Questions & Answers
by Kathleen O'Keefe-Kanavos

Dear Readers,
      CapeWomenOnline invited you to begin a dialogue with Cape women and myself concerning your questions on the all aspects of cancer; spiritual, psychological, and physical. You responded with heartfelt e-mails.  It is my goal to answer all of your questions, and by doing so, help other women suffering from this disease of epidemic proportions.   
     Unless you specifically request otherwise, I will keep all names and e-mail addresses confidential. Since CWO reaches women all over the country, via the Internet, please write your town and state on the bottom of your e-mail.  I will immediately answer your questions by e-mail, and later your question and answer will be published in this magazine to help other women dealing with similar issues.
  Address all e-mails to: kathykanavos@yahoo.com
      We want to hear from you. Thank you!
     Kathleen O'Keefe-Kanavos  

Watercolor painting by Vera Champlin

Dear Kathy,
Excellent article! (Oct. Issue, 2008 -- We Are Not Alone.) I have always been a believer in following your intuition. Cancer is not the death sentence today that it used to be. What advice, pointers or tips could you give me regarding the side effects of chemotherapy such as hair loss and nausea?
    –Joanne M., Fort Myers, FL

Thank you for your positive comments. I’m pleased to read that you believe in following your intuition. Our intuitions are often overlooked and their information can be lifesaving.
 Although hair loss and nausea are still symptoms we must deal with during chemotherapy, my first and most important pointer concerning these side effects is that they are temporary.
 I took A/C (Adriamycin/Cytoxin) as my first chemotherapy, in 1999, and found the symptoms of nausea and hair loss much more pronounced than in my second chemotherapy of CMF (cyclophosphamide, methotrexate, 5-flourouracil,) taken five years later.
 While taking A/C, my nausea was severe. Fortunately my chemotherapy nurse gave me a strict schedule of anti-nausea medications, which I took through the first week, and then only as often as I need them. (They were: 8:00 a.m., 1 Zofran and 1 Ativan pill; 2:00 p.m., 1 Zofran and 1 Ativan pill; 6:00p.m.,1 Ativan pill; 10:00 p.m., 1 Zofran and 1 Ativan pill.) I found these medications made me very sleepy, which can be healing. I also found that I often got the hic-cups. This was my body’s early warning sign of impending nausea.
 Unfortunately, there was no way to save my hair. Before all my hair fell out, however, I bought a wig that looked identical to my real hair. This reduced my anxiety and improved my self esteem.
 During my chemotherapy with CMF, my nausea was not as pronounced. I took the drugs Compazine (10 mg) or Zofran (8mg) whenever I felt ill rather than following a schedule. As I only lost 60 to 70 percent of my hair, I pulled my hair up on my head in a bun, and wore a hairpiece around it rather than a full wig.
I hope my lessons help you find answers to your questions.

Dear Kathy,
I am 65 years old and had stage one breast cancer that was HR+. I have been on Tamoxifen for two years. My doctors want me to switch to Arimidex. I have heard that Arimidex has side effects so I am reluctant to switch. What do you know about these two drugs?
      –Susan, Kansas City

Dear Susan,
I have taken both Tamoxifen and Arimidex and can only relay my experiences to you. My breast cancer was also hormone receptive and I, too, was concerned about side effects. However, after weighing the pros and cons of this hormone treatment, I decided it was better to deal with a side effect than to deal with deadly cancer a second time.
 Tamoxifen and Arimidex are systemic hormone medications that travel throughout the body verses being site specific. They cut the fuel supply lines for cancer cells that depend upon the hormones estrogen or progesterone to grow.
 After my first diagnosis with hormone receptive breast cancer in 1999, I took Tamoxifen. I was scheduled to take it for five years. To combat the side effect of thickening walls of the uterus that could lead to uterine cancer, I had an ultrasound done on my ovaries and uterus during my yearly pap smear. I also had a bone density test for osteoporosis.
 At the end of the fourth year, I listened to my inner-guidance (spiritual guides) and demanded an MRI after a healthy mammogram left me with feelings of uncertainty. The MRI showed a different type of hormone receptive breast cancer in my other breast. Subsequently, I found that Tamoxifen often stops working after two years. Obviously, that is what happened to me.
 After the completion of my second chemotherapy, my doctors suggested Arimidex. It has not been known to stop working after two years and does not have the side effects associated with Tamoxifen. It does, however, interfere with the absorption of calcium which can cause osteoporosis.
 If you decide to stay on Tamoxifen, a simple blood test can determine if you are still producing hormones. This may also help you in your decision-making process.
 Sometimes, after all the evidence is weighed, what may tip the scale in making a life-saving decision is listening to our inner-guidance/voices/intuition. I found that meditating to open a dialogue with my higher self to be very helpful. I also kept a notebook and pen by my bed to write down my dreams. I feel that dreams are another means by which to communicate with our inner selves and spirit guides.
Good luck with your decision.

Dear Readers,
I have received a number of questions concerning sexual intercourse and intimacy during cancer treatment. I will address your questions in the next issue of CapeWomenOnline.

Please email your questions to Kathy at  kathykanavos@yahoo.com

We invite you to share your own story with us. If you are traveling this uncertain path and would like to publish your story in future issues, please write to nicola@capewomenonline.com

Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos was born in Germany to military parents, and raised in Europe. She is a two-time, ten-year breast cancer survivor (1998-2008), retired special education teacher, taught psychology at the University of South Florida, and is a Reiki master. She lives on Cape Cod with her husband of 25 years and their cats. She has penned a book, "Surviving Cancer: A Memoir on the Psychic Aspects of Healing," and is currently seeking an agent and publisher for her work. The Pink Pages of her book have been added to the R.A. BLOCK CANCER FOUNDATION reference booklet. For seven years, Kathy has been a phone counselor to women throughout the country and seven foreign countries for the Foundation
www.blockcancer.org or hotline@hrblock.com
She is also a mentor for WE CAN. www.wecancenter.org
Kathleen has been featured in the Barnstable Patriot Newspaper and was interviewed in January for the PROFILE program of TV Channel 17.
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Health Issues  Spring 2009

Year of the Patient Woman:
As Strong As An Ox

by Kathleen O'Keefe-Kanavos

The tradition of New Years’ Resolutions goes back to 153 B.C., with the story of the mythical king, Janus, who became the symbol for resolution, the god of beginnings and the guardian of doors and entrances.
     King Janus had two faces, one on the front of his head and the other on the back. This allowed him to look back on past events and forward to the future. January 1 became the beginning of the New Year in 46 B.C., when Julius Caesar developed a calendar that more accurately reflected the seasons than previous calendars. The celebration of the New Year is the oldest of all holidays. It was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago.
 2009 is the female year of the Ox, according to the Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year’s Eve) which begins on January 26, 2009. The Chinese have 12 different animals to represent the 12 year cycle. All years ending in odd numbers are yin/female, and the even numbers are yang/male.
 This year of the Ox will have female and male attributes. The odd number 9 is female, while the horns of the ox are a male phallic symbol. This will give 2009 complete balance which leads to harmony. The female aspect of the year will make 2009 dependable, patient, methodical, calm and hardworking with strong work ethics, materialistic as well as ambitious.
 The male aspect of the New Year will possess the strength and protection of horns along with inspiring confidence in others.
 The negative male characteristics to the year will be a fierce temper and a hatred of failure or opposition. The negative female characteristics for this year are narrow mindedness and stubbornness.
 Whenever I am accused of possessing these two “undesirable’ characteristics,” I always counter with “I’m not stubborn, I’m right. I’m not narrow-minded, I’m focused.” One man’s view of a negative characteristic is another woman’s view of an attribute!
 2009 will be a great year of true balance! It will be the year of the gentle female who is as strong as an ox: yin and yang at work in the world. Imagine a patient woman dealing with the uncertainty of our world economy, walking softly, carrying two large horns for a stick and not taking “NO” for an answer. She is a woman to be reckoned with!
 “Kathy, what is your New Year’s resolution?” a girl friend asked me over lunch. “Mine is to give up cigarettes and sugar” she continued, while shaking a packet of sugar substitute into her coffee.
 “Not to give anything up and to put myself first.” I answered. “Then I will refocus on implementing the difference between want and need in my life.”
 My friend stopped stirring her coffee, peered over her sunglasses at me, and asked, “What do you mean by that?”  
 The concept of “care-giver first” and the difference between want and need were clearly alien to her. I had learned about both of these ideas during radiation therapy ten years ago while battling breast cancer. I still see the side effects of emotional emptiness and burn-out in the women around me who are not aware of these self care concepts.
 Women are the main care-givers in life, but many women give unconditionally until there is nothing left to give, and their emotional well runs dry. Lately, I am seeing an alarming pattern in my friends during these uncertain economic times. Part of the problem is not distinguishing between wants and needs. Families have many wants, and the care-givers try to meet these wants as needs; a terrible burden to carry. Women are getting burned out from giving so much of themselves to those who want more than is available. Then there is nothing left to give to those who truly need help, including themselves. The result is medication and psychotherapy to fill the void and dull the feeling of failure in their lives.
 Today is the dawning of a new day in a new year. My first New Year resolution will be to allow myself to love and embrace myself, and always put myself first. I will give myself permission to be number one in my life. How can I possibly share myself with others if I am empty? It is reassuring to be emotionally filled, loved and appreciated by others, but I need to be able to fill myself first with all of those signs of affection, even if no one else can give them to me. I want to be embraced by others but I need to love myself first.
     When I was going through chemotherapy, my therapist armed me with a powerful mantra to help me through the uncertainty of treatment. “You are number one. No one and nothing is more important than you.” She was right. Ten years later, as a cancer hotline phone counselor and mentor, that mantra is still important to me. How can I give to others if I am empty? If charity begins at home, and home is where the heart is, an empty heart cannot give anything to anyone else.
 The importance of this mantra was even more evident during my Stitch-n-Bitch (as we liked to call ourselves) radiation therapy group. It broke my heart to see women who had been the sole care-givers of their family suddenly discarded when their circumstances shifted, and they needed to be taken care of by their significant others. These women said they felt that without the love and devotion of their family, they were nothing.
 Their chances for a full recovery were challenged by their depression and feelings of emotional emptiness. Our little group spent many hours discussing wants versus needs. We want others to love us, but we need to love ourselves. We want a beautiful house, but we need a roof over our head. We want to eat in fancy restaurants, but we need nutritious food on our plate. The list of wants versus needs is endless. Realizing the difference between them, however, may be the first step in not becoming emotionally, physically and financially empty.
 Putting that concept into practice will help us, as care-givers, to become aware of our limitations. I realize that I have been lax in practicing what my little group preached ten years ago. So, my second New Year’s resolution will be to put want versus need back into daily practice. When I see something enticing, I will ask myself, “Do I really need that, or do I just want it?”
 In 2009, I will focus on inner balance by being kind and forgiving to myself first, and then to others. I will seek out and join a community “sister-hood of women” who can be my support system. Their strength will keep me from feeling alone during times of despair and their resources will help me meet the needs of my family and friends.
     When my body is fatigued, I will rest. When my soul is tired, I will meditate. I will surround myself with the things I love; my husband, positive friends, pets, plants, music and fragrant candles while taking a warm bubble bath. Enjoying my favorite things will make my soul soar.
 Like the Chinese yin and yang, which are seemingly opposing forces bound together, intertwined, and interdependent in the natural world, we are complex creatures comprised of body and soul. These two diabolically different parts must be in balance as a duality for complete health of body and mind. Like yin and yang, male and female, body and soul are a dynamic equilibrium. If one disappears, the other must disappear as well, leaving emptiness.
     Too many of us have lost a part of ourselves and are experiencing this emptiness. Like King Janus, we can look in both directions, but tend to focus on the past and judge ourselves by events that cannot be changed. It is time to face forward into the future of a balanced and strong New Year comprised of yin and yang. We can learn from our past to build a positive future. The good news is that a sisterhood of women is only a phone call away to help you refill yourself with the love you deserve and NEED.
     Balance yourself. Take care of your soul and it will take care of you . . . then you can take care of others.

See Kathy's Question & Answer column on the right . . .


P. O. Box 720, North Eastham, Cape Cod, MA 02651
Telephone: (508) 255-5084
© Copyright 2009 CapeWomenOnline
All rights reserved


Anti Cancer: A New Way of Life
by David Servan-Schreiber, MD

Review by Gillian Drake

In response to my article on the connection between cancer and diet in the last issue of CWO, artist Vera Champlain of Chatham wrote to say how much she appreciated the information in the article. She suggested I read a book that had been recommended to her by a friend, which she had just ordered for herself, “Anti Cancer: A New Way of Life” by David Servan-Schreiber, MD. I ordered it right away and not only was the book a great read, but I gained new information and knowledge about the workings of our body, including some fascinating research about how breathing can affect our health, which I’ll describe in more detail further on in the article.

For anyone living with cancer, has a relative or friend with cancer, or wishes to remain cancer-free, I would highly recommend this book. Written by a neuroscientist conducting research into brain functioning by performing MRIs of the brain, Dr. Servan-Schreiber one day scanned his own brain when one of his patients did not arrive on time. He and his colleagues were shocked to find a tumor the size of a walnut in his pre-frontal cortex. From that moment on, his life changed and he began the long process of deciding what kind of treatment plan to embark on for this kind of tumor, which, untreated, would give him at most six months to live. He opted for conventional surgery and chemotherapy and lived cancer-free for a few years. But he hadn’t changed his lifestyle. Then the tumor returned. He learned this through a chance encounter with a Native American medicine woman that something was remiss in his brain, even though annual scans had shown he was tumor-free. She also said that he’d be just fine. He heeded her warning and soon after had another test which confirmed her prediction.

“Finding out you have cancer is a shock. You feel betrayed by life and by your own body,” he writes. “But finding out you’ve had a relapse is crushing.” This time, after surgery and more chemotherapy, he started to investigate alternative and complementary therapies and life-style changes to make sure his cancer did not return.

The author’s journey through cancer was a humbling experience: he talks about his “change of status” from being a highly regarded neuroscientist to becoming an ordinary patient in a hospital gown: “Stripped of my professional attributes, I joined the ranks of ordinary patients . . . like everyone else I waited in the waiting room that as a doctor I had breezed through, head high . . . I entered a colorless world.”

But when he asked one oncologist after the other what he could have done to prevent cancer and what he could do now so it wouldn’t come back, the answers were evasive and non-committal: “We don’t really know for sure the cause of your illness. Don’t smoke. That’s all we can advise you,” they told him. To prove them wrong, and to save his own life, he set out on a path of discovery, surveying all the published material he could find on cancer prevention—scientific, statistical, nutritional, and psychological—and distilled it into this book under chapter headings that include Anticancer Foods, The Anticancer Mind, The Anticancer Body, Defusing Fear, and Learning to Change.

He discusses the cancer epidemic that has burgeoned over the past 50 years and believes the major causes are three major factors that have drastically disrupted our environment during that time:
1. The addition of large quantities of highly refined sugar to our diet
2. Changes in methods of farming and raising animals, and as a result, in our food, creating an imbalance between our omega-3 and omega-6 fatty-acid intake (consumption of corn-fed animal products and vegetable oils being the major culprits)
3. Exposure to a large number of chemical products that didn’t exist before 1940.

He believes that the first thing we need to do is to protect ourselves from these three factors. He shockingly quotes Dr. Richard Beliveau of the University of Montreal: “With all I’ve learned over these years of research, if I were asked to design a diet today that promoted the development of cancer to the maximum, I couldn’t improve on our present diet.”

Breathing and the Immune System

One fascinating nugget from the book that I’d like to recount here comes from the chapter about the Anticancer Mind. A new hypothesis links a form of slow breathing with improved health, a concept I have not encountered anywhere else, and with many yoga and stress-reduction practitioners here on the Cape, I thought this would be of interest.

Over the past 15 years, a researcher at the University of Pavia in Italy, Dr. Luciano Bernardi, has been studying body rhythms that form the foundations of physiology: variations in heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and blood flow to the brain. These rhythms fluctuate from one moment to the next and at different times of the day. He knew that a sound balance between these various biorhythms is perhaps the most accurate indicator of good health; in some studies, measure of this balance can accurately predict survival 40 years into the future. He discovered by chance that when some of his test volunteers recited the rosary in Latin during a stress-reduction test, the laboratory instruments recorded an extraordinary phenomenon: all the different biological rhythms being measured started to resonate. “They all lined up, one after the other, mutually amplifying each other to create a smooth, harmonious pattern,” he is quoted in the book. Called resonance, or coherence, it is associated with significant health benefits at the most profound level, benefits that include better functioning of the immune system, reduction of inflammation, and better regulation of blood sugar levels—three of the principal factors that act against the development of cancer.

In Italy, the congregation recites the rosary with the priest, each taking turns. The recitation occurs in a single exhalation, and the inhalation that follows takes place during the priest’s turn. In adjusting to this rhythm, the parishioners had adjusted their breathing to a frequency of six breaths a minute, which happens to be the natural rhythm of fluctuations in the other biological functions that the doctor was measuring. Dr. Bernardi postulated that the effect must be much more intense in those religions that place awareness of the body at the center of spiritual practices, such as in Hinduism or Buddhism. In order to investigate this hypothesis, he had individuals who had never practiced an Eastern discipline learn to recite the best-known mantra in Buddhism, Om Mani Padme Hum. He noted exactly the same results as seen with the recitation of Ave Marias. He wondered if this surprising similarity between such distant religious practices could have sprung from common roots. In fact, he found a historical source suggesting that the rosary had been introduced in Europe by traders who received it from the Arabs, who had in turn adapted it from the practices of Tibetan monks and yoga masters in India. “Clearly,” the author writes, “the discovery of practices that bring forth the harmonization of biological rhythms for well-being and health go back to the most distant past.” Many traditional cultures all over the world use mantras involving chanting to create special vibrations. Many much-loved prayers, mantras and chants fit this meter, such as “The Lord be with you” and the reply “And with thy spirit,” and the Sanskrit Buddhist mantras “Aham Brahmasmi” and “Sat Chit Ananda.”

So when you meditate or do breathing exercises, try slowing down your breathing to six breaths a minute—a gentle count to five on the in-breath and a count to five on the out-breath, or a count to four in and four out, and then hold it for two counts at the still-point. By doing this you’ll improve your immune system function, reduce inflammation in your body, and improve blood sugar regulation—all benefits to your health, no matter what disease you are trying to avoid.

Gillian Drake is the publisher of this magazine. She lives in North Eastham.

Vera Champlain’s paintings can be seen on the pages of this magazine, as well as at www.addisonart.com