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Dogs and Old Lace

Sunday, November 27, 2011

FRIDAY: I’m preparing the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten’s, recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon. For the first time in almost a year, my tiny house is alive with the smells of chopped garlic and yellow onions, simmering in bacon fat. I know... Not exactly the beginnings of a meal designed to lessen my risk of recurrence, but it gets better, or worse, depending on your point of view. I still need to add a bottle of Cabernet, half a cup of Cognac and two pounds of red meat.<PREVIEWEND> Because this inspired dish rises to the ‘Heaven on Earth’ category the second day, I’ve invited my friend Rob for dinner tomorrow. Rob and I’ve been buddies since college. It was Rob and his friends, I affectionately call them ‘the River Oaks Boys,’ who inspired me to learn to cook well. Give any of the River Oaks Boys a bag of random ingredients, and they’ll deliver you a gourmet treat.

SATURDAY: This isn’t where I saw this blog, or this day going. I didn’t sleep last night because I’m on “poop and vomit patrol.” I wasn’t going to mention it, but while I was having Thanksgiving at a friend’s, my dog Goldie ate 15 square feet of a 150-year-old sheer lace summer spread that hangs behind my bed. The logistics of how this big girl got behind my bed is still a puzzlement, but her life is now in danger.

The vet says I must monitor Goldie’s bowel movements until she either passes the lace and/or begins to vomit and moan in agony. If the lace becomes entangled in her intestines, she will need emergency surgery, and because of her advanced age, there’s no guarantee she’ll survive surgery or the weeks of needed rehab. To do surgery now will further put her life in danger, so for the next few days, it’s wait and see. To help her pass this massive quantity of lace, I’m feeding her small meals every four hours to which I’m adding Metamucil. Every hour, or so, I take her outside and poke through her now frequent feces with a stick, searching for remnants of lace. If the lace doesn’t kill her, I fear she’ll explode from all of the food I’m feeding her. Other than watching me watch her, for the time being, Goldie seems to be fairing better than I am.

It’s been 11 months, today, since James died, and I’m not ready to lose another loved one. I never had children, so my dogs are my kids, my family. James always said, “Goldie’s our smart dog,” and she is. I wish she could talk because, clearly, she knows she’s in trouble. My vets are on call, but I worry her situation will ratchet up another notch in the middle of the night. I read a book on my iPad, then pull the bed away from the wall, yet another time, hoping against hope the bulk of the lace is stuck somewhere under the bed.

My Boeuf Bourguignon has become a casualty of the poop patrol. In between looking for lace in the cold rain, I lost tract of how much salt I added, so my gourmet feast is inedible. I call Rob and cancel dinner. After describing Goldie’s crisis, Rob tells me he’s having a crisis of his own. Bozo, his clownfish, is listing to starboard in Rob’s new salt water aquarium. Just when he thinks she’s a gonner, she rights herself for a time, only to list to starboard again. We vow to keep one another posted.

I try to remember all the odd things my vet says dogs consume, and survive, like garden hoses, corncobs and jump ropes, but I’m still worried. While a few remnants of lace are beginning to appear, 98 percent has not. I dread tomorrow. We’ll be closer to resolving her problem, but what if that resolution kills her?

SUNDAY: I didn’t go to church today so I can continue to feed and monitor Goldie. She’s my dear friend, my best girl, and she trusts me to take good care of her. I hope she knows how much I love her. She’s smart and funny, with a great sense of humor, something neither Sam nor Molly have. I ask God to “Please let her be alright.” She’s a major part of what’s made me and my tiny house come alive again. I still need this precious girl in my life.

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Thyroids and Mammograms

Sunday, November 13, 2011
Do you visit your dentist once a year or get an annual mammogram? Did you know that thyroid cancer is the fastest growing cancer in women? At first glance, teeth and mammograms don’t seem like they’d be related to thyroid cancer, but according to a story from Dr. Oz that keeps circulating on the Internet, there is evidence that exposure to radiation from dental x-rays and mammograms may contribute to thyroid cancer in women.<PREVIEWEND>

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck and below the voice box. The thyroid makes hormones that control heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and the rate at which our food is turned into energy, but sometimes, it can go awry. We know that women who received moderate levels of radiation during the 1950s and 60s to treat acne, tonsillitis and other head and neck problems, or from radiation therapy used to treat Hodgkins Lymphoma, have a higher risk of developing some types of thyroid cancer. In Eastern Europe there’s an even higher risk of thyroid cancer among people who, as children and adolescents, were exposed to excess radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. But do most of us really have to fear thyroid cancer from x-rays and mammograms?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, surgeon and TV personality, suggests the next time our dentist wants to take x-rays of our teeth, we should ask for a lead thyroid guard, a flap that can be wrapped around the neck to protect the thyroid. Dr. Oz also informs us that radiologists who routinely do mammograms have thyroid guards, but since most of us have never heard of, or asked for one, it may be in a drawer somewhere and not readily available. While a thyroid guard sounds like a simple solution, the plot unfortunately thickens. There are drawbacks to using a thyroid guard during mammograms because guards can obscure part of the breast tissue or can produce shadows, thereby causing us to need another mammogram, which in turn, exposes us to double the dose of radiation.

In April 2011, the American College of Radiology and Society of Breast Imaging issued a statement disclaiming the notion that mammograms expose women to enough radiation to raise concerns about thyroid cancer. Even so, the Dr. Oz story continues to circulate on the Internet, raising concerns among women. So what do we do?

An argument can be made that even though our radiation risk is small, albeit cumulative over our lifetime, perhaps we should err on the side of caution and ask for a thyroid guard. On the other hand, the benefits of a mammogram shouldn’t prevent us from getting one annually, and since poor dental health can be a contributing factor to heart disease and strokes, let’s not forgo our visit to the dentist either. In the meantime, the controversy continues. Will you ask for a thyroid guard?

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Guided Imagery and Healing

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Most of us know what it's like to grieve the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, or the loss of our healthy selves to a disease like breast cancer. Sometimes, however, our grief runs so deep that it’s difficult for us to heal and move on. An external force has made it nearly impossible for me to heal after James’ death and regain my footing. Guided Imagery, however, is helping me turn my darkness into light. For the first time since our family dissolved, I think I’m finally able to let go of my hurt and my anger.<PREVIEWEND>

Guided Imagery is a powerful relaxation technique that helps us engage our breathing while we create healing images in our mind. This technique has been clinically shown to help reduce stress, anxiety, depression, pain, the effects of chemotherapy, to promote healing and more. Thanks to a blog written by Britta Aragon, I remembered what Guided Imagery did for me this time last year when I was the target of a sinister, high speed chase down 10 miles of a dark, deserted, dead end country road. After 10 days of drowning, reliving the terror, I sought the help of a certified Guided Imagery therapist who helped me create a mental shield to stop my recurring thoughts and to reassure myself I was safe. From that moment on, whenever I began replaying that terrifying night, the mental shield came to mind, and within days, that night no longer held any fear for me. Once again I am using Guided Imagery to help me stop reliving every sentence of my hurt, the same hurt and disappointment James felt and cried over in the days leading up to his death.

Thank you, Britta, for introducing me to Belleruth Naparstek, psychotherapist, author and Guided Imagery pioneer. Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular 55-title Time Warner Health Journeys Guided Imagery audio series, and her first book, Staying Well with Guided Imagery is widely considered to be the primer on imagery and healing. Her materials are used by the Veteran’s Administration and the Department of Defense as well as mainstream health companies like Aetna and GlaxoSmithKline and nearly 2,000 hospitals, mental health centers and recovery clinics that distribute her Guided Imagery recordings.

I’ve been using one of Belleruth Naparstek’s Guided Imagery audios, Heartbreak, Abandonment & Betrayal, that I downloaded from her website as an MP3 file onto my computer. Her voice is soft, yet strong and steady, as she evokes images of generations of my family that have gone before me; ancestors and loved ones who form a deep circle of protection around me. James is there as is his father and my grandmother, Mamie, her brother and even my father who I don’t think much about. They are my tribe, invested in my well-being because parts of them reside in me.

“We will stay with you as long as you want. You can come and go, but we will be here. We will hold you in our hearts while your heart heals, for as long as it takes.” Belleruth Naparstek guides my breath, instructing me to “breath out, bit by bit, slowly letting the pain go, breath by breath, sighing to acknowledge the longing and the yearning, the hollow emptiness, the fear and the aloneness, searching for what's been lost, the shame of feeling you've been thrown away, discarded, unlovable somehow, destabilized and wobbly, sighing to relieve all the pain you've absorbed from taking this injury so deep into your heart and holding it there."

By this time, tears are flowing down my cheeks, onto my pillow. “The pain within your heart feels as if something has been ripped from there, leaving a gaping hole, heart tissue all tender and torn. I promise you, this pain shall pass. Even this pain shall pass.”


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Sleepless in the Hill Country

Sunday, October 30, 2011


How many of us take a good night’s sleep for granted? For the first half of my life, I didn’t have a clue what it was like to lay in bed, desperately hoping for sleep. I always went to sleep within seconds after my head hit the pillow. Since then, however, sleep seems as illusive to me as finding Bigfoot in my backyard. While I know the root cause of my chronic insomnia, finding a way to fix it may be more impossible than turning lead into gold.<PREVIEWEND>

My first husband, Philip, was an electrical engineer, physicist, organic synthesis chemist and National Security Agency operative who couldn’t stop problem solving and was unable to get to sleep without taking Valium. Neither of us knew that the day he ran out of Valium would change our lives forever. We had no idea that after a few days without Valium, he would begin to rock back and forth and beat his head against the wall, or that it would land him in a straight jacket in a psyche ward.

The morning after Philip was placed in lockdown, I went to see him. His doctors were speechless. They’d never seen a case like his. Philip was fine and was demanding to be released. When I asked the doctors what they did after I’d left the night before, they told me they’d given him an injection of Valium. Giant light bulbs should have gone off for all concerned, but none of us had even a flicker. It was before anyone knew of the dangers associated with Valium. Philip was released and promptly plunged into the depths of depression and stayed in a darkened room for the next six months while I made excuses to employees and investors about his mysterious “ailment.” I wish I could say getting off of Valium was the end of his problem, but instead, it was the beginning of our nightmare.

Over the next year Philip saw two psychiatrists, who were both intimidated by his understated, matter-of-fact brilliance and wound up thinking Philip knew more than they did. One briefly put him on a lithium cocktail that gave him slurred speech, while the other one suggested he take a drink or two to relax him before bedtime. A drink or two eventually turned into mass quantities of alcohol, and in time, the fascinating Dr. Jekyll I married turned into the maniacal Mr. Hyde. Because I never knew what terrors the night would bring, I never felt safe to let my guard down and go to sleep.

When he got home from work, I tried to lay low in hopes he wouldn’t find something to pick a fight about. The fights seemed to give him permission to roar down the driveway, into the night, sometimes disappearing for days at a time, or he would go down to his chemistry lab on the first floor of our house where he would lock the door. For me, both actions were equally terrifying. How could I sleep when I expected either a phone call telling me he’d been in an accident and had killed someone else in the process, or that he’d accidentally do something in the lab that would blow up our house?

Some nights I’d crawl into bed and play possum. I was good at mimicking the changes in my breathing rates so Philip would think I was deep asleep. Most nights I laid there for hours until, if I was lucky, he passed out. One night, while I was in the bathroom, Philip fired a pistol through the bathroom door. Without hesitation, I opened the second story bathroom window and jumped, grabbing onto a nearby tree with one hand. The tree broke some of my fall, but I fell hard through the branches as they tore at my flesh.

Fast forward to men in suits who broke into our home and Philip’s lab while he was passed out in bed and I had to defend myself alone (from what country or government agency I never knew) his death, my involuntary time with the Honduran Military Commandos, my GI Jane journalist phase where I flew, drove, submerged in and landed on every piece of military equipment known to man and the subsequent boyfriend from Hell. It’s little wonder I continued to have trouble sleeping. Adrenaline was always coursing through my veins. I was perpetually on high alert for any and everything. Like a soldier who’d been to war, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and began taking sleeping pills.

I was blessed when James entered my life. He was my lifesaver in every way possible. He loved and valued me unconditionally, and I no longer had to be what often felt like the sole survivor in a foreign outpost. But because I had been programmed for so long to be on alert, that it wasn't safe to let my guard down, my chronic sleep problems continued. Breast cancer, the death of James, the dissolution of his family, financial matters and my mother’s dementia have only made my sleep problems worse. Because a side effect of the long-term use of sleeping pills is poor memory, six weeks ago, I weaned myself off of the sleeping pills I’ve been taking for over 20 years and now, I can’t sleep.

I saw what happened to Philip. In some ways I’m the victim of his sleeplessness, but I know better than to let myself repeat his destructive behavior. I pray, exercise, do Breathwork and have just downloaded what I hope will be some helpful Guided Imagery pieces. This week I’m seeing a therapist I hope can help me “detox” from my life of chronic stress and learn to sleep without help. Forgive me for not commenting on other blogs or for being absent on Twitter and Facebook, but I’ve had my hands full. At this point, I want nothing more than to sprawl out on the floor like a big old sleeping dog.

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A Message From Komen

Sunday, October 23, 2011
A few months ago I wrote, “The Komen foundation and its awareness campaign has come to symbolize our nation’s high profile effort to eradicate breast cancer, yet many critics are wondering if Komen has careened off course.” It’s now October, “Pinktober,” and the voices of dissent continue to rage against Breast Cancer Awareness Month’s endless stream of pink products. While Komen is not responsible for every pink item sold in the name of breast cancer research, Komen is the big dog on the fundraising block and has taken the brunt of the breast cancer community’s criticism. Many consumers are no longer confident Komen, or their pink product partners, are transparent and accountable for monies raised in the name of breast cancer research. Others wonder if this sentimental sea of pink has overshadowed the original purpose of the campaign: a cure for breast cancer. Regardless, neither bodes well for future fundraising.

In an attempt to help Komen and the breast cancer community see one another’s point of view, I have invited Leslie Aun, National Director of Marketing and Communications for Komen for the Cure®, to address the anger and concerns of the breast cancer community. Perhaps I’m naive, but my hope is that this will be the first in a series of open dialogs with the goal of uniting, on common ground, while voicing our disagreements and working, together, to implement clearer fundraising and search for the cure mechanisms.<PREVIEWEND>

While Komen and the breast cancer community has numerous disagreements, Komen has raised significant funds for breast cancer research and has made breast cancer awareness a household phrase. I think everyone will agree the awareness movement has careened off track, but I want us to be mindful we “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” This forum could be a unique and important opportunity for all of us to effect positive changes within the pink community, but we must work together and approach this dialog with the best of intentions. I hope we don’t use this as a forum to beat one another up or to be defensive, but to brainstorm constructive approaches to more transparent and accountable methods of fundraising for, and funding of, breast cancer research.

As far as the mechanics of this first forum, Leslie Aun will write something in response to the Pinktober backlash. Readers, I hope you will use the “Comments” section of this blog post to reply to Leslie and Leslie, you comment as well. I am only the moderator. No one has attempted to bring both sides of the breast cancer fence together until now. In a perfect world, we would be seated in the same room, but every first has to have a start. If this forum is deemed a successful first “toe in the water,” perhaps we could move our dialog to Facebook, Twitter or Skype.

Leslie, I give you the floor……

From Leslie Aun, Director of Marketing & Communications, Komen:

Yes we know that some people feel there is pink overload. But as long as a woman dies of breast cancer every 74 seconds, we don’t think there is enough pink. And despite the criticism that we often hear, most people are very comfortable with the amount of pink they see. In a recent study we conducted of the general public, 87% said there is not too much pink, while 85% say they are more likely to buy a product or service if they know it will benefit the battle against breast cancer.

In terms of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, that pink represents hundreds millions of dollars that go directly to fighting breast cancer. We funded nearly $70 million in research this year alone (including 18 grants looking at the causes of breast cancer) and another $93 million in grants to educate and provide help to low-income women in thousands of communities across the U.S. who are uninsured and don’t have resources for basic medical care, much less cancer care. Women who can’t afford things like wigs and co-pays and trips to the doctor—not to mention groceries and childcare. Despite those efforts, there is a tremendous amount of need that still goes unmet. It would be wonderful if we could raise that money by direction donations, but despite best intentions, not everyone will (or can) write a check, and will support the mission through their purchases. So we’re not going to apologize for the pink.

For those who say there is already plenty of awareness of breast cancer—sorry, again we must disagree. Not when women are still asking us if underwire bras cause breast cancer or when huge numbers of women fail to get regular screenings because they think they’re not at risk. Without constant reminders, people get complacent, and the recent spate of conflicting recommendations about mammography isn’t helping. We women are often so busy looking after our children, spouses and parents that we don’t always look after ourselves. We have new data from a survey of 1.5 million women that shows that 50% of women over 40 – with coverage -- actually don’t get regular breast screenings. One of my dearest friends died of breast cancer three years ago at age 42 because she hadn’t bothered to go to the doctor in several years and wasn’t diagnosed until Stage 4. She was just too busy with her career and her family.

We know that our approach doesn’t suit everyone—some people think we should spend all our money on research, while others say we need to focus entirely on environmental factors. Other criticize our corporate relationships—never mind that they enable us to raise major research dollars and bring awareness messages to vast new audiences. We do listen to those with different views, but at the end of the day, there is no single right answer, no breast cancer silver bullet—the battle against this disease must be waged on multiple fronts. No woman has ever been cured of breast cancer because one group spent time and resources attacking another. There is room for many approaches.

Despite what you might hear, real progress has been made in terms of detection, treatment and survival. The five-year relative survival rate for early-stage breast cancer (cancer that hasn't left the breast) is now at 98%. In just the past 20 years, breast cancer mortality rates in the U.S. have dropped by 31%. It’s not at all unusual anymore to meet women who are living strong and productive lives long after their diagnosis.

Leslie Aun, Director of Marketing & Communications, Komen National


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Five Ways to Become Your Own Glue

Sunday, October 16, 2011


After church today some of my girlfriends and I stayed to commiserate about the collective, catastrophic changes all of us have encountered this year. Like Queen Elizabeth, who publicly referred to her “annus horribilis,” we all agreed that in many ways, we too, have had a horrible year. In reference to a year of stress, one of my friends matter-of-factly stated that she’d “lost her glue” to which I responded, “My glue died.” While our individual stories prompted serious thought, the real question for most of us is how do we change what we don’t like about our lives? How do we get our mojo back, and perhaps most importantly, how do we become our own glue?<PREVIEWEND>

The glue that keeps us on the right track, or binds us together as a family, is one of the most essential ingredients of life. For me that glue has been James and God, but when I step back and look at my life before I really knew either one, I realize I’ve always been my own glue. From the day I was born, six weeks premature and the first Rh-negative baby to survive a complete blood transfusion, I’ve been a survivor. My friends have always said I have guts. My glue, or what strengthens me, is a combination of the ying and yang of guts and fear, a sassy determination and a moral code. Together with James, whose glue was God, country, family and doing the right thing, we were an indestructible team. Now that he’s gone, I know I’m still the same gutsy, determined woman, I’m just having a hard time writing the script for the next chapter of my life.

Before any of us attempt to write a new script, perhaps we should step back and take inventory of what is and isn’t working in our lives. A severe headache that resulted in temporary blindness forced one of my girlfriends to assess her life. When her doctor asked about her stress levels, she listed a litany of things that had backed her into an unhappy corner, things she complained about, but until recently, did nothing to change. After her doctor prescribed a mild antidepressant, she took a good look at everything from family problems to rush hour traffic and a diet dominated by sugar, fats and fast foods. Who would have thought that leaving the house a little earlier would allow her to not only miss her tortuous freeway commute, but give her time to work out in her company’s gym, which then motivated her to change her diet and lose 11 pounds in the last few weeks? While none of these things have changed her stressful family problems, they have allowed her to view them with fresh eyes and a renewed spirit. Bravo girlfriend! You are inspiring!

Stress is a reality of life, and believe it or not, it’s not always a bad thing. Stress can push us to be the best we can be. It can motivate us and makes us stronger. It's a fly in the ointment, an unwanted ingredient in our glue. The challenge, however, comes in managing our stress whether it stems from illness, death or our own personal soap opera. Here are some things that might help us to strengthen our glue.

1. Be your own best friend. Most of us instinctually know when we’ve gone down the wrong path. Don’t wait for permission before you make changes to your life. Instead, give yourself permission to act in your own best interest.

2. Focus on the solution not the problem. Step back and look at the big picture. How did you get here and what’s the best way to get out or lessen the problem?

3. Know when it’s time to ask for help. While we may like to think we’re Wonder Woman or Superman, none of us always manage to find our way out of the maze. Find a counselor or a trusted friend who can help you think through your options.

4. Don’t move on without healing the problem. Just because you don't work through your grief and anger doesn't mean it's not there. Resolve problems before they stack up and become cumulative.

5. This too shall pass. Visualize the life you want. While it may not come to pass, it may motivate you to make the changes necessary to move through this time in your life.

My girlfriends at church are a wonderfully supportive group of women. Our love of God and one another makes for our own powerful, healing glue. Thank you, sweet friends, for leading the way. You always manage to lift me up.


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Estrogen and Breast Cancer Recurrence

Sunday, October 09, 2011


©Survivorship Media Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

 “Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of…” The writer of this popular children’s rhyme forgot a key ingredient, estrogen, the hormone that turns sugar and spice into curvy hips and breasts. Estrogen is great until it runs out, as in “I’m menopausal, out of estrogen, and I’ve got a gun,” or when it turns on us and is linked to some breast and ovarian cancers.

Many breast cancers are fed by estrogen, so if you’ve been diagnosed with estrogen-positive (ER+) breast cancer, you may want to block all forms of estrogen. It’s interesting to note that women who have a recurrence of ER+ breast cancer have higher levels of estrogen in their blood, even if they’ve taken estrogen-blocking drugs. If you’ve been treated for ER+ early-stage breast cancer, here are some dos and don’ts to reduce your risk of recurrence:<PREVIEWEND>

Because exercise lowers blood estrogen, be physically active every day. Try and walk 30 minutes, six days a week.

Even if you’re past menopause, excess weight around a woman’s waist often turns into excess circulating estrogen in the body. Therefore be as lean as you can, within normal body weight, but not skinny. Chemotherapy and radiation treatment for breast cancer can often make it difficult to keep weight on, but do not use this time as permission to diet. Your body needs lots of healthy, colorful low fat foods to fight your cancer.

• Research has shown 30-50% of cancers are nutrition-related. Reduce consumption of high-fat meats, cheese, whole milk, fried foods, processed foods and fast foods. Trim fat and skin from meats.

Limit red meat and processed meats as well as chicken, eggs and dairy that may contain added hormones. Look for products that say “Hormone Free.”

• Cancer is an “obligate glucose metabolizer” which means its preferred food source is glucose. Since sugar is 50% glucose, it seems logical to minimize refined sugar found in cookies, candy, soda and desserts. Limit refined white foods like bread, pasta and rice, which easily convert to sugar.

Look for the word “whole” on the label when purchasing cereal, pasta, crackers, bread, tortillas and rice. Use brown rice instead of white.

Eat a diet primarily of fruits and vegetables, including berries, nuts, seeds and “whole” grains, which provide powerful and important phytochemicals that protect cells and stimulate the immune system.

A big portion of your immune system is in your gut. Keep it regular and running smoothly by drinking a daily probiotic. Whole grain breads also bring added fiber to the diet.

• We’ve all heard soy is a breast cancer inhibitor, but once you’re diagnosed with ER+ breast cancer, soy is thought to produce phytoestrogen effects, or they act like the hormone estrogen. While this is controversial, many oncologists suggest women with ER+ breast cancer avoid all soy products, soy supplements and soy isoflavones.

• Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol has been shown to increase estrogen metabolism and circulating estrogen levels in postmenopausal women. Because research on the amount of alcohol consumed per day is mixed, it is suggested alcohol should be limited to 3 to 4 drinks a week.

Avoid body and skin care products containing soy and all forms of parabens. Parabens are used as preservatives and produce possible estrogenic effects when absorbed by the blood stream. Unfortunately most of the shampoos, lotions, skin care creams and sexual lubricants on the market contain methyl, ethyl, propyl, butyl, isopropyl and isobutylparabens. You might consider shopping for all natural products at Whole Foods, or online at BreastCancerSisterhood’s Retail Therapy.

• This is probably obvious, but avoid all forms of estrogen creams, patches and yes, bioidentical hormones. As the Today Show’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman told me, “Hormones are hormones are hormones.”

And finally, don't become obsessed trying to follow, to the letter, all of these dos and don'ts. As with everything in life, do all things in moderation, including moderation.


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My Best Friend Has Breast Cancer

Sunday, October 02, 2011

This week one of my best friends was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I’m devastated for her. The news that she will be hurled into the same ugly fight I’ve endured has rocked me to my core. Naively, I hoped I’d taken the “hit” for all of the women I love, but cancer doesn’t work that way. Cancer is indiscriminate.<PREVIEWEND>

After two suspicious mammograms and an ultrasound, my friend had a needle biopsy. For the next three days we waited for the results. Thursday her doctor left a voicemail saying, “We need to chat. I’ll call you, again, tomorrow.” Tossed out like a line from a bad “B” movie, I wondered what kind of doctor leaves such a thoughtless message. Surely the doctor knew the implications of her words, that they would hang in the air like bold letters etched in stone. At that point it was hard for me to throw out positive lifelines, and even harder for my friend to catch, and so we steeled ourselves for the worst.

Since high school my two best friends have been Gayle and Lee. They are smart, funny women who’ve seen me through good times and bad. Today it’s my and Lee’s turn to be there for Gayle, because Gayle is the one who’s been diagnosed with estrogen positive breast cancer. To say we’re shocked is an understatement and to say we’re angry doesn’t begin to describe the anguish and devastation we feel.

At the same moment Gayle called me on my landline to tell me her biopsy results, Lee was calling my cell phone to see if I’d heard from her. In a weird kind of conference call, I put Gayle and Lee each on speakerphone, and held the two phones together, while Gayle told us the results. I think we were all prepared, but hearing it and having it confirmed was sobering. I stared at the phones, imagining each of my friends on the other end. I could see their faces, the same faces I’ve loved since we were 16. Our conversation was punctuated by silence, then tears, followed by laughter and more tears.

Yesterday when I told Gayle I might start writing blogs with information I wanted her to have, she suggested I go ahead and use her name. Perhaps by personalizing her breast cancer journey, it might help someone else in ways we have yet to imagine.

Next week Gayle is having a lumpectomy. This will tell us a lot about her cancer and the kind of treatment she’ll need. At this point, we believe her cancer was caught early; Stage 1, and she may need radiation but no chemo. I can’t help but think of when Gayle and Lee and I went to an outdoor Sting concert, in 100 degree plus Texas heat, eight days after my first mastectomy. I wore white linen and my turkey basters, as Lee called them, the temporary drains attached to where my breast had been. Our seats were in the last row and Carrot Top could have been lip-syncing Sting songs for all we knew, but I didn’t care. I was there. I was alive, with my two best friends, singing and clapping like my world hadn’t been condensed onto a glass slide two inches long and three-quarters of an inch wide.

As I looked at the thousands of women in the audience, I thought of the one in eight women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer. I looked from woman to woman thinking, “She’s had it, or she has it and doesn’t know it.” If each of these women had known about my bandages and my turkey basters, where the week before my breast had been, many wouldn’t have agreed with me that life doesn’t get any better than this. I wanted to hug each one of them and tell them to keep singing, keep laughing. Pull from each moment the things you want to remember. Savor them. Laugh at them. Live your life with joy.

So now I’m telling these things to you, Gayle. I love you, sister girl. This won’t be easy--I know--but you will get through this and emerge on the other side stronger than ever. You will be all right. Of that, I am certain.

And to Gayle’s breast cancer, “You’ve raised your ugly malignant neoplasm in the wrong breast, and we’re fixing to kick your ass to the curb!”

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Apply Now for Life Beyond Cancer Retreat

Sunday, September 25, 2011

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If you’re a woman and a cancer survivor or a cancer provider, you have until September 30, 2011, 12pm CTS, to apply for the Living Well, Getting Well, 2011 Life Beyond Cancer Retreat at Lakeway Resort and Spa in Austin, Texas. Forgive me for not posting this sooner, because I want all of you to come and experience this life-changing event.

This year’s Retreat takes place November 18-20th, 2011. Because space is limited to 150 participants, you must submit your online application by this Friday, September 30th.<PREVIEWEND> Applications will be reviewed and those applicants who are selected to attend will be notified via email by October 7th. Here’s a link for you to APPLY TODAY. Did I mention I’m one of the speakers? Hurry, girlfriends, and fill out your application. I can’t wait to meet you!

Here’s the BRENDA’S BLOG about last year’s Retreat. Sunday, November 21, 2010: I just returned from four amazing days at the Life Beyond Cancer Retreat. Held at Lakeway Resort in Austin, Texas, 130 women with all types of cancer, as well as oncologists, nurse practitioners, social workers and world class speakers (many of whom are cancer survivors) met to recover, restore and reenergize.

One of the definitions of “retreat” is “a place of refuge.” To that I would add: A retreat is also the people who share the refuge with you. Together you “re treat” one another again and again, nourishing your spirits and inspiring your souls. I don’t know of another environment where total strangers become instant sisters who understand and mirror one another’s deepest hopes and fears before they’ve even said “hello.”

Women from around the country with all types and stages of cancer came to this retreat, and one, as she put it, was beyond her “expiration date.” There were women, who thought they were the only ones in the world with cancers no one could pronounce, who met other women with their exact same cancer. We shared our pain, our hopes, even our sadness that some of us may not be here this time, next year, but there was no pity; no loss for words. Each of us came from the same place of unspoken understanding.

We danced; we cried. We cried a lot, but there was more laughter in these four days than many people experience in years. How do I explain cancer humor? Perhaps by giving you a quote from cancer superheroine Heidi Adams, founder of Planet Cancer and Senior Director of Grass Roots Engagement for LIVESTRONG asked: “Is it OK to be buried in blue jeans?”

Each time we came together, whether at meals or to listen to speakers, we met new women and shared our stories. After dark, some of us gathered around an outdoor fireplace in our pajamas, made smores, laughed “samore” and talked with oncologists who, at that moment, were knowledgeable friends with answers. At the end of four days, our collective stories were as healing as any surgery, chemo or radiation. Each of us left with tears of joy and thanksgiving for having met others who shared “our same aquarium,” and who empowered us and gave us hope.

Started by US Oncology, Inc., the largest community-based cancer care and research network in the nation, the Life Beyond Cancer Foundation’s primary purpose is to financially assist cancer patients with many of their everyday living expenses. In addition, US Oncology, along with other caring companies, underwrites most of the cost of the Life Beyond Cancer Retreat, making it affordable for many women who want to come. I think I speak for everyone at this year’s retreat when I tell Dr. Lloyd Everson, Vice-Chairman and Board Member of US Oncology, that Living Beyond Cancer may be one of the best decisions US Oncology will ever make. The executive director and her planning committee created an event none of us wanted to leave. Even after we’d checked out of our rooms, we sat on sofas and chairs, camped out on the lobby floor, not ready to say goodbye.

If you’re female and have/had cancer, whether you’re Stage 1 or Stage 4, mark your calendars for next November and go to next year’s Retreat. If the Life Beyond Cancer Retreat doesn’t open a door in your heart that helps you embrace life, I’m not sure anything will.



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Men Get Breast Cancer Too!

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Do any of you know a man who’s had breast cancer? For the majority of you who answered “no,” please allow me to introduce Allen Wilson, this year’s Chair for the Houston 2011 Komen Race for the Cure®. A two-time breast cancer survivor, and an adventurer who embraces life in every sense of the word, Allen is a cautionary tale for every man. Yes men get breast cancer, too, and just like women, men need to do regular self-breast exams.<PREVIEWEND>

Even though Allen Wilson had been aware of the lump under his right nipple, it took colliding with his son while playing basketball to get his attention. “That really hurt,” he told me. “Two days later I had a mammogram. It’s amazing what those technicians can do with so little tissue to work with.” Shortly there after, in 2003, Allen had a mastectomy.

When Allen told a woman he worked with that he’d just had a mastectomy, she thought he said “vasectomy” until he raised his shirt, showed her his bandages and his drainage tubes and grinned. Like everything else Allen Wilson does in life, he’s handled his breast cancer with humor and determination. After his hair began to fall out during his first go-round with chemo, his sons, Robert and Michael, gave him a Mohawk and painted one side of it red and the other side green for their family Christmas photo.

After his mastectomy and prescribed rounds of chemotherapy were over, Allen began training for his climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro where, in 2006, he placed pink ribbons as summit markers. The same year, Allen’s breast cancer returned in the location of his mastectomy scar, and another surgery and some really “serious chemo” and radiation ensued. “Maintenance,” he calls it, with no reference to the word “recurrence.”

Allen’s cell phone is a breath-taking photo album of not only his climbs on world famous mountains around the world, but of he and his wife, Lisa, skydiving and their 2010 participation in the second Egyptian Komen Race for the Cure® around the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids of Giza. The same year, Allen also spoke at the inaugural Komen Race for the Cure® in Jerusalem.

Allen is only the second man I’ve met who’s had breast cancer. The first male breast cancer survivor I met was actor, Richard Roundtree, better known for his role as super-cop “Shaft,” the ABC miniseries Roots as well as Desperate Housewives and his recurring role on Gray’s Anatomy. In 1993, Richard found a lump about the size of a pencil eraser in the shower while filming a movie in Costa Rica.

“When I was diagnosed, nobody gave me any information about breast cancer or how to get through treatment. No pamphlets, no cautions about what to eat, what not to eat, how to take care of myself, nothing," Richard told me a few years ago when he wrote a piece for my book, Breast Cancer Sisterhood, A Guide to Practical Information & Answers to Your Most Intimate Questions. "I was only told I needed a mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy, so that’s what I did.”

Richard Roundtree and Allen Wilson are great role models and reminders for every man to do monthly self-breast exams. Even though less than one percent of breast cancers occur in men, the incidence is on the rise. Because men delay seeing their doctors if they notice a lump or something unusual in the breast area, their breast cancers are often diagnosed when the disease is more advanced. As a result, their prognosis may not be as good had they found it earlier.

To Allen and Richard, from the men you've helped, along with the wives, sisters, mothers and daughters who love them, we thank you.



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