and I had stood in the midst of 30,000 exuberant men and women and children, a vast and glorious sea of pink T-shirts, white sweatshirts, and huge grins playing across hopeful faces, moving like one powerful, unified wave over the streets of Portland, propelled by one simple desire—to celebrate life for those are still here and to commemorate those that have passed on. To fight a terrorist that could be, and has been many times, overcome by thousands and thousands of women. I wanted to be one of those survivors.

I read everything I could on the immune system and disease prevention.  From eating a healthy diet, reducing stress, increasing my sleep and restorative periods, and popping daily supportive supplements. Despite the huge amounts of information I was digesting, I was very afraid that I wouldn't be able to keep up the daily discipline of living such a healthy life-style. What if I "fell off the wagon."  Fear is ugly in any disease. But I kept knowing within myself that I was worth it, my health would be a daily focus forever, and I had the strength and desire to do it. I even challenged my co-dependent issues. Which in my case, meant I needed to create healthier boundaries in my personal relationships.  Too nice?  Yes, I had been.  Too tolerant? Yes indeed! In the name of being loving, I was way too tolerant.

When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer six years later and found NOT to have the BRCA cancer genes, I realized how lazy and inattentive to my health I had become. Back again I went to more attention to healthy eating and living. When my husband asked me for a divorce a few months after my surgery (that’s a story for another time), I thought I had been hit by a train and that I couldn’t go on without him.  What I realize now after hours and years of grieving, prayer, the pain of self-reflection and the support of dear and loving friends is that who I thought was my source, wasn’t. He hadn’t abandoned me as I thought he had. He released me to live a more fulfilled and satisfying life. 

I have absolutely no way of knowing if I am done with cancer or it is done with me.  But my life is definitely transformed since its most unwelcome intrusion thirteen years ago. I am a survivor. Of that I am certain. Each day, I fill my heart with gratitude to be given one more day to live cancer free. Perhaps you know someone who had cancer, did everything in their power to beat it, and died anyway. Or beat it doing, eating,and living the unhealthy lifestyle they always had.  That’s the reality of cancer. But I do believe that we can increase our odds of adding more years to our lives, if even a few, by making daily and transformative changes each day.

Dr. Oz Offers Life-Saving Suggestions on How to Increase Immune System Functioning

PictureTreya Wilber was my inspirational muse
When I was going through my chemotherapy treatments, I received a sweet but powerful book from one of my best and sweetest girlfriends, Nancy McCallum. It’s entitled Grace and Grit, Spirituality and Healing in the Life and Death of Treya Killam Wilber by Ken Wilber, her husband.  Contained within this book are many of the writings of Treya who became my muse, guiding me with her love, courage, and impeccable self-honesty. Because Treya's tumor was identical to mine, early stage and the most aggressive, and she died  five years after her initial diagnosis, I weighed whether I should be reading her story. More fear I did not need! But Treya validated  and inspired me as she raised my spiritual bar. And because her thoughts, feelings, and spirituality also seemed identical to my own, she became my sister in cancer. 

Treya’s presence lived with me daily, urging me and inviting me into a deeper self-compassion and shift of perspective. My goal wasn't just physical healing but inner change, inner choice, inner shifts in my being. When she began to question the reasons for her breast cancer, just as I had been doing, Ken responded to her,  "I don’t know what caused the cancer, and I don’t think anybody does. The people that go around saying that cancer is caused primarily by repressed emotions or low self-esteem or spiritual anemia don’t know what they’re talking about. There is no credible evidence whatsoever for those notions; they’re basically put forward by people who are trying to sell you something anyway.

Since nobody knows what caused your cancer, I don’t know what you should change in order to help cure it. So why don’t you try this? Why don’t you use cancer as a metaphor and a spur to change all those things in your life that you wanted to change anyway? In other words, repressing certain emotions may or may not have helped cause the cancer, but since you want to stop repressing those emotions anyway, then use the cancer as a reason, as an excuse, to do so.  I know advice is cheap here, but why not take the cancer as an opportunity to change all those things on your list that can be changed?" [Treya had also made a list of “reasons” for her cancer.]

I am not so sure I believed, or still believe, Ken's thoughts on the credibility of the Cancer Personality, but his response to his beloved Treya made sense in so many ways.  I certainly had my "What Caused My Cancer" list, but rather than focusing on them as the reasons for my cancer, I chose to use them as beacon lights to healing.

That being said, there are many who do believe that there is a Cancer Personality.  We will discuss them in upcoming conversations.  A hui ho!...Bye for now!

God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the Courage to change the things I can
And the Wisdom to know the difference.

~ AA Serenity Prayer

This is the first of many of what I hope to be empowering conversations with my readers. Who are my readers?  
  • Women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • Women who have been diagnosed with a gynecological cancer.
  • Family & friends who need support with a loved one
I do believe from my own experience with breast and ovarian cancer that when a woman is first diagnosed with cancer, it forces her to focus, to prioritize, and learn what's important. And the need for vital support from her family, friends, and community goes up exponentially! That's what I'm here for...to provide extra support, to alleviate some fear, fill you with daily doses of inspiration and hope, and to provide you with educational resources and tools that will enhance your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well being.  I would also like to hear from you and find out what other issues you would like to discuss. Keep the Cancer Conversation going! Let's turn a cancer diagnosis into victory and healing!  

This shall be the new light, the new sun, which rises when the worn-out one shall set, and shall give light to them who are in shadow and darkness because of the old sun, which did not enlighten them.

~ Dante Alighieri