Saturday, April 28, 2012

Guest Blog Post from the Mesothelioma Center at

Detecting Mesothelioma

Detecting mesothelioma can be a tricky endeavor. This rare cancer is caused by exposure to asbestos, a toxic mineral fiber that was used in a variety of different construction materials, such as insulation and paint, and other products ranging from hairdryers to personal care items.
When airborne asbestos particles are inhaled or ingested, the trouble starts. Over time, these particles can build up in the lining of the lungs and abdomen and cause DNA damage. Then some patients with enough exposure and DNA damage develop mesothelioma tumors on the lining of the lungs called the pleura or the lining of the abdomen called the peritoneum.
Detecting mesothelioma is especially difficult because the symptoms typically don’t surface for 20 or even 50 years. Most people with pleural mesothelioma, the most common form of this cancer, suffer from shortness of breath, pain in the chest, cough, weight loss and fever without any signs of infection.

Methods of Detecting Mesothelioma
Doctors conduct a variety of tests to detect mesothelioma, such as blood tests, PET scans and other radiographic tests, and biopsies. The only current conclusive test to detect mesothelioma is a biopsy.
A biopsy is the removal and analysis of tissues and fluid samples from the body through an open or closed procedure. Under a microscope, the cells can be examined for the presence of cancer. Depending on the type of cancer and its location, different biopsy techniques may be used. One such surgical procedure known as an open pleural biopsy  (thoracoscopy) is known to have the best diagnostic accuracy for pleural mesothelioma.
Currently, most surgical centers use tiny instruments guided by a camera to perform an open pleural biopsy and only make two small cuts to minimize pain and speed up recovery.

Advances in Detecting Mesothelioma
Researchers are exploring the possibilities of using biomarkers (biological indicators) to help diagnose mesothelioma earlier. The presence of these biomarkers can help researchers decipher if a specific disease is present.
In mesothelioma patients, a biomarker called mesothelin is over-produced by the body. By looking at a sample of the patient’s blood, a doctor can test for high levels of mesothelin. This type of testing is not conclusive though and data is still being gathered in clinical trials and studies. The most important steps in a mesothelioma diagnosis still include imaging scans (like X-rays, CT and PET scans) and biopsies.

Bio: Michelle Llamas is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. She is committed to generating awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure and providing information regarding breakthroughs in mesothelioma treatment.

Attanoos, R. L., & Gibbs, A.R. (2008). The comparative accuracy of different pleural biopsy techniques in the diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma. Histopathology. 53(3), 340–344. Retrieved from
Baldi, A. (2008). Mesothelioma from Bench Side to Clinic. New York: Nova Science Publishers.
Medicine Plus. (2012). Open pleural biopsy. Retrieved from
Pass, H. I., Vogelzang, N. J., Carbone, M. (Eds.). (2005). Malignant mesothelioma: Advances in pathogenesis, diagnosis, and translational therapies. New York: Springer.
Unites States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (2012). Asbestos. Retrieved from

Thursday, April 5, 2012

What Makes CTCA Different?

Whenever I talk to someone with cancer so someone who used to have cancer, any type of cancer, young or old, there is usually one common theme: they have all, at one point or another, had a bad experience at a healthcare facility. It's sad really, you're going through so much and the last thing you need to be doing is fighting with a doctor or a nurse or the stupid tech that treats you with zero compassion because she thinks her life is worse than yours. Ok, well maybe that last one was just my experience. But I'm sure many of you can relate. I even had a great care facility (I was treated at Johns Hopkins... hard to get much better than that) and I still had a few moments where I was just in shock at the behavior of some people. In the instance I mentioned previously, I had been out of surgery for a couple of days but I was still at the point where I could barely stand up and I was still getting used to the temporary ostomy I had unexpectedly woken up with. This tech came in to empty my ostomy bag and told me to get up so she could do it. When I told her that I couldn't really get out of bed yet she got really annoyed and said she couldn't do it while I was laying down. My mom then offered to do it because she could tell the girl had an attitude, but the girl then put her hand up and told my mom no, and then preceded to open the bag and let all of the "waste" pour over my bed, tummy, and fresh surgery wounds. Then, in a really cocky voice she said, "I told you you needed to get up." Thankfully it happened right in front of my physical therapist who then immediately took care of the situation with the head nurse. But really, who can deal with stuff like that when they just found out they have CANCER? Especially if they are alone and have no family there to fight for them. I know I would have been lost without my mom.

Before arriving in Phoenix I knew little about Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). I had briefly looked into it when I was diagnosed but I got an appointment at Johns Hopkins before I really had much time to learn about it. So I was pretty blind going into this. Just so you know what we were there for and such, CTCA put on a blogger summit for a small group of people who operate cancer blogs (I think there were 9 of us). We toured the facility, spoke with patients and doctors, ate the same food the patients eat, and were shown services such as Tai Chi classes and meeting with therapy dogs. The weekend was meant to show us what CTCA has to offer. In going there, I was looking to answer one main question in my mind: What makes CTCA different?

It didn't take long to get that question answered, but it will take a few posts to explain all of it. But to begin, as I heard many patients say that weekend, CTCA is more of a spa than a hospital. It is very homey... not at all like a hospital. For example, here is a picture of the inside of CTCA:

Kind of like a nice hotel or something right? When you first walk in you are met by a greeter that usually even knows your name before you tell them. That is because by the time you arrive, your registration is already completed... you do that in the limo or town car that they pick you up from the airport in, after you land from the flight that CTCA booked for you. While staying in Phoenix for treatment (and remember there are other locations... Chicago, Tulsa, Philadelphia, and Atlanta is soon to come) there is a hotel located in the hospital for $40/ night or you can stay across the street, and in walking distance of the hospital, at the Marriot for $50/ night. Here are some pictures of the hotel rooms inside the hospital:

CTCA operates on a "from bench to bedside" mentality. They believe in offering the newest treatment options, compassionate medical care, and mental/ emotional care. Now, I'm sure many places say that right? But have you ever seen it? I certainly hadn't. But over the next fews posts I want to explain what I saw here and why I believe CTCA actually IS different. I'll write again about medical treatments and nutrition/ naturopathic care, but right now I want to focus on the compassion that I saw there and what "extra" stuff that CTCA has that other hospitals don't.

So when you make your appointment at CTCA, like I said before they cover your travel (flight) to get there if you don't live locally and they pick you up from the airport and take you to your hotel or the hospital. And after arriving for your appointment and being greeted, you are taken to the clinic for your consultation. According to the patients your wait time before being taken back to see the doctor is next to nothing, as apposed to the hours that many of us have experienced elsewhere. Once taken back to your room you will be seen by EVERY SINGLE doctor that you need to see. That includes the oncologist, surgeon, nutritionist, naturopathic doctor, and mind/ body therapist, to name a few (obviously you don't HAVE to see all of them but they are available to EVERY patient... regardless whether or not your insurance covers each one... if CTCA accepts you as a patient you can utilize any doctor and any service... AMAZING!). This team of doctors meet prior to your appointment so that they know your chart BEFORE entering the room... for those of us with long medical histories this is huge... we know how annoying it can get to have to explain over and over again what our histories are.

The goal is also to have everything that the patient needs under one roof and to offer a personalized medical plan to make sure your treatment is the most effective it can be and that you have minimal side effects. Again, this is huge... how many of us have later found out we had the wrong surgery, or shouldn't have had surgery at all, or were put on the wrong chemo, or weren't told about other options? TOO many of us! This just shouldn't happen. Patients should be told all of their options and allowed to make decisions about their own treatment.

The people I met though really topped it all off for me though. The courtesy I saw them show not only to us but to their patients was just incredible. I saw nurses escorting patients to and from radiation treatments, holding the patient by the arm, not pulling them, but comforting them before their treatment. Almost all of the patients were always smiling and to me this tells alot about a medical facility. They also make sure to mark milestones in someone's treatment... when a person finishes their radiation regiment they get to ring a large bell out in the waiting room and everyone applauds them. Even more incredible, when a former patient reaches their 5 year cancer free mark they and their families are flown out to the CTCA facility for an event called Celebrate Life. The former patient is given a gold leaf on the tree of hope located in the lobby with their name and hometown on it. The president of the hospital speaks at the ceremony and then the survivor speaks with current fighters in efforts of giving them hope. Who does that? Really? It all sounded too good to be true. But after talking with the patients there, I began to see that it is in fact true.

This just scratches the surface... I can't wait to tell you about everything else that they do there in relation to treatments, nutrition, and mind/ body therapy. I hope that this is the future of all medical care. And if I ever get cancer again, which is a huge possibility, I will be going there for my treatment.

"Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting..... 'WHAT A RIDE!'"