There is Hope
Cancer. Six letters that can change someone’s life forever. Fortunately, a cancer diagnosis no longer means what it did just a few years ago. Surviving cancer can make you a stronger person.
Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. If the spread is not con¬trolled, it can result in death. But, there is an upside. If you are one of the millions of people who battle cancer each year, the odds for survival are in your favor. You will more than likely defeat cancer so long as you make good decisions. Research has shown that 67% of people who develop cancer will survive it, with appropriate treatment. Olivia Newton-John has defeated cancer, as have Lance Armstrong, Sharon Osbourne, Sheryl Crow, and Rod Stewart to name a few. In fact, there are approximately twelve million Americans alive who have survived cancer.
Facts can be scary, but you play the most important role of all in your own survival.
The easiest battles to win are the ones you never have to fight. You see, most cancers are preventable before they even occur. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, 63% of all cancer deaths are directly attributable to lifestyle choices and can be prevented. 173,000 will die in 2012 from cancer caused by cigarette smoking and heavy use of alcohol. A male smoker is 23 times (2300%) more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smokers. Another 190,000 cancer deaths will be related to overweight or obesity, physical inactivity, and poor nutrition. Certain cancers are related to infectious agents, such as hepatitis B virus (HBV), human papillomavirus (HPV), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), and others, and could be pre¬vented through behavioral changes, vaccines, or antibiotics. In addition, many of the more than 2 million skin cancers that are diagnosed annually could be prevented by protecting skin from intense sun exposure and avoiding indoor tanning.
So, truly the best defense against cancer is a good offense. Stop smoking. Don’t drink alcohol to excess. Exercise. Eat Healthy. Avoid sun exposure. And practice preventative health care by getting annual checkups and screenings. These simple steps will drastically decrease your likelihood of getting cancer.
Anyone can develop cancer. Since the risk of being diagnosed with cancer increases with age, most cases occur in adults who are middle aged or older. About 77% of all cancers are diagnosed in persons 55 years of age and older. Once you’ve developed cancer, getting the best treatment is vital.
The normal courses of action may include some combination of: surgery to remove the cancer, radiation treatment, or chemotherapy treatment. Radiation treatment uses a powerful x-ray to shrink a tumor before surgery or reduce the chance of cancer returning after surgery, or in place of surgery. The goal of radiation is to stop cancer cells from multiplying while sparing as much healthy tissue as possible. Chemotherapy treatment uses drugs, or chemicals, to kill rapidly dividing cells. It kills both cancer cells and healthy cells. The goal is to kill as many cancer cells as possible. Typically this is given intravenously. A tiny catheter is inserted into a vein, usually in the hand or lower arm, and removed at the end of the session. There are various other delivery systems a doctor may employ.
Danville Regional Medical Center has a state of the art radiation oncology center and cutting edge chemotherapy unit. No matter where you receive your initial treatment for cancer, you can undergo your radiation or chemotherapy regimens close to your home and family. You can often continue working. Dr. Peter Leider who is a Radiation Oncologist at Danville Regional’s Center for Radiation Oncology says, “We have all of the newest, cutting-edge equipment, like onboard imaging, to precisely target tumors on a daily basis. We even do stereotactic brain radiosurgery (radiation treatments), which is a unique, nonsurgical option for brain tumors.”
Patients often have misconceptions about radiation therapy. “People think it makes you sick and throw up. In reality, most treatments are provided in an out-patient setting with the patient able to drive themselves to and from treatment. By doing the treatments locally, we help minimize the upheaval in a patient’s daily life,” Dr. Leider says. In fact over a normal, five-week, 25 treatment program, the major side effect experienced by most people in the first three weeks, is that of feeling tired. A couple of weeks after treatment ends, the patient usually starts feeling better. “Since radiation treatments are localized, the side effects are usually limited to the region being treated.”
Chemotherapy, on the other hand isn’t a localized treatment, so the side effects will likely be more visible throughout the body. But, it isn’t at all like the movies make it seem. Dr. Veshana Ramiah who is a Medical Oncologist at Danville Oncology and Hematology says “the reality is that 9 of 10 patients tell me the same thing. Nausea and vomiting and being sick all the time is no longer part of chemotherapy. We are very good at managing these kind of side effects and the quality of daily living is a high priority.”
For doctors like Dr. Ramiah and Dr. Leider, treating cancer patients is a calling. “I love my job. I think it’s really a privilege that we are able to help patients through such a personal and often terrifying journey and give them hope and help them heal. I feel like I’m making a difference,” Dr. Ramiah says. “The people I’ve trained with and others in this field all have similar attitudes. It’s something sacred.”
Dr. Ramiah comes to Danville after having trained at The Royal Marsden Cancer Centre in London and serving on staff at Duke. The Royal Marsden is the second largest cancer center in the world and the experience she gained there helped shape her into the world-class oncologist she is today. “There is much to be hopeful about. We are beating cancer daily. You will find most cancer doctors are upbeat and optimistic. It’s how we are here in our practice.”
Cancer can be beaten. Cancer treatments are evolving every day. A treatment doesn’t exist today may very well exist three months from now. Remember, a few lifestyle changes can help prevent cancer.
If you are living with cancer:
• Ask questions. Learn what your options for treatment are.
• Educate yourself so that you know what to expect and how to best manage your treatment.
• Maintain as much adherence to your normal day-to-day routine as possible.
• Choose to receive care at a facility close to your home to help ease the burden and minimize stress.
Local Resources: Danville Regional’s Center for Radiation Oncology and Danville Oncology and Hematology treat patients and coordinate care with their surgeons and other healthcare providers (whether local or based out of town). You can contact Danville Regional’s Center for Radiation Oncology at 434.799.4592 and Danville Oncology and Hematology at 434.799.0044.