Archive for November 30, 2011

Breast cancer patient honors her compassionate doctor

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Ann Partridge, MD, MPH, was instrumental in the founding of Dana-Farber’s Program for Young Women with Breast Cancer, part of the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers. The program, which focuses on the unique needs of breast cancer patients under 40, helps patients access fertility, genetic screening, and counseling services.

Dr. Partridge was recently recognized at the annual Kenneth B. Schwartz Compassionate Healthcare Dinner by one of her patients, Bridget Spence.

In this video, Bridget shares her story and explains how Dr. Partridge’s care and compassion allowed her to plan her wedding and look ahead to the future.

Coping with the holidays when you have cancer

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mother and daughter baking

The holidays can be a festive time, but for people dealing with cancer, they can also be stressful and full of anxiety. For many patients and their families, the thought of preparing for the season may be met with mixed emotions.

And while parties and gift-giving often go hand-in-hand with the holiday season, you might not have energy for either if you’re going through cancer treatment. Nausea might make the thought of cookies and chocolate cream pie much less appealing, and just running a quick errand can leave you exhausted, never mind a marathon shopping trip.

To help you prepare, Dana-Farber clinicians provide some tips for coping — and celebrating — this holiday season.

1. Keep it simple
Baking cookies for your colleagues or children’s teachers might have been easy in the past, but remember to pace yourself. You don’t have to do it all. Pick one or two special traditions and then ask family and friends for help. Are you known for your big holiday bash? Plan a small potluck dinner instead. Make a list of what is most meaningful to you and prioritize. Some families even create new traditions through the process of treatment.

2. Take advantage of online resources
Crowded shopping malls may be filled with holiday cheer, but they are also rife with germs, especially in the middle of flu season. Shopping online lets you browse from your couch, and there’s often an option to have gifts wrapped. Trying to save money? Invite friends over for gift wrapping or a cookie swap. Simple homemade gifts and cards, or even a phone call, are just as special.

You can also take advantage of e-cards for holiday greetings, grocery delivery services, or tools like Lotsa Helping Hands, an online community that helps patients organize friend and family volunteers for all types of tasks.

3. Express yourself
Words like “Happy” and “Merry” seem to be everywhere: on the radio, TV, and as greetings in even small exchanges. Don’t feel obligated to be festive. Remember that it’s okay to show emotion — tears can bring a sense of relief. Pay attention to your own feelings and to signs of stress.

Remember that it’s okay to show emotion; tears can bring a sense of relief. Joy may also be side-by-side with other emotions like sadness or frustration, and it can help to talk these through with a loved one or a professional counselor.

4. Pace yourself
Fatigue due to cancer treatment is a common problem, so try to balance activity with rest. Conserve your energy by planning activities when you typically feel at your best and be sure to make time to recover.
Learn more about managing cancer-related fatigue

5. Embrace hope
Do something that catches your attention, gives you a break from worries, and renews your sense of hope and satisfaction with life. Watching a favorite movie together with friends, playing seasonal music, or even walking the dog can give you a sense of peace and hopefulness. Try to enjoy — and let go of — what you can.

Author Siddhartha Mukherjee: “Cancer is a part of us”

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Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, PhD, was a postdoctoral fellow at Dana-Farber in 2003 when one of his patients asked him, “What is it, exactly, that I am battling?”

Mukherjee took this simple, yet profound, question seriously. The answer formed the basis for his 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. Mukherjee’s spellbinding story spans 4,000 years, beginning with Egyptian hieroglyphs that reference a woman with a disease we now know to be breast cancer.

Several Dana-Farber physicians, scientists, and patients are featured in the book, most notably the Institute’s founder, Sidney Farber, MD.

Now an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University, Mukherjee shares what he learned in writing the book, a project he says is not only about cancer, but also about his coming of age as an oncologist.

Cancer is a part of us. Every life is touched by the family of diseases we call cancer. In the U.S., one in three women and one in two men will develop some form of cancer.

Dr. Sidney Farber is a main character in the story of cancer, for his political and scientific contributions. One of the inventors of modern chemotherapy, Farber had a crucial insight: the importance of bringing cancer alive in the public imagination. When he launched the first “Jimmy” campaign in 1948 [laying the foundation for today's Jimmy Fund], he brought cancer research out of his basement laboratory and into the bright light of publicity.

Later, he kept cancer in the public eye through his partnership with philanthropist Mary Lasker, using the word “crusade” as he unveiled his vision for a campaign that would later become President Nixon’s “War on Cancer.”

We study the past to explain the present. The isolation and rage of a 36-year-old woman with stage III breast cancer today has ancient echoes in Atossa, a Persian queen who swaddled her diseased breast in cloth, then had a slave cut it off with a knife.

The way we imagine cancer has changed just as much as the way we treat it. Every era imagines cancer differently. Once, it was thought that cancer came from black bile in the body. A woman in 1930 imagined breast cancer very differently from a woman in 1980. Today, we have to get used to the idea of a deadly illness emerging from our own healthy cells. The very genes that play a role in normal physiology can also unleash cancer.

Patients are at the center of the story. Although many doctors and scientists enter and exit the stage, patients are at the center. I dedicate my book to Robert Sandler, the first child to receive chemotherapy [from Sidney Farber, MD], and I feature Carla, who survived, and Germaine, who did not. I end with Germaine’s story because it is very important to realize this book is not about victory; there is so much more work to be done.