Sunday, August 29, 2010

Help Beat the Clock on Cervical Cancer

Another Guest Blogger Enjoy

In October of 2008, I was diagnosed with Stage IIB cervical cancer, a couple of months after retiring from the NYPD. After a long and tough journey of radiation and chemotherapy treatments, I was cleared by my doctor in May 2009. May 5, 2010 marked my first year of remission and I am hoping for many more. Cancer changed my life; I thank God for my second shot at life as my priorities have changed and I am proud to call myself a cervical cancer survivor.

In September 2009, I did a cervical cancer walk (Walk to beat the clock, organized by non-profit Tamika & Friends). At the walk, I found inspiration in seeing so many cervical cancer survivors telling their stories to help other women understand that through awareness and prevention, this disease can be entirely eliminated. So, I joined the movement and now I am the President of Tamika & Friends’ New York City Chapter. Tamika & Friends is a national non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about cervical cancer and its link to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). It was founded in 2005 by cervical cancer survivor and advocate Tamika Felder.

On September 25, Tamika & Friends is having their 3rd annual NYC Walk to Beat the Clock to help beat the clock on cervical cancer. We want to publicly celebrate women who have survived, remember those who have lost their battle, support those who fight cervical cancer today and educate women on how to prevent a cervical cancer diagnosis all together!

Cervical Cancer is almost 100% preventable, yet 11 women die each day from this disease. I do not want any other woman to go through what I did and become another statistic. I am committed to the eradication of cervical cancer along with Tamika & Friends.

Patti Murillo-Casa

Cervical Cancer Survivor

President, NYC Chapter, Tamika & Friends

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Another guest blogger

Once upon a time, I was a rising star at a high-tech giant.  My job as an eCommerce consultant was to help big businesses like Disney build big websites to sell you everything you need: toys for your kids, clothes for your family, tools to fix your house and treats to feed your dog or cat. I was preparing a trip to meet with a very important client when my life changed forever.

I woke up one Labour Day looking like Bart Simpson only more yellow.  Instead of going on a business trip to meet with my customers to complete testing for their website ahead of a big launch, I was sitting in a hospital bed while doctors ran every kind of painful and embarrassing test imaginable to figure out what was wrong with me.  All we knew for sure was that there was a massive tumor in my liver and I was in grave danger.

Eventually I was diagnosed with Fibrolamellar Hepatocellular Carcinoma, a 1 in 5,000,000 liver cancer.  Over the last few years, I’ve fought for my life through three bouts of this disease.  Experiencing the cancer world as a patient in hospitals in three different countries, I’ve learned a lot about health care.  I’ve marveled as I’ve borne witness to countless missed opportunities to alleviate the pain, suffering and frustration of patients going through terrifying ordeals.

Today I am optimistic about my future and looking to make a difference. I want to fix some of the problems I’ve seen and experienced.  In his book Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi describes the concept of a “blue flame,” where a person’s passions intersect with their talents.  I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn’t searching for my blue flame.

After everything I’ve been through in the last few years I think I have finally found it. I realized that where my passions and talents meet is in developing software for health care.  I believe that my knowledge of software design combined with my experience as a cancer patient gives me a unique perspective on this emerging field.

My mission – my “blue flame” -  is to create software that helps patients (and their families) when they are the most vulnerable.  I am passionate about improving the lives of people suffering from debilitating illnesses.  To achieve my goals, I propose that we gather together as many smart, creative and passionate people as we can; let’s get our creative juices flowing and start crafting innovative tools to help people through their darkest hours.  At SXSW and beyond I hope to meet with others to share these ideas and collaborate on exciting solutions.

I have some ideas for how we can build a better breed of health care services for the future using the popular Twitter platform.I've put together a proposal for SXSW and would love to hear your thoughts on it.  

I am here and am ready to make a difference.

about the guest blogger: visit Tal's website Life After Cancer. Vote for his SWSX proposal here.  

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Exercise and the Cancer Patient – All You Need to Know

Another Guest Blogger Enjoy

It’s a horrible disease, one that makes you suffer even if lets you live. No one can claim to know what a cancer patient goes through unless they’ve had some form of this dreaded disease as well. The shock of the initial diagnosis, the pain of the chemotherapy and radiation therapy, the loss of dignity and control over your life, the fear of suffering and eventual death – the list of agonies goes on and on when it comes to cancer. Even survivors are battle-scarred – they’ve lost so much of their life and sometimes even lose the will to fight the disease even though they’re over the worst of it, simply because they feel too exhausted mentally and physically.

However, exercise helps make a significant difference in the lives of cancer patients; whether they’re part of the rehab procedure or a regular part of the survivor’s life, workout routines provide them with:

• An increase in strength: When you’ve been ill for a while, your muscles atrophy and your limbs and joints become stiff and clumsy. You find that you stumble when you walk and that even the most simple chores and activities are now strenuous exercises. When you exercise so that your muscles and joints become stronger and more nimble, you feel yourself returning to normal and feeling fine.

• A boost in confidence: Exercise boosts both physical and mental wellbeing; just the fact that you’re able to move your limbs and go through the workout routine your therapist had designed for you is a boost to your confidence because it proves that you’re fighting the disease with all you’ve got and not letting it get you down. When you’re mentally prepared to do all it takes to fight cancer, it makes a huge difference in your ability to recover.

• Lower complications: When you exercise, you reduce the side effects and complications caused by your illness. You don’t suffer from blood clots and bedsores because of being holed up in bed for too long, and your overall health improves even as you battle cancer.

• Overall improvement in health: Exercise helps you sleep better and sometimes even removes the need for pain medication. Your appetite improves and you’re able to eat nutritious food that boosts your heath. And you start to look and feel better as your energy levels go up and you feel stronger than before.

Your physiotherapist will probably give you a range of exercises to go through every day; based on the nature of your illness, it could be passive or intense. Some routines target your ROM (range of movement) – for example, if you’ve had breast cancer and had your lymph nodes removed as part of the surgery, your arms and shoulders are going to feel stiff and heavy. Your therapist will teach you the right exercises so that you’re able to use your arms again without feeling any pain.

Exercise has also proved beneficial in reducing your risk of a relapse – breast and colorectal cancer research has shown that survivors who exercise are less likely to be affected by the disease again. So if you’re affected by cancer and on your way to recovery, don’t forget to include exercise in your arsenal of weaponry when fighting the disease.

This guest post is contributed by Paul Hench, he writes on the topic of  masters in public health. He welcomes your comments at his email id:

Monday, August 16, 2010

A review of Showtime's The Big c

Hollywood never ceases to amaze me.  I worked there for 10 years in the television industry, working on everything from award shows to movies of the week to sitcoms to drama.  So I know when hollywood creates something like the series The Big c I have to suspend my disbelief (and oh, if you are not a frequent reader of my blog then I will tell you I don't capitalize the word cancer, gives it too much power, so even just the letter c in a title, sorry not going to do it.)

Laura Linney's character Cathy Jameson is told she has stage IV melanoma and only has a year or so to live.  She is in obvious shock and decides to forgo chemo (she doesn't want to lose her hair) and doesn't get a second opinion.  Right, you only have a year to live.  Ok thanks for the news doc, I will take your word for it.  Bye now...

I know many stage IV survivors who were given their "expiration date" by doctors who are still here, past that date,  fighting, alive and kicking. 

In the pilot episode Cathy doesn't tell her husband or her son about her cancer diagnosis.  Some may think this is selfish, but I get this part.  Cancer is scary, and in the midst of a diagnosis it is hard to process anything.  So yeah I understand.  It took me a while to tell people about my diagnosis.  Some people knew right away, others knew later.  For me it was hard to keep telling the story over and over and over again.

Linney's character decides that she needs to start living, she has been an uptight housewife for too long.  She wants to let her freak flag fly (I didn't make that up it was on the showtime site for the show)  I understand she wants to let loose, who wouldn't want to tell people exactly what they think of them, or build a pool in the front yard, ( I live in an apartment complex, so I think the manager would be upset if I started digging up the place)  but it doesn't give you the right to treat people like crap, like telling one of her students she has to be fat and jolly or be the skinny bitch. Sure, like that student wouldn't go straight to the schools administration and tell them what she said.

I felt that her character was very unlikeable at the beginning of the show, and really had few redeeming qualities.  Perhaps the writers felt that this was important so we see her go through her transformation into someone living life to the fullest.

The jury is still out for me on this show.  I try not to make a judgement on a show based upon one episode.  Given the subject matter and the cast, I will continue to watch this hollywood version of cancer, and suspend my disbelief

Mel is the producer~co-host of The Vic McCarty Show.  Listen live Monday~Friday 10am-noon eastern time on

Check out my podcast The Cancer Warrior on Empoweradio.  Available  on demand and also available on Itunes

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Preventing a Recurrence of Cancer

Another guest blogger.  Enjoy

According to the National Cancer Institute, there are over 12 million cancer survivors in the US today.  And that number is expected to grow, as the population ages, treatments improve, and tests find the disease earlier.  

Cancer survivors face a myriad of health challenges, not to mention the daunting fear the cancer will return.  However, once a patient is deemed "in remission," they are typically disconnected from care -- as well as any attending support -- and told to come back in three to six months where diagnostic scans or blood tests will determine if the cancer has returned.

We suggest a far more pro-active, empowered approach: a remission maintenance plan that offers cancer survivors a personalized program to regain control of their health, restore vitality and protect against the cancer returning. At the Block Center, once a patient has completed their treatment, we personally tailor a comprehensive Remission Maintenance program for them that includes: therapeutic nutrition, exercise, mind-spirit care, and anti-tumor therapies.

Understandably, after hearing that they are "in remission," patients may want to retreat psychologically to a "cancer- free" zone and never think about the disease again.  But this is why they shouldn't:  Cancer is as much a microscopic and molecular disease as it is a visible one. Thus, a patient in remission may still harbor malignant cells (ones that were resistant to chemotherapy or radiation, and therefore survived the attack phase). These cells unfortunately have the ability to show up with a vengeance, even when one least suspects. Not placing far greater emphasis on containing and addressing these cells from the get-go is a significant omission of mainstream treatment. But while preemptive treatment strategies may only exist in integrative clinics, when it comes to the diagnostic side, a new technology has begun demonstrating the relevance of these virulent escape cells.

Enter CTCs (circulating tumor cells)! Over a decade ago, the Block Center was one of a few that were performing bone marrow biopsies to evaluate for malignant cells in both the marrow and in circulation. It took several years, but eventually this evolving diagnostic technology made it into conventional care. While easier to perform today and more reliable as well, we continue to use this in our clinic. This technology allows us and others the ability to measure in our patients the number of these detached cells circulating freely from the main cancer mass.  Though not yet approved for all cancer, research studies have shown that an increase of these cells is prognostic of a patient's survival.

For instance, a CTC count may be a better prognostic indicator for survival among prostate cancer patients than a PSA level -- the test used presently to determine and follow the course of prostate cancer growth.

By comparing the levels of CTC in 37 men with metastatic prostate cancer, researchers at Thomas Jefferson University found that for the men with 5 CTCs or more, the median overall survival was only 8.4 months. Whereas, if these men were found to have less than 5 CTCs, the median survival was 48 months! 

The relevance of CTCs is also relevant to other cancers. For instance, CTCs were measured in 151 women with metastatic breast cancer. The MD Anderson Cancer Center's researchers found that those patients with 5 or more CTCs had a median survival of only 13 months, whereas those with less 5 survived over 29 months!

Controlling, preventing or overcoming these detached and disseminating cells is possibly the biggest conundrum facing cancer scientists. While these cells are generally addressed during treatment, the first steps of recurrence prevention should start with strategies to counter the survival of these residual cells and inhibiting their potential proliferation. In fact, CTCs that have gone through the onslaught of treatment and have nonetheless survived have the potential to evolve into more aggressive clones encouraging a more virulent malignancy. So what to do?

Aggressive Monitoring

We recommend regular monitoring of patients' status with lab tests and imaging to detect early signs of disrupted biochemistry or a recurrence of disease, especially in the year or two after remission.

Being "diagnostically aggressive" may allow us to be less invasive therapeutically. In the first years after remission, therefore, we recommend:
  • Clinical visits with your oncologist, at least every three to four months in the first and second year and every six months for the next several years
  • Scans and blood tests of tumor markers every three months.
  • Complete blood count and chemistry test every three months.
  • Nutrition status, including weight changes, body composition, and albumin levels, every three months.
  • Internal terrain monitoring, every three to six months for the terrain factors that are most problematic.
While monitoring, there is no reason to wait anxiously for the other shoe to drop.  So immediately implement a full integrative program.
  • Make sound dietary changes toward adherence of a whole foods diet.  Reduction in dietary fat has already been shown to cut recurrences in different cancers. Controlling refined flour, sugar and junk food is a necessary step to avoid the recurrence risk of elevated blood glucose and spiking insulin levels.
  • Introduce aerobics, strength and flexibility training into your daily schedule. Yoga, pilates, chi gong or any number of fitness approaches is an essential step towards recurrence prevention. Considerable research supports that risk, response, recurrence and outcomes are tied to physical care.
  • Mitigate stress through progressive relaxation, meditation, or simply easing the load on an excessive work schedule. Elevated cortisol levels are associated with poorer outcomes in breast cancer patients. So do what it takes to transform less healthy patterns.
  • Get rest and adequate sleep. The more active you are in the daytime, the better you'll sleep at night. Few of us get enough sleep and the adverse consequences to an otherwise health promoting, cancer inhibitory environment can be devastating.
© 2010 Keith I. Block, M.D., author of Life Over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Treatment
Author Bio
Keith I. Block, M.D. is Director of Integrative Medical Education at the University of Illinois College of Medicine; Medical Director of the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Treatment in Evanston, Illinois; and founder and Scientific Director of the nonprofit Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Education. He is also editor in chief of the peer-reviewed professional journal Integrative Cancer Therapies and a member of the National Cancer Institute's Physician Data Query Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Editorial Board.

For more information, please visit and Become a fan of Life Over Cancer and the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Treatment on Facebook.

Friday, August 6, 2010


I wish that is what they would stamp on my cancer chart. DONE. As if you could just stamp something and have it be so like "top secret"  like on NCIS or "case closed," like the CIA does. Sadly that is not the case. I don't think you can ever be done with cancer. Even in remission or not having it for many years, there is always that scanxiety, with every blood test, or scan, or even phone call.

September 18th will be my 3 year cancerversary.  Still can't believe it has been 3 years.

Certain things I remember like they were yesterday.  Other stuff is just a giant chemoblur.  I remember when I was told, obviously, when the surgeon told me my options, when the oncologist said ok we can start chemo next week, I thought, what, already holy shit, give me more than 7 days after I get my port in to process this craziness.

My friends told me that it would be over before I knew it.  I didn't believe them at the time.

This is going to take forever I thought HOW MANY MONTHS WILL I HAVE THIS GODDAMN PORT IN?  How long will I be going through chemo and herceptin, and I have to reschedule my life around an afternoon radiation appointment?  Really?

My friend was right.  Although it didn't seem like it it did go by fast.  Now I watch other people go through similar situations that I did, chemo, surgery radiation, and I see the anger and frustrations in their posts.  I know how they feel, I felt that way too. 

Its hard to explain to my friends that soon this will be a distant memory, that this wont last forever, but when you are in the moment, surrounded by cancer, time stands still.

I will continue to advocate, continue to speak about patient empowerment, continue to share my story, continue to blog.

Until there is a cure.

Only then will I be Done.

Mel is the producer/co-host of The Vic McCarty Show.  Listen live Monday-Friday 10am-noon on

Check out my podcast The Cancer Warrior on available on demand now and also available on Itunes