What one woman did when her doctor said there were no more options…

Several months ago, I joined a cancer survivor online support group created by a friend of mine that was having much difficulty.  The women in the group were exploring a very specific option and I thought learning about it would be helpful information for me.  What I found there was an amazing group of women who had endured so much and were not ready to accept that their life was near the end.  This is Margo’s incredible story…

Patsy

 

In mid-February of this year, in the office of my Pittsburgh oncologist, I heard the words I was dreading to hear: the chemotherapy regimen that was being used in an attempt to control my ovarian cancer, Carboplatin/Gemzar, was not working. Since my diagnosis of Stage IV ovarian cancer in February 2014, I had “failed” the original frontline therapy, Carboplatin/Taxotere, by very early recurrence, despite the use of Avastin. Therefore, my cancer was now considered highly drug resistant, including platin compound resistant. For this reason, there was to be no further aggressive treatment in my case, with only palliative treatment (low dose weekly Taxotere) to be used. I knew, without the doctor telling me, that this protocol was not intended in any way to be aggressive treatment for my case. I was also told that surgery was not an option either. I also knew from my own research, which he confirmed, that I would not be suitable for the regional clinical trials that now existed.

I walked out of my oncologist’s office, stunned. He had been directing the oncology team of my local rural western Pennsylvania hospital in my case, so it was unlikely that they would take a more aggressive course of action. My housemate, who had driven me to Pittsburgh for the appointment, had heard the same words I did, so there was no mistake. We both agreed that he looked pained upon telling me the news, so it clearly was something he did not want to do.

I simply was not ready to quit trying. A fighter in spirit, I had faced my diagnosis head-on last year by daily walking up to eight miles a day, gardening, and visits to local festivals and occasional kayak trips even while undergoing chemotherapy. Unfortunately, my recurrence between Thanksgiving and Christmas was heralded by blood clots, first in my left leg, and then in my lungs for which I was hospitalized for three weeks. During this time, additional chemotherapy had to be postponed, allowing the cancer to further surge ahead. Fighting my way back, I prepared myself emotionally and physically, to the best of my ability, to confront my cancer once again with the new chemotherapy regimen when it began. Despite the advanced nature of my illness and the harsh chemo regimen of the past two months, I still managed to walk and exercise diligently an hour every day, and had maintained almost normal weight. Giving up simply was not in my vocabulary, at least not quite yet.

Because my symptoms had been increasing, I anticipated the news from my Pittsburg doctor might not be good. I had already scheduled a “second opinion” appointment at Bruckner Oncology, New York City, for the next day. Bruckner has received some degree of fame for tackling many cases of advanced cancers for which patients had often been told there were no more options. They use a multi-drug chemo cocktail of up to six drugs, with dosages and the exact drugs specifically tailored for each patient. Bruckner’s chemo is given over the course of a perpetually grueling schedule, two days every two weeks, in their Bronx clinic. They believe that this multi-drug approach can overcome cancer drug resistance where it had developed previously, and that their combinations provide a drug “synergy” that can be much more effective than use of one or two drugs alone for advanced, aggressive cancers. Since they have had few clinical trials proving the efficacy of their work, they have been under some degree of criticism by conventional oncologists, who believe this approach unproven and possibly even dangerous. But, for many patients who have run out of options offered by their “conventional” doctors, Bruckner has often (although certainly not always) provided an extended time of functional living. Advanced ovarian cancer, a difficult to treat cancer with less than a 30% chance of 5-year survival rate for the Stages III and IV in which it is typically diagnosed, has become one of their specialties. While Bruckner’s approach cannot be considered curative, it may extend the life of a patient to the extent that they might be able to avail themselves of newer effective therapies as these appear.

At Bruckner, I met with one of the oncologists, who used the term “aggressive treatment” several times during the course of our conversation. I felt this term more in line with the treatment I sought, rather than the “palliative treatment” I would be offered locally. When I asked if he thought Bruckner’s treatment would help me, he paused for several seconds, and then carefully replied that it is much more likely to be successful than the one or two-drug approaches that I may receive elsewhere, a response that I knew offered no promises. Knowing I was in a dangerous situation, I liked his honesty much better than the sugar-coated palliative approach that I had been offered just the day before.

In discussing my decision with my local team, they were very understanding. They agree to be there as an emergency backup, such as if I needed to be locally hospitalized again, but will be stepping into a secondary role at this point.

In retrospect, one of my mistakes had been to implicitly trust the local oncology team, along with my Pittsburgh oncologist, and to think I needed to look no further for care that would I felt would fit my needs. I had believed they had my best interests in mind and would always treat me aggressively for as long as I wished, which proved not to be the case. Certainly, there are many more aggressive conventional therapies that I could have been offered. I had only “failed” four drugs total, not a huge number. Why are we seeing a swing towards recommendation of “palliative treatment only” for patients such as me, patients who value life – even under the duress of advanced cancer – and want to keep fighting?

Perhaps, some doctors feel they are being kind and compassionate in sparing the patient the often brutal side effects, and possible diminishing returns, of additional harsh chemotherapy treatments; I suspect that was the case of my Pittsburgh oncologist. Certainly a palliative care approach followed by hospice–for patients with comorbidities or advanced age—may be a kinder, gentler treatment plan. But does that make it the right approach for every advanced cancer patient?

I’ve also read where, in many cases, managed care has something to do with these clinical decisions as well. Many health administrators believe by freeing dollars from expensive, difficult-to-treat cases (as I might be considered), this money would be better off being used for those cases with a better prognosis than mine. Despite my Catholic upbringing, I never did aspire to martyrdom, so I will leave it to others to make their own health care choices based upon a higher moral or social compass than what I possess. As for me, I just want to live, and still make my choices accordingly.

Margo

“that place in us that carries the light”

Some of you may know me, but for those of you that don’t, I am Patsy’s daughter (aka “mini-me”) and I work as an Oncology Social Worker at a Comprehensive Cancer Center in Greensboro, North Carolina.  It seems the holidays are an extra hard time for our patients and families as they cope with cancer and loss.  While we sometimes forget, this can also be very hard for staff at the Cancer Center.  Recently, there has been an influx of patients passing away and we recognized that the caregivers often do not have the time to process these losses. We wanted to create a time of reflection for the amazing, compassionate caregivers at our center.

One of my dear friends, Terry Moore-Painter, who serves as the chaplain at our center, always finds a way to bring depth and meaning through stories, poems, art, or just her presence.  She adapted a reading from a wonderful book, ‘My Grandfather’s Blessings’ by Rachel Naomi Remen.  If you have not had a chance to read this, I strongly encourage you to read this and Remen’s other book ‘Kitchen Table Wisdom’.  We met with many nurses and caregivers at our center and read this together and took time to reflect on those we have lost this past year as well as to share how we each find light through our work.

I hope you enjoy the reading below as much as I did.  May it bring you comfort, light, and new perspective.

Lauren

A Reflection on Light

At this time of the year when the days are short and the nights are long, all of us are particularly aware of darkness.  And we often equate darkness with sadness or loss, and it is in these times that we yearn for light.  Many of us who care for people with cancer have experienced over time a significant amount of loss.  Perhaps we, more than those in many other professions, know the feeling of loss and experience of darkness.  Because of the suffering and the loss we see, we know the need for light in our lives.

Reading:

Light figures prominently in all religious traditions at this time of the year.  In the Christian tradition, we light candles during Advent and read about the star of Bethlehem, that great light in the night sky, leading the wise men to the Christ child.  In the Jewish tradition, Hanukkah, the holiday of light is celebrated.  Rachel Remen tells the story of her grandfather, a rabbi, introducing her to the meaning of Hanukkah.

On the first day of Hanukkah, our teacher showed us a Hanukkah menorah, a special candlestick with a place for 8 candles.  Each day at sunset another candle is lit until there is a candle burning in each of the eight places.  The Hanukkah story is the story of the Maccabees, fierce Jewish warriors, who fought long ago to defend the Jewish people. They fought until all provision had run out, even the oil for the eternal lamp that hung over the altar in the synagogue.  This lamp, lit when the synagogue was consecrated, was never allowed to go out.  Its burning presence meant that God’s spirit lived among the Jewish people.

Everyone believed the end was near; once the lamp went out, God would abandon the people and they would be lost.  But the lamp continued to burn for eight days even without oil to feed it, and so Hanukkah, our teacher told us, is about the “miracle of light”.

My grandfather, who was a rabbi, told me that people throughout time have told stories of light in times of darkness, during the winter and the long nights and in times of sadness and loss.  “Winter is a time of darkness”, he told me.  “The nights start earlier and last longer. So, in the dark, people tell each other stories about light to strengthen their hope.”

My Grandfather told me about the darkness in the beginning of creation and how the world begun with the gift of light.  “Now”, he said, “I will turn out the lamps and there will be darkness like there was in the beginning.  We will see what it is like to receive this gift.”  At the time I was afraid of the dark, and the thought of turning out the lights was not easy for me.  “Will you stay right here with me in the dark, Grandpa?” I asked a little shakily.  “Of course,” he replied, “I will be here and God will be too.”

We lit one candle each night for seven days and by the end of the week, the room was filled with light.  It was so beautiful that my heart ached and tears filled my eyes.  “It’s beautiful, Grandpa,” I told him.  “Ah yes,” said my grandfather.  “But God’s menorah is even more beautiful.  God’s menorah is made of people, not of candles.”

Puzzled, I turned to look at him.  “The story of Hanukkah says that God’s light burns in the darkness even without oil, and it is so.  That is one of the miracles of light.  But there is more.  There is a place in everyone that can carry light.  We are made this way.  And we not only have the chance to carry light, it is possible for us to kindle and strengthen light in one another, passing the light along.  This is the way that light will shine forever in the world.”

After many years I have found that we often discover the place in us that carries the light only after it has become dark.  Sometimes it is only in the dark that we know the value of this place.  But there is a place in everyone that can carry the light.  This is true.  My grandfather said so.

Remembering:

We are, Rachel Remen’s words, part of God’s menorah.  Each of us who does this work has a place of light in us that enables us to care for those who are sick and pass light along to them.  Sometimes we get tired or we see too many people die whom we have grown to love, and we are saddened by that loss.  But we need to remember what Rachel’s grandfather says about darkness…that our colleagues(or fellow survivors, friends, etc) our families, and God are there with us in the sadness and that we always have that place in us that carries the light.

We also come to remember that our patients (or fellow survivors, friends, etc) give light to us.  They show us courage and determination, hope and good humor, love, and peace even in the midst of their suffering.  Today we come to remember those individuals whose lives have touched our own and to give thanks for what they teach us about life.

Terry Moore-Painter: Adaptation from My Grandfathers Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen

 

 

 

 

When the holidays hurt…

I must admit I hesitated a bit before writing this post today.  This is a time of joy and love and not a time of talking about sadness.  As you well know, we experience different emotions and these are not always happy ones. This is especially true for cancer survivors.  We may feel incredibly blessed beyond words.  Hey, we are still here to celebrate yet another holiday with those we love!  I never, ever take this for granted.  However, these emotions are often paired with more scary ones.  Will this be my last holiday with my family?  I know you are thinking, “well, none of us know that, Patsy.  We could all get run over by a truck!”  Well, I can honestly say I have never known a single person (thankfully) that this has happened to; however, I have known too many people who died of cancer.  ( I know I digress, but please don’t say this to your survivor friends).

It’s very easy for survivors to feel guilt during this time.  Why am I here with my family when my friends have passed?  I feel very, very sad for those that have lost their mothers and other family members due to cancer.  I struggle with how to express adequately my sorrow to them.

I’ve always thought loneliness is one of the hardest emotions to feel.  It’s so hard to get into the rhythm of the holiday festivities, church services, and so on, when you know you will be alone.  I had a survivor recently say she had many invitations to join others at family dinners when she was initially diagnosed with cancer; however, when her cancer recurred, no one reached out.  Folks, that is a powerful statement, isn’t it?

Not only do we feel the physical loneliness, but sometimes we can become what I call “socially lonely.”  When you have a terminal disease, life changes.  Some of us learn that talking about death, fear of the cancer returning, etc. helps us and we don’t avoid doing that.  That’s a good thing.  However, small talk doesn’t always come easy.  Small talk can typically include talking about many of the things that survivors have lost and will never regain.  Also, it is easy to get frustrated with well-meaning friends.  How can they complain about having to do Christmas shopping for the kids when you will never be able to have children?

We often find we cannot do as much as we want to for our families and friends. This is very different from the usual “just say no” stuff for those that do not have cancer.   I love the holiday season and always have.  I am so pleased to host the holiday dinner for the wonderful friends of my kids (ok, maybe they are adults), to have friends over to celebrate my husband’s December 25th birthday and to have my family coming from out-of-town. I will have minimal responsibility for these exciting happenings and no one will expects me to do too much.  I know it’s all about being together.  So, why do I constantly have to remind myself  that I really need to get back to cherishing my energy and saving it?

So, what can we do to get the most out of this wonderful season of joy?  First of all, we can let our families and friends know how very much we love them and how much their support has meant to us.  Let me be specific about this.  In particular, let’s tell those that have been ok with talking about the issues I described above what a gift that has been.  Next, we can do something that is very hard.  We can let others know what we need in this stressful time.  And, we can remind ourselves of that and use our energy for this purpose.  To be honest, I think being with us is what we can best give to those we love.  Remember, haven’t they also probably asked that hard question about how many more holidays we will have with them?

I am so thankful to all of you for the gift of knowing you and learning from you.  My heart is full of gratitude and joy of being allowed to share my thoughts about the emotions I experience with you.  What an honor that has been for me this year.  My wish for you is that your holiday is full of the emotions of joy, happiness, and much love…

Patsy

 

Heather’s Story

Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to Heather, a very special friend of mine. Heather has been through so much and because she is such an inspiration I have asked her to share what support from other survivors has meant to her.

I was diagnosed with a very rare type of ovarian cancer when I was 27 years old. A visit to my Ob/Gyn showed a small cyst on my right ovary.  After checking once a month for 3 months and because it was still slowly growing we decided to remove my right ovary with outpatient surgery. During surgery it was found to be ovarian cancer.  When I woke up, I knew I wasn’t going home that day.

I didn’t actively begin connecting with the community of survivors until 2012, over 10 years later, but I did reach out through the health and wellness program offered at my cancer center, specifically survivor counseling.  I remember meeting the social worker at my first visit 13 years ago.  She helped me deal with the reality of being diagnosed with cancer and was especially helpful during chemo visits later in my journey. In the first few years,  I never considered myself as a cancer survivor.  Having a rare type of ovarian cancer, I felt that excluded me from the others. Granulosa Cell type was the “good” kind to have, so I was told.   It is usually slow growing and doesn’t recur too soon, possibly a 20+ years recurrence rate.   And, surgery can remove it, as long as it doesn’t invade a major organ, which it typically doesn’t.  Cancer is still cancer and I was yearning to feel “understood” and “normal”.  Yet, I was a very busy wife and mother and lived over an hour away from my treatment center.

My husband would have to beg me to so see the social worker.  I just couldn’t wrap my mind around being a cancer survivor, a mother of a very active little boy, a wife, the family manager of bills, finances, schedules and our son’s education.   Usually, I talked to the social worker before appointments and surgeries.  Another way I connected with other survivors was by just talking to them when I was getting chemo. If it felt right, it was easy to connect since we were both there and held captive for several hours.  Some of my closest friendships began in the infusion room, including nurses! A few years ago, I joined the ovarian support group called the Teal Magnolias. Immersing myself in the ovarian cancer community in my own special way has given me a sense of ownership.  I am comfortable connecting in small groups and one on one, and because of this, I feel I am making a difference in my life and the lives of others.

Just a few weeks ago, I returned from a first-for-me survivors beach trip. It was a “gifted” trip, as all of us needed to get away, but many of us didn’t have a way to make it happen.  I was thrilled when I heard from Patsy that she found a place and had already started putting the details for the trip in motion.  She orchestrated a beautiful getaway and I felt like a princess in every way possible.  She cared for, spoiled and pampered us down to every precious detail.

I have to admit, I was a little nervous, at first, not knowing who would be coming, but I was more comfortable knowing at least two ladies and that made a huge difference for me. We could plan to come and go as we wished and had so much space to move around the house that taking a nap or just sitting out in the porch rocking chair provided any solitude needed after a busy day by the ocean. The timing of this trip was perfect for me.  Even a few months ago, I would not have had the energy to even pack, travel and enjoy such a huge gift.

On our last evening, we all took a short walk out to our beach.  Patsy had already asked each of us to take our fears, our worries and concerns and write each word on a seashell, later to be tossed out to sea.   We also wrote on individual  shells the names of survivors who were not able to be there with us and going through challenges and struggles. The soft orange-gray sky and the sound of the waves lapping the shore remain in my mind and I will never forget this special time together.

We thrived together on this trip, we didn’t just survive.

(link to the video is http://vimeo.com/108957312)

Heather

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Barking Up the Wrong Tree…

Let me begin this post by saying that this is an issue I know a bit about.  As a 2 x advanced ovarian cancer survivor, a carrier of the Breast Cancer Antigen gene (BRCA2) and mother of a previvor (survivor of a predispositon to cancer due to being a BRCA carrier), I could play on several teams if cancer were a sport.  In addition, I have a list of ongoing diseases,  including mast cell and celiac.  Each has its own ribbon and finding a cure for each is certainly something I’d like to see happen.

So, let me just get put it out there and say it…SPENDING TIME WHINING ABOUT OTHER CANCERS  IS A WASTE OF ENERGY.

I must confess this has been a long road of learning for me and continues to be.  When I was first diagnosed in 2006, I often asked myself ” Does anybody even care about this terminal cancer I have?”  It’s still hard for me at times.  And no, I will not start supporting efforts of those organizations that do not include survivors that have metastatic disease.  There is so much more I can say about why this occurs and, believe me, I am really holding back. There are many VERY understandable reasons.  Much more complicated when you live in the “cancer world” than just looking in from the outside.  It’s not merely about team spirit, folks.

However, it’s just plain not in our best interest.  We need to be asking ourselves, as cancer survivors, what the impact is of what we do. Are we promoting colors or really assuring our message gets out?   I attend many conferences and the theme I hear from doctors and researchers is clearly that cancer treatment stretches across lines.  For example, there are treatments in urinary cancer that have shown promise for those with ovarian cancer.  If we want to stay ahead of these cancers on research, we need to get out of our boxes.

Seems to me we survivors need to be asking ourselves some important questions.  Am I involved with the cancer organizations that advocate for a cure or just complaining about what’s not happening?  Do I even know what efforts are being done?  Am I spending my energy and time promoting these efforts or complaining about things?  Am I duplicating efforts when I could be joining forces and learning from others?

And, yes, I will probably continue to cringe when I see the commercialization of pink this month.  And I will remind myself of wise people, like Frieda, who has used her voice in a positive way to make a difference and reach across the lines.
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But, I pledge to work hard to fight this beast and use my energy to address what can be done, not what I dislike about what is being done.  I feel quite certain after writing this controversial post you’ll hold me accountable :)

Want to join me??

Patsy

When sadness is the right message…

Greetings to you all! I hope you had a wonderful summer filled with peace, fun and whatever fills your soul. I could describe my summer in many ways. It has been filled with trips and fun, but I think in reflecting back on it I am proudest to say it was the summer I needed and strived hard to accomplish. Yes, it has been too long since I have posted. I have been so touched by those of you that have inquired as to how I am doing. Thank you for caring. I am continuing to do well.  I am so honored that you continue to choose to spend time reading my blog.  I was recently informed  that my blog was selected as one of the best cancer blogs.  I was, to say the least, surprised and very honored.  Go to blog.delimmune.com to check out the blogs selected.

We have had a busy month with events since this is “our cancer” month.  Fortunately, we have had lots of success, especially with getting our message out.  We recently held our annual Teal Tea Party and Stiletto Sprint.  I am so proud of the volunteers involved in both these events because they chose to represent the real side of cancer, not just the “rah-rah side.”  I hear too many survivors with metastatic cancer say they are not welcomed to participate at some events because they do not represent the “cured” crowd.  In my opinion, this is so sad and so wrong on so many levels. This year I had the privilege of being on the Z team at the sprint.  This team was established by my friend, Phyllis.  Phyllis was asked to represent survivors in a TV interview and the day of the interview she was informed by her doctor that he recommended she enter hospice, as there was no more treatment available to try.  Phyllis, in her usual spunky style, insisted that the interview carry on.  The day of the event she kicked the sprint off in her wheelchair and the announcer shared her story.

This month I have lost too many friends.  Funerals have become way too often something I attend.  For me, this true message at events represents the true support that cancer survivors need.  Not “just have a positive attitude,  “you can fight this” , “be strong for those that love you” kinda crap.  The affirmation that survivors need and deserve is for others to know the reality of the disease and to open their wallets to give $$ to cure it.  I’m proud to be a part of a community that did both of these for me and others….thank you, supporters.

Patsy

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I did it again…

Yesterday was my birthday. It was filled with good food (including gluten free cupcakes, yum), presents, fun and lots of love and kindness.  I was so happy that both my children were able to be at home all day, which is unusual due to their work schedules.  It was an absolutely perfect day even with the rain pouring all day.  Just like old times with quilts on the floor, looking at baby pictures, movies, and the grand dog with some…well I’ll just say the candles weren’t the only smell in the room.

Frankly, I’ve never understood why some people dread aging.  My “younger” life was not always a stress free, happy one.   When I was younger, I cared way too much about what others thought of how I lived my life.  I have found getting older to be wonderful, a sort of freedom to live life the way you choose.

I loved the American Cancer Society’s campaign about being the Official Sponsor of Birthdays. What a great public relations effort.  It conjures up images of people being cured of cancer or living with cancer while also having full lives.  For me, it is indescribable to state what making it to one more birthday feels like.  I have so many feelings about it.  I question why I made it this long and others that fought so hard did not?  I think of all the children who are unable to be with their moms on this day.   I wonder how many more I will have?  Yes, as hard as I try to put this thought in a box and close the lid,  I wonder will this be my last?

And then….I turn to the present moment…loving every inch of what I have been granted. Reading the facebook wishes over and over while looking around the room at the most beautiful children in the world and bursting with pride for who they have become, seeing the husband who insisted on making this birthday a celebrated one and realizing that I have been honored to celebrate my day during the season of Easter…a time where living takes new meaning.

Happy Easter… Patsy

Food Fight !!

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Hello to you!!  I do hope you are all doing well.  Like me, I bet you are ready for spring.  I can’t wait until warm weather greets me each day. I thought it was time for me to update you on how things are going since being taken off the trial. My survivor friend Mary  (she wrote a fantastic post here on 12/13/13) is truly an inspiration for me.  It helps so much to have someone to talk to and to get encouragement from when you are making changes.  I think this is particularly true with eating healthy since many of the people around us are not as focused on this. Temptation, temptation, temptation.

A little about my history.  I have pretty much always been overweight and struggled with this. By far, my biggest weakness is that I do not stick with exercise. (a post about that later). But since my diagnosis in 2006, I have lost weight and have been eating what most people would define as healthy.  Continuing to take this drug for 4 years resulted in my body taking a bit of a “hit”, the longer I took it the more tired I became and I ate very little.  It was nice not gaining weight; however, I also was not getting the nutrients I needed.

Although I had been eating pretty well , I realized I needed to do more.  Unfortunately, when I stopped the Avastin, I gained some weight.  This was discouraging for me; however, I reminded myself I was in this for the long haul and needed to hang in there.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I was diagnosed with celiac disease and the rare disease of mast cell in September and you remember the rest of the story….kicked off the trial and referred to the kidney doctor due to suspected kidney disease.

I decided that healthy eating would be my  “treatment” now and my#1 priority. The biggest hurdle was that there are many things I cannot eat due to celiac and mast cell. My celiac was fairly easy…no gluten. Mast cell disease is much trickier. I cannot eat much food that is high in histamine since this may cause an attack.  The tricky part is that day-to-day the amount of food with histamine I can eat changes.  And, of course, it’s the veggies and fruits that are problems for me.

I decided to do a Paleo “framework” plan and eat primarily organic foods.  A very, very different way of eating.  I have had to adjust this some due to my other diagnoses.  I was so fortunate to finally locate a nutritionist that is very knowledgeable about celiac, cancer, and mast cell.  What a dream!  My integrative doctor and my osteopathic doctor have worked closely with me to determine what supplements I need to take.

I am so glad to be able to report that my recent labs were fantastic!!   My cholesterol, thyroid (I have hypothyroidism), vitamin D and on and on looked perfect.  I have had skin problems all my life and now  it is not much improved.  I saw my Kidney doctor for a return visit and he informed me I did not need to return.  Talk about being happy!  My kidney labs had shown great improvement.  Of course, I realize much of this is due to giving my body a break from drugs. ButI also believe my healthy eating has contributed.  My dear friends, Mary and Erica, are also following a paleo diet.  They are much, much more consistent and successful than I am. Recently, Erica learned that her disease had retreated and Mary learned that her tumor markers have decreased significantly.  Coincidental?  Maybe, but I firmly believe we all need to celebrate our efforts!  My philosophy for cancer survivors is to “ride whatever wave works for as long as you can.”

So, what’s next?  I strive to do better sticking with my plan.  Can you relate?  It takes a lot of work.   As Mary once told me it feels as if you’re either grocery shopping or preparing food. (Costco is now my best friend for organic buys). Yep, it takes time and planning.   Some days I am very lazy about eating healthy. How do you stay the course?

I do hope my struggles and gains will help you with yours.   After all, that’s why I write this blog! I’d really appreciate it if you’d share any struggles and successes you have had in the healthy eating area.  I know it would help me tremendously and others, too. I feel better than I have in years.  Both my body and spirit feel renewed…I am Blessed…

Patsy

A Family Member Tells it like it is…

Hello Everyone!  I do hope your new year is going well.  I am looking forward to hearing from you in 2014.  I also want to take this opportunity to especially thank those of you that taken the time to write comments on my blog.  My goal was to offer you a place to share your concerns and to give support.  Today I am sharing an incredible example of just how powerful this can be.  Jeannie recently responded to a blog post that I had written some time ago, so you may have seen her entry .  She has given me permission to share her comments again and so has Lauren, the social worker I asked to respond.  Please share your thoughts on this important issue…

Comment written on the blog from Jeannie:

Not sure if this is the right forum, but my elderly Mom is going through chemo now for OVCA stage 3c after extensive surgery at MD Anderson. I’m doing everything I can.. .she lives in another state and I fly back and forth like she’s down the block… have nurses, sitters, other relatives with her at all times. I can’t move there and have offered for her to come live with me till chemo is over but she refuses. So the problem: She constantly complains about how bored she is… she’s been very active and independent until all this doing all her own yard work, babysitting great grandchildren etc. She’s surrounded by people all the time… lots of multi generational family coming and going which she loves. I bought her a laptop to use in bed because she had spent a lot of time on genealogy and facebook etc online, before. My daughter, who has more disposable income than I, has hired a personal “concierge” for her so that anything she desires appears quickly. WE bring her cross word puzzles, any food she wants that can be reached within an hour, any movie .. book… etc.. .you get the idea. She has everything she could ask for yet she still is complaining about being lonely and bored. She’s almost like a child… it’s so stressful for me that I have developed something like colitis and can’t eat – losing weight almost as fast as she is. Any help would be so appreciated. Thank you.     Jeannie

Response from Lauren:

I am Lauren and I’m a clinical social worker at a cancer center in Greensboro, NC.  It just so happens that I’m also Patsy’s daughter.  Of course, my own personal experience with cancer is what led me to work in the healthcare care setting and I often hear many situations that are similar to yours.  First off, I want to share how absolutely wonderful it is that your mother has so much love and support from her large family and friends.  That truly is a wonderful blessing.
When you ask your mother what she feels she needs, what does she say?  What does she indicate as her biggest concerns at this time?
I would really recommend you share your concerns with your mom’s oncologist and get connected with a clinical social worker at her center.  A clinical social worker can assess for psycho-social/emotional needs and find ways to support the whole family.  Many people going through the cancer journey (and even more often in older adults) experience depression or symptoms of depression.  Often in older adults, feelings of loneliness or boredom can be a sign of depression. It is important for her healthcare team to rule out depression or address symptoms just like they would any other physical symptom.
From what you’ve shared, it sounds like independence is really important to your mother and she may be feeling a loss of independence/control.  A good technique may be working with your mom to help her identify ways that she can maintain her independence and possibly explore what energizes her.
I would say it’s equally, if not more, important that you and your family receive caregiver support.  I’m sure you’ve heard over and over again that “you’ve got to care of yourself so you can care for her”.  Although easier said than done, it is really important! Are you connected to any caregiver support groups?  Are you able to balance care giving duties with your other family members?  Sometimes it’s really hard to know how to “help”…yet the most important thing is to be present.
You are doing an awesome job as a daughter/caregiver!
I would love to hear from other survivors and caregivers that may have experienced similar situations???
 Lauren

Response from Jeannie:

Lauren’s reply hit me squarely between the eyes….  I was taking care of everything I could possibly think of except for her psychological spiritual needs… WHAT was I thinking?  I would just tell her she could talk to me… and try to listen but, of course, I’m really not the best person for this. She’s trying to be brave for me.  I have since called her church and having calls into the various drs and centers for resources that may be helpful. I’m so glad I posted to your blog.  May never have figured this out on my own. Thank you and Lauren so very much.   Couldn’t see the forest for the trees!

Jeannie

Have you experienced this?  What are your thoughts??

Patsy

Mary’s Survivor Strategy

Happy Holidays to you all!!  Today I bring you a guest post that I know you will like.  You may have noticed that, as of my last post, I have created a category to the left to give readers easy access to the concrete strategies that I have used to reclaim my joy.  I very much desire for this blog to give us all an open, safe forum to share emotional struggles/ traumatic events and ways that we’ve dealt with them.  As a result, I have asked my friend, Mary, to be a guest poster.  Mary is an inspiration for me in really making improvements in the way I eat and fighting cancer with healthy foods.  I have made progress in this area, but have a long way to go.  Mary’s encouragement and willingness to share with me has been such a blessing.  So, today I’m sharing this blessing with you as Mary writes about her most recent experience.  Enjoy!

“I recently attended a health retreat to become a patient of Dr. Nasha Winters, a Naturopath with Namaste Health Center located in Durango, Colorado. It was totally amazing to be in the company of people living the life that I have been striving to achieve for the last 15 months after experiencing my first recurrence of ovarian cancer only 7 months out from initial first line treatment. They have started doing week-end retreats at various locations across the country, which made it easier for me to attend in Burnsville, NC!

We have all heard that sugar is bad if you have cancer, but really that is just a part of the big picture. Dr. Winters is careful to point out that she is not trying to cure cancer, but to build up your body terrain to such a level to fight off disease in general naturally. She is a twenty-two year survivor of ovarian cancer and has over 4000 hours studying nutrition. The big take aways from the week-end are as follows:

–        Limit sugar to 15-25 grams per day total

–        Limit fruit, natural sugar

–        All carbs turn to sugar; bread, chips, legumes, etc.

–        No gluten, wheat or grains

–        No potatoes, rice, pasta

–        Drink ½ of your body weight in ounces of water daily

–        Eat 9 cups of veggies per day

–        Use coconut oil, milk & flour

–        Eat organic veggies and grass-fed hormone free protein

–        Get extra vitamin D3, especially in the winter

–        Remove any stresses in your life, to the point of removing yourself from the situation

–        Exercise, especially yoga and relaxation therapies

–        No more mammograms-do thermography instead

There was plenty more, trust me it was overwhelming! But we sat in hard chairs for hours at a time totally engrossed in the information being presented. Everyone there was in some stage of a cancer diagnosis and prepared to make changes to improve our chances of beating this disease.Before arriving at the retreat we all submitted a health & personal history plus 15 different blood tests. She focuses on treating the entire body through mind, body and spirit.Nasha will then provide a treatment plan specific to your needs, including diet and supplements to improve your overall terrain. She does stress that eventually your food should be all of the supplements you need. She also will work closely with your oncologist to combine traditional as well as alternative medicines and will help prepare your body for any upcoming procedures.

They basically follow a paleo style diet and you can google any recipe and add “paleo” and a recipe will pop up. Also “paleonewbie.com” is another good resource. They prepared all of our meals on site and they were delicious, and we had dessert every night! Although they did stress that dessert is for special occasions. This lifestyle requires cleaning out your pantry and restocking with some new supplies but I have been amazed that I am accumulating the ingredients required for more and more recipes. Thankfully my husband is on board and we have had fun trying new recipes. We laugh that the recipes are similar to our usual fair but just “a little off”. I’m working out the kinks, frankly some are better than others.

Whether or not this is the cure for living with cancer only time will tell. This is one phase of my journey that I am embracing totally and I feel fantastic! I can tell you that I have had chronic pain in my right shoulder& hip for over a year and it is practically gone and I do attribute that to eating this way for only two weeks! Sugar and gluten cause inflammation in your body and I am convinced that everyone, not just cancer patients, should try this lifestyle. Also, go to IntuitiveTerrain.com for more information on Namaste Health Center and other great resources.

As the retreat came to an end, I noticed that no one wanted to leave this bubble full of hope and inspiration and the thought that we could actually have some control over our health. In our world  that is huge! But come to an end it did and we all left feeling more empowered and excited to get started with our new lifestyle changes.  Namaste! (The spirit within me acknowledges the spirit within you!)

mary picMary and Charlie at the Lydia’s Legacy Teal Tea Party

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