Finding the Balance…

Ever since I was a youngster, I was never big on the idea of idle time.  My list of extracurricular activities in high school still makes me feel overwhelmed; however, I can’t say that much has changed.  Thus, I am still trying to establish a healthy balance between marathon training, marathon fundraising, my full-time job at Dana-Farber, taking care of Gus, snuggling with Kiley, spending QT with Donny, and of course, the normal to-do’s (shopping, cleaning, etc).

With that being said, this morning I was able to take some time to just chill with Gus.  We spent some time working on one of my favorite Penn State fight songs in hopes that he’ll be ready to go by next season.  He also decided to shoot another video of none other than himself.  Thus, I felt compelled to share Gussy’s Sunday Morning Sing-Along.  Enjoy!

If you think Gus (the miracle baby) is awesome and want to give other pediatric cancer patients a shot at having their own children one day, please consider donating.

A snowy long-run.

As I looked at the forecast on Friday evening, I started wondering if our weekly Saturday DFMC group long-run was going to take place.  The Weather Channel was announceing a winter storm warning and called for 3-5″ of accumulation in the morning and early afternoon.  Since I lived almost my entire life in Buffalo and Northern Vermont, I regularly welcome snow and was not scared to drive or run in grizzly weather.  However, this was going to be the first real snowfall in Boston and I knew what that meant… everyone else was going to try to remember how to drive in the snow again and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be around when people remembered that they should not brake while round turns.  Unfortunately, our group run was departing from a location that was a solid 30 minutes from our house.  Thus, I made an executive decision not to put myself on the roads during the worst part of the snowfall.  Instead, I decided to attempt a solo 12-14 mile run.

Heading Out
I geared up to head out and made sure I was fully equipped to weather the storm (and get my miles in).  The list included: a top and bottom baselayer, water resistant top layer, compression socks, my favorite fleece vest, new running shoes, camel back, Yaktrax, Gu, iPod, and phone.  The boys volunteered to join me on the last 3 miles so I planned a route that would allow for this.

Highlights from the Run
The paths along the river were full of snow so the Yaktrax were a huge plus.  The hose on my camel back almost froze up within the first mile so from then on I had to regularly take sips to prevent a complete freeze.  By the time I embarked across the Harvard Bridge (mile 4-5), my face and eyebrows started freezing a little.

The End
The last 3 miles were definitely the best.  Not only did I have an opportunity to run with Gus and Donny but the path was mostly cleared (thank you town of Cambridge).  Gus was somewhat unhappy that he had to sit in the jogging stroller and continued to insist that he get out and run with us.  Although the whining was a little annoying, I secretly was excited that I may have a little buddy to run with some day down the road.  After 12 miles were completed, I decided to call it quits.  Without a doubt, I worked much, MUCH harder for these 12 miles than I ever had in the past.  Gus and I thought it was appropriate to take “a muscles picture” before heading into the backyard to play.

Frozen eyelashes and eyebrows have never looked better.


Flexing and trying to smile despite having a frozen faces.

Play time!

An Appeal for a Bald Barbie

An estimated 12,060 new cases of cancer are expected to occur in children under 15 in 2012, as reported by the American Cancer Society.  Although boys have slightly higher rates of cancer than girls, that means there will be a lot of little girls that end up without hair this year.  Yet, very little attention is given to these thousands of girls in the form of accessible role-models.  We’re all surrounded by images that demonstrate that beauty = long flowing hair (exhibit A: Disney Princesses).  So what happens when the girls lose their hair?  The same hair they played with as they pretended they were Belle or Aurora, is now gone.     Needless to say, once they lose their hair, their role-models become limited.

It is true- if you are old enough, you eventually embrace the baldness and even go as far as to profess that ‘bald is beautiful.’  But this can take a while.  At the beginning, it is really hard to look at yourself in the mirror and genuinely see yourself as “beautiful.”  Cancer treatment starts out by making you feel lousy, changes your body, and then takes your hair.  Your old definition of beauty is gone.  In our society, hair is a big thing.  For prom, you get your hair done.  For your wedding, you get your hair done.  When you start to go grey, you get highlights.  Unfortunately, it is an inescapable reality and many times, an utterly annoying thing to deal with once your hair is gone.

As a young cancer patient, I wasn’t thrilled about losing my hair but one day, when my hair looked pretty gnarly because a large majority had fallen out, my dad shaved my head.  I’m pretty sure my mom cried but at that point, I realized that hair does not have to define you.  In fact, the lack of hair can be more defining.  It shows that you’re confident in who you are and that you’re not ashamed of the tough times you’re going through.  Instead, the baldness in all of it’s glory let’s you show off that you are in the middle of a one of kind life journey.  Don’t get me wrong- this took a long time and I know plenty of children and adults that never reached this point.  

That is why I support the movement that is encouraging Mattel to make a Bald Barbie.  Little girls love dolls, especially Barbie.  So how crappy is it that not one Barbie, not one, is without hair.  Sure, the girls can cut the hair off but we all know how hard it is to fool little girls.  They somehow know the difference between their parents making them feel better and an actual “Cancer Barbie.”  

Proof That We’re Making a Difference.

I believe a certain amount of curiosity and/or skepticism lies within people not directly involved in the cancer medical and research fields.  All too often, I see posts or hear comments where people go as far as saying, “alleged cancer research,” and imply that nothing is actually going on.  Thus, I wanted to share an excellent example of how the DFMC team IS making a difference in the fight cancer (and it’s hot off the press).  

Progress in Real-Time
Today, one of our esteemed DFMC physicians, Dr. Bruce Spiegelman, was published in the journal, Nature.  Yes… Nature.  In the research world, this is a big deal.  I know what you’re thinking- “people get published in journals all the time.” (heck- I have 4 published studies.) But, the thing you need to know is whatjournal you’re published in, makes all the difference.  You’ve likely heard of Nature and that is exactly how you know that this is a big deal.

One of the more famous nature covers.

The Skinny  
Obesity has been estimated to contribute to the development of 10% to 15% of human cancers. That’s a lot when you consider that 1.6 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year in the US alone.  Hypothetically, advancement in this area, especially in the form of prevention, could result in 160,000–240,000 less cases a year in the US…  but I’m getting ahead of myself.    

Dr. Bruce Spiegelman’s work, supported by the DFMC team, has demonstrated that obesity causes many body-wide alterations in metabolism, hormone levels, and inflammation, and that these abnormalities may affect the development and progression of cancers. Understanding how obesity leads to these disruptions has provided new insights into the development of cancers in general and will lead to new therapeutic interventions. 

Dr. Spiegelman in his lab.

Specifics (kind of)
A potential new therapeutic intervention is exactly what today’s article in Nature discussed.  As explained by, “a hormone has been discovered that is secreted by muscles during exercise and boosts the amount of energy the body burns.”  As mentioned above, this finding obviously holds a great deal of potential in creating new anti-obesity drugs and thus, cancer prevention.  In fact, it holds so much potential that a “Boston startup company, Ember Therapeutics, has already licensed the technology and is working to develop a form of the hormone that could be used as a drug that would mimic some of the benefits of exercise.”  

The Science
One of the focuses of Dr. Spiegelman’s research has been answering questions about the formation and nature of “brown fat,” a type of fat that burns energy rather than storing energy. Spiegelman and his colleagues discovered that the hormone, which they named Irisin, after the Greek messenger goddess, triggers changes to ordinary “white” fat that makes them resemble brown fat and increase energy expenditure.  When they induced greater levels of the hormone in obese, pre-diabetic mice over a short period, they saw slight weight loss, increased energy expenditure, and improvements in insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes.”

Even without being a scientist, the difference is evident.

“It’s a hormone made by muscle, put into the blood, and with exercise it increases,” Spiegelman said. “It seems to embody some of what exercise is known to do, which is have an anti-diabetes, anti-obesity effect.”  Clearly, Dr. Spiegelman still has his work cut out for him and hopes to answer many more questions including:

  • How does the message sent by muscle to fat cells get translated? 
  • What is the cellular component (or receptor) that receives the message?

So Now What?
In the history of modern medicine, prevention has played a defining role (think life before vaccines – we’ve all played the game, the Oregon Trail).  Although Dr. Spiegelman’s research will likely shed a great deal of light onto the development of cancers thereby developing new treatments, it will undoubtedly help the prevention as well.  Preventing or reversing obesity may be the ticket to lowering the incidence of certain cancers as well as other common diseases including diabetes.  

Needless to say, this is a major step in medicine as a whole and additionally brings to light the need for us to focus on our own health.  As mentioned earlier, Dr. Spiegelman and other researchers have demonstrated this undeniable link between obesity and cancer.  As it is still the beginning of a new year, I encourage you to take your health into your own hands and lower your risk of getting cancer by eating right and exercising.  You know you want to start producing more Irisin!!!   A special thank you to my Dana-Farber colleague, Jess, for discovering this article and passing it along to me so quickly. 

Group-Run and Gus Time

The DFMC Team Hits the Streets
This morning at 8 am, about 50 Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge runners took to the streets of Watertown and started heading out to run “the hills” of the Boston Marathon course.  We found ourselves at Mile 22 of the official course after a 2.5 mile run south.  At that point, we headed west (toward Hopkinton) to first run the course in reverse.  Although some of the more adventurous runners pulled out a 16 miler today, my running partners and I opted for the more desirable distance of 12 miles.  Despite the shorter distance, we did have some QT with the official course and of course, the infamous hills.

01.08.12 Group Run Route

The Hills
We did not run all 4 Newton Hills today but Heartbreak was definitely on the list.  Before we attempted to run up the beast, we first ran down 3 of the 4 hills.  Running downhill is actually an important component of training for Boston since the first 7 miles of the course is one big downhill trek, which many first-timers don’t take into consideration.  The downhill portion didn’t last forever though because once we hit our turnaround point, it was only uphill for the next 3.5 miles.  Thus, our battle with Heartbreak Hill took place about 7 miles into the run (considerably earlier than when we’ll see it on race day).  I had the extreme honor of running the hills with two amazing women who provided constant motivation throughout today’s run.  Eileen, a team veteran, is a 7 year breast cancer survivor back for her third Boston marathon.  Although a novice marathon runner, my other running partner today, Patty, is nothing short of pure inspiration.  She is taking on the challenge of training for Boston while still undergoing treatment for breast cancer… oh yeah, and working full-time!  Patty shared with us the great news that she wraps up her radiation treatment this week.  Congrats, Patty!  

One of my running partners, Eileen,
as she crossed the finish in 2011.

The End Result
We finished our 12 mile run in about 2:20.  Although it was not a marathon winning time, it is hard to debate how great the run was.  I met new teammates and caught up with old ones.  I got an opportunity to enjoy the absolutely gorgeous day with bluebird skies and great temps (at least for January in New England). And the best part – it was all before others managed to eat breakfast.

Quality Time with Gus
Post run and nap, I spent a lot of time with Gus (aka the Miracle baby).  As you may recall from my post in November, I managed to kill my cell phone in a rainy run home – in summary, it drowned.  Despite my attempts to dry the phone for well over two weeks, I was forced to buy a new one.  After waiting months, our entire family ventured into the Verizon store.  After a painfully long decision making process (just ask my husband who followed me around to each phone as I tried to see which would take better pictures of my sprinting toddler), I settled on the Droid Razr.  There were many things on the phone that I was pumped about; the HD camera, the Android Platform, the nice big screen.  However, the front-facing camera was NOT one of them… that was until this afternoon.  Little did I know, the same feature that 12 year-olds obsess over because it allows them to take pictures of themselves with friends to post on Facebook, also entertains 2 year-olds!  Thus, I wanted to share with you Gussy’s first “session” with the front-facing camera.

***Check back tomorrow for Part II of My Cancer Story***