Monday, April 29, 2013

Proof of Heaven: Book Review

If you know brain tumor victims or caregivers, or read about brain tumor victims or follow brain tumor bloggers, you know that there aren’t always happy endings. If fact, many of the endings are downright miserable. I talked with one brain tumor support group organizer who, in the space of a year, lost something like 90% of her group.

As much as we try to block, sidestep or parry death’s tentacles from penetrating our daily thoughts, in this business death isn’t far from anybody’s thoughts.  It’s with that cheery thought that I recently read Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander, M.D.

This is a near-death-experience (NDE) book. Actually, near-death-experience is probably a misnomer. For all intents and purposes, Dr. Alexander was certainly brain dead (literally) and his family was just dancing around the idea of pulling the plug when –Eureka! – he makes a miraculous recovery.

Actually his recovery is so surprising, given the myriad of medical folks who thought him beyond any sort of recovery, I’ve begun to think of it as Miraculous Recovery² (or MR2 for short).

Dr. Alexander was an academic neurosurgeon for 25 years, including 15 years at the Brigham & Women’s and the Children’s Hopitals and Harvard Medical School in Boston, so his perspective on a NDE or even a MR2 is a bit more notable than the common, found-around-the-house NDE.

He recovers with an incredible and uplifting story of the afterlife. Whether you believe it or not is up to you, but I found the book articulate, provocative and full of scientific details (most of which I didn’t understand).

And here’s a link the website for his book:
And here’s a link to his book’s website:

Friday, April 26, 2013

'How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who's Sick'

If you read this blog, odds are pretty good that you know somebody who’s sick. I don’t mean somebody with a cold or a bum knee or even a crotchety hip. I mean somebody who’s seriously ill with a life-threatening illness, mostly likely a brain tumor.

If you’re the person who’s sick, I’m sure you’ve encountered somebody who visited you and said all the wrong things, things like:

“It’ll take time, but you’ll get over it.”
“Try to be strong for your children.” 
Or, my favorite, “It could have been worse.”

All of these belittle the situation, or the pain of the victim ,and just makes the victim feel worse. Ironically, the well-meaning friend/relative/business associate thinks that they are helping.

The problem is that the well-meaning but misguided friend/relative/business associate does not know the right thing to say. Luckily, Letty Cottin Pogrebin has written a handy book - entitled How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who's Sick - on the right things to do and say to really sick friends/relatives/business associates.

Here’s a snippet of a Barbara Mahany interview with Pogrebin from the last week’s Printers Row section of the Chicago Tribune which I thought was particularly lucid:

“Q: One of the first hurdles is knowing what to say — and what not to say — when a friend is first diagnosed, when the friend gets bad news, or when the illness goes on for months or even years. Give us the three most essential of your "10 Commandments for Conversing with a Sick Friend."

A: It's tough to choose, but I'd probably give these three priority: 1) Avoid self-referential comments or anecdotes. A friend suffering complications of pregnancy won't be helped by your childbirth story, nor will someone with a hacking cough feel comforted to hear, "You think that's bad? I had double pneumonia." 2) Never talk to a sick friend the way you talk to a child. Banish from your speech lines like: "Did we have our medicine today?" Or, "Now, that's a good boy!" Or, "I bet you could make a wee-wee if you really, really tried." Sick people are already made to feel powerless by their illness and the medical system. Don't make things worse by infantilizing them. 3) Think twice before giving advice. Even if you know ginkgo biloba supplements would do your friend a world of good, try to keep your opinion to yourself. Sick people are already overwhelmed with information, just trying to understand their own diagnosis can be a challenge. No matter how well-intentioned you are, don't complicate their lives any further with your tips. They have doctors for advice, what they need from you is friendship.”

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tyler & Ben Hansbrough’s Older Brain Cancer Survivor Brother

Here’s a great story about Greg Hansbrough – Tyler and Ben Hansbrough’s older brother. For those of you who don’t follow U.S. basketball, Tyler Hansbrough is an American professional basketball player who had an outstanding collegiate career. As Michigan State Spartan alumni, I have to say that I wasn’t Tyler's greatest fan…mostly because he was so good, so tenacious and so tough to beat.

I now understand that he got much of that from his older brother, Greg, who has fought brain cancer with the same toughness and tenacity.

Here’s a link to a well-written article about both Hansbrough brothers by Dana Hunsinger Benbow, of USA TODAY Sports:

I like the article because it provides an unflinching survivor story with a happy ending.  According to the March 18th, 2013 story "When Greg first got diagnosed, he wasn't given much of a chance," said Tyler, 27, as he sat on the Pacers practice court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Monday. 

"I watched him overcome obstacles that most people never see in their lifetime," Tyler told The Indianapolis Star.

"What he's been through, he's a fighter. He's a warrior," said Ben. "He's been a fighter his whole life."

Benbow goes on to write that “Fighter for sure. Although surgery to remove the tumor was successful, doctors thought Greg would never walk again. He not only walked, but he ran.
He played basketball for four years at his high school in Poplar Bluff, Mo. He ran track. He's played soccer and run marathons as an adult even though the surgery had long-term effects on the left side of his body. He can't move his left hand or the toes on his left feet.”

Both Ben and Tyler have come out as a celebrity spokesmen for Voices Against Brain Cancer - - to raise awareness and brain cancer research funding.

It’s a nice story that’s well-written. I highly recommend that you read it…especially if you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with brain cancer and are searching for stories of folks who have battled this horribly disease and won.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Regular Exercise = Better Memory

One of my favorite health and fitness writers, the effervescent Ms. Gretchen Reynolds, has recently written a new article about two new studies that delve into the link between exercise and improved cognition.

The article, entitled Getting a Brain Boost through Exercise -  - reports that “Two new experiments, one involving people and the other animals, suggest that regular exercise can substantially improve memory, although different types of exercise seem to affect the brain quite differently. The news may offer consolation for the growing numbers of us who are entering age groups most at risk for cognitive decline.”

Since I am part of an age group that’s “most at risk,” I pay special attention to articles like these.

Reynolds writes that “The new studies provide some additional and inspiring clarity on those issues, as well as, incidentally, on how you can get lab rats to weight trains who are entering age groups most at risk for cognitive decline.”

Anybody who has the wit to joke about “rats” and “weight” training in the same sentence gets kudos from me. (And please, no “gym rat” jokes.)

While I encourage you to read Reynolds’s article, I found this summary of both research studies both interesting and relevant, “What all of this new research suggests, says Teresa Liu-Ambrose, an associate professor in the Brain Research Center at the University of British Columbia who oversaw the experiments with older women, is that for the most robust brain health, it’s probably advisable to incorporate both aerobic and resistance training. It seems that each type of exercise “selectively targets different aspects of cognition,” she says, probably by sparking the release of different proteins in the body and brain.”

Here’s a link to the original research on humans published in the Journal of Aging Research:

Image credit: <a href=''>fberti / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

American Cancer Society Study seeks key to staying cancer-free

Here’s a novel idea let’s study why people stay healthy, instead of why people get sick. That seems to be the idea behind the third wave/generation of a series of American Cancer Society studies.

The lead researcher, Alpa Patel describes the study in this video.
An article in the Chicago Tribune, by reporter Rachel Levy, adds context to the video and notes that “…researchers hope (the study) will help them solve one of medicine's most perplexing puzzles: why some people never get cancer.”

Is this some 20 to 30 person interviews from which researchers draw wide-ranging conclusions?


Levy reports that “The American Cancer Society has already enrolled 200,000 people and hopes to find 100,000 more people nationwide; enrollment in Chicago's western suburbs began Thursday and runs until April 26.”

This isn’t a one-time survey as she further comments that “To take part in the study, a person must be 30 to 65 and never have had cancer. Participants fill out comprehensive surveys about their health and habits and give blood samples and waist measurements. Researchers will track participants' progress over the years, sending short follow-up surveys every two years or so that can be filled out at home in about 15 to 20 minutes.”