The heart of the matter: cancer and heart health

cancer and heart healthJune is the month we celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day. People everywhere come together to celebrate and honor those living with a history of cancer. The number of cancer survivors has increased to nearly 12 million. Survivorship can include many issues: follow-up care, coping with fear of recurrence, going back to work, and managing long-term side effects, including the connection between cancer and heart health after treatment is done.

Heart or cardiovascular issues after cancer treatment is one side effect that can occur with treatments such as radiation to the Continue reading

Each widow’s journey through grief is unique

Guest blogger Kristin Meekhof shares her story on coping with grief after the loss of her husband to adrenal cancer.

Guest blogger Kristin Meekhof shares her story on coping with grief after the loss of her husband to adrenal cancer.

In 2007, my late husband was diagnosed at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center with an ultra-rare form of cancer: adrenal. There is a one in a million chance that someone will be diagnosed with this form of cancer and unfortunately, my husband was diagnosed with advanced cancer. Approximately eight weeks after his first visit to his primary care physician (not associated with the University of Michigan) he died. At the time I was 33, and we had no children together. This is my story about grief and widowhood.

C.S. Lewis said, “We read to know that we are not alone,” and I couldn’t agree more. While reading this blog about my story will not resolve your problems, there is comfort in knowing that others have traveled the same path. As part of my research for my upcoming book, my co-author, psychologist James Windell and I interviewed dozens of widows. I also read many books about grief. What I have learned, to my surprise, is that each widow’s journey through grief is unique. Many widows speak about the intense loneliness (regardless if they live with children) and the cold sharp emotional pain. Death does damage. However, the pain will not always be as intense.

During the first year after my husband’s death, I found that the last thing I wanted to do was reach out to others. This was before text messaging and I Continue reading

Young Adults with Cancer – You Are Not Alone

Facing cancer at any age is difficult, but facing it as a young adult brings added problems.

In addition to the threat of mortality, young adults face extra difficulties such as psychological distress, fertility issues, disruptions in education or careers, troubled social interactions, the possibility of long term side effects, child care issues, and financial strains.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network announced that it has issued new NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Oncology. AYA patients are defined as individuals 15 to 39 years of age at initial cancer diagnosis. The guidelines address the critical issues that AYA patients with cancer and their caregivers encounter at diagnosis, during treatment, and after therapy. Continue reading

Nature’s medicine: Spending time in nature may improve memory and concentration among cancer patients

We tend to underestimate winter’s beauty. The days are cold and short — and all too often dreary.

Bernadine Cimprich's research shows that spending time in nature can help cancer survivors fight attentional fatigue.

But every now and then it startles us: The sparkle of an icicle compels our attention. We “ooh” and “ahh” when snow dusts tree boughs like powdered sugar. And even if we dread the shoveling, we still pause to admire the way snow blankets imperfections before we dig in and muddy up the path.

With so many things competing for attention in our lives — particularly for those who have been diagnosed with cancer — it can be easy not to hear the snow crunching under our boots. But a growing body of research suggests that our lives might actually be better if we did. Bernadine Cimprich, Ph.D., R.N., an associate professor of nursing at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, has conducted studies that have shown that breast cancer patients who made a point of spending time in nature were better able to concentrate and had fewer problems with memory than those who did not spend time in nature.

“The women showed signs of having problems concentrating before any chemotherapy. The thought is that it’s related to fatigue and stress and that possibly when a woman gets chemotherapy, that’s compounded, but we don’t know that yet,” Cimprich said. “In any case, the women who spent time in nature showed improvement in cognitive functioning and maintained it over the course of the year that we followed them.”

Other studies have shown similar effects in the general population as well. Caregivers, in particular, may benefit from nature activities. Cimprich recommends spending at least 20 minutes in nature per day, or about two hours per week. Patients and caregivers should choose nature activities that appeal to their interests.

“Some people like to do gardening,” she said. “And some people just like to watch the garden grow.”

Read tips on the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Living with Cancer site to see how you can get your daily dose of nature–even in the winter.

When to ask for help: Talking about symptoms is first step in treating them

Larry Stone asked for help with symptoms related to his cancer treatment.

Larry Stone asked for help with symptoms related to his cancer treatment.

Larry Stone joined a clinical trial in fall 2009 to test a medication that offered the possibility of prolonging the effectiveness of the hormone therapy he was taking to stave off prostate cancer. When he started to experience mild numbness in his hands and feet later that spring, he didn’t think too much about it. But by June, pain and swelling sent him to the hospital overnight.

His hospital stay relieved his pain somewhat, but it prompted him to ask his oncology team a question: “Is there a specialist I can see?”

That simple question triggered a referral to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Symptom Management and Supportive Care Clinic. Stone met with Susan Urba, M.D. — the clinic’s leader — as well as pharmacist Emily Mackler, Pharm.D. Together, the team mapped out a program to reduce Stone’s discomfort.

“That was the start of a great relationship,” Stone said.

Read more about symptom management in the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s patient publication, Thrive. Or, if you are a U-M patient, call 1-877-907-0859 to make an appointment with the U-M Symptom Management and Supportive Care Clinic.


Cancer-Related Fatigue Awareness Month: Learn how you can fight this side effect of treatment

Cancer-related fatigue is the most common side effect of cancer and cancer treatment, according to the American Cancer Society. Research suggests that anywhere between 70% and 100% of cancer patients getting treatment have fatigue, and about 30% to 50% of cancer survivors have said that their fatigue lasts for months or even years after they finish treatment. Learn more about cancer-related fatigue and how you can fight it at