Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Becoming a Food Label Pro for Optimal Health

With all the information found on food labels these days, it may seem like you have to be a dietitian or mathematician to zero in on the facts and figures that matter most to you. But don't despair: just find your health goal below for the deciphering tricks that'll turn you inot a food lable pro in no time at all!


Shed some pounds?   Check the Calories.
Here is a good general guide:
40 is low   100 is moderate  400 or more is high
And don't forget to check the serving size: You be surprised at how many seemingly "single size" bags and boxes contain multiple servings!

Reduce Cholesterol? Home in on Fats.
Trans fat and saturated fat -- key players in raising blood cholesterol and the risk of heart disease -- are included in the total fat. Play it safe by picking foods with a total fat content measuring 5% or less. And avoid any foods with trans fat!

Lower your Blood Pressure?  Look at Sodium
Foods with a sodium content that's 5% of your daily allowance or less are considered low-sodium and heart-healthy additions to your diet.

Improve your digestions?   Zoom in on Fiber.
Eating enough fiber (particularly soluble fiber) can promote healthy bowel function. Look for labels with at least 10% as a "good" source of dietary fiber, or a 20% daily value or higher as an "excellent" source. Bonus: Soluble fiber also slows digestion and keeps you feeling fuller longer, helping you lose weight.

By following theses simple rules of thumb you will be able to master label reading to reach your long term health goals in no time at all and maybe even accelerate your loss weight plan without resorting to fad diets or unhealthy diet supplements.

Good Luck!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

"Oops, I forgot my meds!"

If you're like me and millions of Americans today and you've tried pillboxes, checklists and calendars and still have the occasional head-slapping moment, here's some good news: a few new tools may be just the trick to help keep you on track with taking your medication and staying healthy. It's amazing how much better people do and feel when they are taking their medications regularly.



Lots of apps let you track the meds you take regularly -- the iPillsBox app doesn't cost  a dime! Or for $4 USD, you can download MedsLog, an app that let's you set an alarm to remind you to take your medicine, including Rx and over the counter pills, creams and ointments, plus there's no limit to how many drugs you can add ! It tracks when to take your next dose, stats such as blood pressure and blood sugar readings and let's you email data to yourself or your doctor.


For about $3.50 you can swap a prescription bottle cap with the Rx Timer Cap. A digital built in timer resets when you open the botte, so you know exactly when you took your last dose and when the next one is due!



There's now a wide range of alarms available to you remember your medications, even while you're out and about. Many come with a multipl compartments making it easy to keep them organized when you bring them from home to work and to school. Some can even be worn like beepers or wristwatches.

SJCCF TIP:  At the next doctors visit ask about streamlining!  
Be sure your primary healthcare provider knows about all the medications you've been prescribed. It's possible he may be able to make your regimen a bit easier -- for example, by changing several times a day dosing to once a day dosing or by combining medications.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Understanding Vitamin D Deficiency

Spending significant time indoors could lead to a condition with some very negative side effects: Vitamin D deficiency!

Vitamin D has long been called the sunshine vitamin because it is largely produced in the body after the absorbtion of sun's rays. Without exposure to the sun, then it's very easy for a person to develop vitamin D deficiency, a condition affecting roughly 40%  of the American population.

Many people understand vitamin D's role in promoting bone health, helping the body use calcium for strong bones. Vitamin D has often been linked to rickets, a condition in which bone tissue does not properly mineralize, resulting in weak soft bones.

But the importance of vitamin D goes beyond bones. Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with various maladies, including  an inability to fight certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment and increased risk of depression. Some research also indicate that vitamin D can help prevent and treat a number of condition including diabetes. Low levels of vitamin D may also be associated with schizophrenia and compound skin disorders such as psoriasis.

Vitamin D is a fat soluble  and is delivered to the body through fat cells. Individuals who are obese or have a high body fat index are more susceptible to vitamin D deficiency. Although vitamin D is an essential ingredient for overall good health many people take it for granted. It is virtually impossible to get all of the needed vitamin D through diet alone.  Sunlight is the single most effective way to receive the vitamin D the body requires for optimal health and is entirely free!

The trouble with sunlight exposure is that today many people spend more time indoors than outside.  Futhermore, when outdoors, many are heeding the warnings of dermatologist and other health experts and lathering on sunblock products. While these protect the skin fro harmful UV rays, SPF creams and lotions also inhibit the body's ability to absorb our friend vitamin D from the sun.

Diagnosing vitamin D deficiency isn't always easy. Many times doctors mistake it for fibromyalgia, simply because muscle aches, pains and weakness are symptons of both conditions! But doctors can easily rule out a vitamin D deficiency through routine blood tests.

Sensible exposure to sunlight, around 15 minutes a day, 2 or 3 times a week could be enough  to restore proper vitamin D levels. Otherwise supplementation is an easy way to also increase vitamin D, primarily for those who are concerned about UV rays.

Individuals who are undergoing a routine physical examination should ask their doctor to include bloodwork that screens for vitamin D levels, as well as other essential vitamins. A doctor can determine whether a person lacking in vitamin D and prescribe a regimen thaq may include dietary changes, supplementation and/or increased exposure to natural sunlight.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Iodine For Radiation: Who Needs It, And When

The extensive media coverage of the nuclear crisis in Japan, as well as the even more extensive reactions to it reverberating through cyberspace, suggest to me that there is fairly widespread confusion about both the risks of radiation, and the specific defense afforded by iodine supplementation. Drawing on general medical knowledge, rather than any dedicated expertise in radiation medicine, I write to clarify.

1) Thyroid hormones are manufactured by the thyroid gland using iodine. I believe it is commonly known that long-standing iodine deficiency leads to goiter, and hypothyroidism. In fact, goiter is still common in many parts of the developing world, and the World Health Organization supports an iodine distribution program to help combat that problem.

2) The thyroid gland can develop several kinds of cancer, and is more vulnerable to cancer to many other body sites because of its generally high rate of metabolic activity. Thyroid cells are especially vulnerable to the effects of radiation.

3) Nuclear fission reactions using uranium or plutonium release a variety of radioactive 'breakdown' products, and among these is radioiodine. There are several varieties of radioactive iodine, but I-131 tends to predominate.

4) The thyroid gland cannot distinguish between stable and radioactive iodine, so take up any available radioiodine just as assiduously as its stable counterpart. This is used under controlled medical conditions to treat disorders of the thyroid -- but under the uncontrolled conditions of a nuclear plant failure, I-131 exposure will potentially cause low-level radiation injury to thyroid cells -- enough to damage, but not kill them. Such injured cells are prone to develop cancers over time.

Iodine supplementation -- specifically the use of potassium iodide -- is potentially protective in two ways. First, if the the thyroid gland is saturated with stable iodine, it is less prone to take up any radioiodine because, in crude terms, there is no room at the inn.

Second, while iodine is essential for thyroid function and deficiency can cause hypothyroidism, high-dose iodine intake can actually cause hypothyroidism as well. This seemingly paradoxical response is called the Wolff-Chaikoff effect, and involves several mechanisms -- including suppression of the manufacture of thyroid hormones from the available iodine. It lasts only a short time, but for that time it will block the uptake of any more iodine into the gland.

I hasten to add that there is no reason for anyone in the U.S. to be taking iodine supplements to defend against radiation from the Japanese leak at this point; no meaningful risk currently exists here. And, there are two precautionary notes to sound. The first pertains to the 'well, it couldn't hurt' approach.

Actually, it could -- if iodine is supplemented after exposure to radioiodine, there is some possibility of it slowing thyroid function, and causing the radioactive iodine to remain in the gland longer. Second, iodine supplementation protects the thyroid gland only; it does not provide any kind of total body defense against the effects of radiation.

The iodine defense works against the threat of I-131, and the Japanese in the affected area should be using it. We in the U.S. should not. But we should understand it, so it's there for us if ever we need it. I certainly hope we don't.

About the Author: David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP is the founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center at Griffin Hospital. He is a board certified specialist in both Internal Medicine and Preventive Medicine/Public Health; Director and founder of the Integrative Medicine Center at Griffin Hospital (2000) in Derby, CT; founder and president of the non-profit Turn the Tide Foundation. Learn More About Dr. Katz  or visit

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Increasing Incidence of Thyroid Cancer: The Facts

The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland beneath the Adam's apple in the neck, is responsible for producing and regulating some of the hormones that control metabolism. The incidence of cancer in it has more than doubled over the last three decades, increasing to almost 12 cases per 100,000 in 2007 from 4.85 cases per 100,000 in 1975.

Much of this rise can be attributed to the increased detection of small tumors. There is increased utilization of imaging technology such as neck ultrasounds, CT scans, MRIs and PET scans that has resulted in the discovery of incidental thyroid nodules. Studies have shown that when doctors feel the neck during a physical examination, about 5 percent of patients will be found to have thyroid nodules.

When the thyroid is studied by an ultrasound examination, it turns out that half of all adults actually have thyroid nodules and 5 percent or so of these represent low-grade cancers. When doctors detect these "incidental" thyroid nodules, they will subject some of them to a fine needle aspiration biopsy to determine if they are cancerous. Many, but not all of the increased number of thyroid cancers that are found are small (called microcarcinomas), measuring less than 1 centimeter (less than ½ inch).

The increase of observed thyroid cancer, however, is not fully explained just by the disease's improved detection through greater use of imaging procedures. There also has been a real increase in the incidence of these tumors.

There are two known causes of well-differentiated thyroid cancer, the most common variety. The first is exposure to therapeutic x-rays. Indeed, x-ray therapy once was used to treat children with enlarged tonsils and adenoids, birth marks and even ringworm, as well as for teens with acne. This led to an increase in the development of both benign and malignant thyroid growths.

Well-differentiated thyroid cancer is the type that was caused by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The second known risk factor is a genetic predisposition, with 5 percent or so of the occurrences of this most common form of thyroid cancer running in families.

However, these two risk factors alone also do not account for the rising incidence of thyroid cancer. It is likely that some of the thyroid cancer increase can be attributed to other environmental factors, such as the amount of iodine people ingest; environmental toxins, such as materials used to make plastics, fire retardants and pesticides; or other unknown causes.

Thyroid Cancer Treatment

Close to 90 percent of these thyroid cancers fall into the group of well-differentiated tumors; women are three times more likely than men to develop these cancers. More than 95 percent of patients younger than 45 who develop one of these tumors will survive, even if there is evidence of spread to the lymph nodes in the neck, which is found at the time of diagnosis in many patients. Those older than 60, especially men with large tumors, do not fare as well, but their overall prognosis is still good.

Most patients with differentiated thyroid cancer undergo surgery to remove their thyroid. Depending on their age and the degree of involvement of surrounding tissues and lymph nodes, or if there is evidence of the disease's spread to distant tissues such as lung or bone, radioactive iodine may be used for treatment. It is a paradox that relatively low levels of radioactive iodine can cause thyroid cancer by injuring DNA in thyroid cells, while large doses of radioactive iodine can kill both normal and cancer cells in the thyroid.

All patients with thyroid cancer are placed on thyroid hormone. Doctors very rarely treat these patients with external beam radiation therapy and even less frequently use some new medications that target the molecular abnormalities found in thyroid cancer. After a patient's initial treatment, the standard follow-up includes periodic ultrasound exams of the neck as well as blood tests to measure thyroglobulin, a protein that is an excellent tumor marker for differentiated thyroid cancer.

Other Forms of Thyroid Cancer

Medullary thyroid cancer is a less common form of the disease, accounting for 5 to 10 percent of patients. This tumor is more aggressive than the more common form and has a higher tendency to run in families. It can be detected through a fine needle aspiration biopsy of the suspicious thyroid nodule or through the measurement of calcitonin, a blood protein that is produced by the cells that form the tumor.

Fortunately, the least common form of thyroid cancer is anaplastic cancer, which progresses rapidly and almost always is a fatal form of the disease. Less than 1 percent of patients with thyroid cancer have this form.

The management of thyroid cancer has evolved greatly over the last several decades and a number of centers have been developed with multidisciplinary teams to treat the disease. Further information about thyroid cancer can be obtained online from the Cedars-Sinai Thyroid Cancer CenterThe American Thyroid Association and The Endocrine Society's Hormone Foundation.

SOURCE: The Huffington Post

About The Author: Dr. Glenn Braunstein is professor and chairman of the Department of Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where he holds the James R. Klinenberg Chair in Medicine. Board certified in Internal Medicine and Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, Dr. Braunstein also serves as the Director of the Thyroid Cancer Center at Cedars-Sinai. 

Follow Glenn D. Braunstein, M.D. on Twitter:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

About Radiation, Nutrients and Food

Is there something we can do to protect ourselves from radiation poisoning ? The nuclear blasts in Japan have all of us concerned about radiation poisoning. However World Health Organization officials say “health risk is small” for those of us not living near the power plants.

In Extreme Risk of Contamination

Japanese people living within 12 miles of the Fukushima nuclear power plant are at extreme risk of contamination by inhaled or swallowed radioactive iodine particles. The Japanese government has evacuated 180,000 people from the area and advised everyone to wear a surgical mask and stays in unventilated rooms.

The real danger of these radioactive iodine particles is when they are absorbed by the thyroid and develop thyroid cancer as was the case in the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. According to the World Health Organization, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster will cause 50,000 new cases of thyroid cancer among young people living in the areas most affected by the nuclear disaster.

It is postulated that the rate of thyroid cancer in adolescents aged 15 to 18 is also now three times higher than it was before the 1986 disaster took place. The incidence of thyroid cancer in children rose 10-fold in children who lived in the Ukraine region. The most dramatic rate increase is in children who were 10 or younger when the Chernobyl accident occurred, and most specifically, those who were under 4.

Potassium iodide is a pharmacological product. The potassium and iodine in our food do not have the same effect.

Further away from the source, radiation exposure depends on the distance from the plant and on weather conditions, especially wind and rain at the time of the explosion. According to Bloomberg from Business week, he reports: “Radioactive iodine is heavier than air and won’t spread far in mild wind...(but it) has a half-life of eight days, meaning it takes eight days of decay to decrease by half.”

More concerning, is the indirect radiation exposure as Dr. David J. Brenner from the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University told the New York Times: "The way radioactive iodine gets into human beings is an indirect route," he said.

"It falls to the ground, cows eat it and make milk with radioactive iodine, and you get it from drinking the milk." Dr. Brenner then said that the epidemic of thyroid cancer around Chernobyl could have been prevented if the government had immediately stopped people from drinking milk. Officials in South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines will be checking food imported from Japan.

Ionizing radiation consists of particles or electromagnetic waves that are energetic enough to detach electrons from atoms or molecules, thus ionizing them. Direct ionization from the effects of single particles or single photons produces free radicals, which are atoms or molecules containing unpaired electrons, that tend to be especially chemically reactive due to their electronic structure.

The degree and nature of such ionization depends on the energy of the individual particles (including photons), not on their number or intensity. High frequency radiation has enough energy to damage DNA in the cells which often leads to thyroid cancer. The extent of damage is directly related to the dose of radiation.

The American Cancer Society points out that low-frequency radiation coming from power lines, radio waves, microwaves, cell phone, TV and computer screens have not been shown to cause cancer. The topic remains under study.

Antioxidants for Prevention

To fight off environmental toxins and the low levels of radiation we encounter every day, it's very important to eat an abundance of antioxidant nutrients found in plant foods. Antioxidants protect the cells from damage by keeping toxic byproducts in breaking havoc our DNA and vital cell structures. If these free radicals or byproducts are not destroyed they can lead to aging, cancer and other chronic diseases.

The Vitamins C, Vitamin A and Vitamin E are antioxidants as well as Selenium, and the many phytochemicals, such as beta-carotene in dark green and orange plants, lycopene in red plants, lutein in dark green leafy vegetables, resveratrol in grapes, myricetin in walnuts, and many more antioxidants to name. The overriding message is that every vegetable, fruit, legume, kernel, nut, and seed contains antioxidants and play an vital role in keeping us healthy.

Reduce your health risks now. Learn more about personalized physician supervised preventative programs and the science behind functional medicine at Milwaukee Center for Longevity Medicine

About the Author: Alexandra Solano MD is a Fellow in the field of Anti-Aging Regenerative and Functional Medicine. She works with clients in Brookfield to prevent and reverse degenerative disease of aging and improve overall well-being through lifestyle changes and integrative medicine.

SOURCE: BookfieldNow.Com/Blogs

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Radiation Exposure and Cancer Risk Basics

Thyroid cancer for sure. Leukemia, probably. Too much radiation can raise the risk of developing cancer years down the road, scientists agree, and the young are most vulnerable. But just how much or how long an exposure is risky is not clear. Those are among the unknowns scientists are contemplating as the crisis unfolds at Japan's stricken nuclear power plant.

In Japan, the Science Ministry said radiation levels about 19 miles northwest of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant rose at one point Friday to 0.15 millisieverts per hour, about the amount absorbed in a chest X-ray. But levels have been fluctuating, and radiation at most sites that distance from the facility have been far below that.

Long term, it is clear radiation can induce cancer. But researchers can't just count cancer cases after a disaster and declare radiation responsible. Rates before and after must be compared to know if more cases occurred than would be expected.

That is why, 25 years after the Chernobyl accident, there is still controversy over its effects beyond the undisputed 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer. Of these cases, only 15 had proved fatal as of 2005, even though the Soviets were slow to treat victims of the catastrophe.

The records necessary to spot trends in other types of cancer as a result of Chernobyl are poor, said Dr. Fred Mettler, a University of New Mexico scientist who led a United Nations-sponsored team investigating Chernobyl's health effects.

"At the end of the day, the scientific data isn't there. My instinct is, there probably is an increase there, but it's too small to see," he said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that no amount of radiation is absolutely safe above the 3 to 6 millisieverts a year that most of us get from normal living. In contrast, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says that low doses - less than 100 millisieverts spread out over years - are not harmful. Researchers have not documented danger from such low levels, said Kelly Classic, a radiation physicist at the Mayo Clinic and a spokeswoman for the Health Physics Society, an organization of radiation safety specialists.

High doses - over 500 millisieverts - can raise the risk of leukemia, breast, bladder, colon, liver, lung, esophageal, ovarian and stomach cancers, and the blood cancer multiple myeloma, government scientists say.

In between the high and lower levels, the picture is murky. Much depends on the type of radiation people are exposed to, how old they are, and how well each person's body repairs any DNA damage the radiation may cause.

"There's no linear relationship to say if you got this amount, it would cause a certain percent of cancer down the road," said Dr. Clifford Chao, chief of cancer radiation at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

Children are the ones at risk for radiation's most obviously related cancer - thyroid. Radioactive iodine collects in the thyroid gland in the neck. Potassium iodide pills can block its absorption and minimize harm, but they must be given within 12 hours of exposure to do much good.

When Chernobyl exploded, health workers "had millions of square kilometers to cover and it was all rural areas and they didn't really have anything stockpiled," Mettler said. Children also drank milk from cows that grazed on contaminated grass for weeks after the disaster, compounding their exposure and risk. More than 6,000 thyroid cancers have been documented in people who were children in the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia when the disaster occurred. But In Poland, where the antidote pills were given out, there were no higher rates of thyroid cancer.

Properly treated, the most common type papillary and follicular thyroid cancer "are some of the least deadly cancers," the American Cancer Society says. And low levels of radioactive iodine exposure have not been shown to increase thyroid cancer risk in studies of fallout from nuclear weapons testing in the western United States during the 1950s, the society says.

Studies of atomic bomb survivors have found higher rates of cancer. But those disasters involved different radioactive elements than the type emitted from the Japanese nuclear plant so far.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer also commissioned a study of more than 400,000 nuclear industry workers in 15 countries to estimate cancer risk following protracted low doses of radiation. The 2007 study found a dose-related higher risk of cancer death, but questions have been raised about its methods.

The results also were driven largely by higher rates in Canada; once that country's results were excluded, no increase is seen, Mettler said. There have been questions about the data from Canada, Mettler said. Also, the authors of the study say they need to do more work to assess how smoking and other factors affected their estimates.

So for now, the clearest information on cancer risk from a nuclear plant accident may come from Chernobyl. That disaster exposed 5 million people in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine to large amounts of radioactive material for 10 days, according to the 2008 report that Mettler helped write for the United Nations' Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, which represents 22 nations on nuclear safety.

Exposure to cesium was a big concern because it affects the whole body, not just the thyroid gland. And exposure among cleanup workers and emergency responders ranged as high as a few hundred millisieverts over the following few years. Evidence suggests a higher rate of leukemia in these workers, "but it's not certain," Mettler said.

Research is continuing in that group, and longer follow-up should establish that more clearly, he said.  "Leukemia increases have not been seen in the children" who are now adults, he said. Nor have increases in breast, lung, stomach or other cancers been documented, though this population became very mobile after Chernobyl and the breakup of the Soviet Union, so the true rates are hard to establish, and rates before the accident in some cases are unknown, Mettler said.

As bad as Chernobyl was, the average radiation dose over 20 years to people who live in contaminated areas was "relatively low" - 9 millisieverts, nearly the equivalent of a CT scan - once the short-term doses to the thyroid were subtracted, the UN report said. That means there should not be "substantial health effects in the general population that could be attributed to radiation," the report concludes.

The NRC has said that typical annual background exposure to radiation shaves 18 days off the expected lifespan. Working in a nuclear plant under ordinary conditions - not in a crisis like the one unfolding in Japan - shortens life expectancy by 51 days. By comparison, being 15 percent overweight cuts two years; smoking a pack of cigarettes a day costs six years of life.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Gender Differences in Thyroid Cancer

It has long been known that the incidence of thyroid cancer in women is significantly higher than that in men. The objective of this article is to review gender differences in thyroid cancer, as well as epidemiological, clinical and experimental research on the role of sex hormones, their receptors and other molecular factors in this well-established thyroid cancer gender discrepancy. Although more common in women, thyroid cancer typically presents at a more advanced stage and with a worse disease prognosis in men. 

Clinical evidence on the impact of estrogen and other sex hormones on thyroid cancer has remained inconclusive, although numerous experimental studies have suggested that these hormones and their receptors may play a role in tumorigenesis and tumor progression. Studies of thyroid cancer cell lines suggest that an imbalance between the two estrogen receptor (ER) isoforms, α and β, may be responsible for the cell proliferation seen with estrogen treatment. 

Expression studies on thyroid tumors indicate that they express ER and possibly progesterone receptors and androgen receptors, but there is conflicting evidence as to whether or not there is a difference in receptor status between thyroid cancers, benign thyroid lesions and normal thyroid tissue. There have been few studies evaluating the ERα/ERβ profiles in thyroid tumors and normal thyroid tissue. Our understanding of the underlying basis for sex differences in thyroid cancer has improved over the last few decades, but the relationship between gender and thyroid cancer risk has remained elusive. 

Areas for future research include ERα/ERβ profiling of normal and neoplastic thyroid tissue, association between ER status and tumor dedifferentiation, and evaluation of the signaling pathways by which estrogen and other sex steroids exert their effects on thyroid cancer cells. Sex steroid receptors, and then downstream signaling pathways, represent promising future therapeutic targets for thyroid cancer treatment, and further study is required.

Reina Yao; Connie G Chiu; Scott S Strugnell; Sabrina Gill; Sam M Wiseman
Posted: 03/23/2011; Expert Rev Endocrinol Metab. 2011;6(2):215-243. © 2011 Expert Reviews Ltd

Stevie JoEllie's Cancer Care Fund is working to develop and launch an access to care grant program for thyroid cancer patients and survivors nationwide. Please consider supporting our unique initiative that includes a set aside fund for healthcare access to assist thyroid cancer survivors with medical costs associated with follow up treatment, annual exams,  diagnostics and medications. 

SJCCFThyNet is a project of United Charitable Programs Inc., a 501(c) 3 Public Charity and as such all donations are tax deductible as allowed by law. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Candy Schiller On Surviving Thyroid Cancer and Trusting Her Instincts

But who will raise my daughter? And my husband?

Candy Schiller remembers that cold jolt of maternal terror with a tearful laugh. The Schillers are close; an earnest, modern-day version of the all-American nuclear family. In the moments following her diagnosis with thyroid cancer, Candy’s thoughts were fixated on her daughter, Caroline, and husband Lonnie. Eighteen years later, the discussion remains less about the cancer she survived than the family it affected.

It’s an unusual conversation for Candy — not in its content, but in its frequency. She speaks of the cancer itself in the abstract, with emotion reserved only for anecdotal remembrances of how it shaped her family life. In the nearly two decades since her diagnosis, Candy, an accomplished restaurateur and multi award-winning interior designer, has rarely broached the subject.

“Sometimes I feel as though I have to apologize for having had thyroid cancer,” she says, knowing that of the cancers she could have developed, hers is among the least lethal. “I don’t mention it, because I don’t feel like what I went through was even worthy of the term [cancer].

"I was lucky in every way a person can be lucky in that situation. I went in healthy; I had the support of friends and family, and I had access to the very best medical care. So many people who deal with cancer aren’t as fortunate.”

It was in January 1993 that Candy first noticed a lump had formed on her upper neck, beneath the right-hand side of her chin.

“I had a sinus infection at the time,” she says. “The infection went away after a couple of months, but the lump stayed. I visited a doctor who told me it was probably nothing and that we should just ‘watch it.’ ”

The Schiller-Del Grande Restaurant Group, in which Candy is a partner with her husband Lonnie (who is also an owner in CultureMap), sister Mimi Del Grande, and brother-in-law Robert Del Grande, had just opened a new restaurant, Rio Ranch. Candy dismissed her deteriorating health, and the curious lump, as bi-products of stress.

Before I was diagnosed, I experienced — now realizing it was low thyroid — situations in which I would hear something funny, and I would say ‘that’s really funny’ but not laugh,” she says with the sort of audible frustration that comes with hindsight. “I had the intellectual reaction, but not the physical, spiritual or emotional reaction. The day I realized that wasn’t normal was when a friend told a long story that was funny, and I kept thinking: This is really funny; I should be laughing.

"The story deserved laughter.”

Increasingly concerned, Schiller consulted three additional doctors over a nine-month period, each of them echoing the advice of the first: “Just watch it.” Candy did, and nothing changed. Skeptical of their dismissals and driven by intuition, she turned to a family friend, Dr. Marce Sulek, a pediatric ear, nose, and throat surgeon.

Observing that the lump was only on one side, Sulek told her friend Candy that it probably wasn’t anything to worry about, but suggested doing a needle aspiration to put her concerns to rest. A few days later, Candy went in for a biopsy. During on a carpool run that afternoon for daughter Caroline — who was in the second grade at the time — she got a call from Lonnie.

"Marce has been trying to reach you, but don’t worry, everything will be fine,” he told her with a speed and intensity uncharacteristic of her usually laid-back husband.

“The biopsy came back,” he continued. “It’s malignant, but don’t worry because everything is going to be fine.”

Stunned, yet oddly vindicated, Candy returned home with her daughter, wondering why her husband didn’t wait until she’d gotten home to deliver the news. She realized that his urgency wasn’t in telling her she had thyroid cancer, but in telling her that everything was going to be fine. For Lonnie, that message couldn’t be delivered fast enough. Sulek concurred: “If you’re going to get cancer, this is the one,” she told her friend.

No rhyme or reason

To Candy, the diagnosis couldn’t have seemed any more random. Her family had no significant history of cancer. Her grandfather had died of cancer, but only after spending his life working in a steel mill, which, in her mind, provided a likely environmental catalyst. Candy had been healthy and athletic all her life, growing up in California and eating organic before it was trendy.

After communing with Lonnie, they decided not to tell Caroline until after surgery. Candy’s sister, Mimi, however, and the rest of the family would soon find out by sheer happenstance. On the same day as the diagnosis, Mimi called Sulek to check in on a family friend who had been admitted to St. Luke’s — where Sulek practiced — with heart problems. Sulek assured Mimi that Candy would be fine.

“What do you mean, Candy?” Mimi asked.

But before calling her sister to follow up on the unintended revelation, Mimi called their mother in California, told her about Candy’s cancer diagnosis, and booked her a flight to Houston. Candy, meanwhile, was at home, trying to figure out how to break the news to her mother, unaware that Mimi had already initiated the family’s emergency phone tree.

Mimi finally called her sister, but, too emotional to speak, she handed the phone to her husband, chef Robert Del Grande. “I told him I was trying to figure out how to break the news to my mother,” Candy says, now amused by the situation. “He told me, coyly, that I didn’t have to worry about that.”

Mimi composed herself and told her big sister, “This is my worst nightmare,” instantly re-calibrating Candy’s perspective. At that moment, it was no longer about facing her own mortality, but about facing the potential impact on her family.

“The course of treatment for thyroid cancer is that you cut it out, basically,” Candy says matter-of-factly, as though reading out of a textbook. Candy was diagnosed on a Thursday afternoon. By Monday, the cancer had been removed.

“I had 30-some malignant lymph nodes on my neck, which is why I have a scar that goes all the way to my ear.” She traces the long, barely visible scar from her left collarbone in a semi-circle up to her right ear.

"I had a wonderful surgeon named Robert Parke, who did such an incredible job. I scar easily, but you can hardly see it.”

Barbaric System

The ongoing treatment was something out of a B-movie from the 1950s.  For a period of about three years after, I would have the same treatment: A dose of radioactive iodine that you drink though a straw,” Candy says with palpable disbelief at what she’s trying to describe. “It’s like out of a James Bond movie. You go down into the bowels of the hospital where they store the radioactive material.”

After the iodine ingestion, she’d be placed in a special ward covered in plastic and paper where, over the course of a couple of days, the radioactive material is flushed through the system.

“The doctor comes in from time to time with a Geiger counter and a yard stick. At mealtime, they put your food just inside the door. It was like being a leper.”

The treatment was repeated each year for another three years. During a six-week period prior to the annual iodine treatment, Candy had to cease thyroid medication.

“Without thyroid hormone, we’re all just slugs, because it regulates our metabolism. It was like being in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, because it affects short-term memory," Candy says. "I used to have a really good memory. I hate how it’s affected my memory. I have unbelievable empathy for people who deal with the cruelty of dementia or Alzheimer’s.”

Nearly 20 years later, Candy is less interested in the cancer itself than the person the experience created.

“It made me a better mother, because during that four-day period when I was faced with my mortality, the most overwhelming fear was for Caroline," she says. "I’m a working mother. I’m pulled between my work responsibilities and my child and this put my perspective back on my child. As a result of that, I never a missed school event, a game, a play or whatever else was important to her.”

When asked what advice she’d give to those confronting cancer — a tall order, especially for someone who has for years minimized the severity of her own experience — Candy Schiller's answer is twofold: “Be aware of what the people you love are going through, and be an advocate for yourself. My symptoms were the lump and also night sweats. I would go to bed on top of layers of towels.

"The doctors would say, ‘What do you expect?’ and told me I was pre-menopausal. Don’t ever trust a doctor who says ‘What do you expect?’ and inserts your age afterward. I knew something was wrong. How many clues did I choose to ignore? We all need to be in very close touch with our bodies and health.”

SOURCE: Culture Map Houston  by  Jeremy C. Little

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Angels pitching coach back after thyroid cancer surgery

Mike Butcher, the current pitching coach for the Los Angeles Angels, has recently recovered from papillary thyroid cancer, following surgery to remove a nodule on his thyroid gland, ESPN reports.

A former professional baseball player himself - he pitched in relief for the Angels between 1992 and 1995 - Butcher has been welcomed back by players, fans and hundreds of anonymous well-wishers, according to

The 45-year-old was first diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer in January, after a doctor checking him for bone spurs detected a small nodule on his thyroid gland. Butcher told the website that his diagnostician was amazed that the physician noticed the lump, since it ended up being approximately half a centimeter across.

Health authorities agree that a physician's prognosis is directly related to the size of a detected thyroid nodule. The Columbia University Department of Surgery notes that many papillary thyroid cancer nodules are too small to feel.

Butcher was relieved to find out that his thyroid cancer was in an early stage. On February 10, less than a month after his diagnosis, the coach had the nodule removed along with some of his lymph nodes, the Los Angeles Times reports.

He told the newspaper that his speech is largely unaffected, though he is still working on his ability to yell at his players.

Butcher told ESPN that his doctors assured him that his nearly 20-year tobacco chewing habit likely had nothing to do with the appearance of the disease, but the coach and cancer survivor has stopped chewing tobacco anyway.

"You'll never see me with a dip again, and I can say, 'Never,'" Butcher told the news source. He added that he appreciated the support of numerous people, many of them anonymous, during his quick recovery.

Butcher was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer just four years shy of the median age of diagnosis, which is 49, according to the National Cancer Institute. Approximately one in 111 Americans will be diagnosed with some form of thyroid cancer in their lifetime, the organization estimates.