Do cancer survivors celebrate birthdays differently?


I've noticed an uptick in "Happy Birthday" commercials being aired by the American Cancer Society lately (check out Ricky Martin's video).

What exactly is the campaign's intent? Is it to remind the millions of survivors among us that more people than ever before are surviving this disease? Is it to highlight the fact that while more of us are surviving, there is still much more work to be done? Perhaps it's a little of both.

This most recent offering, with Ricky Martin happily thumping on a bongo, made me think to myself, "How have my birthdays changed since my diagnosis back in 1997?" Upon reflection, I decided that mine have changed significantly. Before cancer, I dreaded getting another year older. I didn't want to tell people how old I was. Today, I often forget how old I am. I have to subtract my birthyear from today's date to figure it out. I don't worry about or celebrate "years" anymore. I'm just happy to be here. Happy to have family and friends I love. Happy to have fulfilling work. Just plain happy to be alive and well.

Have your birthdays changed since your diagnosis? Are you, like me, simply grateful to have another year under your belt? Have your feelings about your own mortality changed? Or, has nothing changed? I'd love to hear about the little things that have become an annual tradition- your special way of honoring the person you've become through your years of life experience.


The high price of co-payments impacts medication compliance


Yesterday, I told you that 40% of women aren't being screened regularly for mammograms. Today, we look at how many more women aren't filling their proven life-extending prescriptions. At least this time, we know why.

A higher prescription co-payment, especially among older women, is associated with both early discontinuation and incomplete use of adjuvant aromatase inhibitor therapy, a life-saving therapy for women with hormone-sensitive, early-stage breast cancer. Dawn L. Hershman, MD, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology and co-director of the Breast Cancer Program at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at Columbia University, told us that previous research has identified several factors affecting compliance, such as age, severity of side effects and belief that the medication is useful. This time, Hershman and her colleagues looked at the impact of prescription co-payments on hormone therapy use. Working with the Medco Research Institute, the investigators used anonymous patient information to target women older than 50 years who were prescribed aromatase inhibitors for early-stage breast cancer. "We looked at two different factors: women who discontinued use altogether or had no subsequent refills and those that did not refill their prescription on time or did not take the medication at least 80 percent of the time," said Hershman.

Results showed that of the 8,110 women aged 50 to 65 years, 21.1 percent stopped taking the medication, and of those who properly continued with their regimen, 10.3 percent didn't take the medication as directed over the two-year period.

In the older population of 65 years and up, almost 25 percent stopped taking the medication, and of those who continued, 8.9 percent were non-adherent. Co-payments were categorized as less than $30, between $30 and $89.99, and $90 or more. The 90-day co-payments ranged from $0 to $893.49.

In the 65 and older group, women were more likely to discontinue medication use if they fell in the co-payment categories above $30. However, it was not until the co-payment reached $90 that the 64 and younger age group was more likely to discontinue use or not take it as prescribed. Additionally, the study results showed that women whose prescriptions came from a primary care doctor or women who were prescribed many other medications were also more likely to stop taking the medications or not take them as prescribed.

I am an awful "pill taker." In fact, I have to put my vitamins next to the daily arthritis medication I give my dog so I'll remember to take it. I am the poster child for the millions of us who take "medication vacations." For me, it's not so much about cost as it is about placing the care of others before myself--a bad habit I am trying to break. Cost, however, is a huge issue for many of us who are all too familiar with the mounting costs associated with aging. I've seen my own parents struggle with high co-pays and, in their opinion, the limited rate of return with regard to my dad's Alzheimer's medications.

What an awful choice to have to make.


33rd Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium kicks off


What if I told you that losing your hair during chemotherapy may not be inevitable or that sometimes making irrational decisions can be beneficial? Or how about this...did you know that even cancer cells get stressed? Would I have your attention? These fascinating topics will be explored over the next few days at the 33rd annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, along with presentations on the latest research and treatment in breast cancer.

What began in 1978, when a group of 141 physicians and surgeons from a five-state area got together to discuss ways to reduce the death rate caused by breast cancer in San Antonio and surrounding counties, has turned into an international conference attended by physicians, researchers and advocates from over 90 countries. The overall objective of SABCS, however, remains the same. Its mission is to produce a unique and comprehensive scientific meeting that encompasses the full spectrum of breast cancer research, facilitating the rapid translation of new knowledge into better care for breast cancer patients.

For the next few days, the CURE team will be bringing you updates from this very important gathering of international thought leaders. Not only will we deliver the latest and greatest scientific news surrounding breast cancer, but will also be talking to survivors and advocates about their passionate causes. We'll be blogging, tweeting, writing and filming daily so be sure to follow us!


Gilda's Club and The Wellness Community Join Forces


The Wellness Community and Gilda's Club Worldwide have officially united and unveiled their new, combined identity--the Cancer Support Community. The Cancer Support Community will likely be the largest professionally-led network of cancer support worldwide. This is great news for cancer patients across the U.S. because it will expand the footprint of both organizations, thereby bringing more services to more communities. The new organization includes a network of nearly 50 local Gilda's Clubs and Wellness Community centers worldwide, more than 100 satellite locations and online support services that extend around the world.

"Our common history and commitment to the cancer community is what brought us together," said Kim Thiboldeaux, president and CEO of the Cancer Support Community. "This union creates a strong, vital, global network that will bring the highest quality cancer support to the millions of people touched by cancer."

These offerings include a comprehensive menu of personalized and essential services, including support groups, counseling, education and healthy lifestyle programs. Additionally, the organization is working to expand its vital services to meet the urgent needs of cancer patients and their loved ones. To ensure no one has to face cancer alone, these support services will soon be available to people in all 50 U.S. states and internationally through the Cancer Support Community's network of community-based centers, and at hospitals, community oncology practices and other non-profits, as well as online. The Cancer Support Community is also exploring the use of novel technologies, including mobile, to help extend the reach of these meaningful resources.

I have had the privilege of visiting the Gilda's Club in Dallas several times and am impressed by the variety of support services available to patients and their families. This new union will make those services even more spectacular.

I only have one problem with all of this... the new name. The Cancer Support Community? Really? Gilda's Club and The Wellness Community are such well-known brands in the cancer world. The new name doesn't play off either of them. It's like Coca-Cola and Pepsi joining forces to become Bubble Water. Can't we do better? My colleague, Jeremy Heath recommends changing the name to Wilda's Community. Hmmmm.