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