25 Life Lessons From a Two-Time Cancer Survivor


25-life-lessons-morro-bay

Sometimes, a blog post comes along and it just resonates!  I got chatting with the author who has given me permission to post it here.  Shari Berman is a two-time cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at age 25, days after returning from her honeymoon and a second time with breast cancer 8 years later. I posted her full CV below.

Her post “25 Life Lessons From a Two-Time Cancer Survivor” is a fantastic summary of a positive approach to life, despite a cancer diagnosis (or in Shari’s case, two). I’ve seen some similar quotes before but Shari has collated them into one very powerful list.  I’m not suggesting they all apply to everyone but perhaps even a ‘pick n mix’ approach would be useful.  For example, I couldn’t do number 8 – they make me sneeze! (sorry Shari!)

The first 10 are here, you can see the others by linking below:

1. Life is short. Don’t wait for the perfect moment to DO or SAY something important to you.
2. Death is not failure. It is part of life and the more we accept that fact the more we can live intentionally and without as much fear.
3. A simple act of kindness can make someone’s day and leave a lasting impression.
4. You have the ability to make an impact. Leave your mark. Share your experience, your knowledge with others.
5. “Hope” is powerful.
6. If you don’t know what to say to someone in crisis, try saying “I don’t know what to say. But I want you to know I am thinking of you.”
7. You are stronger than you think. Trust me, you are.
8. Life is better with a dog
9. Trust your gut. Intuition is powerful.
10. It is important to take a “time-out”. Walking clears your head.

Read the remainder here, you won’t be disappointed.  CLICK HERE to continue

Read Shari’s CV here:

shari-berman

Shari graduated from Cornell University and worked as a Human Resources Manager in the financial services industry for 15 years. After losing her mother to lung cancer she decided to spend her time advocating for patients and lending her perspective and expertise as patient, long-term survivor, caregiver and business professional.

Shari is a former co-chair of the Dana Farber Adult Patient Family Advisory Council where she effectively led an effort to restructure the Council and strengthen its role within the institution. She also served on Dana Farber’s quality committees and is currently a member of the Quality and Patient Safety Committee of the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine.

Shari has spoken on behalf of Dana Farber at many fund-raising events and presentations on survivorship and patient care. Her talks have focused on a variety of topics including her personal experience with cancer, survivorship issues, patient centered care and how to develop and sustain an effective Patient and Family Advisory Council. Shari has also been asked to consult on a variety of projects with organizations such as the National Academies of Medicine, (formally Institute of Medicine), American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) and Livestrong.

You may also enjoy this post from Shari – I Had Cancer. Now What?

Thanks for reading

Ronny

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Intra-Operative RadioTheraphy (IORT) for Neuroendocrine Cancer – new landmark treatment launch

PLANETS IORT LAUNCH INVITATION May 2016
IORT

New treatments seem to be appearing every month and that is good news for patients.  I have a personal connection to this one though.  In 2014, Chris and I walked along Hadrian’s Wall, a 2,000-year-old World Heritage structure in Northern England.  This was part therapy for me but also part fund-raising to help pay for this new treatment which launches today in Southampton General Hospital (UK) which was recently awarded the coveted title of European NET Centre of Excellence (along with Bournemouth and Portsmouth Hospitals).  It is the first ever deployment of this type of treatment in UK and Chris and I were happy to shred the soles of our feet to support this worthy cause, particularly when the two guys behind the idea were my surgeon (Mr Neil Pearce) and my Interventional Radiologist (Dr Brian Stedman). Both of these brilliant and skilled people ‘worked on me’ for 12 months in 2010/2011 and I live to tell you this tale!  Shortly after my surgery, they decided to set up PLANETS to focus on providing additional support for Neuroendocrine Cancer and other types such as Pancreatic and Liver in which they specialised.

Mr Neil Pearce (L), Ronny Allan (C), DSr Brian Stedman (R)
Mr Neil Pearce (L), Ronny Allan (C), Dr Brian Stedman (R)

Intra-Operative Radiotherapy (IORT) provided by Mobetron is a bit of a game changer for advanced cancers which are hard to treat and remove. This development is said to be at the cutting edge of modern radiation oncology. Despite the heading, this treatment can be used for many cancers including Neuroendocrine, Pancreatic, Colorectal and Bladder.  It is a mobile version and can be moved to different operating theatres.  There are plans to eventually extend the portfolio to include Head and Neck, Oesophageal, Lung, Breast and Cervical cancers.  The technology can also be used on Brain tumours but there are currently no plans to offer this service.

The radiotherapy is applied during surgery which means the treatment can be delivered more directly without causing damage to surrounding tissue and organs.  It’s worth adding at this stage that this type of radiotherapy is not the same as PRRT.  Moreover, it is not designed to replace PRRT which remains an option for patients downstream if they still need it (in addition to other treatments such as Sirtex, liver emobolisatons).  Clearly dosage calculations would be required for cumulative radiation exposure over short timescales.  Worth noting that PRRT currently remains denied to patients in England.

The type of radiotherapy is more similar to conventional external beam systems and the key advantage is that it can be used for areas where tumours have just been removed or part removed or in locations which have a tendency to recur; and for inoperable tumours such as those surrounding vital structures.  Examples include: bulky pancreatic tumours, inoperable mesenteric root lymph node deposits, difficult pelvic tumours, metastases around the bladder, rectum or uterus and ovaries.  It follows that in addition to treating certain tumours earlier than would normally be possible, IORT may preclude the need for further treatment or at least extend the period post surgery where further treatment would be required.

Clearly there is a lot of excitement surrounding this first ever deployment of IORT which has raised the profile of Neuroendocrine Tumours in the UK national press – check out this article in the Daily Mail by clicking here. There is a useful animated video to watch by clicking here.

The official launch happened on Mon 13 Jun 2016 and Chris and I were very proud to attend.

Thanks for reading

Ronny Allan

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Not all cancers are black, white, blue, pink – some are very grey

Not all cancers are black, white,

Over the last few months, I’ve seen quite a few posts entitled “Not all Cancer is pink”.  I suspect it’s a reference to the ubiquitous publicity that many women’s cancer related advocates, bloggers and organisations attract.

Those who use this phrase are perhaps concerned there is an imbalance and inherent unfairness in the distribution of support and are frustrated that their own cancer does not fare as well publicly? I share that frustration, however, I take my hat off to the battalions of advocates, bloggers and organisations who work very hard for breast and the various gyneacological cancers whether they push pink or not (and for the record, they don’t all push or even agree with the ‘pink’ thing).

I’ve even seen this term used within my own community – ‘Not all cancer is pink, some are black and white’.  This is clearly an attempt to tie in the well-known ‘pink’ to the not so well-known ‘black and white’. Notwithstanding the potential for upsetting hard-working women’s cancer organisations and the fact that those in the NET community who push the pink ‘insult’, do not have a corresponding ‘Not all cancer is blue’ article, I also think we might be missing a trick.

And here’s the trick which is my alternative view on where we should be focused – Not all Cancer is black and white and nothing in cancer is ever black and white.  As I don’t want to indulge in ‘Cancer Olympics’ (it can backfire), I’m clearly talking about the context of the phrase ‘black and white’ rather than the ribbon colours.

Let me explain my logic.  There are two sides to most people’s experience or perception of cancer.  Firstly, symptoms appear, a diagnosis is made, treatment is applied and if it works, the patient will hopefully go into remission after a period of time, normally 5 years.  The other side is that sadly, some people may not survive the ordeal and that even applies to certain so-called ‘pink’ cancers (metastatic breast cancer for example). Clearly there are variations of my very simple binary explanation but these two outcomes are very common scenarios.

However, many cancers (including my own Neuroendocrine Cancer) are often silent, produce vague symptoms, are difficult to diagnose, treatment plans can be a challenge, most metastatic patients and many with other stages will never really be cured, and will need lifelong support (another challenge we need to focus on).  They are extremely cunning and sneakyNeuroendocrine Cancer has many ‘grey’ areas.  Clearly there are also variations on this theme but with many scenarios and different outcomes.

Not all cancer is pink, that’s true. However, not all cancer is ‘black and white’ – some can be extremely ‘grey’. This is one of the reasons why I say “Every single day is NET Cancer Day“.

If we want more attention, let’s learn from other cancer awareness activities instead of attacking their colours.  Lesson No 1 – they don’t use animals as icons because people won’t take them seriously.

Thanks for reading

Ronny

I’m also active on Facebook. Like my page for even more news. I’m also building up this site here: Ronny Allan

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Remember ….. in the war on Neuroendocrine Cancer, let’s not forget to win the battle for better quality of life!

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Not all Cancer is simple

Not all Cancer is simple
Not all Cancer is simple

So Victoria Derbyshire has breast cancer and has used her ‘workplace’ as a platform to let people know she is a determined survivor. Nothing wrong with that, it’s great cancer awareness for some and inspiration for others (including me). However, reading through various newspaper follow-up articles, blogs and social media comments, I can see criticism by many for producing an over simplified message (see picture below).  Although many of us will be wishing it was so, not all cancer is simple!

victoriaTake Neuroendocrine Cancer for example. For some, this ‘silent’ cancer can take years to be finally diagnosed whilst the patient is misdiagnosed with other conditions often with debilitating symptoms. Once diagnosed, surgery (if it’s possible) is just one of a number of treatment options and it will often be multiple times.  Follow on treatments include an array of biochemical and nuclear options. If the disease is metastatic, which it frequently is due to its years of ‘silence’, then the condition normally becomes incurable and the patient will be treated for the forseeable future, very often with a reduced quality of life. Victoria might not think she had a fight but for many others, this is a particularly apt word – especially those who can never be sure the cancer has gone.

I’m not suggesting that well-known people shouldn’t make their cancer experience public – in fact I’m all for that!

Get well soon Victoria, I really mean that.

The C Word

CEFwr-HW8AAB04X‘The C Word’ or ‘The Big C’ – the subject which must not be discussed.  Or is this now an out of date phrase?  I read a useful article a month ago where the author debated where we might be if, 50 years ago, we were as open about cancer as we are now (there, I said the word).  Nowadays you cannot turn a page in a newspaper without seeing a story of sadness, inspiration or medical science progress. Certainly the latter has played a huge part in reducing cancer mortality rates and sending more people into remission.

We now have much better tools to discover and treat cancer. Moreover, because we are increasingly open about cancer, there is more awareness. According to Cancer Research UK, as we all live longer, more than one in two people in the UK will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime. Personally I find that a staggering statistic. We definitely need to talk about cancer!

We now live in a more open and some would argue less stoic society where more people are prepared to talk about their serious illnesses. Together with government and other organisations’ health campaigns, backed up by the rise of social media, the ‘C Word’ is not just ‘big’, it’s fantastically huge! Consequently, more people know and understand the disease and more is known about the science of the disease.  This is not only creating better diagnostic tools and treatments, but has introduced a raft of preventative measures and messages resulting in increased awareness amongst the general public.  Bloggers do their part too 🙂 – particularly with the rare and less common cancers which sadly don’t make the headlines enough.

If you look at the statistics for Neuroendocrine Cancer, there is both an increased incidence (rate of occurrence of new cases) and increased prevalence (living with the disease). The increased incidence is most likely due to better diagnostic tools but some credit must be given to better awareness (medical staff and the public). Increased prevalence is most likely due to a combination of better treatments, mostly good prognostic outcomes and people are generally living longer.

I’d like to focus in on awareness as that is the aim of my blog. I was diagnosed in 2010 but I didn’t really come out of the ‘cancer closet’ until 2014 and this resulted in a number of lifestyle changes plus the creation of this blog. I have plastered what some would call personal and private information all over the internet in the name of awareness. Some people might have raised eyebrows about some things I published. However, I genuinely believe that the only way to draw attention to the issues faced by Neuroendocrine Cancer patients is to tell the story of Neuroendocrine patients in factual, educational and no holds barred ways. I also like to put a positive spin on everything and where appropriate, a smattering of humour. I do this not just because I think of myself as a positive and humorous person but because I think there is still a lot to be positive about and humour is medicine as far as I’m concerned 🙂

Back to ‘The C Word’.  If you want to be inspired, if you want to feel positive, if you want to combine these two things with humour, then please watch ‘The C Word’ – the portrayal of the late Lisa Lynch broadcast on BBC last week.  This true story was brilliantly put together to display the range of emotions and problems coming out of any cancer diagnosis; shock, anger, acceptance, etc. Moreover, it also covers all the practical issues such as time of work for the patient and the next of kin, holiday insurance, to the effects on close family.

Lisa Lynch took up blogging after being diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. When you read her bio “I’m a cancer bitch but not cancer’s bitch” – you just know you’re dealing with someone positive. There are few TV programmes that I’ve watched in total silence but this was one of them.  For me it brought back memories of my own experience of going through diagnosis and treatment. The issues of time off, holiday insurance, effects on family and friends, trying to establish a new normal, all resonated.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear (or two).

I guarantee you many women will have checked their breasts for lumps during and after watching that programme and as a result, many will have gone to see a Doctor.  Awareness saves lives.

Watch the programme here (click) (UK only sorry).   This programme is only available on BBC iPlayer until 28 May 15

You can explore her blog here (click)

thanks for listening.

Ronny

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Every Day is NET Cancer Day!

Every day is NET Cancer Day

Opinion.  In 2014, I experienced NET Cancer Day (10 Nov) on a major scale for the first time since its inception. Prior to that, it didn’t really do that much for me.  Spookily I even woke up on 10 Nov 2010 after major surgery.  Read about this here – I even woke up on November 10th after major surgery.

The build up to these events normally doesn’t start in earnest until around 3 months prior to 10 Nov. On or around this day, people meet up, patient conferences and support meetings are held, thousands of tweets and Facebook posts are published, people make and eat cakes, and money is raised. I suspect awareness of NETs benefits but these things can quickly be forgotten outside the rather small world of NET Cancer patients, specialists, supporters and advocates.

If ‘N’ is equal to the amount of awareness you can physically do, then ‘N + 1’ is the amount of awareness you need. You can never have enough awareness.  For me, one day doesn’t cut it.  Some cancers have a whole month but they tend to be the big most common ones.

I’m in awe of those advocate organisations who organise these annual events and the patients who gladly join in to help by giving up their time (including NET Cancer Day and all its affiliate organisations).  There’s a lot of time and effort required.  It’s rather easy for me as I sit in my chair doing my bit – but I am doing it every day. A big advantage I have is that we now live in a connected world and there is an almost unlimited reach to a broad spectrum of people ranging from politicians to the worried well looking for a diagnosis. They all have something in common though …. they’re all connected to the internet and looking for information, looking for a feed.  Social media is really powerful but the message needs to be compelling to persuade someone to read my feed again and again.  I guess when you are marketing something on a face to face basis, it’s a different ball game but the principles of persuading someone to ‘read your feed’ are the same.

Having analysed 10th November activity and the week leading up to it, I think it was pretty much like last year, i.e. the same old tired old clichés and icons, together with out of date and inaccurate information which patients and patient advocate organisations share between each other.   I want new audiences and ones who will stick with NETs instead of just liking a tweet on November 10th.  This is what the NET Community needs too. I’m afraid cartoon animals in the most ridiculous scenarios are not going to attract long term support from outside the community. This is not a criticism of any person working for or fund raising for a NET patient organisation, I know they work very hard.  This is about the out of date and incoherent strategy.

Ronny Allan (right) meeting the Rt Hon Desmond Swayne TD MP in the UK Parliament
Ronny Allan (right) meeting the Rt Hon Desmond Swayne TD (now Sir Desmond Swayne) MP in the UK Parliament

Although I woke up on November 10th after my surgery in 2010, I only really woke up to NET Cancer Day (the event) in 2014 where I and others met and lobbied our respective  Members of Parliament at a NET Patient Foundation sponsored event.  I was also honoured to lobby side by side with my surgeon (Neil Pearce) who is also one of the Medical Trustees for the Foundation.  I felt that activity made a real difference and I was so enthused by this event, I decided to step up my own campaigning activity using my blog to push and push for more recognition of our disease. Attracting the notice of politicians is a good awareness tactic as long as the foot remains on gas peddle.  In regards interactions with politicians, as another example I’m always happy to see the annual state declarations of support in USA.

When I consider the PR campaigns of other cancer types, I admit to being a tad envious. For example in the UK, breast, lung, bowel and prostate cancers probably have more awareness ‘value’ in a single week, than NETs get in a single year. However, these are the ‘big 4’ cancers and as a consequence attract a lot of support (and therefore resources) and are backed by government public health campaigns (e.g. in the UK, the ‘be clear on cancer’ campaign covers most of these cancers).  OK, they have a lot of resources but one thing I see across the board in these campaigns is the lack of icon adulation you see in NET awareness – rather they focus on firmly on PEOPLE and I  believe that is part of their success.  

When I suggest to ditch the animal analogies, people say to me “what icon would replace it”. I simply say “why you even need to replace it” as we’re talking about adopting a coherent strategy. By the way, name another successful cancer strategy using an animal as their ‘cover page’.  Spoiler alert, there isn’t one. 

Because NETs is a less common disease, the necessary ‘clout’ needs to be as wide as possible and this means international efforts to supplement national campaigns, particularly for awareness and recognition.  But the strategy needs to be coherent, effective and up to date. Of course, we need to get patients on board because patient stories are vital, particularly (and accurately ….) in the national news and TV. Resources (people and cash) are always going to be an issue and some high-profile patients or ambassadors would be extremely useful but they tend not to want to get involved.  Read my Human Anatomy blog to understand more about the effects of this issue.

I strongly believe we need new audiences – nationally and internationally.  To be more attractive to the ‘outside’ and new audiences, we also need a convincing and compelling ‘line’.  By ‘line’ I don’t just mean an icon or a phrase, I mean a whole ‘PR’ package. It’s very difficult for rare and less common cancers to get high-profile and continuous publicity (sometimes, to be rare or less common is to be ignored).  Therefore, this ‘line’ needs to be something that captures people’s imaginations and persuades them to be associated with the cause. It also needs to avoid being too ‘introvert’ by using oblique, confusing, outdated, single issue icons conveyed by what are essentially memes and which are only liked and shared by patients.  It also needs to be accurate.

New audiences means new thinking ….. different thinking.  One of my methods is to increase the audience reach by forming relationships with non-NET organisations including physicians.  Some of this is extremely hard work. For example, the 2016 WEGO Health Awards took a considerable amount of personal effort and time and ditto for 2017 and 2018. However, there’s a lot of new audiences out there now hearing about NETs that had never heard of the disease until I was able to use the platform of these awards.  It’s worth it.  Here’s a statement from the CEO of WEGO Health:

Jack WEGO NETs

My animal free blog site will hit one million views next year and I’m a relative newbie.  So perhaps there is another way?

When I set my blog up on 29 Apr 2014, I never imagined for one second it would be anything other than an obscure and niche site getting a couple of hits per day. I’m therefore really grateful to those who are supporting me including my most recent followers. It’s your support that inspires me to write the posts and then offer them up as awareness messages or simply words to help patients. Now, not a day goes by where I have not tweeted or posted something about Neuroendocrine Cancer. Although 10 Nov is approaching once again, for me……..

EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THE YEAR IS NET CANCER DAY

RonnyAllan strap

Thanks for reading

Ronny

I’m also active on Facebook. Like my page for even more news. I’m also building up this site here: Ronny Allan

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Remember ….. in the war on Neuroendocrine Cancer, let’s not forget to win the battle for better quality of life!