The 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.
Since 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 Society, Johns 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.
We know that some folks have small kitchens—maybe a starter kitchen or a kitchen downsized from a big house to an apartment—but they dream of a big country kitchen with room to store equipment to stretch the harvest season by preserving food at its healthy best. It is frustrating to see those beautiful strawberries or bountiful tomatoes and think “I’d love to make jam or sauce but I don’t have the equipment I would need or the room to store it.”
There is hope for the small kitchen–and it doesn’t require a remodel! Howard County Library System has a few books that might help you make the best of your kitchen and will show you how you can make preserves, pickles & sauces in small batches with very little special equipment.
Sarah Kallio and Stacey Krastins, authors of The Stocked Kitchen (2011), have a “system.” Follow their advice and their grocery list and you will free up lots of space in your small kitchen. They also include a full range of recipes that use only their pared-down list of staples.
The City Cook: Big City, Small Kitchen, Limitless Ingredients, No Time (2010), by Kate McDonough, also advocates a well-planned pantry. She also discusses the equipment needed in a well-planned small kitchen. Her shopping advice is written with New York City residents in mind, but could be applied to our area—we do have access to a rich variety of ethnic and specialty foods. A culinary school grad, McDonough includes over 90 recipes. If you like her book, try her website for more advice and a searchable recipe database.
So, you’d like to put “food in jars”–try Marisa McClellan’s book, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-round (2011). Most of her recipes are designed for boiling water bath canning which can be accomplished with only a pot on your stove that is tall enough to cover the jars you plan to use by 2 – 4 inches. Others of her recipes, like rosemary salt, pancake, bread or cake mixes in jars, homemade vanilla extract don’t require any processing at all.
Pickling is a great way to preserve a bountiful harvest. Andrea Chesman, in The Pickled Pantry (2012), has “from apples to Zucchini, 150 recipes for pickles, relishes, chutneys & more.” Her claim is that not everyone will like a particular pickle, but there is a pickle for everyone. While you are experimenting to find your favorite pickle you don’t want to have to make six quarts at a time so she writes most of her recipes for one quart batches. She also tells about an intriguing technique to preserve the overflow of cucumbers—dehydrate them, store them in airtight bags or jars for up to a year, then rehydrate them with pickle brine when you are ready to use them.
The Joy of Pickling (2009) by Linda Ziedrich has “250 flavor-packed recipes for vegetables & more from garden or market.” This is an excellent thorough book about the art & science—and joy—of making pickles. She even covers pickled apples, pumpkin, oysters and eggs.
To go beyond pickles you might like, try The Art of Preserving (2012) by Rick Field, Lisa Atwood, and Rebecca Courchesne. They cover “how to make jams, jellies, curds, pickles, chutneys, salsas, sauces and more plus recipes to use your creations.” And they also briefly review “the basics” of home canning, of fruit spreads, and of pickles. I really like that they pair a recipe for the preserves with a recipe to make, such as blackberry preserves used in blackberry cheesecake tartlets.
The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest by Carol W. Costenbader is a classic. The newest edition is from 2002, but classics age well. Another classic is the Complete Book of Home Preserving (2006). Both of these have well-illustrated and complete instructions for all kinds of preserving; from canning to drying to freezing.
These titles are readily available at Howard County Library System. So, no matter how small your kitchen, you can get the advice you need to preserve the harvest—in small batches.
When you get a cancer diagnosis, it is natural to panic, get depressed, and feel angry. But, as Dr. Agus says in A Short Guide to a Long Life, take it not as a death sentence, but as a wake-up call and an opportunity to take control of the health of your own body by learning all you can, studying your options, and going forth with the best treatment that you and your doctor have decided on, all with the best positive attitude you can muster. But don’t become so micro-focused on this one area of your health that you let other areas of your life get pushed aside or forgotten, such as the simple joys of playing with an animal friend or eating a delicious meal.
You know your health is all wrapped up like a rubber band ball with your emotions, your lifestyle, and your attitude. More than anything, eating can be the most important and healthy thing that you can do to guarantee your body receives the raw materials to fight the growth of cancerous cells and to keep the rest of your body humming along in fine shape.
I am going to list a few of my favorite cookbooks from Howard County Library System for those who want to have some new recipes for themselves, a family member, or a friend who may be living with cancer and going through radiation and/or chemotherapy treatments. They may need some help with preparing a nourishing meal, especially if they have a decreased appetite and not much energy. Don‘t forget, drinking lots of fluids is super important, so check out the great drinks and smoothie recipes too–they are great for throwing in healthy ingredients!
The most beautifully illustrated book of clean, green, and fresh recipes is No. 4, but my favorite is No. 1 because it is written as if there is a helper there with you as you plan to make a tasty recipes with notes of interest on how certain ingredients are beneficial or may help with treatment side-effects. For instance, one note says that metal, as in silverware, can often have a bad taste or feel in your mouth when you are getting cancer treatments. So, the suggestion is to go get some pretty plastic ware so that your eating implements are not an impediment to having some yummy healing food.
My son, who underwent two radical craniotomies for brain cancer, said that it was the preparation of the food and often the smell of the cooking, and even sometimes the energy to do the chewing, that really didn’t make eating appealing. Things that could be prepared quickly were helpful. What he appreciated the most was cold things like yogurt, ice cream, fresh fruit shakes, and smoothies. Simple things like crackers and dips or hummus, omelets, cereal or even ramen noodles were preferred as well.
What helped my son the most? Someone who was there providing love and support as well as a full pantry and refrigerator with lots of good-for-you ingredients for wholesome recipe options, especially as he felt better and began to want to experiment with more foods and flavors as his health, energy, and well-being improved. You will find a treasure-trove of great recipes in these books to complement any lifestyle or condition, and remember healthy eating is for all of us always –and thanks for reading my story.
It’s natural to want to show someone you care for and have been thinking about them, but it can sometimes be hard to come up with what to do or say. Do you send someone with cancer a get well soon card? Take them out to dinner? Send flowers? Just give them a hug? (Probably advisable, unless you’re sick -in which case stay away!) One good option is to give them a care package – it will show that you’re thinking about them and that you care how they’re doing, even when you can’t find the right words.
So, what do you put in a care package for someone who’s dealing with cancer (or other serious illness)? The following are just a few of the things I would pack for a friend going through treatment.
- Something that’s cute or nice to look at; a little thing that will make them smile. I added a small vase of flowers and a happy bumble bee knot-wrap containing a bath bomb and some sweet soap – just to help them relax in the bath and smile a little.
- Soothing ginger and mint teas – to help an upset stomach or lessen nausea
- Tea ball (a robot!)
- Tea scoop
- Travel mug
- Lotion to soothe irritated and dry skin, the stronger and more intensive care, the better.
- Lip balm
- Hand sanitizer (unscented if possible)
- Some treats, just for fun! A little bit of chocolate can make anyone feel a little bit better sometimes.
- Streaming video service subscription – great for those days when you’re too exhausted and run down to go out for entertainment.
- Easy to make chicken noodle soup
- Home-made lap blanket
- Travel water bottle – though a whole case of bottled water for the trunk of their car can be a big help after chemo sessions
I 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?
Well, maybe it’s a fault in our cells. The 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.
Music 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.”