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Category Archives: Living with Cancer

Blog Posts about Living with Cancer


Undifferentiated, A Definition (1)A term used to describe cells or tissues that do not have specialized (“mature”) structures or functions. Undifferentiated cancer cells often grow and spread quickly.This is a somewhat scientific post. Keep reading because it’s very interesting.Tumor grade is different than cancer stage.After the doctor biopsies, suspicious tissue, he or she sends it to a pathologist. The pathologist then determines whether the tissue is malignant. Furthermore, they can tell what kind of cancer it is, as well as what the tumor’s stage is. Your doctor may also ask the pathologist to also check for specific mutations which can be treated using targeted treatments.When a pathologist looks at the cancerous tissue under a microscope, they assign a tumor grade. This is based on how similar the tumor cells and the tissue are to normal, healthy cells. They call tumor cells that are more like healthy cells, “well differentiated.” They call more abnormal the cells, “undifferentiated.” This is important because, in undifferentiated cancer, the cells are immature. In addition, undifferentiated tumors are likely to grow and spread quickly.Making the GradeThere are several ways to grade tumors, This is a popular method. Pathologists give tumors a grade of 1, 2, 3, or 4. Read more…


The Lymphatic SystemYour lymphatic system is part of your circulatory system AND your immune system. It’s a network of vessels and lymph nodes that make up your body’s drainage system.These vessels move excess fluid that’s been collected from all over the body back into your blood stream. Once the fluid enters the lymphatic vessels, it is known as “lymph.”The word Lymph comes from the Latin word lympha, meaning, water.As these fluids move through the tiny lymph nodes, Harmful organisms and cancer cells are trapped and destroyed by the lymphocytes. Those lymphocytes are then added to the lymph which flows from the nodes, back into the bloodstream.Unfortunately, the lymphatic system is also notorious for transporting cancer cells around the body, also known as metastasis.Doctors call it called lymphoma when cancer begins in the lymphatic tissue. Leukemia is related cancer in the bone marrow and blood.What’s a lymph node?A lymph node is a small, kidney bean-shaped organs. They contain B and T cells (lymphocytes) which are part of your adaptive immune system. (see Immune System)LymphadenopathyIt’s called lymphadenopathy when one, or more, of your lymph nodes, become enlarged. This usually happens when you have an infection, or in response to inflammation. When many the enlarged lymph nodes are Read more…


What is your immune system?The immune system is your first line of defense against infections, both viral and bacterial, as well as other diseases. The immune system, which is made up of special cells, proteins, tissues, and organs.How does it work?Your immune system works through a series of actions known as the immune response. This response attacks invaders including organisms and substances that attack and your body’s systems and cause illness and disease.Three Types of ImmunityAdaptive ImmunityThis type of immunity is very active, developing throughout our lives as we are exposed to various germs and diseases, as well as when we are vaccinated. Adaptive immunity involved the parts of our immune system that are in our blood.Most people know that their blood is made of white and red cells. The white blood cells are part of your immune system. They are also known as leukocytes.There are two basic types of leukocytes:PhagocytesPhagocytes are cells that destroy invading organisms. The most common type of phagocyte is the neutrophil. Neutrophils fight bacterial invaders.LymphocytesLymphocytes are created in the bone marrow. If they stay in the bone marrow to mature, they become B lymphocytes (think B for bone marrow). B lymphocytes produce antibodies.  Antibodies are Read more…


One of the things we learned early on in Dan’s cancer journey was that even if a treatment worked, eventually, it wouldn’t. Cancer cells become drug resistant.Our StoryWhen doctors first diagnosed Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, they perscribed a targeted treatment called, Tarceva. The treatment worked well for 18 months before the cancer in his body became drug resistant and again progressed.After that, he volleyed back and forth between targeted treatments, immunotherapy, and traditional chemotherapies. He would take each treatment until the cancer again became drug resistant.Then, the doctors would put him on a new drug. This is something that’s often difficult for people to understand.Once a treatment works, why can’t you use it indefinitely? There are several reasons for this.Remember in yesterday’s blog on cancer cells, we learned about the ways that cancer cells are different from healthy cells? As these cells mutate, they act more and more abnormal. One of the ways they differ is that the cells can become drug resistant to the chemotherapy treatments that we rely on the kill the cancer cells.One form of drug resistance in chemotherapy is similar to the way we become drug resistant to antibiotics after taking antibiotics repeatedly, inappropriately, or for long Read more…


I recently went to the dermatologist for a full exam. As a bonus, she removed a small lump that I’ve had for years. She numbed the area and in 2 seconds (maybe even less) removed the pea-sized lump, putting in a couple of stitches and a Band-Aid. Then, she labeled the sample and sent it off to the lab.  She assured me that it looked normal, so I shouldn’t worry, but that it was very important to make sure that I get the results. Then she gave me written post-biopsy care instructions.Other biopsies I thought about other times in my life when a biopsy has been important.  In the early 1980s, my dad discovered a tumor behind his ear. I still recall hearing my parents talking about it, worrying until the results came back benign.It was that experience that I remembered when I felt my husband’s hard, enlarged, supraclavicular lymph nodes. Only, I knew more as an adult. It was even scarier.I was also in the room when they did a biopsy on Dan…and when we got the results.What is a biopsy?A biopsy is an examination of tissue removed from a living body to discover the presence, cause, or extent of Read more…


The earlier cancer is detected, the more easily and effectively it can be treated. Asymptomatic, or “quiet” cancer often spreads, unchecked to other locations (i.e. metastatic). This is why some forms of cancer have a reputation for being especially deadly.Some cancers make themselves known early on because of a side effect that sends a patient to the doctor. An example would be esophageal cancer. Because of a tumor on the esophagus, swallowing would become difficult and cause a patient to go to the doctor.Some cancers that have few or no symptoms until the cancer is already advanced. Because of the asymptomatic presentation of these cancers, they are among the deadliest.:Lung CancerKidney CancerOvarian CancerCancer of the Tail of the PancreasOften, the earliest symptoms of cancer are easily dismissed as a run-of-the-mill ache or illness (like indigestion or the flu). It’s not practical, or even safe, to run testing because of every minor symptom. When there are risk factors, however, they shouldn’t be dismissed so quickly.Our StoryIn October of 2012, Dan was a healthy, vibrant man of 51. The day after he helped a friend install a garage door, he had a back ache that he dismissed as a pulled muscle. If Read more…


This is the 2nd post in a series on having a family care conference. See part 1, “Family Care Conference: Getting on the Same Page,”  HEREMore Meetings?Your first family care conference might have felt overwhelming. No doubt, there were a lot of strong emotions. It may have been the first time you met as a family to talk about the cancer you or a loved one is facing. You may feel like you never want to do that again, So why more meetings?The first family care conference got all of the facts out there. Some people may have had a hard time adjusting to the news. shock and denial are common reactions. Thankfully, family members and friends often get their bearings and figure out how they can best help.After a few weeks, family members have had a chance to process their feelings. That’s when it’s time to have a second family care conference.Unspoken communication is often wrong communication.Living with cancer is a journey and like any journey, the scenery changes. Treatments change, Needs change. By this time, the patient and caregiver will have a better idea of what they’re up against, and how extended family and friends can help. You may also Read more…


An illness like cancer affects not only the patient but also their spouse/caregiver, children, family members and close friends. Everyone has questions, concerns, and fears. A family care conference is an ideal way to help everyone learn exactly what the patient’s health status is, what the patient needs from family and friends.Often, the desire to get the patient and their support team on the same page prompts a patient or caregiver to call a family meeting, or family care conference. It’s a great way to lay out all of the facts as well as their goals.GoalsWhen you have cancer, you become aware of your goals: health goals, financial goals, bucket list goals, and goals for things you need to accomplish.Along with concerns, family and friends also have opinions—sometimes strong ones that don’t line up with the patient’s. This is often about the patient’s treatment plan. An example of this would be when a patient decides to no longer receive active treatment and the family isn’t ready to stop fighting.As hard as it can be for family and friends when there’s a disagreement, the patient’s goals must come first. Having an open discussion at a family care conference can begin the process of Read more…


Each day, I read about the latest changes in cancer treatments. New advances are announced on a regular basis made in the war against this terrible disease.This research will get a boost from the  21st Century Cures Act, a bipartisan bill which was passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama on Dec. 13. The act will provide $6 billion for biomedical research, with nearly $2 billion for cancer research alone. The National Institutes of Health will disperse the money to researchers at universities all over the country, Read more here.Changes in Cancer Treatments are Happening at breakneck speed*Liquid BiopsiesLiquid biopsies are one of the first changes in cancer treatments that a patient may encounter. They’re a faster, more convenient alternative to standard tissue biopsies. Plasma- and urine-based assays can detect actionable mutations in patients with non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). They are both less costly and less painful. They are also able to detect whether the tumor is growing or shrinking throughout the cancer treatment. Read more here.Targeted Treatments: Precision MedicineThe ability to detect these mutations has made a tremendous difference in the lives of patients like my husband. His oncologist immediately tested Dan for the EGFR mutation and the results were positive. Read more…


This week, I wanted to share a couple of ideas that can help you to increase your gratitude this Christmas—and all year long. Let’s start with an easy way to get your family focused on their blessings.Make a Memory Ornament for your Christmas tree.We’ve done this for several years. Sometimes, I forget about it until the last minute and grab an ornament off of the tree and a Sharpie Marker. That’s one of the things I love about this activity. Rather than needing to do a lot of preparation, the activity itself is preparing your heart.You need 2 items:A permanent marker or paint pen (preferably a fine-point)Some type of Christmas ornament that has enough surface that you can write on it. Plain glass or plastic work the best.Gather your family together. This works well on Christmas Eve. Turn off any distractions such as electronics or TV.  Ask each family member what their favorite memory was from the year. Then, write each one down in only a few words, on the ornament. Also, add the year. This will definitely help to remind your family of their blessings, which is sure to increase your gratitude.  It’s also a lot of fun to Read more…

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