Everybody knows that the key to surviving cancer is to catch it early when it is still treatable. But cancer signs are often subtle and may mimic other, less serious conditions.
The question is: Which symptoms can you ignore and which need to be checked by a doctor?
Oncologist Herman Kattlove, M.D., former spokesperson for the American Cancer Society, tells Newsmax Health that the most important step in cancer diagnosis is proper screening.
This means pap smears and mammograms at recommended intervals for women, regular prostate screening for men, colonoscopy beginning at age 50 for everyone, and chest CT scans for smokers.
But there are certain symptoms that people might notice that could be cancer and should never be ignored, says Dr. Kattlove.
1.Unexplained weight loss. Most people with cancer will lose weight at some point. If there is no known cause for weight loss of 10 pounds or more, it may be the first sign of cancer. This happens most often with cancers of the pancreas, stomach, esophagus, or lung.
2.Pain. See your doctor if you have a headache that does not go away or have persistent back pain that doesn’t go away with rest.
3. Skin changes. Aside from skin cancers, other malignancies can cause darker-looking skin, yellowish skin and eyes (indicating jaundice), reddened skin, and itching or excessive hair growth.
4. Sores that do not heal. Skin cancers may bleed and look like sores that don’t heal. A long-lasting sore in the mouth may indicate oral cancer and should be examined.
5. Unusual bleeding. Coughing up blood may be a sign of lung cancer. Dark colored blood in the stool may signal colon or rectal cancer. Cancer of the cervix or the lining of the uterus may cause abnormal vaginal bleeding. Blood in the urine may be a sign of bladder or kidney cancer. And blood discharge from the nipple can signal breast cancer. “The best advice is if you notice any major changes in the way your body works or how you feel, let a doctor know,” says Dr. Kattlove. “It’s best to err on the side of caution.”
During the summer of 1994 while on a mission trip to Albania, I noticed the upper part of my feet starting to swell. From then on I began to notice my memory failing, for I could not recall key words in a sentence during a conversation. Each time I took a holiday or short break, I became ill, having to retire to bed for a day or so.
On return from a holiday near York in May of 1999, I went down with a serious bout of flu, which laid me up in bed for three months. I found it unbearable to move or turn over in bed. My whole body ached continually as all my limbs were swollen, as well as having a constant headache. I became hypersensitive to people, sound and light, and had to shut myself away in the dark, with no creative energy to even think.
With the help of a specialist, I was diagnosed as having myalgic encephalomyelitis/encephalopathy(ME), or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). I soon began a slow recovery. In the medical world there is a great divide as to what ME/CFS is or is not. The question I had to ask myself was what was going on?
I knew in a vivid way the nature of the illness. I knew I needed to adopt a new lifestyle for my health to recover quickly. Loss of my job and taking early retirement meant my wife, Chris, and I were now living beyond our means with lack of money never too far from view. But God had his hand on our finances in order to accomplish his purposes.
At the onset of the illness, the Lord spoke to me in a dream. He led me to Psalm 139 where the writer reminded me and encouraged me, highlighting verse five by saying, “You have laid your hand upon me.” Throughout all I’ve been through during the illness, Chris and I had no fears about the future. We saw the healing power of God. The Lord had his hand of protection on us continually, supporting, guiding and leading us every step of the way.
Some 12 months into the illness, a visiting minister with the gift of healing visted my church. In the service, he asked for anyone who wanted prayer for a sick friend to come forward, and a member of our church was constrained to go forward on my behalf.
Some time later on a Sunday morning, Chris and I arrived for church service and were greeted by a couple who are our assistant House Group leaders. The lady asked me how I was feeling, to which I replied I had had a wonderful week, the best so far, with little discomfort.
She immediately threw her hands in the air and shouted, “Praise the Lord, an answer to prayer.” She explained how a number of people had gone up for prayer in response to the preacher’s appeal. She had also gone up to pray for me, and as she stood waiting, listening to the names of people the preacher prayed for, she could hear my name being mentioned again and again. Praise God for answered prayer, and, just as wonderful, the love of God’s people!
Renewal and Redirection
Two and a half years into the illness, I was diagnosed as having genetic hemochromatosis, a technical term for iron overload of the blood, an inherited condition of the liver which manifests symptoms nearly identical to ME. Taking a pint of blood away at regular intervals, my energy increased dramatically.
This time of being set aside with illness enabled me to redirect my energy into serving the Lord with Chris so that we now can minister and counsel together. Previously, we had been actively involved on missions in Romania, and now we are able to resume our work there by bringing much needed support and help to the churches. In addition, I am able to project manage land that is attached to one of the small orphanages in Romania for horticultural use.
I am now stronger than I was some 20 years back, enjoying gardening and preaching each week.
At age 17, my life was full, and my dreams were coming true. I had been selected to sing in the Florida All-State Chorus conference in January 2009, and I was going to China for spring break!
Inexplicably, I started getting awkward nosebleeds. They began that January with a weird, random cold and then subsided for the rest of the month. But throughout the entire month of February, they never stopped, even in my sleep.
I had to stuff something inside my nose to stop the bleeding. I began falling asleep during class. Finally, my math teacher, Ms. Walters, one of my favorites, called my mom. Ms. Walters wondered if my sleepiness was because of my losing so much blood.
Then I noticed the lymph nodes under my chin were swollen. We were supposed to leave for China on April 4, and I wanted to know what was going on. I had been saving for my trip for two years.
Toward the end of March, we saw an ear, nose and throat doctor, who scheduled a CT scan. We received the results the first week in April, and they were not good.
The day before we were supposed to leave for China, the emergency doctor said, “I cannot let you go.”
It really hurt. I spent the next week in the hospital doing biopsy after scan after biopsy. On April 8, my dad, my mom, Ms. Walters and my best friend were with me when I received the test results: “What you have is a malignant tumor, polyps in your nose … ”
My uncle bought me a pink teddy bear. I strongly dislike pink, but immediately after my diagnosis I clung to that teddy bear and drifted into a daze. As we walked through the cancer wing I saw kids of all ages—some playing, some smiling, some crying, some numb. I was numb. I don’t remember anything except clinging to that pink bear.
Interestingly, it never crossed my mind that I could die. In fact, it stunned me when someone asked, “How long do you have?”
Shocked by the question, I replied, “Why would you ask me that? Ma’am, I am not going to die,” and walked away.
I knew I was going to face the toughest time of my life, but I never doubted I would live.
And tough it was. The very next day, I woke to a finger prick and a “Good morning!”—in that order.
Though only in my junior year of high school, I had to withdraw. Hospital staff ran every scan and test they could think of. My cancer was labeled rhabdomyosarcoma.
It was exciting to start fighting the disease, but also scary and unreal. I felt like a test subject. I didn’t start treatment right away because there was a national shortage of chemotherapy.
The staff taught me how to help my family and taught my family how they could help me. My sister, a cosmetologist, came to cut my hair. That was exciting, too, because I didn’t like my hair. I had always used a relaxer and was more than ready to go au natural.
Then came the day I started chemo. I thought, “This isn’t so bad,” but the next day it hit me. I couldn’t get to the toilet bowl. I couldn’t even move. My mother had to hold me and walk me to the bathroom. Chemo drains you of everything: good cells, bad cells, and even your appetite.
My doctors wouldn’t let me leave the hospital until I ate, so even though I had no desire to eat, I finally did. I had already been there about two weeks and didn’t want to be there any longer. A cup of applesauce was my ticket out, so I forced it down and held it down until someone walked in with the discharge papers.
Finally I could go home. Fourteen days before, I had walked into the hospital feeling totally healthy, but I walked out of the hospital with cancer. We may feel like we are invincible, but each of us is as susceptible as the next person.
When I got home, I was delighted to see my family had redone my room. (The doctors said I shouldn’t have carpet because chemo shuts down your immune system, and carpet can hide things.) My walls had been painted two shades of my favorite color: purple. I would spend many days in my “purple palace,” as I called it. In fact, within those four walls, I finished my schooling online so I could graduate with my friends. I refused to let them graduate without me!
About a month later, I started radiation. They tried to prepare me by saying it wasn’t as bad as chemo, but it was the worst. Because the cancer was in my sinuses, I smelled everything. The beam caused mouth sores. I didn’t talk for two weeks. I couldn’t eat or brush my teeth. I didn’t even want to talk to the doctors. One really nice doctor brought in a dry erase board, and they learned I had a lot to say! (This same doctor later took me out with her family for ice cream.)
My last day of radiation, which lasted about a month and a half, was June 20. After my last dose under the beam, it only felt fitting to give the radiation machine a piece of my mind, so I did.
I forgot the nurses could see me through a window, and one of the nurses, who called me Cookie, said, “Cookie, did you just kick the machine?” and I said, “Yes, I did.”
She said, “Don’t try to break our machine.”
“It tried to break me first,” I replied. (There was no damage done. I was far from a lethal weapon. I didn’t have the strength to kick it hard enough.)
By August, I was borderline anorexic. I lost 50 pounds in three months. At 5 feet, 8 inches tall, I weighed only 126 pounds and looked like a walking stick. The doctors said, “You are way too small.”
I was determined I wouldn’t let another condition add to my problems, so I drank a lot of protein drinks and ate pudding. I couldn’t eat anything spicy. Even now, I cannot eat spicy foods. My pastors, Karl and Dyrie Francis, brought me Gatorade. I love Gatorade—and I’m a [Florida] “Gator”! When Pastor Dyrie noticed I wasn’t eating, she pureed food for me. It wasn’t bad at all—it was my first steps toward eating again.
My church was amazing. People who didn’t even know me talked to me. Members called and prayed for me. One member, Grace Brown, was there with me the entire time. She was like my own personal nurse. A lot of other church sisters helped me as well. They raised funds to help me get started in college and never stopped praying. Even to this day, some still pray for me.
The supplement, which has virtually no side effects, was found to improve cognitive functioning in 46 percent of the patients, some of whom made dramatic progress.
“It was actually like bringing the people back to life,” said Dr. Lewis.
Although the study was small and involved only 34 patients, it is significant because it is among the first to provide evidence that nutrition changes may be able to reverse brain deterioration in the 4.5 million Americans who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition, it looked at people with moderate-to-severe forms of the disease, a population that is often considered beyond help and is usually excluded from such studies, Dr. Lewis said.
“As you can imagine we had caregivers of folks who were just knocking down the door to get in the study. If you know anything about this disease you know the level of desperation people have trying to help their loved ones,” Dr. Lewis added.
After nine months of taking the commercially available aloe supplement, 46 percent of the patients scored significantly higher on a standard cognition test. What’s more, key biologic markers also improved; patients averaged a 377-percent increase in stem cell production, evidence that the brain was being repaired. Immune functioning also improved.
In some people, the cognitive improvements went well beyond what standardized testing could measure:
A woman in her 90s who could not walk or speak when the trial began was able to leave her wheelchair between the third and sixth month, and speak. “Now she wasn’t talking like you and I are having a conversation, but the fact is that this lady went from mute to actually saying something. She actually called one of our clinical coordinators by name,” said Dr. Lewis.
A successful architect was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease several years ago and was no longer able to clearly remember his son. After being in the study the architect was able to recall details about his son as well as other topics. “One of the things that his wife said was that she felt she got her husband back, so that was very powerful to her,” said Dr. Lewis.
A man who was his wife’s caregiver had a daily routine where they would go out to lunch together. “After she had been in the study about three months, she told him how to get from where they were located to get back home.” It was stunning for an advanced Alzheimer’s patient to suddenly be able to give traffic directions.
Although there are other ingredients in the supplement, Dr. Lewis said he believed the effectiveness may hinge on aloe vera, a substance that is usually applied as a gel to burns but is “very powerful” when ingested in a concentrated form.
The study participants were given four teaspoons of aloe polymannose multinutrient complex (APMC) daily for a year. The research team used a commercially available powdered form of APMC of the supplement called “New Eden,” which is available from http://www.wellnessquest.org, but there are other products that contain the same APMC formulation. The powder, which most people believe has a mild flavor, is mixed in foods or drinks.
Dr. Lewis has no financial ties with the company, he said.
In the future, Dr. Lewis and his colleagues hope to get funding to do larger studies on nutritional therapies for Alzheimer’s, perhaps in combination with hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Dr. Lewis was so impressed with the aloe supplement findings that he told his 73-year-old mother to use it, even though she does not have Alzheimer’s. “With this supplement there is nothing to lose,” he said. “We haven’t found any toxicity associated with it.”To view the study abstract, click here.
Lewis, J. E., McDaniel, H. R., Agronin, M., Loewenstein, D., Riveros, J., Mestre, R., Martinez, M., Colina, N., Abreu, D., Konefal, J., Woolger, J. M., & Ali, K. H. (2013).The effect of an aloe polymannose multinutrient complex on cognitive and immune functioning in Alzheimer’s disease. The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 33, 393-406, DOI 10.3233/JAD-2012-121381.
My parents are not writers, they did not grow up as devout readers of literature or poetry, and they value words more than anyone else I know. My father and mother believe that life and death are in the power of the tongue and so they have always been careful about the words they say to us. I was reading an interview with Maya Angelou recently and she said, “Those negative words climb into the woodwork and into the furniture, and the next thing you know they’ll be on my skin.” I recognized her words from my parents’ actions.
Words have gravity and weight. Not in a “name it and claim it” sort of thing with admonishments about “watching your confession.” Nope—I had enough of that in the Word of Faith days in the 80s. But I see my life—and the lives of my tinies, my husband, even my work as a writer—as fertile ground. And the words I scatter so carelessly around me can take root in the hearts and minds of us all, giving a narrative deep in the core about ourselves, the God we love, each other and our world. I am conscious of sowing words of life and freedom.
We have dozens of “one good phrases” in our family history. My eldest daughter already knows exactly what I mean when I tell her to “be the head and not the tail” as she’s climbing out of the minivan during school drop-off because my parents always said that to me. (Dad also used to say “Be not unequally yoked!” in regards to all the boys, but somehow I didn’t listen quite as well to that one good phrase.)
“Make a quality decision” is another one. We use the phrase “Guard your gates” because their eyes and ears are gates for the hearts, so if we guard what we see or hear, then we are guarding our heart. (Quite sweet, really: If a scary commercial comes on TV, the tinies clap their hands over their ears, screw their eyes shut and holler at each other, “Guard your gates!”)
I also have a little homemade sign in our house that proclaims, “We use our words to love each other,” because I cannot tell you how many times I say it—it’s for the tinies and it’s also for my life on the Internet. I have pet phrases I use often in my writing life; they are my darlings, and I won’t kill them off just yet. (Sorry, William Faulkner. Maybe someday.)
But for this week, for our world, I’ll tell you a bit about this one: Calm your heart.
It started when I had only one small toddler in my care. If there is one thing toddlers do very well, it’s lack of proportion in their response to the world. (Can I get an amen?)
Woe betide you if the food touches the other kind of food, and heaven help us all if someone else wants a turn with the spatula. When toddlers are delighted, their whole body proclaims it. When toddlers are frustrated or angry, watch out. So when my first little toddler would become angry or despondent, I would press my hand to her chest and quietly say, “Calm your heart.”
I don’t know why I did it. I’ve never heard or seen anyone else do it. But for years now, when the tinies-who-are-not-so-tiny-anymore seem overwhelmed, whiny, upset or just plain ornery, I place my palm right over their heart, we take a deep breath and I say, “Calm your heart, love. Calm your heart.”
They cannot listen to me while their hearts are pounding with rage or fear, so the first thing I want to do is try to slow the panic. I never knew if it made a difference, but I knew that hollering at toddlers to “Be quiet!” is usually counter-productive for us both. So I would tell them to calm their heart, and I would take deep breaths with them, and sometimes, in those early days, it would be me and a toddler, in a heap on the kitchen floor, taking deep breaths in gulps together, our hands pressed to each other’s chests, and I was always whispering calm for us both.
Eventually, I realized that it did make a difference.
One night, we had a full house with lots of noise. It was getting late, and predictably the tinies were falling into an abyss of overstimulation and whining. My eldest started to lose her composure, melting into a puddle of unmet preschooler expectations. I took her to her room for a bit of quiet and relief (for us both, I imagine).
She looked up at me and said, with a sob-hiccup, “Mummy, would you tell me to calm my heart?” I placed my hand on her chest and did just that. She took a shaky breath and said, “I need my heart to be calm.” “Me, too, kiddo,” I said.
Another night, she kept getting out of bed. The reasons became more and more fantastical: I need water and this doll baby is keeping me up and my Band-Aid wants a friend. I marched her back to bed with my Mum-Means-Business voice and manner. She burrowed into her sheets. Asked for kisses. And then she said, “Mum, I know what’s wrong. My heart is just not calm. Will you pray with me?” So I did.
We prayed together, I put my hand on her chest, and we said it together, slowly: “Calm your heart.” She took a big breath and said, “That calmed my heart right down, Mum. I think I can sleep now.” And she did.
The funny thing about the simple and basic things is that they are true. If it’s true for a toddler, it’s probably true for most of us. It’s true that I need to go to bed at a reasonable hour, and I need to pray, and I need to eat real food, and I need to share, and I need to make time to rest.
It’s true that I need to make quality decisions, and I need to use my words to love people. It’s true that I need to guard my gates from lies and evil and fear. And when storms and frustrations come, when I am suffering—imagined or real—when I am whiny or overstimulated or just plain ornery, when I am angry and feeling unsafe, when I am panicking and my heart is pounding and I can’t seem to get through the cloud of anger and fear and scarcity, I need to take a deep breath and I need someone to physically be present with me and I need someone to kneel on the kitchen floor, deep breathing, and I need to calm my heart to begin again, all over again.
“Then I would still have this consolation – my joy in unrelenting pain – that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.” -Job 6:10
There are two ways to treat pain: One is to numb the pain, and other is to cure the pain. Typically curing pain is much more painful. If you broke your leg, you could do either one. If you broke your leg and you had to choose between taking morphine to make the pain go away, and setting your leg to make the break go away, which would you choose?
Usually when you set a broken leg, it’s more painful than the break itself. The good thing is, most of us live in a world where we don’t have to choose when it comes to that type of thing. However, if you had to choose, which would you choose? I believe you would choose to set the break.
In many ways, that’s a good example of what our loneliness and despair can be like. We want to flee from our loneliness. We want to run from our despair. We want to numb the pain. But it just might be, for those of you caught in despair and loneliness, that you are called to face that loneliness and embrace it. Embrace your loneliness. Embrace your despair. Embrace the darkness and, in the midst of that, you may realize that that darkness, that despair, which is very painful, doesn’t exist.
In the midst of the pain, the light of Christ shines brighter than any darkness. Even when you thought you were completely alone, God was there with you the whole time.
Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for helping me to be healthy in my behavior and actions. When faced with avoiding or facing any type of pain in my life, help me to go for the cure. Amen.
Devotion: How do you primarily respond to painful times in your life?