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'Cancer Institute' posts

Is it ok to laugh with cancer?

“Is it okay to laugh?”

The question caught me off guard for a moment, then its meaning sunk in.  She was really saying, “Cancer is serious stuff, my breast has been cut on and radiated, and you’ve given me cancer fighting poisons in my veins. My hair has fallen out, food tastes funny, and I’m on a first name basis with the muzak at my insurance company. I’ve done my crying, but is it appropriate to laugh at it all?”

I remembered back to an intimidating nurse critiquing a tape of my very first patient interview during my second month of medical school. Her eyes were sharp and piercing and her brow furrowed as she watched the tape. Half way through she stopped it, turned it off, and said, “You are flippant…. I don’t much care for it.” My heart sank, and then she continued without a smile, but with a twinkle in her eyes, “but it works for you, so don’t mind me and keep on doing it.”

I believe that humor is therapeutic. Of  course, that is not a new idea. The saying, “laughter is the best medicine” did not originate with Readers Digest. The biblical record states, “A merry heart does good like medicine, but a broken spirit drieth bones” (Proverbs 17:22). I don’t know that a merry heart will add time to a cancer patient’s life, but I know that it will add life to the time that they have.  

We don’t know a lot about the physiological effects of humor. It does ....

Education programs after cancer

At the Swedish Cancer Institute, we understand that completing treatment for cancer presents a new set of circumstances. For this reason, we offer free education programs to help patients explore these questions with others who are preparing to complete or who have completed cancer treatment.
 
In these eight-week groups you will have the opportunity to:
  • Make peace with the impact of cancer treatment
  • Reduce the stress cancer places on relationships
  • Overcome the fear of recurrence
  • Renew hope and increase resilience
 In a safe and supportive environment, individuals who are preparing to complete or have completed cancer treatment are invited to sign up for these practical life-skills classes. We will gently explore life after treatment and share plans for survivorship.
 
ACT – After Cancer Treatment: What’s Next?
An eight-week group designed for men and women to learn practical life-skills to help rebuild after active cancer treatment is ...

When a mole is more than a mole

As a general surgeon, I am often asked to evaluate a patient with an abnormal mole (pigmented nevus) or one that has been biopsied, revealing a premalignant or malignant growth.  It is not uncommon for the patient to tell me they either were totally unaware of the lesion or dismissed changes in the lesion over time. 

All skin cancers are not alike, and melanoma, a malignant cancer of pigmented skin cells (melanocytes), is by far the most dangerous of the group, accounting for over 75% of skin cancer deaths in the United States.  This amounts to about 48,000 melanoma related deaths world wide per year. 

Found early, when the lesion is superficial and small, cure rates are high, but as the cancer progresses, it invades deeper into the skin, and becomes far more likely to spread far from where it started.  It is for this reason that  ...

Breast Cancer Survival Guide: Physical & Clinical Updates

A diagnosis of breast cancer sets into motion a whirlwind of appointments, tests, surgeries and possibly chemotherapy and radiation treatment. A new study reviewed the timeline between surgery and initiating chemotherapy for different subtypes of breast cancer and found a survival advantage when chemotherapy was initiated within 30 days of surgery. Although treating within the 30-60 post-surgical window did not show a statistically significant survival advantage, there is a trend towards better outcomes. Exceeding 60 days post treatment had a negative impact on survival. The clinical impact of timing is most relevant for patients with stage II and III breast cancer, triple negative breast cancer and HER2-positive tumors.
 
Treatment for breast cancer can be exhausting and take a toll on the physical health of patients as treatment ends and they begin post-treatment life. Cancer survivors are at an increased risk of poor health, depression and physical disability. Approximately one third  ...

5 things to know about cancer screenings

Cancer causes 580,000 deaths a year in the United States. One in eight women will develop breast cancer and one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetimes. However, many deaths can be prevented when cancer is detected at an early stage. Cancer screening and risk assessment tests are the tools we use to find cancers early.
 
How do we find early cancers?

Some cancer screenings can be done yourself at home at essentially no cost or risk. This includes regular self-examination of the breasts, testicles and skin. Home fecal occult blood testing can also be done to screen for colorectal cancer. Additional information on cancer screening and self-examinations can be found on websites such as www.cancer.org or www.webmd.com.

 
Other screening requires medical interventions. There is good evidence that well-targeted screening saves lives. However, screening tests such as mammography, colonoscopy and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) are  ...

Why I'm a cancer doctor

I was traveling last week.  After the stewardess pointed out the exits, the broad shouldered gentleman stuffed into the seat next to the seat I was stuffed into, decided to make some small talk. “What kind of work do you do?” 

“I am an oncologist,” I said, and prepared myself for what I knew was coming next.  There are only two responses to “I am an oncologist.”  The first is, “what’s that?”  (The word oncology is code.  In the 60s it was politically incorrect to say “cancer”.  Even today, patients and clinicians stumble around the word, preferring terms like malignancy, neoplasm, tumor, or just lump.  Cancer care was entering the dawn of an era where not everyone was going to die and was soon to become a new specialty, so the word “oncology” was coined to avoid saying the “C word.”  But when someone doesn’t know the code word you have to be direct.  “I am a cancer doctor.”)

If the second question isn’t asked first, it is asked next.  It isn’t really said like a question, it’s more like a statement with a question mark.  Sometimes the statement is one of wonderment, but as often as not it is pity.  “Why did you decide to be a cancer doctor?”

Cancer is a fascinating disease.  It is the closest thing, in this life, that we will get to immortality.  Take cancer cells, put them in a test tube and take care of them right and those cells can be grown forever.  Take our normal cells and care for them the same way and they will be dead in two weeks.  We do research on cells harvested from cancer patients 20 years ago.  Besides being mortal our normal cells respect the space of other cells ...

Resolve to give the gift of comfort and warmth all year long

The holiday season is the perfect time to give back to the ones we love, our community, and those who have yet to enter our lives. For many of us, small, simple acts of kindness are easiest to introduce in our efforts to give back, especially when we are busy getting back to work or school in the new year. Thankfully, giving back doesn’t mean you have to give up a huge amount of your time!

One unique way to make a huge impact in our community is by using your hands, heart, and brain, together—to knit! The Swedish Cancer Institute (SCI) has been lucky enough to have the support of community members near and far who have donated thousands of knitted hats for patients undergoing cancer treatment. These donations come at prime time during the holiday season but act as gifts all year long!

During chemotherapy, many patients experience hair loss. With the loss of hair, many patients experience low self-confidence, heightened sensitivity to fabric and weather conditions, and limited flexible income to purchase headwear.

With the support from our patients, caregivers and community, the SCI has been able to provide free knitted hats to patients undergoing treatment for over nine years. Knitting hats is fast, and provides both literal and figurative warmth directly to patients at a time when they may feel most vulnerable during their treatment. If you’re an experienced knitter, or someone who wishes to learn how to knit, or would love to knit for a cause, join a Knit for Life group at either the SCI First Hill or Issaquah campus.

This network of volunteers uses knitting as a healing experience to enhance the lives of cancer patients, their family members and caregivers during treatment and recovery. The group provides a supportive environment for beginners and experienced knitters. All knitting materials are provided ...

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