Tag Archive for CancerSurvivorship

Life Interrupted: When cancer puts life on hold


Ben O’Clair was a college senior studying for finals when he first felt the twinges of pain in his side. A day later, the 21-year-old was in a hospital learning he had cancer.

He left school immediately, moved back to his mother’s house in Holliston, Mass., and began arduous chemotherapy treatments at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC).

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Five tips for exercising during (and after) cancer treatment


If you think a cancer diagnosis automatically means you’ll need to get plenty of bed rest and avoid activity, think again. A host of medical studies show that exercise can not only reduce the chances of developing cancer, it’s also safe during and after cancer treatment, helping improve quality of life, increase energy levels, and decrease the fatigue that many patients report.

Here are some tips for starting your own fitness routine, even if you’re facing the challenge of cancer.

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Tips every new cancer survivor should know


In celebration of Living Proof week, Insight honors cancer survivors with daily posts about survivorship. 

When I was discharged from the hospital in 1996 after undergoing a stem cell transplant to treat leukemia, I was terrified. Yes, I’d survived cancer treatment, but now I had to deal with something even scarier: the unknown.

If you’ve recently ended active treatment and are entering the world of survivorship, here are some tips to keep in mind.

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Why pediatric survivor programs are so important


In celebration of Living Proof week, Insight honors cancer survivors with daily posts about survivorship. 

When Dana-Farber launched its David B. Perini, Jr. Quality of Life Clinic nearly 20 years ago, it was one of the nation’s first programs dedicated to helping childhood cancer survivors.

From the beginning, the pediatric survivorship clinic has been guided by clinic director Lisa Diller, MD, who is recognized globally for her contributions to cancer survivorship and pediatric oncology. The Perini clinic has developed resources that help survivors address issues such as the long-term effects of treatment, the risk of second cancers, and the psychological concerns of being a cancer survivor.

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Teacher travels 600 miles for Dana-Farber care


In celebration of Living Proof week, Insight honors cancer survivors with daily posts about survivorship. 

In 2008 I discovered that my breast cancer, in remission for several years, had spread to my bones. I had just turned 50 and made a list of things I wanted to try that year: ride a helicopter, taste sake, attend a political rally. Going back into cancer treatment was not on the list.

My oncologist in Virginia suggested a consult with Eric Winer, MD, director of the Breast Oncology Center in the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers. After meeting with him I began traveling to Dana-Farber every six months for checkups. I went back on tamoxifen, a drug I had taken for five years after my treatment for breast cancer in 2000. Things seemed to be going well until last year.

Pam ZwemerWhen the cancer cells migrated to my stomach lining in 2011, I joined a clinical trial under Dr. Winer’s care. It is exploring the side effects of two oral medications, letrozole (a hormonal therapy that reduces estrogen production) and BKM120, thought to overcome the cancer’s resistance to hormonal therapy.

Dr. Winer coordinates my care with my oncologist in Virginia, Michael E. Lee, MD. I remember e-mailing Dr. Winer the night I learned the cancer had invaded my stomach. At 10:30 p.m., there he was, on my screen. During my visits I feel comforted by his presence. I know I’m in good hands.

Trusting my care team means I can keep doing what I love – teaching high school math. My school community has helped, raising more than $9,000 for my travel expenses.

Every month I travel to Boston on a Wednesday afternoon, see my care team on Thursday, fly home that night, and am back in the classroom Friday. I want my students to know that having stage IV breast cancer is only part of my identity. I’m still me.

Pam Zwemer chairs the math department at the Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, Va., and is a Dana-Farber patient.

A comprehensive approach to care for cancer survivors


In celebration of Living Proof week, Insight honors cancer survivors with daily posts about survivorship. 

The United States today is home to an estimated 12 million cancer survivors, thanks largely to advances in cancer treatment. But the end of treatment is not the end of the cancer experience.

For many cancer survivors and caregivers, the years after cancer treatment can bring physical and psychological challenges, says Ann Partridge, MD, MPH, founder and director of Dana-Farber’s Program for Young Women with Breast Cancer and director of the Adult Survivorship Program.

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Why you and your cancer care team are like the Patriots (or Giants)


The Super Bowl this weekend is the result of a lot of training and planning (and luck) on the part of the two competing teams. Players have to know their roles and everyone needs to work to the same game plan — and be ready to change tactics in an instant.

In the same way, the specialists overseeing your cancer treatment and long-term care have their own areas of expertise, and you’re an important player on the team. Here’s why:

Know your team
Medical oncologists call the plays, determining the best options for treatment and guiding the care team. They work closely with radiation oncologists and surgical oncologists, ensuring that you get the best care, at each step in your treatment plan. Learn about the important players on your cancer care team.

Know your game plan
But when you’re finished with all of your treatment regimens, oncologist appointments, and follow ups, what’s next?

Here’s where you make the call: Ask for an end-of-treatment summary. This is a document that maps out what you and your doctors already know, summarizing your cancer diagnosis and the steps included in your treatment. This information is important because it can help your primary care physician understand your medical history and better map out a plan for the future. Dana-Farber has created a Survivorship Toolkit (PDF) to guide you through the steps.

Avoid incomplete passes
Since your oncologist won’t be regularly involved in your health care once treatment is over, it’s important to bring your primary care doctor up to speed on any follow-up tests or potential long-term side effects that may arise in the future. This will form the basis of your care plan going forward. Learn more about setting up a care plan after cancer treatment.

Focus on the end zone
Making healthy changes in the way you eat, exercise, and live your life won’t necessarily prevent your cancer from coming back, but it can help you feel better and may also lower your chances of developing other health problems in the future. Find out more about creating a wellness plan that works for you.

Do you have a game plan for wellness after treatment? Tell us in the comments!

What are the best vitamins for cancer patients?


Vitamins and cancer

Walk down the vitamins and supplements aisle of a pharmacy or grocery store, and you’ll see a mind-boggling array of options. It can be hard to know which one is best. And if you’re a cancer patient looking for the right dietary supplement, there are even more issues to take into account. How do you know what’s the best – and safest – choice?

Whether you are a cancer patient or survivor, these tips can help you avoid unforeseen side-effects:

  •  Tell your doctor which vitamins you are taking. Studies have shown that some supplements can decrease the effectiveness of cancer treatment. St. John’s Wort, sometimes used for depression, has been shown to lower the effects of chemotherapy by more than half, while vitamin E, vitamin C, selenium, beta carotene, and other anti-oxidants might have similar effects on radiation and chemotherapy. Do you have a question about a particular vitamin? Ask our nutritionist, or check out our questions and answers section.
  • Read the package carefully. Vitamins and supplements bearing the label “USP” (United States Pharmacopoeia) or “NSF” (National Science Foundation) have been vetted by independent, quality control groups recognized by the U.S. government and are generally safer than those without the label.
  • “An apple a day” is still the best advice. Eating a balanced diet is still the best and safest way to ensure that your nutritional needs are met. Recently, a number of studies on supplements have been stopped because of concerning side effects. For example, a small preliminary study found that while selenium reduced the risk of ovarian cancer in women who eat foods rich in this anti-oxidant mineral, women who took selenium supplements, and other anti-oxidant vitamins, actually increased their risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Dietary supplements can be helpful in some cases. Vitamin D is well known for helping the body control calcium and phosphate levels and maintain healthy bones. Because food isn’t a great source of vitamin D (you’d need about 10 glasses of fortified milk to get 1,000 IUs) and too much sun exposure can damage skin, we recommend taking vitamin D supplements. Learn more about vitamin D.

If you’re going through cancer treatment, you may have special dietary restrictions, or you may need help managing side effects that make eating a challenge. Find out more about meal planning for cancer patients and survivors. Or, talk to a nutritionist or registered dietitian to explore options for healthy eating. Learn about Nutrition Services at Dana-Farber.

By Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN. Kennedy is a senior clinical nutritionist for Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center and a Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition.