Friday, 18 May 2007

The Bride was Beautiful: Katie's story

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In addition to a writer, I'm a photographer too and I'm always scouring the Internet for good photos. I found this photo essay a while back and have been haunted by it ever since. I visit it every few months or so but not too often because it's so bittersweet, I can hardly handle looking at it. It's the story of Katie Kirkpatrick, a young woman whose body was ravished with cancer by the time her intended wedding day started getting close. Knowing it would probably be the last celebration of her life, she decided to go ahead with the wedding and marry her high school sweetheart, Nick Godwin. Weak, frighteningly thin, in constant overwhelming pain and in need of constant medical attention, she walked down the aisle, professed her undying devotion to the love of her life and spent an evening surrounded by friends and family who loved her the most. She didn't let her disease get in the way of her dream to one day have that fairy-tale wedding.

She passed away five days later.

Should you invest in a heart rate monitor?

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When you're working out, do you ever notice those hard-core gym fanatics seem to all have heart-rate monitors on? No? Maybe it's just my gym. But I see them so much that I've started to wonder whether I need one.

Heart rate monitors aren't a bad investment, but as fitsugar points out, they're usually more for keeping track of your workout than your heart. You know those heart-rate charts they have all over the gym? Well, in a nutshell, they're telling you what your heart rate should be at depending on what you're aiming for. For cardio-vascular conditioning, your heart-rate should be a bit higher than if, say, you're trying to burn fat. So the heart rate monitor helps you monitor that, and it's a heck of a lot easier than trying to count your pulse while your running on the treadmill.

I don't think I'll be buying one anytime soon, since all the machines seem to have one anyway. What about you?

Hep C and Non-Hodkins Lymphoma: A connection

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If living with Hepatitis C isn't trying enough, studies are showing that people living with the chronic condition are at a greater risk for developing Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, based on research done on US soldiers living with Hep C. Hep C is a disease characterized by an inflamed liver, and it has also been linked to Liver Cancer. There's no vaccine, and it's spread by an exchange of bodily fluids.

The immune system of people living with chronic Hep C is constantly taxed, and it's believed this is the reason behind the link between these two diseases. Hep C, as the article points out, affects more than four million people in the United States, and afflicts men more than women.

7-year-old girl weighs 400 pounds.

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I know we're in the wake of an obesity epidemic, but sometimes it's easy to forget just how serious it is. Until you read something like this, that is.

Little Jessica is Seven years old -- an age where she should be spending summer afternoons on her bike or at the pool. Yet she can hardly walk. Why? She weighs 400 pounds. That's at least 250 pounds more than I, a 5'7 adult female, weigh. This is a scary world we live in, where parents will let their daughter's weight problem reach such epic proportions.

Kristin at Parentdish asked the question: is this child abuse? I think so. The parents control what kind of food is in their house and what kind of meals she is eating. I know that kids can be really picky eaters but when your 7-year-old is eating nothing but junk and consuming enormous proportions, it's time to step in. What's your opinion?

Not your average teenage blog -- this one treats life as a gift

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Thumbing through my teenage journals, I find pages upon pages of rants directed at my parents, my little brother, the popular kids in school and how utterly unfair and tragic it is that I wasn't allowed to watch Melrose Place. So it makes me feel pretty shallow and petty to read something like this, about an 18-year-old who writes about how much he wants to survive his battle with cancer in his online journal.

He began writing his innermost thoughts after he was diagnosed with Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare cancer that affects muscles, tendons and connective tissue. The strain of treatment caused him to all but lose his voice and without a way to get his words out, he started writing them down. His writing is stunningly articulate and supremely heartbreaking but also full of wisdom and somewhat hopeful, even though his chances of survival are slim. To anyone who takes their life for granted too often, I offer this, in his words:

"The way I see it, we're not entitled to one breath of air. We did nothing to earn it, so whatever we get is bonus. I might be more than a little disappointed with the hand I've been dealt, but this is what it is.... I don't believe you can ask for any more, but if I could ask for something, it would be to be able to go outside into the glorious spring air, feeling healthy and blissfully clueless as to how lucky I was for it, if only just for an hour."

I am moved beyond words.

The abbreviated history of insulin

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The discovery of insulin, in 1922, was a breakthrough in the treatment of diabetes and it produced a remarkable increase in the life expectancy of diabetic patients. Animal-derived insulins have been used to treat people with diabetes since insulin was first discovered and continuously subjected to various purification technologies. In 1973, Novo produced a purer type of insulin, called monocomponent insulin. This set a new standard in purity. In 1982, Human Monocomponent was the world's first insulin preparation identical to human insulin. It was actually pig insulin, modified by enzymes, to appear identical to human insulin.

When Novo tried to introduce monocomponent insulin into the USA, Lilly fought back with 'human' Humulin insulin. Before Humulin insulin became available, insulin had been produced from animal sources, pigs and cows. It is believed by some that the animal insulin provided the diabetic with better awareness of hypos, and it is certainly true that the long-acting animal insulin such as Ultralente are longer-acting than their 'human' equivalents. The fact that both pig and cow differ from human insulin by certain amino acids (1 in pig and 3 in cow) has lead the majority of physicians to recommend 'human' insulin. 'Animal' insulin became increasingly hard to find, particularly in the USA (see This Little Piggy Left the Market).

In the late 1990s Eli Lilly developed Lispro, brand name Humalog. This was approved for prescription use in the UK and the US by 1996. This insulin has a shorter activity curve than Regular. This means it can be injected closer to the meal time, even after it. Studies have shown that it does not improve control as measured by long-term indicators (Hba1c), but that it does decrease the number of hypos. Glargine, brand name Lantus, was approved for use in the US in 2004. It has become widely touted as better than other long-acting insulins because it has a plateau effect on glucose control that lasts for approximately 24 hours. Some people find it acts a little shorter (and some doctors don't believe that's possible!) So there you have it - the short and sweet version of the history of insulin. I strongly suggest anyone who wishes to fill the spaces between the discovery in 1922 and present day to pickup The Discovery of Insulin (Michael Bliss). I welcome all comments to fill-in the pivotal details I've failed to include.

Something for female patients to know

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Three questions for you: 1) Do you have heart disease? 2) Do you have diabetes? And 3) Are you a woman? If you answered Yes to #3 and/or #1 or #2, then you may be interested to know that you are less likely to receive proper care than men who would have also answered Yes to #1 and #2.

According to a study conducted by the RAND Corporation, women with diabetes and/or heart disease are less likely to receive a variety of outpatient medical treatments than their male counterparts. Bear in mind that all of the patients in the study either had private insurance or were enrolled in Medicare -- so this disparity did not come as a result of an insurance coverage gap. Moreover, the scientific conclusions were not drawn from a small sample size of a few thousand people. Try 50,000 men and women for a sample size -- a bit more reliable, if you ask me.

Just to give you a general idea of this gender disparity, here's an example: Women were prescribed ACE inhibitor drugs for chronic heart failure far less than men were, and the same goes for beta blockers after a heart attack. This is just one of the many instances where gender appeared to influence a patient's medical treatment. More can be found on the RAND website at:

Heart health needs to start as early aspossible

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It is rarely too late to begin living a heart healthy life. Cutting out high cholesterol foods and implementing a more active lifestyle can be done at nearly any time. However, the earlier a healthy lifestyle is introduced, the better. One Boston suburb has taken this thought to heart and has introduced a healthy lifestyle to the youth of the town.

The city of Somerville, Massachusetts recently changed old, bad habits to good ones in order to help the city youth eat better, exercise more and gain less weight. The improvements have taken root and the children now have better eating habits and enjoy a more active lifestyle.

The school cafeterias recently started providing unlimited supplies of fresh fruit, replaced fried foods with baked ones and stopped using frozen vegetables. Cross walks were repainted to appear more appealing to walkers. The teachers were given refresher courses on how to introduce more movement into their curriculum. The result is that the children are happier and more active. Kids are reporting that they enjoy the fact that they can play without feeling fatigued afterwards. Parents are happy to see their children running about and laughing rather than glued to the television.

This city wide effort is exactly what needs to be happening in more towns around the nation. Helping children to educate themselves about a heart healthy lifestyle will give them a better chance to lead normal lives free of heart complications. Do you know of a similar program in your area? If so, please share.

Women less likely to receive proper care

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Three questions for you: 1) Do you have heart disease? 2) Do you have diabetes? And 3) Are you a woman? If you answered Yes to #3 and/or #1 or #2, then you may be interested to know that you are less likely to receive proper care than men who would have also answered Yes to #1 and #2.

According to a study conducted by the RAND Corporation, women with diabetes and/or heart disease are less likely to receive a variety of outpatient medical treatments than their male counterparts. Bear in mind that all of the patients in the study either had private insurance or were enrolled in Medicare -- so this disparity did not come as a result of an insurance coverage gap. Moreover, the scientific conclusions were not drawn from a small sample size of a few thousand people. Try 50,000 men and women for a sample size -- a bit more reliable, if you ask me.

Just to give you a general idea of this gender disparity, here's an example: Women were prescribed ACE inhibitor drugs for chronic heart failure far less than men were, and the same goes for beta blockers after a heart attack. This is just one of the many instances where gender appeared to influence a patient's medical treatment. More can be found on the RAND website at:

Think you're too young and healthy for a heart attack? Think again.

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How healthy is your heart? Well, let's call a spade a spade here and just say it: If you're obese, consume too much salt in your diet, don't exercise, eat foods high in bad fats and high G.I. carbs, and smoke -- then chances are it's not too healthy. That being said, it stands to reason that if you can look at all of those things I just mentioned and honestly say that the opposite of each applies to you, your heart should be in tip-top shape. Right?

Right. And wrong -- maybe. Allow me to explain. Recent studies show that people who eat right, exercise, and live relatively healthy lives may still be at risk of heart attack. The reason(s) why fall outside of what people may typically associate as risk factors. For starters, are you depressed? If so, you may be at an increased risk. What about your red blood count -- is it low? If it is, this is further cause for at least some concern. And, do you have irregular or insufficient sleep? Again, this may throw you into the risk pool. Lastly -- and this is probably one of the last things you thought of when it comes to heart health -- do you floss on a regular basis? Because inflammation in the gums can lead to inflammation throughout the body, gum disease can increase your chances of having a heart attack.

All this adds up to the realization that we must be extremely aware of our heart health. Signs ranging from shoulder pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, and nausea should not be taken lightly, even if you are young and consider yourself to be healthy.

The enzyme that slows a racing heart, naturally

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It seems like pacemakers and other implanted devices like ICD's have been in the news a lot lately, for different reasons. Here is some good news that is somewhat related, and may mean that in the future some people will get to avoid surgery: scientists have discovered an enzyme that works to put the brakes on a racing heartbeat. A person's heart rate is set by a single cell within the heart, called the pacemaker cell, and a naturally occurring enzyme called Pak 1 has been found to interact specifically with that cell -- telling it to slow things down.

This discovery will obviously have a potentially huge effect on treatments, drugs, and the lives of people living with heart disease.

Angioplasty vs. drug therapy: could one be better than the other?

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Before there were stents, angioplasty (without stents) and drugs were the two main weapons used to prevent a second heart attack. A small study in Switzerland found that when comparing groups of symptom-free heart attack survivors who were treated with angioplasty and drugs vs. intensive drug therapy alone found that those in the angioplasty group suffered fewer second heart attacks.

But the American Heart Association isn't convinced. Calling the study "intriguing," an AHA spokesperson said the study was too small to be conclusive. In addition, because the patients in the study were treated over a decade ago, it doesn't take into account the advancements made in both types of therapy, as well as the addition of stents. A larger study that uses the latest technology in both types of therapy is the next step to find out if the Switzerland study's findings should be applied to today's heart patients.

Satisfying a sweet tooth without jeopardizing your health

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It's sad but true: dessert is bad for us. Never mind that it has tons of sugar, the saturated and trans fats that are used in the tastiest recipes will wreak all sorts of havoc on our bodies. But what's a sweet tooth like myself to do?

Don't fret -- there is hope. You don't need to completely abolish sweets from your diet to live your healthiest, according to this article. What you do need to do is make healthy choices and consume stuff in moderation. In particular, stay away from cakes and that you haven't made yourself because they'll likely be full of refined sugars and flours, not to mention harmful fats. Instead, make healthy desserts at home (the article has some recipes) or opt for some fruit or dark chocolate.

What's your favourite healthy dessert? Or what do you miss the most?

Thought for the day: drink plenty of fresh, pure water

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Are you a heavy water drinker? Water, the only liquid required for human survival, has properties that many claim are incredibly potent for human health. While there are many kinds of water to consume, spring water and ionized water have been known to inhibit cancer growth.

Think about this:

Do you consume about 60 to 80 ounces of fresh water every single day? If not, why not? Water not only flushes toxins from the body, but it's the best overall tonic for superior health. At least, that's the opinion of many holistic healing experts.

For the cancer patient, the ionized kind if best, as it contains higher levels of antioxidants (and it's more alkaline) and can actually aid in killing cancer cells (directly or indirectly). While it's not a treatment in and of itself, your oncologist may be able to give more specific information on which type of water would be best to drink. One thing is sure: drink quite a bit of water daily (evenly throughout the day) when possible.

Chemicals to blame for majority of breast cancer cases

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A bundle of scientific reports indicate more than 200 chemicals, found in the air and in consumer products, cause breast cancer in animal tests.

Researchers report in an American Cancer Society publication that reducing exposure to such compounds could prevent many women from developing the disease.

Family history and genetic make-up are responsible for only a small percentage of breast cancer cases. Environmental and lifestyle factors, such as diet, are most likely involved in the majority of cases, say experts.

These finding are too incomplete to make widespread conclusions, but still, they are considered "the most comprehensive compilation to date of chemicals identified as mammary carcinogens" and are so convincing the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, in response to the reports, pledged $5 million for developing research tools to investigate environmental causes.

There are 216 chemicals that induced breast tumors in animals. Of these, 97 directly affect humans and include industrial solvents, pesticides, dyes, gasoline and diesel exhaust compounds, cosmetics ingredients, hormones, pharmaceuticals, radiation, and a chemical in chlorinated drinking water.

Diabetes drug may be fast-tracked for breast cancer

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Drugs currently in trials for obesity and diabetes may soon be fast-tracked for use in the fight against breast cancer. Typically, it takes many years to research and develop new drugs. But these already-developed drugs, if successful, could reach the market much quicker.

The drugs, believed to work by blocking the enzyme PTP1B, could help breast cancer patients because the enzyme is found in high levels in about 40 percent of these patients.

Studies on mice show blocking production of the enzyme significantly slowed tumor development. In some cases, it stopped the spread of the cancer and it might even stop some tumors from forming.

This is "very important and surprising," says one researcher who remarked that the excitement over this discovery is that we won't have to wait for several years of research. The compound has already been developed -- and that's great news.

Clinical trials for diabetes have shown the drug to have very low toxicity in comparison to other cancer treatments. So side effects are minimal.

Within months, researchers hope to begin investigating the role of PTP1B in other types of cancer, primarily ovarian cancer and certain types of adult leukemia.

As for breast cancer, it's predicted the breast cancer patients with HER2 positive disease will be the group most likely to benefit from these new drugs. Combining the drugs with Herceptin -- a targeted drug therapy believed to cut recurrence by up to 50 percent in these women -- could provide a "two-way kill," say experts.

The burden of cancer: Support groups

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A study published in Cancer, a peer reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, found that cancer survivors are more likely to seek out support groups than individuals with other chronic conditions. They stated that one in four survivors participate in a support group after diagnosis.

According to the study, treating physicians seemed to recognize that support groups are helpful but only one in ten cancer patients studied had received a recommendation to seek out a support group. Support groups are widely available but seem to be poorly handled by the physicians.

Dr. Jason Owen, co-investigator in the study, says "This study sheds light on which individuals with cancer use (support) services. It will help clinicians recognize the importance of support groups for cancer patients. Assistance in identifying and accessing support groups should be a standard of care for all patients receiving curative, follow-up, or palliative care for cancer".

I don't remember my oncologist talking to me about support groups, however, in his office waiting room I noticed many different support services available in the area.

Did any of your doctors recommend that you seek out group support?

Is Farrah Fawcett's cancer back?

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The National Inquirer was the first to break the news about Farrah's diagnosis of anal cancer before the star confirmed it.

The same paper is now saying that Farrah's cancer has returned. According to the article, doctors have found a small, malignant polyp. The actress was previously treated with radiation and chemotherapy. The new plan would be to place a small metallic seed in the area that would kill the cancerous polyp.

Can't believe everything you read -- especially from this source. Even if it is true that her cancer has recurred, I think most of what is said in the article is probably wrong.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Nicole's Walk: Raising money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation

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Nicole Labrecque was only three years old when she lost her battle with hepatoblastoma, a rare liver cancer. That was 16 years ago and for the last six years, Nicole's father Richard has been raising money to help seriously-ill children like his daughter have their special wish come true.

Richard said his daughter died suddenly three days after the family's Make-A-Wish trip to Disney World. Richard Labrecque told reporters, "She spent a beautiful week having fun and for a few days, she was able to forget about the pain of surgeries and chemotherapy. It is priceless to see these kids have fun. Nicole was three years old and we were swept off our feet. I'm dedicated to this organization."

In the past five years, Nicole's walk has raised over $70,000, which has gone to the Vermont Make-A-Wish Foundation. The annual walk, which will be held this year on May 20, 2007 on the Toonerville Trail in Springfield, VT starts at 9:30 a.m. The trail is 6.2 miles.

All participants get a purple T-shirt -- purple was Nicole's favorite color.

Light cigarettes are just as dangerous for the heart

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If you're a smoker who's switched to light or low-tar cigarettes to decrease the strain of smoking on your heart, you just might have to think again. Turkish researchers recently put light cigarettes to the test to see if they had a reduced affect on cardiovascular health compared to regular cigarettes. After lighting up, smokers had something called coronary flow velocity response (CVFR) tested, which means that their arteries were tested to see if they could properly dilate in response to blood flow. In both groups, CVFR fell significantly, and in addition, smoking either type of cigarette raised blood pressure and heart rate.

Check out this article for more information about "the truth" behind light cigarettes.

Fiber may fight diabetes

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The results of a new study show that those who consumed more fiber were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who ate less fiber.

The researchers note that consuming fiber may help with the body's ability to handle blood sugar. The pooled results of several studies showed that people who ate the most cereal fiber had a 33% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who ate the least. A study conducted at Harvard confirmed foods including whole grain breads, high-fiber cereals, yogurt, beans and peanut butter lessened the probability of developing diabetes by 28%.

The miraculous benefits of fiber keeping adding up. Whether your motive is to reduce your risk of diabetes, lower cholesterol, hamper IBS, or suppress your hunger -- there's a reason for each of us to invite a little more fiber into our diet. Snack on your cereals, bake your muffins, or enjoy a fresh cup of blueberries -- fiber is your friend. Friends don't let friends develop diabetes.

Breastfeeding can reduce risk of diabetes

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Studies in Sweden and by the Harvard School of Public health may have found a link between breastfeeding and protection against Type 1 diabetes.

The study showed that children who were breastfed exclusively for longer periods of time may have natural protection against developing diabetes. It was particularly true in children who were breastfed exclusively for longer than five months.

The Harvard study also found that breastfeeding helped protect children from diabetes regardless of whether their mothers were overweight or had health problems. This certainly will be another reason to breastfeed babies for longer periods of time, as the Harvard study also indicated that babies that were breastfed for at least a year had the best protection.
One possible explanation considered by both studies is that breastfed babies have a steadier and slower growth, while formula fed babies have growth spurts. Breastfed babies are also more likely to be fed on demand rather than on a schedule.

I am sure that more research will be done regarding this. Is it breast milk itself that has the benefits or would bottle fed babies have the same protection if they were fed on the same sort of schedule? I am looking forward to reading more on this issue as the whole debate about breast versus bottle just became even more heated.

Little company helps big industry

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There are many relationships in life where a big someone needs the help of a small someone to succeed, or to survive. It's like a celebrity thanking "all the little people." Not that they really do that anymore, but you get the idea. Well Cambridge Heart, a small company manufacturing heart stress test equipment is in a position to do just that for the slowing $6 billion dollar I.C.D. (implantable cardioverter defibrillator) industry.

The industry has been struggling slightly due to difficulties balancing the high costs ($50,000 per patient) and limited lifespan of the equipment (approx 5 years) with figuring out exactly who needs these devices. As many as 80% of people who have an ICD won't "use" it in its lifetime.

So where does Cambridge Heart come in? They provide a simple test that can help diagnose which patients are going to be better served by an ICD and which aren't. By eliminating some of that 80% the industry will get a boost in credibility and can better focus their efforts on the patients who really need them. And doctors will be more comfortable in their decision to refer someone to a specialist when they have a test they can trust helping them with the decision.

Decline in U.S. women getting mammograms

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The researchers don't seem to know why, but there is a decline in the number of women in the United States age 40 or older who have had mammograms over the last two years.

A study published in the journal Cancer says that during the period from 1987 to 2000, there was a steady increase in women receiving mammograms. They believe this to be somewhat responsible for the increase in breast cancer survival that occurred during that period. Supporting the phrase -- early detection saves lives.

They evaluate the trends in mammography use by a survey that is administered to 35,000 adults called the National Health Interview Survey. The current analysis focused on women who had mammograms in the last two years. The survey showed that in the year 2000, 70 percent of women reported they had a mammogram in the previous two years. In the year 2005, the number was down to 66 percent.

The authors of the study raise some interesting points. It has been reported in the news that there has been a decline in breast cancer cases, attributed to reduced use of the postmenopausal hormones. The authors raise the question -- May the drop in mammography use be missing cancers that would otherwise be picked up? Could this be a contributing factor to why there are less breast cancer cases being diagnosed? If there is a drop in screening it seems logical that there would be a drop in the number of breast cancer incidences.

In the long term the decreased use of mammography screening can cause women to be diagnosed at advanced stages which will lead to an increased risk of breast cancer mortality.

Thought For The Day: Cover up from the very beginning

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The skin is the largest organ of the body. It is the barrier between our inner and outer worlds. Our skin in one of the most important elements and yet it is one so often overlooked. We take our skin for granted much of the time, rarely believing that anything bad could come to something that regenerates itself. However, nearly half of all cancers come from skin cancer and melanoma.

Think about this:

Taking care of our skin is one of the easiest acts we can do every day of our lives. For those in our families who are younger, we can take care of their skin and model good examples of skin care. Wonderful sun protection clothing is available in infant sizes so that those who need some of the best skin protection can start their lives with it. For those of us who are older, we can begin our days by applying a good, strong sunblock to all our exposed pieces before we leave the house. Add a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses and we are ready to face the world. A few simple but vital steps.

Protecting our skin is one of the simplest efforts we can make. Think about it and give it a try.

Vitamins linked to prostate cancer

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It's been suspected that taking too many vitamins may spike men's risk of dying from prostate cancer. On Wednesday, the biggest study yet to link high-dose multivitamins and prostate damage was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Government scientists have been looking at the diet and health of almost 300,000 men. One third reported taking a daily multivitamin. Five percent were heavy users, marked by use more than seven times per week. Within five years of the study's launch, 10,241 men had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. About 1,476 had an advanced form of the disease. And 179 died.

It seems heavy multivitamin users were nearly twice as likely to get fatal prostate cancer as men who never took the pills. Yet, oddly, researchers found no link between multivitamin use and early-stage prostate cancer. It could be that vitamins have little effect until a tumor appears -- and then it spurs growth.

More studies are on the horizon for this topic, which is becoming more and more pressing.

Cancer cells survive in low-energy mode

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It seems strange, say researchers, but new evidence from Johns Hopkins shows that cancer cells seem to gain momentum when they switch to a low-energy oxygen mode.

"There must be a strong advantage to cancer cells to stop using a highly efficient process in favor of one that generates much less energy," according to researcher Gregg Semenza whose findings appear
in the May 8 issue of Cancer Cell.

Usually, cancer cells are powered by mitochondria and they use oxygen to create energy. But researchers found when studying Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome (VHL), a genetic disorder causing tumors throughout the body, that VHL switches on a gene that makes cells favor glucose and not oxygen.

A cancer cell's appetite for glucose is very strong and so researchers, scientists at the National Cancer Institute, and pharmaceutical experts are further exploring this phenomenon so it can be useful in cancer therapy.

Mischa Barton, a good spokesperson for SAFE?

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It is very fitting (and just a little ironic) that the golden girl in from the TV show The O.C. is the spokesperson for Superdrug's SAFE Skin Cancer campaign. Ms. Barton talks about being very aware of sun protection and wanting people to be aware of the dangers of being out in the sun.

I applaud her for doing this kind of awareness campaign, but I must also wonder at her effectiveness. Seeing Mischa Barton in her beach wear on the show, with a glowing suntan, probably leads some girls to tanning, not away from it. It is such a shame that one of our ideals of beauty is a sun-bronzed body. This has slowly been changing as we become more aware of the dangers of sun exposure, but our stars are still, for the most part, expected to not be pasty white. Young girls feel that they have to live up to these images, which has the potential to be harmful to them.

She might be able to reach her audience, though. Young girls will be eager to buy these products and use them just because Mischa Barton endorses them. On balance, it is probably a positive step to have a star like her endorsing this campaign. I just wish we did not need stars to tell us what is good for us, especially after they've perpetuated the images that can do damage.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Thinking about hypoglycemia

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A new study led by the folks over at the Joslin Diabetes Center further proves that tight blood sugar control can considerably reduce one's risk of developing such complications as heart disease, eye problems, nerve damage, and kidney problems. But, the downside is that the researchers also found that tight glucose control was sometimes associated with frequent and/or severe hypoglycemia.

With blood sugars running low, people with type 1 can suddenly find themselves feeling disoriented, distressed and in some extreme cases, convulsing and losing consciousness. With respect to these much-more sudden complications, the researchers wondered if hypoglycemia could, over time, impair a person's cognitive ability.

Following type 1 patients for 12 years, all of which who experienced hypoglycemia countless times over that time span, the researchers found that there did not appear to be any long-term damage to cognitive function. So, definitely a big victory there. Still, doctors wonder if hypoglycemic episodes in young children have any lasting cognitive effects -- not only because a child is still in a developmental phase at that stage in their life, but also because there were not any patients under 13 years of age who were analyzed for the aforementioned study.

Starving to Live Longer

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As far back as the 1930's, both mice and men were scientifically proven to outlive their well-fed peers. Albeit under drastic (and closely monitored) circumstances calorie-restricted diets had participants outliving their peers by as much as 40%. How does a diet verging on the brink of starvation extend a lifespan?

Researchers have found that persistent hunger promotes long life and identified a critical gene that specifically links calorie restriction (CR) to longevity. Genetic evidence has finally emerged in labs to explain the increased longevity in response to calorie restriction. This link was also identified between calorie restriction and aging. Of course this discovery immediately provoked the scientists to ponder the potential of the next generation of drugs to bestow the health benefits of calorie restriction without the discipline.

Fasting dates back as far as ancient Greek philosophers. Heck, even Mark Twain was a firm believer in fasting. In one of his essays he wrote, "A little starvation can really do more for the average sick man than can the best medicines and the best doctors. I do not mean a restricted diet; I mean total abstention from food for one or two days."

The work was funded by grants from the NIH, American Diabetes Association and the Ellison Medical Research Foundation. I graduated from Ward Melville High School with Brooke Ellison in 1996. It's fascinating to see my peers lending a hand in scientific research. Good for you, Brooke!

Trying to turn off the diabetes switch

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Scientists are looking to a specific gene called TXNIP as a possible means of preventing the onset of type 2 and prediabetes. What's known at this point is that in patients who express high levels TXNIP (which is oftentimes the case with those that have type 2 or prediabetes), these elevated levels can inhibit glucose uptake in fat and muscle cells.

More or less, the researchers believe that TXNIP acts as a glucose/insulin sensitive switch, and this function becomes compromised early in the development of diabetes. But, there is still a great deal more investigation into the role of TXNIP to be done before scientists know its exact rule in glucose homeostasis.

Nevertheless, the research thus far points to some connection between TXNIP and the onset of type 2 and prediabetes, and interventions designed to modulate its activity may help prevent the development of the disease in the future.

For more information on this study, click on this ridiculously long link:

Internal Defibrillators May Need to be Reprogrammed

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Patients with implanted defibrillators may be better served to have them reprogrammed. In many situations where the internal devices are currently set to deliver shocks, research shows that giving a stream of electric pulses instead (much like a pacemaker) would be more effective. In addition, setting the defibrillators to deliver shocks less frequently by ignoring some types of heartbeat irregularities also appears to be beneficial. Basically, defribillators are a good idea and do save lives, but may be doing it in an "unnecessarily harsh way."

Unnecessarily harsh? Who needs that!

A button for Gabriel's heart

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For any parent who has heard the following string of words, "Is there a history of congenital heart defects in your family?" life is never quite the same after those words are uttered. Life is never again taken 100% for granted. The joys of childhood are held dear for just a moment or two longer because once your universe is shaken to its core, those moments are needed for processing.

One mother who has been struggling with such issues is Emily Elizabeth. Her young son, Gabriel, was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect when he was a just a day old. Today he will be undergoing his second heart surgery in under a year. Gabriel's first surgery was a success but in November 2006 his family was informed he would need another procedure due to growing scar tissue.

To withstand one heart surgery on your small child is beyond excruciating, but to undergo another opens so many old wounds and fears. Gabriel's mother has designed a beautiful button to download and paste on blogs. It is a gentle reminder that nothing can be taken for granted and that there needs to be much love and hope. Go check it out and download it.

Regular vs. baby aspirin -- which to take?

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If you're swallowing an aspirin a day, are you taking a regular or baby aspirin? If you're taking a regular dose, it may be time to discuss it with your doctor. A recent research review found that baby aspirin does the job preventing clots and that the higher dose pill may not be more effective. What a higher dose does do is increase the risk of developing bleeding of the stomach or intestines, and taking a baby aspirin may reduce that risk.

Don't change your aspirin dose on your own, however. Though the research seems to indicate that a baby aspirin is plenty, the jury's still out on whether a higher dose aspirin may be more appropriate for certain people.

The Role Gender Plays in Blood Pressure

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Men and women both can get high blood pressure, but how they each end up getting it is seldom the same. For men, the road to high blood pressure is usually shorter and much more rapid than it is with women -- something that doctors from the Medical College of Georgia Vascular Biology Center are studying with interest.

Men develop hypertension earlier than women and they generally tend to demonstrate an increase in blood pressure more rapidly, that is until women reach menopause. But, the researchers question whether these more "protected" years for women has so much to do with hormones. To find out, when testicles were removed (ahem...we're talking about in lab rats), blood pressure tends to drop a small amount. When ovaries are removed, blood pressure remains unchanged.


If it's not related to gender, why does it appear to be so related to gender?! The researchers are also examining nitric oxide levels in men and women, as well as a myriad of other possible reasons behind the disparity. Whatever the reason turns out to be, it seems that at or around the age of 70, the playing field is completely leveled, as men and women share a similar risk for cardiovascular disease and hypertension by that point.

I Want a New Drug

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Try as you may, it's simply impossible to forget the song "I Want a New Drug" by Huey Lewis. Oh yeah, and The News (how dare I forget his back-up band). Though the video came out when I was a neophyte in the new world of MTV, I do distinctly recall the part where he buries his face into a sink filled with ice cold water. Very 80s, cocaine-era appropriate. But, given the amount of prescription drugs that pharmaceutical companies push these days, I almost feel as though that song should be playing in the background of every drug commercial you see (you know, the ones that always end with the fast-talking pitch man rattling off every horrible side-effect the drug may have). Don't get me wrong, I think the advancements in modern medicine -- including pharmaceutical drugs -- have been beneficial in some regard. Be that as it may, however, there have also been a number of missteps made by these drug companies.

Why am I bothering to say all this? Well, I just came across a success story related to Pfizer's new cholesterol reducing drug Atorvastatin. In sum, LDL (bad) cholesterol was reduced in test subjects who took this drug for several years. What's wrong with that? Nothing, of course. That's great news, in fact. But, at the risk of sounding like that guy from the infomercials who claims that EVERYTHING can be cured with a natural remedy, an equal amount of success may have been reached with a few dietary choices.

Examples of said dietary choices: Walnuts, Avocados, Whole Grain Oatmeal, Almonds, Fish, and Olive Oil.

Sure, it's much easier to pop a pill than it is consume a diet with any or all of these foods on a regular basis, but the danger you run with the pill are those nasty side effects I mentioned earlier. Dry throat, bloody nose, diarrhea, dizziness, nausea -- it runs the gamut. Also, let us not forget that companies (yes, even Pfizer) have championed drugs in the past, only to have them turn out to do far more harm than good.

Examples of such a drug: How about the one mentioned earlier -- yup, none other than cocaine. If you bother to check, you'll find that none other than Pfizer, Inc. (through its subsidiary Parke-Davis) sold and marketed cocaine for medical purposes. And, never one to leave a customer unsatisfied, Pfizer even threw in a cocaine injection kit. Granted, this was almost a century ago, but it has to at least make you wonder what people 100 years from now will think of drugs like Atorvastatin.

Check out those legs

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The next time your visiting your doctor, you may find them examining your heart...through your legs. Okay, before your mind wanders to places it probably shouldn't, allow me to explain.

By examining your legs, doctors can sometimes come across some of the subtler signs of cardiovascular disease. Says one Ohio State University Medical Center doctor, "If you have disease in your lower legs, chances are you also have diseased carotid arteries, or the arteries supplying your brain, or your coronary arteries."

A condition known as peripheral arterial disease, or PAD, has been known to lead to wounds, gangrene and even amputation of some patients' legs. But, doctors are now looking at PAD with a great deal more concern, as it may also be an indicator for future stroke or heart attack.

If you suffer from pain, soreness or cramping in your legs or hips when you walk or climb stairs, you may want to get checked for PAD. It may turn out to be nothing more than what it feels like - pain, soreness or cramping. Still, it may be worth having your doctor check out.

Perceived treatment at work related to risk of heart attack

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Feeling slighted these days? Like your boss just doesn't notice or appreciate your hard work? Well, my only suggestion is to either start looking for a new job, or do your best to not let it get to you. Or else.

British researchers found that people who feel as though they are always being treated unfairly at work or at home are at an increased risk of heart attack. By asking a few thousand civil service workers to rate how they feel in response to the following statement: "I often have the feeling that I am being treated unfairly," the researchers discovered that feeling unappreciated has a significant effect on a person's risk of heart attack.

In the study, the participants were asked to rate how they felt they were treated at work; based on a scale of 1 through 6 (1 being treated the most fairly and 6 being treated the least). After tracking these participants for 11 years, the results revealed a much greater incidence of heart attack in the people who believed they were treated unfairly at work than the results expressed by those who felt as though they were treated fairly.

Chronic anxiety hurts your heart

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If you suffer from heart disease it obviously adds a degree of stress and worry to your life, but although it's understandable (and all-to-common) you still want to look at ways to keep your anxiety levels as low as possible. A new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology shows that high levels of chronic anxiety can increase the risk of heart attack and death for patients with heart disease.

Further research is needed to pinpoint exactly how and why this happens, and separate out other factors that may also contribute. But the results make sense considering stress has been shown to harm cardiovascular health, and anxiety is a form of stress. For help on reducing your anxiety and stress levels, try this post from earlier this year, and this article on anxiety in women.

Introducing myself...Bethany Sanders

Hello Cardio Blog readers! My name is Bethany and I'm happy to be among the current, returning, and new bloggers here at The Cardio Blog. I've been writing in the field of health and fitness for about three years, and joined the team over at That's Fit last December.

I think that heart disease, in one way or another, affects us all. It's prevelance in our country and around the world makes it hard to ignore, even if it's never touched your own family. After all, we all have that magic muscle beating away in our chest, and keeping it in good health is one of the main reasons we eat right, exercise, and take care of ourselves.

That picture to the right is of my beloved grandpa and I at my third birthday party. We lost him four years ago after a long battle with heart disease, and my grandmother, his wife, recently underwent her third open heart surgery. I'm in awe of her ability to heal from a lifetime of heart-related problems. It's them -- and people like them -- that make me want to bring you the best information I can. I look forward to your comments as well.

Thanks for reading!
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Thought for the Day: Take TV shows depicting cancer with a grain of salt

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A mother who lost her daughter to cancer had something to say on her blog about the depiction of childhood cancer and other cancers for that matter on television. I wanted to share her words.

Think about this:

I have just finished watching the new episode of "House." It was about a teenager who was facing a bone marrow transplant (his younger brother was to be the donor). So many things were unrealistic -- don't they consult with real doctors to get the facts? I think it was a couple of weeks ago that the episode of "Grey's Anatomy" also dealt with the topic of childhood cancer and a bone marrow transplant. It was even more unrealistic. One of the doctor's, "Izzy", ended up being the little girl's biological mother. The same day that she discovered that she was, they did a quick blood test and then harvested her bone marrow without any anesthesia and moments later they were infusing it into her daughter. Not quite the way it really works! It is quite frustrating to think that people are watching these shows and will get a false sense of reality -- and so many of us a working hard to get the word out about childhood cancer! Oh well, I am going to try to do my part to get the truth out. I am going to start working on a documentary that will share the reality of what so many families are living with.
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We meet again: More about Jacki Donaldson

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It's been one year since I began writing for The Cancer Blog. According to statistics generated by this site, I've written 27,381 words and 793 posts. If you've been reading for this entire time, you surely know a lot about me. Not only do my posts reflect current news and issues, but they feature all sorts of personal stuff too. When considered together, my work here reflects just about every piece of my cancer journey, my inner most thoughts, my morals and values, my take on the world. But for those of you who haven't been reading for long, for those who have forgotten how I fit into the cancer puzzle, for those who want a recap, here's a rundown on me: Jacki Donaldson.

I was born and raised in Ohio but have also lived in Nevada, Virginia, and Florida -- my current home. My life always went pretty much according to plan -- I lived happily with my parents and one sister, faithfully attended school, went to college, got married, had two baby boys and a series of good jobs, and had just begun commenting to my family members about how lucky our family was not to have been affected by cancer. It seems just as I spoke this aloud, cancer arrived.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer -- stage I, no lymph node involvement, ER/PR negative, HER2 positive -- in November 2004 at the age of 34. My boys were almost four and 18 months old. My world seemed shattered. But now that my lumpectomy, dose-dense chemotherapy, radiation, and year-long Herceptin drug therapy is complete, everything is just fine.

It took almost two years of counseling and anti-depressant treatment for me to emerge from the behind the cloud of cancer. And my mission in writing about my journey is to spread the word: there is life after cancer. And it can be sweeter than ever imagined.

Cancer gave me a wake-up call, a jolt, a reminder that I must make the most of my days. It gave me focus, simplicity, wonder, easy living. Much to my surprise, after first declaring a journalism major 18 years ago, it gave me a writing career. And it is my pleasure to write for you.

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When at first you want to quit, don't give up

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I'm a good runner when it comes to the right state of mind and the right weather. I have to feel a spark of motivation to know I'll succeed at running, and I prefer cool temperatures. Something in the low 70s or below is perfect. When it's hot and steamy and humid in my Florida town, I tend to struggle. Like I did today.

I set out for a three-mile run with my head in the game. The air was a bit too warm for my liking, but I pushed myself anyway. For a good long time, I did well. With loud music blaring on my MP3 player and a steady pace, I conquered about 75 percent of my goal. Then something happened. I felt my body slow, and my feet wanted to stop. They almost did. Instead of giving in and giving up, though, I pushed myself to finish. In the end, it felt good.

My advice to you today is this: just when you feel you are fading, fading, fading -- don't quit. Try to get through the moment and you'll likely find some energy to keep plugging away.

It could be exercise, diet, a job, a family conflict, or even cancer that has you wilting. Try to dig deep into your inner strength and plow right through. Now if you are on the brink of something catastrophic or life-threatening, I urge you to seek professional assistance. But if you judge your scenario to be one you can realistically overcome, I say: keep charging forward, and don't look back.

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Shirley Mae Run & Gilda's Club Walk 2007

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This past mothers day weekend I attended the Shirley Mae Run & Gilda's Club Walk held in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It was a beautiful Saturday to take a stroll on the boardwalk. My dad flew in from Arizona for the event and my mom drove from Philadelphia. I'm very lucky that my parents are so supportive.

The Shirley Mae Breast Cancer Assistance Fund was started by Roy Goldberg to honor his mother, Shirley Mae, who survived breast cancer. The fund assists breast cancer patients in the south-eastern area of New Jersey with the cost of medicine, wigs, prostheses, and anything else needed to relieve financial stress so they can focus on healing and becoming survivors too.

Shirley Mae's Fund and Gilda's Club South Jersey work together on many different events, this was no exception. I have been to Gilda's Club South Jersey many times. The clubhouse is an actual house on beautiful land. Its a very cozy place to visit.

The Gilda's Club South Jersey website tells us who they are:

Quite simply, we are a community of South Jersey people whose lives have been touched by cancer. We are men, women and children at any stage of the cancer experience. We are their friends and family. We are volunteers, donors and skilled staff.

Yes, we are really a club! We don't provide medical or social services. What we offer is just as important -- emotional and social support, information and inspiration, fellowship and fun, hope and heart. And the lectures, groups, workshops and social events in our new Linwood, NJ clubhouse are all free of charge!

A club for people with cancer? A funny idea maybe, but one that's based on powerful ancient wisdom: connecting with people who understand what we're going through is not just beneficial, it's crucial; and when we give of ourselves, we always receive.

What a great mother's day weekend!

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Your Friends for Life helps with just about everything

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There are those rare few people who give simply to give. Diane Welter of Your Friends for Life is one of those gems. Welter began Your friends for Life, a non-profit organization, after working for years in different support groups with local cancer patients and their families. In January of 2007 she teamed with the 24 Hours of Aspen Foundation to start a program that would support her own vision of what cancer patients and their families need.

The mission of Your Friends for Life is to help in any way a family may need. What suits one family during a time of crisis might not help another family. Welter has a community of people who are always on call to make an extra helping of dinner so that a family dealing with cancer can have a night off from kitchen duty. If a patient is too ill to walk his/her dog, Diane's organization is there to help. If a family cannot afford the extra things for siblings of a cancer patient, the organization seeks donations from local companies or stores to help families provide these to their children. The help does not stop after the treatment ends, Your Friends for Life is there to help with support during and after the loss of a loved one.

Your Friends for Life helps families in several different communities of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. For more information, contact Diane Welter at