Ignorance is not Bliss

Look at this gem I came across Facebook awhile ago courtesy of Live Love Fruit, and I came the closest I have ever to that elusive rage stroke.  (It’ll happen, my friends.  It.  Will.  Happen.)

Natural Cancer Treatments

One of the many infuriating things about this graphic, disguised as health advice, is the fact that cancer isn’t just one disease.  My breast cancer isn’t the same as the skin cancer that my dad had a handful of years ago.  Hell, my breast cancer isn’t even like my friend N’s breast cancer (estrogen positive versus Her-2 positive).  When these healthy living proselytizers start sticking their heads into serious, life and death, topics they know nothing about, that’s when my blood pressure wants to reach meteoric heights.

(Also, if you learn to love, you’ll prevent cancer?  Seriously, what the actual fuck?  So if you’re shooting figurative rainbows out your eyes and pooping bouquet of roses, you’ll  prevent cancer?  Oi.  The stupid is strong with this one.)

Cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute, is defined as: “a term used for abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues.  Cancer cells can be spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems.  Cancer is not just one disease but many diseases. There are more than 100 different types of cancer. Most cancers are named for the organ or type of cell in which they start – for example, cancer that begins in the colon is called colon cancer; cancer that begins in melanocytes of the skin is called melanoma.”

When I see graphics like this one, my first thought: what cancer are we talking about, ye ole wise Internet oncologists?  Hmm, are we talking about carcinomas, sarcomas, leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, or central nervous system cancers?  Tell me, lady who juices and who believes Dr. Mercola is the best thing to happen to the Internet since cat videos, what cancer are you talking about?  While we are at it, please show me all your diplomas from all the medical schools you attended.

I did a quick search for natural treatments to see just how effective they are.  Here’s an abstract for a study entitled: “Alternative Therapy Used as Primary Treatment for Breast Cancer Negatively Impacts Outcomes.”  Another study: “Effect of complementary and alternative medicine on the survival and health-related quality of life among terminally ill cancer patients: a prospective cohort study.”  There are more studies out there, and this should go without saying for anyone diagnosed with cancer: discuss health plans with your team of doctors and for the love of pete, don’t take advice from people on the Internet.

I am not against alternative treatments in general.  Not at all.  I am against alternative treatments being used in place of  the standard and tried-and-true treatments.  I have heard and read that yoga, acupuncture, things of that nature, have helped loads in dealing with symptoms from treatment.  I wholeheartedly believe those who are sick and want to try different ways to lessen their pain should try to find whatever works, and I hope you are successful.

The other main issue I take with the above graphic is the use of  “prevention.”  You can’t prevent cancer.  You know what you can do, though?  You can  reduce your risk of certain cancers.  When these Internet oncologists (who, I presume, received their Internet degree after successfully completing the course: “I read one article, and now I’m an expert”) throw around the word prevent, they perpetuate the false notion that if you just follow the Healthy Living Rules, you’ll never be sick.

A very gifted blogger, Stacey, explained exactly why the distinction of “prevention vs. risk reduction vs. screening” needs to be made in this fantastic CoffeeMommy blog post:

Why is the terminology distinction important? Three reason bubble to the top for me:

Continued Diligence: Individuals must remain diligent in personal and professional screening even when they “do everything right” on the risk reduction list. Mammograms don’t “Save the ta-tas” they simply alert people as to whether or not their breasts are trying to kill them. I can personally attest to the fact that people who follow all the published rules for how to prevent breast cancer, and get a mammogram at 40, still get breast cancer.

Removing Stigma and Eradicating Blame & Shame: According to anecdotal data, the most common question lung cancer patients field is, “How long did you smoke?” If you advertise risk reduction as prevention you are perpetuating a falsehood. Perpetuating the idea that cancers are preventable implies that, when a diagnosis is given, somebody did something WRONG.

Redirecting Research Focus: While a list of ways to reduce risk for disease is helpful, such a list is not a magic bullet. Already genomic research is leading to personalized treatments. We need to expand efforts in this area. When the general public finally realizes that no one is “immune” to a cancer diagnosis, more focus can be applied in the appropriate areas.

 

Actors who are in the best shapes of their lives are diagnosed with cancer and die.  Athletes get cancer.  Never-Smokers get lung cancer and die.  Vegetarians also get cancer.    Oftentimes biology and/or environmental factors are too big of obstacles for a healthy lifestyle to shield you from anything bad, and you can get sick.  You cannot prevent cancer.  You can reduce your risk.   I am sorry to burst any bubble, but bad things can happen to good people, including healthy people.

Oftentimes you see these graphics, like the one above, being shared and posted by those who have never had cancer or faced any medical hardship (as a result of that, they seem to think they have the human body all figured out).  Frankly, I think it’s irresponsible and downright dangerous to be advocating for a “natural cancer treatment” when it’s not YOUR life at stake.  People have said to me, “Man, I don’t know if I could do chemo if I had cancer.  That just seems really drastic, all that poison.”

santana

My response: “Oh yeah, total poison.  Nothing good or easy about it, but man, when the doctor told me I had breast cancer, I couldn’t get hooked up to that IV quick enough.”  Let’s make a deal, internet oncologists.  If YOU come down with cancer, then you should try the natural cancer treatments, and report on how that worked out for you.  In the meantime, I’m going to listen to those in the medical field who actually do know what they are talking about.

You also see a lot of this line of thinking in social media land after you have become a sickie:

To the folks who subscribe to this paranoid Big Brother attitude, I applaud you for the privilege of not ever having been sick and needing medicine to actually stay alive or to function.  I’m not exaggerating either – needing real medicine, and not some essential oil or some fruit that people in South America supposedly do instead of chemo, to stay alive.  It must be nice.  If it wasn’t for big Pharma, I’d either have advanced disease or I’d be dead.  Who knows?  I wouldn’t be living a No Evidence of Disease life right now, and I certainly wouldn’t have run a half marathon not even a month ago.  If this makes me a so-called Big Pharma pawn or whatever it is that these theorists think I am, so be it.  I know I’ll rest easy tonight.

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Half marathon…. check

I did it.  I freaking did it.

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Pre-race selfie and post-race selfie

 

I ran 13.1 miles today, and I didn’t stop to walk.  (I did stop for water breaks, but I’m not counting that.)  I’ve been training for this day for months, basically since last October.  This time last year, I was still recovering from five surgeries over the period of two years.  I was 10 to 15 pounds heavier, and I lacked direction.  I didn’t know how to change my life and bounce back from all the crap done to me during breast cancer.  I hated what cancer had done to me physically with all my scars, weight gain and the reconstruction.

I’m now in the best freaking shape of my life.  I have never looked and felt like this, even before cancer.  I have a feeling of purpose with running.  During all my treatment, I remember how absurd it felt to hear people say to me, “Oh, you’re so strong.  You’re a fighter.”  That always struck me as odd because I had never felt so physically weak and just beat up.  Like, seriously, who was I fighting and winning?  Cancer treatment puts the patient in a very passive role.  I didn’t do anything – rather, treatment was done to me.

I feel strong now, and I have realized that I’m not strong nor was I ever strong because I had cancer.  I am now strong even though I had cancer.

During the last three or four miles of the race today, I actually started getting flashbacks to my time in the chemo ward.  I could see myself in the chair, looking out at the other patient.  I remembered that feeling of helplessness and hopelessness.  I’d snap out of that flashback and just ran harder.  Then I flashed to my hospitalization after my double mastectomy, and how much pain I felt.  I’d snap out of that, too, and ran harder.  It was like Runner Lara was running like hell away from Sick Lara, like I am finally able to put that period of life behind me (knowing damn well that it can always come back).

Nothing I can do will prevent breast cancer from ever coming back, either local or distant.  What I do today, like putting on a pair of shoes and running, is what i can do.  That’s the only control I have – this very moment.

This race was such a huge deal to me.  It was to see if I could even do it and a big fuck you to cancer.  Now it’s done and in the (Lara) record books, it’s time to move on.  I’m definitely not cancer girl anymore.

I am a runner.

Get Up Running – Marjie

Welcome to the inaugural post for what I hope can become an inspirational series about running during and/or after cancer – Get Up Running.  This should go without saying but if you’re recovering from cancer and want to start running, clear everything with your doctors beforehand.

My first friend to respond to my inquiry was Marjie from Pink and Pearls.  This woman has the kindest soul I have ever encountered, and I am so privileged to count her as a friend.

Name: Marjorie Miller

finish

Type of cancer & your treatment: 

Breast cancer; surgery (I also had childhood Leukemia at the age of 12, and for that, three years of chemotherapy).

Were you a runner before cancer or any other sports before cancer?

I ran my first 5K literally the same day I found a breast lump. (race that morning, found the lump in the shower that afternoon). I started running a few months before diagnosis, but was never a runner before cancer.

Did you run during treatment? If no, how long after treatment ended did you take up running?

Yes, I tried to run in between surgeries. I had six total surgeries, including a double mastectomy with reconstruction and lat flap. After each surgery when I got the go-ahead from my doctor to resume physical activity, I attempted to run again. It didn’t always happen with the expanders but I tried.

How has running helped you during and/or after treatment, both physically and mentally?

Mentally it helps me feel like I have control over my body again. It helps me feel in control of my health and my life. Breast cancer took my breasts but it can’t take what I do with my body, which is running. When I run it’s just me and my body; I have complete control. I take myself as far as I want. I push myself as much as I can. Nobody else gets a say when I lace up my sneakers. Physically it’s made me stronger and healthier. It gives me so much self confidence. It gives me energy, helps me deal with stress and anxiety, and I feel it keeps me sane 😉

What did your doctor/doctors say about you running?

They applaud it and encourage it.

What has big your biggest challenge running after cancer?

Being comfortable with the implants. My chest still feels tight and I am still regaining muscles under my chest wall. Running sometimes hurts and pulls at my chest.

What would you say to someone ending treatment or just out of treatment who might be intimidated to take up running?

Take it slowly. Take it one day at a time. Start with what YOU feel comfortable doing. Remember: when you run, you run for you and nobody else. My husband said to me before my first 10 miler a few weeks ago: “Just run YOUR race.”

You’re only running for yourself. Not to impress anyone else. Start with walking, slow jogging, taking breaks, whatever you need. You’ll find with time your energy and stamina will grow. Your confidence will grow. It does get easier and the more you do it, the more you love it.

Run happy!

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11 Miles

On Sunday, I accomplished something I never thought I could do – I ran 11 miles in two hours and three minutes.  When I began Fleet Feet’s No Boundaries program last July, I wasn’t even sure if I could run a 5K.  I thought to myself, “Okay, you signed up.  That’s the first step.”  I ran the Pittsburgh’s Great Race 5K in 31 minutes, and I was so proud of myself afterward.  When I saw that Fleet Feet was offering a training program for either the half marathon or full marathon, I hemmed and hawed about it for days.

No way I can run 13.1 miles.  You are out of your damn mind.

After I shook those “I can’t” thoughts out of my head, I signed up for the training group, and I have no idea why I ever thought I couldn’t do this.  Now that I have an 11 mile run under my belt, I know that I can run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon this May 4.  I am going to do it.  Even more so, I am going to run the Pittsburgh Half in two hours.  That’s my goal.  Whether or not I meet that goal, I’m going to be proud that I crossed that finish line.

Cancer is something that my body does.  Running is something I choose to do.

When I cross that finish line in just over a month, I hope my mother is looking down from wherever she is, shouting, “HUFFMAN RULES.”