Category Archives: cancer

We Turn Skeletons Into Goddesses

“We turn skeletons into goddesses and look to them as if they might teach us how not to need.” ~ Marya Hornbacher, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia ~

bev-at-the-beach-w

The young girl in this grainy image from the past is me. It pains me to look at her/me because I know she is hiding a secret. She’s hiding more than one secret. She’s standing behind this bright red beach float to hide. To hide her secrets – (1) that she thinks she is grossly fat; and (2) she has an eating disorder. She has anorexia and this is not the thinnest she will ever be.

I was officially diagnosed about four years after this picture was taken. Back then I don’t think eating disorders were understood the way they are today. My weight dropped below 100 pounds. My therapist helped me to see that eating disorders can be about control.

I am the oldest child in a family of three girls. My baby sister is a special needs individual and has been all her life. It was sad to see the sorrow of two parents who love their girls the way my parents loved their girls. I know it had to be hard to realize their baby would not have the type of life their oldest two would. It was sad as a sister to see my baby sister have some of the struggles she’s had. They loved us all and taught us we were valuable.

I’m also a perfectionist and OCD. And, I married poorly the first time around. I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say he made Casper Milktoast look like the Man of Steel. So, a naive and somewhat innocent girl was forced into becoming a different person. Well, maybe and maybe it just made me stronger.

What it did do is make me never feel like I was enough.

I bet many of you understand what I’m saying…

So, of course, I became a person in which control had great meaning. I’m not talking the kind of control like mad-scientist-I’m-going-to-rule-the-world-control. I’m talking the kind of control I can have concerning my body and the world around me. Like I can count every calorie, every bite that goes into my mouth. I can choose not to eat for days and days. I can exercise all I want to – like 30 miles on my stationary bike and then go to the track and walk.

And, never, ever be out of control. Never. I have an aversion and fear of becoming addicted to anything. I’ve never been drunk and I am probably the last person on earth who has never – no, never, tried pot, weed, hashish or whatever you want to call it in any form. There, I said it.

Why am I telling you this now? Because I read a story today about a beautiful 18 year old girl named Brandy Vela who committed suicide in front of her parents and grandparents. Why? Because she was being mercilessly bullied by kids at her school who said she was fat.

God in heaven what kind of animals are we raising?

When we have kids driving an 18 year old child to suicide, we have more wrong in our society and more to worry about than BMI. It is that vapid, shallow mentality in our core societal beliefs that is turning us into gladiatorial animals as children.

And, what do you do with children who commit such vile acts? Right now, a Cersei-like  Game of Thrones Walk of Shame seems too good for these little creeps. Shame! Shame! Shame!

It has to stop.

We have to stop idolizing women who are size 0 as if this is some paragon of womanhood. We have to stop allowing momagers (mom/managers) from hawking their daughters like flesh and meat in the public market so they can become filthy rich off of our money. If we allow the selling of our daughters like that, how can we criticize other cultures who violate their daughters and women? We have to stop starving our children and sanctioning it via Federal government programs like lunch programs that leave our kids starving throughout the day.

Am I promoting poor health? Certainly not. Just common sense.

You see when I was struggling with my eating disorder, my best friend at the time weighed more than I did. Considerable more. But, she was far healthier. And, I never saw her as “less than”. She was a talented, wonderful, creative friend who became an oncologist nurse.

It is years later now. I am a terribly sick person – disabled. I’ve battled non-smoking lung cancer twice. I’d never lived with a smoker nor is there a history of it in my family. I have an aneurysm in my heart, autoimmune disorders, fibromyalgia, arthritis, hypothyroidism and other illnesses too many to number. Some of these cluster in my family – like the autoimmune disorders. But, I believe I did irreparable damage to my body and my health by starving myself with my eating disorder. I think I destroyed my metabolism. Just to try and be a skeletal goddess.

I recovered somewhat from my eating disorder and my weight “normalized”. I was always thin. But, as my health continued to fail I began to gain weight. My poor health, the medications and restrictions caused the weight gain – not the other way around. But, you see when people see me they don’t know that and they assume my poor health is due to my weight. Well, you know what they say about assuming. The one great thing about me? My blood sugar. That’s because I do know how to eat healthy.

I do get some bullying now because of my weight – societal bullying. I am not going to let that fall on me and accept it as my burden to carry.

There are some reasons. First, almost 13 years ago I remarried my Tall & Handsome who lets me know every day he loves me and I am beautiful. He lets me know I am enough – not only for him but also for the whole wide world. I am so glad I never gave up.

Take that bullies…

And, I refuse to let people who don’t know me define me. You do not walk in my shoes, you do not know my journey and God forbid you ever, ever have to know my battles.

To the young girls out there like the beautiful Brandy Vela, I say this to you. Prove your tormentors wrong. Sweet, beautiful child, you are so above them. This too will pass and one day you will realize your value and life will be worth your battles. I promise.

Your tormentors are skeletons – hallowed out shells. And, they try to turn other skeletons into goddess. Misery loves company.

But, guess what?  You my child are what we love, want, and need. You are our heart.

Stay with us.

Please.

© 2016 Beverly Hicks Burch All Rights Reserved.

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Filed under Anorexia, Brandy Vela, Bullying, cancer, Child Welfare, Children, Disability, Eating Disorders, Family, Health, Life, Picture of the Day, Quote of the Day, Women's health

Marking an Anniversary – Carcinoid Cancer

Today I’m reblogging this article from the Caring for Carcinoid Foundation.

I thought of this often in January because January marks one of two very similar anniversaries for me. In Jan. 1982 I had my first surgery for non-smoking lung cancer in my right lung. My 31st cancer free anniversary in my right lung just passed. (October will mark 18 cancer free years in my left lung where in 1995 I had 60% of my left lung removed due to a very aggressive cancer.)

I was VERY young in 1982, had an 18 month old son, had never smoked, nor lived with a smoker or exposed to anything more than casual second-hand smoke (mainly from restaurants, which were not smoke free in those days).

The discovery was a fluke. I had actually taken my mom, disabled sister and young son out shopping (in my 5 speed straight shift Toyota that only I could drive) and as I pulled into the parking lot at the mall had a sharp, painful, breath stealing jab fleet across my collar bone. It literally knocked the breath out of me and paralyzed me.

After it passed, I drove on toward a parking space and then, WHAM! It hit again!

This time I knew I had to get back to “my” side of town and the doctor because I knew we’d be stranded if I became incapacitated. I was the only one who could drive my car!

The doc thought maybe my lung was collapsing. He took x-rays and when he did, that’s when the culprit was found…a tumor on the lower lobe of my right lung. That was in Oct. 1982.

It was observed for 3 months and then surgery was set for Jan. 1982.

After my thoracic surgeon did my surgery, he told my family, we could “thank God we found in when we did”.

Carcinoid cancer is rare. 4 to 5 out of 100,000 people a year are diagnosed with it. Although the lungs is a place it can be found, it’s more common to find it in the gastrointestinal system.

Please take time to read this article about carcinoid cancer and carcinoid syndrome. Visit their website, also. It could help someone you love someday.

Carcinoid Cancer | Carcinoid and Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Cancer  Research | CFCF.

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Filed under Anniversaries, cancer, Carcinoid Cancer, Health, Women's health

John Stossel and the Food Police

SHARE – John Stossel and the Food Police

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I left a comment on John’s blog concerning this issue. You see, this takes away individual responsibility and opens the door for the government to rule every aspect of your life. That’s just what we need in this country now…less individual responsibility…NOT!

At first glance I’m sure there will be many who will say, “Dude, this is a great idea!” A lot are the same people that march in “protest marches” against “the Man”, “Big Brother” and “the evil Empire” known as the US government. So, now they want to let “the Man” manage your table and diet.

A wise man said, “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” James 1:8

This particular issues steams me on a personal level. You see for years I was extremely thin…anorexic actually. I counted every calorie that went into my body and walked at the track and rode my exercise bike as much as 30 miles a day, but never less than 5 miles. I was obsessed.

But, then life…Mother Nature or fate intervened. At the age of 28 I had my first episode of NON-smoking lung cancer…in my right lung. Thirteen years later, a second episode struck my body, this time in my left lung. I had absolutely none of the risk factors for cancer in general and lung cancer in particular. No, none! I had never lived with a smoker, picked up a cigarette…blah, blah, blah… You tell me why…doctors are stumped…unless…

Unless the cancer is related to the several autoimmune disorders that decided to attack my body at a fairly young age. These illness attack internal organs…

The next thing that started happening was rounds and rounds of different types of medications prescribed by the very supposedly health conscience doctors attending my illnesses. There’s one thing they don’t tell you about these medications…many of them have hidden side effects…one in particular…weight gain.

Oh yeah, it happens. So, even though I have always tried to maintain a healthy diet and stay as active as my disease ridden body will allow, I gained weight on these meds. I’m not the only one this has happened too. Who can forget the shock the world expressed when they saw comedian Jerry Lewis in 2002 after he revealed poor health and the side effects the medications caused on his body. At least a 45 pound weight gain…

So, I say, “fat tax”? No way!! How about taking that discrimination and putting it where the sun doesn’t shine?

© 2010 Beverly Hicks Burch All Rights Reserved.

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How Dry I Am…by Beverly Hicks Burch

How Dry I Am…

By Beverly Hicks Burch

In 1993 I finally got a name for the “thing” that had been making so sick and fatigued for years. Sometimes just having a name for your illness is a blessing…it serves to alleviate your fears that you might be crazy! Thankfully I was referred to a doctor who knew what he was doing, what to look for and how to look for it. Believe me when I say that was no small miracle as far as I was concerned…

Given the title of this blog, you may think I’m about to confess to some terrible secret. No, the problem is not alcoholism or any related complications. My illness is a chronic autoimmune disorder that affects approximately four million people a year…9 out of 10 of which are women. I am a Sjogren’s (pronounced SHOW-grins) Syndrome patient…

With that said, and because April is National Sjogren’s Syndrome Awareness month and in keeping with the “Women’s Health” series I started some time ago, I would like to share with you a little about my experience and a little helpful, informative information about Sjogren’s.

The shear number of Sjogren’s sufferers makes it one of the most prevalent autoimmune disorders, but I can imagine when you read the words “Sjogren’s Syndrome” your first reaction was probably, “What the heck is that?” That is a typical response of most people because they are more familiar with autoimmune diseases like lupus, scleroderma, Rheumatoid Arthritis and diabetes.

Although symptoms of Sjogren’s were identified as early as the late 1800’s, in 1933 Dr. Henrik Sjögren was the first physician to identify the illness. Because of his “discovery” the illness bears his name.

Now, keep in mind an autoimmune disorder or disease occurs when a person’s body is attacking itself and killing itself or parts of the body. This is called an overactive immune response. In simple terms that means in say the case of lupus, a person’s body may read the body’s liver as an unwanted and dangerous foreign substance. The body will then send “agents” of some type to the unwanted “item” or area for the purpose 0f eradicating or ridding the body of the perceived danger. When that happens, the body and the areas in the body affected are damaged and/or diseased…sometimes terminally.

In the case of Sjogren’s, the body’s white blood cells are attacking the moisture producing glands in the body and killing those glands. Hence, my title “How Dry I Am…”

About 79% of the people affected by autoimmune disorders are women. Combine that with the rate of incidence of Sjogren’s among female patients and you can see autoimmune disorders are a predominantly female problem. Yes, men can and do develop autoimmune disorders, but just not at the rate women do.

Not to make light of the situation, but one of the hallmarks symptoms of Sjogren’s is dryness, particularly dry eyes and dry mouth (again, “How Dry I Am…”). But, don’t be deceived or mislead…Sjogren’s can be a very debilitating illness to live with causing far more than “just dry eyes and dry mouth”.

Sjogren’s is also systemic…meaning the symptoms and problems may and do affect the whole body. So, what are the symptoms of Sjogren’s? Well, they include but are not limited to:

  • Dry eyes – this can lead to ulcers on the eyes, infections and blurred vision. Sometimes “dry eyes” result in a gritty feeling…like someone has kicked sand in your eyes. In some cases, the eyelid may actually stick to the eyeball. Oddly enough, dry eyes can lead to excessive tearing. Why? Well, the tear film that covers the eye has three major components: water, an oily layer and mucus. The natural oils in the tear film enable the film to cover the eye and protect it. As the film breaks down, holes begin to form in the film, resulting in the dry eye. The tear ducts go into overdrive producing water, i.e. tears, to try and make up for the other missing components. Sadly, this doesn’t work because the proper ratio of all components is absent and the eyes remain dry. Of course, then there are the times when tears are totally absent…even if you are crying! Believe me, that’s a most frustrating situation…to be angst enough to cry, but your body is unable to produce tears.
  • Dry mouth – the complications of this is dental decay; infections, difficulty swallowing and chewing; oral yeast infections called thrush
  • Dry or burning throat
  • Dry cough and hoarseness
  • Dry, cracked tongue – all of the oral complications can result in oral yeast infections
  • Changes in taste and smells
  • Digestive problems; reflux
  • Vaginal and skin dryness; painful sexual intercourse because of vaginal dryness; vasculitis; Raynaud’s Syndrome
  • Joint pain and problems
  • Dry sinuses and nasal passages; this can cause difficulty breathing
  • Peripheral neuropathy – tingling or a “pins and needles feeling” and numbness in the extremities
  • Other organ involvement including but not limited to the brain, lungs, pancreas, liver and thyroid; swollen parotid glands
  • Increased risk for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Fatigue…many times patients are overwhelmed with life altering, debilitating fatigue.
  • Symptoms and complications can be life changing and debilitating in many patients.

If Sjogren’s is present alone, it is called Primary Sjogren’s, but if Sjogren’s is accompanied by other autoimmune illnesses, then it is considered Secondary Sjogren’s. In my case, Sjogren’s is accompanied by a laundry list of autoimmune disorders and chronic illnesses. Some days it feels like I’m hauling an anvil around on my back…

My official diagnosis of Sjogren’s came in 1993. I had been exhibiting severe chronic fatigue, dry, gritty feeling eyes, joint pain and weakness, muscle weakness, and a chronic dry cough among other symptoms. My teeth were even being affected…I had crowns that just wouldn’t stay on and other issues. When I made the statement to an acquaintance my teeth were being affected, she suspected what my problem was…she was a Sjogren’s patient also.

Many doctors were unable to diagnose the problem or simply overlooked important red flag warnings. I look back over the years since and I can see in hindsight how much my life has changed. It has been a life altering and sometimes overwhelming illness. I wish it was merely the “dry eyes, dry mouth” problem so many people assume it is.

The doctor I’ve used since 1993 knew what to do after listening to me give my history and after examining me. He also knew enough to know blood work can sometimes be like smiling faces…they can lie…Blood work and/or tests are not always the best diagnostic tool. Many outside factors can affect the results of blood work.

So, my Dr. X sent me to an oral surgeon for a lip biopsy. During the procedure a salivary gland was removed from my lower lip and sent to the university hospital pathology lab. The result came back and confirmed that yes, indeed, I have Sjogren’s. A lip biopsy is the most conducive way to determine Sjogren’s.

I have never been what you would call a robustly healthy person…even as a child. Knowing what I know now, it almost seems like I was on a yellow brick road leading right to chronic health issues and autoimmune problems.

Stomach problems have plagued me since I was an infant, and after having test after test run, doctors are still perplexed at what causes my gastrointestinal system to do the things it does. One very uncomfortable test was performed while I was several months pregnant. That my friends is a road you don’t want to go down…

I was told after one GI test and a turn in the hospital that I had a very sluggish GI system…as a matter of fact, the slowest one they had ever seen. Ya think?! My research on Sjogren’s has revealed this could be because of the lack of sufficient moisture, thus resulting in slow motility of the GI system. In addition I’ve been diagnosed with Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS or IBD), spastic colon and esophagus, colitis, and acid reflux.

Bev has lived with an upset tummy…

When I was first diagnosed my rheumatologist sent me to an ophthalmologist who examined and tested my eyes by measuring the moisture level and looking at my eyeballs in a Slit Lamp exam.

At that time, in 1993, the ophthalmologist determined my eyes were affected. He had used the Schirmer exam to measure the moisture in my eyes. (I have been told since the Schirmer exam is not used as universally as it once was and other techniques are used.) Based on the scale of 0 to 15 with 15 being the moistest, I was informed my level was about 3. Wow! No wonder I was walking around feeling like I’d had a whole sandbox kicked in my eyes!

By using sterile eye drops or “tears” I was able to raise the moisture level in my eyes for a while to 6. Since autoimmune disorders can have a degenerative effect on the body and its parts, that was not to last long. To keep moist eyes over the years has been a struggle.

In 2006 I was told my tear film was totally gone. My eyes are constantly dry. I’ve had complications such as inflamed eyes; red, irritated bumps or knots appearing for a time on the rim of my eyes, excessive tearing and some blurred vision. There was one period I call my “wraith” period because my eyes were in such terrible shape, that’s the best way to describe how I looked…and felt…

To maintain any moisture in my eyes I have to use the sterile eye drops or “tears” several times a day and during really bad flare ups a lubricating ointment. Although the ointment is called a “night time” application, my eyes are so dry that on occasion day time usage is needed. GenTeal makes a gel drop that is for moderate to severe dryness. Since it’s a little more viscous than other drops, it gives me more relief than a standard eye drop does.

If all else fails, then surgical measure may have to be taken. This involves implanting silicone plugs into the tear ducts in an effort to prevent as much moisture loss as possible. (I personally have been cut on enough in my life and hope to avoid this procedure, but have been advised it may be in my future.)

A Sjogren’s patient is advised to visit the ophthalmologist every three months. In many cases uninformed and restrictive medical insurance company policies and cost make this prohibitive for the patient.

Over the years I have seen a daily decline and degeneration of my health. No matter how fastidious I am about dental hygiene, I battle tooth decay and dental issues. When my mouth becomes extremely dry I develop painful sore in the angles of my mouth. Many times this can be caused by oral yeast (thrush). To battle that I use a concoction called “Magic Mouthwash” made up of ingredients like nystatin, lidocaine, an antihistamine and sometime something like Mylanta.

My mouth stays so dry that I am seldom without something to drink right by my side. Over the years my devoted canine companions have learn if Momma picks up the “big glass”…then she’s on the move. They hop up ready to follow me where ever I go.

As far as glandular problems…around October 2006 I was finally diagnosed with hypothyroidism…something I was not surprised about. I had suspected it for years and exhibited many symptoms. I have a parotid gland that seems to stay swollen and besides the other various smaller (and uncomfortable issues), I am a two time non-smoking lung cancer survivor.

In 1982 a tumor and a portion of the lower lobe of my right lung was removed. I was cancer free until 1995 when I went through another bout with lung cancer. This bout resulted in 60% of my left lung being removed. Sjogren’s can affect a person’s lungs, but did Sjogren’s cause my lung cancer? The lungs are one of the many internal organs Sjogren’s can affect…but, cancer?

No one has any earthly idea why a non-smoker like me has gone through two bouts of lung cancer. I had no risk factors per say…no extensive exposure to second hand smoke…had not lived with a smoker…but I do have those pesky autoimmune disorders.

I would say in my case, the fatigue and joint pain has been as severe or more severe as the dryness. Combined with Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome and you can understand why some days I feel too tired to even breathe.

There is no cure for any autoimmune illness…Sjogren’s included. There is no “magic pill” either. In handling Sjogren’s, as with other autoimmune illness, the best you can hope for is management of the disease or a slowing of the disease. This is done by learning to pace yourself…learning to say “No”, making some lifestyle changes, good doctors, and yes the use of over the counter and prescriptions drugs.

I mentioned earlier the use of artificial tears for the dry eyes. For the oral dryness there are medications, like Salagen. There are several other products on the market to help with oral complications of Sjogren’s. You may have to take pain medication for the joint pain, avoid situations that will aggravate your dryness, address complications and practice good nutrition and proper rest. In some cases you may have to take a disease modifying medication like Plaquenil, Enbrel or Methotrexate. I have been on Methotrexate for over a year now, but like all drugs in this category it comes with serious possible side effects.

Yes, I know this all may sounds dismal, but it doesn’t have to be. Supportive friends and family can be a lifesaver, so make sure they are informed about you disease.

Learn to love the current you. It was very hard to accept myself and what was happening to me at first. I felt like I was loosing myself to a strange, unbeatable disease. As a result, I pushed myself in way I probably shouldn’t have resulting in unhealthily stress and strain.

When I first met my current husband I told him how I felt and I felt like illness had turned me into a faded beauty. I told him I wished I looked the way I did in my 20’s and 30’s. He said, “Honey, you may not feel like a 27 year old beauty, but you are a 47 year old beauty and I think your gorgeous…and you’re mine!” What a guy like that?! How can you not love a guy like that? It’s certainly a far cry from Gomez the ex. When he walked out on me and our 27 year marriage, he said, “I don’t care if you ever have any f*cking (medical) insurance! I didn’t want to take care of you, I hated taking care of you, but I did! So, there!!!” No, there is certainly no chivalrous knight behind his low life, yuppie wanna be facade… And, his “taking care of me” was puny in many ways and avenues…

Over the years I have found things I enjoy doing. They help validate who I am. This is a God-send for self confidence and self worth. Many of my most enjoyable pastimes can be done sitting under the covers of my bed. I read, stay connected to the world via the internet and the laptop my Tall & Handsome made sure I got. I can quilt for small amount of times and with rests. I’m a computer gamer (MMORPG’s) and of course, I can write.

T & H also brought home a little four legged, practically hypo-allergic companion…our little Miniature Schnauzer Watson the wonder dog, and in my opinion one of the best little mood lifters there is. Nothing warms my insides like those two little eyes looking at me adoringly.

After the haircut 3 5-13-2007

Would this cheer you and comfort you if you were sick? You betcha!!

 

No, life did not end…it was just reinvented…and in some ways for the best…

So, if you suspect Sjogren’s or any other autoimmune illness, get to your doctor as soon as you can. Starting a proper health care and management regime can turn “How Dry I Am…” into “How Strong I Am…I’m a Survivor…”!

© 2009 Beverly Hicks Burch All Rights Reserved.

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Filed under Autoimmune Diseases, cancer, GenTeal Eye Drops, Gomez, Health, Methotrexate, Miniature Schnauzer, National Sjoren's Syndrome Awareness Month, Plaquenil, Salagen, Sjogren's Syndrome, Tall & Handsome, Women's health

Anniversary – Part 1, by Beverly Hicks Burch

Anniversary – Part 1

By Beverly Hicks Burch

I am approaching an anniversary in a few days (Oct. 25th). It’s an anniversary I hope I don’t share with too many people. You see on Oct. 25th, 1995 a thoracic surgeon removed 60% of my left lung because of cancer. It’s so hard to believe it’s been 13 years. It actually still feels like it happened such a short time ago. Unfortunately, it was not my only experience with this type of surgery and cancer. In Jan. 1982, part of my right lung was removed.

This anniversary makes me nervous. As a cancer survivor we tend to count anniversaries…years if you will, for a reason. The five year survival period is considered a benchmark of sorts. You start to breathe a little easier if you have survived five years past an occurrence. Each five year increment also tends to give you additional peace of mind…you have warded off and defeated the big “C” a little longer.

I was 13 years past my first occurrence when out of no where the second incident catapulted into my life with a vengeance. To say it was a shock it like saying Hurricane Katrina was a thunderstorm. I was almost 15 years “safe”! I had even avoided smoke filled rooms. Why?! And, now I am once again at that 13 year benchmark…

My lung cancers could almost be considered a fluke. I was a non-smoker, had never lived with a smoker nor had a worked in a smoke filled environment. Sometimes lung cancer survivors tend to carry a “black mark” on their slate of life…a stigma if you will. Why? Well, many people hear “lung cancer” and automatically decide you were a smoker and as a result brought the disease upon yourself. I feel as if I always need to qualify my cancer history by saying, “a two time non-smoking lung cancer survivor”…and, boy is that ever a mouth full…

Even today when I tell someone I’ve survived bouts with lung cancer two times and had never smoked most people seem incredulous. You can see it in their eyes…” You must be kidding!” They seem to have a need to find a cause…a reason…it’s almost if they can find the reason “why”, then they’ve distanced themselves from such a fate. They usually stand there and tick off the potential reasons “why” and as each reason is answered with “no” there is just a tinge of panic in their eyes.

Then, there’s the opposite reaction…from smokers. Their response is usually, “Well, there you go. You never smoked and look at you. I’ve smoked all my life and I’m fine, cancer-free. Why should I quit?”

Well, let me put it too you this way…if you had a friend who was nearly hit, or was hit crossing the street and survived, would you just go and stand in the middle of the street daring cars to hit you? Would you think “Well, look at so and so? See what happened them. I’ve been crossing the street all my life and have never been hit, so why should I think it would happen to me now?” I have one “intelligent” response to that…duh?! When I get that response from smokers I feel like lifting my shirt up to reveal my large scars and asking, “Do you really want to tempt fate for this?!”

Do not tempt fate! Especially if you are a woman! Every year during breast cancer awareness month I get a tad irritated. It’s not that I think breast cancer awareness is a bad thing. Nope, it’s because since 1987 more women have died from lung cancer than breast cancer in this country! That’s a pretty scary thought especially since we know breast cancer has been one of the major causes of death in women for over 40 years.

My first occurrence happened when I was just barely 28 years old. My baby was 18 months old. I was scared I would not get to see him grow up. A mother should never have to feel that emotion. It rips at the fabric of your heart and soul. I’ll never forget that time.

My cancer was found by the sheer fluke of luck or, maybe Divine Intervention as I like to think. It’s odd, but I always associate that time period with the murder of Anwar Sadat. While I was going through the agony of discovery and waiting and at war with my body, a man struggling to seek peace was murdered half way across the world… (This poses a more current question: If militants and terrorist will do this in their own country, what else would they do in the USA?)

The cancer in my right lung was a carcinoid tumor, a form of a neuroendocrine tumor . This type of cancer is rare and very slow growing, sometimes taking 3 – 5 years to grow to a size substantial enough to be discovered and by then it could be too late for the patient. This type of cancer starts out as a microcarcinoid and grows into “the big guy”…a true carcinoid. Finding this type of cancer can be a life saver because in the early stage it is treatable…usually with surgery.

Unfortunately, even with surgery there is no guarantee you will be clean. Small cells can remain in your body that will cause a new occurrence. Quite possibly you could live for years with carcinoid syndrome and as one physician explained to me eight years after my first surgery, “you could have carcinoids throughout your body and not be aware of the fact”.

Carcinoid syndrome involves a plethora of symptoms including: flushing of the face and upper body, wheezing, diarrhea, and a fast heartbeat. Because this is a type of neuroendocrine cancer the tumors can secrete serotonin and a test to check excessive serotonin levels is a useful diagnostic tool.

I often have suspected that my cancers are related some how to the many autoimmune disorders I have. In autoimmune ailments your body creates antigens that read parts of your body as foreign. In other words these antigens see these substances or objects of your body as things that shouldn’t be in or a part of your body and its systems.

Normally this process works as it should. For example, when you cut yourself and it starts to become infected. Your body’s proper systems…blood in this case…will send the proper tools (antigens, white blood cells, etc.) to the affected area…to the cut to combat the infection.

But, in autoimmune disorders, there is a disconnect somewhere…a malfunction. For instance, in lupus the body may read the liver or spleen as unneeded, unnecessary and even dangerous to your health. As a result, the body will begin to attack these organs to destroy them in an attempt to make you safe and well. But, it’s all a big mistake and it can and does kill the patient over time.

One disorder I have is very similar to lupus. Some of the organs and systems attacked are different…others are the same. My ailment, Sjogren’s syndrome carries an increased risk for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma…yes, a cancer. In addition to attacking all moisture producing glands in my body and my joints, Sjogren’s can affect the lungs. There it is…

The biggest number of carcinoids are found in the gastrointestinal system, but like mine, they can be found in the lungs and other parts of the body. I have a first cousin who was treated for carcinoid in her appendix. For years when I went to a new physician they seemed more intrigued with the fact I’d had a carcinoid in my lungs than in the problem I was there to see them about. That was extremely frustrating to me and really counter productive to my health.

Thoracic surgery is no picnic. It is major surgery. As one surgical nurse explained to the ex, it is more severe than open heart surgery in many ways. It’s very intrusive, the patient’s upper body, for all practical purpose is almost cut in half. My incision(s) runs from just under my breast, across my side and ribs and onto my back to within a few inches of my spine. Once the incision is made, the ribs are either broken and spread apart, or a section is cut and removed from the ribs for the same purpose. They are spread apart to allow access to the lung. In my case, both techniques were used. The first time some of my ribs were broken, the second time a section was cut and removed.

I don’t recall how long my surgery lasted. Let’s put it this way…it wasn’t a quickie. I was placed in ICU and the first thing I remembered was a bright light as I regained consciousness. I asked the ICU nurse if it was cancer and she replied, “The doctor will have to speak to you.” I knew then it had been cancer. My first surgeon…an angel…told my family we should thank God the tumor was found when it was.

Although I did go through a major depression after my first surgery, I eventually bounced back…or I tried to pretend I had. I can look back now and plainly see I was “cruising for a bruisin’”.

The depression in hindsight was predictable. In the two years leading up to my surgery I had experienced several life shaking events.

I had gone through a difficult pregnancy (I was hospitalized twice and had to spend a good portion of the time in bed due to illness.) My last living grandfather died about a day after I returned home from my first hospitalization while I was pregnant. While pregnant, the ex, Gomez the unremarkable, had a car accident that totaled his vehicle. It was his second in four years. My son was born a month early and as a result his fetal breathing system didn’t shut down. (Heart problems are common in the newborn of Sjogren’s patients.) My baby boy spent the first two week of his life in NICU (neo-natal intensive care).

Then, the tumor on my lung was discovered and “watched” for three months. As I lay on a cold table while my lung was being scanned, I asked one physician, a radiologist, what could be on my lung. He replied, “Well, it’s a 33% chance it’s cancer, 33% chance it’s a calcium deposit and 33% chance it’s an enlarged lymph gland. (I have learned since there are other possibilities.) He then turned and left the room as I shivered on the table. So much for A+ bedside manner…

I lived through a holiday season knowing something angry was growing on a vital organ…and I spent the season wondering if it would be my last with my sweet baby boy. And then, surgery was scheduled for Jan. 1982.

As I counted down the days during a very frigid January, an Air Florida airplane hit the 14th Street Bridge in Washington DC. As I watched victims being pulled out of the freezing waters of the Potomac River, I realized we were in a swiftly changing world and I wondered what I would miss should my outcome be as disastrous as that fateful flight. I survived on Faith and prayers…

So, that my friends set the circumstances surrounding me prior to my first surgery. Post-op depression is severe enough to deal with…but, factor in a possible case of post-partum depression and everything else and well, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see a train wreck coming…

My train wreck lasted about a year. Sometimes I think that period was the beginning of my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It was a dark time. Once again I was surviving solely on Faith and prayers.

I would go days without eating and my weight plummeted. As an anorexic survivor, I was already painfully thin. At one point my weight dipped below 100 pounds. I have one picture taken a few months after Gomez had his first car accident in 1976. (He had broken his neck in the same place Christopher Reeve did…it was a miracle he lived and didn’t have any paralysis. I spent months nursing him back to health.) In this picture, I have the typical “lollipop” head…a characteristic of someone waaaaay too thin. By the time I became pregnant I weighed a whooping 112 pounds and was back down to that weight within about two weeks after giving birth. Depression did nothing to stabilize my weight…food literally made me sick to my stomach during these dark days.

After that year, I decided I was tired of living at the gates of hell…feeling the flames flicker at my feet…that is my description of that dark, depressing time…

© 2008 Beverly Hicks Burch All Rights Reserved.

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Filed under "Autoimmune disorders", Anwar Sadat, Breast Cancer, cancer, Depression, Gomez, Lung Cancer, Mental health, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Sjogren's Syndrome, Washington DC 14th Street Bridge Plane Crash, Women's health

Practicing Medicine, by Beverly Hicks Burch

Practicing Medicine

By Beverly Hicks Burch

So, what has Bev been up to? Well, as life would have it, a little of the same and a little of the new. It’s been a busy time, a hectic time and as kismet would have it a sickly time. Like I needed that like a hole in the head!

It’s kinda like this…in November when I went to my rheumatologist in Birmingham I knew I was feeling really bad. I was sick. I could barely lift my left leg because of hip pain to put on a sock or shoe. As I drove to Birmingham both of my hands hurt just to hold the steering wheel…I wished I had learned that knee-driving trick Daddy used to do when we were kids. No kidding…he could steer the car with his knees and eat a burger if he had to, but of course that was on rare occasions. I guess steering wheels were larger back in the days…

Anyway, by the time I saw the doc, I don’t think there was a place on me that didn’t hurt, ache or wasn’t swollen. My eyelashes even hurt. It was a good thing I was seeing him.

The last few years have been rough…in more ways than one. Of course autoimmune disorders are exacerbated by stress, trauma…and drama. Umm…isn’t that how you spell LIFE?! So, you don’t have a snowball’s chance on a hot day in July unless you live in a deprivation tank or a monastery or convent for avoiding those factors…and I’m sure there’s a different kind of stress in those surroundings.

Sometimes I do become a little skeptical of doctors themselves. I often comment that after all they are just “practicing” medicine…maybe they’re not quite sure yet about what they’re doing. Those expressions are in moments of frustration…

For instance, in October 2005 I literally nearly died because of a careless mistake a doctor made. I had just moved to Knoxville and was looking for a primary care physician. I had begun to have some hypertension problems…something new for me and I could tell it was getting severe because I was keeping a very troublesome headache. My doctor in Alabama had given me a diuretic for hypertension just before we moved, but I knew it wasn’t treating the problem and needed further treatment.

So, off I go to a new doctor in Knoxville. Now, because I have such an extensive and long medical history I keep a record on a Word document which I update routinely. I also keep an updated list of my medications on a Word document. This is a good time to recommend you do this if you have any medical conditions and/or you take prescription medication. Be sure to tell someone in your family where it is on your computer so they can access it in a time of emergency.

Anyway, I went to the new doctor armed with my medical history and medication lists and explain why I was there. I filled out all the necessary paper work…a lot of which was a redundancy because of the documents I provided, but I didn’t mind…better safe than sorry…

When the doctor walked in I got bad vibes right away. First, I felt like he had just gotten off a tractor…he seemed more like a farm hand than a medical professional, but he was on my HMO’s healthcare provider’s list. Then, I knew from the way he talked to me he hadn’t taken the time to review my paper work or the history I had provided him. My first clue? He seemed surprised when I mentioned I was a two time lung cancer survivor even though that was clearly noted on the paper work I had filled out in his office and on the medical history I had brought from home. I also told him I had taken two of the diuretics previously prescribed earlier that day.

As I was to discover later, evidently he hadn’t paid much attention to my list of medication either…and that almost cost me my life. Long story short…he prescribed a hypertension medication for me. I took it to the pharmacy, had it filled and took one with supper.

About 10:30 or 11:00 that evening Tall & Handsome and I had been sitting in bed watching TV when all of the sudden I started feeling strange. He had drifted off to sleep. I staggered up to my feet, mumbled to him I felt odd and tried to make it to the bathroom. He of course hadn’t heard me…the one time Mr. Insomniac was sleeping soundly. He did hear me when I crashed to the floor in the bathroom doorway.

After the cats levitated in the air and shot off and hid (that’s a neat trick I wish I could learn), T & H jumped up and was at my side in a couple of seconds…his face as white as a sheet. I told him I felt extremely odd and it was getting worse. He asked me what kind of odd and I told him it felt like the life was draining out of me. He instantly took my blood pressure. (He really would have looked good in a white coat and been debonair as Dr. Tall & Handsome. But, alas, he has one of the same maladies as me…the sight of blood.).

If he had any color in his face…it drained out at that point…when he read the BP monitor. My BP was something like 78/46 and my heart rate was about 47. He wanted to call the paramedics, but of course being the stubborn Scotch-Irish-German-Native American that I am, I said no…oh, and the fact I’d had a bad experience with an ambulance before didn’t help.

I contended the BP machine had to be wrong and I finally agreed to let him take it again. I think any color in my face must have drained out at that point because the numbers were even lower by then…and I was scared. I agreed to let him call the paramedics.

Word to the wise…don’t ever collapse upstairs…because you have to walk yourself down the stairs…then you get on the gurney! Oxygen, IV, tubes and all! I vaguely remember T & H slipping socks on my feet (he’s sweet like that) before they closed the ambulance doors and then he dashed in to print off my medical history and med list off the computer. He knew in his state of mind there was no way he could recite all of that in admitting…heck, he’ll be the first to tell you he couldn’t recite it all in a calm state of mind. I’m the one that keeps up with his meds!

Off we dashed to the ER, sirens blaring and they sent me right back to a cold sterile room. After giving me a huge bedpan to get sick in (which I obliged), I had to hold it myself for what seemed like forever, shivering, alone until someone finally came in and retrieved it. Once again, I was alone until I heard a commotion out in the corridor. It was T & H insisting he be allowed into my room. I’m glad he did because I was scared.

I had to stay overnight in the ER because they couldn’t stabilize my BP or my heart rate. Both kept getting perilously low. I was violently ill at my stomach and blood work revealed my kidney enzymes were out of whack. I spent the night drifting off to sleep just to be awakened by the alarms when my numbers went too low. It was a great way to spend a Friday night…

So, example #1 of why Bev sometimes say doctors are just “practicing” medicine…

I changed doctors shortly after that because I found out the hypertension medication the “tractor doctor” gave me had interacted with the diuretic I had taken earlier in the day and he should have known that and forewarned me and recommended I delay taking my first dose until the next day.

To add insult to injury he insisted on keeping me on the medication. I developed a dry hacking cough and knew this was a side effect that needed to be reported to the doctor if I did develop one…the flyer that came with the medicine advised as much. My own father had been on the same medication and developed a cough and his doctor had removed him off the med and place him on a new one.

So, I called the “tractor doctor’s” office told them what was going on and got this response, “Well, I don’t think that a side effect.” And I had to stay on the medication. Grrr…

Example #2…

Once again, good ol’ East Tennessee born, Alabama raised, Scotch-Irish, German, Native American Southern gal that I am…I didn’t cotton too well to that…I got a new primary care physician.

The next doctor was better…to a degree. She was good for some basic things, but not too long after the ER incident I went to her about my neuropathy in my right leg. It had gotten so bad that in addition to feeling like a hive of bees were living in my leg, the burning was becoming unbearable, there was numb spots in my leg and just the softest touch to my leg would send me in spasms of pain. In other words…it hurt.

The new doc recommended a new “great” drug call Lyrica. And it was good. At first my dosage was two pills a day, but I spent the better part of my life drooling on myself in a deep sleep. Good news was…the pain in my leg was gone.

I decided to adjust the dosage to one pill a day and I was in the land of the living again. The trade off was the leg had just a slight twitch of “bother” to it…but I could live with it.

But, there was another very unpleasant, unwanted side effect…weight gain. It was like overnight in one of those drooling, stupor states someone pulled up and said, “Hey, I have a good idea! Let’s turn Bev into a blimp in time for the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.” And, then, to paraphrase Arnold, proceeded to “pump me up”. Augh!! It was bad enough several round of steroids had already been going before paving the way…

Example #3…

I didn’t know what was going on…at least until I went to see my rheumatologist in Birmingham. When I told him what was going on he hit the nail on the head. He explain that weight gain was a very common side effect of Lyrica and that several of his patients had gained a lot of weight while on the drug. He recommended I discontinue the use…and I did. The pain came back, maybe not as bad…but the weight stayed…

It concerns me now because I see Lyrica being touted as a new drug de jour for Fibromyalgia (another one of my little jewels). It may work, but patients should really be forewarned of the behemoth behind this medication. When you are chronically ill, weight management is a bugger…you have multiple obstacles…and many times your medications are contributing factors.

So, currently I’m dealing with a new situation…this month I started taking Methotrexate for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). This was after going through another round of steroid after I got back from Birmingham and a therapeutic dosage of Vitamin D because I was very deficient.

My aunt had taken Methotrexate for several years…yes, she has similar maladies. Autoimmune disorders tend to cluster in families and mine is no exception. So, I’m a little familiar with the drug and I’ve seen how she’s reacted to it. It’s a mixed blessing.

Basically from what I’ve learned Methotrexate can be used in chemotherapy, but in low doses it can be used to treat autoimmune disorders such as RA as a disease modifying drug. It can have some pretty funky side effects including making you more susceptible to infections. It makes me sick at my stomach for about a day and drowsy for a couple of days. It’s affected my taste and I seem more sensitive to smells. I take it one day a week. Hopefully over time I will become more accustom to the medication and it will really begin to do some good.

If any of you have any experience with Methotrexate I’d really like to hear from you…how it’s affected you and if it’s helped.

What it boils down to is this…we should be informed healthcare patients. Too often people go to the doctor, get a pill, take a pill and a lot of the time don’t even bother to look at the name of the medication they are taking.

I discovered when I became more educated to what was going on with my body and healthcare, some of the fear was removed from the equation…and some of the helplessness.

I learned a long time ago some doctors may be “offended” if you are informed, educated, ask questions and want to participate in your healthcare. They are the ones with ego complexes…god-complexes. I would suggest that for long term care they may not be the one for you…at least they wouldn’t be for me.

The last thoracic surgeon who removed 60% of my left lung due to cancer in 1995 was like that…he also “inadvertently cut my pulmonary artery” during the procedure. God doesn’t slip and screw up like that, Buster! Get over yourself…oh, yeah…example #4…

© 2008 Beverly Hicks Burch All Rights Reserved.

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Filed under "Autoimmune disorders", cancer, Doctors, Fibromyalgia, Health, Hospitals, Lyrica, Methotrexate, My Tennesse Heritage, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Tall & Handsome, Women's health

Taste of a Marathon, by Beverly Hicks Burch

Taste of a Marathon

By Beverly Hicks Burch

As if I didn’t already have enough to do I’ve taken on a new little project. Recently a friend told me about a website where writers gather. Consider it your smoky avant garde club of days gone by or the Left Bank or any other gathering spot where writers, artist and other like minded people gathered to share their thoughts, trade ideas and what not. That was in the “old” days…before high tech and high speed internet. We have arrived now, baby!

The bonus of this gathering place is just maybe…maybe one of the publishers who occasionally frequent the site and post writing assignments will read one of yours and it will be chosen. Viola, you’ve been discovered! On a very small level of course…

So, I’ve written a few “articles” over there and thought I would share them with you. They haven’t done too badly…oh, and the rewards for the sweat of my brow?

Five cents. I can now buy a piece of bubblegum. You can say you knew Bev when…haha…

This article was written in response of the assignment: Great gift ideas for men who cook. Think I have any experience there? The article debuted in the middle of the field and is now sitting at 5 out of 23.

My next article was written in response to: Cancer and surviving. Again, a topic I have a little experience dealing with. It entered the field around 30ish out of its field and is now 2 out of 77.

The next article is a hoot. I wrote it on a lark. The subject? Women in role-playing games/Role playing & War games. It was under the Hobbies & Games category. Yes, Bev is a gamer…no, I’m not a freak. I wrote the article, it entered middle of the field and it is now 1 out of 13. Go figure…

The other two are more health related. One on the physical causes of depression that actually stayed at number one for a bit, but has fallen down in the ranks and another one on the connection between sleep deprivation and mental illness. So far it’s doing ok at 3.

Anyway, if you’re interested in these articles, I’ve provided the links. They’ll give you a different perspective on some of Bev’s writing.

© 2008 Beverly Hicks Burch All Rights Reserved.

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Filed under cancer, Cooking, Gaming, Health, Writing

Bev’s New Year’s Beans, by Beverly Hicks Burch

Bev’s New Year’s Beans

By Beverly Hicks Burch

Every year after Christmas I usually have a ham bone leftover. I like to leave a little meat on the bone so I can make a big ol’ pot of bean soup shortly after New Year’s. My favorite ham to use is one of the spiral-cut hams because they have that great seasoning that adds additional wonderful flavors to your dish. I’ve used the ones from big named brand chain stores and the one’s you can get from Sam’s. Both provide excellent results.

Since I’m not really superstitious I don’t have what most people consider a “traditional” New Year’s Day meal…that would be greens and black eye peas in some form or fashion. Nope, since marrying Tall and Handsome I’ve adopted a new tradition of having Posole and warm tortillas for New Year’s. That is in recognition of his Southwestern heritage where Posole is considered a dish worthy of the holiday. This year we topped our New Year’s meal off with flan…than wonderful custard dessert from Spanish speaking countries.

Also, since my dad had his bypass surgery in 2005 and has been on Coumadin, greens are a big no-no in his diet. He hates that, too because being a good East Tennessee mountain boy, the man loves his greens. So, bye-bye greens, just another reason to adapt a traditional menu…

We had a scare with Daddy the week after Thanksgiving when his Coumadin level reached dangerously high levels. The plus side was he got to eat salads and greens. Momma had thrown out all the cans of Glory Be greens she had in the pantry because she was concerned Daddy might eat them “accidentally”. When this happened I told her she needed to keep a can or two behind a glass case they could break open “In Case of Emergency”.

Daddy was confined to the house for a week or so…to the torture of eating greens and salads. He did have to be careful. If he even cut himself shaving he could have bled to death. Coumadin can do scary things. In about a week, he went back to the doctor, got his levels checked and they were back down where they should be. Good news/bad news…no more greens…

Anyway after New Years, I got out the ham bone from Christmas and made that pot of beans…or really a bean soup…or as T & H says, it’s more like a stew. Rachael Ray calls those types of dishes “stoups”. Maybe this is what I fix…who knows, but it’s a Bev original. T & H says he’s never had beans fixed this way and he finds them “right tasty”. I think his bowls of seconds vouch for that.

You’ll notice I use a can of stewed tomatoes in the recipe. That’s a different ingredient from a lot of bean recipes. The reason is twofold in using tomatoes. First, I just find it downright tasty and good. Second, several years ago a medical study was released showing that tomato based foods were a good source to maintain prostate health and help prevent prostate cancer. My dad had a bout with prostate cancer about two years after my last bout of lung cancer. So, ladies…and guys…there you are, an easy and tasty and healthy way to fight what could be a deadly disease…so eat those tomatoes and tomato products! Yes, you now have an excuse to eat pizza…in moderation of course and with “healthy” toppings…am I a party pooper are what?

I usually serve with cornbread with this, but hot French bread/garlic bread would be just as good. And, this is a very good dish for cold days.

Enjoy!

© 2008 Beverly Hicks Burch All Rights Reserved.

Bev’s New Year’s Beans

By Beverly Hicks Burch

1 1 – pound bag beans of your liking (I like to use a 15 bean mix but have used pintos and other types)

1 ham bone with meat, trimmed of excess fat

8 – 10 cups water

Chicken broth

4 cubes chicken bouillon

1 onion, chopped

2 – 4 cloves minced garlic, to your taste (I use about 4)

½ teaspoon pepper

1 small bag baby carrots

2 – 4 potatoes

1 14 – 15 oz. can stewed tomatoes, any flavor to your taste (I used DelMonte basil, oregano and garlic this last time)

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Wash and pick over beans.

Put beans in a large stock pot and cover with 8 – 10 cups of water. Beans should be covered with 1 – 2 inches of water. Place on stove eye and bring to a rapid boil. Boil for 1 – 2 minutes then remove from heat and soak for at least 1 hour.

Next, to prepare to cook the beans, drain beans and pour off the water the beans soaked in. (Yes, this will cut down on the unpleasant side effects of beans!) Add beans back to stock pot and add the ham bone. Next, add enough liquid to equal 8 – 10 cups. I use all chicken broth or a combination of water and chicken broth.

Add the 4 cubes of chicken bouillon and begin to cook the beans over medium high heat until it almost comes to a full boil. In the meantime chop onion and mince garlic and add them to the beans and ham. Add ½ teaspoon pepper. Turn heat down to low or medium low and allow to simmer.

Allow your beans and these ingredients to cook until the beans begin to get soft. Depending on the type of bean you use, the time will vary. It will be anywhere from 1 – 2 hours, but may be more. Test the beans to see if they are beginning to soften.

Next add carrots and let them begin to cook. They will take a little longer to cook than the potatoes. Be sure they are washed before adding them to the beans. Peel potatoes, cut into chunks, about 1 ½ in. cubes and add to beans. Add the can of stewed tomatoes and cook until vegetables are tender. Add salt.

*Note: I use a brand of beans that has a seasoning pack included with the beans. I add this pack after everything else is done. It gives a little extra flavor. If you can’t find this brand beans you can adjust you seasoning by adding some garlic powder and onion powder or any other seasoning of you choice…that’s the beauty of this recipe!

Enjoy!

© 2008 Beverly Hicks Burch All Rights Reserved.

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Filed under Beans, cancer, Cooking, Coumadin, Family, Fathers, food, Health, Holidays, New Year, Prostate Cancer, recipes, Seasonal, Soup, Southerners, Tall & Handsome, Tennessee, The Story Behind..., Vegetables

Relay For Life, by Beverly Hicks Burch

Relay for Life

By Beverly Hicks Burch

It happened the first time when I was 28 years old and the mother of an eighteen month old tyke. I was told the absolutely impossible and unthinkable. I had a tumor on my right lung. How could that be? I had never smoked, wasn’t raised around smokers, therefore no second hand smoke exposure, and there was no history of lung cancer in my family. How?! I screamed to the Heavens and asked God.

After three months of “observation” the tumor was removed and in the process was determined that, yes indeed it was a low-grade cancer as my thoracic surgeon put it.

I was very young then obsessed with stopping time, age, illness and anything else I could. I starved myself for years. Yes, I was diagnosed, as the doctored put it as at least “border-line” anorexic. At 5’ 5” I was less than 100 pounds at one point, so what do you think?

I often wonder if that was the “trigger” for many of my autoimmune disorders, although I have to say, I’ve never been a robustly healthy person…even as a child. With me it’s like deciding which came first, the chicken or the egg…the autoimmune disorders, the cancer, etc. And autoimmune disorders do cluster in my family and cancer has visited kin more than I would care to remember.

But, I did bounce back fairly well after that first cancer…for a short time. Until the Pandora’s Box opened and everything else started going askew. My point is I did seem to mend after that first surgery. I was determined I would. I had a baby I adored!

Then in 1995 I started feeling more “poopy” as I call it, than normal. You see, with autoimmune disorders you never feel really good…you always feel like something’s wrong…it’s like living with constant flu or in Jell-o slowing you down. I could give you 100 different descriptions…and they would all fit any given moment…but, this was different. I felt like a Dead Gal Walking.

Well, off to the doc again and once again, there was “something” on Bev’s lung…this time the left lung. Long story short, the Big C had returned…with a vengeance. Sixty percent of my left lung was removed…yes that was 60%. The second time around, recovery was not quite as easy…not that it was the first time, but this time…oh, my.

Since then my Dad went through a scare of prostate cancer about two years after my last lung cancer. We are so blessed to still have him because he lost his oldest brother to the very same disease a few short years before Daddy was diagnosed. Daddy was very proactive…did I mention he was a Project Manager? *chuckle* That’s my Daddy…and it paid of in spades…and valuable years.

My Tall & Handsome’s Mom is a breast cancer survivor. This is a very survivable cancer now thanks in part to education, research and new discoveries.

There’s still work to be done. I lost a friend in the 1990’s to melanoma. She was young, fair headed, fair skin and in her 30’s. She had a mole on her back. One day she was there…a few months later, after a valiant struggle…she was gone. It shouldn’t have happened.

This Friday night I will be doing something. My ol’ joints may not let me go far…but how ever much I can do, I’m going to do it…and that’s Relay For Life. That’s the annual fund raiser for the American Cancer Society. This will be my second event and it’s heartwarming to see survivors and their supports walking for life. So, this Friday night, think of Bev as she walks…this is one relay and one baton we can’t drop…

Bev’s Relay Site:

http://www.acsevents.org/relay/tn/downtownknox/bevburch

or the Teams’ Site

www.acsevents.org/relay/tn/downtownknox/fountaincitycurves

© 2007 Beverly Hicks Burch All Rights Reserved

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Filed under cancer, Health, Relay For Life, Tennessee

Women’s Health Part II: It Takes Your Breath Away, by Beverly Hicks Burch

If I was to ask you to name the number one cancer that kills women, what would you answer? Breast cancer? Ovarian cancer? If those were your answers, you guessed wrong. According to the American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org), although there may be a higher occurrence of breast cancer in women, lung cancer kills more women each year than breast cancer and any other cancer. The numbers are staggering. In 2004, it was estimated that 68, 510 women died from lung cancer in the US alone (www.lungcancer.org).

This is an issue I am all too familiar with. In 1982, at the age of 28, I experienced my first brush with lung cancer. At the time, I had an eighteen month old baby and as I reflect back I realize my body probably was in the manifesting stages of the autoimmune disorders I now deal with. It was purely a fluke the tumor on my right lung was found…I had not really had any real symptoms…until one day I was out shopping with my son, mother and sister and had a disabling pain shoot across my collar bone. When it happened the second time within a matter of minutes, I told my mother I thought I really needed to get to the doctor. When he saw me and I explained my symptoms, he was concern I might be having a collapsed lung, so he sent me to have x-rays. Back in the exam room, I had the sense something was wrong as I waited on the doctor to come back in with the results of the x-rays. I could hear him talking down the hallway to some nurses…I had been using this family doctor since I was 12 years old, so I was familiar with his manner. When he walked in the room, just the look on his face told me something out of the ordinary was wrong…the x-ray revealed a spot on my right lung. What do you do at age 28 when you hear those words? My blood seemed to turn to ice in my veins and I remember an overwhelming desire to fight and survive because I had a baby to love and raise.

That was in September 1981, and the next few months between then and January 1982 were a blur of doctors, tests and waiting…and a holiday season of wondering if I would see the next holiday season. I was sent to a radiologist for a series of scans. He had the personality of an artichoke and as I laid on a cold table wearing a hospital gown, he told me I had a 33% chance of cancer, 33% chance of an enlarge lymph node or a 33% chance of a calcium deposit…and then he left the room. Hummm… I was then referred to a thoracic surgeon and his decision was to observe the situation for 3 months…and we did. I became quite the expert on standing just right and raising my hands over my head for x-rays. Then came January…the waiting was over, the decision was made…surgery. This was pre-HMO days, so I was admitted several days before the surgery for tests, which included a nuclear scan to see if cancer had spread to my bones and other parts of my body. And then the big day came…surgery…the only thing I can remember about that day is sensing a bright light then waking up in ICU in a drugged stupor, and asking a nurse if the tumor had been cancer. Even in that state of mind, I remember her response…”The doctor will talk to you” and I remember thinking, “Well, there you go…it was cancer”. Later, the surgeon explained the tumor was about the size of a coin and was about as low-grade malignant as it could be and still be considered cancer. He remarked we should thank God we found it when we did before it grew and became more virulent and larger. The tumor and a portion of the lower lobe of my right lung had been removed. (Your right lung is the largest of the two and has 3 lobes…your left lung is smaller and has 2 lobes.) This type of thoracic surgery is very serious and invasive. The patient is cut from front to back on their side and their ribs are broken and spread open to access the lung…that was my first “broken” bone. After a week in ICU, I was released to a room for further recovery time…and then, I went home to recover and deal with the fact that at age 28 I’d had lung cancer.

I started counting the years, and as each cancer-free year went by I celebrated. When the 5th anniversary rolled around I was elated, but when number 10 arrived I thought I was home-free. But, then, 1995 arrived. In the spring of that year I started coughing, I was a little congested so I thought nothing of it. By then I had been diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome and other health problems, had one bout of lung cancer and quite frankly was tired of being a pincushion and going to the doctor…so, I ignored the cough. Spring turned to summer and the cough lingered. By late summer it was significantly worse. I was coughing until my head hurt and finally I knew I was in trouble when I coughed up some blood. I couldn’t ignore it any longer and went back to my family doctor who once again took x-rays.

Once again, I heard Dr. Davies talking to a nurse down the hall as he examined the x-rays. His face told the story when he walked in the room. This time it was my left lung. We talked possibilities…I took a TB test…I remember him saying we could pray that it was TB because the remedies were not as invasive. I went to a pulmonary specialist, radiologist and a thoracic surgeon. I went through a bronchoscopy, a procedure in which a long flexible tube was inserted into my left lung through my nostril for a biopsy purpose. A tissue sample was taken and the result came back negative, but the radiologist disagreed and felt the mass on my lung was cancer.

So, after the “team” got together and had a confab the decision was made…surgery…again. This time it was the days of HMO’s. I went in the hospital Oct. 25, 1995, had my surgery that day and was sent home 1 week later to the day. It was a gruesome time…I won’t share all the details…I did learn that the doctor “inadvertently” cut my artery during the surgery. The results were indisputable though…cancer…again. This time more aggressive and virulent. The bronchoscopy had been wrong because the tissue taken was from inside my lung. The cancer was growing on the apex of my left lung…on the outside. The surgeons removed 60% of my left lung and had to totally reshape me a new lung with what was left. And then, my recovery and the counting started all over again. I am now a little past 12 years since my last brush with cancer, but the words of my oncologist still ring in my ears, “Since you had cancer twice before the age of 41, it’s not if you get cancer again but when you get cancer again.” And so, I wait and live…

I know you’re asking or thinking…she must be a smoker. Pure and simple…nope. I had never touched a cigarette…had not been around second hand smoke…we just don’t know why. It could be radon…it could be related to my autoimmune diseases, but fact is fact and it happened to me…twice. The most common cause of lung cancer in men and women is smoking, but research shows that women are 1.5 times more likely to develop cancer from smoking. If you quit smoking that will help your chances.

Like any cancer, detection is crucial. Know the signs. Every year during breast cancer awareness month I want to scream, “Wait…tell everyone what the number one killer is.” It’s lung cancer! Breast cancer is important, but so is lung cancer…you can not live without your lungs. Please, be aware…know about the facts of lung cancer.

© 2007 Beverly Hicks Burch All rights reserved.

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