Tag Archive for: PEN Blog

Notable News: December 2019

While 2019 is nearing its end, there are all kinds of new beginnings in cancer research. Scientists are finding new and exciting discoveries that could lead to fine-tuned cancer treatments specific to each person, each type of cancer, and each response the body has to treatment. Using tropical flowers, mitochondria, and an off switch for cells, researchers keep finding new paths to treatment for even the most difficult and deadly cancers. Of course, that doesn’t mean we need to forget about prevention; there continues to be new information about how our lifestyles could affect our cancer risk, right down to our hair color.

A trip to the hair salon might mean an increased cancer risk, reports ecowatch.com. A study by the National Institutes of Health shows that permanent hair dyes and chemical hair straighteners might put women at an increased risk for cancer. The study found that women who used permanent hair color were nine percent more likely to get breast cancer. Black women, though less likely to use hair dye, had the most notable risk. They showed a 45 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer. Women who used hair straighteners had an 18 percent higher risk of breast cancer. Frequency of use posed a problem, too. Hair products can contain more than 5,000 chemicals, including formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen. This study’s findings aren’t enough to draw a definitive link between the hair products and breast cancer, and no warnings have been issued about using hair products, but the findings do indicate that more research needs to be done to determine whether or not there is a connection. Read more about this study here.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just switch off a cell to prevent tumors from growing and spreading? It might be possible, reports medicalxpress.com. Researchers have discovered what could be a new cancer immunotherapy treatment for patients who haven’t responded to other types of immunotherapy. The study, done on mice, shows that many tumors display the molecule MR1, which keeps the body from fighting the cancer cells. Researchers found that when they gave the mice an antibody that blocked the MR1 cell, cancer fighting cells could come in to slow cancer growth and prevent it from spreading. With this new information, doctors would be able to screen patients to see if they have the MR1 cell, and determine if they would respond to the potential new immunotherapy. Researchers now want to apply what they’ve learned to human tumors. You can learn more about the findings here.

Another treatment-related discovery is that there might be an alarm at the molecular level that serves as an alert when cancers have become resistant to treatment, reports sciencedaily.com. Mitochondria, which are present in most cells, can sense DNA stress which can indicate when cancer cells have developed resistance to chemotherapy, researchers found. The findings could lead to new cancer treatments that would prevent chemotherapy resistance, making it more effective. See the details about this discovery here.

Also from sciencedaily.com, we’ve learned that a tropical flower might hold the answer to treating pancreatic cancer. The plant, Uvaria Grandiflora, grows in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, and its flower contains a chemical that researchers have used as a model to create three new molecules which they hope could treat pancreatic cancer. All three of the molecules have shown that they kill pancreatic cancer cells in a Petri dish, and while the potential drug trials are more than five years away, these molecules could become new drugs for treating pancreatic cancer that would be more effective and less toxic than current treatments. You can find more information here.

As you say goodbye to 2019, we hope you will continue to say hello to Patient Empowerment Network. We will continue to provide you the latest in cancer research news as we continue in our mission to empower patients, family members, and caregivers in innovative ways. We’re particularly proud of our digital sherpa™ program, which you can learn more about at voice.ons.org. Learn how the sherpas are used to enhance the experience of patients and nurses as told by Regina White, RN, MS, OCN at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. Check it out here.

Happy, Healthy, New Year to all!

Questions Answered About digital sherpa™

After participating in a digital sherpa™ workshop with Cancer Support Community in Ann Arbor, MI, we sat down with a student volunteer (“sherpa”) and a cancer patient (“slimber”) and asked about their experience.


1. What do you think are the benefits of social media and technology to people with cancer and care partners?

Personally, I think that technology is very helpful. To be able to communicate with a doctor’s office outside of work hours helps when I have a non-urgent question.  
I’m still figuring out how social media is helpful. Doctor’s are so busy that to ask for interaction in real-time would be unfair, to them and to patients. However, it is helpful to be able to communicate in real-time with other patients and caregivers who are going through the same type of issues.  

2. What do you think are the main barriers to people using technology to assist them on their cancer journey?

A main barrier from my perspective is that when someone get diagnosed with cancer, there is a sudden jump from very few doctors to too many doctors and offices. Suddenly, everyone wants to give me information, get information from me and know how I am. This is not all attainable from one place, so many of web addresses suddenly need to be found, remembered, passwords added and remembered, etc. With treatment brain fog, fatigue or age related issues, this is very difficult. 

3. What are your thoughts on working with the students today? Do you think each generation has something to learn/teach other generations? If so, what?

Working with the students was great! Their familiarity with the web and the pages was very helpful.  
We do have things to teach each other and points of contact and building communication with common ground start the process.

4. Was there anything that surprised you about today’s workshop?

How easy it was and how much information is available.

5. What is one thing (or more!) that you learned at today’s workshop?

I learned about the Registry, Healthtunes, and , although I don’t need it now, ridesharing.


1. Why did you volunteer with the digital sherpa™ Program?

I volunteered with the digital sherpa™ Program because I resonated with the mission of the program – to empower patients. Although patients go to health care facilities to address concerns about their own bodies, the complexities of treatment, especially cancer treatment, can pose barriers to playing an active role in their care. I think the digital sherpa™ Program is a great way to help patients access resources in their journey and connect with other people with similar experiences. I also thought the sherpa Program was an easy way to help others, especially since I’ve grown up with technology all around me.

2. What surprised you the most about your experience today?

What surprised me the most was how the man I was paired with held onto every word I spoke and looked at me expectantly. When I talked about the resources provided by the cancer support community and how to fill out the demographic information, he listened whole-heartedly and I felt the weight of my words. It was a unique experience taking the lead and being able to give advice.

3. What are your thoughts on working with the participants today? Do you think each generation has something to learn from/teach other generations? If so, what?

I enjoyed working with the participants because I was paired with a man who was his wife’s caregiver. When he was unsure about whether to join an online support group, he turned to her. I think our generation can learn from the older generation that sometimes less is more, and it is important to keep your information secure. When I asked my participant if he wanted the website to save his password he said no because a person shouldn’t stay logged in.

4. Based on what you experienced today, what do you think are the main barriers to older people using technology to assist them on their cancer journey?

One barrier is not having a person to turn to for help or the ability to search for solutions on the internet. Typically if I have trouble with a device, I google to try to find a solution. Another barrier is it’s constantly changing – apps, software updates, etc, so they may get used to one piece of technology, and then it changes.

5. Based on what you experienced today, what do you think are the benefits of social media and technology to people with cancer and their care partners?

During my experience, I saw a more clear benefit of technology rather than social media. One woman was able to save pdfs of articles from WebMD to the home screen of her iPad, and another man was able to join the cancer support community facebook page. Also, knowing how to access online resources such as chats, and support from licensed counselors through the phone is very beneficial as well.

6. Is there anything that you learned or saw today that changed any opinions or assumptions you may have had about people living with cancer?

Working with the participants exposed an assumption I had related to people with cancer: people with cancer as very sick and having to deal with numerous medications. Although I didn’t know what medications the participants I was paired with were on, I did notice that they were all in different stages of health. Also, I learned that cancer patients express a lot of agency when deciding with resources to take advantage of. From the list from the digital sherpa™ “cheat sheet,” only a few were of interest to my participant’s wife (patient) because she already has been receiving a lot of emails.

5 Yoga Poses That Reduce Daily Stress

We all deal with stress in our own way. 

Personally, I’ve been set on a downward spiral from something as simple as a negative thought. And although I still have hard days, I can say yoga has made these stressful times far easier to manage and few and far between. 

While yoga isn’t a cure-all, it can make a tremendous impact on how you deal with stress, where you store it in your body, and how happy you are throughout the day. If you haven’t given it a serious try, I strongly suggest committing to this simple, 5 pose routine and doing it every day for the next week. It only takes about 10-15 minutes and requires no prior yoga knowledge. 

Let’s have a look…

Why does yoga help with stress? 

Most of us store stress in our neck, upper back and shoulders. Many of us also sit at desks for the majority of our days. This leads to bad posture which further exacerbates the tension in our back, neck, and shoulders. 

Yoga helps you release tension and stress in those areas, strengthen your muscles and take a moment to focus on your breath. This is doubly important if you’re already experiencing burnout and overwhelm. 

When you perform a pose like forward bend or plank, you take deep breaths that trigger a relaxation response in your body. You also strengthen your core which leads to improved posture and physiology. 

If you had to picture a depressed or stressed person, you’d probably imagine them looking down, bad posture, and breathing shallow, etc. Something as simple as better posture actually improves your body’s response to stress

These are just a few ways yoga helps to reduce stress but, I encourage you to try it yourself and report back to us.

Do you need any special equipment?

The short answer is no. If you have a carpet or a soft surface, then you really don’t need anything. 

However, there are things that can assist in your practice. 

For example, a yoga mat may help you by improving cushioning on your joints as well as giving you a stable surface to practice on. Yoga blocks and straps can help you build form and give you something to hold onto. An anti-gravity yoga swing can help you maintain balance and stability in a number of poses. And a yoga wheel can help you with more advanced positions. 

However, none of these items are required, especially when you’re starting out. We encourage you to just focus on committing to this routine, every day, for the next week and see how you feel. 

5 yoga poses to perform each day

1. Forward bend

The forward bend is one of those classic, super simple poses that make a big difference in how you feel. This is an especially great pose if you work at a desk for most of the day. When you sit at a desk, your hamstrings are always contracted, your back rounds and your posture can start slipping. 

As a result, you breathe more shallow, your shoulders get tight, and the downward spiral begins. 

The forward bend relieves the pressure that’s been exerted on your spine, lengthens your hamstrings, and gives you a minute to just breathe. 

To perform the pose, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Then hinge at the hips and bend forward placing your hands on the ground if you can. Draw in your belly button toward your spine to activate the stretch and feel the tension releasing down your back. 

You may notice your back cracks as the pressure releases. Hold the pose for as long as you like making sure that, if you still feel the tension in any specific areas (like your hamstrings), hold it longer until that tension begins to relax. 

It’s also okay to have your knees slightly bent if needed but work on straightening them out over time. 

2. Cat cow

This is actually two poses that work hand in hand. They’re an ideal combination for releasing tension along your entire back as well as building strength and flexibility in your spine. 

To perform the first part (cat pose), get on all fours on your yoga mat or carpet. Make sure your hands are shoulder-width apart and your legs are hip-width apart. 

From there, take a breath and then exhale as you round your back and lower your head, pointing your crown toward the ground. 

Now, as you inhale you’re going to move into the cow pose. From the cat pose, take a deep breath and move in the exact opposite way. You’re going to raise your head and point your gaze toward the ceiling as you round your belly toward the floor. 

As you’ll notice, you’re both breathing deeply throughout the pose as well as improving lower and mid-back mobility. 

You may feel a little tension in your upper back while in the cat pose. If so, focus on pushing your shoulder blades out and holding that stretch until it relaxes a bit. This can be 5 seconds or 5 minutes. 

3. Corpse pose 

At first glance, corpse pose seems intuitive. You simply lay on the floor and relax – just like you do when you’re taking a nap or going to sleep. And while it is somewhat natural, there are important distinctions. 

When performing corpse pose, it’s imperative to focus on breath and thought patterns. This is the key to relieving stress and putting in the intentional “me time” our busy lives crave. 

To perform the corpse pose, get a yoga mat or go to an area with soft carpet. 

Lay on your back with your feet shoulder-width apart and hands straight down at your sides. Lie there for a moment just letting your self breathe naturally and relax into the position. 

After a few breaths, become aware of the feeling of the ground beneath you, become aware of the sensations happening in your body, and notice the sounds and smells around you. Release all judgment and just observe. 

Now work your way from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head, releasing the tension in each area. Pay special attention to releasing tension in your back, shoulders, neck, and face muscles. Breathe deep, take your time, and relax in this pose for as long as you like. 

4. Plank pose 

Now that you’re nice and relaxed from the corpse pose, we’re going to perform a more active movement. The plank pose is incredible for building core strength and stability because it hits all of your abdominal muscles and your glutes. In fact, it works the abdominal muscles that crunches are unable to strengthen. 

Our posture affects how we feel. When you’re slumped over with a rounded back, it sends chemical messages throughout your body. 

These messages can trigger stress, lower self-esteem, and even cause issuue with sleep. By performing a few planks every day, you can fight these problems and more. The plank also gets your blood flowing which promotes stress-busting happy hormones. 

To perform the plank, get into a pushup pose on the ground. Now drop to your elbows while keeping the rest of your body elevated from the mat. Draw in your belly button to tighten your abdominal muscles and hold the pose for 30-60 seconds. Repeat this 3 times in a row giving yourself about 1 minute in between to rest. 

5. Childs pose 

This is the perfect pose to end your anti-stress yoga routine. It’s very relaxing, excellent for spinal flexibility and one where you can really focus on your breath.

To perform the child’s pose, simply kneel on your yoga mat or carpet with your legs together and sitting back on your heels. Now bend forward pulling your chest close to your thighs. Reach your hands above your head like you’re trying to grab the far wall. Feel the stretch along your spine and throughout your shoulders. 

You can hold this pose for as long as you like. It’s an excellent way to spend some time breathing, relaxing, and preparing your mind for a great day. 


When it comes to stress, yoga is the perfect way to beat the feeling and tension caused by it. By adopting yoga as part of your daily routine (it only takes a few minutes after all), you can build flexibility, improve posture, trigger happy hormones, and just feel happier more capable during the day. Give it a try today and let us know how you feel after.