UVA Health System Blog

Stories about the patients, staff and services of UVA


12 Tips for Coping with Cancer During the Holidays

On December 19, 2014 | At 10:40 am

If you’re undergoing cancer treatment, caring for a family member or friend who has cancer, or grieving the loss of a loved one who had cancer, the holidays can be very difficult. Read below for ideas on how to get through the season while remaining healthy and positive.

  1. Reframe ySpending time with family can help you cope with cancer during Christmas. our expectations: This year, your holiday traditions might be different. Think about how you can incorporate aspects of past traditions but modify them and start new ones in light of the challenges you’re experiencing this year.
  2. Take care of yourself: Limit your involvement to what you can truly handle and enjoy. You don’t have to accept every invitation. Keep everything in moderation.
  3. Try to reduce stress: Exercise, even just walking a few minutes a day, can help reduce stress and allows you to get out of the house. Establish a routine and stick to it. Be mindful of your breathing. Breathing exercises can calm anxiety.
  4. Remember your dietary restrictions: Many cancer patients have dietary restrictions that are intended to help you handle treatment and/or symptoms related to your condition. Stick to them, even during the holidays.
  5. Ask for support if you need it: Chances are, your family and friends are more than eager to help you but might not know how. Try to let them in and talk about how you feel. For additional support, see the resources available to patients and caregivers through UVA Cancer Center.
  6. Accept kindness from others: Friends and family will likely offer to bring you food or gifts. Don’t feel guilty for accepting their generosity, as it is your time of need.
  7. If you are struggling financially, scale back on gifts: Those around you will understand if you can’t afford to buy gifts this year.
  8. Shop online or buy gift cards: If you’re unable to get to stores but would like to buy gifts, shop online. Many websites offer free shipping around the holidays. Also, gift cards are easily accessible and can even be purchased at grocery stores.
  9. Take regular breaks: If you are a caregiver, take time for yourself and continue to do things you enjoy. This does not make you selfish or take away from the care you’re providing; it allows you to restore your energy.
  10. Express your feelings: It’s normal to experience feelings of loss or sadness over how cancer has changed a special occasion. But patients and caregivers alike may feel they have to portray themselves as happy and cheerful so as not to alarm family, friends or a loved one. Try not to hold in all your feelings; share them with someone you trust, such as a friend or counselor.
  11. Be patient with yourself: It’s okay to grieve the loss of a loved one or even the loss of celebrating the holidays like you normally do because of your illness. Allow yourself to grieve patiently by knowing it’s okay to feel the way you do.
  12. Toast to 2015: Regardless of your circumstances, this holiday season will come and go, and next year will be different. You’ll be stronger, as will your family and caregivers. Toast to the possibilities that the New Year may bring!

Get Cancer Support

Call licensed clinical social worker Rebecca McIntyre at 434.924.2717 or send her an email.

UVA Cancer Center offers counseling, nutritional guidance, educational support resources and many other programs and tools for patients and caregivers year-round.

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Watch A Children’s Hospital Patient Light Our Tree [VIDEO]

On December 17, 2014 | At 9:47 am

Santa and 2-year-old Children’s Hospital patient Wes Chang co-starred at last week’s Lights of Love celebration, an annual tradition to ring in the holiday season. We also had guest appearances from:

  • RN Anna Dietrich-Covington
  • Hospital chaplain Yoshiya Takahashi
  • Medical Center CEO Pamela Sutton-Wallace
  • The Charlottesville High School choirs

Watch us celebrate!


Podcast Tuesday: Swallowing Problems or a ‘Lump in my Throat’ [AUDIO]

On December 16, 2014 | At 8:55 am

Filed under : Cancer,Neurosciences,Podcast Tuesday | By
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Podcast Tuesday: Surgical Options for Stroke Patients [AUDIO]

On December 9, 2014 | At 9:54 am

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7 Quick Questions: Meet Dr. Craig Portell

On December 8, 2014 | At 9:56 am

Ever wonder what your doctor or health provider does outside the exam room? Our 7 Quick Questions series gives you a personal glimpse into the people of UVA.

Craig Portell, MD, practices hematology oncology at the Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center.

1. What did you want to be when you were little? Craig Portell, MD, UVA Cancer Center

Depends on how far back you want to go…. When I was really little I wanted to be a paleontologist. I liked dinosaurs.

In high school, I was very impressed by forensics, mostly due to the OJ Simpson trial. I wanted to be a forensic pathologist. That’s actually why I went into medicine. And yes, I really did watch the OJ Simpson trial.

2. What’s your favorite place to travel?

There are so many! My wife and I did a Mediterranean cruise this summer. Many places were amazing, but the best day was on the island of Capri in Italy. So beautiful.

3. What’s one thing you always have in your fridge?

Half and Half. I must have it with my coffee. I consider my coffee more important than my stethoscope.

4. What’s the most unhealthy thing you eat?

I try to eat as healthy as possible, but I can always have some kettle potato chips…

5. What’s the most exciting thing/research happening in your field right now?

I’m very excited about combinations of novel agents with a goal of getting patients away from conventional chemotherapy. It’s a long way away, and may not happen, but I’m hopeful for a day when we can control incurable cancers with a few pills.

6. Why leukemias and lymphomas?

We’ll start with “why cancer?” I realized that the forensic pathology field was a lot of paperwork. During medical school I also really enjoyed talking with live patients. I decided that cancer treatments was a way to mix the pathology (vital for our field) with patient care. In residency, I did some research in lymphoma and became comfortable with the field. In fellowship, I really connected with a lymphoma doctor at Cleveland Clinic and thus focused on leukemias and lymphomas.

It is very gratifying for me to see tumors melt with treatment. We have been curing some leukemias and lymphomas for many years, but we still have a ways to go. There are a lot of new agents in the field and many more on the horizon. I really enjoy working with diseases where there is a mix of cure, management and comfort.

7. Who’s your inspiration/hero?

My mom and dad fostered me throughout my early education. Their hard work and determination and love for family have lasting impressions on me. I can only hope I can be so successful in every aspect of life!

Filed under : Cancer,The People of UVA | By
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Snakes, Spiders and Health Myths: November Roundup

On December 5, 2014 | At 10:45 am

November was a month of myth-busting and uncovering the truth:

Wolf spider and brown recluse

Which one is the brown recluse?

  • Did you really see — or get bitten by — a brown recluse spider in Virginia? We talked to the Blue Ridge Poison Center about venomous spiders and treating bites.
  • The Poison Center also told us about copperheads and the busy snakebite season. Even though we tend to be scared of snakes and spiders, you’re more likely to get sick from a tick bite.
  • Teaching hospitals are all about money and experiments, right? Not at all. Susan Kirk, MD, tackled eight academic medical center myths.
  • Which cancer kills the most women? We’ll give you a hint — it’s not breast cancer. Get the facts about lung cancer in women.
  • Speaking of lung cancer, it’s mostly a smoker’s disease, right? Actually, 10 to 20 percent of non-small cell lung cancers, which are more common, are in patients who never smoked. Learn more about different kinds of lung cancer.

We also talked to a couple of pediatricians:

  • Jonathan Swanson, MD, the medical director for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, answered our 7 Quick Questions.
  • It’s that time of the year again. Do your kids need a flu shot? What about you? Pediatrician Ina Stephens discussed flu shots and kids.

And thanks to the participants in our voting challenge, we unveiled our new mobile mammography design.

Finally, twin toddlers and their parents sampled and reviewed a frittata recipe.

The Health System In the News

We had a lot to be thankful for this November:

Additionally, officials from Virginia and the Federal Communications Commission, including FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, met with the UVA Center for Telehealth. They discussed using broadband to connect with and treat patients in more rural parts of Virginia (NBC29).


Recipe Review Thursday: Gluten-Free Gingerbread Cookies

On December 4, 2014 | At 10:05 am

We’re trying new heart-healthy recipes every month and will share the results with you. All recipes are from Club Red, UVA’s heart health club for women.

Gingerbread Men Cookies


A holiday staple for many households, commonly found in the shape of a house or miniature “people.” For me, making gingerbread is more of a craft. I enjoy decorating the people in various outfits or icing the house with candy-covered roofs. But eating it? Well, that’s a different story.

Although adorable and fun to make, I’m not much of a gingerbread fan. I find many recipes are either too spicy, or they’re too hard and crunchy after baking. A little bit of chew and more sweetness than spice is perfect for me.

More Recipes
Main dishes

I was surprised to see applesauce as an ingredient and questioned the consistency of the finished product. I also made a slight change to the recipe and used gluten-free flour instead of regular flour. After the dough’s refrigerated chilling period, I immediately noticed a difference.

Usually, gingerbread dough is denser and easier to manipulate. Even after extending the chilling period to six hours, the gluten-free flour proved to not hold as well. I kept pouring flour onto the rolling pin and cutting board, but the dough kept sticking with no avail. Getting the cookies from the cutter to the baking sheet in one piece posed a bit of a challenge, and I was left with a few limbless gingerbread people! I have had similar experiences with other gluten-free recipes, so this may not be an issue for those using regular flour.

Naturally, I was skeptical about the taste, but they came out perfectly. They had a very sweet, almost buttery taste with a soft consistency. The applesauce was slightly noticeable, but it was a nice enhancement. I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome and of course, I enjoyed the decorating process.

Stars: 4 out of 5

Filed under : Healthy Living,Nutrition,Recipes | By
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Podcast Tuesday: Head and Neck Cancer [AUDIO]

On December 2, 2014 | At 9:16 am

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Recipe Makeovers, De-Stressing Tips: Your Guide to Healthy and Happy Holidays [VIDEO]

On December 1, 2014 | At 10:36 am

It’s your year to host the family holiday gathering. Your sister has called twice to remind you she’s now vegan and avoiding carbohydrates. You’re not sure how to accommodate your aunt’s celiac disease. And your son’s older cousin just told him that Santa doesn’t exist.
Breathe deeply and exhale. Our holiday guide is here to help. Keep reading for tips on staying healthy this holiday season.

Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain: Recipes and Nutrition

How Much Weight Do We Really Gain Over the Holidays?

Cardiologist Brandy Patterson answers this question and offers tips for staying active [VIDEO].

Healthy Holiday Menu Swaps

Are frozen quiche appetizers or canned cranberry sauce among your staples? Dietitian Katherine Basbaum offers easy homemade swaps with less sugar, fewer calories and no unpronounceable ingredients.

Diabetic-Friendly Meals

Meals loaded with carbs, sugar and fat are especially problematic for people with diabetes. If some of your holiday guests have this disease, check out these tips for diabetic-friendly meals, such as baked sweet potatoes with cinnamon instead of marshmallows and butter.

Other Healthy Holiday Recipes


Make these in advance!

Main Dishes

Side Dishes/Vegetables


Holiday Health

Managing Holiday Stress

Financial concerns, extra obligations, family disagreements — all of these contribute to stress over the holidays. Check out these quick tips.

Fighting Arthritis Symptoms

Cold winter weather and increased activity over the holidays can lead to flare-ups of arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. Combat symptoms with these tips.

What’s Your Holiday Health Tip?

Did you re-invent your family’s favorite recipe, or do you have a tip for combating stress? Tell us in the comments below.

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Small Cell vs. Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer: Q&A with Ryan Gentzler, MD

On November 26, 2014 | At 9:29 am

Ryan Gentzler, MD, is a medical oncologist at UVA Cancer Center who specializes in lung cancer. 

Ryan Gentzler, MD, UVA Cancer Center

Ryan Gentzler, MD | UVA Cancer Center

What is small cell lung cancer?

Small cell lung cancer is a type of cancer that forms from neuroendocrine cells, or specialized cells in the airways that normally function in the lung to release hormones to the blood in response to oxygen levels. These cells tend to exist in the central airways toward the center of the chest where small cell lung cancers commonly start to form. When tissue from small cell lung cancer is viewed under a microscope, the cells are often described as small, round and blue, which is where this disease gets its name.

What is non-small cell lung cancer?

Non-small cell lung cancer is a more common type of lung cancer that forms from different cells in the lung, not neuroendocrine cells. The cells are larger in non-small cell lung cancer and there are several types, including adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, large cell carcinoma and other types that are more rare.

Which condition is more common? 

Prevalence of each type is difficult to estimate, but in 2011 there were just over 400,000 patients living with all types of lung cancer. In 2014, it is estimated that there will be more than 224,000 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed in the United States. Of these, approximately 13 percent will be small cell lung cancer, and more than 80 percent will be non-small cell lung cancers. Other rare tumors in the lung make up the remainder of new lung cancer diagnoses.  

Which condition is more aggressive?

Small cell lung cancer is typically considered to be more aggressive. These tumors tend to grow at a faster rate and spread, or metastasize, to lymph nodes and other organs in a shorter period of time. Because of this, 90 percent of small cell lung cancers are diagnosed when the cancer has already spread to lymph nodes (one third of patients) or to other organs (two thirds of patients).

Is smoking a risk factor for one condition more so than the other? 

Smoking is the major risk factor for all types of lung cancer. Nearly all cases of small cell lung cancer are attributed to smoking, and the disease is most common in heavy smokers, both active and former smokers. On the other hand, approximately 10-20 percent of non-small cell lung cancers, particularly adenocarcinomas, can occur in patients who have never smoked.

What are typical symptoms? Do they differ significantly? 

Unfortunately, most patients with both types of lung cancer do not have symptoms in early stages of disease. As the cancer grows, symptoms can include cough, shortness of breath and/or weight loss. Sometimes chest pain, hoarseness and coughing up blood occur. If the cancer spreads to the bone, pain in that particular bone may be the only symptom. The symptoms of small cell and non-small cell lung cancer are largely similar. Due to the more rapid growth of small cell lung cancer, fatigue and weight loss may be more common in patients with that disease.

At what stages are these cancers typically diagnosed? Is small cell generally identified at a later stage or vice versa?

Both non-small cell and small cell lung cancer are staged I through IV based on the TNM staging system, which characterizes the size of the tumor, number and location of lymph nodes involved and whether the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. Staging for small cell lung cancer is generally simplified to two distinct stages – limited or extensive. Limited stage is defined as cancer that is contained within one area that could be targeted with radiation therapy. Extensive stage is any amount of uncontained cancer that cannot be targeted with radiation. Unfortunately, most patients have extensive stage when they are diagnosed.

What treatment options for small cell and non-small cell lung cancer are available at UVA Cancer Center?

We offer brachytherapy, stereotactic body radiation therapy, multidetector PET/CT, 4D CT simulation, respiratory gating and more. We also have multiple clinical trials open for small cell and non-small cell lung cancers. For patients with extensive stage small cell lung cancer, we have a trial that combines an oral drug with standard chemotherapy that is designed to increase the effectiveness of the chemotherapy and improve response to therapy.

We also have several clinical trials that involve immunotherapy, which uses the patient’s immune system to help fight lung cancer. Immunotherapy has been very promising in early phase clinical trials and we will open two more of these trials in the next 2-3 months.

Additionally, we recently opened the ALCHEMIST trial, which brings molecularly-targeted oral therapies to patients with earlier stage non-small cell lung cancer who have undergone surgery.

Find out about clinical trials for lung cancer available at UVA Cancer Center.

What distinguishes UVA Cancer Center from other regional hospitals in treating lung cancer?

UVA has an established Lung Cancer Program that exceeds the capabilities of other area cancer centers by offering a truly multidisciplinary team of expert thoracic surgeons, medical oncologists, researchers and radiation oncologists along with dedicated radiologists, pathologists and nurse navigators who conduct weekly conferences to discuss new patient care plans and track patient progress. The UVA lung cancer team conducts leading edge clinical trials and offers the latest in screening, diagnostic and treatment technology. We also are unique in that the Society of Thoracic Surgeons oversees our program quality metrics so we can constantly improve our program and level of patient care.

Is the UVA Cancer Center Lung Screening Program helpful in terms of catching lung cancer early?

The Lung Cancer Screening Program at UVA is geared toward detecting lung cancer at earlier stages, when the disease is more treatable. Most lung cancers, particularly small cell lung cancers, are diagnosed at advanced stages because of the time it takes for symptoms to develop. A low-dose CT scan, as part of an organized lung cancer screening program, has been shown in the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) to detect lung cancers at earlier stages for patients at higher risk of developing lung cancer. Lung screenings can reduce the risk of death from the disease by as much as 20 percent, which is significant.

Additionally, the U.S. Preventative Task Force and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, among other organizations, have endorsed lung cancer screening. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have recently issued a statement that they are in support of lung cancer screening and will pay for these tests for patients who qualify.

Learn more about the Lung Cancer Screening Program at UVA.
Filed under : Cancer,Pulmonary,The People of UVA | By
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