nowhere hairThe title of this post is a quote attributed to Susan McHenry, from The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo

“Cancer.” The first thought we may have when seeing someone without any hair or eyebrows.

Hair loss can be one of the greatest fears for a cancer patient. Many patients about to undergo chemotherapy shave their heads to avoid the experience of watching their hair thin and disappear. Why does this hair loss occur and why don’t all patients undergoing cancer treatment lose their hair? Medication administered to target and kill cancer cells is commonly referred to as “chemotherapy.” Many patients whose cancer treatment includes chemotherapy will lose their hair because of the mechanism of action of these medications. Some cancer patients undergo radiation treatment as well. Radiation may also result in hair loss.

Alopecia is the clinical term for loss of hair from the body. Alopecia can be in a specific area of the body, such as the scalp, or all over the body. Hair grows out of follicles and is characterized by a long growth phase, a transitional phase, and a brief resting phase, after which the hair falls out. One mechanism by which chemotherapy works is to kill off rapidly reproducing cells. Cancer cells and hair cells both divide constantly- and for this reason are targeted by many forms of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy speeds the progress of hair to the resting phase, resulting in a sudden onset of hair loss. Cancer patients receiving particular types of drugs, however, may not experience hair loss. Medications targeting specific cells or parts of cells or those that attack cancer by boosting a patient’s own immune pathways are unlikely to affect hair growth.

LEARN Cancer MEthodSince each medication has a slightly different onset of action and duration of effect, hair loss from chemotherapy may occur within a week or not until several weeks after treatment. Hair loss may be partial or total. Hair will usually return several weeks after treatment is completed. New hair growth may be a different color or texture from what it was prior to treatment, but the change is rarely permanent. Radiation therapy also destroys rapidly growing cells, so hair follicles in the area targeted by radiation may be destroyed. Hair loss in these areas can be permanent. If hair does return, any alteration in texture or color may be permanent because the goal of radiation is to alter and remove treated cells to prevent their regeneration. Radiation may target every cell in its path, while chemotherapy’s long-term effect is to permanently destroy only cancer cells.

Every cancer patient is different. Each person’s experience of hair loss is highly personal. One close friend might have a response you expect, another might surprise you. Be open and forthright and your friend or family member will appreciate your support. When one of my friends had hair loss during chemotherapy, she welcomed the hand-me-down hats from another friend whose sister had gone through chemo. A different person may not have wanted these hats. Sensitivity and empathy goes a long way. Years later, my friend and I still laugh about the wonderful experiences we had because she was bald and wearing a bold hat. It seemed we always got the best table in the restaurant and the most attentive service. Once, we got special attention from a rock star signing CDs after a concert. We’re convinced it was the crazy hat.

Websites for organizations such as the American Cancer SocietyJohns Hopkins Medicine and the National Cancer Institute offer useful information about coping with chemotherapy-induced hair loss. The comedian Jay London has said, “I was going to buy a book on hair loss, but the pages kept falling out.” Nonetheless, there are many helpful text references including Cancer Caregiving A to Z: An At-Home Guide for Patients and Families and Learn to Live Through Cancer: What You Need to Know and Do.

Cherise Tasker is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Central Branch and has a background in health information. Most evenings, Cherise can be found reading a book, attending a book club meeting, or coordinating a book group.

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Saturday, Aug. 16, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. Ask A Master Gardener. Discuss gardening questions and concerns at the Glenwood Branch. University of Maryland Extension – Howard County Master Gardeners. Also offered at the Miller Branch Saturday, Aug. 16, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. and Aug. 18 7 – 8:30 p.m. No registration required.

Saturday, Aug. 16, 10 a.m. Compost Demonstrations. Master Gardeners discuss and demonstrate composting on a drop-in basis at the Miller Branch. Free bins provided for Howard County residents. University of Maryland Extension – Howard County Master Gardeners. No registration required.

Saturday, Aug. 16, 11 a.m. Crop Swap. Do you have an abundance of vegetables from your garden? Let’s crop swap! Bring homegrown produce to trade for something new and delicious at the Miller Branch. Share growing tips and favorite varieties. Families welcome. Leftovers donated to the Howard County Food Bank. Set up from 11 – 11:30 a.m., swap from 11:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. Registration is required. Register online or by calling 410.313.1950.

Saturday, Aug. 16, 3 p.m. Kindergarten, Here We Come. The Central Branch will have stories and activities to help mark that all important first day, including boarding a real school bus. For children entering Kindergarten this fall; 45- 60 min. Cosponsored by Friends of Howard County Library and Howard County Public School System. Registration is required. Register online or by calling 410.313.7880. Another is offered on Aug. 19 at 10:15 a.m. at the Savage Branch and again at 7 p.m., and also at 2 p.m. at the East Columbia Branch. Offered again on Aug. 20 at 10:15 a.m. at the Savage Branch and at the East Columbia Branch at 7 p.m. And offered Aug. 21 at 10:15 a.m. at the Savage Branch.

Monday, Aug. 18,  Blood Pressure Screening at Glenwood Branch – a Well & Wise Event. Free, walk-in blood pressure screening and monitoring offered by Howard County General Hospital: A Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine. Also offered, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 1 - 3 p.m. 

Monday, Aug. 18, 2 p.m. Infectious Diseases. Learn about infectious diseases, how they are spread, and how disease detectives work to find and stop their spread using medical technology and nanotechnology at the Savage Branch. Participate in mock disease outbreaks around the globe to learn to identify and handle some of the most dangerous diseases, select the right medical or nanotechnology methods, and develop a communication pack to let others know. Being an Infectious Disease Detective has never been more fun! Ages 11-18. HiTech is funded in part by a National Leadership Grant for Libraries from The Institute of Museum and Library Services. Visit hclibrary.org/hitech_events. Registration is required. Register online or by calling 410.313.0760. Offered again on Aug. 19 at 2 p.m. , Aug. 20 at 2 p.m., Aug. 21 at 2 p.m., and Aug. 22 at 2 p.m.

Monday, Aug. 25, 7 p.m. I’m Going to be a Big Brother or Sister. In partnership with Howard County General Hospital: A Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine. A Well & Wise class. Come to the Central Branch to prepare for the arrival of a baby in this class for new siblings. Enjoy stories, activities, and bring a favorite doll or stuffed animal to practice holding your baby. Resources for parents, too. Families; 30 – 45 min. Ticket required. Limited space; tickets available at Children’s Desk 15 minutes before class.

Tuesday, Aug. 26, 5 – 6:30 p.m. Weight Loss Through Bariatric Surgery in the Howard County General Wellness Center. Learn about weight loss surgery from Johns Hopkins Center for Bariatric Surgery. Register online or call 410-550-5669.

Tuesdays and Thursdays, Sept. 16 to Nov. 6, 6:30 – 8 p.m. Healthy Weight Connection. Kick-start individual lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, to help you reach a healthier weight. Receive personalized guidance from a certified dietitian. Various nutrition topics and gentle yoga. Class held in the Howard County General Wellness Center. Cost is $195. Register online or call 410-740-7601.


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calendar_2014smTuesday, August 12, 7:00 p.m. Movin’ Up to Middle School. Starting sixth grade? Meet new classmates, discuss the big move, and learn the secrets to success at the Elkridge Branch. Compete in a book bag relay and combination lock time-trial! Registration is required. Register online or by calling 410.313.5088. Also available August 18 at 7:00 p.m. at the Miller Branch.

Wednesday, August 13, 4:00 p.m. Kindergarten, Here We Come. The Glenwood Branch will have stories and activities to help mark that all important first day, including boarding a real school bus. For children entering Kindergarten this fall; 45- 60 min. Cosponsored by Friends of Howard County Library and Howard County Public School System. Registration is required. Register online or by calling 410.313.5579. Offered again at 7:00 p.m. and on Thursday, August 14, 10:00 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. at the Glenwood Branch, and August 14 at 10:30 a.m. at the Elkridge Branch. Also offered August 16 at 3:00 p.m. at the Central Branch.

Saturday, August 16, 11:00 a.m. Crop Swap. Do you have an abundance of vegetables from your garden? Let’s crop swap! Bring homegrown produce to trade for something new and delicious at the Miller Branch. Share growing tips and favorite varieties. Families welcome. Leftovers donated to the Howard County Food Bank. Set up from 11 – 11:30 am, swap from 11:30 am – 12 pm. Registration is required. Register online or by calling 410.313.1950.

Monday, August 18, 10:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. SAT Prep. The SAT is the most widely used college admission exam. Take advantage of our SAT Math Prep course specifically designed to help students excel on the math portion of the test. Students will take an official practice exam to simulate the experience, learn test-taking strategies, and solve problems related to algebra, geometry, and probability. Grades 9-12 only. Graphing calculators are recommended. HiTech is funded in part by a National Leadership Grant for Libraries from The Institute of Museum and Library Services. Registration is required. Register online or by calling 410.313.0760.

 Blood Pressure Screening at Glenwood Branch – a Well & Wise Event. Free, walk-in blood pressure screening and monitoring offered by Howard County General Hospital: a Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine. Also offered, Tuesday, August 12, 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. at Elkridge Branch. No registration required.


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fault in our starsI don’t want to say “You have to have been living under a rock not to have read/seen/heard of The Fault in Our Stars” because heaven knows I am frequently unaware of popular things, current fads, or even world-changing news at times (plus it is a little unkind to say that to someone anyway). But The Fault in Our Stars is colossally popular. It was even first mentioned on this blog two years ago by our wonderful JP. And, though I have yet to see the movie (sorry, Nerdfighteria, I promise as soon as it makes it to DVD, I’m there), I have read the book and laughed and cried through the amazing story of Hazel Grace and Augustus.

But what is the appeal? Why has a love story about two teenage cancer patients struck a chord in so many people? (It really is much more than a love story between two teenage cancer patients, but I can’t go into it without giving too much away.) I think (aside from the fact that the writing and the characters are humorous, honest, heartbreaking, smart, and realistic), the book’s popularity has a lot to do with how much cancer still looms in people’s lives. I’ve rarely met a person whose life hasn’t been touched by cancer in some way or another. Additionally, according to the CDC, cancer is still the second leading cause of death in the U.S., and, according to the WHO, lung cancers are the #4 killer in the world.

But why is this ancient beast (The American Cancer Society cites the first recorded description of cancer from Egypt at about 3000 BC) still plaguing us after so many years and so much research? Cancer certainly gets a lot of attention. For example, in FY2013, The National Cancer Institute’s budget was $4.8 billion. And there are numerous cancer research programs throughout the world. Even HCLS carries four periodicals devoted to cancer alone, and there are over 1,200 books in our collection dealing with this topic. But cancer continues. Is it really the result of a fault in our stars?

this star won't go outWell, maybe it’s a fault in our cellsThe National Cancer Institute states: “Cancer is a term used for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues.” Or maybe it’s a fault in our blood or lymph systems since it “can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems.” Or maybe cancer is a fault in our genes as the American Cancer Foundation points out how certain risk factors that run in families and abnormal gene function can also play a role in cancer.

Maybe, however, we should stick with blaming our stars after all; The National Cancer Institute points out that cancer “is not just one disease but many diseases,” and with many possible causes. These causes and risk factors can include: chemical and environmental elements (including food content and radiation exposure), genetics, hormonal changes, infectious agents, exposure to the sun(!), tobacco use, weight, and physical activity levels, just to name a few without getting too in depth. We might as well blame the stars (not just the sun, but all of them) since some factors we can control, some we can’t, and Fortuna’s mood seems to come into play more than we’d like. No wonder cancer remains a provocative topic; it truly can come out of no where and change everything.

Alas, cancer is still very much a reality in the world, and I think we all hope for a day when it’s not. The Fault in Our Stars treats a frightening topic with care but without a sugar coating. Sometimes just a sense of mutual understanding can provide great comfort. And I feel this book has touched many hearts; it certainly did mine. If it touched your heart too, you may want to check out This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl, a collection of works from the brave, young lady who was one of the inspirations for The Fault in Our Stars.

Joanne Sobieck-Lingg is glad to blog about her many, disparate interests (though expert in none, except maybe parenthetical asides). In past lives, she was a writer, proofreader, editor, project manager, teacher, and even co-coordinator of a certain health blog. She has been happily ensconced among the fiction and teen books at the Central Branch of HCLS since 2003.

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self healingMusic gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. ~ Plato, ~400 BCE

Every sound in our environment affects our minds and bodies.

Consider a warm evening with crickets chirping outside your open windows and distant passersby murmur quietly. You’re well on your way to sleep, when a car’s brakes screech, followed by a discordant crash and angry shouts. The tranquility you were experiencing is gone, affected by sounds in the environment.

Music has a profoundly positive effect on the mind and body. Music helps us to concentrate, wakes us up or helps us to sleep, excites or calms us. And people used it for social bonding—in religion or love, or for mind-altering experiences such as war dances, since before time began. Anyone who has rocked out at a concert or flipped on the radio to your favorite music station knows that we are still using and enjoying music today.

Scientists have recently identified the ways that music changes the state of the body. The levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and the endorphins rise; the pupils dilate, antibodies increase (with their protective role in the immune system). In the brain, music activates the amygdala (involved in processing emotion) and prefrontal cortex (involved in decision-making).

These chemical changes explain why music is so appealing. With an increase in the brain chemical dopamine, anxiety decreases and depression lifts. Research has found that music is as effective as medication in decreasing presurgical anxiety. Even sick premature babies respond well to the playing of music. People listening to music at the gym showed improvements of 15% in their endurance and workouts, and coronary disease patients boosted cognitive and verbal skills while exercising.

So, the pleasure of listening to music is an important part of a balanced wellness program. What kind of music is best? Whatever you like! Pick your favorite music, make a playlist, and “medicate yourself with music.”

Jean has been working at Howard County Library System’s Central Branch for nearly nine years. She walks in the Benjamin Banneker Park whenever she gets a chance.

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think like a freakStep up to the “retrain your brain” challenge. When the authors of Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, offer to share their unique insight into decision making, seize the opportunity. “Readers seemed to think no riddle was too tricky, no problem too hard, that it couldn’t be sorted out. It was as if we owned some proprietary tool – a Freakonomics forceps, one might imagine – that could be plunged into the body politic to extract some buried wisdom,” write Levitt and Dubner in their new book, Think Like a Freak. Experts on how to look at data differently, Levitt and Dubner have inspired readers to abandon preconceived notions and embrace nontraditional analysis of economic, political and social phenomena. I recall a fascinating question the authors had posed in their first book: Is it true that one’s name plays a part in determining one’s destiny in life? Thanks to Freakonomics, readers gained understanding of the significance of baby name selection. We learned what names tell us about parenting, economic mobility, and social stereotyping. I am ready to be a Freakonomics insider and exercise a similar approach to my own world.

Levitt and Dubner take us behind the scenes of their research techniques. They explain how to find the most useful questions, understand the data we use to answer the questions and apply effective techniques to implement a solution. Their ideas can be implemented in analyzing personal as well as global issues. When thinking about solving a problem, consider how a “freak” would do it. Do not think “right” way vs. “wrong” way. Instead, be conscious to seek out new information. Do not be satisfied with data that merely confirms a bias you already have. Be wary of traditional wisdom. Distinguish between correlation and causality. Persevere to find the root cause and do not settle for the proximal cause.

Freaks realize the importance of recognizing and acknowledging what they don’t know. Admitting you don’t know an answer not only takes the pressure off, it allows you to seek out the information needed to make a successful decision. Besides, to gather useful information, you have to ask the right questions…to know what you don’t know. Take your time and dissect a problem by asking and answering small questions. Levitt and Dubner argue that few problems are solved through focusing on just one big question. 

Thinking like a freak requires we accept that humans are motivated by incentives. As we train ourselves to use the brain of a freak, we learn that the majority of people make decisions that value personal gain over the greater good. This is not a negative statement, rather it is an insight that helps us understand how people think. Knowing this, we then use the power of reward as we work toward our goal. A freak also knows that data-accurate stories motivate people. The power of a telling a good story is, in part, enticing the listener to put him/herself in the other person’s shoes. The other part is including data to focus the listeners’ attention on facts. 

Freaks maintain their ability to think like children. They avoid the constraints of prejudice and willingly confront even the most obvious assumptions. As Levitt and Dubner point out, proof of this concept is that children are more skilled than adults at figuring out magic tricks. This is because, unlike adults, kids are not set in their ways and burdened by presumptions. Also like children, freaks are not afraid to have fun. Why suffer while you study when you can enjoy the journey instead?

I invite you to further explore Think Like a Freak. Learn intriguing skills such as teaching a garden to weed itself. Analyze whether knowing when to quit is just as important as deciding to proceed. Become a Freakonomics insider.

Cherise Tasker is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Central Branch and has a background in health information. Most evenings, Cherise can be found reading a book, attending a book club meeting, or coordinating a book group.

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