Raising cancer awareness beyond ‘pink’ October

breast-cancer-ribbonBy Christina Venditti, Third Party Events Coordinator, Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute

October has officially been sanctioned Breast Cancer Awareness Month since 1985. That means 31 days are completely devoted to celebrating the strength of women and men (yes, men get it too — 1 percent of breast cancer patients are men, to be exact) who have faced breast cancer. We try to think of clever ways to say “boob.” We dye our hair pink, we make pink drinks with cute names and we wear pink ribbons from head to toe — all to declare our allegiance to our team in the fight against breast cancer.

This October, Karmanos Cancer Institute was supported throughout the community by more than 60 breast cancer fundraising events and promotions. We felt the support from so many individuals, schools, organizations and corporations.

And there were so many bras! I mean, I saw bras decorated as aliens, fruit baskets and everything in between (and if you’re comparing aliens to fruit baskets, there should be a considerable amount of space in between). Bras were hung from trees, bras were bedazzled with Swarovski crystals and bras were worn by men (I tried to pretend this didn’t make me uncomfortable). Bras should become the official mascot of the month of October. They were collected in droves, and it was awesome.

It’s that type of funny, tongue-in-cheek, bra-tasic humor that makes October special. Breast cancer is a terrible disease, but with the support of fellow survivors, the faces of breast cancer stand tall throughout October.

But now that the month is over, it does not mean that cancer comes to a halt. October is only one month to celebrate one type of cancer. There are 11 other months and more than 100 other types of cancer to educate ourselves on, to advance treatment to and to muscle up our fight against.

Although awareness can be raised at any time throughout the year, here are some other cancer awareness months you may not have known about:

January – Cervical Health Awareness Month
This month was designated to highlight issues related to cervical cancer, HPV disease and the importance of early detection (NCCC). Karmanos Cancer Institute is home to the metro Detroit Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program, which provides breast and cervical screenings to uninsured and underinsured women who qualify.

February – Clinical Trials Awareness Month
Clinical trials pave the way to new and more effective ways of detecting and treating cancer.
The Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute’s Phase I Clinical Trials program is one of only 14 National Cancer Institute-funded programs in North America. It is the only program of its kind in Michigan. Clinical trials are FDA-regulated and provide patients access to approximately 100 drugs not found elsewhere in Michigan.

March – Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month
According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer, excluding skin cancers, diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. Chris4Life hosts the Scope it Out 5K to raise funds for colon cancer research at Karmanos Cancer Institute.

April – Testicular Cancer Awareness Month
Did you know that royal blue is the nationally recognized color associated with testicular cancer awareness? April also represents National Cancer Control month.

May – Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Fortunately, skin cancer is also one of the most preventable forms of cancer (Skin Cancer Foundation). As the sun comes out, so should the sunscreen. There is even a special “Don’t Fry Day” on May 23. May is a great month for benefit golf outings and outdoor events, like races or sports games. May is also Leave a Legacy Month, which encourages charitable giving through wills and bequests.

June – Cancer Survivor’s Month
June is a month entirely devoted to celebrating our courageous cancer survivors. At Karmanos, we have programs and support groups to help survivors and current patients adjust to new lifestyles and continue to grow.

July – Sarcoma Cancer Awareness Month
Sarcoma is one of the rarer forms of cancer. Sarcomas are rare tumors, with less than 10,000 new cases diagnosed each year, which develop in an individual’s soft tissue or bone. For those who are connected to sarcoma, July is an excellent month to educate the community and raise funds to advance research.

September – Prostate Cancer Awareness Month
Aside from non-melanoma skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in the United States (CDC). September is also Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.

November – Lung Cancer Awareness Month
Riding on the wake of October’s Breast Cancer Awareness, Lung Cancer Awareness month is sometimes silent. Wonderful organizations like the Gianni Ferrarotti Lung Cancer Foundation help fund lung cancer research at Karmanos. With the many research projects at Karmanos, November is a great time to raise lung cancer awareness before the holidays begin. November is also Pancreas Cancer Awareness Month.

December – Year-End Giving and Adopt-a-Family
At this special time of year, we ask supporters to consider making a year-end gift, which will have an immediate impact on the lives of those facing and living with cancer.
In December, Karmanos also offers an Adopt-a-Family program. With the holidays in clear view, it’s a wonderful feeling to help those in need. Our Adopt-a-Family program at Karmanos helps the families of certain patients get through the holidays.

With the above information, we hope you’ll be inspired to support the many different types of cancer activities and events with us. For more information on our Friends Raising Funds program, or to find out how to get involved, please contact Christina Venditti at 313-576-8112.


Hey guys… do you want to know or not?

When it comes to the question of screening for prostate cancer, that’s what it really boils down to: Do you want to know or not? Are you proactive about your health or do you have an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” attitude?

Even for the experts, to screen or not to screen can be a complicated question. Results of a study of 162,000 European men, followed over 13 years, were published in The Lancet on August 6, 2014.  The study found that screening via a simple blood test for prostate-specific antigen (PSA) reduced deaths from prostate cancer by about 21 percent.

Sounds like a vote for getting screened, right?

The “but” comes when you consider how prostate cancer operates. In some men, prostate cancer is so slow growing that it may never cause symptoms or pose a major threat to your health. Is it worth it to treat and experience the side effects resulting from treatment for a cancer that isn’t likely to kill you?

“Our goal is to keep prostate cancer from killing men,” said Elisabeth Heath, M.D., director of Prostate Cancer Research at Karmanos Cancer Institute and professor of Oncology and Medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine. “Since we know that men with aggressive prostate cancer have the best chance of survival when we catch it and treat it early in the game, we’re in favor of screening.”

Who should get screened and when?

Dr. Heath recommends that guys talk to their health care provider about the benefits and risks of prostate cancer screening. African American men age 45 and older, and men of European descent who are 50 and older are at increased risk of prostate cancer, as are men with a family history of prostate cancer and men who eat a high fat diet.

The PSA blood test and the digital rectal exam are the two most common tests that look for signs of prostate issues.

It’s important to understand that not every man who tests positive for prostate cancer requires treatment. As we age, many of us harbor cancer cells that will never cause symptoms or impact our health.

How do you lower your risk?

Talk with an expert who can help you evaluate the results of your PSA and digital rectal exam along with any potential risk factors such as ethnicity and family history. Some men found to have slow growing cancers choose to closely monitor their condition with the help of their doctor.

While research is still being done to understand how to lower prostate cancer risk, you can’t go wrong reducing the amount of fatty foods in your diet and pumping up the fruits and vegetables.

Want to learn more about prostate cancer?

Watch and listen as Dr. Heath covers the basics.

Register for our free Prostate Cancer Symposium, schedule for Saturday, September 20 to find out about the latest treatments and research.

A camp, a car and the chance to change a young cancer patient’s life

A cancer diagnosis can change how the world looks to anyone but it is especially difficult for a teenager or young adult who is still trying to figure out who they are. No matter how loving and supportive family members and friends are, that diagnosis can be a lonely place that no one else understands.

Chris and Karen Hines walked beside their daughter Cassie through every step of her diagnosis and treatment for a rare form of liver cancer. But like any teenager, Cassie wanted to talk to someone who was going through what she was going through, someone who was her own age. She found that peer support at a camp for teens and young adults with cancer called Camp Mak-A-Dream in Montana.

“That’s where she found the peer support she needed to help reenergize her in her battle and pretty much gave her at least another two years of life,” said Chris Hines. “And as a parent, there’s nothing I could have asked for more than that.”

Cassie died in 2012 and shortly afterward her family started the Cassie Hines Shoes Cancer Foundation (CHSCF) to honor her desire to help other teens facing a cancer diagnosis. The foundation’s mission is to help young people, ages 16-30, find the social and peer supports they need to tackle their cancer journey head on and to help them take control of their lives.

Continue reading ‘A camp, a car and the chance to change a young cancer patient’s life’

What’s a clinical trial? You may not know until you need one.

State Rep. Gail Haines (R-Waterford) with Gerold Bepler, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO, Karmanos Cancer Institute

State Rep. Gail Haines (R-Waterford) with Gerold Bepler, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO, Karmanos Cancer Institute

State Rep. Gail Haines (R-Waterford) hosted the second annual Clinical Trials Awareness Day at the Capitol in Lansing on June 4, 2014. Karmanos’ own President and CEO Dr. Gerold Bepler was invited to speak at the press conference and present information to legislators about the more than 340 clinical trials open to Karmanos cancer patients. According to Rep. Haines, 4,340 clinical trials are being studied in Michigan for diseases ranging from diabetes to mental illness.Clinical trials are much discussed in the medical community, though they aren’t likely to be a  topic of conversation at the average family dinner table. But maybe they should be, because clinical trials are what fuels new treatments that fight cancer, control heart disease and prevent asthma attacks.

 What exactly is a clinical trial?

Clinical trials come in phases and, at least at Karmanos, they begin in a medical research laboratory. It can take years of trial and error in the lab before a drug or treatment protocol appears to be promising in treating a particular type of cancer. Once a potential treatment is identified, its toxicity is tested. Based on those results, the drug or other intervention is submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval for a Phase I clinical trial, the first time it will be tested in people.

Clinical trials are sometimes called translational therapeutics because they translate treatments from the laboratory environment to the clinic or hospital where patients are cared for. Eligible patients are carefully screened and then educated about what it means to participate in a clinical trial. At Karmanos, every patient who is accepted into a Phase I trial receives the treatment. There are no placebos or control groups. And every patient is closely monitored for side effects and response to treatment.

Phase I trials are usually limited to a small group. The information gathered in the first trial about dosages and potential side effects is then used in a larger Phase II trial of up to 100 patients that often focuses on a particular type of cancer. Next comes a Phase III trial where the new treatment is compared with the current standard of care for that disease. Once the treatment has been approved for standard use, Phase IV trials study long-term effectiveness and safety.

Why does it matter if a clinical trial is available near me?

Continue reading ‘What’s a clinical trial? You may not know until you need one.’

Slather on the sunscreen — it might be your ounce of cure

By: Lori Eaton, Internal Marketing & Communications Associate, Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center

Copyright: Christian Noval / Dreamtime Stock Photos

Copyright: Christian Noval / Dreamtime Stock Photos

My mother always used to say an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure and though I ignored her advice many times at my peril, I know that when it comes to protecting my skin from the sun, it’s advice worth listening to.

Just a few days ago, my father mentioned that he visits a dermatologist every six months to have the new basal and squamous cells that have appeared on his hands and face removed. I’ve begun to wonder if that is in the cards for me as well.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. with more the two million people diagnosed annually. There are more new cases of skin cancer diagnosed every year than cases of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. It’s the price we pay for our love affair with the sun.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer (8 out of 10 skin cancers) with squamous cell carcinoma a distant second (2 out of 10 skin cancers). Both of these cancers typically appear on sun-exposed areas of the body – face, ears, neck, lips and backs of hands. Melanoma accounts for less than five percent of skin cancers but causes the vast majority of deaths. Melanomas can occur anywhere but are most likely to appear on chest and back in men and legs in women.

That ounce of preventive advice I was talking about before is probably pretty obvious now. The sun we Michiganders love so much doesn’t love us back. Protecting our skin from sun exposure is definitely in our best interest but that doesn’t mean we have to stay inside.

“Slip! Slop! Slap!® and Wrap”

The American Cancer Society suggests that we “Slip! Slop! Slap!® and Wrap” to protect our skin from the harmful UV rays that do most of the damage.

  • Slip on a shirt – there are companies that make comfortable, lightweight clothing that still protect against UV exposure
  • Slop on sunscreen – 30 SPF (sun protection factor) or higher is recommended, any sunscreen with lower than 15 SPF must now include a warning label that states it only prevents sunburn not skin cancer. Be sure to check expiration dates when you dig out last summer’s sunscreen.
  • Slap on a hat – something with a 2-3 inch brim all the way around works best to give coverage to ears, nose and back of the neck
  • Wrap on sunglasses to protect the eyes and the skin around them

Another good choice is to become a shade lover. This is my go-to solution and allows me to spend as much time as I want to outside in warm weather. It’s even more important to seek shade between 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. when the sun is strongest.

Early detection saves lives

If your miss spent youth was spent lying in the sun like mine was, two of the most important things you can do is give yourself a once-over once a month and have a full-body skin exam performed by a dermatologist or health care professional once a year.

For your once-a-month exam, grab a mirror and follow the five steps the experts here at Karmanos recommend:

  1. Examine your body front and back in the mirror, then lift your arms and look at your left and right sides.
  2. Bend your elbows and look carefully at your forearms then upper underarms and finally palms and backs of hands.
  3. Look at the backs of your legs and feet; check the spaces between your toes and the soles of your feet.
  4. Examine the back of your neck and scalp with a hand held mirror; part your hair and take a closer look.
  5. Finally, check your back and buttocks with a hand held mirror.

What are you looking for exactly?

  • A change in the number, size, color or surface of a mole or darkly pigmented spot.
  • A new growth or a sore that does not heal.
  • The spread of pigmentation past the edge of a mole or mark.
  • Moles with a change in sensation – itchiness, tenderness or pain.

While changes in your skin aren’t always a sign of cancer, it is important to see your health care provider if any changes last longer than two weeks. Remember, cancer is most curable in its early stages.

Talk to your doctor about treatment options

Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers and pre-cancerous cells are frequently treatable by a dermatologist with minor surgery or other types of localized treatment. If the cancer is more advanced or if you have melanoma or another form of skin cancer, you may need to see a specialist, such as a surgical or medical oncologist. What’s most important is that you see your doctor to find out what treatment is right for you.

Even advanced stages of skin cancer are treatable, thanks to researchers and physicians who are working hard to find a cure. Recently, WDIV Local 4 Health Reporter Dr. Frank McGeorge talked with Heidi Gross, a pharmacist from Midland, Mich., who had no idea that the lump on her leg was metastatic melanoma. Under the care of Lawrence Flaherty, M.D., leader of Karmanos’ Melanoma Multidisciplinary Team, Heidi joined a Phase I clinical trial. After 18 months, she is doing well. Watch her story now.

Now that spring is finally here and summer is just around the corner, plan to enjoy the sun wisely. And yes, I know. I’m starting to sound just like my mother.

Are you ready to “pink” your ride?

By Lori Eaton, Internal Marketing & Communications Associate, Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center

ImageLast year, the Michigan legislature passed Senate Bill 101, and on December 19, 2013, Governor Rick Snyder signed it into law. Seems like old news, right? Just bear with me for a few more sentences.

The law establishes a “pink ribbon” license plate in Michigan that will help raise awareness about breast cancer and help fund the Michigan Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program (BCCCP), which provides low income women around the state with vital screening and treatment. Additional support for this program is sorely needed as both federal and state funding has been severely reduced.

So here’s the news.

The pink ribbon license plates will be available to order beginning in early June. And the best way to learn more is to stop by the Michigan Secretary of State mobile van at Chene Park during the Komen Detroit Race for the Cure® on June 7. (It’s a great place to register to vote if you need to do that, too.)

The pink ribbon license plate will be added to the list of specialty cause license plates available through the Michigan Secretary of State’s office. The $15,000 start-up fee for the plate was raised privately by State Senator Glenn S. Anderson (D-Westland), the bill’s sponsor. The cost of the plate for car owners who elect to purchase it will be $35, with $25 of that going to the BCCCP. One hundred percent of the $10 renewal fees will benefit the BCCCP.

Why is the BCCCP so important? Simply put, it saves lives.

Early detection through screening is an extremely effective tool in fighting breast and cervical cancers. However, low-income women who are uninsured or underinsured often don’t get screened. The result is that these women are 41 percent more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer. And a late stage diagnosis means a deadlier cancer.

The Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute is responsible for administering the BCCCP in Wayne County. Since 1992, Karmanos and the Wayne County BCCCP have provided nearly 100,000 free breast and cervical cancer screenings to local women. In addition to screening services, BCCCP provides follow up and treatment through a network of clinics and hospitals. They also offer personal support to women who need treatment and help reduce any barriers to care.

Pink your ride and help save lives! Learn more at the Komen Detroit Race® at Chene Park on June 7.

Supporting breast cancer research in memory of a beloved wife and mother

By Stuart Baskin

Organizer of the “Shave to Save” fundraiser to benefit breast cancer research at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute

I’d like to tell you about my wife, Janet. 

The first time I saw her was amazing — seeing her long flowing blonde hair, her beautiful green eyes and her smile. I think my heart truly skipped a beat.  We sat together at dinner at our five-year high school reunion and soon after started dating. 

One thing led to another and before I knew it, we were married and expecting our first child, Robert Andrew.  Life was good. We had a beautiful home, good jobs and the start of an amazing family.

Janet Baskin

Janet Baskin

Like almost every fairy tale though, things changed drastically – and it was not from a poison apple. It was from a lump Jan found in her left breast.  Sometimes I think a poison apple would have been easier to deal with. 

At the time, Jan was a registered nurse with a Bachelor of Science in nursing. She knew what the lump could mean.  She made an appointment with her doctor and he told her it couldn’t be anything to worry about, that she was only 30 years old. The doctor advised her to wait 45 days and see if the lump dissipated on its own.

Like most people, we heard what we wanted to hear and followed doctor’s orders. Forty-five days went by and Jan went back to her doctor.  The lump had not dissipated, so he scheduled a needle biopsy, with the continued assurance that it couldn’t be anything serious, that Jan was too young.

So the day of the needle biopsy arrives. We thought, no big deal – it’s just a needle being stuck into a growth in her breast. If you’ve ever been through this type of procedure, I don’t need to tell you the hardest part is waiting for results. Her doctor took a sample of her cells and we waited a week to receive the results. 

We stayed positive and just waited. After all, we had nothing to worry about — Jan was only 30.  Time passed and we went back to the doctor to receive the results. The information was not the most positive — the needle biopsy came back as “highly suspect.” 

So what does that mean?  Since conclusions weren’t definite, Jan’s doctor recommended a lumpectomy.  Again, he said that he could perform this easily, that just a small amount of material would be cut away — out with the bad and in with the good.  So we scheduled the procedure and life went on. 

The procedure day arrived.  We got there and everything went just as planned.  Jan did well and we headed home.  Again, more waiting occurred and that was tough. 

Test results finally came in and we found out that the lump was not something we could let dissipate, that in actuality, it was breast cancer. 

I don’t know how many of you have heard those words or listened to the ominous tone of the doctor’s voice when he or she tells you or someone you love that they have cancer.  It’s devastating.  Everything hits you at once and your life changes in an instant. 

From there, Jan underwent a mastectomy and removal of her lymph nodes.  She was a practical woman and asked to have both breasts removed. Doctors told her no, that there was no need for something so drastic, that her suggestion was ‘silly talk.’ 

Today, I believe a radical mastectomy is standard protocol to treat the type of breast cancer Jan had.  We scheduled the surgery and realized that this procedure is much more serious than the other procedures, that it’s meant to treat a serious problem and could turn out to be very bad. 

The surgery went well.  Jan’s breast was removed and they found three out of her nine lymph nodes had been compromised.  The good news, however, was her disease was still considered Stage I breast cancer and her prognosis was good. 

Jan took time to heal and I kept telling her that it’s a walk in the park, we have this disease under control, that we caught it early and everything is going to be fine. I told her to stay positive and reassured her that life was good. 

I read a saying once:  “Cancer may leave your body but it never leaves your mind.”  It is such a scary thing hearing those terrible words — that you have cancer — that you are always watching and looking for signs that it may have returned, always hoping that it does not come back. 

The good news is our life moved forward. Things seemed back to normal and we made it past the five year mark.  That’s the big number — five years and we made it! 

Jan returned to school and became a nurse anesthetist.  She worked so diligently, studied so hard and graduated with honors.  It then came time to consider having more children. We already had a wonderful baby boy and wanted more kids. Unfortunately, Jan’s hormonal receptors tested positive. What that meant was no more kids. The doctors did not want her hormones to become elevated. 

So what options did we have?  We decided to adopt. My son wanted a brother and I wanted a daughter, so we started the paperwork to adopt two children from Russia. 

Life was grand. Jan had started her new job and our house was full of children and love.  And then it happened. I will never forget that day. Jan called me home from work to talk.  She was having some vision troubles and had made an appointment with her eye doctor.  She sat me down and proceeded to explain her vision difficulties were from cancer tumors on her optic nerves. 

We were devastated. We knew the cancer was back and we suspected it had metastasized. We cried, we hugged and we hoped for the best.

Jan’s doctors tested, they scanned, they poked and what they found was not good.  Her cancer had spread. It was now in the meninges of her brain, in her lungs, in her bones and in her eyes. 

Jan, 36 at the time of her cancer recurrence, was a strong woman. She didn’t want to know a prognosis because it didn’t matter to her. She was going to stay and fight as long as she could.  I would like to tell you that she wanted to fight to be with me, but I know that she had her kids and that they were her driving force. 

I was not as strong as Janet. I wanted to know what was going on and I needed to hear how good or bad her situation was.  Her oncologist was amazing. All I had to do was call and he would give me an update. I did not have to ask.  What I can tell you is that my wife’s situation was bad. Her oncologist told me she had anywhere from two months to two years to live, but sooner or later, the cancer would get ahead of the chemotherapy. 

As I mentioned, Jan was a fighter. Over the next six years, she had full and focused brain radiation, radiation to her eyes, a second mastectomy, a bone marrow transplant, which was performed at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center, and chemotherapy every week, which lasted for the full six years. To top it all off, the drugs put her into early menopause. 

I am sorry to say that we lost a perfect soul, a caring mother and a courageous woman, but she did not go without leaving all of us an example to follow. Jan, who was 42 when she passed, she taught me how to cherish each and every moment and how to enjoy each breath. Most of all, she taught me how to live!

I found myself a widowed father of three kids who had just lost his wife after a long and difficult battle with a terrible disease. At first I was lost. I had a full plate with three kids to raise. I also had this helpless feeling. 

It’s hard to put it into words, but mostly I felt defeated.  I had to watch my love — my wife and life partner — fight this terrible disease and I knew one day it would win. 

Each week, doctors put poison into her veins, hoping it would keep her cancer at bay. I knew that I could only offer comfort and support. I could not fix her, nor could I heal her. 

Jan and I used to participate in the Komen Detroit Race for the Cure, which we would both walk together. One year I decided I was going to run in honor of Janet.  I had never been a runner but had a goal and a passion from within. 

I started like most novice athletes and ran a block, then two, and finally worked up to running my first 5K race. So many nights I would go off for a few-mile run to clear my mind. Running became my therapy, my saving grace, and I found my mission — raising funds to honor my wife.  For the last 11 years, I have been raising funds in her memory through my “Shave to Save” fundraising event.

Detroit Iron Team

Detroit Iron Team

This year, the “Shave to Save” event will take place from 5-9 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 24 , at Black Finn in Royal Oak and is being put on with my Detroit Iron Triathlon Team. There is a $20 donation entrance fee at the door, which will include drink specials, free appetizers and a silent auction. Detroit Iron team members, myself included, will shave their heads as part of the event. Aiding in those shaving efforts are two young ladies who are also cancer survivors. One hundred percent of the proceeds will benefit breast cancer research at Karmanos. The team chose Karmanos as a beneficiary because of the wonderful experience Jan had undergoing her bone marrow transplant at the center.

My hope is that one day, by supporting breast cancer research and the commitment to finding a cure, a father will not have to look into the eyes of his children and tell them their mother has passed away from cancer.