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Staying Fit is So Important

Just this month I saw a report that was released saying the degree of frailty, more so than age, can predict how well patients will fare after a melanoma diagnosis.  Specifically, patients with decreased core muscle density were more likely to see their cancer spread to distant parts of the body.  I thought this was interesting and I do believe strongly that exercise helps the immune system.  I have also seen some very fit people get melanoma and progress, but my point is that the healthier you are, the better you feel and that is important whether you have cancer or not.  Mike’s mother is a two-time cancer survivor with Multiple Sclerosis.  She is in a wheel chair, but she always manages to go swimming to get her exercise.  Whenever I don’t feel like exercising, I think of her.. and I feel like a big wimp.

Before Mike was diagnosed with melanoma, he was not exercising very much at all.  Now it has become part of his routine and he loves it.  Recently he developed tennis elbow and had to skip lifting weights for a couple of weeks only to have his lower back go out on him right after.  So for over a month he hasn’t been exercising as much as he used to and he really misses it.  I can tell the difference not only with his muscle tone – when he doesn’t exercise he is grumpy, doesn’t sleep well, etc.  Over the past couple of months, I have started doing strength training and yoga.   I have also started a new fitness routine at a gym next to my work.  It focuses on short bursts of really hard exercise like high reps of burpees and push ups…but it only takes 15-25 minutes.  It is called Soul Blast – at the 3rd Door in Palo Alto).  It doesn’t sound like much time to get a workout, but it works all of your muscles and I am so sore afterwards.  I really love it and I can see a difference in muscle tone already. So even if you are short on time, you really can still reap the benefits of exercise without spending hours doing it.

I have wanted to write about the importance of exercise for cancer patients for a while.  What prompted me to do so was David Haas.  He is my first ever guest blogger. David is a cancer patient advocate who had a friend go through cancer and saw the toll it took on his short life. He has a passion for fitness and began researching and writing about the effects of fitness and health to help benefit cancer patients.  I hope you will read his words below:

Physical Fitness For Cancer Survivors by David Haas

Modern cancer treatment is a proven method for fighting many types of cancer. Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, laser treatments, stem cell transplants, and various targeted therapies can successfully fight some cancers.

Battling cancer and surviving treatment are major accomplishments for cancer patients. But for most survivors, the last treatment does not signal the end of their battle. Rather, it merely shifts the focus — from fighting their cancer to fighting its return.

Most people who make it through the rough journey of cancer symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment think about ways they can get and stay healthy. While activity levels generally decline during the cancer experience, after cancer most people look for ways to increase their energy and fitness level.

Exercise has many benefits for cancer patients and survivors. Research shows that exercise and healthy eating can prevent some types of cancer. It indicates that exercise can keep cancer from returning. It also suggests longer survival rates for those facing a cancer diagnosis.

According to a report from Dr. Matthew Hoffman for WebMD, women who exercise after breast cancer treatment live longer and have less risk of recurrence than women who do not exercise. Two clinical trials revealed the same results for colorectal cancer survivors.

If exercise is beneficial for people with these types of cancer, it is likely to help any cancer patient — from the women with breast cancer to someone with a rare and deadly disease like mesothelioma. People undergoing mesothelioma treatment cannot exercise at the same level as other cancer patients, but even gentle stretching is beneficial.

Physical activity has the same benefits for cancer patients and survivors as it does for other adults. Exercise makes people fitter, stronger, and thinner — all goals for healthy living. Studies show that exercise can reduce pain and fatigue, increase energy, boost self-confidence, and improve mood, outlook, and increase life expectancy. It can also lower the risks for heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses.

Fitness levels vary for each cancer survivor, and they should discuss exercise with their doctor before starting a workout program. Once they get the go-ahead from their doctor, cancer patients should incorporate three types of exercise on their road to recovery and fitness.

Stretching and flexibility exercises are something anyone can do, and they help cancer survivors maintain mobility. Resistance training, such as isometric exercise and weight lifting, builds muscle. And aerobic exercise, like walking and swimming, burns calories and builds heart fitness. All three types of exercise are essential to the health and well being of cancer survivors.

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All clear for 2 years

We got the news last week that Mike is still clear of melanoma (no evidence of disease) from his latest pet scan. We are thrilled to say the least. We spent the entire weekend waiting for results and went to Pier 39, Rainforest Cafe, and the aquarium to keep ourselves occupied. I have to say that Scan time sucks and it has a way of making you feel so lonely. Now that Mike is two years out, his scans will only happen once a year as opposed to every 6 months…a good thing!

As we rejoice, we will not forget our fellow melanoma warriors who are fighting this horrible disease.

2 years ago….

2 years ago I found an oozing spot on Mike’s torso. Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that this freckle could equal a stage 3 cancer diagnosis and that our lives would be affected by melanoma: An aggressive cancer that doesn’t have a cure; A cancer that is the number one, fastest growing cancer among young people (25-29); A cancer that can lay dormant for years and suddenly come back with a vengeance.

In those two years we have both changed. We have gotten “somewhat” used to the emotional roller coaster of scans every 6 months. Mike has changed his lifestyle and he is healthier than ever. I have become obsessed with melanoma research.  Some think I shouldn’t focus on it so much, and I agree and disagree.  It is my way of feeling in control of the uncontrollable.  I have to feel prepared so we know what to do if Mike has a recurrence.  I choose to read the good stories – and the bad – because that is reality.

In those past 2 years we have seen people lose their battles and we have met some amazing melanoma warriors.  A few weeks ago we had dinner with these lovely ladies (the lady on the right end is Mike – haha).

Survivors

With the exception of Mike, they are all Stage 4 melanoma survivors and patients of Dr David Minor at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.  All of them had remarkable results with bio-chemotherapy treatments – a mixture of chemo and immunotherapies and one of the hardest treatments out there as it requires hospitalization.  Hanging out with Tina, Suzanne, and Christina was so important to us and we are truly blessed to know them. The next day after our dinner, Christina had her scans to see if Yervoy was working (she had one tumor left after bio-chemo) and she got the wonderful news that she is officially in remission.

Anyone with cancer knows that scans are a form of necessary torture.  Mike is due for his scans in August.  2 years later, we still have scanxiety but we also have hope.   There are so many survivors.. and Mike is one of them.

May-hem

May was a crazy month for our household.  Many of our family members decided to be born in May, including our two children who are separated by 2 years and one week and my brother and sister in law, in addition to many others that are near and dear to us.

One thing we enjoy doing each year is throwing a big double birthday party for the kids.  So we invited 60 of their classmates and had a “treasure hunt” at the lovely Junipero Serra County Park in San Bruno. Other than the violent wind and the end of the world prediction on the same day, it was a great day of fun.

Birthday invite

Jack and Aidan hunting for treasure hunt rocks

In addition to being Melanoma month,  May 4 was the Melanoma Research Foundation’s Wings of Hope gala in San Francisco.  I joined the event committee and helped them with a bit of marketing and PR in addition to the fun task of collecting bottles of gin, scotch and rum from my generous friends for the party.  The best part: Mike and I had the distinct pleasure of meeting a number of long term Stage IV melanoma survivors…. Erick Davis, Suzanne Lescure, and Kari Worth – all patients of Dr David Minor at Cal Pacific Medical Center. Suzanne and Kari were both recognized for their contributions at the event and it was so uplifting to meet them.   Here are some pics of the gala:

Mike and Emily and MRF event in San Francisco

May was fun, but I am looking forward to an event-less June!

Dear 16-year-old me

Earlier this year, we got an email from the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund asking if we knew young people with melanoma for a video they were making (Mike was considered too old at 43.. haha!).  David Cornfield was just 32 when he died of melanoma – his wife is featured in the video and has carried on his legacy.  Yesterday the producers contacted us with their completed video “Dear 16-year-old me”..but I had already seen it because it has become so popular on YouTube so quickly.  I am sharing it with everyone I know because it is so moving and they absolutely nail it….what I have been trying to communicate to people – that young people are not immune to cancer – especially melanoma – and that if you catch it early you could save your life.  I hope you will watch it and share it with your friends and family.

Thankful for the Roller Coaster

Last week Mike got the news that his scans were once again clear, 18 mos after diagnosis. And once again it was PURE TORTURE waiting for the call from the doc – and PURE RELIEF when we got the news.  Our life would have changed so drastically if we had gotten bad news.  But instead we celebrated in Vegas this past weekend with 3 other couples. We had a blast!

Someone asked me if the clear scans meant Mike had beaten melanoma.   I would love to say yes…but we really don’t know the answer to that because melanoma is different than most cancers.  Many people with other cancers can say they are “cured” 5 years out.  But Melanoma often comes back unexpectedly –  5-20 years later.   I don’t think we will ever live without the fear that it will return – unless they find a drug for this horrible disease.

So for now, we will just continue to live our lives as normal as possible and enjoy every moment.  Life is a roller coaster ride – some parts are scary and some parts are fun…

Vegas Roller Coaster

The New York, New York Roller Coaster in Vegas

 

 

 

6 Month Increments of Normalcy (kind of)

So another 6 months have passed and that means it’s PET scan time for Mike.  We are 18 mos out from a Stage IIIa melanoma diagnosis.  It seems our life is now broken into 6 month increments.  Waiting for the scan results is scary.  We know of multiple people who have gotten bad news from scans even though they felt completely normal.  That is how melanoma rolls.  But the the good news is that when Mike hits 2 years, he will only have PET scans once a year.

I have to say that we have enjoyed the past 6 months of normal life.  Life certainly isn’t the same as it was before a cancer diagnosis, but now we realize that it will never be.  And that is just fine with us.  So as we wait for scan results over the weekend, we will appreciate the past 6 months of health and normalcy.  The fact that we can pay our bills, go to work, school,  dinner, etc. is something we try to appreciate (well, most of the time).  There are so many others suffering from illness and they just can’t do the mundane tasks we all take for granted.  So please take a moment to appreciate your life, your health, your everyday mundane stuff because you are truly blessed to have these things.

Em