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  • You Can Be Beautiful Beyond Breast Cancer
    You Can Be Beautiful Beyond Breast Cancer
    by Leslie Spenser, Domenick Salvatore

    Here's a link to my book on Amazon.  Thanks for your interest!

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    I add a new blog entry every few months. I welcome your comments, suggestions and questions!



    My intense 20-minute workout for really busy people

    This is not a post where I complain about how busy I am.  Nor will I try to convince myself that I am busier than you (and we know you are also very busy).  This is a post where I tell you how I am figuring out how to train hard, using both cardiovascular and weight training exercises, and do it in a time block of about 20 minutes.  My goal at this point is not to prepare for a bodybuilding competition, but to maintain my fitness level and muscularity while staying relatively lean.  Can I do this in 20 minutes a day?  Time will tell if this works in the long run, but so far, I am pleased with it.

    Why 20 minutes?  Lately, I have found that this is about how much time I have to squeeze in a workout between classes (I teach college), appointments, and driving my children virtually everywhere they need to go.  Some days, I get a whopping 25 minutes, but that's a bonus that I can't always count on.  Before I share my fitness routine, let me add a couple of important caveats.  This does not include the time I spend changing my clothes (although I am frequently spotted exercising at work in my street clothes - no time to change!).  Nor does it include the time I spend in daily flexibility exercises (essential at my stage of life).  With that said, it's true that I can bang out a workout in 20 minutes most days.

    My secret really isn't a secret, nor is it my idea.  All I can take credit for is trying what fitness experts have suggested and observing "hey, this seems to be working!".  Here it is.  I'm reformating my exercise into high-intensity intervals of either one or two minutes, with 15 to 30 second rest breaks in between.  I do total-body exercises using kettlebells or other weights, and I vary the exercises to work several different muscle groups.  Sometimes I will repeat the same exercises in a circuit and other times I do a different exercise for each interval.  I use weights that are heavy enought to make me work HARD to maintain the exercise for the entire interval.  Here's an example of a circuit I can do in my living room or back porch.  I will repeat it twice, using one-minute intervals with 15 to 30 second rests in between:

    1.  Kettlebell swings 

    2.  Marching on a fairly high bench holding kettlebells, alternating legs

    3.  Kettlebell clean and press, one arm (repeat this for a second interval using the other arm)

    4.  Burpees

    5.  Turkish get-ups

    6.  Walk up and down my porch steps holding heavy kettlebells

    No joke, friend, I am dying (in a good way) by the 20-minute mark.  It's awesome.  AND I'm finished in 20 minutes, with time to shower, get my kids to school and get to work on time.  AND I didn't have to get up at 4:30 in the morning to fit in a 45-minute lifting session.  

    No doubt you have read the same articles I've read that claim you can be pretty darned fit with as little as 10 minutes of intense exercise intervals each day.  I think it's easier on my joints, too, since the exercise is not producing a prolonged pounding on my knees and ankles.

    I once commented to my friend, fitness author Lou Schuler, that he should add another book to his New Rules of Lifting series called the New Rules of Lifting for Busy People:  Fitness in 30 minutes or less.  (Are you reading this, Lou?)  He's probably too busy to write it, but I am hopeful and patient.

    So how do you stay fit as a busy person?  What advice can you share?  I'm certainly looking for new ideas. 



    Feeding My Family And Me

    It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog and I’m sorry it’s taken me so long.  It would be easy to say I’ve just been too busy, but the truth is that I always find the time for the things I’m really motivated to do.  I think the real reason I haven’t blogged is that I have been struggling to figure some things out and I can’t write without first having clarity about what I am called to say.

    I had a food-related epiphany in June and it has significantly changed the way I feed my family and the way I eat.  For the past few years, my husband (Stuart) and I have been concerned about our younger son’s tendency to gain weight.  Urged by one of his doctors (a specialist and not his pediatrician, who knew better), we embarked on a plan to help him lose about 5 pounds.  The specialist thought he should lose 10 pounds, but even I knew that would not be healthy for a growing boy.  What a fiasco!  Even though we used all of the right approaches (i.e. being positive, making it fun, being careful about the words we used), the end result was that our son lost and re-gained 5 pounds and learned to feel bad about his “fat” body.  He also started developing some eating-related habits that were not so good, such as craving “forbidden” foods and over-eating them when he had the chance to do so.  We developed some bad habits, too, such as describing our son as a “picky” eater who did not like “healthy” foods (which became a self-fulfilling prophecy).  Even if we tried not to verbalize this message, he certainly heard it.

    About 3 months ago, Stuart and I reached a point where we felt like we needed to do something to help our son, but we were at a loss for what to do.  Given that I am a professor of health promotion and I teach nutrition courses, it was a little hard to admit that I couldn’t figure out how to solve this problem.  I realized, though, that the problem had little to do with the food itself and everything to do with our relationship with our son.  My friend, Michelle Summerson, is a Registered Dietitian and works with children and families who struggle with being overweight.  She gave me two books by Ellyn Satter, an R.D. and a family therapist.  Satter recommends an approach that is different from what many other childhood obesity experts are recommending.  In short, it goes like this:

    We are born with an innate sense of how much we need to eat and when to stop eating.  Food restriction (i.e. dieting, having “forbidden” foods) makes us fear that we will not get enough food and binge when we have the chance to eat all that we want.  Dieting makes us always want more than what we are “allowed” to have; eating until we are satisfied helps us feel secure and not need to binge.  We should also be able to eat food that we enjoy and not be forced to eat “healthy” food that we don’t like.  She recommends scheduled, sit-down meals and snacks every three hours or so with no grazing in between.  Parents decide what food is served and should make sure there is at least one food on the table that everyone likes.  Children decide whether and how much of each food they want to eat.  There’s more to Satter’s approach than this, but you get the main idea. 

    We told our son that we wanted to try a new approach and we thought he would really like it.  Guess what?  He did!  In fact, he started doing more of the cooking himself and getting excited about planning our meals and snacks.  Without us nagging him, he is trying new foods.  Sometimes he makes what he considers a “healthier choice” and sometimes he chooses the fun food that tastes good, but the important thing is that he’s doing this without guilt.  He particularly loves the social interaction we have over the meal or snack and is disappointed when we can’t all sit down together and talk while we eat.  He is developing what Satter calls “eating competence”, or the belief in his ability to feed himself in a way that will be enjoyable and healthful.  We can tell that he feels confident about his body and that the guilt he was feeling over his appetite is starting to go away.  What a joy it’s been to see this change in him.

    Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from all of this was not about my son, but about myself.  I was convicted of my own unhealthy attitudes about food and eating it.  I realized that I have been the “picky” eater (and not my son), always on a diet and afraid to eat too many carbohydrates and too much sugar.  I frequently prepare one meal for my family and a different meal for myself.  I often try to minimize or ignore my appetite and refused to eat “forbidden” foods, even though they look tasty and I want them.  I worry about gaining too much weight, now that I’m not preparing for a women’s figure contest.  My son was learning his food-related fear and guilt from me!  I’m not beating myself up over this, but it has been good for me to see the dynamic for what it is.  I’m now applying Satter’s principles to myself.  It’s been hard to let the old mindset and habits go, but I’m making some slow and happy progress.


    Angelina and Me

    Well, it turns out that Angelina Jolie and I have something in common.  No, I have not become rich, famous or hot, but we now both have had double mastectomies.  If we ever get together over coffee, we can talk about our implants and how nice it is to never have to wear a bra again.  There's an interesting editorial that she's written in the New York Times this week; take a look:

     I read it with a level of interest in the details that someone who has not had a mastectomy might miss.  I was interested to learn, for example, that doctors were able to save the nipple and areola area.  She had them tested for cancer and found that they were cancer-free.  This will certainly give her a much more natural cosmetic result.  While plastic surgeons can do some impressive nipple reconstruction, my own experience is that it doesn't look or feel like the real thing.  She will also benefit from not having had radiation therapy.  I had radiation on my right side and I am fortunate to be able to have an implant there.  My right side is a bit lumpy and a little too firm because it was radiated.  Still, I'm grateful that it didn't become infected and my body didn't reject it.  With my clothes on, I look normal and well-proportioned.

    I know that there is some controversy surrounding the decision for a cancer-free woman having a mastectomy as a preventive measure.  I recently read another NYT magazine article questioning the practice of routinely performing lumpectomies and radiation therapy on women with non-invasive, early-stage DCIS and I think the authors make a very good point.  If I were in Angelina's shoes, though, I think I would make the same decision that she made.  Her mother died from breast cancer, she is positive for the breast cancer gene, she has a very high chance of having breast cancer and this risk increases as she gets older.  If she were 23 years old, perhaps she might wait to have the preventive mastectomy, but certainly not in her mid-40's.  It's a no-brainer to me.

    I was also interested to hear that Brad Pitt, her husband (at least, I think they are married), has been encouraging and supportive.  It doesn't sound like he's planning to leave her for someone younger and with perfect breasts.  I hope this turns out to be true, as he would be a great role model in this regard for other men who's wives have mastectomies.  My husband, Stuart, once read that two-thirds of marriages end when the wife has breast cancer.

    I hope that Angelina writes more about her experience.  In the editorial, she said all the "right" things, but it sounded like something that a public relations executive with the Komen Foundation would write as opposed to a woman candidly sharing a very personal story.  Perhaps Angelina isn't ready to do that yet.  I certainly respect her choice in this regard.  I'm simply thankful that she was willing to share it.


    Cancer Survivor and Family Rights: Mesothelioma

    I was recently contacted by Susan Vento, the wife of former U.S. Representative Bruce Vento (from Minnesota) with this letter regarding a very worthy cause.  I've been struck by the power behind the movement around mesothelioma.  I hope this is helpful to readers who feel the desire to be an advocate for cancer patients and their families.

    Here's her letter:

    Dear Chairman Bachus and Ranking Member Cohen:

    My name is Susan Vento, and I’m writing to express my strong opposition to H.R. 982 called the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (FACT Act). My husband was the late Congressman Bruce F. Vento who served for more than 24 years in the House of Representatives representing Minnesota’s Fourth Congressional District. He died from mesothelioma in 2000 within eight months of being diagnosed.

    Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Bruce was exposed through his work as a laborer years before we met or became involved in public life. He told his constituency about his diagnosis in early February 2000 when he announced why he would not run for re-election. On February 14, he had his lung surgically removed and then began an aggressive regimen of chemotherapy and radiation at the Mayo Clinic.

    It was not enough. My husband died three days after his 60th birthday in October. With his death, our country lost a dedicated and humble public servant years before his time. I lost so much more.

    Bruce dedicated himself as a tireless and effective advocate for the environment, for working people and for the disadvantaged. During his time in Congress, he was well respected by members of all parties. He served as chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands and also served on the House Banking Committee.

    The FACT Act directly contracts the decades of work my husband invested in helping those who could not help themselves. If this bill passed, it would be a serious step back for the important work he achieved as your colleague. As the FACT Act is currently written, it is one-sided, unfair and unnecessary. It touts “transparency” yet will delay and in some cases deny justice to people suffering from debilitating asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma.

    Please sign our petition and say NO to the FACT Act. I thank you for your consideration and hope you will stand with me in support of Bruce’s memory and in opposition of this bill.


    Susan Vento

    Here it is in html form that might be easier to use:


    Asbestos and Breast Cancer link - interview with Faith Franz

    Hi Strong and Built Readers! My name is Faith Franz, and I’m a writer for The Mesothelioma Center. Leslie asked us to answer a few questions for you, and I was more than excited by the opportunity. I’ve watched two of my family members fight cancer over the last three years, and I can’t help but wonder if more cancer awareness could have helped them avoid the ordeal.

    Any chance I get to help others learn about how to protect themselves from the same situation, I’m a happy lady.


    With that, let’s jump right in! Leslie’s questions are in italics, and below are my responses:


    1.) Have doctors and scientists studied a potential link between asbestos exposure and breast cancer? What evidence did they find? 


    Medical professionals started researching asbestos and breast cancer in the 1970s. They’re still looking for a definitive answer, but as of right now they don’t have enough data to officially confirm a link between the two.


    However, you’ll notice that they can’t officially rule one out.


    In several studies, researchers have found a higher incidence of breast cancer in women with a history of asbestos exposure. In some studies, there is a much higher-than-expected rate of breast cancers. For instance, one study observed 12 breast cancer deaths in asbestos-exposed women, when a non-exposed population was expected to have fewer than 10.5 deaths.


    This data isn’t quite enough to create a link, though. In some studies, there is an increased incidence, but it’s not big enough to be statistically significant. In other studies, the population size is too small for the data to be conclusive. Researchers are still diligently looking, but it might be tough to officially arrive at a link; the number of women who were exposed to asbestos is much lower than the number of men who came into contact with the fibers. This makes it hard to assemble a large, statistically significant group of asbestos-exposed women for a breast cancer study.


    2.) How many women diagnosed with breast cancer have been exposed to asbestos?


    Since no causal relationship between asbestos and breast cancer has been discovered, studies on the incidence of breast cancer patients with a history of asbestos exposure are limited. However, one British study did find that out of 82 female breast cancer patients, 38 had asbestos in their bodies when they died. Again, that’s a small study, so it’s in no way indicative of worldwide averages, but it does give us an idea of the potential asbestos exposure among women with the disease.


    3.) How can a woman know if she has been exposed to asbestos?  Where is asbestos found these days?


    Asbestos fibers break into microscopic particles, so most people don’t see them to immediately know that they are being exposed. That’s what makes it so dangerous!


    While everyone does come into contact with a very miniscule amount of asbestos at some point during their lives, most major exposure hazards have been addressed by now. Several decades ago, people came into contact with it frequently at industrial worksites, in environmental deposits, or even when using certain home products like blow-dryers, talcum powder and oven mitts. Some women were even exposed while washing asbestos-contaminated laundry.


    Thankfully, there are fewer exposure hazards these days. Most current exposure threats lie within older homes (primarily those built before the 1980s). If these homes still contain their original construction materials, renovations may disturb the asbestos that lies within the products. To avoid these hazards, an asbestos abatement company should always inspect a house before the owners perform (or hire a construction company to perform) any updates.


    4. IF a woman has asbestos in her home, what's the safest way to remove it?


    There’s only one completely safe way to remove asbestos in your home – and that’s NOT to do it yourself! Homeowners can legally remove their own asbestos, but there are just so many ways that removal can go wrong. Women should always contact a licensed abatement team to inspect their homes and address any immediate hazards!



    Author bio: Faith Franz has spent nearly two years researching and writing for The Mesothelioma Center. As an advocate for alternative medicine, she encourages patients to explore all of the treatment options that could potentially save their life.


    Please feel free to check out The Mesothelioma Center’s Wall of Hope page, which features stories from survivors, their caregivers, and individuals remembering those that lost their fight to this horrible disease.