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a blog to share information about breast cancer PREVENTION & TREATMENT

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Sue Horton
History behind Thermography of Iowa

My first real recollection of the words “breast cancer” was at age 22 when my grandmother was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. It had been going on for years with her knowledge and she did nothing in the way of treatment but let “nature take its course”. By the time she was diagnosed, it had spread to the point that she had open wounds on her breast, abdomen, and back. Looking back, I think my whole family suspected something was amiss because she had a peculiar odor and would not “hug” us the way she used to in a bear hug fashion. This was strange as she always was my “favorite hugging grandma”. I was away at college attending pharmacy school at Drake University when my parents called to inform me that my grandma had called them from the hospital…..she just checked herself in so as not to be a bother to anyone. She lived very stoically until she died soon after at the age of 78. Looking back now, I can’t imagine the pain and suffering she must have endured. For her there was no surgery, chemo, or radiation…just a slow painful death. At the time, I remember thinking that breast cancer must be an “old people” disease. It was something non-preventable and just “happened” with no rhyme or reason.

This time in my life, and actually starting in my early teens with my first period, I just accepted the fact that my period was normal even though I suffered with horrible cramps, blood clots, and heavy long cycles which were often very irregular. Sometimes I would even skip a period for months at a time which was a relief to me from the PMS. I had fairly significant PMS with bloating, water retention, mood swings, and tender breasts which would occur for 7-10 days before and the first day of my period. This was all apart of being a “woman” and I would self doctor with Midrin, Pamprin, Tylenol, and eventually getting a prescription from the doctor for a drug called Anaprox (naproxen sodium) which worked the best. While I was at Drake University, the health center also put me on a strong birth control pill, Enovid-E (which currently isn’t on the market today as it was too strong) to try to regulate my cycles. This did help to some extent, but I wound up in the emergency room one night with a “fluid filled cyst” on my ovary which had burst. This was one of the most painful experiences I had to ever go through. Being naïve, I was led to an older OB-GYN physician to get a second opinion. His answer was to take me off the birth control pill and have me “cycle” myself by using a drug called Provera (medroxyprogesterone acetate). If I didn’t have a period for several months, I was to take the Provera for 10 days in a row to “induce” my period. The physician told me I needed to “shed my uterine lining” at least 4 times per year to avoid uterine cancer. This usually worked but at the time I remember thinking this can’t be good for my body or “ok” to do long term…..what about having children in the future? I also can’t explain it, but I just didn’t feel “good” while I was taking the drug. Looking back now, I realize I was experiencing side effects from the drug but being young and naïve it didn’t occur to me at the time. I experienced a more intense form of PMS. I just dealt with it. What I know now, is that I could have helped my PMS, ovarian cysts, and heavy, irregular cycles by simply putting natural progesterone in my body. I was probably very deficient in progesterone while at the same time producing normal amounts of estrogen. This had created in me “Estrogen Dominance” a term coined by the late Dr. John Lee MD in his many books on hormone balance. I wish someone could have told me that all I needed to do was “cycle” for 10-14 days before my period with progesterone. It alarms me that still today, over 25 years later from me experiencing my “hormone imbalance”, that young women are still going through what I experienced. They are being told that it is “normal” and are still being put on birth control pills at any age to regulate & cycle them although it is a much “lower dose” than what I was put on. Then, when they want to have children, they have issues with infertility and fibrocystic breasts.

My second exposure to cancer happened when my mom’s sister was diagnosed at age 70 with a hormone related breast cancer. She had a mastectomy and a year later a 2nd lump was found. She had to have radiation followed with 5 years of Tamoxifen which caused a blood clot. She did survive it though and lived until the age of 90. Again, I attributed breast cancer as a disease in which only elderly post-menopausal women had to worry about.

While attending Drake University, I started working as a pharmacy intern at Omega Pharmacy in Urbandale. After graduating from pharmacy school, I kept working there part time as a pharmacist and also part time at Uptown Pharmacy in Des Moines. They were both owned by “Jims” and the two “Jims” shared me. I met my husband Mike through the Jim at Omega pharmacy who is his brother. I was married at age 25 and life was good. I wasn’t concerned at the time about irregular cycles and amazingly I wasn’t on birth control pills and never became pregnant. We were thrown into a nightmare when at age 29 my husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer. This was my third experience with a hormone related cancer. The next year was a nightmare with surgery and chemotherapy. I didn’t even realize until about a year after his diagnosis, that I hadn’t had a period. It is amazing what stress does to your body! He survived the grueling regimen just fine and life went on until 4 years from his first diagnosis he had a second bout with testicular cancer. The physicians’ said it was not a reoccurrence but rather like being hit by lightening twice! How unlucky for us! This involved more surgery and chemotherapy which had “improved” by that time. Once the second ordeal was over, I was in my early 30’s and feeling my “biological clock” ticking. After what we had been through, I felt just lucky to have Mike alive but he really wanted to start a family. During this time period, I purchased Uptown Pharmacy in 1989.

Since my cycles had become even more erratic and irregular and with all that Mike had been through, we tried many rounds of a drug called Clomid to induce ovulation. This was not successful as it over stimulated my ovaries to the point that I had “bunches of eggs that looked like grapes”. No one follicle would enlarge and ripen. After a year of Clomid, I was now seeing a fertility expert who performed the “GIFT” procedure on me by laparoscopy. This involved horrendous and endless shots and hormones to manipulate and control my cycle. I became an emotional raging hormone mess with many symptoms. I had “GIFT” done twice with back to back procedures. The first time it did not work but the second time indeed it was a “GIFT” and I was blessed with twin boys. In fact, I had so many mature and ripe eggs that they fertilized and “froze” nine eggs/embryos. Two years later I went through an “embryo transfer” where again my body was manipulated with hormones. The embryos were allowed to “thaw” and three survived well enough to be implanted in me. I was again pregnant with twins but lost one at 4 weeks and was blessed with a daughter.

The year before my boys were conceived, I expanded my pharmacy by joining an organization in Houston, Texas called PCCA (Prescription Compounding Centers of America). I added “compounding” to my traditional neighborhood pharmacy practice. By default due to being in the compounding field, I began my journey learning about compounded “Natural” or “Bio-Identical”, “BHRT”, or “Human Identical” hormones. For the most part in the early nineties, in order to obtain natural hormones you needed a compounding pharmacist. The natural hormones had been around since the 1930’s but had been overtaken with the advent of synthetic hormones in the 1940’s-1970’s. Natural hormones, because of their source, could not be patented by drug companies so there was no economic incentive for them to go that route. As my compounding practice grew, so did my knowledge of hormones. In 1995, I had a fourth encounter with cancer when my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He had the tumor removed and luckily did not need any other treatment. My passion to try and find out how hormones related to these various types of cancers was fueled by being exposed to the world of natural hormones.

My fifth encounter with cancer was by far the scariest. One of my best friends was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes. Here was a young woman in her mid 30’s that was so vital and alive suddenly struck down and bedridden! To top it off she had two small children who did not have their mother for over a year. Her story is almost too painful to recall. She had to go through the mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and a bone marrow transplant. I remember her almost dying several times from the treatment, horrendous nightmares, and hearing her have hallucinations from being so drugged up. I walked with her during her horrific journey as a friend and vowed that I would find out everything possible to help prevent anyone I knew from having to go through what she did. Miraculously she survived, but then I began watching her being forced into an early menopause with multiple hormonal imbalances. She was so miserable hormonally, that life was hardly worth living. There was the endless sea of anti-depressants and sleep medications. I helped her find a physician who balanced her hormones and her life improved greatly.

These five separate encounters with hormonally related cancers kept driving me to learn more. I started going to hormone conferences every 6-8 weeks around the country to learn from the experts. I was fortunate to meet Dr. John Lee, MD and learn so much from him before he passed away. He was truly the pioneer for hormone balance and the use of progesterone. Interestingly enough, he practiced in Marin County, California which had the highest breast cancer rates in the nation with the EXCEPTION of his patients which simply just didn’t get breast cancer! The difference? Hormone balance and natural PROGESTERONE! Ten years ago I had requests from local physicians to help them help their patients. The word spread that I was learning about hormones, awareness among baby boomers was occurring, and women were demanding help! I knew that in order to help women we needed to test their hormones. A novel idea since it currently wasn’t being done at least in this part of the country! It didn’t make any logical sense to wily nilly give women hormones without testing them first to see what they were deficient in and then second, once they were on hormones to make sure they were in balance and in a safe range. Serum or blood levels didn’t seem to make much sense to me especially when using topical or transdermal hormones. I contacted Dr. Lee for help in how to help these women and physicians to test and interpret their hormone levels. He introduced me to Dr. David Zava, PhD who owns ZRT saliva testing lab in Portland, Oregon. This was a match made in heaven! The first phone call I had with Dr. Zava opened up a whole new world to me! His field of expertise in testing and interpreting results was amazing! He also had the added benefit of being an expert on hormones and their relationship to breast cancer. He had been a researcher in various labs across the world which looked at this very subject and his knowledge of research and studies on hormones world wide was incredible! Dr. Zava and Dr. Lee were able to write the book “What Your Doctor Might Not Tell You About Breast Cancer” shortly before Dr. Lee’s death. I would highly recommend it to any woman and especially those who have been touched by breast cancer, have a high risk of breast cancer, or a fear of breast cancer. The information in this book is imperative that every woman should know and all backed with research.

I immediately started helping women by using saliva testing, which has been around since 1959, and it has been extremely rewarding! At that time, I started doing “hormone consultation and evaluations” on women by physician referrals. I spend on average 2 hours with a patient interpreting symptoms and tests to come up with a “plan” to help balance their hormones. As of today, my youngest patient is 12 years old and my oldest is 92 and this includes male hormone balance as well. Along my hormone journey, I met Carolyn Walker, ARNP who shares my passion for helping people to balance their hormones. We were led to the idea of breast thermography through one of her patients. I had my first mammogram at age 35 per recommendation of my own OB-GYN and have had several since. I always dreaded them and felt uncomfortable with the idea of smashing my breasts and shooting radiation through them but I didn’t know of any other option. With my family history and exposure to loved ones with breast cancer, I felt it was necessary. When I learned of what breast thermography could offer I wanted to give it a try. I went to Lincoln, Nebraska 4 years ago as that was the closest center I could find. It was such a nice experience that I came back all excited to spread the word to other women. Carolyn and I kept discussing it and learned more by visiting Dr. William Amalu, DC in California. He is one of the most foremost experts in the country. We learned so much from him and felt so empowered that it led to us purchasing a thermography camera. The thermography camera was purchased from a company called “Titronics” which is located just outside of Iowa City. When the owner delivered the camera to us he was so excited because this was the first camera of this kind owned and operated in the state of Iowa. Thermography was approved by the FDA in 1982 as a breast screening tool and here we were 25 years later being among the first to bring this modality to women in Iowa!

Our dream is to help women detect EVEN EARLIER any breast abnormalities. In doing so, we can help correct hormone imbalances, add nutrients in their diet which are beneficial to the breast such as iodine, and try to reverse abnormalities and fibrocystic breasts before they turn into a breast cancer. It would be awesome to have every woman have a baseline fairly early in life so we can tackle the epidemic of breast cancer by PREVENTION and even up to 8-10 years EARLIER DECTECTION of breast abnormalities than is currently being offered to women today! My passion for this topic increases each year as I witness breast cancer striking more and more women at earlier ages! Within in the past few months, a cousin of mine who is 42 years old was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has had two surgeries so far, and now the oncologist is looking at possibly chemotherapy and/or radiation. I can personally think of fifteen friends, parents of my children’s friends, neighbors, and acquaintances that have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past three years. This does not include all of the women I have come in contact with professionally through the hormone arena. Breast cancer is gaining on us despite all the “racing for the cure” we are currently doing. Women deserve to know of the option of thermography and hormone balance to help protect themselves from the horrendous disease called breast cancer.