Saturday, January 13, 2007
Livestrong: A life changing moment
On November 21, 1996, I became a warrior in the fight against cancer. I was 14, and my grandfather had just died of liver and stomach cancer. A decade later, I've found myself in a similar place, not because of a personal loss, but rather a personal gain.
After we taped the "Saving Your Life" cancer special, a colleague and I attended the first Livestrong Summit in Austin, Texas. We spent two days among the most amazing and inspiring people I've ever encountered, those who had survived the fight of their lives, those who had taken care of loved ones ultimately lost to the disease, and those who simply wanted to make a difference.
Among those who truly touched me was Julia. She's an 81-year-old breast cancer survivor with the energy of a 30-year-old athlete, and when she speaks about her experience, it's as if you're hearing Maya Angelou read a poem. "You have to believe that there is a future, and you can be a part of it, but you must believe that you can make it through the night, for the joy comes in the morning...and the joy...is being alive."
And Rob Sartin, whose 6-year-old son, Spencer, continues to battle cancer. Rob told us how Spencer loads his arms up with yellow Livestrong bracelets and makes his way around social gatherings selling them, and donating the profit to the Lance Armstrong Foundation. So far, he's donated more than $30,000.
Then, Rob proudly pulled out a copy of Sports Illustrated which had a picture of Spencer sitting on Lance Armstrong's lap.
Speaking of Lance, we had an opportunity to interview him as well. I had seen him in action the night before at the "Saving Your Life" taping, but it wasn't until I sat next to him that I truly understood how deep this man's passion for beating cancer goes.
The ceremony closed shortly after our interview. WideAwake, an Austin band, took the stage and performed their song "Maybe Tonight, Maybe Tomorrow." The song was written as a tribute to a friend with cancer, and all proceeds from the sale of the song on iTunes go to the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
Every so often in this business, an event happens that really changes your life. For me, Hurricane Katrina was the first one. Watching WideAwake playing their song about triumph over cancer in a room filled with 900 cancer survivors is the latest.
To hear more inspiring stories from cancer survivors, go to cnn.com/savingyourlife and make sure to tune into CNN tonight and tomorrow at 8pm and 11pm ET to see our in-depth report on the war on cancer.
Friday, January 12, 2007
"War on cancer" continues
Over the past several days, I have been consumed by stories on cancer, your stories. So many of you shared them on this blog. One of our very first posts was from Julianne, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. It is so emblematic of how far we have come. Many years ago, while she was pregnant, she learned she had cervical cancer and had to undergo a radical hysterectomy. She lost her baby. Wrenching. But recently, her own 9-year-old daughter was able to receive the cervical cancer vaccine and be protected. I am sure Julianne wanted to make sure her own daughter would never suffer the same heartbreak and tragedy. Brava, Julianne. Other posters Javier Diaz and Vicki Childers reminded us that simply getting screened is not as easy as it sounds. They want to do the right thing, but simply cannot afford it. Vicki instead keeps her fingers crossed.
There were so many posts suggesting that our money would be better spent on fighting cancer than a war in Iraq. Lee in Atlanta, Georgia, didn't agree, admonishing us to take a course in economics. Nick from Telluride, Colorado, took issue with the use of military metaphors. Of course Nick, it was a former president who first declared "war" on cancer: Richard Nixon, in 1971. And, surely the head of many major cancer institutions, including the National Cancer Institute, have followed suit. Peg, in Saratoga Springs, New York, reminded us that cancer can "put up a helluva fight" as she described her own "battle." Geri, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, told us to light a torch for pediatric cancer and Andy from North Ireland pleaded for us to point out that cancer is truly a global struggle. Of course, he is right: Cancer does not respect any boundaries, and no one is immune.
Lance Armstrong and I spoke on the phone last night. Judging from the flood of calls and e-mails to his foundation and to CNN, we know something has happened here. Cancer, something people don't typically speak about in polite conversation, came flooding out. People are so eager to share their stories. Eager to soak up as much knowledge as possible about this disease they call the beast. The stories and the courage are so inspiring. Now it's time to plan the next step. This is where you come in. How do we keep the focus and interest on cancer? Many of you talked about wanting to help. What do you have in mind and how can organizations like CNN and the Livestrong Foundation better do their job? We want to hear from you.
Don't forget to watch Saving Your Life, Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. E.T.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Lance's fire burns bright
When we asked Lance Armstrong to write a column about cancer , most people here at CNN had no idea how it would explode. But, I did. You see, I know Lance Armstrong. I have sat down with him and seen firsthand his passion for this war on cancer. It burns. He and the president of his foundation, Doug Ulman, a three-time cancer survivor himself, will never accept defeat in this battle. Never.
All day long, it was among the most viewed pages on CNN.com. It showed just how much our viewers care about this issue. In a day filled with stories about Iraq and a presidential address, Lance and his vengeance toward cancer captured attention. More than 1 million people read his column, and hundreds sent responses. They shared stories of support and stories of victory over what cancer survivors call "the beast." They also shared stories of defeat that make you want to cry.
Lance has already heard many of your stories. Because of them, he doesn't sleep much. As he admits, he is not a patient man. Instead, he is busying himself directly calling political leaders and reminding them that 1,500 people will die of cancer today, and tomorrow, and the next day. He is reminding them that the National Cancer Institute cut spending $40 million dollars between 2005 and 2006, and may cut funding again this year. He is reminding them that we can save unimaginable amounts of money if we just spend a little more now. Case in point: colon cancer. Caught early, the cost is around $2,000. Caught late, and the costs balloon to $250,000, not to mention the aggressive and debilitating treatment. It makes sense, medically and financially to offer these screenings to everyone, regardless of cost.
Lance is undoubtedly the most famous cancer survivor in the world. His story of how he was given a coin flip's chance of survival from cancer that had spread to his lung and to his brain is legendary. He didn't accept defeat and he went on to beat cancer and then beat the world's best athletes seven years in a row. Now, he has everyone's cancer squarely in his crosshairs. You should feel better because he does.
Join our discussion here, or go to CNN.com/Savingyourlife, where you can get much more information on cancer and hear from cancer survivors or send us an I-Report with your own story. And be sure to watch Lance and me on CNN's "Saving Your Life" special, Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. E.T.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
This morning, we profiled a delightful 60-year-old woman named Pat Dodson. By all accounts, she has a charmed life. She lives in a beautiful old San Francisco speakeasy and throws lavish parties. But 14 years ago, things were much different. To look at her, you may have thought she was ill. She suddenly couldn't sleep well, she was angry almost all the time and was undergoing a significant personality change.
If she were my patient, I probably would've started searching for a medical problem to explain all her symptoms. As she came to find out, it was actually all pretty natural. She was heading toward menopause.
Now, surprising to most people, menopause, strictly defined, lasts just one day! It is the one day that is 12 months after a woman's last menstrual period. Ha! That is the longest day of a lot of women's lives. Seriously, though, perimenopause can last a long time and be difficult to treat.
And, the way an individual woman might act can vary wildly. It is not just about hot flashes anymore. A woman's oxytocin levels may go down. Oxytocin is sometimes referred to as the "cuddle hormone." A woman may somewhat suddenly appear less affectionate and less likely to want to care for her family. Truth is, I learned a lot reporting this story and better understand some of the women in my life. I am curious, though, as to what other symptoms you've experienced or seen during perimenopause.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Alzheimer's and Folate
Many people I know say they have occasional "senior moments." They may forget a name or spend several minutes searching for their eyeglasses, which are, in fact, precariously perched on top of their head. They often cautiously joke that they are developing Alzheimer's disease. Truth is, it can be hard to distinguish sometimes but here is a little pearl: some forgetfulness is part of normal aging. If you are forgetting things that you didn't spend a lot of attention trying to remember, such as where you left your checkbook or keys, you probably have less to worry about. On the other hand, if you are forgetting the directions to your home or how to balance a checkbook, there should be more concern.
The number of Alzheimer's cases is getting ready to explode. Over the next few decades, we will most likely see a quadrupling of Alzheimer's cases! So, no surprise then that researchers are scrambling to figure out a way to prevent the disease. There will be billions of dollars spent trying to figure out treatments, but an article today caught my eye. It involves something already found in most medical cabinets and refrigerators. It is folic acid or folate. Researchers at Columbia University followed nearly 1,000 participants with an average age of 75 for six years. They found that those with the lowest levels of folate in their diet had the highest risk of Alzheimer's disease. They also found that those who had adequate amounts (200 micrograms a day) through diet and supplements had the lowest risk.
Certainly, there are plenty of good reasons already to take enough folate, and even extra amounts (to a total 400 micrograms) if you are pregnant. It can ward off heart disease, depression and protect your unborn baby. Now, there may be another reason as well. Incidentally, spinach, turnips, peas and beans have the highest levels. I am curious, though, about other methods you may be trying in hopes of keeping Alzheimer's at bay. It may be simpler than we think. Is there something you believe increases or decreases your risk?
Monday, January 08, 2007
The Potential of Stem Cells
Stem cells - which have the potential to turn into different cells in the body and could theoretically provide treatment for a number of debilitating diseases - have touched off passionate debate in recent years. Last fall, ads by actor Michael J. Fox became a factor in campaigns by stem cell friendly political candidates and a state referendum on funding of stem cell research.
Today there's more stem cell news. In a study published in Nature Biotechnology, researchers at Wake Forest University and Harvard University found cells in amniotic fluid that appear to have the same qualities as other stem cells. This discovery would seem to allow researchers to sidestep the controversial "embryonic stem cells," which can be harvested only by destroying an embryo.
When researchers injected these cells, called human AFS cells, into mice, they saw bones, muscles, and nerves grow. This has also been accomplished to varying degrees with human embryonic cells and so-called adult stem cells, such as bone marrow cells.
The goal for all of this research is to find a way to convert these stem cells into therapies that may someday treat illnesses including diabetes, Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injuries.
The new research is promising especially because these AFS cells seem to reproduce as quickly as human embryonic stem cells. Also, the supply would seem nearly limitless, because they're found in the womb of every pregnant woman. Amniotic fluid is routinely extracted from expectant mothers over 35 to check for fetal chromosome abnormalities. The cells also are present in the placenta.
This isn't the first study to show promise in stem cells taken from amniotic or placental cells. Researchers are still working to develop actual therapies - in humans - with any of these various stem cells.
In the case of these AFS cells in particular, any therapies are still many years away, according to the study's lead author, Dr Anthony Atala.
The new finding is exciting, but research on all the types of stem cells will continue. As most stem cell researchers have told us in the past, and as Dr. Atala agrees, different types of stem cells may work better for different illnesses. AFS cells may turn out to be the best for one disease, but for another, human embryonic stem cells may work best. And for yet another, adult stem cells may provide the best remedy.
ABOUT THE BLOGGet a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
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