Becoming Your Own Advocate

About the Series

Our Becoming Your Own Advocate series of articles are designed to empower patients with information so that they’ll be able to make better, more informed decisions.

Please help support this series by making a donation now. Is there a topic you’d like to see discussed in a future article? Please contact us to let us know.

We’re also starting the process of translating our articles into Spanish: Conviértase en su propio defensor.


Sleep: An Evolutionary Imperative. Are You Getting Enough?
Everyone knows that sleep is important. Yet, as a nation, we’re sleeping a full hour less per night on average than we were just ten years ago. What do scientists know about sleep? How many hours of sleep do we really need each night?

When the Answer Isn’t So Clear: Interpreting the Results of Medical Research
There are few things in life that are black and white and medical research is certainly no exception. Being able to skillfully evaluate the authority, usefulness, and reliability of medical information is a crucial step towards making informed decisions in one’s own healthcare.

Simple Tools For Understanding Risks: From Innumeracy to Insight
Bad presentation of medical statistics such as the risks associated with a particular intervention can lead to patients making poor decisions on treatment. Particularly confusing are single event probabilities, conditional probabilities (such as sensitivity and specificity), and relative risks. How can doctors improve the presentation of statistical information so that patients can make well informed decisions?

Lymphoma, Chemotherapy, & Antioxidants
Using antioxidants during chemotherapy is an important and controversial question among health care providers, patients, and their support teams. In previous issues of Avenues, we have researched this subject thoroughly for prostate, breast, lung, colon, and ovarian cancers. In this article, we turn our focus to lymphoma, conducting a systematic search for published research that would support or discourage the use of antioxidants in combination with chemotherapy.

Ovarian Cancer, Chemotherapy, & Antioxidants
Chemotherapy drugs used in the treatment of ovarian cancer work, in part, by inducing even higher levels of oxidative stress to attack cancer cells. This increased oxidative stress also causes chemotherapy related side effects. Oncologists have been concerned that antioxidants, which can decrease oxidative stress, can therefore also decrease chemotherapy treatment effectiveness or increase resistance to chemotherapy. However, no substantial clinical research has emerged to support the assertion that antioxidants are contraindicated during chemotherapy.

Colon Cancer, Chemotherapy, & Antioxidants
Although not commonly addressed in clinical consultation, scientific evidence suggests that combining certain chemotherapy treatments with specific antioxidants at defined dosages can improve drug effectiveness or may reduce side effect severity in the treatment of colon cancer.

Lung Cancer, Chemotherapy, & Antioxidants
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests combining specific chemotherapy treatments for lung cancer with certain antioxidants at defined dosages can help improve drug effectiveness or reduce the severity of side effects. In this evidence-based review article, Johanna Altgelt, an associate researcher at the Pine Street Foundation, searched through thousands of peer-reviewed, published studies and discusses how antioxidants may enhance or, in some cases, inhibit the therapeutic action of specific chemotherapy drugs used in the treatment of lung cancer.

Breast Cancer: Advances in Diagnosis & Treatment
There has been significant progress in the diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer this past year. In this article, guest author Gwendolyn Stritter, MD, discusses some of the latest research and observes how there is increasingly “more information about which herbs, supplements, and other alternative/complementary approaches can minimize treatment side effects and possibly even reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence.”

Breast Cancer, Chemotherapy, & Antioxidants
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests combining certain chemotherapy treatments with certain antioxidants at specific dosages can help improve drug effectiveness or reduce the severity of side effects. In this evidence-based review article, we searched through thousands of peer-reviewed, published studies and discuss how antioxidants may enhance or, in some cases, inhibit the therapeutic action of specific chemotherapy drugs used in the treatment of breast cancer.

Antioxidants & Chemotherapy for Advanced Prostate Cancer: The Latest Research on Specific Interactions
While it is true that there are some antioxidants that can hinder chemotherapy’s effects, recent research suggests that there are some antioxidants that, when combined with chemotherapy, can increase the effectiveness of treatment by upwards of 30%. In this article, we seek to provide some clarity on this topic by providing useful guidelines that patients and health care providers can use to make better, more informed treatment decisions. Although this article specifically focuses on advanced metastatic prostate cancer, future articles will focus on the use of antioxidants and chemotherapy in the treatment of other cancers.

Your Mind & Cancer Treatment: The Latest Research on Chemotherapy-related Cognitive Decline
In 2005, we addressed the issue of chemotherapy-related cognitive decline, sometimes called “chemo brain” or “chemo fog.” Since then, there have been some important new studies that provide more evidence of this problem, which we discuss and summarize in this new article.

Making the Best of a Hospital Experience
When a visit to a hospital is necessary, knowing what to expect, who to contact, and how to ask questions can be immensely beneficial. In this article, author Sandra Boeschen writes how “with a little preparation, an inpatient or outpatient visit can be the healing event you need.”

Talking to Your Children About Your Cancer Diagnosis & Treatment
This article discusses how to talk to children about cancer diagnosis and treatment. The author, Michael Haas, MA, MFT, writes how “explaining cancer to a child is difficult and requires thoughtfulness, compassion, and some understanding of how children of different ages deal with trauma.”

Sexual Health & Cancer Treatment: Understanding the Problem and Finding Solutions
In this article, we discuss the impact cancer treatment can have on sexual functioning. By addressing this important topic, it is our hope that this article will facilitate a constructive discussion between patients and their partners and health care providers.

Your Mind and Cancer Treatment: Understanding and Addressing Cognitive Decline
Often called “chemobrain,” patients going through various cancer treatments can sometimes experience cognitive dysfunction, such as slowed thinking, memory problems, and poor coordination. In the first of two new articles in our Becoming Your Own Advocate series, we address the issue of cognitive dysfunction by discussing its causes and offering various solutions that can help prevent or minimize its effects.

Information That Could Save Your Life
Guest contributor Marie Savard, MD, wants “each of us to take medical matters literally into our own hands” by compiling and maintaining a complete set of our own medical records. In the second new article in our Becoming Your Own Advocate series, Dr. Savard describes why a complete set of records is important and offers tips for how to go about finding and requesting copies.

Integrative Cancer Pain Management
The article addresses the issue of cancer pain management. Gwendolyn Stritter, MD, a pain specialist in the San Francisco Bay Area, outlines her approach to successful pain management and discusses the benefits of an integrative strategy that combines both pharmacological and non-pharmacological techniques.

How to Sleep Well: Understanding the Importance of Rest and Optimal Health
While the exact reasons for why we need sleep are still unknown, what is clear is that chronic poor sleep can have serious health consequences. There is growing evidence to suggest that there is a deeper, more reciprocal relationship between sleep and immune function than previously thought.

How to Define Your Needs: Getting Support from Family and Friends
Research over the past three decades has shown that when women with breast cancer receive wanted emotional support from close family members or friends, they are able to better adjust to their diagnosis and experience lower levels of stress.

How to Find New Treatment Choices: Locating Clinical Trials and New Drugs in Development When Standard Treatment Is Not An Option
This article, part of our Becoming Your Own Advocate series, seeks to help patients needing a new treatment approach find ready access to some of the most effective sources for locating information on newly emerging medical treatments.

Patient Assistance Plans: Pharmaceutical Companies Helping Patients Get Their Medicines
There is help available for many people who can’t afford their medicines. These programs, frequently called patient assistance programs (PAPs), are designed to help those in need obtain their medicines at no cost or very low cost.

How to Tell Your Physician You’re Using Complementary & Alternative Medicine: Why It’s Important For Them to be Informed
n this article, we discuss the issue of letting your physician know about your use of complementary and alternative medicines, why it’s important for them to be informed, and how to communicate this to them effectively.

How to Communicate Effectively with Your Doctor: Working Toward Informed and Shared Decision Making
In this article, we present suggestions to help enhance preparation for medical consultations and offer some specific questions to ask your doctor. We also include findings from recent research that may help dispel common myths about the clinical encounter and the ways in which doctors and patients truly interact.

How to Evaluate a Clinical Study: Guidelines to Help Understand Published Research
Science is a work in progress. Every day, promising studies are released and new treatments are approved. But how can you evaluate whether the information you’re reading is relevant to your own health or to that of a patient, friend, or family member?