My Cancer Story: Clinical Trials

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Shortly after I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, I received a letter from UNC Hospital inviting me to participate in clinical research trials. At my pre-surgery appointment a week later, here’s what I said yes to:

  • I agreed to have my tissue sent to a cancer tissue bank. I like knowing that those nasty cells may help find a cure down the road.
  • I allowed my surgeon to inject dye to detect further cancer in my lymph nodes. This dye is now used effectively in breast cancer patients but has not yet been approved for endometrial cancer surgery. My surgeon told Cliff afterwards that the dye enabled her to more quickly figure out that my cancer hadn’t spread. Yes!
  •  I said okay to participating in a study that accessed my quality of life before and after surgery.  I answered questions on my happiness levels in lots of categories (and I love happiness research!). Some of the questions would have made me blush had I been speaking in person to the young man asking them. Luckily, these were phone interviews. I ended up with forty dollars worth of gift cards from Walmart. I spent my gift cards with gusto, although I can’t remember what I bought. (Some clinical trials offer monetary or other compensation; most do not.)
  • The last study will measure my legs over a two-year period. I’m at danger for lymphedema as a result of the lymph node removal. The measurements assess leg swelling. The disease sounds awful (and doesn’t come on until at least a year post-surgery). The photo below makes me look like a long giant, which I am not, I promise.

Here’s Katie, the darling research nurse heading up the study. I’m one of 75 women participating.

Katie

Blog reader Cheryl, a clinical research coordinator at a local medical center, is pleased I agreed to participate in clinical trials. I asked her to send us a few lines explaining their importance.

Cheryl writes: Clinical trials are the only way we can move forward with treating cancer. Studies can be as simple as observation or questionnaires about your symptoms. Some trials take an agent already approved for a disease and modify the treatment time or frequency to see if it’s as effective as the approved regimen, while others introduce a completely new agent to tackle the disease in a different way than the current standard. The clinical trials that are active now shape the standard treatment one, two or ten years from now. They can help the patient make it to the next milestone in life:  a birth, a graduation, a wedding, another birthday, remission, recovery…. or in some cases, to the next available clinical trial. You’ll never be pressured into joining a clinical trial, and can withdraw from a study at any time. Trials may or may not help your condition, but they could help someone you know in future.

Me again: I was happy to agree to the trials. Had they involved multiple trips to the hospital or experimental drugs, I might have declined. These clinical trials were easy and interesting to do, and they lifted my spirits as they gave deeper purpose to my cancer experience.

What about you? Have any of you had good or bad experiences participating in clinical medical trials? Do tell!

Experience 2015: Corn Snake!

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Snake in HandOkay, granted he is a small snake.

Granted he was handed to me by a trained naturalist.

Granted I knew he wouldn’t bite

But…

I still, for the first time in my life, held a snake!

His name is Ricky. (Lucy escaped, never to be found again.)

He’s a corn snake, and he lives in the enviromental building at the Bald Head Island Conservancy.

Here are my three thoughts on holding the snake:

  • This item is now off my bucket list. Although if holding a snake is on my bucket list, it makes me wonder if my bucket list needs revising.
  • I like that I stepped up, and in an instant, gathered the courage to do something that’s scary to me. Hope I can do more scary things.
  • Ricky didn’t feel like I expected he would. There was not a hint of slime, and he seemed solid, as if he were happy and confident in his own snake self.

I don’t think I’d be brave enough to reach my hand into Ricky’s cage and pick him up myself. The road to snake handler, for me, would be a long, terrifying one. But I’m now, for the first time in my life, thinking sweet, fond thoughts about a snake. Thanks, Ricky! (And thanks to Emily, our excellent tour guide).

What about you? Is snake handling on your bucket list or are you already a pro?


Snake
Want to learn more about corn snakes? Sure you do! Here’s some info from the National Zoo.

Check out this theory on why many humans fear snakes.

Mindfullness and Menopause

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Paula

A post by mindfulness instructor Paula Huffman:

As you may have noticed lately, the word mindfulness is getting tossed around a lot! Is there something to this concept of Mindfulness or is it just another trend? And, you might ask yourself, “What is Mindfulness? What does that mean?”

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Pain Management program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center began developing what he called “Mindfulness programs” back in the early 70’s to help people with chronic pain. The methods were so successful that programs flourished and began to be used to help clients with all sorts of issues from chronic physical and mental illness to everyday stress! Now these programs are available world wide! Kabat- Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”

Mindfulness involves a conscious direction of awareness. When practicing Mindfulness, we are making a conscious effort to remain aware of what is going on right now! We work on moving out of Auto Pilot and start to live life again!

Mindfulness wakes us up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments. It provides a simple but powerful route for getting ourselves unstuck and back in touch with our own wisdom and vitality. Through the Mindfulness practices, we can learn to identify stress triggers and stress indicators. We practice bringing awareness to thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations while they are happening. Learning the Mindfulness practices can help you to manage stress by allowing you to function from a calmer baseline, manage catastrophic thinking, and choose to respond skillfully to difficult events in your life.

Mindfulness is not a religious practice. Mindfulness classes are educational experiences and not group therapy. Through mindfulness classes you will learn practices such as Mindful Eating, Mindful Breathing, Seated Meditation with attention to the breath, Walking meditation, Mindful Movement, and Loving Kindness Meditation.

As with many concepts that become more popular, the pure essence of those concepts can become diluted. In some cases, the word mindfulness or mindful may be added to something so it will sound enticing and sometimes the concepts are not really being used or taught with a full intention or from a sound knowledge base. As Jon Kaba- Zinn developed his programs, he made sure to say that Mindfulness is taught to others from the experience on one’s own practice.

Practicing Mindfulness during the menopause years can help you learn to cope with and diminish many of the common health issues and discomforts such as weight gain, insomnia, fatigue, increased reactivity, mood swings, and more that are often related to this time of life. Learn how to cope with stress and other symptoms by using mindfulness practices such as Mindful Breathing, the Breathing Space to Step out of Auto Pilot, Seated Meditation, Mindful Movement, and Loving Kindness Meditation.. 

For those who live near Hillsborough, North Carolina, Paula is offering a series on menopause and mindfullness. Here’s the scoop:

Managing Menopause the Mindfulness Way 

Upcoming Introductory Series…

Menopause Symptoms Making you Feel a Little Wild?

WIld

6 Weeks starting May 13th

9-11 a.m.
$150 for the series

Location: Carolina Wellness Institute
121 W Margaret Lane  Hillsborough, NC

Register: info@carolinawellnessinstitute.com
919 260 0255

Practicing Mindfulness during the menopause years can help you learn to cope with and diminish many of the common health issues and discomforts related to this time of life.

Common symptoms associated with menopause might include:
– Weight Gain
– Sleep Issues
– Hot/Cold Flashes
– Fatigue
– Increased Blood Pressure
– Urinary Urgency and Incontinence
– Generalized Muscle Aches
– Increased Reactivity and Mood Swings

Want to learn how Mindfulness and other holistic practices can help? Each session will include:
• Presentation and group discussion on a Mindfulness theme related to menopause
• Stress management through identification of stress triggers and indicators, thought, emotion and physical sensation awareness.
• Learning how to step out of auto pilot and live your life!!
• Introduction and experience of Mindfulness Practices including Mindful Eating, Mindful Breathing, Seated Meditation with Attention to the Breath, Mindful Walking, Mindful Movement and Loving Kindness Meditation.
• Discussion on home practice and how things are going
• Bonus of topics related to the physiology behind the symptoms, complementary and alternative therapies including nutrition and herbal support, acupuncture and more.  These topics will be presented by licensed practitioners who provide women’s health services.

Facilitated by Paula Huffman BS, RN, ERYT, Mindfulness Instructor

Paula (in the photo at top) has been a Yoga and Meditation practitioner for close to 25 years. She is a Registered Nurse and certified Yoga Instructor. Paula completed studies in leading Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Pain Management programs with Jon Kabat Zinn and the Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical Center on two separate occasions. She has been teaching Mindfulness classes for 6 years classes with the Program on Integrative Medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill. Please feel free to contact Paula for information or questions on these programs: info@carolinawellnessinstitute.com

Hormones and Superheroes: A Menopause Novel Giveaway

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Going Through the Change

(Cover art by Polina Sapershteyn)

A post by speculative fiction writer Samantha Bryant:

Menopause can be a pretty scary word. In a world that values youth and physical perfection above experience and knowledge, especially for women, getting older is fraught with psychic landmines. The process can make you doubt your own self worth.

Besides what the world thinks, there’s that feeling that your body is betraying you, changing physical shape around you and surprising you with new changes in function. You can start to feel like you can’t trust your own senses. Is it hot in here? No? Guess it’s just me, then.

As a writer, when something scares me, it comes out on the page. In the stories and characters I create, I can deal with the things that worry or upset me. I always tell my husband that it’s cheaper than therapy.  That’s exactly what happened with Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel. The novel follows five women as their journey through the change of life takes some unexpected turns: superheroic turns.

While the subject matter is definitely the stuff of comic books–human flight, wielding fire, and transformations are unlikely to be a problem for any of us here in the real world–the book also explores the heart’s truths of this time of life. One of my characters, Helen Braeburn, is taking it especially hard.

“Sometimes, Helen felt like she had spent her whole life waiting to be ‘old enough’ and then had crossed over into ‘too old’ without finding out what it was she had been waiting for.”

And

“It was a truth of life that as a woman aged, Helen thought, people tended to treat her more and more like a child. Salesclerks called older women honey, just like they might a child. Senior food and movie tickets were sold at a reduced price, just like a child’s. Discounts and nicknames weren’t so bad in the scheme of things, but the assumption of incompetence was hard to take.”

Even in her lighter moments, Helen still struggles with aging.

“Getting old sucked. Of course, so did being beaten up by a giant lizard with red hair, and strangled by a cheerleader.”

Writing this book definitely has helped me deal with all my anxieties about aging and menopause. I hope my readers will find connections with the experiences of these characters, too.

Giveaway: Friend for the Ride is giving away a copy of Going Through the Change (digital or print) to TWO lucky Friend for the Ride readers. For a chance to win, simply enter a comment by May 15 saying you’d like to be the winner. U.S. only. Thanks! Comment link is at the bottom of the post.

Book Launch Party: Meet the author, Samantha Bryant, at Fly Leaf Books on Saturday, April 25 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina at 2 PM!

Amazon link is here.

Going Through the Change

Introducing the stars of the show, the menopausal superheroes! These wonderful drawings were done by artist Charles C. Dowd.

Here’s Helen, who brings new meaning to “one hot mama.”

Helen

Jessica, who finally lightens up, literally.

Jessica

Linda, whose inner strength becomes her outer strength, and it comes with a surprise!Linda

Dr. Liu, who doesn’t see a problem with the means she uses to get to her ends.

CindyLiu

Patricia, who always had a thick skin, but now is bulletproof!

patricia

Samantha Bryant is a writer, mother, and middle school Spanish teacher, so she knows a thing or two about being a superhero. Her secret superpower is finding lost things. She lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina with her family and dog.

Check out Samantha’s Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/samanthadunawaybryant
Here she is on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mirymom1
And Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+SamanthaDunawayBryant/posts
To read her blog, click here: http://samanthabryant.com

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