Posts tagged ‘cancer’

Navigating unfamiliar terrain: Book offers lessons for couples coping with cancer

Shapiro Book1_Picture a stormy sea, ominous sky, and a small boat being tossed about by threatening waves and gusty winds. Alone in the boat, a couple struggles to keep from going under.

This is the metaphor at the heart of Dr. Dan Shapiro’s new book, And in Health: A Guide for Couples Facing Cancer Together, that was released today (May 14). Part lifejacket, part buoy, the book offers practical advice for spouses and partners whose lives have been upended by cancer.

Shapiro, a clinical psychologist, knows this landscape firsthand. For five years when he was in his 20s, he battled lymphatic cancer, undergoing chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant and relying upon his spouse Terry for support. A dozen years later, the roles were reversed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Despite living in the cancer world since the 1980s, I underestimated how intense, painful and difficult it is to be the spouse and how important it is to understand that both roles are challenging,” said Shapiro, also chairman of the Department of Humanities, Penn State College of Medicine.

“We’re talking about really practical things we can do to make the experience easier and strengthen our relationship.”

Those “practical things” range from how to interact with the medical team and deal with emotions to how to talk about sex, to name a few of the chapter topics. The chapters themselves contain a mix of personal anecdotes, research findings and specific recommendations such as working less to scheduling weekly date nights when talking about cancer is prohibited.

All are aimed at helping couples navigate this unfamiliar and scary terrain that can include radical body changes, job loss, and role shifts.


May 14, 2013 at 1:49 pm Leave a comment

When it all comes together… How the nurses of 7West put together a perfect wedding with some help from their friends

Wedding programs

The wedding was perfect—a beautiful bride in a white dress, gorgeous autumn flowers, an outpouring of love from friends and family. The only difference between this wedding and a fairy tale was its locale, which was the surgical waiting room on the first floor of Penn State Hershey Medical Center.

The November 10 wedding, for 19-year-old leukemia patient Courtney Sprenkle and her then-fiance Scott Shelly, was pulled together in about a week’s time. Courtney and Scott had originally planned to get married next year but, after already putting much of their lives on hold during her fight with cancer, she decided the time was right.

Courtney was originally diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia two years ago. During that time, she had three rounds of chemotherapy and two bone marrow transplants, all with Scott by her side. While each treatment was temporarily successful, the leukemia always returned a few months later. After her most recent relapse in October, she talked with her care team about her dream of a picture-perfect wedding.

“We said ‘if she wants it, we’ll make it happen,’” recalls Carol Magee, one of Courtney’s nurses on 7 West, Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. (more…)

December 3, 2012 at 2:06 pm 53 comments

A one-minute vote that could help fund a cure for breast cancer—and support a darn good video

The fight against breast cancer is real—that’s why more than 600 Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center faculty, staff, patients, survivors and the Nittany Lion donned pink gloves and broke out their best dance moves to show that no one should fight this disease alone.

Voting is now open for the national Pink Glove Dance Video contest, and Penn State Hershey is in the running to win a $10,000 donation to the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition.

We were inspired by not only our patients, but also each other: Dan, a human resources professional who danced for his wife, a 10-year survivor; Maggie, a critical-care nurse celebrating 12 years of survivorship; and more. Backed by a breast center team that ranks nationally in patient satisfaction; Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute multidisciplinary cancer teams including specialists, nurses, and support staff; and research that has led to promising new discoveries, our commitment to fighting breast cancer goes well beyond the gloves.

Together, we give hope, courage, and faith—and continue to fight for a cure.

Penn State Hershey is currently in second place out of more than 260 entries. Your vote could push us to the top! Every vote counts until November 2. Use your Facbook account to vote for Penn State Hershey’s video at . Click on the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, click the Vote button, and then use the link provided to share with all of your Facebook friends. Please encourage them to share it with their friends, too.

October 24, 2012 at 9:32 am Leave a comment

The lifecycle of a cancer

Imagine if various types of cancer were caused by a common, though currently unknown, virus. The implications for treatment options and methods of prevention could be enormous. The discovery of infectious agents, such as the human papillomavirus as the root cause of cervical cancer, opens the door to the idea that other viruses might be at work in the genesis of cancer development.

This theory is about to be tested further by Thomas P. Loughran, M.D., and his colleagues at Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute. But Loughran is no stranger to being at the forefront of cancer research.

The LGL discovery

As outlined in this previous Penn State Medicine article, Loughran, who is a professor of medicine at Penn State College of Medicine and director of the Cancer Institute, is responsible for the discovery of large granular lymphocyte (LGL) leukemia while he was an oncology fellow at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Washington. He has spent most of his career researching the development of the disease and establishing a treatment protocol, which has allowed many patients to live healthier and more productive lives. In 2003, he started an LGL leukemia registry to keep track of patient outcomes.

One of the most challenging aspects of LGL leukemia is getting an accurate diagnosis. Patients often present with chronic symptoms, such as joint pain, fevers, and immune system problems that can be misdiagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or aplastic anemia.

“The diagnosis is clouded by the fact that the symptoms are not obvious,” Loughran says. “Patients can have morbidity with tiredness, shortness of breath, pain, and swelling of the joints. Ten to 30 percent have classic RA. This is a chronic disease, though, with a major complication being infections.”

>> Hear from Dr. Loughran and a patient whom he treated for LGL leukemia in this edition of Penn State Hershey’s Sound Health podcast. <<

A diagnosis of LGL leukemia is not difficult to come by if medical professionals know what to look for, which is an increased number of LGL cells that can be seen on a blood smear. But because this can easily be overlooked in basic blood tests, it often takes a recurrence of symptoms before an accurate diagnosis of LGL leukemia is reached. (more…)

September 12, 2012 at 3:36 pm 4 comments

From Israel to Hershey, in search of hope – and a cancer cure

Eli and Miriam Safrai say the decision to temporarily relocate their family from Jerusalem to Hershey was easy. They knew the trans-global move could represent their best hope of connecting their son Muli (short for “Shmuel”) with cancer treatment that could save his life.

It all began in late 2009, shortly after their son Muli’s first birthday.

“He seemed tired, often complained of a pain in his stomach and was constipated,” Miriam says. Despite these symptoms, Muli’s doctor found no medical problem. When the symptoms persisted, his parents sought a second opinion – and shortly thereafter, Muli was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. A tumor had formed in Muli’s adrenal gland, not far from his kidney.

Apart from tumors of the brain and spinal cord, neuroblastoma is the most common tumor affecting children. Roughly half of all patients who are treated for it recover. But the other half relapse, and when the cancer returns, it’s usually very aggressive and brings a grim prognosis. In fact, relapse neuroblastoma has a five-year survival rate in the single digits.

Immediately after he was diagnosed, Muli entered a vigorous, year-long treatment regimen that included a stem cell transplant, chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and immunotherapy. Muli was declared to be in remission. But within weeks, Eli and Miriam received the news they feared most: the cancer was back, this time in Muli’s arm. After hearing about the various options, Eli and Miriam agreed to more chemotherapy and radiation. The treatment warded off the cancer, but caused a fungal infection that made Muli gravely ill.

After Muli cleared that hurdle, Eli and Miriam – knowing Muli’s cancer was almost definitely going to come back – scoured the Internet for clinical trials that would accept him. However, they found none for neuroblastoma patients in remission. Just as they thought all options had been exhausted, they received encouraging news on an online forum for parents of children with cancer. They learned of a trial taking place nearly 6,000 miles away at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

After reviewing Muli’s recent scans and other medical records, Ken Lucas, M.D., director of the Pediatric Stem Cell Transplant Program at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, accepted the toddler into the trial. “While by scans we know he was tumor-free, this child most definitely had tumor cells in him to some degree,” Lucas says. “That’s why we enrolled him in this study – because his chances of relapse are so high.”

The trial consists of four, one-month treatment cycles. Each begins with a chemotherapy drug that makes tumor proteins increase on the surface of the tumor cell. The patient is then given a vaccine that targets those proteins. The vaccine is created using the patient’s own white blood cells, which are isolated, modified, and transfused back to the patient.

The Safrais did not put life on hold while living in Hershey. On the contrary, Miriam received her doctorate in medicine from an Israeli university and traveled home to give birth to the couple’s third child, Lechem, during their months-long stay in south central Pennsylvania. Meantime, Eli continued to work toward his Ph.D. in physics. And their daughter, Liam, attended pre-K classes at the Jewish Community Center in Harrisburg.

Along with Muli’s treatments, the Safrais say their top priority was trying to maintain a semblance of family life.

“When Liam [came] home from school each day, we often [tried] to make family time together – by going someplace or seeing something,” Eli says. One such excursion led the family to New York City where they took in the view from the Statue of Liberty. They also enjoyed the Pennsylvania Farm Show, as well as a visit to an Amish farm in Lancaster County.

Muli and his family are now back home in Israel. Lucas and his team will continue to monitor Muli’s condition in conjunction with his caregivers back home. Muli will undergo scans every three to four months to ensure his cancer stays in remission.

Muli is the fourth patient to be enrolled in the cancer vaccine trial. Lucas hopes to enroll a total of fifteen, with an ultimate goal of discerning which patients the vaccine therapy was able to help.

Despite the long odds, his parents are optimistic that Muli will be one of those people.

“We really have a lot of hope,” Miriam says with a reassuring smile. “And for us, just hope is also something good.”

July 5, 2012 at 11:37 am Leave a comment

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