NFCR Writer Sarah Hodges, Author at NFCR

NFCR Writer Sarah Hodges

5 Ways to Care for Mom with Cancer

A cancer diagnosis is a devastating blow for anyone to experience, but when you find out your mom has cancer, your whole world turns upside down. 

After a lifetime of Mom nursing your wounds and taking care of you when you’re sick, suddenly you may have to be the caretaker.  You have to be the cheerleader.  You have to be the support system.  

And in those days following her cancer diagnosis, you probably never appreciated her more. 

This role reversal probably has you asking yourself, “How can I best care for my mom with cancer?”  So here are five items we compiled based on our conversations with cancer survivors and caretakers.

1. Ask her what she needs – specifically.

Mom probably knows exactly what she needs in this difficult time, but she may not want to ask for it.  Asking for help can be really uncomfortable even when we’re sick, so let Mom know that she can ask for help, and she can be specific about it.  She may find it helpful for you to mop the floor, but because of her cancer diagnosis, she may need it cleaned in a specific way with special cleaning supplies.  Make sure Mom knows that there is no request too specific.  You want to make her comfortable.

2. Bring a positive outlook.

A cancer diagnosis can bring depression right along with it.  When you’re visiting your mom, try to stay positive and hopeful, and don’t feel guilty about telling her wonderful news about your life.  She wants you to be happy, and she will share in your joy.

3. Make her feel special – but also normal.

You appreciate Mom more than ever right now, so don’t be afraid to show her that.  Get her the special gift that you may not have splurged on in the past.  Say the things you always wanted to say.  — But also, don’t be weird.  Talk to her about normal events, share your life’s little stressors, and confide in her the way you always have.  In other words, still let Mom feel like Mom.

4. Take care of yourself.

Your mom can’t stop worrying about you.  It’s never going to happen.  You can tell her not to worry about you and to just focus on getting better, but she’s not going to stop worrying.  So, the biggest gift you can give Mom is to take care of yourself.  Take care of your health, get your rest, live a healthy lifestyle, and prioritize what’s important.  Only when your mom knows that you’re taking care of you, will she be able to focus on taking care of herself.

5. Respect her journey.

One of the most difficult things about supporting another person through cancer treatment, is respecting their choices.  Whether it’s choosing to undergo an experimental treatment or choosing not to engage in cancer-preventing lifestyle choices, we don’t always agree with the path that our loved one takes.  Whether or not you agree with the path that Mom chooses, respect her.  That will provide her with what she needs most of all right now: your unconditional love.

Do you have a suggestion of how to best care for Mom with cancer?  Did we miss something important from the list?  Please comment below!

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Healthy Environment = Healthy Bodies

Earth Day 2018

As we celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd of this year, we collectively draw attention to common environmentally friendly habits: use less plastic, reduce chemicals in the environment, cut down on air pollutants, and choose environmentally friendly farm products.

This list of eco-friendly tips and tricks, however, drastically overlaps with common cancer prevention recommendations. While avoiding the use of plastic is good for the external environment, it’s also good or our internal environment, as it reduces the ingestion of carcinogenic byproducts, such as BPA.

Eating organic foods and avoiding chemical fertilizers is another great reminder on Earth Day, but it’s also an important cancer prevention recommendation. Most recently, the chemical fertilizer Round-Up was correlated with the development of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – a good reminder to avoid ingesting and using potentially dangerous chemicals in our daily lives.

Protect our Planet. Protect our Lives.

So, as we celebrate Earth Day, it’s interesting to notice the overlap between protecting our planet and protecting our bodies from cancerous mutations. Is it possible that a healthier planet earth will also mean a healthier humanity? By protecting and preserving our external environment, could we also protect and preserve our internal environment?

Our planet is not just a giant rock. Earth is a living, breathing ecosystem of which we are an integral part. It is our life source. By caring for the earth, we are caring for our bodies. By preserving the earth, we are preserving our lives.

What Can You Do?

The National Foundation for Cancer Research is spending millions of dollars a year to fund breakthrough science in oncology labs to find the cure for cancer, but today we are not just asking for donations.

We want you to ask yourself this question: 

“What is one small change I can make that will both protect the planet and protect my body from cancer?”

Leave your commitment in the comments below:

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Rare Disease Day: Sarcoma

Sarcoma: rare disease day
Rare Disease Day falls on the last day of February each year, raising awareness to support the millions of people worldwide who are suffering from nearly 7,000 different types of rare diseases. In the United States, a disease falls into the ‘rare disease’ category when it effects fewer than 1 out of every 200,000 people, reaching an estimated 25-30 million Americans. 

Rare diseases are difficult to diagnose and even more difficult to treat. For many years, pharmaceutical companies did not take an interest in researching solutions for rare diseases because the return on investment helped so few people. Therefore, the United States government passed the Orphan Drug Act of 1983 to financially incentivize the development of treatment for rare diseases, including rare cancers.

Rare Cancer: Sarcoma

Rare cancers, such as sarcoma, also receive attention on Rare Disease Day. Sarcoma is so rare that it represents only approximately 1% of all new cancer diagnosis, and just 16,000 patients are diagnosed in the United States each year.

Sarcoma is cancer of the connective tissue, so it is found in the bones, fat tissue, cartilage or muscles. This is different from carcinoma, which is cancer found in an organ or gland, such as the breast or prostate.

Sarcomas are divided into two subtypes: bone sarcoma and soft tissue sarcoma, with soft tissue sarcoma being the most prevalent. However, these two subtypes have approximately 70 different classifications combined. This makes sarcoma a very complex cancer to treat.

Treatment of Sarcoma

Sarcoma is typically treated with a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, but there is sometimes a risk of the sarcoma reappearing somewhere else in the body.

With recent advancements in research, however, new treatments in immunotherapy are providing hope for sarcoma patients. Adoptive T cell therapy is particularly gaining traction due to its ability to modify the patient’s own T cells to seek out and attack molecules found on the cancer cells. 


Advancements in immunotherapy provides hope to sarcoma patients, but treating this cancer still requires a tremendous amount of guesswork due to the many different classifications. 

Rare Disease Day reminds of the important mission of organizations like the National Foundation for Cancer Research. Together, we can support groundbreaking research in the lab to find better treatments for patents with rare cancers.


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National Cancer Prevention Month

February is National Cancer Prevention Month. 

As the National Foundation for Cancer Research, we want to share in the important message of cancer prevention.  Cancer risk can be decreased with simple healthy lifestyle changes and early detection testing.

But do you really need another article reminding you to stop smoking or to wear sunscreen?  Do you need another article to emphasize the importance of exercise and healthy eating?  Do you need us to tell you to get your annual checkup?

We write several articles a month focused on prevention.  We explain exactly why certain lifestyle choices increase the risk of cancer.  We dig so deep into the science, that we often discuss how the mechanisms within the cell are impacted. 

Yet despite the entire nation coming together this month to raise awareness about cancer prevention, many of us still don’t exercise.  We don’t choose healthy foods.  We don’t wear sunscreen.  Some of us even smoke and drink excessively.  – All while fully knowing the cancer risks. 


Why, despite an onslaught of cancer preventions messages in mass media, do we still choose to engage in lifestyle behaviors that we know directly increase our risk for cancer?  Why do we continue to skip our annual checkups? 

It comes down to how much we value ourselves.

When we bring a beloved new puppy into our home, we want to give it the best care possible.  We feed it the best food we can find, make sure it has plenty of physical activity, and take it to the vet for regular checkups.  We love and value our puppy, so we care for our puppy. 

So often in life, we let everything else come first: work, bills, family…  We get stuck on the treadmill of achievement, always chasing the allusive carrot.   Worst of all, we sometimes cut ourselves down for falling short of perfection.

We deserve more. 

We deserve to value and love ourselves just as much, if not more, then our new puppy.   We deserve to give ourselves the best nutrition, make time for movement and exercise, and go for our annual checkups. 

Cancer prevention isn’t just about litany of how-to’s and don’t-do’s.  It’s about loving ourselves enough to believe that we deserve the best self-care possible, and then showing that love.

Please take a moment to share this important message with your friends.

Sign up for our newsletter, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest research and cancer prevention tips. 

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Presidential Cancer

Presidential cancer diagnoses were historically kept secret. President Grover Cleveland successfully hid his 1893 tumor removal for almost twenty-five years. Even as late as 1967, President Lyndon Johnson underwent a covert skin cancer removal operation. 

Why were these cancer diagnoses concealed? Historically, cancer was a likely death sentence, and revealing the prognosis could have alarmed the public. 

Developing research in cancer treatment, however, has significantly altered how the oval office handles presidential cancer. In 1985, President Ronald Reagan was the first trailblazer, announcing that he had surgery to remove both colon cancer polyps, and skin cancer on his nose.

New cancer therapies, treatments, and early diagnostics have significantly improved the life expectancy of cancer patients, so announcing a presidential cancer diagnosis is now less likely to alarm the public. Donations to foundations such as the National Foundation for Cancer Research have facilitated groundbreaking research in the lab, giving new hope to all cancer patients – including presidents.
Most recently, President Jimmy Carter made headlines after taking an immunotherapy drug that empowered his immune system to fight his cancer. Despite the grim prognosis that patients normally receive when melanoma metastasizes to the liver and brain, as it did with President Carter, doctors tried radiation and the immunotherapy treatment pembrolizumab.

Research has facilitated a better understanding of how tumors interact with the body’s immune system.A tumor can protect the cells surrounding itself by inhibiting the immune system. This particular drug works by stripping the tumor of its immune-inhibiting powers, thereby leaving cancerous cells defenseless so the body’s immune system can kill them off.

Thankfully, after three months of scans that showed no signs of tumors, President Carter announced that he no longer needed to receive immunotherapy treatments. 

Immunotherapy is just one of many breakthrough cancer treatments that researchers are arduously studying. At the National Foundation for Cancer Research, we will continue to fund these labs, but we cannot do it without your help. Please consider making a donation today so that someday everyone can live cancer free. 


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Love Lessons from Cancer

I sang at my little brother’s wedding almost nine years ago, as he and his new bride lit the unity candle and looked into each other’s eyes. He was just twenty-one years old, and she was only twenty. 

For the next decade, Danielle and Brandon filled their lives with what mattered most: Love. 

Love carried them through Brandon’s basic training in the Air Force. Love strengthened their bond during five moves across the country for his job as an air traffic controller. Love brought their two young boys into this world.

Love held them up when Brandon was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Love gave them the fortitude to endure twelve rounds of chemo, thirty-three rounds of radiation, an immunotherapy drug, and a stem cell transplant.

And when the oncologist told Danielle that there was nothing more they could do, it was their love that gave her the strength to say goodbye.

I sang at my little brother’s funeral almost five months ago, as his bride looked at the body of her husband. She was only twenty-eight. 

For those of us who have lost a loved one to cancer, Valentine’s Day is bittersweet. This holiday can easily send us into a downward spiral that elicits more feelings of loneliness than romance.

So, let us follow Danielle’s example, who finds solace today because she now knows what it truly means to love and be loved in return.

If you want to honor a loved one this Valentine’s Day, please consider supporting breakthrough oncology research efforts by visiting the National Foundation for Cancer Research’s dedicated Rose Fund page. You can also learn more about the program by viewing NFCR’s Honor & Memorial page.  

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Ejaculation & Prostate Cancer

A recent study concluded a positive correlation between frequent ejaculation and a reduced risk of prostate cancer. Research has suggested this relationship for years, but a 2016 longitudinal cohort study surveyed nearly 32,000 men across several age groups for 18 years.

The study, which was the largest sample size to ever test this hypothesis, concluded that men who ejaculate over 20 times per month were on average 20% less likely to develop prostate cancer. More importantly, the study reported that as ejaculation frequency increased, rates of prostate cancer decreased. 

Despite the nature of these findings, there are several unknowns and limitations that must be addressed. Most notably, this study relied on the men to self-report their sexual history and ejaculation frequency, leaving tremendous room for error due to potentially inflated responses. The survey also combined all experiences of orgasm, including wet dreams, masturbation, and sexual intercourse. This may have influenced the study because the ratio of sperm to chemicals in ejaculate has been found to alter depending on the stimulus. However, the study did make a point to adjust for lifestyle behaviors and other important elements, such as Body Mass Index, sexual history and vasectomy history.  

Although this study does not prove that ejaculation prevents cancer, it does indicate an interesting correlation that has many researchers pondering the underlying mechanism.  Why might ejaculation be associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer?

The study proposed several potential answers. One was that ejaculation may suppress the sympathetic nervous system by relieving tension and slowing “the stimulation of prostate epithelial cell division.” However, more research needs to be done in order to truly unveil the mechanism behind why frequent ejaculation could potentially protect men from prostate cancer.


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Shame & Cancer

woman in the dark feeling shameUpon diagnosis, many cancer patients naturally evaluate how their lifestyles could have contributed to their fate. They may believe their cancer was self-inflicted and experience a deep sense of shame, saying to themselves phrases such as:

“Why couldn’t I stop smoking? What’s wrong with me?”

“I should have eaten healthier. Why couldn’t I pull it together?”

This sense of shame can dramatically affect the cancer patient psychologically, but it can also ignite a profound physiological impact. In the lab, researchers have been able to recreate feelings of shame to test this cascade of physiological and psychological after-effects. 

Despite our societal belief that shame is a strong motivator for improved behavior and habits, researchers have discovered that the opposite is true. Shame has been linked with withdrawal, inactivity, and an increased intake of sugars and fats. Therefore, it is possible that feelings of shame regarding a cancer diagnosis could make it more difficult for patients to adhere to positive lifestyle changes as a component of treatment.

More importantly, research indicates that shame is a major trigger of HPA axis (hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis)—our bodies central stress response system, igniting a physiological stress response resulting in a cascade of biochemical changes. These biochemical changes have been linked to increased inflammation and decreased immunity. More specifically, shame and negative emotions have both been linked to higher levels of a proinflammatory cytokine called interleukin-6 (IL-6). Since IL-6 is highly correlated with cancer progression, it is probable that feelings of shame can physiologically contribute to advancement of the disease.

Luckily, research in the last decade spearheaded by the University of Texas’s Dr. Kristin Neff on self-compassion has demonstrated a promising solution. Her research has identified self-compassion as the antithesis of shame both psychologically and physiologically. By implementing the three main components of self-compassion, including self-kindness, normalizing an experience, and improving mindfulness, studies demonstrate an increase in intrinsic motivation to improve self-care. 

Physiologically, research on self-compassion has also been shown to buffer the adverse biochemical changes that occurs as a result of HPA activation. But more surprisingly, self-compassion is correlated with lower levels of IL-6.

By understanding the link between shame, negative emotions, and physiological changes in the body, we can not only develop respected cancer treatments that prioritize self-compassion and positive mental health, but we can also begin to view self-compassion as an important component of cancer prevention.


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Obesity & Chemotherapy

The effectiveness of certain chemotherapy drugs may be reduced by fat cells. This groundbreaking recent discovery was made according to a recent study published in November 2017 in Molecular Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. 

Obesity has long been associated with a higher risk of cancer and poorer outcomes in cancer treatment. In particular, previous studies have focused on the correlation between obesity and negative results in colon, prostate, breast and ovarian cancer—all areas of the body surrounded by a higher percentage of fat cells.

However, it was the high relapse rate of 50% in obese children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) that prompted UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital researcher, Dr. Steven Mittelman, and his team to turn their attention toward fat cells—due to the prevalence of fat cells in bone marrow. 

Dr. Mittelman’s team set up an experiment comprised of two cultures. In the first culture, they lined up fat cells next to “ALL” cancer cells. In the second culture, they lined up connective tissue cells (fibroblasts) next to “ALL” cancer cells. They then treated both cultures with a chemotherapy drug called daunorubicin. When they tested the “ALL” cancer cells to see how much daunorubicin was present, they discovered significantly less in the cultures with the fat cells. 

Why was there less chemo in the cancer cells that were next to the fat cells?

Upon further research, it was discovered that the fat cells were metabolizing the chemotherapy drug because the fat cells had special enzymes that were capable of breaking down daunorubicin and other anthracyclines that are used to treat many cancers. 

This research explains why certain tumors surrounded by fatty tissues may not respond effectively to chemotherapy. The adipose tissue (fat cells) may be gobbling up the chemo and reducing its potency before it can reach the cancer cells. 

More studies need to be done on the effect that adipose tissue has on other chemotherapies. But by understanding how fat cells can alter the environment around the tumor, it is possible that future approaches can be developed in order to most effectively treat obese patients.



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PUFAs & Cancer

In the last century, the American diet has seen a dramatic rise in the intake of PUFAs, or polyunsaturated fats.  When we weaned ourselves off of saturated fats from animal sources, we replaced our cooking oils with an assortment of PUFAs from vegetable oils, soybean oils, and seed oils such as that from cotton seed. 

These oils are frequently seen in the ingredient lists of the most commonly consumed food products in our cupboards.  PUFA oils are also often used in restaurants as cooking oils, which adds to our overall consumption of polyunsaturated fats.

In fact, since the mid-1980’s, Americans now consume approximately 1,000 times more linoleic acid (LA), an n-6 component of polyunsaturated fat.  This prevalence specifically creates a disproportionately high intake of n-6 polyunsaturated fats to low n-3 polyunsaturated fats—an imbalance that has been linked to cancer risk.

At a cellular level, PUFAs play several important roles.  Polyunsaturated fats help regulate important cellular activities such as cell metabolism, gene expression and inflammation. These cellular activities are fundamental to maintaining healthy cells.  However, despite research indicating that PUFA intake has a carcinogenic effect, other studies on PUFA oils from marine sources have revealed beneficial effects. 

This may be due to the fact that PUFAs have both inflammatory and anti-inflammatory characteristics that appear to mediate cellular activities, and the ratio of n-3 to n-6 can drastically alter the impact on cellular metabolism. 

Vegetable and seed oils have much higher levels of n-6 and lower levels of n-3, likely triggering the carcinogenic effect. PUFA consumption from fish oil, however, has lower levels of n-6 and higher levels of n-3, which could provide a protective mechanism at the cellular level and reduce cancer risk.

As we conduct more research to better understand how PUFAs impact cancer within the cell, we can learn how to leverage our knowledge for advancements in cancer treatment by administering nutritional therapies that optimize n-6 to n-3 ratios.

In the meantime, it is safe to recommend a decrease in the daily intake of PUFAs from vegetable oils, soybean oils, and cotton seed oils that have extremely elevated levels of n-6.



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