Month: June 2016

Understanding Dietary Supplements and Breast Cancer Treatment


When I think of breast cancer and dietary supplements, it takes me back to 1999. At that time, I was a “newbie” to breast cancer survivorship. I was having a conversation with the oncology social worker who facilitated the breast cancer support groups at a large teaching hospital where I was treated.  I began to tell her how I wanted to take certain supplements that I thought would strengthen my immune system – I was, at that time, receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer. She listened intently, as she always did, then gently said – “you should talk with your oncologist about it before you do take anything”. I told her I was a little apprehensive to do so, as I wasn’t sure he’d understand my intentions. She said, “yes, he will”. I then asked her how she could be so confident to say that, and she proceeded to tell me it was because my oncologist was her husband!

During the months of receiving chemotherapy, I often did research to better educate myself about nutrition, exercise, and self care. As a registered nurse, I had a good foundation in all those topics, but I learned that “natural” does not necessarily mean it is harmless or good for you.  More importantly, things that claim to fight cancer, often are not evidence based.

An excellent resource on herbs and supplements, I was fortunate to find, came from Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York. You can search any item and then read about benefits (if any) and possible risks.   It also includes information on alternative treatments (used instead of mainstream therapies – most often unproven and expensive) and complementary medicine (therapies that are used as adjuncts to mainstream cancer care). Click on the” About Herbs” link below to learn more.

About Herbs

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Four Ways Breast Cancer Patients Can Minimize Fatigue



bicycle - exerciseFatigue is one of the most common, distressing, and complex symptoms experienced by some breast cancer survivors. It is a subjective sense of tiredness or exhaustion that interferes with usual functioning. Some describe the fatigue as weakness, unrelenting tiredness, or just worn out and feeling a loss of energy to participate in usual daily activities.

Up to 90% of cancer patients, in general, report some level of fatigue. Research indicates in some, the fatigue can persist for months or years after treatment – well in to survivorship. In one study of cancer survivors, 67% rated fatigue as among of the top 2 concerns, second only to the fear of cancer recurrence.

To Minimize Fatigue Here are Four Helpful Ways :

1. Getting Enough Seep

Experiencing sleep disturbances can actually worsen fatigue. If a survivor sleeps better, there is less of a feeling of fatigue.The standard nonpharmacologic approach is the use of cognitive behavior therapy. It helps one learn coping skills and ways for preventing or decreasing insomnia. Clinical trials in survivors with chronic insomnia showed weekly sessions of cognitive behavior therapy showed decreased fatigue and better sleeping.

2.  Exercise

The American Society of Clinical Oncology guidelines recommend survivors should engage in a moderate level of physical activity. The guidelines define this as 150 minutes of aerobic exercise such as brisk walking or cycling per week. In addition, 2-3 times a week engage in strength training. Of course, your physician should be consulted before any regimen is initiated.

3.  Nutrition

Always remember to eat a nutrient-rich diet. Plant foods such as fruits, vegetable, nuts, seeds, bean, and whole grains are excellent food sources. Also key is maintaining adequate hydration.

4.  Complementary Medicine

Ongoing studies suggests that some of the following modalities may be beneficial in improving quality of life for survivors: Meditation/mindfulness, acupuncture, reflexology, massage, reiki, aromatherapy, yoga, qigong, music and journaling. It is best to consult with practitioners that specialize in working with cancer survivors. In some centers, the integration of many of these modalities are part of an integrative healing approach.

Fatigue can successfully be managed, and it doesn’t have to greatly impact a survivor’s quality of life.




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Metastatic Breast Cancer and How Patients Can Assist in Research.


Tapestry of Life


Launched in the Fall of 2015, The Metastatic Breast Cancer Project is lead by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. At the helm is Dr. Nikhil Wagle, MD, a breast cancer oncologist and researcher, and Corrie Painter, PhD, a cancer researcher, cancer patient  and patient advocate. This project has enrolled more than 2,000 patients from across the United States. The success of the enrollment has been credited by the use of social media and the involvement of several advocacy groups. It has enabled the project to recruit patients directly rather than engaging in contact with individual physicians and institutions that treat these patients.

Being able to work with patients directly through social media results in having access to tumor samples and medical information for biomedical research. This is a paradigm shift from the fact that most patients have never been asked if they would like to offer a tissue sample for research.  Working collaboratively with metastatic breast cancer patients and the community focuses on cutting edge genomic science with hopes of understanding and treating this disease.

Interested patients can enroll on the project’s website:  There is a 16- question survey about their cancer and treatment along with a consent form to allow researchers to obtain copies of their medical records. The consent also permits release of stored tumor tissue which undergo genomic analysis. Patients will also be asked to submit a saliva sample which can be accomplished by using at-home collection kit.

According to Dr. Wagle, the clinical data will be shared widely for other researcher to use. “It may not be my team that makes the next big discovery. We want other researchers to look at this, so that we can increase our chances of shared success,”  said Wagle.

I wanted to write this blog and share with others since I belong to several breast cancer groups on social media. I hope this further propels this incredible study to reach those living with metastatic breast cancer who may not have known about it.

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Journaling: 5 Benefits You Will Get From Keeping a Journal

While attending the American Holistic Nurses Association conference this past week, I listened to a presentation on self care. As a registered nurse, I have always appreciated the need for self care, but it is important for everyone. For many, it is difficult to accomplish due to the inability to set aside time, feelings of guilt because one looks at it as self indulgence, or simply not recognizing how needed it is. Everyone needs to have some form of self care strategy.

One way to engage in self care is by keeping a journal. Here are 5 benefits of keeping a journal:

1. Experience Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a buzz word these days and for good reason. There is an explosion of scientific research demonstrating how mindfulness is healthy for the function of the brain.

2. Increases Memory

By writing it helps fix ideas more firmly in our minds, thus greater recall later.

3. Achieving Goals

Writing in a journal, we can see how far we’ve come and how much we have left to accomplish.

4. Healing

“Journal therapy is all about using personal material as a way of documenting an experience, and learning more about yourself in the process.”  Kathleen Adams, LPC, a Colorado-based psychotherapist and author of Journal to the Self.

5. Self reflection

Re-read what you’ve written and many times there will be an ‘aha’ moment which can reveal deeper, more profound levels of insight.


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