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Cancer can feel like a tornado at times. The cancer affects you and the treatment affects you. Your emotions are affected and your family is affected. And there you are, in the middle of it all! That’s why it’s crucial to do everything you can to look after yourself and boost your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being during this time. Here are four ways you can do just that.


The Role of Spirituality and Religion


The links between religion, spirituality and well-being in cancer patients are complex and personal. Cancer can awaken spirituality in some people, but cause others to question their beliefs. The specific nature of your beliefs seems to play a role. As this article in the Huffington Post points out, there seems to be a link between the belief in a benign God and positive well-being in people with cancer. However, the reverse is also true — spiritual distress is linked to lower well-being in cancer patients.


If you’re a religious person, you have existing support in the form of your faith leaders. If you define yourself as spiritual but do not belong to an organized group, practices like mindfulness meditation and yoga may be of some benefit in clarifying your thoughts. Your health care provider can also support your spiritual and religious needs during your treatment.


Create a Comfy Home


You don’t have to go on a cleaning spree — and you likely won’t have the physical or mental energy to do so anyway — but creating a comforting home atmosphere will be a boon to you during this heavy time. Ask a loved one to help you, or consider hiring a professional to come give your home a good purging and cleaning. Start by getting rid of things you no longer want or need; too much “stuff” not only clutters your home, but can actually drain you emotionally.


Once you’ve gotten rid of excess items, your cleaning helper can move on to dusting, vacuuming, and mopping, which will improve the health of your home and you. Don’t forget your air quality, either. Allergens like mold and smoke have a nasty habit of lingering in the air, which can be especially nauseating to cancer patients. Replacing your home’s air filter with one rated MERV 13 or higher will rid your air of these and 98 percent of other irritants in the air.


Maintain a Healthy Diet


Cancer treatment can affect your appetite, taste preferences and cause nausea — right at the time when good nutrition is most important. Everyone is affected differently, so adapt your schedule accordingly. If you only have an appetite in the mornings, eat your largest meal of the day at this time. You need to keep up your strength, so if you only feel like eating certain types of foods, then sticking to those is preferable over not eating. Meal-replacement powders or shakes can be a good way to get extra calories and protein when your appetite is low, and remember to stay hydrated. If you need more advice on nutrition, read the Eating Hints guide by the National Cancer Institute.


Start a Cancer Journal


A lot of our mental well-being stems from our thoughts. When we’re going through a difficult time, those thoughts can be fast, vague, and confusing. It can seem that no matter how much we think, we don’t get any clarity. That’s where a cancer journal comes in. Although journaling might seem like a simple exercise, it helps you build a narrative out of your thoughts and feelings, making them concrete and easier to deal with. You can write about your worries, your fears, things you’re thankful for, and things you hope for. It’s your journal, so do what you want with it.


Use Opioids Safely


If you have been prescribed opioids to help with your pain, use them exactly as prescribed by your doctor, and make sure your doctor is aware of all other medications, supplements, and over-the-counter medications you’re taking. Do not take a higher or lower dose than prescribed, as higher doses can cause more side effects and lower doses can cause withdrawal symptoms.


When it’s time to stop taking the medication, you’ll usually taper off your usage gradually over a few days or weeks. Opioids can cause drowsiness, so don’t drive or drink alcohol while you are taking them. If you notice any bothersome side effects, contact your doctor right away.


Cancer can undermine your emotional and physical health. Even if you’re not seeing the impact yet, it’s a good idea to get positive habits in place. This will make future stresses easier to deal with. However, if things start to get too difficult, it’s important to talk to your doctor as soon as you can.


Photo: Pixabay


Is DHEA the magic bullet to boost your energy? In this day and age, so many of us talk about being tired. We have stressful and busy lives. Some of us have to work a full time job, run a business, take care of family, teenagers and elderly parents. Simply put, we are exhausted. One of the most frequent concerns that I hear from my patients is “I am tired. Can you give me something to boost my energy?”.  Looking at the wide array of supplements you can find online and on the shelves of pharmacies or health food stores, there seems to be plenty of choices. But do they actually work? Which one do we get? Are there any side effects?

One of these magical so called energy boosters is DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone). Let’s take a closer look at some facts.

DHEA is a hormone produced by your ovaries and adrenal glands (located above your kidneys). DHEA blood levels are age dependent meaning that DHEA levels peak in your twenties and then decline with age They decrease to 20-30% of peak levels between 70 and 80 years of age.

DHEA helps to make other hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen. In your adrenal glands and liver, DHEA changes to DHEA-S (DHEA-sulfate). You will often see me check the DHEA-S level to determine whether your adrenal glands are working well.

High DHEA-S Levels in females can cause increased body and facial hair, no menstrual periods, acne, hair loss (scalp), fertility problems, deep voice, male pattern baldness, enlarged Adam’s apple, irritability and aggressiveness.

Research on DHEA for specific conditions includes:

Aging. Research hasn’t proved this to be true. In theory, DHEA supplements could slow the aging process, possibly improving well-being, cognitive function and body composition. In reality, there is no evidence of DHEA being effective in doing the above.

Depression. DHEA might be more effective at treating depression than placebo.

Osteoporosis. Some improvements in bone mineral density have been observed in elderly people with low DHEA. But these improvements were small compared with those seen after treatment with approved osteoporosis medications.

Vaginal atrophy. Limited research suggests that DHEA might improve vaginal dryness in postmenopausal women. We carry DHEA vaginal cubes at Community Clinical Pharmacy. They are over the counter and inexpensive. In addition, Prasterone (Intrarosa) vaginal inserts are FDA approved for vaginal atrophy and available by prescription.

Research on the effects of DHEA on body composition, energy and well-being has had mixed results. Most studies have shown no positive effect of DHEA on cognitive function or on muscle size or strength. However, the National Collegiate Athletic Association has banned DHEA use among athletes.

In my practice, I do not recommend taking DHEA pills without checking your level first. A very low or high level of DHEA-S may indicate adrenal insufficiency or adrenal fatigue. Once I know your level, and after assessing your symptoms, risk factors and other lab results, I may then recommend DHEA for you. There has been concerns about the consistency of DHEA content in OTC capsules in the past. Bottles of at least three brands of DHEA were tested by an independent laboratory and showed that they contained less of the potent hormone than they say they did.  For that reason, I recommend compounded prescription version of DHEA. Either way, I strongly discourage patients against taking DHEA without knowing your levels.

To find out if your low energy is related to adrenal fatigue and or low DHEA level, contact me at 480-264-7600. We can determine the health of your adrenal glands through a simple saliva test and take appropriate measures, which may include DHEA.


One of the most common questions I get asked often is this: What did women do about their hot flashes, night sweats and other menopausal symptoms before hormone replacement therapy (HRT) became available?

I have been a pharmacist for nearly 30 years and I have seen the days when nearly every woman was getting HRT pills to the time when the big scare about breast cancer and heart disease came about and most doctors stopped prescribing hormones suddenly. My practice of counting hormone pills has changed over the past three decades but my opinion about HRT has not.

You see, the life expectancy of a white woman increased from 49 years in 1900 to 80 years in 2000. Black women’s life expectancy went up from 34 years in 1900 to 75 years in 2000.

In other words, most women used to have the luxury of not living long enough to face menopause. Nowadays, we live well into our 70’s and get to experience peri-menopause, menopause and beyond. Furthermore, we are now a big part of the work force, we play crucial roles in family matters and we are more open about expressing our feelings and concerns.

Some of you may remember your mother taking “Valium” for her “hysteria”. I think it is safe to assume that it was indeed menopausal mood swings, irritability and sleeplessness that your mom was suffering from? The weight gain during midlife was expected for a woman and no one thought much of it. Nowadays, we are more aware of our body image and view the menopausal weight gain as an exhausting battle that we often times lose.

In addition, the stresses of everyday life and our busy schedules tend to cause us to have more intense menopausal symptoms. A lot of us are baby boomers and are now taking care of our elderly parents as well as our adult children in addition to having to deal with our own health related issues.

Talking about your vaginal dryness or sex drive was taboo not too long ago. I see more women discussing these issues openly within the past 20 years.

As you see, a lot has changed since the 1900’s or even the last few decades. In this series of blogs, I will be discussing menopause, the obvious and not so obvious issues related to menopause and will offer you suggestions that come from years of experience working as a female pharmacist taking care of menopausal women. Stay tuned.