Reap health benefits using the power of the plate

health benefitsYour plate can be a powerful weapon! No, we’re not talking about using it as a projectile object for self-defense. Instead you can wield your plate to prevent disease, help with recovery, manage stress, boost your memory and even slow down aging, plus so much more! Focus on adding foods that provide the benefits specific to your needs and you will likely reap additional health benefits. Continue reading

Healing companionship through fly-fishing for men with cancer

fly-fishing for men with cancer

Jim Vihtelic says this is the the first brown trout he has ever caught — and hopefully not the last.

When James Vihtelic began treatment at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center for bladder cancer in 2003, he joined the program’s Bladder Cancer Support Group (PDF). He participated for several years and still drops in occasionally. Though he didn’t realize it thirteen years ago, Jim was about to become a steadfast advocate of support for men with cancer.

“I enjoyed fly-fishing as boy, but didn’t think of it again until I saw a brochure for a cancer support network for men that involved fly-fishing,” he remembers. Continue reading

Good communication and a take-charge attitude can help close the gap on cancer health disparities

Cancer Center health educator offers tips to African Americans and other minority groups

AfAmerCancerExperienceIn February, Madeline Gonzalez, a health educator at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, participated in a panel discussion on the African American cancer experience. It took place at the Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor in recognition of Black History Month, and addressed the unique ways that cancer impacts the African American community. Here are the highlights of Madeline’s presentation on cancer health disparities, which we are sharing as part of National Minority Cancer Awareness Week: Continue reading

A warm welcome: Volunteer opportunities abound at the Cancer Center

Volunteer OpportunitiesGretchen Elsner-Sommer enjoys welcoming people, whether it is into her home in Ann Arbor, her former bed and breakfast in Illinois or the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. At 66, this breast cancer survivor volunteers at the Cancer Center every week hoping to make at least one cancer patient’s day a little brighter.

“My job is to help them feel more at ease and get them where they need to be,” says Elsner-Sommer, who works as a patient guide. “I love getting people talking about something else besides what they’re going through, even if it’s just for a few minutes.”

Elsner-Sommer decided to become a Cancer Center volunteer after her own cancer experience, which began in the late 1990s.

“I know what it’s like to walk into the building and not know where the heck you’re going. I can really relate to that and help patients feel more comfortable. People are so grateful to have someone smile at them who’s not a doctor.”

Elsner-Sommer has survived stage 1 breast cancer on two occasions. In addition to swimming and sticking to a mainly raw food diet, volunteering is part of her recovery. She said it lifts her spirits each week as she aims to give back.

“As a patient, I’d see these older women volunteers telling people where their appointments were. It was a great image before me to see them healthy and active.”

In her spare time, Elsner-Sommer writes and studies genealogy. She’s been gathering facts on the women in her family since she moved from Illinois to Ann Arbor in the mid-90s with her husband, David. To welcome their family, they built a guest cottage behind their home, which also houses the guest book from Elsner-Sommer’s former bed and breakfast.

Mary McCully, the program coordinator for the Cancer Center’s Volunteer and Community Resources program, welcomes all volunteers and can help those who are interested determine what role is the match best for them. She suggests visiting to get a sense of the wide variety of volunteer opportunities available to students, former patients, their families and community members.

“All our volunteers come to the Cancer Center for a specific orientation. As part of training, you might shadow a current volunteer in an area for several weeks to get comfortable in the role. Our volunteers typically come in one time a week for a 3-4 hour shift.”

The University of Michigan Health System, including the Cancer Center, asks all volunteers to commit for six months.

“No matter what their role, our volunteers give back through the goodness of their hearts,” McCully says. “I don’t think they realize how much of a difference they make in a patient’s day. I’m very appreciative of those in our community who volunteer their time.”

Volunteer opportunities at the Cancer Center include:

  • The Patient Education Resource Center (PERC)
  • The Courtesy Center desk
  • Patient guides in the lobby
  • The mobile coffee cart (offering complimentary warm beverages to waiting patients)
  • The Warm Fuzzies blanket project
  • And more!

All Cancer Center volunteers receive a special orientation and training to be comfortable in the role. No experience is needed.

For Elsner-Sommer, volunteering is “the best thing in the world.” She finds strength in the patients she meets and admires their bravery. She uses her past experiences as a bed and breakfast owner to get to know people and can easily recall multiple interactions with patients, from the woman who used to work at Marshall Field’s in Chicago during World War II to the young man on crutches with the heavy backpack. She looks forward to seeing the man in the Notre Dame sweatshirt, who always comes to the Cancer Center with one of his many daughters.

“I could tell you a million stories about the people I meet,” she laughs. “All you have to do is be nice to people. I get so much more out of volunteering than I give.”

Take the next step:

From the Summer, 2014 edition of Thrive.

Thrive fall 15Thrive magazine is an award-winning quarterly publication of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, offering inspirational patient stories, news and information on programs and services, tips on coping and living with cancer and more. Find Thrive in the Cancer Center or online.




Cancer-center-informal-vertical-sig-150x150The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan according to U.S. News & World Report. Our multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.

HPV and throat cancer

HPV and throat cancerRecently I received a phone call from a patient who was concerned about the increased risk of throat cancer related to a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. When asked, she stated that yes, both she and her partner had engaged in oral sex, therefore, the concerned interest in a potential connection between HPV and throat cancer.

Oropharyngeal cancer in the throat, soft palate, tonsils or base of the tongue can occur as a result of the HPV virus. HPV can cause warts in the genitals, mouth and anus, and is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States, particularly in adults younger than 55. This might be related to changes in oral sex practices. Continue reading

Register now for the April 9 Breast Cancer Summit

Breast Cancer Summit

This year’s Breast Cancer Summit will take a look at how treatment decisions are made; in the afternoon, the focus shifts to continuing to thrive and move forward.


Have you wondered how decisions are made in breast cancer treatment? The upcoming U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Breast Cancer Summit offers a glimpse into the multidisciplinary approach our breast cancer patient receives from medical and surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, geneticists, reconstructive surgeons, nurses specializing in cancer care, and more.

Breast cancer survivors, caregivers and members of the general public concerned about breast cancer and risk reduction are welcome to attend. Continue reading