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October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Plus...

by Meemaw

We've done articles similar to this in past years, but this year, I'm going to do something different. Yes, cancer is a horrible disease that kills thousands every year, but there are many other diseases that do as well. Many of these you've already heard of, but I thought that this year I would summarize a few others along with the "big C". The main definition of each (in italics) is from Wikipedia.


Cancer is a large group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. Possible signs and symptoms include a lump, abnormal bleeding, prolonged cough, unexplained weight loss and a change in bowel movements. While these symptoms may indicate cancer, they may have other causes. Over 100 types of cancers affect humans.

Breast cancer is one of the most devastating forms, especially for those who get it. Many times the person has to endure major surgery to remove the affected area, plus reconstructive surgery to restore the appearance of normality. Men as well as women can get it. Cancer can strike anywhere in the body and spread anywhere else.

With the advances in cancer research, more and more people are surviving. One resource is The American Cancer Society Their statistics say that there will be 1,735,350 new cases of cancer this year and 609,640 deaths. One of their infographics states that being overweight or obese increases your risk of getting 13 different types of cancer because it negatively affects your immune system and certain hormones.

MS (Multiple Sclerosis)

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease in which the insulating covers of nerve cells (myelin) in the brain and spinal cord are damaged, causing a range of symptoms. Specific symptoms can include double vision, blindness in one eye, muscle weakness, trouble with sensation, or trouble with coordination. MS takes several forms, with new symptoms either occurring in isolated attacks (relapsing forms) or building up over time (progressive forms). Between attacks, symptoms may disappear completely; however, permanent neurological problems often remain, especially as the disease advances.

The specific symptoms are determined by the locations of the lesions within the nervous system, and may include loss of sensitivity or changes in sensation such as tingling, pins and needles or numbness, muscle weakness, blurred vision, very pronounced reflexes, muscle spasms, or difficulty in moving; difficulties with coordination and balance (ataxia); problems with speech or swallowing, visual problems (nystagmus, optic neuritis or double vision), feeling tired, acute or chronic pain, and bladder and bowel difficulties, among others. Difficulties thinking and emotional problems such as depression or unstable mood are also common. Most with MS end up in a wheelchair.

There is no cure for this disease. MS affects approximately 2.3 million people worldwide. One resource is the National Multiple Sclerosis Society


Scleroderma is a group of autoimmune diseases that may result in changes to the skin, blood vessels, muscles, and internal organs. The disease can be either localized to the skin or involve other organs in addition to the skin. Symptoms may include areas of thickened skin, stiffness, feeling tired, and poor blood flow to the fingers or toes with cold exposure.

This disease causes problems in all systems. Scleroderma involves an overproduction of collagen. The tissues of involved organs become hard and fibrous, causing them to function less efficiently. In systemic sclerosis, the hardening may occur in the internal systems of the body. Another sign is Raynaud's syndrome, where a spasm in the arteries causes the blood flow to be affected, causing the fingers (usually) to get very cold. They will turn white then blue for a bit, even up to several hours, then when the spasm ends and the circulation is corrected, they will turn red and seem to burn. The patient can also have skin lesions, rash and even digestive problems, along with muscle aches, lung disease and even Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome doesn't always seem too serious, but can be very painful.) The lungs are affected later, breath getting shorter. The patient may have more trouble swallowing because the tissues of the esophagus have gotten harder.

It is estimated that 300,000 people suffer from scleroderma. There is no cure for this disease, but there are several drugs that can help ease the symptoms. One resource is the Scleroderma Foundation


Alzheimer's disease (AD), also referred to simply as Alzheimer's, is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that usually starts slowly and worsens over time. It is the cause of 60--70% of cases of dementia. The most common early symptom is difficulty in remembering recent events (short-term memory loss). As the disease advances, symptoms can include problems with language, disorientation (including easily getting lost), mood swings, loss of motivation, not managing self care, and behavioural issues.

I'm sure you've known someone with Alzheimer's whether you knew they had it or not. Many sufferers can no longer tell the wonderful stories that used to come naturally, or while telling the story, forget the simple words they've used for years. Others get lost going places they have been many times, or don't recognize longtime friends or relatives. In later stages, speech is gone as well, or you see that they are awake, but there is no action or reaction to requests or conversations. They are sitting there, seemingly awake, but that's all.

Alzheimer's is the leading cause of Dementia. Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer's, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

There is no cure for this disease. One resource is the Alzheimer's Association You can find many brochures, and a handy checklist of signs.

ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's Disease)

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as motor neuron disease (MND), or Lou Gehrig's disease, is a specific disease which causes the death of neurons controlling voluntary muscles. Some also use the term motor neuron disease for a group of conditions of which ALS is the most common. ALS is characterized by stiff muscles, muscle twitching, and gradually worsening weakness due to muscles decreasing in size. This results in difficulty speaking, swallowing, and eventually breathing.

ALS can start in the area of the spinal cord which controls speaking and swallowing (called bulbar onset) or in the area controlling the arms and legs (called limb onset). Limb onset is more common, with the patient eventually confined to a wheelchair. Bulbar onset seems more dangerous, with speaking, swallowing and breathing being affected (imagine chewing and swallowing being affected and choking on your food several times at every meal). The patient may need to supplement their meals because eating is so difficult, and progress to using a feeding tube because they can't swallow any more. Later, they may need a trachea tube to allow them to breathe. Speech is gone and they need outside help, like a speech assistant or writing board to communicate. Whichever onset is first, the other eventually follows. While all this is going on, the brain is just as sharp as ever. 10% of ALS cases are inherited.

It may not be as prevalent as some of the other diseases, but it's no less devastating for those who have it. I think the worst feeling might be knowing it is familial (inherited) in your family and your father had died from it. The prognosis for this disease is approximately 2 to 5 years (although some have lived longer), and there is no cure. It is estimated that at least 20,000 suffer from this disease. One resource is the ALS Association

Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease (PD) is a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that mainly affects the motor system. The symptoms generally come on slowly over time. Early in the disease, the most obvious are shaking, rigidity, slowness of movement, and difficulty with walking. Thinking and behavioral problems may also occur.

It usually starts with some sort of muscle tremor, many times in the hand while at rest, which can go away if the hand is moved. It progresses to tremors throughout the body, and affects all movement. Walking becomes shuffling, and speech is very difficult. Eventually, the patient can't walk or talk. Cognition, mood, behavior and thought can be affected as well.

There is no cure for this disease. It is thought that Parkinson's affects approximately 10 million people worldwide. A resource is the Parkinson's Foundation One page has an explanation of ten early signs of Parkinson's, which was interesting.

Also, any of these diseases affecting swallowing also have the danger of the person aspirating food rather than swallowing it. Food particles in the windpipe/lungs can cause "aspiration pneumonia" (where the particles of food cause infection), and many people die from this before their disease can kill them.

Some really horrid diseases exist these days, many that it seems we can't defend against, even by taking care of ourselves: eating right, exercising, etc. I hope none of these happens to you or any of your family or friends.

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