Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Power of Gratitude

Most of us have experienced that feeling of, "is this all there is?" "Is my life destined for this existence of semi-happiness, constantly chasing something I can't seem to attain?" It seems that we focus on what we don't have rather than what we do have. Your new house loses its luster when your best friend moves into a bigger one. Your 3 day vacation in Vermont seems less exciting when you find out your cousin is spending 2 weeks in Fiji. These, of course, are some of the pettiest reasons to feel unfulfilled. It could be much worse. So why can't we seem to remember how lucky we are when faced with life's everyday disappointments?                                                                                                                                            

A friend recently sent me a list of powerful "reminders" of how lucky we are to have what we take for granted on a daily basis. Sometimes it helps to have a little perspective:

  • If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of the world.
  • If you have money in your bank, your wallet, and some spare change, you are among 8% of the world’s wealthy.
  • If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the million people who will not survive this week.
  • If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the agony of imprisonment or torture or the horrible pangs of starvation, you are luckier than 500 million people alive and suffering.
  • If you can read this message, you are more fortunate than 3 billion people in the world who cannot read at all.
  • If your parents are alive and still married, you're a rare individual.
  • If you can go to your place of worship without the fear that someone will assault or kill you, you are luckier than 3 billion people in the world.
The first time I read this, I felt a sense of guilt. How could I be so self-consumed? How could I have overlooked these obvious reasons to be filled with gratitude? 

I realized that most of my life has been viewed through a peephole, rather than a window. I have spent so much time focusing on how I compare to the circle of friends and acquaintances around me (most of which I am still feel luckier than, but always focus on the few who seem to dwarf my accomplishments), that I lost sight of my blessings as compared to the majority of the world around me. I am lucky and I am blessed, and although I know that I will surely fall into another period of narrow-minded pity in the future, I hope that I am able to see through the weeds of discouragement and bring myself back to this moment of realization. 

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.  ~Epictetus

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Spirituality and its Positive Effects Among the Terminally Ill

As a cancer patient, being terminally ill and facing the prospect of death is not an easy journey for many people. This is generally a time filled with not only physical pain and scars but also emotional and social challenges. However, with spirituality, many people are better able to cope with life-threatening illnesses and to enjoy the positive psychological effects that it offers.

Spirituality may mean different things to different people but it is usually the belief or awareness that there is something or a being that is greater than the individual. It may also be the way people connect to others and things as they find their purpose in life. Some people may associate spirituality with religion and prayer. Other forms of spirituality may include meditation, yoga, reading inspirational books and passages, singing religious and inspirational songs, having personal and quiet time and attending spiritual services or meetings. Spirituality affects varying elements of your life, including your values, emotions, beliefs, thoughts and relationships.

Research as to whether spiritual well-being may reduce survival rates and healing is mixed with some supporting the claim and others showing that it does not provide any healthy benefits. However, studies have revealed that there are some positive emotional effects of spirituality among people who are terminally ill. These may include:

•Helping you to cope with the stress and the anxiety of dying,
•Having feelings of hope and optimism and living a life with meaning,
•Coping better with your situation and the possibility of death,
•Being more aware of yourself, your abilities and feeling empowered,
•Providing comfort and peace during your life-threatening illness,
•Accepting and preparing for death as an outcome,
•Feeling a sense of connectedness with family, friends and other people,
•Improving your faith and confidence.

For some people, a part of the positive psychological impact in the midst of end-of-life illnesses is planning for their final wishes when they pass on. This may include items for the program and venues for the service as well as a final resting place.

The importance of spirituality in health care is emphasized with the palliative therapy approach that assists patients and their families with their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Having support and care from a team of professionals to deal with your particular situation offer comfort and help to alleviate the stress during serious and life-threatening illnesses. Some spiritual well-being resources may include counseling and speaking with a chaplain.

If you are a terminally ill patient, spirituality may offer you relief and positive emotional strength as you cope with life and death challenges. A useful resource for information on the impact of spirituality for people facing end-of-life issues is the American Cancer Society at

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Holiday Weekend Indulgences with Cancer Fighting Powers?

It's days like today, after I've consumed the staples of summer barbecues in excess for three consecutive days, that I tend to search for things to make me feel better about my diet-busting indulgences. Smores? Sangria? Not a problem. I was actually eating with the intent of improving my overall health...well maybe not, but here are some redeeming qualities of those calorie-packed guilty pleasures:
One of my absolute favorites. Nothing completes a good S'more like a Hershey bar, which happens to contain an antioxidant compound called procyanidin. Although research is still in its infancy stage, scientists have observed these molecules slow the development of breast cancer in lab cell cultures and prostate cancer in rats. It has been suggested that the most efficient way to introduce procyanidin into the bloodstream is to consume chocolate drinks. So go ahead! While you're at it, save those chocolate bars for the next morning and blend away for a nice S'more Smoothie. 
Red wine contains high levels of resveratrol, a plant chemical which has been shown to reduce tumours in lab tests. Depending on the type of grape used to make the wine, some wines may contain more cancer-fighting antioxidants than others. For example, wines grown in Southern France are high in procyanidin, that neat little compound found in dark chocolate. As if that weren't enough, add oranges, cherries, apples, or another fruit to your sangria recipe to boost the health benefits!

Well, although that wasn't as therapeutic as I thought it would be, I think I'm at least in the right frame of mind to get back on track this week. Grilled eggplant with tomato sauce and salad on the menu tonight!


Friday, July 1, 2011

Medicare will Continue to Cover Avastin...So What's Avastin?

The US Food and Drug Administration has taken a hard look at Avastin, a drug used in cancer treatment. It is used in therapy for several forms of the disease, but on June 29, 2011, an advisory committee for the FDA voted unanimously to rescind the drug's approval in breast cancer treatment, stating the risks outweigh the advantages. Don McLeod, a Medicare spokesperson, stated that they will continue to pay for the drug if it is revoked: “The label change will not affect our coverage."

Avastin is marketed by the Switzerland-based Roche--the world's largest biotech company. According to Roche, "Avastin is approved in the US and Europe for the treatment of advanced stages of colorectal cancer, breast cancer, non-small cell lung cancer and kidney cancer, and Avastin is also available in the US and over 32 other countries for the treatment of patients with glioblastoma (a type of brain cancer). Avastin is the only anti-angiogenic therapy available for the treatment of these numerous advanced cancer types, which collectively cause over 2.5 million deaths each year."

An article by Reuters states "Some 17,000 U.S. patients take Avastin, which costs about $8,000 a month. Using Avastin for metastatic breast cancer costs about $88,000 a year, based on people taking it for approximately 11.3 months."

The high cost may not be as much of an issue if the evidence of its effectiveness were more concrete. Avastin belongs to a family of drugs called "monoclonal antibodies", which are designed to inhibit the growth of tumors by blocking the production of new blood vessels--basically "starving" the cancer. It is not considered chemotherapy medication, as it does not directly attack cancer cells, though it is only approved for use in combination with chemotherapy.

Safety information from the Avastin website states, "The most common side effects of Avastin that occurred at >10% and at least twice the control rate include nosebleeds, headache, high blood pressure, inflammation of the nose, too much protein in the urine, taste change, dry skin, rectal bleeding, tear production disorder, back pain, and inflammation of the skin."

While these side effects seem unpleasant, these are not the most severe. It is no wonder that the FDA is alarmed when reviewing the other side-effects that may occur:

Gastrointestinal Perforation: The development of a hole in the intestines or stomach.
Slow/Incomplete Wound Healing: Since the drug inhibits the growth of veins, surgical wounds heal slowly.
Various Serious Bleeding Issues: Stomach, coughing up blood, bleeding in the brain, and vaginal bleeding.
Stroke/Heart Issues: Includes heart attack, blood clots, mini-stroke, and chest pain.
Abnormal Passage Formation from one part of the body to another
Kidney Issues: Avastin increases protein in urine which can lead to serious or fatal kidney problems.
Vision and Nervous System Issues: Includes sluggishness, seizure, blindness, tremors, and confusion.