Sunday, October 26, 2008

I'm getting rant-y about cancer!

An article that supports one of my rants!

Breast cancer stuff frustrates me. This is not because I think that breast cancer research is bad or unnecessary or frivolous. However, many many more women and people die of lung cancer than breast cancer. The 5-year survival rate for lung cancer is worse. And heart disease is the leading killer of women overall (though that changes by age group).

A chart of causes of death by age group.

A less detailed page, compliments of the CDC. (The first link is actually on this website.)

According to "Women are at risk for heart disease and heart attacks, just like men. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death among women over 65. American women are 4 to 6 times more likely to die of heart disease than of breast cancer. Heart disease kills more women over 65 than all cancers combined." (my emphasis)

Do you hear about heart disease? Not so much. Symptoms for heart attack in women are different than they are in men, though many doctors tell both genders to watch for the same symptoms. Most women don't have chest pains. Women are also less likely than men to survive a heart attack.

OK, so am I trying to start a panic? No :) I'm just (highly) frustrated with the skewed coverage of women's health issues.

Another of my cancer rants:

There are walks, runs, golf outings, drives at the grocery store, and a gajillion other ways that people raise money for cancer research. People turn out in droves for these things, fundraise lots of money for them. Many many people are involved. I don't know anyone who would not like to see a cure for cancer.

Of those zillions of people who actively participate in these events (I won't even count people who just give money, even if it's a lot of money), how many of them have changed their lives? My doctor told me that two-thirds of cancers are lifestyle related.

Two-thirds of cancers are lifestyle related.

That means that if everyone who had known carcinogenic habits changed them, well over half of the incidents of cancer would (should) disappear.

That makes me angry. It makes me angry because it's another example of an external locus of control that seems to have invaded our collective mindset. "This is such a horrible disease. Why can't they fix it?" (puff puff on a ciggy)

Now, I certainly don't begrudge research and have benefitted greatly from it. Research enables me to be sitting here typing to you instead of being in an urn on Tom's mantle (or wherever). And even if two-thirds of cancers went away, one-third would still exist (including mine).

"But it's so hard." Uh-huh. So is hearing the words, "You have cancer" ... and then dealing with everything that comes after it, presumably for the rest of one's life (though I can't report on that yet for sure).

"It won't happen to me." Uh-huh. I didn't sign up, either.

(I had other things I was going to list here, and I've forgotten what they all are...)

Anyway, what is carcinogenic? A whole hell of a lot of things.

•plastics: they say only plastics with PBAs in them, and that you shouldn't store stuff in them or use them in the fridge/freezer/microwave. I don't trust any of it — a couple of years ago, none of it was dangerous... They (whoever "they" are) did research on breast cancer, and they dissected a whole bunch of breast cancer tumors. Know what they found inside them? Plastic. Except for dry goods in the pantry, I've sworn off plastic (almost) completely. This means that I've given up yogurt (if you ever see it in a container that's not plastic, let me know) and, for the most part, cheese. Can't buy cheese in not-plastic, either.

• grilled meat: lots of crap in there. Meat in general is not recommended for a healthy diet, and grilling it actually creates carcinogens in the meat. Lots of them. It's unfortunate, as many people turn to grilled meat as a "healthy alternative" to meats cooked in other ways. Better for your arteries, but not better for other things.

• pesticides: I read a piece that explained that the best fruits to buy organic are the ones where you eat the skin. Strawberries washed 12 times still had traces of chemicals on them. We've started buying some organic fruits and vegetables, though we haven't been able to find organic red delicious apples anywhere nearby.

• tobacco: duh

• obesity is almost as large a risk factor for cancer as smoking. And we're so used to looking at overweight people and damning the supermodels that we have an unhealthy view of what healthy looks like. (I am not in any way saying that we should strive to look like supermodels!!) I have about lost count of the number of people who have called me "skinny." I'm not skinny. My upper arms and legs still jiggle. I'm not fat any more, but I'm not skinny. It's not a matter of appearance — it's a matter of health. (Of course, there are many many other unpleasant diseases that obesity increases your risk for, but I suspect you know about those already.)

• one of the artificial sweeteners (I think it's aspartame) when it heats up. In a soda, if the soda is stored somewhere hot, that'll do it. Also not good to bake or otherwise cook with in place of sugar. I've sworn off artificial sweeteners altogether, as they have a variety of health issues beyond cancer. I'm working on weeding out the sugar, too, but I can only do so much at one time :) And people keep buying me tasty treats, ones that they know I really like :) One day soon, I'm going to put out a request for that not to happen any more.

• the sun: as just about everyone knows, I've become obsessive about wearing sunscreen, and about what kind of sunscreen I wear. This is mainly because "melanoma is a common secondary cancer" and I could see myself turning pink very quickly, even in indirect sun. I suspect that by the time next summer rolls around, I will still be cautious about wearing sunscreen outside, but I won't be so gunshy about being in the sun. Regardless, wearing sunscreen helps prevent wrinkles, too, as cellular damage can happen even without a burn.

• cell phones?: I read two articles (that I will post if I can find them) about cell phones. One indicated that men who carry their cell phones in their pockets tend to have less sperm than those who don't. I realize that this is, at best, correlated and not necessarily causative, but still. The other talked about how, while there is no cancer link between cell phones and cancer, there is abnormal cellular activity within 10 minutes (I think) of talking on a cell phone (that is, talking for 10 minutes or more). So maybe or maybe not carcinogenic, but I like my cells to be normal and happy :) So I use my hands-free when I talk on my cell phone for more than a minute or two. And if possible, I don't leave it in my pocket.

OK, that's enough of the rantiness for now. I am curious to opinions, however, if you'd like to share them...

cancer, death rates

I subscribe to Nutrition Action Health, a small magazine with information about health and nutrition (as you might have guessed). They often have interesting articles to read, and every edition has a comparison of a bunch of different brands of some type of food (cereal, yogurt, etc.). They rate them all on a bunch of different criteria. It's interesting.

Anyway, a new copy came yesterday, and the cover article is "Cancer: What You Need to Know." So I looked through it. It lists several kinds of cancers, what elevates risk for them, how many people are estimated to get them in 2008, warning signs. There is also a chart of the top 15 killers for men and women. The chart was fascinating to me. (Chart info cited from the American Cancer Society. Numbers represent estimated deaths in 2008.)

For women:
1- lung (71,030) (Lung cancer was not one of the cancers they gave all of the other information for, interestingly enough.)
2- breast (40, 480)
3- colon & rectum (25,700)
4- pancreas (16, 790)
5- ovary (15,520)
6- non-Hodgkin lymphoma (!!!) (9,370)
7- leukemia (9,250)
8- uterus (7,470)
9- liver (5,840)
10- brain (5,650)
11- myeloma* (5,050)
12- kidney (4,910)
13- stomach (4,430)
14- bladder (4,150)
15- cervix (3,870)

For men:
1- lung (90,810)
2- prostate (28,660)
3- colon & rectum (24,260)
4- pancreas (17,500)
5- liver (12,570)
6- leukemia (12,460)
7- esophagus (11,250)
8- bladder (9,950)
9- non-Hodgkin lymphoma (9,790)
10- kidney (8,100)
11- brain (7,420)
12- myeloma* (5,640)
13- melanoma (5,400)
14- oral cavity & pharynx (5,210)
15- larynx (2,910)

*I didn't know what myeloma was. Cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow. Treatable but not curable. I'm glad I didn't learn that one through experience.

There is another chart that shows 5-year survival rates (as a percentage) in four columns: total, local, regional, distant.

Looking at local (meaning it hasn't hit lymph nodes) survival rates, cancers that are in the 90s for 5-year survival (of the ones listed) are female breast cancer, colon/rectum, kidney, melanoma, ovary, prostate (100%), thyroid (100%), testicle, bladder, cervix, uterus. This means catch it early!

Those in the 80s were larynx and oral.

Those between 50 and 79: stomach.

30-49: esophagus, lung.

Below 30: liver.

For "distant," meaning it had gotten into lymph nodes and spread to distant sites in the body (the explanation given to me at the hospital was, "Does it cross over the horizontal plane of the diaphragm?"), all were at or below 30% except prostate (32), testicle (70), thyroid (56).

OK, enough numbers. They were really interesting to me.

The more detailed write-ups were about cancers of the breast, colon/rectum, esophagus, kidney, ovary, pancreas, prostate, and uterus. Of those, prostate was the only one that didn't list weight as a risk factor. Ovarian cancer, the research is inconclusive about weight.

That leads me to my next cancer rant, but that will need to wait for another time.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

PSA: tax credit money in AZ

We take this break from our cancer programming to bring you this message.

If you (or someone you know) live in and pay state taxes in Arizona, you are able to receive a tax credit of up to $200 ($400 if married filing jointly) when you make a donation to a public school.

I am soliciting tax credit donations for the instrumental music program at my school. If you are able and willing to give us some of your tax money, follow these steps:

1- Download the form here. Print it out.

2- Fill in the information.

3- Check the box, and on the line underneath of it, write "Bethune Instrumental Music"

4- Mail the form to the address given, along with a check in the amount of your choice.

About a year from now, I will get a list of all of the people who donated money to my program. I'll send you a thank you note written by me, and some thank you notes written by kids. So you give us "free money" and get thanked for it — what could be easier?

If you are unsure as to how the tax credit program works, ask me and I'll give you more details.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

this just fell into my lap

The guy who runs this posted a comment a few posts down. I checked him out and found all kinds of cool stuff that made me cry. I kinda wish I'd known about this a year and a half ago ... though with the mindset I was in, I'm not sure I would have used it.

There's also a webpage: I'm Too Young For This. I might buy some of their paraphernilia. I definitely would have bought it a year and change ago.

Check it out.

Friday, October 10, 2008

carcinogens in food

Most people know that grilled beef has lots of carcinogens in it. But lots of people opt for grilled chicken over fried in an effort to be more healthy when eating out. This article might sway you.

no more PETs!!

I had an appointment with my oncologist this afternoon. I already knew via phone call that I had another negative PET scan a couple of weeks ago, so I expected nothing useful in this doc's visit ... which is OK :)

So while there was no new info, per se, he did say that in three months, instead of getting another PET scan, I should have just a chest X-ray; he wants to limit my radiation exposure. Unless the X-ray shows something or I have symptoms, I am DONE with PET scans!!! Hooray!!! No more IVs! No more radioactive injections! Hooray hooray hooray!!!!

This whole stupid cancer thing is more and more becoming a thing of the past. Not that I'll ever be rid of it (and with all I've been through, why would I disown it?), but it sure is nice for bits and pieces of it to fall by the wayside!

My one-year-mark is in just over a month :)

And, unrelated, one of the chemo nurses came to talk to me just before I checked out. We were talking about health and fitness. We had talked while I was going through treatment, and she is recently having some troubles, blah blah. It was cool for her to seek me out, though :) She said she's considering joining my gym. We could be workout buddies :)

Ahhhhhhhhhh...... :) I feel good!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

results are in!

I got a phone call regarding my recent PET scan, and it is another negative one! Woo-hoo! I had no reason to believe it would be anything else, but it's always nice to get confirmation.

I have an appointment with the oncologist on Friday. I don't expect it will yield any particularly useful conversation, but I'll keep you posted.