web analytics

Archive | Health

Spiritual Care at the end-of-life

Hospice of Michigan spiritual care advisors help patients discover a sense of peace and closure as they prepare to die.

Hospice of Michigan spiritual care advisors help patients discover a sense of peace and closure as they prepare to die.

From Hospice of Michigan

When we are young and healthy, we can feel invincible. There’s plenty of time – and opportunity to solve life’s problems and make one’s mark.

But when faced with death, perspective can change quickly and so can priorities. This is when we begin to evaluate the meaning of life and contemplate the legacy we will leave behind.

Rev. Ronald White sees this time and time again.  As a spiritual care advisor with Hospice of Michigan, it’s White’s job and his mission to help hospice patients discover a sense of peace and closure as they prepare to die.

“Many people assume spiritual care is about religion, and while it can be, it can mean something different to everyone,” White says. “Spiritual care is not intended to change patients’ belief system, but accept patients wherever they are on their journey and provide support at the end of life.

“When a person is dying, reality can hit hard. It’s often as they face the end that people look to find closure and mend relationships. This could be with God, family and friends or the world at large.”

The need for spiritual care differs from person to person. Some find solace in their religious faith; others may need to evaluate the meaning of their life or come to terms with important issues.

Spiritual care advisors like White provide support for patients and their families as physical, emotional and spiritual needs arise. This can mean helping patients through a journey of faith, reconnecting them with their church, helping to mend family rifts or simply listening to patients while they share things that are weighing on them.

Many times, when facing death, people seek forgiveness, White explains. “We’ll often try to reconnect family members and bring them together for a family meeting so they can sort through issues while there is still time. Many times we see that the family members don’t even remember what the disagreement was about, just that something happened. In circumstances like this, talking things out usually helps. But other times issues are deeply rooted and can’t be resolved. While we can’t fix all problems, we make our best effort.”

When you can’t mend a situation, White notes that sometimes it’s enough to just be there to listen.

“Letting patients tell their story and talk through problems can often lead to acceptance,” White says. “As spiritual care advisors, our conversations with patients are confidential. Sometimes patients have things weighing on them that they don’t want their family to know about, but they still need to share with someone. Knowing that we can be their confidant allows them to open up to us and find a sense of peace.”

White explains that some of his most important work is with veterans.

“Many veterans have a lot of guilt when they near the end-of-life,” White said. “They are dealing with things they saw or did in the name of war—often things they’ve never shared with anyone. When we work with vets, we know we can’t change what happened, so we spend a lot of time talking. We ask them about the duties they had, where they served and how they were involved. These questions can lead to meaningful conversations and often times helps veterans share the things that are weighing on them. Sometimes just talking through an issue with someone provides acceptance and closure.”

White notes that anxiety at end-of-life can cause unnecessary pain – which is why the role of a spiritual care advisor is so important.

“Providing comfort to patients and their families is our number one goal,” White adds. “Helping patients find solace and closure allows them to die a good death. This is something that provides peace for both the patient and their family.”

Posted in Featured, HealthComments Off on Spiritual Care at the end-of-life

Seven unlikely foods that sabotage fat loss


(BPT) – The basic idea behind fat loss is simple: eat better, exercise more. However, hidden in this formula are numerous caveats and footnotes. No wonder there are so many books and television specials about the 100 different ways people are supposed to exercise and eat right.

According to Becca Hurt, MS, RD, and program manager of Life Time Weight Loss at Life Time – The Healthy Way of Life Company, “one of the most confusing parts of dieting is the fact that many of the foods people think will help them lose weight actually pack on the pounds.” Hurt notes there are enemies lurking in common foods that almost everyone eats or drinks. So, what’s to be done? To help identify some of the most common weight-loss enemies, Hurt has provided a list of seven culprits everyone will want to weed out of their diet.

Coffee shop drinks

Never mind the french fries and potato chips, Hurt says that liquid calories are more often one of the biggest downfalls when it comes to losing weight. For many, it starts with their morning coffee. While 1-2 cups of coffee with only cream added is no harm, the danger is in the sugar loaded, caramel-chocolate dieting disasters many people believe to be perfectly healthy because they ordered the non-fat options. “Not only do these drinks lead to a sugar rollercoaster and energy crashes, they may be loaded with as many as 500-plus calories,” says Hurt.

Skim milk

“Only recently, Americans started to realize fat isn’t always the bad guy,” explains Hurt. “There is no difference in fat loss between diets with no-fat and full-fat dairy consumption, according to recent studies.” In fact, Hurt notes that people often add sugar to enhance the taste of their skim milk, which quickly turns it into a decidedly unhealthy option.


Yes, even whole grain pasta is stripped of beneficial nutrients, bleached and loaded with preservatives to make it more shelf-stable. Pasta portions can also be confusing. “A pasta meal should begin with a big salad, and the high protein meatballs should be larger than the portion of pasta,” says Hurt. “Instead of spaghetti and meatballs, it should be meatballs with some spaghetti on the side.”

Reduced fat snacks 

For many, reduced fat, no fat and low fat labels on foods can be a green light to what they believe is guilt free snacking. The principle to remember here is not all calories are the same. “A 100-calorie pudding pack is not as healthy as 100-calories worth of almonds,” explains Hurt. “Food that is naturally healthy doesn’t have to have the “no-fat” label.” A handful of nuts, a few slices of full-fat cheese or some Greek yogurt are healthier options by far.

Energy drinks

For those looking to shed some fat, drinking one of these sugar-loaded bad-boys means putting the brakes on their body’s fat burning process. Hurt adds that people should get no more than 5 percent of their calories from sugar and just one energy drink will put someone well over this limit.


While many think ordering a sandwich is a diet-friendly alternative to a burger, consider this: one sandwich has as many carbohydrates as a Kit-Kat bar! “Carbs are not a sustainable source of energy,” says Hurt, “and are responsible for that sluggish, hungry feeling that leads many to skip workouts and snack more.” The solution: ditch the bread and add a salad!

Protein bars

They might be marketed as the fat burning, muscle gaining snack, but don’t be fooled. Heavily processed protein bars are loaded with sugars and carbohydrates. To get the necessary protein, Hurt suggests looking to nuts or animal sources such as meats or yogurt instead.

Posted in HealthComments Off on Seven unlikely foods that sabotage fat loss

Keep pets healthy over the holidays

PHOTO SOURCE: (c) annaav - Fotolia.com

PHOTO SOURCE: (c) annaav – Fotolia.com

(StatePoint) When making holiday plans, consider your pets’ health needs. Here, five veterinary experts weigh in on steps to keep pets happy and healthy amid the hubbub.

Resist those pleading eyes

According to veterinary nutritionist Dr. Dottie LaFlamme, high-calorie tidbits contribute to caloric overload and bad habits, while lacking necessary nutrient balance.

“Just one teaspoon of beef fat can contain almost twice the calories a small dog should consume in daily treats,” LaFlamme notes, adding that feeding from the table also promotes begging behavior. “If you must give pets a treat, feed it in their bowl after the meal to help with portion control.”

Avoid holiday hazards

The holidays can be toxic to pets. Chocolate poisoning is one of the most common accidents during the holidays, according to veterinary critical care specialist and toxicologist Dr. Justine Lee. Other food foes include grapes, raisins, bones, unbaked yeast bread dough, alcohol and xylitol, a common sugar substitute.

Likewise, “Potpourri liquid contains detergents that can cause severe ulcers and burns in a cat’s mouth, while tinsel can act as a severe linear foreign body when stuck in a cat’s stomach and intestines,” she explains.

If you’re hosting, ensure houseguests pet-proof pill bottles.

Take preventive measures

Owners often experience a false sense of security about parasite prevention when the weather turns cooler. However, the holidays are no time to take a break from heartworm prevention, even though heartworms are spread by infected mosquitoes, says veterinary parasitologist Dr. Patricia Payne. Why? Because preventives work retroactively on heartworm larvae acquired earlier in the season.

“There’s no way to accurately predict past or future transmission, so the American Heartworm Society recommends year-round heartworm prevention for dogs and cats,” she explains. “Make sure to put a reminder on your holiday calendar to give routine monthly preventives to pets.”

Give the gift of activity

“When we removed hunting from pets’ daily lives, we reduced their physical and mental activity,” explains veterinary behaviorist Dr. Jacqueline Neilson. “When pets lack mental stimulation, they can become bored and depressed, and often create their own stimulating activities, such as chewing items or barking at passersby.”

Beat this concern with food puzzles and toys that require pets to work, play or “hunt.”

“Consider your pet’s personality when choosing holiday gifts,” says Neilson. “If your dog likes to chew things, a food toy that needs to be squeezed between the jaws may be ideal. Herding breeds may prefer a toy they can nudge.”

Travel prep

An estimated 30 million people travel with their pets annually, and holidays are primetime for hitting the road. Flying? Check your airline’s pet requirements. For car travel, invest in a carrier.

“Your pet will appreciate a safe haven while traveling,” says Dr. Robert Stannard, who recommends adding a favorite blanket to provide a sense of familiarity.

Travel bowls, favorite toys and medications are necessities, not luxuries. Just be careful not to overfeed.

“Like us, pets can get motion sickness,” says Stannard. “Don’t feed your pet right before leaving, and limit food during travel to help prevent digestive upset.”

With a few precautionary measures, your four-legged family members can have a happy, healthy holiday season.

Posted in Featured, HealthComments Off on Keep pets healthy over the holidays

Access Affordable Health Care and the Insurance Marketplace


By: Stephanie Holland, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides Americans with better health security by expanding coverage, lowering healthcare costs, guaranteeing more choice, and enhancing the quality of care for all Americans. Everyone is entitled to affordable healthcare.

Under the law, a new “Patient’s Bill of Rights” gives the American people the stability and flexibility they need to make informed choices about their health. Some of the benefits of this coverage include:

• Ending Pre-Existing Condition Exclusions for Children: Health plans can no longer limit or deny benefits to children under 19 due to a pre-existing condition.

• Keeping Young Adults Covered: If you are under 26, you may be eligible to be covered under your parent’s health plan.

• Ending Arbitrary Withdrawals of Insurance Coverage: Insurers can no longer cancel your coverage just because you made an honest mistake.

• Guaranteeing Your Right to Appeal: You now have the right to ask that your plan reconsider its denial of payment.

Open enrollment began in November and ends January 31. Compare healthcare plans so that you can find the best one for you, and sign up before the enrollment period ends. You can learn more about the insurance marketplace and how to apply for benefits at www.healthcare.gov.

If you are 65 or older, you are entitled to Medicare. Certain people younger than age 65 can qualify for Medicare, including those who have disabilities and those who have permanent kidney failure. The program helps with the cost of healthcare, but it does not cover all medical expenses or the cost of most long-term care.

You can access everything you need for Medicare, including online applications and publications, at www.socialsecurity.gov/medicare.

Social Security and affordable healthcare go hand-in-hand. The Affordable Care Act and Medicare help ensure that you and your family are covered.

Stephanie Holland is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 455 Bond St, Benton Harbor MI 49022 or via email at stephanie.holland@ssa.gov

Posted in HealthComments Off on Access Affordable Health Care and the Insurance Marketplace

Horseback riding helps man with COPD

We recently received this story from Don Foreman, of Kent City. 

Don Foreman, though afflicted with COPD, is shown doing what he loves.

Don Foreman, though afflicted with COPD, is shown doing what he loves.

It all began in 1975 when I married a woman with two horses and we bought a hobby farm in northern Kent County. I have been adventerous all my life and love the west. For many years, I have hunted and camped in the mountains of Colorado and the Dakotas. I’ve even crossed the Great Divide on horseback.

In 2010, I was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD).
In March of 2012, we were approached by Sue to board her horses at our barn. Having the horses around again rekindled my urge to ride again. I thought I could handle a quiet, older horse such as a Tennessee Walker or a Morgan.

In the spring of 2013, we were told by Sue’s farrier about a black Morgan mother and daughter for sale. We looked at them, Sue test rode the daughter; liked her way of going and I bought them. All my life I had dreamed of owning a black stallion, and now I had two black mares! After buying a saddle, bridle, boots and saddlebags, I was ready to ride again.

I have two small portable air tanks; each one is good for about two hours, so I put one in each of the saddlebags and off we go when the weather is good.
My doctor has said this is a good form of exercising for me as it helps my breathing and gets me outdoors.
So here I am—an 81-year-old man with COPD, who is back doing what he loves—being outdoors and riding a horse.

So don’t stop living because of age or physical limitations. The moral is, if you think you might like to do something, don’t hesitate to go for it even if others disagree. You only live once.

Posted in Featured, HealthComments Off on Horseback riding helps man with COPD

Coping with Grief at the Holidays

While the holidays may be challenging for those who have recently lost a loved one, Hospice of Michigan provides techniques to help the bereaved handle grief and find comfort.

While the holidays may be challenging for those who have recently lost a loved one, Hospice of Michigan provides techniques to help the bereaved handle grief and find comfort.

Pat Chambers was a wife, mother of five and grandmother of 12. She loved to garden and enjoyed the beauty of nature. But when Chambers was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, little pieces of her slipped away each day, until she died just over a year ago.

Her daughter, Janene Engelhard, knows firsthand that no matter how prepared you are for the death of a loved one, the grief can still be overwhelming — especially during the holidays.

“Grief doesn’t just happen in your head; it happens in your heart,” Engelhard says. “I knew my mom wasn’t going to get better, and I felt like I lost a little more of her each time I saw her. While part of me was prepared for her death, it’s still difficult, especially when holiday traditions trigger grief.”

Janene Engelhard

Janene Engelhard

Engelhard explains that her mother was the pie baker. She recalls the first Thanksgiving without her mom, when it occurred to the family that Mom didn’t do the baking. She also notes how making her mom’s cut-out Christmas cookies is now a bittersweet tradition. While recalling fond memories helps, they also serve as a reminder that her mom is no longer there.

“For those who have experienced the loss of a loved one, the holidays often elicit emotions of grief and sadness,” said Karen Monts, practice manager of counseling services at Hospice of Michigan. “Though it may be a difficult time for those grieving, it can also be a wonderful time to remember a loved one’s memory. At Hospice of Michigan, we focus on providing the bereaved with the tools they need to once again enjoy this special time of year.”

Monts explains that the holidays may be challenging but there are techniques to help handle grief and find comfort, such as:

Giving yourself grace. Allow yourself to feel whatever way you feel; there is no right or wrong way. Be honest about your feelings and don’t force yourself to do anything you are not up to.

Surround yourself with support. Plan to be around people you enjoy, who are supportive or are a good listener. Negative voices can make the day worse.

Donate your time or treasure. Volunteering at or donating to an organization that was near to your loved one’s heart is a great way to honor them during the holidays. Or pick an organization that’s important to you and could use some assistance.

Remember your loved one. Set a place at the table for your loved one or hang a stocking in which you and others can fill with notes and mementos. Spend time talking about your loved one and sharing stories. If it brings you comfort, look through photos or listen to music that serves as a reminder.

Give a gift. Buy something that you think your loved one would have enjoyed and give it to someone else. You can either share the meaning behind the gift or simply enjoy bringing joy to someone’s life.

Allow yourself to be happy. There is nothing wrong with celebrating or feeling joy.

One of the ways Engelhard coped with grief during the first Christmas without her mother was by creating memorial gifts for her father and siblings.

“My mom loved nature and would press flowers and leaves,” she recalls. “After she died, I found several phone books in her house with her pressed clippings still inside. I used these to create shadow boxes for family members. I also included a photo of my mom, pearls from her favorite necklace, pieces of the measuring tape she had for sewing and swatches from the pastry cloth she had used since we were kids.”

Engelhard explains that creating the memorial gifts was not only a way for her to cope with her grief, but it helped keep her mother’s memory alive—something important to her and her family.

“While everyone copes with grief in their own unique way, over time those grieving will learn to live with the loss and once again find joy—not just during the holiday season, but throughout the year,” Monts adds.

Hospice of Michigan offers a variety of grief support and educational services, including holiday grief programs. Its services are available to all families involved with Hospice of Michigan, as well as the community at large. For more information on any of the services we offer, visit www.hom.org.

Posted in HealthComments Off on Coping with Grief at the Holidays

Vinegar can help control blood sugar levels

A variety of vinegar flavors can dress your salad while helping to keep your glucose levels low.

A variety of vinegar flavors can dress your salad while helping to keep your glucose levels low.

(NAPS)—During November, National Diabetes Month, or at any time, there could be sweet news for the 29.1 million people the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates have diabetes.

According to Dr. Carol S. Johnston, professor and associate director of the Nutrition Program in the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion at Arizona State University, vinegar can be part of a diet strategy to manage blood glucose.

Why Vinegar

Here’s why: Eating foods that are high in starch, such as bread and rice, causes surges in blood glucose levels, Dr. Johnston explains. These high levels of blood glucose have been linked to higher or increased cardiovascular disease risk in healthy populations and can also increase complications among those with type 2 diabetes.

Consuming small amounts of vinegar—one to two tablespoons— before your meal, however, can reduce these high levels of glucose, she says.

In fact, for individuals with type 2 diabetes, studies have shown that consuming vinegar prior to meals on a daily basis can significantly reduce blood levels of A1c, a key indicator of average blood glucose concentrations.

In addition to consuming vinegar alone, consuming foods high in vinegar is an option. Vinegar is found in pickled products and salad dressings and can also be consumed before a meal on a salad.

Why it’s Important

Diabetes is a disease in which blood glucose levels are above normal. Most food you eat gets turned into glucose, or sugar, for your body to use for energy. The pancreas makes a hormone called insulin to help glucose get into the cells. If you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use its own insulin as well as it should. This causes sugar to build up in your blood.

Diabetes can have serious health complications including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and lower-extremity amputations. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, but you don’t have to be in such statistics. The International Life Sciences Institute reports that “Several studies have demonstrated that vinegar can help reduce hyperglycemia, hyperinsulinemia, hyperlipidemia and obesity.”

What else to do

In addition to adding vinegar to your diet, other helpful changes can include:

•Eat smaller portions. Learn what a serving size is for different foods and how many servings you need in a meal.

•Eat less fat. Choose fewer high-fat foods and use less fat for cooking.

•Exercise for at least 30 minutes at least five days a week.

•Follow your doctor’s advice about any health issues you experience.

Learn more

For more information on vinegar, including studies, recipes and more, visit www.versatilevinegar.org.

Posted in HealthComments Off on Vinegar can help control blood sugar levels

Redefining good days while living with breast cancer 

Left to right: Models of Courage Laurie Tennent, Cati Diamond Stone, and Aimee Bariteau join together in a group painting session as part of Ford Warriors in Pink’s Good Day Project. To learn more, visit Fordcares.com.

Left to right: Models of Courage Laurie Tennent, Cati Diamond Stone, and Aimee Bariteau join together in a group painting session as part of Ford Warriors in Pink’s Good Day Project. To learn more, visit Fordcares.com.

(BPT) – When facing bad news—like something as serious as a cancer diagnosis—it can be difficult to imagine that any day of the coming journey would be “good.” But for many of the millions of men and women in the U.S. who have been affected by the disease, the experience has transformed their understanding of support and redefined their sense of normalcy.

Survivor Karen Martinez was prepared to go through chemotherapy alone, but was thankful to have two friends who insisted they be at her side for every appointment, which sometimes lasted five to six hours.

“They just sat there, and we were either joking, reading or talking,” says Martinez. “For a bad experience—which it was—I still looked forward to it. Not the treatment, but the friendship.”

Other survivors found peace in solitude.

20 breast cancer survivors and co-survivors join Ford Warriors in Pink’s Good Day Project to share their stories and give more good days to others affected by breast cancer.

20 breast cancer survivors and co-survivors join Ford Warriors in Pink’s Good Day Project to share their stories and give more good days to others affected by breast cancer.

“There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. I knew I had my family,” says survivor Marisol Rodriguez, a 50-year-old teacher from Portland, Oregon, who, after initially being accompanied by her husband to chemotherapy, eventually chose to go alone. “When your friends want to visit you, in my [Latino] culture, you have to entertain them. While it was greatly appreciated, it did take a lot of energy, so I chose to just relax during this time.”

Both experiences underscore the complexity of support. While many people want to help, they’re unsure of the best way and what comforts one person might not work for another.

“The worst thing you can say to someone going through this experience is, ‘Well, let me know what you need’ or ‘Let me know what I can do,’” says survivor Tracy Nicole. “No one said that to me because they knew that I wasn’t going to ask for anything.”

Instead, Tracy Nicole’s family and friends helped with things like organizing meals, childcare and other household errands. Through the online platform Meal Train, Jenny Price, Tracy Nicole’s friend, organized a calendar and identified specific errands that friends could help with on certain days and times, including ironing her daughters’ school uniform or preparing meals for the day.

Insights like these from breast cancer survivors and co-survivors inspired Ford “Warriors in Pink” to launch The Good Day Project, an initiative to help friends and family take small, actionable steps that will bring more good days to breast cancer patients.

Free access to Meal Train’s premium service, Meal Train Plus, is offered as part of the program. Warriors in Pink also provides patients with free rides to and from appointments at select cancer treatment centers via the ride-sharing service Lyft. On its website, Warriors in Pink offers a variety of resources and tips for giving “good days.”

Here are some of their “good day” tips for others living with breast cancer and their supporters:

For those diagnosed, in treatment, or in recovery:

  • Celebrate small victories: Aimee Bariteau recalls the simple joy she got from being able to walk to the park for the first time after treatment. “Rather than being annoyed that I couldn’t do it before, I was happy when I could do it. It’s a long haul, so when something good happens, be sure to acknowledge and enjoy it.” Fellow survivor Camari Olson documented her surgeries and hair regrowth after chemotherapy in a photo project that she looks back at to remind herself how far she’s come.
  • Let others know how they can help by simply listening: “People know they can’t take the disease away from you,” added Olson. “There were times I needed to express my fears about dying or the sadness at having my body forever changed, and my friends and family helped by simply listening and not denying me those fears and feelings.”
  • Share your experience and advice with others: Steve Del Gardo says this is especially important for men with breast cancer, as there are fewer support resources dedicated to the male experience. He volunteers as a Peer Support Navigator through the Friend for Life Network to support other men affected by the disease.

For supporters:

  • Think about how you can help others affected by someone’s diagnosis, such as their children or partners: Carrie Vieceli was living more than 3,000 miles from her close friends and family when she was diagnosed. Despite her own challenges and day-to-day care needs, she worried about the responsibilities that her husband handled on his own. “He could have used so much support—in caring for me as well as emotional support for himself.”
  • Remind your loved one that you’re thinking about them: Take five minutes to send a postcard. Survivor Cati Diamond Stone enjoyed receiving random cards from her friend on a weekly basis. Free Warriors in Pink postcards are available at fordcares.com or at their website.
  • Remember your loved one’s interests are probably still the same: While help with physically taxing tasks (laundry, driving, groceries) are much appreciated, don’t assume your friend or loved one doesn’t want to be invited to something they can’t fully participate in. If they love hiking, for example, consider a route that allows them to enjoy a scenic break.

Posted in Featured, HealthComments Off on Redefining good days while living with breast cancer 

Don’t wait for professionals to help a cardiac victim


By Mary Kuhlman, Michigan News Connection

Help from a bystander is often the difference between whether a person suffering from cardiac arrest will live or die.

Kelli Sears with the American Heart Association (AHA) says while there are some minor changes in the organization’s guidelines, the most significant emphasis for the public remains to take action even if you’re not formally trained in CPR.

“If you’ve taken a CPR class and have been taught how to give breaths, then the breaths are still recommended,” she says. “If you don’t know CPR and you haven’t taken a class, then we just recommend hands-only CPR or compression-only CPR. Push hard and push fast and do something.”

Sears says the chest compressions should be done at a rate of 100 to 120 per minute, with the beat of the Bee Gees’ classic disco song “Stayin’ Alive” a perfect match for the timing. A quick demonstration of hands-only CPR can be found online at the American Heart Association website.

Sears notes that bystanders getting involved—calling 911, performing CPR and using an automated external defibrillator if one is available—is  especially critical in rural areas where it can take time for emergency crews to respond.

“Having people who can initiate CPR before an ambulance can arrive or before first responders can arrive is vital in giving a patient any chance of survival in a cardiac arrest situation,” she says.

Sears says bystander CPR can double or even triple the odds of survival for those with cardiac arrest but less than half receive such help.

Posted in HealthComments Off on Don’t wait for professionals to help a cardiac victim

Rethinking breast cancer treatment: One woman’s story

Amy Thigpen

Amy Thigpen

(BPT) – In the United States, one in five new breast cancer cases is stage 0 disease, but for Amy Thigpen, a mother of three who works in an oncology clinic, breast cancer is not a statistic; it is personal. After all, her mother is a breast cancer survivor, and later, she too faced-off with a similar diagnosis.

After Amy’s mother was diagnosed with early-stage invasive breast cancer, Amy was determined to be proactive about her breast health. She had a feeling something was not right and requested a mammogram from her doctors at the age of 34, even though clinical practice guidelines do not recommend screening before the age of 50. The mammogram found a small tumor that was confined to the milk ducts; fortunately, it had not spread to the surrounding tissue. At that point, Amy faced her diagnosis—stage 0 breast cancer, known as ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS.

An oncology nurse in the hematology oncology department at Physicians East in Greenville, North Carolina, Amy worked alongside a breast cancer specialist and had seen many patients battle the disease and struggle with the many decisions that had to be made – including whether or not to pursue post-surgery treatment. After caring for so many cancer patients over the years, Amy now was speaking with her doctors about a difficult decision of her own, as it was not clear whether her cancer would come back and if she needed radiation therapy.

Amy was familiar with genomic testing and a tool doctors sometimes used to guide treatment decisions. Her mother had received the Oncotype DX test for her invasive breast cancer and used the test results to help inform her decision of whether she needed chemotherapy. Inspired by her mother’s experience, Amy talked to her doctor about genomic testing, and since the Oncotype DX test was now available and validated to provide the 10-year risk of an invasive or a DCIS local recurrence in DCIS patients, they decided to move forward. The Oncotype DX DCIS Score result has been shown to change treatment recommendations in 30 percent of patients and doctors rank it as the most important factor in treatment planning for DCIS patients.

When Thigpen received her Oncotype DX test results, her DCIS Score result was zero. “I was so excited, I carried the results to my doctor and knew we had our answer. I wouldn’t have radiation. The test probably saved me from having to go through six weeks of radiation that my body really did not need, as well as the side effects that it can cause.”

“When a woman is diagnosed with DCIS, my goal as a physician is to accurately assess her individual risk for cancer returning so we can define and personalize an appropriate treatment plan with greater confidence,” said Michael Alvarado, M.D., breast cancer surgeon, the University of California, San Francisco Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. Reflecting on a UCSF-led study of the clinical utility of the Oncotype DX test for DCIS, Dr. Alvarado added that that test was “an objective biomarker that provides independent information beyond what has been available to physicians before, which can be seen as the biggest advancement in the management of DCIS in more than a decade.”

To encourage other women to pursue personalized treatment, Amy decided to share her story on www.MyBreastCancerTreatment.org, a patient education resource providing information around breast cancer and the benefits of genomic testing. The tools, resources and eligibility quiz offered on this website enable patients and their loved ones to empower themselves with information about their specific cancer and work with their doctor to confidently select a treatment plan that can guide personalized treatment decisions based on their individual tumor.

“You have to be your own advocate and push for what you truly feel in your heart is right, because when the day is over, you have to be 100 percent comfortable with your treatment plan.”

Posted in Featured, HealthComments Off on Rethinking breast cancer treatment: One woman’s story