Q&A: Dr. Alexandru Barboi Discusses NorthShore’s New Diagnostic Powerhouse

Friday, November 14, 2014 4:48 PM comments (0)

Dr BarboiThe NorthShore Neurological Institute recently opened a new autonomics laboratory with the assistance of Mayo Clinic experts. This emerging area of medicine identifies a rare nervous system disorder that can greatly impact the daily lives of patients. The lab comines the latest technology and a multidisciplinary team to offer patients comprehensive care for complex autonomics disorders.

Alexandru Barboi, MD, Director of the Neuromuscular and Peripheral Neurophysiology Program, answered questions on autonomic disorders and the new laboratory in Connections and continues his Q&A here:

What is the autonomic nervous system?
The autonomic nervous system controls subconscious and visceral functions, such as heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, salivation, perspiration, swallowing and more. 

What are some common symptoms of autonomic disorders?
Patients may have difficultly standing for longer periods of time, excessive dizziness, lightheadedness, exercise intolerance, gastrointestinal symptoms, bladder and sexual dysfunction and chronic pain. Because symptoms can occur in so many different regions of the body, autonomic disorders are often very challenging to diagnose. 

What does NorthShore’s autonomics lab offer?
Our lab provides state-of-the-art, noninvasive diagnostic testing. It’s one of the most comprehensive in the region. In addition to having sophisticated technology, the lab is staffed with specially trained technicians and a team of experts working together to diagnose and develop individualized treatment plans for adults and children ages seven and older.

Who is generally affected by autonomic disorders? Does it happen more often at a certain age or to someone with an already existing disorder?
Any age group can be affected. Both sexes, but it seems that women are more frequently affected early in life. It can happen in someone who is perfectly healthy but also in people that have an underlying medical condition like diabetes mellitus or Parkinson’s disease.

Do autonomic disorders get worse over time? Is there a range, mild to severe?
Yes they can get worse over time, ranging from mild to severe. They can be completely disabling.

At what point should a patient consider the possibility they might have an autonomic disorder? When should they consider testing?
Any combination of thermoregulation, sweating, cardiac, gut, bladder, sexual dysfunction and chronic neuropathic pain should be considered for an autonomic disorder. Testing always helps define the diagnosis, aids in planning treatment and establishes severity.

What causes an autonomic disorder?
Generally it can be caused by inherited or acquired disorders. The latter can be metabolic, inflammatory, traumatic, autoimmune and degenerative.

What sparked your interest in such a unique field?
My background in internal medicine and neurology and the interplay between both fields. 

What do you find most challenging about your work?
The most challenging part is understanding how an autonomic disorder affects each individual and also understanding how this disorder affects their emotional health too. It’s about harnessing the whole person to actively manage their condition.

What do you find most rewarding?
Definitely seeing patients improve, when they experience a return to having the “best day in my life that I can possibly have.”  As a doctor, when you see that moment in a patient, you never, never give up.

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Breaking Down the Carbohydrate: Good Carbs, Bad Carbs and Everything in Between [Infographic]

Wednesday, November 12, 2014 10:55 AM comments (0)

Don't just cut carbs! They are the primary source of energy for the human body, which means you can't do without them! When it comes to healthy diet that includes carbs, it's important to think in terms of quality over quantity.

The experts at NorthShore University HealthSystem break down the carbohydrate--the good, the bad and the necessary--in our latest infographic. Click on the image below to view our full infographic on the importance of the carbohydrate in your diet.

carb infographic

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Sick Days: What Are Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease and Herpangina?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 12:56 PM comments (0)

hand foot and mouthHand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is a typically mild but highly contagious viral infection most common in children under seven years of age. The illness is characterized by mouth or throat pain (due to sores), fever and a rash (typically involving the hands, feet, buttocks, arms and legs). The infection is caused by enteroviruses—most often coxsackie virus A16—which are transmitted from person-to-person by oral contact with stool, saliva, fluid from skin lesions or respiratory fluids via coughs or sneezes. Herpangina, also caused by enteroviruses, is a cluster of symptoms characterized by fever and mouth lesions (but no rash).  These illnesses are particularly common in child-care settings because of the frequency of contact and germ sharing between children and inadequate handwashing—especially after diaper changes or toilet use. The viruses can also be transmitted by contact with contaminated surfaces or objects, like toys.

Outbreaks occur most often in summer and fall but can happen anytime, especially if your child is in daycare. Kenneth Fox, MD, Pediatrician at NorthShore, shares symptoms parents should watch for and outlines ways you can make your child more comfortable while the virus runs its course: 

Symptoms of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease:

  • Small, painful sores in the throat or mouth, including cheeks, tongue and gums 
  • These lesions cause pain and difficulty swallowing
  • Small blisters or red spots classically located on hands, soles of the feet and between fingers and toes 
  • Fever
  • Decreased energy and appetite
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Respiratory symptoms like congestion, cough and “pink eye” (conjunctivitis)

Symptoms of Herpangina:

  • Fever
  • Painful red sores in mouth/throat (as above)
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Headache

Fever and mouth/throat pain usually last three to five days. Other symptoms, like mouth sores and rash (with HFMD) can last up to seven to ten days. The virus is shed orally for one to three weeks and in stool for two to three months after infection. While there are no cures for HFMD or herpangina, there are things you can do to make your child more comfortable during those first few days, as well as reduce the risk for dehydration which can occur because of pain and difficulty swallowing. 

What can parents do?

Keep little ones hydrated. Try Pedialyte or Gatorade to keep their electrolytes up. Also popsicles, ice chips and other frozen treats can replenish fluids while also helping with pain. 

Reduce pain or fever. Use Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen but check age-appropriate dosages before administering. 

Make swallowing easier. Eliminate salty, spicy or acidic foods to avoid further irritating mouth sores. Consider providing a variety of soft foods, like yogurt, pudding and rice. And always rinse mouth after meals. 

While it is not always possible to prevent your child from contracting hand, foot and mouth disease, you can reduce his or her risk, and your own. Here are some ways to keep your kids healthy and prevent the spread of HFMD in your home:

  • Wash hands with soap and water for 15-30 seconds and dry with disposable towel after using the toilet, changing diapers; after touching another child, the floor or contaminated surfaces; before eating meals or snacks; after coming in from outdoor play; after sneezing, coughing or wiping nose or eyes 
  • Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces and toys more than once a day
  • Avoid or prevent close contact like kissing, hugging, sharing utensils or cups 

If your child does get hand, foot and mouth disease, watch for these signs of complications:

  • Dehydration (dry mouth, pale skin and nails, no tears or urine, lethargy)
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Chest pain
  • Stiff neck
  • Mental status changes (inconsolable crying, confusion, poor balance, difficulty walking)

Have questions about hand, foot and mouth disease or any other pediatric illness? NorthShore's new online community, The Parent 'Hood, has answers. Join today to connect with other parents in the community as well as our expert physicans.  Click here to start now

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Recognizing the Signs of Domestic Violence

Friday, November 07, 2014 3:32 PM comments (0)

stop domestic violenceDomestic abuse is a pattern of violent behavior used to control a partner—spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend—and it can happen to anyone at any age and at any point in the relationship.

For many men and women who experience abuse at the hands of a partner, leaving isn’t easy.  Domestic abuse is a form of control and it can be extremely difficult for a victim to break free. There are many reasons why a victim might stay in an abusive relationship, from a fear of heightened violence to a belief that they, the victim, are to blame. 

Often support and encouragement from a friend may help the victim find the strength to seek help.  Do you think you might have a loved one, friend or coworker who might be suffering abuse at the hands of a partner?  The Domestic Violence Committee at NorthShore shares the signs of abuse you shouldn’t ignore: 

  • Withdrawing from friends and family or having few close friends.
  • Having to seek permission for meetings with friends or events with other people.
  • Limited access to money or resources.
  • Symptoms of depression or even suicidal thoughts.
  • Low self-esteem or appearing extremely apologetic. 
  • Bruises and injuries that look like they were not the result of an accident, particularly bruises or discolorations around the neck or wrists. Attempts to hide bruises with makeup or clothing.  

There is help available for victims of domestic violence. If you believe someone you know might be suffering in silence, help them find the information they need. Click on the sites listed to be directed to their pages: 

Apna Ghar is a Chicago-area agency for immigrants from East India. 

A Safe Place is a Lake County-area agency that offers counseling/shelter. 

Evanston YWCA offers counseling/shelter.

Between Friends is a Chicago-area agency.  

Lifespan is a Chicago and Des Plaines-area agency.

Shalva is a Chicago-area agency for Jewish families. 

IL Coalition Against Domestic Violence offers resources statewide. 

 

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The Harmful Effects of Smoking and the Health Benefits of Quitting [Infographic]

Wednesday, November 05, 2014 3:52 PM comments (0)

Smoking is more than just a bad habit; it’s the leading cause of preventative death worldwide. Each year, close to 400,000 people in the U.S. will die from smoking-related diseases like lung cancer, heart disease and stroke. 

As part of National Lung Cancer Awareness Month and the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, NorthShore University HealthSystem has created an infographic that explores the harmful effects of smoking and the big health benefits of quitting. Make today the day you break a deadly habit and begin to look forward to many healthier years ahead. 

Click on the image below to be directed to the full infographic

smoking infographic

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Prostate Cancer: Knowing Your Risks and Options

Monday, November 03, 2014 11:14 AM comments (0)

prostate cancerProstate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men. If detected and treated early, prostate cancer survival rates are high and associated with good functional outcomes. Brian Helfand, MD, PhD, Urologist at Northshore, answers questions about prostate cancer risk, PSA values, early signs and symptoms, recommended screening, as well as current treatment options for prostate cancer and recovery after treatment.  

What is a normal PSA?
I always tell my patients that you should compare your PSA to what is "normal" for your age group. Most men age 50 and younger have a PSA below 0.7ng/ml. For simplicity, you could use a cutoff of 1.0ng/ml. It’s important to point out that having a PSA value that is above your age group does not mean that you have prostate cancer. It does, however, mean that you are statistically at a slightly increased risk for being diagnosed with the disease. For that reason, you should continue to be screened with PSA on an annual basis at least. 

There are other factors that should go into the interpretation of PSA before deciding to perform a prostate biopsy and these include: PSA values that have been rising over time, family history of prostate cancer, African-American heritage and history of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Remember, PSA is not a perfect test but it has saved many lives and it’s still the best test for prostate cancer screening.

Guidelines for median PSA levels by age:

  • Age 40 to 49: 0.7 ng/mL median PSA
  • Age 50 to 59: 0.9 ng/mL median PSA
  • Age 60 to 69: 1.3 ng/mL median PSA
  • Age 70 to 79: 1.7 ng/mL median PSA

If there is a family history of the disease, does that increase your risk? When should someone with a family history of the disease begin screening?
Prostate cancer is one of the most inheritable of all cancers. As such, risk factors that are most associated with prostate cancer are first-degree family history (father, brother, uncle, etc.) and race (i.e. African-Americans). Based on statistics, a man with a first-degree connection to the disease is almost two times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than a man without a family history. Although there is some debate regarding the routine use of PSA screening, I’m a firm believer that if there is a family history, one should start undergoing annual PSA screening by the age of 40.

After treatment, how often should a patient return to their physician for further tests and screenings?
After surgery, patients should have an initial post-operative PSA in about four to six weeks and then every three to four months (based upon their urologist's preference). After two years of having an undetectable PSA, I suggest my patients get PSAs every six months.

Are there preventative measures that could potentially reduce one’s risk for developing the disease? 
It’s possible that a heart-healthy diet low in fats and simple sugars may help reduce one’s risk of developing prostate cancer. There is emerging evidence that obesity is a driving factor for benign growth of the prostate (referred to as BPH or benign prostatic hyperplasia) and that it could also contribute to one’s risk for prostate cancer. Extra weight may also make it harder to detect the disease until it is advanced. Obesity also is thought to contribute to prostate cancer recurrence. That’s why it’s important for men to realize that a heart-healthy diet can help keep their prostates healthy too!

How likely is a patient’s sexual function to be affected after treatment? What surgical options result in the best possible outcome as far as recovering sex life?
I tell my patients that your post-operative sexual function is significantly related to your age and pre-operative function. In general, treatment for prostate cancer (radiation or surgery) has never improved a man's erectile function. However, if a man is young, not diabetic or obese and had good erectile function prior to surgery, he has a very good chance of having normal erections post-op.

I believe that good, nerve-sparing surgery significantly helps with the recovery of erectile function. This can be done by a urologic surgeon who is trained in the technique and frequently performs the operation. In addition, I believe that all men should start (at minimum) a rehabilitation program before and immediately after surgery that helps to recover nerve function. This could involve taking drugs like Cialis before and after surgery.

If you do suffer from sexual dysfunction after prostate cancer treatment, what can you do to aid/improve recovery?
Unfortunately, there is no universal solution for every man but there are many different options that are available for treatment of sexual dysfunction after surgery. Prostate cancer patients should have an assessment of psychological function and desire for sexual activity following surgery. Many men get nervous about intimacy following surgery and an evaluation by a trained professional can help relieve a lot of this anxiety.  

If there are erectile issues after treatment, many men respond to simple medical therapies like Viagra and Cialis. This is often a starting point. If you fail to respond to these therapies, other interventions such as a vacuum erection device or injection therapies can be used to obtain an erection. As always, regular exercise and a heart-healthy diet help increases your chances of a successful recovery.

What are the differences between robotic laparoscopic surgery and conventional open prostatectomy in terms of recovery?
I think the answer is surgeon experience. There are many urologists who can perform open surgery with excellent outcomes (great cancer control, erectile function and continence). And there are many urologists who can perform robotic surgery with similar outcomes. It’s most important to be treated by an urologist who is comfortable and experienced with a radical prostatectomy. Having said that, robotic surgery has recently become the most commonly used surgical intervention for prostate cancer. When compared to open surgery, robotic surgery offers significantly less blood loss and a shorter hospital stay. Although not proven, it’s likely that the robotic surgery offers increased visualization of the area by the surgeon which provides an opportunity to spare more nerves and create a nice connection between the bladder and urethra. These are both associated with increased erectile function and increased continence.

What does active surveillance involve? Why would someone choose to do that instead of actively treat their cancer?
We have come to a "new era" of understanding prostate cancer and realized that many men have prostate tumors that may not harm them during their lifetime (benign-type prostate cancer). This is because many prostate tumors grow very slowly and other medical problems may ultimately harm a man before the prostate cancer spreads

Unfortunately, there is currently no diagnostic test that can tell whether one has a lethal prostate cancer or more benign-type tumor; therefore, we have developed a program of surveillance in which we avoid treating patients with prostate cancer until there is evidence that it has an aggressive component. This involves actively and regularly monitoring men through the use of PSA tests and prostate biopsies. While this does increase the number of times that a man is evaluated by an urologist, it avoids overtreatment, like unnecessary surgery or radiation that could cause erectile problems and/or incontinence. Currently, NorthShore University HealthSystem has the largest program in the Midwest.

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Fresh Recipe: Hearty Pumpkin Soup

Friday, October 31, 2014 9:00 AM comments (0)

pumpkin soupPumpkins aren’t just for decoration. They can and should be eaten too! Pumpkins are high in fiber and vitamin A, which can protect your vision, and full of flavor but still low in calories. So, when you head to the store or patch to grab one or two to meet your Halloween needs, don’t forget to snatch up one more for a healthy, tummy-warming fall recipe. 

Nothing says, "It's autumn!" quite like a warm, hearty bowl of soup. Katrina Herrejon, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator, Adult Endocrinology Group, shares her favorite recipe for pumpkin soup:

Recipe makes 4 servings
Serving size 1 cup

Ingredients:

  • 1 small pumpkin (pick a pumpkin that will yield 3 cups or 15 oz. of baked pumpkin “flesh”)*
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 large onion (9.4 oz.)
  • 1 medium red pepper (4.8 oz.)
  • 1 large carrot (4.8 oz.)
  • 4 cups vegetable broth (32 oz.)
  • 1/3 cup natural honey peanut butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste 
  • Roasted pumpkin seeds (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Remove the stem of the pumpkin, cut in half and remove the pulp and seeds.  
  3. Cut pumpkin into uniform pieces and bake for approximately 1 hour or until fork tender.
  4. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin from the pumpkin “flesh.” Set aside approximately 3 cups.
  5. Heat the oil in a large pot and cook the onion, pepper and carrot for about 5 minutes. 
  6. Add the pumpkin and broth to the pot and simmer for 5 more minutes.
  7. Puree the soup using an immersion blender.
  8. Add the peanut butter to the soup and stir until well incorporated.
  9. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  10. Garnish with roasted pumpkin seeds, if desired, and serve warm. 

*Store bought 100% pumpkin puree can be substituted if fresh pumpkin is unavailable.  If using pre-made pumpkin puree skip to step five on the instructions.

Nutrition Information (per serving): 
Calories: 266
Fat: 13g
Carbohydrate: 30g
Fiber: 7g
Protein: 7g

Do you have a healthy, yet delicious pumpkin recipe you traditionally make this time of year? 

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Finding Good in the Bad: Kayla Redig Found 100 Reasons to Be Thankful for Breast Cancer

Thursday, October 30, 2014 11:13 AM comments (0)

Kayla Redig celebrated as much as she could during her treatment for breast cancer but some days were harder than others. During a difficult time, a time when she felt like doing anything other than celebrating, she created a list of 100 reasons she was thankful for her cancer diagnosis. It became a way to focus her energy on what was ahead, on the friends and family helping her every step of the way, instead of what was happening right then.

Here, she shares some of her favorite entries from that difficult time:

kayla“Cancer kinda sucks. Everything is harder now than when I was first diagnosed. I’ve been caught in a pity party for a few days now and I figured the best way to get out of it was to stop being sad and start being thankful. But that’s hard because … you know what people with cancer think about all of the time? Cancer. There’s so much more to it than you could ever imagine. Right now the only thing curing my body is also destroying it. That takes a toll but I don’t want to just sit around and watch life happening. I must continue to take part in it all.” 

“When you’re told that you have a disease that could kill you but will definitely impact the rest of your life, you realize how short and unpredictable life really is. I’m trying to take in all the lessons that cancer has to offer me—lessons on growing up, taking care of myself and letting go of the things that hurt me. One of the biggest is finding the good in the bad, no matter how much I don’t want to. But I know it will be good for me.” 

A selection from “100 Reasons I’m Thankful I Was Diagnosed with Cancer”: 

Seeing the strength and love of so many of my friends and family. The outpouring of support has been amazing and it’s really neat to see the goodness of so many people. So many have dropped everything without hesitation to be there for me and, I swear, when I am able to again I will do the same for you. You think you know people and then something happens that changes everything; it’s then that you find out who they really are. For the most part, I am blown away by what I’m finding out.

Connecting with the Chicago Blackhawks. I always thought the boys in red were so far out of reach but I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with them enough now for Mr. Patrick Sharp to pick me out of a sea of fans. Did you catch that? PATRICK SHARP KNOWS THAT I EXIST. It made me feel like I was 14 all over again, like having your hunky crush say hi to you in the hallway. My face went bright red and I giggled like an idiot. 

Learning to speak up for myself. No more letting everyone else run the Kayla show. Being able to vocalize what’s important to me represents huge growth on my part. I know that I have to make myself a priority. “Growing a pair” is a process but it’s happening.

Experiencing old favorites like it’s the first time all over again. Kayaking! No one loves kayaking more than I do. When I was told no oceans or lakes, it was a huge letdown. But with a little rule breaking, I kayaked in the Pacific a week ago and in Lake Michigan a couple days ago. Water is magic. It seduces you. A "quick kayak" easily turns into a “however far I can go before my arms fall off” every time. The only thing that hurt more than my arms was my cheeks from smiling. I appreciate things so much more now.                                                                                                                     

The many nights I woke up yacking only to be given medicine and fed a bite or two of a rice cake by my parents. This might sound like a bad memory but how often do we have the pleasure of falling asleep in our parents’ arms after a certain age? How often do our parents get to hold us in their arms and watch us sleep? There was something special about being cared for like a child again. And I suspect there was something special about getting to parent and care for me in a way I have not needed in years. Maybe they couldn't take away the sick or the pain but they did take away the fear, even if just for a moment. How lucky am I to have such a wonderful family?

mustache dayI have many fun memories from Theme-o but my favorites are the ones that involved other patients. There were a lot of people who popped into my hospital room that day to see if the rumors were true, if Spiderman really was getting pumped full of spidey juice. We loved spreading smiles around the Kellogg Cancer Center. I made a lot of friends and connected with many patients. Plus, I'm always happy to take pictures. 

All of the celebrations! I loved forcing all my friends and family together to celebrate even the simplest occasion. I was desperate for fun. Never feeling alone is how I, we, got through this. Multiple pre-op parties made the whole ordeal feel more relaxed and recovery easier because I’d gotten some fun in before. Celebrating finishing everything was great too! I loved seeing everyone karaoke and dance together. Sometimes I'd start with a room full of strangers and everyone would be friends by the end. Great to see old and new faces and I loved dancing and laughing with you all!  

Getting the phone call that my path results came back clear. It was almost two weeks after my double mastectomy that I got the results back. Hearing that I was completely clear of cancer was just as shocking as finding out I had it. I casually told my parents the news and they were elated and I didn't really react. About 30 minutes later, I was in a ball in my laundry room sobbing my face off for the next two hours. I had become so accustomed to that life that I just assumed that's how it would always be. I never saw a life outside of cancer. This was the first time that I realized life wasn’t taken from me but being given to me.

TLC in the hospital. My medical team grew to be my family. It's an odd thing to miss a hospital but I truly do. The friendly faces and warm hugs from CDH and Evanston Hospital will always feel like home to me. Both locations had people on the ground with me when I crumbled and feeding me cake when I was victorious. My mom recorded me post-surgery this time and I couldn't thank my nurse Rita enough for all the TLC she gave me. I was out of my mind on drugs but I had no problem recognizing the way she made me feel. Have a great doctor? Did a nurse take good care of you? Thank them. They can't hear it enough.

I get to love the way I want to. When you look death in the eye, it makes you change the way you treat others. I have always been a lover, an over-the-top at times, enthusiastic, big-time lover. I have always tried to make sure all of my relationships know their value but I put even more into that now. Since people witnessed what I went through, I think it has made them more accepting and even inviting of this big love. I think they saw me get a second chance at life and are willing to let me live it and share it the way I want to. Love without being told to hold back. That's a gift I cherish.

Allows others to love the way they want to. I think seeing someone you care about fight cancer helps you let your guard down a little with your own feelings too. I’m so much closer with my family and friends now. No one is afraid to say how they feel and every interaction ends with "I love you." My friends and I have become much more affectionate. It's nice to hear, "I love you" and "Ok, one more hug!" No shame in the love fest happening here. 

Reimagine! Cancer welcomed me into another family—my Reimagine.me family! The folks in my office are amazing. It's fun to dream dreams with others. It's even better working together to make them come true. Survivorship is a sensitive time that doesn’t get a lot of attention, which makes me want to do all I can to bring Reimagine.me’s survivorship curriculum into treatment plans. Every day is spent pouring our energies into helping patients and caregivers take their lives back from cancer. With Reimagine comes a new job title: Professional Cancer Survivor. I’ve met many deserving of this title but none who get to write it on their tax forms. I love getting to apply life experience to my job AND incorporate everyone I love into it. They created a role for me and I'm working to own it.

Puberty 2.0. Puberty is a time when you go through crazy changes, both physical and emotional. You react in ways you can't explain. And then one day you wake up in an unrecognizable body. Most of us cringe at the memories of puberty and most would never want to do it again. Cancer has a lot of similarities.  Chemo screwed with my hormones and Tamoxifen has kept it up. My body has been altered. I've been hit with emotions that left me feeling out of control. In a month, my bandages will be removed and I'll have another new body to figure out. But this time around I'm actually excited. I became so detached from my physical self over the past year in an effort to cope. But now I have a whole new body to get to know/embrace and I'm actually looking forward to doing it. It happened so awkwardly the first time. I'm stoked to embark on an own-your-bod do-over. It's an important part to being a strong woman and healthy human. Fingers crossed for a more graceful transformation this time around.

I can help more people now. My heart breaks when I get a text saying, "My friend was just diagnosed with cancer," because I have an idea of what's in store but I love when the next text asks if they can give out my number for advice. PLEASE GIVE THEM MY NUMBER! PLEASE ASK FOR WAYS TO HELP! Other cancer survivors I meet are little branches of support I cling to. What was the point of fighting if I can't also help other patients or caregivers? Cancer becomes a gift when I have the opportunity to support others. I've racked my pea brain for ways I could directly work to cure cancer but I'm not laboratory material; I am friend material. Cancer peeps are my peeps. I'm in the club for life and happy to contribute however I'm able.

I've always said my dream job would be "Professional Friend." If I can be a source of strength or motivation for others, that's great. More than that, I hope I can be a voice of comfort and safety to those who hear me. Half of friendship is helping someone feel less alone. Maybe if people can relate to my cancer journey, to drowning in stress and emotions, or to not being able to recognize their reflection, they'll feel a little bit of hope. Sometimes strength comes from knowing even one person out there gets it. 

Happy returns. I'm really happy out in California. I feel a strong sense of purpose and thoroughly enjoy my surroundings. It would be easy to stay out here and keep moving in a new direction but even when you're cancer free, you're not free from cancer. I will always have scans and appointments in my future. My medical team happens to consist of a bunch of all-stars that I never plan on leaving. So, even though I love my sunny skies and ocean, I'm thankful to be forever tied to the Chicago-land. I like knowing that no matter where life takes me, I’ll always have one place as a constant. Luckily for me it happens to be home to some of the greatest people I've ever known. I'll keep coming back to you guys for as long as you'll let me.

New people. Lovely people were a part of my life before cancer and would have continued to be without it, but, that being said, I'm not sure that I would have had the privilege of sneaking onto the Skinner family's radar without it. I don't know that I would have spent a week in Nicaragua and met my favorite Caitie who introduced me to roommates that I know will be lifelong friends. Given the option I wouldn't choose life as a cancer patient but I definitely would never change it. Some people can make anything seem worthwhile.

I'm thankful cancer happened because it provided me with opportunities to grow and better myself and it gave me a fresh start on life. The world is more beautiful and everyone is precious. Second chances are a luxury. I have a better understanding of what I almost lost and I'm not going to waste this gift.

 

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Act FAST: Patient Maureen Pekosh Shares Her Story of Recovery Following a Stroke

Wednesday, October 29, 2014 1:14 PM comments (0)

stroke blog small

A stroke, which is also sometimes referred to as a "brain attack," occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted. If the brain does not receive a continuous supply of blood, brain cells begin to die within seconds. That's why time is of the essence when it comes to the treatment of a stroke. Unfortunately, perhaps more than one-third of people having a stroke will not call 911 to access what could be lifesaving treatment. 

Patient Maureen Pekosh discusses how receiving treatment within two hours of her stroke and the collaborative efforts of the NorthShore Neurological Institute's Acute Stroke Team made her remarkable recovery possible.

Join us on Saturday, November 15th from 10-12 p.m. for a free morning event--Prevention and Treatment of Stroke. Neurologists and neurosurgeons from NorthShore and the Mayo Clinic will provide attendees with information on the latest innovations in advanced diagnosis and treatment. For more information and to register to attend click here. 

Don't ignore the signs of a stroke. Always remember to act FAST:

Facial droop
Arm and/or leg weakness or numbness
Speech or language difficulty
Timing, or get medical attention immediately 

 

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Dr. Catherine Pesce, Breast Cancer Surgeon: Motivated by Her Mother, Inspired by Her Patients

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 3:13 PM comments (0)

dr pesce

Catherine Pesce, MD, Surgical Oncology, discovered her passion for surgery as a pre-med major in college. It was during her second year as a surgical resident, sadly after her mother died of colon cancer, that she knew where her heart would take her: surgical oncology.

Here, she tells us why she was drawn to specializing in breast cancer and describes the personal impact her patients have on her:

(Click on Dr. Pesce's image to listen to her interview on NorthShore Health & Wellness.)

When did your interest in medicine develop? 
In school, math and science always came easiest to me. So, as a student at Duke University, I took a chance and enrolled in pre-med. My sophomore year, Duke offered a program for pre-med students that gave them the opportunity to shadow any kind of physician, so, randomly, I chose cardiothoracic surgery. What an opportunity to watch heart surgery every Friday!

After ten minutes in the operating room, I was hooked. That was in that moment that I absolutely fell in love with surgery. I just couldn’t get over the fact that surgeries like that happen every day, and I knew that my passion for surgery would only grow over time.

What led you to surgical oncology, specifically breast cancer?
During my general surgery residency, I was exposed to every surgical specialty in order to figure out what felt “right” for me as a future surgeon. But it was during my second year in residency that my mother died of colon cancer; and I knew from that point on, my heart was in oncology.

As I was exposed to the many different operations we completed for various types of cancer, I was naturally drawn to breast cancer patients. As a woman, I felt an innate ability to relate to other women. More than anything, however, I felt so rewarded by the huge impact I could have on a breast cancer patient’s life. When breast cancer is caught early, it’s easily treatable and regularly curable. There is nothing more rewarding than being involved in that process. Having a patient beat the disease and move on with her life, which, unfortunately, is not always the case with other types of cancers, is truly what brings me the most joy as a physician.

What is the biggest challenge of working in surgical oncology?
Unfortunately, in my line of work I have to share bad news nearly every day. While no woman wants to hear she has breast cancer, I make it my priority to comfort, encourage and clearly communicate our plan to fight the disease so we can work together. 

What do you find most inspiring about your patients?
I have been blown away by the grace and humility patients exude during their cancer treatment. More than once, I’ve actually had a patient say, “I’m glad this happened. It has made me re-evaluate my life; realize what’s important, how loved I am and how important it is to take care of myself.” It brings me to tears witnessing such strength and dignity.

What’s new now that many women might not know as far as treatment and surgery for breast cancer?
I am most excited about a new surgical procedure we have recently adopted at NorthShore to remove breast tumors. When a cancer is discovered from a patient’s mammogram and cannot be felt with the human hand, traditionally, a wire is placed into the breast by a radiologist and then, in the operating room, the wire is used by the surgeon to guide where the tumor to be excised is located in the breast. The wire method has many disadvantages, including patient satisfaction; the possibility of wire displacement; long procedure times on the day of surgery; as well as wire inaccuracy that sometimes requires a surgeon perform multiple surgeries in order to properly remove the tumor.

Recently, we have begun using radioactive seeds to locate cancers instead of wires. The seeds are implanted into the breast cancer with no radioactivity risk to the patient. The seeds can be inserted by the radiologist up to five days before surgery, which eliminates the logistical challenges between the radiology department and operating room schedules.

In the operating room, the surgeon uses a handheld gamma probe to guide excision of the tumor and seed in an easier, more precise manner. Already, prospective clinical trials have shown a decrease in the need for multiple operations compared to the wire localization method. In addition, no other hospital in the state of Illinois currently offers the use of radioactive seeds. NorthShore is a pioneer and standout in the use of this advanced technological surgical technique.

What makes the NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center unique?
The treatment of breast cancer requires a multidisciplinary approach, and the Kellogg Cancer Center has a system in place to accomplish exactly that. We can collaboratively walk each patient step-by-step through the process. From a patient’s first abnormal mammogram and biopsy to surgery, consultations with medical oncology, radiation oncology and survivorship, the Kellogg Cancer Center has an experienced, collaborative team of specialists who provides a comprehensive and compassionate approach to breast cancer treatment for every patient.

What advice would you give women newly diagnosed with breast cancer?
I want newly diagnosed women to know that they are not alone. While this journey will have its ups and downs, they have a team of doctors who are there for them every step of the way.

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