28 Dec 2011

Happy New Year 2012

As the New Year rings in, we are reminded that January is Testicular Cancer Awareness month in Canada, affectionately known as Manuary.  Many of us have heard about this disease as a result of the tremendous work done by Livestrong  - the foundation created by Lance Armstrong - and as well by the many awareness campaigns led by Scott Hamilton.  We're extremely proud to say that the Livestrong Foundation was one of the earliest "followers" of our website.
Few of us are aware of the similarities between testicular cancer and ovarian cancer - specifically, germ cell cancer - a very rare form of ovarian cancer.  Ovarian germ cell tumours are malignant cells formed in the germ egg cells of the ovary.  They account for about 5% of ovarian cancers according to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center website.
There are several types of testicular cancer but the most common type is found in young men between the ages of 15-29. Similarly, germ cell tumours are typically found in teenage girls and young women.  Both cancers are named gonadal and are treated almost identically.  They are optimally debulked surgically followed by similar chemotherapy drugs and radiation.

In honour of our "brother" cancer, we have created a series of products aimed at Testicular Cancer Awareness and are launching them on our brand new major cause awareness website TheGiftMD.com .  My sister, our webmaster and designer extraordinaire, has been busy creating unusual awareness products for the most notable causes - all worthy of our understanding and support.
Have a look at that little guy joyfully ringing the bell - just like us - when chemo's finished - life begins anew!  Happy New Year to one and all!

23 Dec 2011

Turkey Pants

This holiday season will be remembered for being one of the most uncharacteristic ever.

Because my parents decided to go to Florida earlier than usual, my family celebrated in late November .  I had just finished five days of chemo and was neutropenic, so knew it wisest not to attend.  Sadly, in the past I've landed in the reverse-isolation ward of the hospital after contracting a bug from someone, and having had no white blood cells to fight it.

So, with all the merriment over and done with, one of my sisters has invited us to share with her their holiday dinner but, as we've both agreed, without the fanfare.  The dress code is simple:  seasonal sweaters, your ugliest but most comfortable slippers and of course, turkey pants.  "Turkey pants" is a new phrase coined by my niece in Atlanta.  Turkey pants are the ones that have the drawstring that can be discretely loosened just before the dessert course.  Naturally, the men are ecstatic. No ties, no collars, no belts, no limits. Call it comfort-accommodating-excess.  We're grateful for the comfort, we're grateful we have accommodation and we're embarrassed over the excess.

All kidding aside, I am reminded daily of the extremes and excesses that my Sunflower Sisters and their families go through... especially poignant at this time of year.  Yesterday, we sadly learned that another Sunflower Sister "got her wings". Today we're praying for a "teal" family member who is on her way.   Yesterday, I communicated with a man who wonders how to prevent recurrence in his Stage 4 wife?  Today, I'm awaiting for news from a Sunflower Sister in California on her latest round of chemo - a chemo which I informed her comes from the "Asian Happy Plant".  Yesterday, I received a surprise "Happy Turtle" Christmas tree ornament from a Sunflower Sister who calls herself the same - and today I'm waiting to hear about the breast biopsy results from a very frightened friend.

I think we all need to ask Santa for a pair of "turkey pants" as the great metaphor for accommodating life.

16 Dec 2011

A Gift of Love

I've never borrowed anyone else's words in total for my blog so today is an exception.  Dr. David Simon is one of my spiritual heros - the co-founder of The Chopra Center along with Dr. Deepak Chopra.  Dr. Simon is on a very serious journey with a challenging form of brain cancer - exceptionally bad news for a neurologist...yet, he finds time to dictate beautiful messages such as this one taken from today's Chopra Newsletter:

A Gift of Love . . . to Yourself

Think of someone you love with every cell in your body. It might be your child, a parent who always encouraged you, or your spouse. Or maybe your beloved pet or a life-long friend. If you can feel or envision this expansive state of lovingness, you will recognize that it is possible to care for someone so much that your only desire is for that person or being to be happy. Now consider how you would feel if you could embrace this level of love for yourself.

If you loved yourself as much as a mother loves her children, what choices would you make?  You might imagine that, like a devoted mother, you’d want your kids to take good care of themselves. You’d hope that they would eat healthy foods, get enough rest, and avoid self-destructive behavior. You would encourage them to associate with intelligent, creative, and compassionate people. You would encourage them to find their passion in life and develop skills that would allow them to create material abundance while doing those things they enjoy the most. You would want them to have a life of happiness, health, love, and freedom.

These are experiences that we all would like, and my hope is that if you aren’t already treating yourself as the magnificent, lovable being that you are, you will begin today. You can start by asking yourself how you are currently nurturing your body, heart, and mind. 

Here are some questions for reflection:

  • Am I nourishing my body with healthy food?
  • Am I generally getting plenty of restful sleep or do I need to make this more of a priority?
  • Do I take time each day to quiet my mind in meditation or another mindfulness practice?
  • Am I giving my body the opportunity to move consciously through activities that enhance my flexibility, strength, and endurance (such as yoga, walking, hiking, sports, etc.)?
  • Am I taking advantage of the healing power of the senses by surrounding myself with nurturing sights, sounds, tastes, touch, and smells?
  • Do I need to let go of any non-nurturing habits or addictions, such as overeating, smoking, or overspending?
  • Is there anything I’m holding onto from the past that is causing me pain in the present? If the answer is yes, am I taking steps to release emotional toxicity and heal my heart?
  • Am I able to maintain healthy boundaries and honor my own needs?
  • Do I practice conscious communication with the people in my life?
  • Am I part of a loving community of like-minded individuals who share core beliefs and intentions.
  • Do I have a light-hearted approach to life? Am I able to be responsible yet not take myself too seriously . . . allowing me to engage with others from a more expanded sense of self?
  • Each day, do I set my intentions with the mind-set that either my desires will be fulfilled or I will learn something of value?
  • Am I open to seeing the world from new perspectives, even those that seem in opposition to my usual point of view?
  • Am I continuing to learn new things that expand my mind and increase my enthusiasm for life?
  • Am I cultivating an internal dialogue that supports unlimited possibilities for myself, my loved ones, and the world?
As you read these questions, notice if any of them resonate with you as something you want to shift in your life. Then choose just one area to begin with and write down the smallest possible step you can take to begin to give more to your body, heart, or mind. In reality, they are inextricably connected, so the benefits of nurturing one aspect will ripple out into all areas of your life – and beyond. Have fun and see what you can create!

With love,

Thank you David...with love from us at Sunflower Sisters!

13 Dec 2011

Nuns and The Pill

A new controversy has arisen this week with an Australian research team suggesting that nearly 95,000 nuns worldwide should be given birth control pills as a means of lowering their risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancers.  A researcher at Monash University, Melbourne and another from the University of Melbourne say that nuns are at increased risk due to their celibate lifestyle.

It has long been suggested that not having breastfed children and not having conceived children could possibly put a woman at higher risk.  I say "suggested",  because my own mother breast-fed nine children and died of breast cancer and every friend that I have ever made with ovarian cancer, has borne children.

The December 8th edition of The Lancet said that women who take the pill have a 12% lower mortality rate than those that don't.  They also said that women who take the pill have a 60% lower risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer than those that have never taken it.  They also stated that the benefit lasts for up to 20 years.  It obviously didn't work in my case.

The Roman Catholic church does not ban the use of birth control pills for health reasons.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh of US Conference of Catholic Bishops says that suggesting that nuns should take the pill is "sweeping and almost irresponsible. There are risks with the pill just as there are risks with doing nothing with regard to uterine and ovarian cancer," Walsh said. "A nun's decision needs to be worked out between the nun and her doctor."

11 Dec 2011

Pacific Yew

In keeping with a holiday theme, I thought we would look into one of the most important drugs in all of the ovarian cancer treatment arsenal - taxol - a drug originally derived from an evergreen tree.
Taxol has had a very interesting and lengthy history starting in the 1950's with an edict from the National Cancer Institute's Natural Plants Division to screen about 1,000 plants per year.  Botanists were sent all across the USA to collect specimens and in this case, the bark of the Pacific Yew tree - taxus brevifolia.  Fast forward to 1964 when taxus was discovered to be cytotoxic (cause cell death).  It took until 1977 for the extract to be recommended for in vitro trials and by 1980, the NCI forecasted a requirement for about 20,000 lbs of bark.
Human trials began in 1984.  In 1988, a Phase II clinical trial produced a remarkable 30% response rate in ovarian cancer patients causing the Natural Plants Division to realise that it would take the destruction of more that 360,000 yew trees to meet the demand that year for this remarkable drug.  Various companies were charged with the task of mass production of the trees.  Attempts were made to extract the drug from the needles but the results were too inconsistent.

As with any blockbuster discovery, word spread quickly and the race was on to synthesise taxol.  Ultimately, in 1994 a combination of laboratories in the US, Canada and Germany were able to produce a formula which is now licenced to Bristol Myers Squibb for mass production.

Wikipedia has this interesting addendum to the story:

"Recently a group of Italian researchers in the Department of Translational Oncology, National Institute for Cancer Research, IST, Genova with the collaboration of the University of Genova, Italy, has confirmed the presence of taxanes in the shells and leaves of hazel plants, including paclitaxel, 10-deacetylbaccatin III, baccatin III, paclitaxel C, and 7-epipaclitaxel. The finding of these compounds in shells, which are considered discarded material and are mass produced by many food industries, is of interest for the future availability of paclitaxel (Taxol)."

Taxol combined with carboplatin is the first-line treatment today for ovarian cancer patients.  For various reasons, some patients - including myself, are allergic to this drug.  Patients can be "desensitized" to it - as I was - and/or offered new derivatives which have been developed recently.

It's mind-boggling to absorb the dates in the development of this drug  - 1964 to 1994 - thirty years from the petrie dish  to mass production of something as vital as this.  I can only imagine the women in the '60's clambering to get their names on the list of  trial participants... not much different from today.

The Pacific Yew has been saved from extinction by the genius of our scientific community but more significantly, this humble tree has directly saved and prolonged the lives of many ovarian cancer patients.

6 Dec 2011


Mistletoe was used in ancient times by the Romans, Greeks and Druids not only as a symbol of peace and fertility, but as a panacea - or cure-all of sorts.  Modern interest in mistletoe extracts began in the 1920's and it's been one of the most studied plants of all times.
Mistletoe is a semi-parasitic plant that grows on other plants and trees including apple, oak, maple, elm, pine and birch.  Extracts differ depending on which type of tree serves as the host.  It requires a temperate to warm climate to survive.

Mistletoe extracts are said to stimulate the immune system, fight inflammation and fever as well as protect healthy cells against the ravages of chemotherapy and radiation.  Mistletoe is one of the most widely prescribed alternative medicines in Europe for cancer patients.  It is not an FDA approved alternative treatment and extracts for any purpose other than clinical trials are banned in the US. There are currently 2 active clinical trials in the US for Iscador Qu (name brand mistletoe extract grown on oak) for colorectal cancer and pancreatic cancer patients in an attempt to prove reduction in adverse chemotherapeutic side effects, reduction in dosage and increased disease-free survival.
Here is a great link from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center's herb information:


Warning:  Mistletoe leaves and berries are extremely poisonous.  Two berries or three leaves can produce highly toxic effects.

We all wonder how kissing under the mistletoe came to be. 
Here's the answer : 

Baldur's mother was the Norse goddess, Frigga. When Baldur was born, Frigga made each and every plant, animal and inanimate object promise not to harm Baldur. But Frigga overlooked the mistletoe plant -- and the mischievous god of the Norse myths, Loki, took advantage of this oversight. Ever the prankster, Loki tricked one of the other gods into killing Baldur with a spear fashioned from mistletoe. The demise of Baldur, a vegetation deity in the Norse myths, brought winter into the world, although the gods did eventually restore Baldur to life. After which Frigga pronounced the mistletoe sacred, ordering that from now on it should bring love rather than death into the world. Happily complying with Frigga's wishes, any two people passing under the plant from now on would celebrate Baldur's resurrection by kissing under the mistletoe.

4 Dec 2011

Don't Cry After Chemo

I thought this might be a good follow-up article to the Mulled W(h)ine blog...if anyone can still see after imbibing "therapeutic quantities" the recipe! 

Seriously, eye problems are very common in people undergoing chemotherapy.  The urinary tract, saliva glands and tear ducts are all conduits for chemo drugs to exit the body.  Chemo leaching through the tear ducts sounds painful and damaging and it can be both.  Resultant problems range from dry eyes and conjunctivitis to very bleary eyes caused both by the drugs themselves as well as the drugs one takes for side effects.  Lack of awareness can cause permanent damage.  For people undergoing chemotherapy, there are several warning signs that require immediate, professional attention including:
  • sudden, severe eye pain
  • double vision
  • sudden loss of vision
  • halos around the eye area
  • severe headache
  • facial pain
Any of the above symptoms could indicate a medical emergency.

For those with minor issues, consider a warm/cold eye pillow, liquid tears or applying cold cucumber slices to the eyes.

Today, Dr. Mercola's website highlighted the fact that certain eye conditions are reversible.  I had to scroll down the page seven times only to land on a link that wants US$300 for the secrets.  Years ago,  Dr. Bates developed an alternative method to strengthening the eye, increasing tear production and purportedly reversing/improving certain conditions - have a look and save your money:   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bates_method

Finally, don't cry after chemo!  I'm pretty sure it causes wrinkles!

Happy Birthday To Us!

Glitter Graphics | http://www.graphicsgrotto.com/

We are very pleased and proud to announce that today is our 1st anniversary as a website, as a team and as a community of like-minded souls.  We are humbled and honoured with the success of SunflowerSisters.ca in twelve short months... here's what we can tell you:

  • We've been read in 46 countries
  • We're followed by 1,158 returning visitors
  • We've been read by 1,640 unique visitors
  • Top content read is Coping with Chemo
Bingo! Exactly why we created the website.  There is such a dearth of information concerning patient experience with ovarian cancer.  It's been our mission to provide up-to-the-minute news and commentary on issues of importance to my ovca sisters... with hope and where appropriate, humour.

None of this would have been possible without the talent, expertise and patience of my sister, our webmaster - Lisa. 

One can't toot our own horn without rechallenging ourselves so, the elves have been working overtime designing a whole new series of products for 2012 along with a new "sister-website"... still a secret...details to follow!

Don't forget - we'd love YOUR opinion of what we're doing, where we can improve - changes you'd like to see.

Thanks to all for your referrals to our site and your invaluable support!



2 Dec 2011

Mulled* W(h)ine

Yesterday, I made three attempts to write this blog and due to the number of references and links that I included... the system ate them.

So, today, you'll just have to take my word for it - I'm trying to update you on the latest research on red wine - its risks and rewards.
One source cited that 2 glasses of red wine a week is the maximum safe amount.  The next source went out on a limb and said 4 glasses a week still provided value with minimum risk of increased incidence of certain types of cancer.  Finally, Gregory Pawelski, moderator of the Cancer Focus website - a non-affiliated site for PhD's to banter about breaking news - wrote an article that said in order to attain the  "therapeutic" value of red wine - i.e. resveratrol  - one would have to drink a bottle and a half per day!!

Well now, isn't that encouraging with the Holiday Season approaching?!

Seems to me, unless one was a "seasoned" imbiber, a bottle and a half would have more repercussions than simply being an anti-carcinogen.  As my father says - moderation in all things - so here's a great recipe that will provide the antidote to the wine and balance things out:

Mulled Wine:

     4 bottles of red wine

Add the following anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-angiogenetics (all true!):
     4 dozen whole cloves
     6 cinnamon sticks
     3 crushed whole nutmegs
     2 teaspoons ground ginger
     6 allspice berries
     Sliced oranges and lemons

Put in a large cauldron and simmer for an hour  - or for however long you can stand the fabulous aromas wafting from the range....

Cheers!  Here's to therapeutic values!

* to ponder or consider at length

23 Nov 2011

L-Theanine, Topotecan and Turkey Trot

Synchronistic things seem to happen to me - by chance or for a reason - almost every day.
For instance yesterday, my step-mother said that she'd had very a good response to a new supplement called L-theanine.  She too, suffers from sleeplessness and is always on the lookout for something natural that works.  She, like me, has been through the whole gambit of potions and lotions largely without success until now.  She said - do your research - look it up and see if it is suitable for you.

I Googled L-theanine and what was the first thing to appear?  "L-Theanine Chemotherapy and Side-Effects".  A publication known as Cancer Letters and Toxicology Letters reported that l-theanine enhances the effects of doxorubicin - which is a common chemotherapeudic used in ovarian cancer treatment and other cancers.  It appears to increase the amount of drug getting into the cancer cells without harming healthy ones.  L-theanine is an amino acid derived from green tea - which, we know, has a multitude of other health benefits.
Several human studies have been performed using name-brand l-theanine products with positive results.  Dr. Daniel Armstrong, Professor of Chemistry at Iowa State Universtity said that " the only material that proved to be pure L-theanine was the Suntheanine® brand, produced via biofermentation, which had more than 99.95 per cent L-theanine, our current detection limit."

Read more at Suite101: GABA, Insomnia, and L-Theanine: An Amino Acid Aids Sleep Without Side Effects or Next Day Fatigue | Suite101.com  and  http://laura-owens.suite101.com/ltheanine-improves-sleep-and-a65390#ixzz1eXOQjp40
So ladies - a two for one!  Sleep and chemo enhancer.

Speaking of chemo, my latest foray is into the world of Topotecan.  It's a brand new chemo drug for me with an onerous delivery schedule - 5 days of a 1/2 hour infusion followed by two weeks off.  Today is day 3 of the first of the 5 day cycles and I can report to you that I know that I've had chemo - meaning that when you have experienced side effects in the past,  you have a heightened sense of awareness of what to look for.  I have nothing overt to comment on thus far...I'm just mildly "aware".  The metronomic schedule is meant to be less toxic and have the drug remain in your system longer.

And finally - I bet you thought I'd forget - Happy Thanksgiving to all of my Sunflower Sisters south of the border!  Our very own webmaster is participating in the Atlanta Half Marathon on Thanksgiving Day along with her husband and my brother-in-law.  My southern sister and her daughter will be ambling along in either the 5K Turkey Trot, or the Mashed Potato Mile and Gravy Gallop!  I kind of like the name of that last event and only hope that their noses don't land in it afterwards (family joke)!!  Good luck to all!  
N.B. our readership needs pictures!!

9 Nov 2011

Remembrance Day and Veterans Day

I remember Dawn.  My first Sunflower Sister.  Dawn and I shared a hospital room in 2007 while I received a two-day chemo infusion.  Dawn was in for blood transfusions...last ditch life-extending blood transfusions. After repeated complaints and tests for everything from Crohn's disease to irritable bowel syndrome over a two year period of time, she had ultimately been diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer .  That night she and I talked until the wee hours of the morning.  She had asked her doctor what the next steps would be and he said there weren't very many options "You're a Stage 4 after all!", he said.  I was furious.  I couldn't digest no hope.   She said things to me that night that she hadn't told another living soul and I will cherish those moments forever and keep her stories safe.  Dawn died a very short time afterwards.

I remember Anita.  My first cancer sister.  I shared a hospital room with her on two different occasions and visited her for months until her death.  She too had been through almost two years of back-and-forthing with various doctors until an accurate diagnosis was made.  She had a very obscure form of cancer and if you read our website page on Hope, you will recognise the words - overheard by me - spoken to Anita by a palliative care nurse - "There is always hope, it just comes in different forms".   Anita was an extremely elegant octogenarian - yes, above all, a true lady... and she taught me how to live until you die.

I remember Ingrid.  A stunningly beautiful, thirty-one year old mother of an infant and a two year old.  Ingrid had triple negative, stage four breast cancer discovered while she was pregnant with her little boy.  I met Ingrid during the summer of 2010 when I was hospitalized for a possible bowel obstruction.  She was on the other side of the curtain sobbing.  I asked if she wanted a visitor and she said yes.  I approached her and asked what I could do for her and she said nothing - she said she was crying for me.  Me?  She said yes, she had heard the surgeon say that I was inoperable and that where he came from they don't even feed (intravenously) terminal patients anymore.  Happily for me, her interpretation was out of context and she was so glad.  She went home that day and we emailed twice a week until she stopped responding. Weeks later, I learned that she had passed away just before Christmas.

I remember Wendy.  This one is really tough...Wendy was not only a Sunflower Sister but like a true sister to me and as well, a catalyst for the inception of this website.  I miss her.  Wendy would say that she wasn't courageous - she just wanted to live.  She would laugh when the oncologist offered her a new treatment or procedure saying - "I guess he thinks I'm going to live or he wouldn't be investing this kind of money in me".  Wendy asked me to bring her a funny little leather flip flop ornament key chain back from Cuba in January of this year.  I never got to give it to her or a chance say goodbye.

November 11th is Veterans Day in the USA and Remembrance Day in Canada.  These four women are true examples of cancer veterans, my sisters, and most worthy of remembrance.

4 Nov 2011

Lauds and Labs

Last night, I was very proud to stand beside one of my real sisters as she went up to the podium to receive a commendation for raising funds for ovarian cancer research.  The evening celebration was in honour of those who had organized and led teams of runners and walkers in the annual London Run for Ovarian Cancer. I was also beaming with pride when the announcer mentioned how wonderful they thought our Sunflower Sisters website is.  My webmaster sister should have been there to receive that accolade too, so I blushed for her.

A very moving speech was made by a survivor. She was diagnosed 2 years ago being BRCA positive, has gone through two clinical trials and has had three recurrences.  Has she still got hope?  You bet.

The Run/Walk is unique in that they are not raising funds for a national charity but for a local, highly sophisticated ovarian cancer research team.  The team's focus is advanced ovarian cancer.  Not prevention.  Not detection.  The are no awareness committees nor excess administration. 

The highlight of the evening came when we were invited to tour the research facilities with one of the chief scientists.  When you picture researchers - you envision scientists holed up in some dark basement doing wild and wonderful experiments.  To the contrary, these scientists work in a very bright, professional environment and perform what is known as translational research - meaning working in close relationship with gynecological oncologists, gyn/onc surgeons and medical oncologists.  An example of this "live" interaction is OvCa tumour material being sent directly from the operating theatre to their labs for analysis to test and determine what kind of chemo would be most effective for that patient.  This is revolutionary.  It wasn't available four years ago.  Co-operative effort is the key to progress - not isolation.

Although you needed a dictionary to follow what was being said, the gist of it was that cancer treatment needs to evolve to a personalized basis - tumour by tumour - gene by gene. Clearly no two patients are alike.  It was extremely fascinating - complex - powerful.

We took his message to heart with re-newed enthusiasm to activate everyone we can reach to help with this extremely worthwhile work.

Save the date for this coming year's event:
Sunday, May 13th, 2012
Run, walk or just send money.  We'll be onto you!

31 Oct 2011

Strenuous Exercise and "Muffin Tops"

What do strenuous exercise and muffin tops have in common?

Well?  A logical response to the question for this blog would be that they must have something to do with ovarian cancer.  Right.  For some reason or other, the Breast Cancer Awareness website decided to re-print a 2007 study presented by Australian researchers suggesting that exercise may actually increase women's risk for developing ovarian cancer.  What next?  Well, their theories are based on three premises:
  1. excessive physical activity causes decreased levels of estrogen in women
  2. consequently causing the pituitary gland to release more gonadotropin
  3. gonadotropin hormones are thought to stimulate an estrogen which causes excessive proliferation of ovarian cells.
In addition, they stated that strenuous exercise caused an increase in androgen levels which could play a role in ovarian cancer.  Their study followed 13,000 women from the ages of 27-75 over a period of 13 years.

Interestingly, the Nature Medicine research in the UK released news this week that they have discovered a protein that sends signals to ovarian cancer cells from fatty tissue known as the omentum.  For those of who need a more colloquial description of where this fatty tissue resides - think "muffin top".  Similarly, a University of Chicago team experimented by injecting healthy mice with ovarian cancer cells and found that the cells reached the omentum in less than 20 minutes.  Once there, the cells were found to change so that they could eat off this fatty tissue.  Dr. Kat Arney of Cancer Research UK said,  "These are important results because they suggest that fat cells in the stomach can fuel the spread of ovarian cancer, and point towards potential targets for the development of new treatments for the disease."

Ovarian cancer spread to the omentum means the difference between the disease stage being a Stage 1 or Stage 3.  Stage 1 means that the cancer cells have not spread beyond the ovary and has a very high cure rate. At Stage 3, disease has reached the omentum and possibly elsewhere and carries statistically grim five-year survival rates of less than 40%.
You can see where I'm heading with this... into the land of "damned if you do and damned if you don't".  I suppose the answer is moderation.

If all of this gives you a headache,  a recent review in the British Journal of Cancer (British Journal of Cancer (2011) 105, 1107 – 1113) suggests that two 325mg pills of Aspirin a day may be of use in the adjuvant setting to treat cancer.  I agree.

13 Oct 2011

Counting Turkeys instead of Sheep!

Yesterday I visited my GP armed with a whole new list of issues - some major, some minor and some downright annoying.  In the downright annoying department is my ongoing incapacity to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. 

As some of you remember, in my blog - Creating Your Own Clinical Trials (July 2011) - I am taking LDN - 3mg per night.  The drug carries a warning that sleeplessness could occur for the first few weeks but now we're talking three months.  I contacted the study doctor at the University of Pennsylvania and was advised that reducing the dosage would limit its effectiveness and of course, increasing it would turn me into a zombie!

As treatment for the insomnia, I have taken Imovane (half pill 3.5mg) also known as Zopiclone (how's that for funny!) or Zimovane in the UK, and it works.  But, it's a prescription drug.

I've also tried melatonin... it works sometimes.  I've tried lavender in the pillow and smells nice, induces relaxation and makes you smile but that's about all.  I've tried Costco's own brand Kirkland Sleep Aid and it too works occasionally, but you wake up with a very dry mouth and feeling a bit fuzzy.  There are dozens and dozens of other prescriptions, teas, tisanes and herbs (many of which I've tried) but my GP has given me a new substance to try and it's all about turkey!

Yes, turkey. It contains a great deal of tryptophan. Other than overeating, it is this amino acid contained in turkey which causes you to feel so sleepy after the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner!  Who knew?

Tryptophan is one of our 20 standard amino acids as well as an essential amino acid.  Essential amino acids are just that - essential to life - the ability to help break down protein into digestible matter.  Absence of essential amino acids leads to nervousness, exhaustion and dizziness.

The University of Maryland reports on research that found that taking 1 gram of supplement L-Tryptophan can induce sleep and delay waking times.  Other studies suggest that taking 5-Hydroxytryptophan, also called 5-HTP which is made from tryptophan, is helpful in treating insomnia arising from depression.

The Livestrong website reports that tryptophan produces serotonin in the body - a natural sleep aid.  They also state that caution should be advised before taking this supplement along with prescription antidepressants.

Well, gobble-gobble...here I go! Pass the gravy, please!

10 Oct 2011

Canadian Thanksgiving Gratitude

Unlike our neighbours south of the border, Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October every year.  I guess it's simply a question of latitude and the harvest coming in a month sooner or maybe it's the snow arriving earlier!

Thanksgiving here is very much like the US celebration complete with turkey and all the fixings.  Today though, we feel closer to Florida than the Arctic as the temperatures soar to a balmy 80+ degrees - highly unusual for October.

Thanksgiving is very much a time for reflection.  Those of us on "the path"  have so much to be thankful for - our families, our friends, our support network, our doctors and nurses, people whose prayers you feel but remain anonymous.

I remember a funny adage that goes "if you're still breathing, there's more right with you than wrong".  Well, I'm still breathing and four years later, consider myself to be extremely lucky to be able to say so.
I'm grateful for the time to be able to share my thoughts, research and collective wisdom with you.  I'm grateful that there are readers out there that have said that it matters.  I'm extremely grateful to my real sister who makes all of this possible - linking us together in cyberspace.  I'm grateful to all the angels who through simple suggestions of "read this" or "try that" - continually keep me evolving.
Lastly and most importantly, what is Thanksgiving without giving thanks to the most important man in my life - the steadying force behind my strength, the constant in my journey of extreme ups and downs, the quiet love and a true present moment person - my love, my husband.

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving to All!

Back To Our Roots Part 2: Ginger

Ginger is one of the most heavily consumed dietary substances in the world.  Medicinal references to ginger are found in the Sanskrit and Chinese texts as far back as 2000 years ago.  Dietary prevalence for foods such as ginger, curcumin, garlic, soy and green tea are thought to be responsible for the decreased incidence of many cancers in Asia.  Ginger is widely used in Western naturopathic medicine for digestive disorders including nausea, colic, vomiting etc.

Scientists at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Care have demonstrated the preventative and inhibitory effects of ginger against ovarian cancer in the lab.  Dr. Rebecca Lui, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, states that ginger selectively targets cancer cells that do not respond to standard chemotherapy. According to Dr. Richard Beliveau, one of the principal molecules present in this root is gingerol - a powerful potential anti-cancer agent and anti-inflammatory. In a 2007 study published in the journal "Food and Chemical Toxicology", ginger inhibits tumour initiation but how it does this is unknown.

So how much ginger does one take on a daily basis?  I was told by a naturopathic doctor to put a 1" piece of ginger sliced up into my pot of green tea.  Three cups of green tea infused with ginger is recommended daily.  Ayurvedic practice calls for a cup of hot water infused with 1 teaspoon of grated ginger before all meals.

There are a couple of contraindications with ginger - ginger is a blood thinner so caution should be exercised if you are taking drugs such as heparin or Warfarin .  As well, ginger is spicy so large doses may cause stomach or intestinal irritation.

Back To Our Roots Part 1: Curcumin

We "sisters" are desperately interested in things we can do for ourselves outside of chemotherapy.  There are lots of suggestions but few of them stand up to scientific scrutiny.  Two natural ingredients which have had extensive research and many studies done are curcumin and ginger.  Both of these root ingredients have anti-cancer benefits for those with ovarian cancer.

Curcumin is a component of turmeric.  It is not the same thing nor interchangeable with turmeric or curry powder - as turmeric contains only 3% curcumin and curry powder much less.  Curcumin has been used since 3000BC for medicinal purposes.  It is anti-inflammatory (inflammation has long been associated with the development of cancer cells), it inhibits tumoral cell growth, it induces tumoral cell death, it interferes with angiogenesis (discussed in the Green Tea blog)  and it has a positive impact on the immune system.  Unlike other anti-inflammatory drugs, curcumin is not toxic to humans in concentrations of up to 12,000 grams/day.  Therapeutic benefit is received from doses as low as 2,000 grams per day.
There is one drawback however and that is the bioavailability of curcumin - the extent to which it can be absorbed into the bloodstream.  In order to make it more bioavailable - curcumin has to be coupled with piperine (an extract of pepper).  Dr. Richard Beliveau is quoted in his book "Foods that Fight Cancer" as saying "Piperine increases the amount of curcumin absorbed by a factor of 1,000".  It has been further understood that curcumin is not soluble in water and so needs an oil to "carry it" through the digestive process.  Combining it with a flaxseed oil capsule or dissolving it in a fatty liquid like coconut milk or real cream increases its effectiveness.

Recent developments include in vivo, in vitro and xenograph studies using an analog (synthetic) of curcumin on cisplatin resistant ovarian cancer cells.  The treatment combined cisplatin and the curcumin analog and resulted in significantly inhibiting the growth of resistant tumours without toxicity to healthy tissues.

Reproductive Sciences journal reports a study of another curcumin analog - EF24 - has shown a 10 to 20 times increase in cytotocity (cancer cell death).  Unfortunately, these analogs are not yet available commercially and human clinical trials are warranted.  In the meantime... we have good old curcumin - be sure it is standardized to greater than or equal to 95% curcuminoids and includes piperine. 

A very interesting blog with lots of curcumin chatter on it is Margaret's health blog.

Next topic: Ginger.

6 Oct 2011

Green Tea

Last week, I dropped into my favourite out-of-town tea merchant after not having been there for over a year.  A lot happens in a year - especially in my world of ovarian cancer information research.  So, when I started to ask the shopkeeper detailed questions about the various teas and when it was evident that there were no detailed answers forthcoming, I decided to pass on buying any serious tea there that day, and resolved to return to the green tea website that helped provide my tea education and the finest tea I've ever consumed.

Tea is a complex beverage containing hundreds of chemical compounds.  About 1/3 of the weight of a tea leaf is composed of polyphenols more commonly known as catechinsCatechins are responsible for the anti-cancer activity of green tea.  Green tea contains several catechins but the one with the highest anti-cancer activity is known as EGCG.  The EGCG content of green tea will vary with the area of cultivation, the diversity of plants, the harvest season and importantly, the processing technique.  In other words, all green tea is not created equal.

Brewing time is an important factor in releasing catechins... steeping less than five minutes only allows the extraction of 20% of the catechins that 8-10 minutes would release.  Dr. Richard Beliveau's book Foods that Fight Cancer, has an excellent chapter on green tea, the different types of green tea, where they come from and their EGCG content.  He states - "Of all the molecules naturally occurring in foods that have been identified up until now, our studies show that EGCG is the most powerful in blocking VEGF receptor activity, a key feature in the initiation of angiogenesis." *

Along with the information contained in Dr. Beliveau's book, click on the Green Tea Lovers' website to further your education and tea experience.  Green Tea Lovers has a vast selection of rated teas from around the world in all price ranges and tastes.  They supply the background information on each offering as well as the antioxidant percentages.  The people that own Green Tea Lovers actually visit every farm where they buy tea and so when they say it's organic - you can trust that it is organic.  Their "white" tea selection - a hand-picked leaf - specially processed and the "queen of all teas", is sublime. 
Another consideration when buying high quality tea leaves is that they can be re-infused many times without losing their taste or catechin value.

If you are drinking green tea for pleasure or medicinal value, you can improve the quality of the effect by improving the quality of your ingredients.

Green Tea Lovers has generously offered our readers a 10% discount when you use the code OVCGTL in the coupon code box at checkout. Links to their website are also found on the SunflowerSisters Books and Gift Store page.

*Cancer cells need to obtain their own supply of food and oxygen in order to grow.  These cells trigger a protein called VEGF (vascular endothilial growth factor), which in turn attracts the cells of nearby blood vessels.   The tumour then creates it's own blood vessel network and continues to grow and multiply.  This process is called angiogenesis.  Therefore, EGCG is a powerful VEGF inhibitor.

28 Sep 2011

Help Us to Help Others

As an update to my previous post "SunflowerSisters' Amazon Affiliate Program", we have been very busy seeking out suitable new retailers to add to our Books and Gift Store page. We have now affiliated with several new retailers which offer products such as:
  • yoga and fitness gear,
  • eco-friendly organic products,
  • organic nutritional supplements, foods and personal care products,
  • medical and pharmacy supplies,
  • flowers and gift items,
and happily,
  • a large selection of quality wigs at very reasonable prices.
In addition to these, there is a very large selection of everyday consumer goods, and we continue to seek out new retailers whose products complement our website and reflect the interests of our readers. We are also happy to announce our acceptance to affiliate programs in the UK.

You may recall, when you enter one of our affiliates' websites through a link on one of the Sunflower Sisters websites, and make a purchase, a small commission is paid to us. These commissions help us to finance the costs of maintaining and updating our website.

Where can you find the links to our affiliated retailers?
  1. SunflowerSisters Books and Gift Stores
  2. A new tab on our Facebook page called "Help Us to Help Others"
  3. On the right-hand column of our Sunflower Sisters Ovarian Cancer Blog.
Please remember to bookmark these pages so that you can easily return to your favourite online retailers.

Once again, we thank you for Helping Us to Help Others!

17 Sep 2011

Dr. Oz Ovarian Cancer Diet Controversy

In recognition of September being Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Oz aired a special show on Tuesday.  The second half of the show featured a guest, Dr. William Li, President, The Angiogenesis Foundation.  The Angiogenesis Foundation is the world's first and leading not-for-profit organization dedicated to conquering disease by controlling the blood vessels that feed tumours.  Dr. Li presented his anti-ovarian cancer diet.http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/anti-ovarian-cancer-diet

Understandably, this has created a hubbub within the ovarian cancer community and has spurred The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance to contact Dr. Oz and ask the producers to provide the studies and the sources of the information supporting the claims made.
Here is their response:

In summary, the Alliance cannot support any of the claims as follows:
  • Endive - animal and human studies need to be conducted
  • Onions - studies are needed to further evaluate this association
  • Fish - data conflict at this time re fish-based Omega 3 fatty acids*
  • Tomatoes - few studies have indicated a clear link

* recent newspaper articles have cited studies indicating fish-based Omega 3 fatty acids interfere with chemotherapy effectiveness.

14 Sep 2011

Good Things Happen in Three's

There is an old adage about "good things happening in three's", and in our family it's no exception.  On September 7th we added our newest member  - welcome to the world Miss Aubrey Ruth!  She is the third baby this year and if you've been following our blogs, all three have been girls. 
(Photo courtesy of VdK Photography)

On Sunday, two of my sisters and myself (that makes three) participated in the 5 km Cambridge (Ontario) Ovarian Cancer Walk of Hope.  We even managed to get two out of three husbands on the march along with our 6 month old puppy - well, that makes three boys.  It was a glorious day and a successful event.  Congratulations to the organizers for all of their efforts!  Ovarian Cancer Canada had a target of $1.7M and managed to raise $2.5M and counting... fantastic!
A special thank you goes to "my Sunflower Sister" aka the webmaster of this site, for putting together our outfits - specially stencilled teal t-shirts, sunflower bands for our hats and even a sunflower scarf for our puppy.  I think we looked pretty good - don't you?

Lastly, I'm extremely grateful to have news from another Sunflower Sister who is enjoying remarkable health despite tremendous odds.  Keep going sister - you know who you are!!

11 Sep 2011

Intention of the Heart

I had the honour and privilege of studying with Dr. David Simon, the co-founder of the Chopra Center last May.  Today, in memory of all those affected by the tragic events of 9/11, he has written a special healing meditation.  The creation is a beautiful, sensitive reminder that "The greatest contribution we can make to the wellbeing of those in our lives is to have peace in our own hearts."  With that in mind, I encourage you to listen to this, his "Intention of the Heart".


10 Sep 2011

Fashion for Ovarian Cancer Research

Ovarian Cancer Fundraiser - London, Ontario, Canada

8 Sep 2011

Shake and Bake Surgery

I read an article in The New York Times on the weekend entitled "Hot Chemotherapy Bath: Patients See Hope, Critics Hold Doubts" written by Andrew Pollack.  The article invoked several emotions in me including outrage - outrage over comments like surgeons competing for cancer patients by offering a "technique that has almost no basis in science" and "you can't make a living doing this procedure in appendix cancer patients" (meaning that appendix cancer is so obscure you need a broader base of cancers to treat to make it profitable). 

The surgical technique referred to is a costly and controversial procedure which involves the standard surgical removal of the patient's tumour(s), then pumping heated chemotherapy into the abdomen, gently rocking and massaging the patient's innards and finally suturing the incision.  The theory is to flood the abdomen with heated chemo putting it in direct contact with any microscopic cells as opposed to using conventional systemic chemotherapy. 

Some of America's leading medical centers have been offering this to colorectal and ovarian cancer patients for some time now.  When I'd first learned of this technique it was labelled "shake and bake surgery" - for obvious reasons.

When new cancer drugs are discovered they typically go through an in vitro stage - whereby the drug is exposed to the cancer cell directly, followed by a stage where cancer cells are injected into mice, where the drug's efficacy is further analysed, then finally, human clinical trials.  It's very disconcerting to read about procedures which on the surface seem logical, but now discover that they have "no basis in science".  It's alarming to read that the survival rate for patients undergoing this radical therapy is basically the same as those receiving regular chemotherapy  however, the risks are considerably higher and the recovery time is as long as six months.
The only reward therefore, seems to be the surgeon's desire to expand his/her repertoire and paycheck.  Sadly, another false hope.

5 Sep 2011

Ovarian Cancer Prevention and Detection

So far this month, we've dealt with Ovarian Cancer Signs and Symptoms, the Types of OvCa and now we'll talk about Prevention and Detection.

Sadly, there is no such thing as ovarian cancer prevention.  Even the removal of your ovaries and fallopian tubes does not rule out the pre-existence of cancer cells in your body.   No 100% accurate blood test exists and once again, a Pap smear doesn't help

So what can you do?  In the case of women who have first degree relatives - sister, mother - who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 defective genes, heightened surveillance is the operative phrase.  These women should have a trans-vaginal ultrasound yearly along with a CA125 blood test.  A trans-vaginal ultrasound can indicate suspicious growths.  The radiologist is also able to administer a dye which will give him/her three minutes to view your vascular network.  Cancerous ovarian tumours tend to have blood vessels which flow more slowly than your regular blood supply.  This is not conclusive, but can lead to other more invasive tests.

Relatives of sporadic ovarian cancer patients have a normal statistical chance of getting the disease.  Ovarian cancer is the most lethal of all gynecological cancers but is still considered rare.

Conclusive detection of ovarian cancer requires a combination of radiology - usually a CT scan, blood tests and ultimately surgery.  The diagnosis cannot be complete without a tumour sample.

Some interesting but unproven generalities float around about who does and does not have a higher chance of developing ovarian cancer... some of the preventative adages include:
  • women who have taken birth control pills for more than 5 years
  • women who have had 2 or more children
The foregoing is suggesting hyper-ovulation as a cause.  As well,  the prolonged use of talcum powder in the genital area, smoking, and obesity have been suggested as  causes. 
Stronger genetic predispositions have been found in the Ashkenazi-Jewish community as well as in African American women.

3 Sep 2011

SunflowerSisters' Amazon Affiliate Program

Dear Family and Friends:

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month and we're reaching out to each of you to ask you to please "Help Us to Help Others" ...and it won't cost you a cent!

How can you help us?

Many of you already shop online using Amazon.com or Amazon.ca.  SunflowerSisters.ca is a registered affiliate with both Amazon.com and Amazon.ca - which simply means, that if you buy your items through our affiliate account, we will receive a tiny commission. And I mean tiny. This is our only means of financing the cost of maintaining and updating our website.

Why would you buy through our affiliate link?
  • There is no difference in the cost of your purchase.
  • Your items will not take any longer to ship.
  • There is no additional paperwork.
  • There is no questionaire.
  • All purchasing is confidential - no info is supplied to us.
  • SunflowerSisters is starting to reach its targeted market and perhaps you feel our work is valuable.
  • We are hoping to produce an exercise video specifically for ovarian cancer patient rehabilitation and it will be the first of its kind. This is only one of several items where we have incurred out of pocket expenses.
Will you help us?
Please bookmark the following web pages:
Each of these pages has a direct link into Amazon by clicking on the Amazon banner located on that page.
Remember to enter Amazon's website through this bookmarked link each time you visit.
Thank you in advance for your support!
Your SunflowerSisters,
Jo & Lisa

2 Sep 2011

Types of Ovarian Cancer

According to MD Anderson Cancer Center, there are more than 30 different types of ovarian tumours which are categorized according to cell types.  Some are non-cancerous and do not spread beyond the ovary, others are malignant and can spread to other parts of the body.

The three most common types of ovarian cancer are:
  1. Epithelial tumours which originate in the cells that cover the outside of the ovary.  This is the most frequent type of ovarian cancer accounting for approximately 90% of the cases.  It is most common in women over the age of 60 but can develop at any age.
  2. Germ cell tumours which originate in the egg-producing cells and are found within the ovary.  This type of cancer is most common in adolescents and women under the age of 30.  It accounts for about 5% of all ovarian cancers.
  3. Sex cord stromal tumours develop in the connective tissue that holds the ovary together and produces the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.  It is relatively rare accounting for 5% of ovarian tumours.
Within these broad categories are two sub-categories - hereditary or sporadic cancer.  Hereditary ovarian cancer usually means that the person carries the defective BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.  About 10% of ovarian cancers are inherited from a blood relative.  Sporadic cancer is cancer of unknown origins.

People who inherit the defective BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are at a significantly higher lifetime risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer.  Therefore screening for these genetic defects becomes an important tool for the ovarian cancer patient themselves and her family.  Please refer to Genetic Testing under the Hope and Healing tab on the website for more details.

Prevention of inherited breast cancer usually involves heightened breast screening, possible use of drugs such as Tamoxifen, possible removal of the breasts.  Prevention of inherited ovarian cancer usually involves prophylactic removal of the fallopian tubes and ovaries.

1 Sep 2011

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and we'll do our best to cover the issues surrounding the signs and symptoms of the disease as well as prevention.

What are the some of the possible signs of ovarian cancer?
  1. abdominal pressure, fullness, bloating
  2. pelvic discomfort or pain
  3. persistent indigestion, gas or nausea
  4. changes in bowel habits such as constipation
  5. changes in bladder habits such as frequent need to urinate
  6. loss of appetite or quickly feeling full
  7. increased abdominal girth - clothes fitting tightly around the waist
  8. a persistent lack of energy
  9. low back pain
  10. some of the above...none of the above.
As you can read, most premenopausal women experience all or some of these symptoms on a monthly basis.  They are commonly attributed to PMS and not typically alarming to any of us.  The difference between one's monthly experience and cancer is usually persistence and worsening .  OR NOT...which is why the disease has been labelled "the silent killer".
In my own case, I had no symptoms other than discovering a lump in my groin which I had attributed to a hernia.  How could I make such a diagnosis?  I had had a trans vaginal ultrasound only 7 weeks prior to my discovery with an "all clear".  On the day I felt the lump, my husband and I had played an aggressive game of tennis and upon over-reaching for the ball, I ended up performing  the splits really hurting myself in the groin area.  That's my story.

I've had three friends whom I met over the last four years at the Cancer Centre - all three dead now - all three mis-diagnosed as having irritable bowel syndrome instead of ovarian cancer - a common mistake given their complaints.  In their cases, however, the doctors missed the word persistent - all three were symptomatic for an extended period of time.
There is no screening test for ovarian cancer.  A Pap smear cannot diagnose this disease.  There is no reliable blood test.  Ovarian cancer, gone undetected, spreads throughout the abdomen where it is very difficult to treat.

Treatment however, is possible.  New drugs are being discovered daily - sign up for our Tweets for the proof - it's extremely encouraging.  There is a race on to develop the blood test which will be 100% accurate in early diagnosis of the disease - when cure not palliation is possible.  Defective genes are being uncovered at a fantastic pace paving the way for individualized treatment in the future.

Next blog...awareness of inherited genetic abnormalities which can lead to ovarian cancer prevention. Ovarian Cancer INFOGRAPHIC Know The Facts

29 Aug 2011

Beer and Licorice

Our website is now nine months old - a fitting number to celebrate of the arrival of yet another addition to our family this year - another "pink" one...Welcome to the world, baby Lailah!
When my sister and I created SunflowerSisters, our intention was simply to try to help ovarian cancer patients live more fully with and inspite of their disease. We've been able to track, through a Google Analytics application, statistics indicating that to date, we've had almost 2,000 visitors to the site from 37 different countries. We have the ability to fine tune these statistics to differentiate the real visitors from the accidental - i.e. the ability to identify users who have read several pages and stayed on the site for more than one or two seconds. We can track how a person finds the site - do they use a keyword search, if so, what is the keyword and then that information gives us a clue as to what subjects are important to our readers. But, with all of this intelligence, we were never sure that we were reaching our intended audience...until recently.
We received a most moving letter from an OVCa patient who, after repeated recurrences, had taken our website page on Palliative Care to her doctor and had "the talk". By "the talk" I mean the end-of-life discussion - the decision to cease treatment - the planning of the final stage of this earthly journey. We were deeply taken with the calm, serenity and acceptance underlying her words but above all, profoundly grateful for her thanks to us for the help the site had provided. At last, we had the most humbling realization that the work had reached a SunflowerSister and was indeed worthwhile.
I thought of her every day imagining how the disease must have finally overtaken her and wondering at the courage required for her to come to that conclusion.
AND THEN...two weeks later, I received another email from her telling us that incredibly, her latest CT scan showed no metastasization to any vital organs, that the cancer was contained in her abdomen and that it was indeed possible for her to resume treatment! She said that she cried like a baby - well, we did too with that most remarkable news. So, tear up the bucket list and forget the going-away party!
Was it her acceptance? Was it her complete letting go? Was it simply her decision to live with the dis-ease of the disease? Whatever or whoever the reason, she is, no doubt re-born.
As a post script - after her initial contact with us, I had replied to her with a whole string of questions about her journey including asking if she had any specific dietary regimes to recommend...her answer was - "drink a beer and have a couple of red Twizzlers (licorice sticks) every night."