A Cancer Diagnosis Does Not Mean Life is Over

GCC April Blog Image 2

In life it has been said that there are truly no absolutes. With time, all things change, nothing is forever the same. It is an outlook filled both with prospects of hope and dread but singular in its certainty. “Just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes”, said Hugh Prather, author, lay minister, and counselor.

No one ever wants to be told they have cancer. The emotions of that moment cannot be fully understood until you have experienced it. For those born decades ago when such news brought little more than a prognosis of certain death, the diagnosis can elicit strong emotions of remorse, anger and depression. The lifetime probability of being diagnosed with cancer is 39.7% for men and 37.6% for women. “There is no denying that cancer is devastating news, but it does not mean your life is over. Millions of people cope with cancer every day. You are not alone.”

For Catherine, in 1999 and at age 31, life was good. Married with a good career, her life appeared to be tracking in a mostly positive direction. An examination to ferret out an explanation for a few minor health problems brought news that her life was about to change forever. Triple negative breast cancer wasn’t even known in 1999. The only certainty after the news was she needed chemotherapy as well as surgery and radiation to stem the progress of the disease. “My memories of that period in my life are that of anxiety underpinning and coloring everything I said and did,” says Catherine. “I was at a very low ebb at this stage and my family weren’t sure how we could overcome this, as all of us were flailing around trying to make sense of this terrible period in our lives.”

Planning a normal future beyond the cancer diagnosis is pre-empted by the promise of months or even years of invasive treatments, drug protocols, clinical trials and the accompanying continuing life-maintenance issues. Taking out the trash, mowing the lawn and getting the kids to soccer practice suddenly takes on a different perspective and position in life’s scale of importance. However, planning for and visualizing a future can be the very act that can assure and expedite recovery. After fourteen years, Catherine received news that her cancer was out of remission.

“I figured that this must be the beginning of the end as I was lucky to get nearly fourteen years remission. This time around, I was told my tumor was triple negative breast cancer. I was horrified and terrified on reading the statistics. I could not think past a month at a time, and holidays and family events were all abstract events. Again my mind went into a tailspin as I tried to deal with my worst fear. I then realized I probably had triple negative breast cancer before but didn’t realize how aggressive it was back in 1999 and I survived. What is not to say that this can happen again?” She is approaching her 50th birthday and no longer thinks of the future. “I have opened myself to all possibilities and am letting life happen. One of my goals was to start blogging once I felt well again and hopefully bring hope to some of my fellow triple negative breast cancer survivors.”

As a teenager in 2015, Chandler Bankos was diagnosed with advanced, stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. An athletic and seemingly healthy seventeen year old, Chandler’s news that he had cancer wasn’t made any easier by knowing that the most common age of diagnosis of this cancer is between 20 and 40 years of age. A positive and outgoing personality, Chandler found help and treatment at the Gettysburg Cancer Center in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. There he found experienced professionals who are dedicated to treating not only the science of his disease but the personal emotional conditions that often accompany a cancer diagnosis and regiment of treatment.

Chandler speaks of his year-long experience with cancer treatment. “If I had one thing to take away from this past year, it’s to never turn back and keep looking forward. To everyone who walked with me, fought with me, prayed for me and supported me, thank you. Today, I am officially done with everything pertaining to my fight. I completed my final surgery and I am proud to say: I am clear, I am healthy and I am moving on. I can now focus on living my life and enjoying everything it gives me. Life can be short, life can throw you around,but it all depends on how you take those negatives, and build yourself up.”

For Catherine and Chandler, cancer diagnosis didn’t mean their lives were over. Through all the pain of treatment and the turmoil it brought, they moved forward in their belief that a new life of joy and accomplishment was just beyond the struggle against their disease.

Limit Exposure to Harmful Ultraviolet Rays to Lower Your Risk of Skin Cancer

GCC April Blog Image 1

The most common type of cancer diagnosed each year in the United States is skin cancer. Most skin cancers are the result of too much exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet rays. In recent decades people have become aware of the cause and have taken steps to avoid over exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun or from tanning beds and tanning lamps.

There are three types of skin cancer.  Basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of cancer, presents itself as a recurring and sometimes bleeding sore.  Squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common type of skin cancer, begins in squamous cells (thin, flat cells) that are most commonly found in the tissue on the surface of the skin. Neither of these skin cancers spread to other parts of the body and can generally be successfully treated with surgery, radiation or topical chemotherapy.

Melanoma, which originates from pigment-producing skin cells (melanocytes), is the least common but potentially deadliest form of skin cancer. Melanomas can develop anywhere on the skin, but are often present on areas of the body which receive the most exposure to sunlight. The National Cancer Institute estimates about 87,110 new melanomas were diagnosed in 2017.

Some people are more prone to melanoma than others; those with fare skin tone and high freckle density, red or light-colored hair and those with a family history of the disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 60,000 early deaths occur each year worldwide because of excessive exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. An estimated 48,000 of these deaths are from malignant melanoma. Early detection can be difficult but regular inspections of the skin for alterations in appearance can detect signs of the disease. Look for skin changes, such as a new spot or mole or a change in color, shape, or size of a current spot or mole; a skin sore that fails to heal or becomes sore of painful to the touch, or a lump that looks shiny, waxy, smooth, or pale. Others may bleed or appear ulcerated or crusty to the touch.

Melanomas that are undetected and untreated will spread to other parts of the body and may become life threatening if not caught and treated in the earliest stages. Surgery is often the first approach. Lesions and surrounding tissue are removed, and a biopsy is taken to determine if the cancer has spread into the lymph nodes. In less common cases, chemotherapy or immune therapy is warranted.

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved the drug nivolumab for stage III melanoma. An adjuvant therapy for stage III melanoma, studies have indicated that the immunotherapy delayed recurrence of the disease with fewer side effects.  Awny Farajallah, MD, head of U.S. medical oncology for Bristol-Myers Squibb, says, “We’re very excited about the approval of adjuvant nivolumab. To date, 71 to 85 percent of stage III patients will have a recurrence, and this gives us an important additional option to bring those numbers down. Adjuvant therapy is an important part of our efforts to advance cancer treatment through immuno-oncology, with the ultimate goal of providing a potential cure.”

As with all cancers, lessening exposure to the risk factors is the best plan of action. Avoid sun burns. Wear clothing that protects exposed areas of the body. Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 20-30 and a 4 or 5-star UV rating. If you have a job that exposes you to constant sunlight, take all available precautions to minimize your exposure.