Help! Someone I Love Has Cancer: How You Can Really Make a Difference

I would like to introduce to you Joel and Rebekah Hughes, who live in Irvine, California. Rebekah is originally from Southern Oregon and Joel is a Southern California lifer. They often jab each other as to which place is better to live. But for better or worse, So-Cal is home.

At the age of 23, Rebekah was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer.   Her oncologist said that she was the youngest patient their office had ever seen with breast cancer. She made the difficult decision to have a double mastectomy. She did seven months of chemotherapy and then three years of the hormone therapy maintenance drug, Herceptin.  When Rebekah had been cancer free for three years, she met Joel and the two were married one year later.

Just eight months after they wed,  Rebekah was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Stage 4 cancer is considered incurable. After many tests and scans, they learned that not only had Rebekah’s cancer returned, but it had metastasized (spread) to her liver, lungs, kidneys, bones, and brain. They found at least 9 tumors in her brain. One radiation oncologist that reviewed her scans said that even with treatment, she probably had 4-6 months to live. She was 26 years old.

Rebekah’s diagnosis and cancer remain a constant battle but a huge part of fighting her cancer is that they try to not let it dominate their lives. In fact, they try to live as though she does not have cancer.  They are both Christians, and their faith is a central focus of their lives.   They like to read, bargain hunt at garage sales and thrift stores, refurbish (upcycle) old furniture, decorate their house, hang out with friends and family, spend time with (Joel’s) kids, and watch Netflix in bed while eating ice cream (double fudge mouse tracks).  They also enjoy helping people who are hurting and struggling since they know that pain so well.

It is this desire to help others that inspired Joel to write this book

One of The Best Books for the Cancer Journey

How You Can Really Make a Difference in Helping a Loved-One with Cancer

7-10-18 Irvine, California

“Within two months, my dad and new young wife were both diagnosed with stage four cancer. My wife was only given 4-6 months to live. I didn’t even know what cancer was, except that it was really bad. I didn’t know what to do or say. The world fell out from below me and the future went black.”

When someone you love gets diagnosed with cancer, what do you say? What do you do? What do you NOT do? These questions and many others are answered in a new book: HELP! Someone I Love Has Cancer: How You Can Really Make a Difference. The answers come from a young couple who are in the trenches and valleys of fighting cancer and learning to love through it.

In 2014, Joel and Rebekah were married. Seven months later, Joel’s dad was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer. Two months later, at the age of 26, Rebekah was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. One chapter of life closed and a new chapter opened. Their cancer journey began.

They are now three years into the journey. Along the way, many people have come alongside to help: family, friends, strangers, and some out of the woodworks. Many are helpful. Joel calls them “Cancer Angels”.  Others try to help but end up doing just the opposite. Joel calls these folk “Well-Intentioned Dragons”. The book is clothed with many stories of encounters with these “dragons”. This book will help you become a Cancer Angel and, hopefully, not be one of the dragons.

“Most of the dragons think they are helping and have no idea that they are actually causing harm. I wrote this book to inspire people with our story, to help people learn what cancer is, and show people how to really help a friend or loved one walking the cancer journey.”

The book will be available on Amazon on 7-10-18. He is also giving it away FREE for a limited time here:

Joel Hughes is a husband and father. He is also the author of In Your Corner (coming soon), co-producer of the movie A Brave Hope (coming soon), and director of Rebekah’s Hope. He holds degrees in Christian ministry and philosophy. Joel lives in Southern California with Rebekah and his two kids.

Contact Joel at:

The Perks Continue!

For anyone who has followed my blog for a while, or read my book,   you may recall that one of the PERKS of having cancer, was getting free stuff.  For example, my t-shirt drawer is practically over-flowing with free t-shirts from various cancer events.  I am happy to report, that even though my challenge to find 100 perks has long been accomplished, the perks continue.


October (Pinktober) is breast cancer awareness month, and although the color pink makes some people nauseous, I still love it……especially when it comes attached to FREE STUFF!   I recently received this Pink Bink Mobile Media Table in the mail, just because!

A worthy cause and a fabulous piece of furniture! 

It is a fabulous little multi-purpose table that can be used as a desk, coffee table or even a night stand.  It is strong, light-weight and practical.  Proceeds from each Pink Bink sold will benefit the cancer research efforts of City of Hope®, a leading research and treatment center for cancer and other life-threatening diseases.  You can learn more about the Pink Bink HERE 

Some of you may be thinking, “I can’t believe Florence Strang is taking kickbacks from her blog!”  Getting free stuff in return for a bit of publicity can be an unethical practice.  But folks, I did my homework on this City of Hope  so please, hear me out.

Have you noticed how pretty much everything gets “pinked out” during the month of October?  I mean everything, form a pack of tic tacs, to tins of soup to toilet paper seems to be sporting the pink ribbon.

We consumers are led to believe that by buying these products we are doing something good for breast cancer research.  Not so.  Much of the time the ribbon is there just to raise awareness of breast cancer, as if you did not already know that it exists.  In other words, it is a scam.

However, I did my homework on the pink bink campaign and it turns out, the City of Hope, whom they support, is a very legitimate, not for profit cancer research center.  Best of all, they use their dollars to fund research for metastatic breast cancer.   Read more HERE

The thing that many people do not understand about breast cancer is that nobody dies from it……..unless it is metastatic, or stage four.  A woman could develop a very early stage cancer, have it treated, and months later be diagnosed with stage four.  I know of a woman, for example, who had stage zero cancer, meaning it barely registered on the ole cancer-meter, but it came back months later as stage 4.  Cancer cells are sneaky little things, you see.  You might get all cocky thinking, “Oh I have nothing to worry about.  I have been cancer free for ten years.  It can’t get me now.”  Only to have it come back in the lungs, bones or brain with the intent to kill.

 However, ironically, even though stage 4 breast cancer is the only one that kills, it receives the least amount of research funding.  

So before you support the next product or service that is blinged out in pink, find out for yourself where your dollars are going.  The life you are saving by supporting metastatic breast cancer research could be your own or that of someone you love.









A Natural (And Easy) Way to Detox Your Body, Freshen Your Breath And Whiten Your Teeth!

oil pulling

When it comes to cancer prevention fads, there are few things I wouldn’t try.  For example, if someone told me that cat’s pee cures cancer, you would find me outside at night milking tom cats. I’m not kidding!  So when I heard talks in the cancer community about oil pulling as a safe and natural way to remove toxins from the body, I was all over it.  Before I began “pulling” however, I did a little research, and what I read seemed too good to be true.  Among the benefits reported are:

-Overall strengthening of the teeth and gums and jaws

-Whitens teeth

-Prevention of diseases of the gums and mouth, such as cavities and gingivitis

-Prevention for bad breath

-Potential holistic remedy for bleeding gums

-Prevention of dryness of the lips, mouth and throat

-Possible holistic treatment for TMJ and general soreness in the jaw area

-Migraine headache relief

-Correcting hormone imbalances

-Reducing inflammation of arthritis

-May help with gastro-enteritis

-Aids in the reduction of eczema

-May reduce symptoms of bronchitis

-Helps support normal kidney function

-May help reduce sinus congestion

-Some people report improved vision

-Helps reduce insomnia

-Reduced hangover after alcohol consumption

-Aids in reducing pain

-Reduces the symptoms of allergies

-Helps detoxify the body of harmful metals and organisms

So what exactly is oil pulling you may ask?  Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic remedy for oral health and detoxification. It involves the use of pure oils as agents for pulling harmful bacteria, fungus, and other organisms out of the mouth, teeth, gums and even throat.  The most common oils used are sesame oil and coconut oil, (I use organic, virgin coconut oil).

Here is how it is done:  Take a full teaspoon to tablespoon full of oil and swish it in your mouth for 20 minutes, then spit it out.  It’s that simple!  I use coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature, so I first chew it to melt it, then I swish.  The oils mix with the saliva, turning it into a thin, white liquid. Lipids in the oils begin to pull out toxins from the saliva. As the oil is swished around the mouth, teeth, gums and tongue, the oil continues to absorb toxins, and usually ends up turning thick and viscous and white. Once the oil has reached this consistency, it is spit out before the toxins are reabsorbed.  (It is best to spit the oil into the garbage, not the sink, as it can block the pipes.) Oil pulling is best done first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach….don’t ask me why, and don’t forget to brush your teeth after pulling.

I have been oil pulling for a week, and while I cannot attest to many of the benefits listed above, my teeth definitely feel cleaner and are noticeably whiter.  It has been 8 months since my last dental cleaning, so needless to say, little sweaters were forming on my teeth (full blown North Face jackets on the molars).  Now after just one week, it feels as if all the plaque is gone from my teeth.  My daughter asked me yesterday if I am using whitening strips, and when I told her my secret, she nabbed a half a jar of my coconut oil for herself.   As an added bonus, after oil pulling, my breath feels as sweet as a baby’s milky  breath.   As for the hangover cure claim, I will let you know in about ten minutes when I finish pulling.


This entry was posted on March 9, 2014, in breast cancer and tagged coconut oil, natural detox, oil pulling. 15 Comments

Meet Gai Comans!

My first conversation with Gai Comans went something like this:
Gai: Hi Flo!  Are you ready to do your interview for Survivor’s Secrets?
Me: (Laughing) I think you have the wrong day, Gai, our interview is scheduled for Wednesday.
Gai: Yes.  Today. Wednesday.
Me: No Gai, today is Tuesday.
Me: Where are you calling from?
Gai: Australia
Me: Oh.  I guess it is Wednesday there.
Gai and I did eventually get our time zones worked out and managed to connect.  I am fascinated with the work that Gai is doing on behalf of breast cancer survivors, and so I would like to share her story with you.
Gai Comans is a health and wellness advocate who has a passion for helping women thrive after their treatment for  breast cancer.  Gai’s interest in helping breast cancer survivors was sparked by a life-changing cancer diagnosis in 2000, at the age of 38.  Given a 1 in 10 chance of survival, it was time to revisit her choices and the impact of them on her health.  At the time of her own diagnosis Gai was working as a senior executive in corporate, where she held senior leadership roles for 15 years.   When she was diagnosed, being a businesswomen, she dealt with both life fear and career fear.   Gai is now focussed on giving survivorship a makeover and is starting and holding global conversations on the impact and challenges of survivorship and talking about the challenges, which are usually held in secrecy, in an open forum.
Q:  Gai, please tell us a bit about your background.


A: I had a pretty ordinary life, really.  I was fit and healthy, working as a corporate executive and I had just married my long-term sweetheart.  Then, we had the party of the decade during the Sydney Olympics. We had to put on quite a show, but it had to top my wedding. Just kidding!  But, it was awesome.

The day we were moving into our new home, I discovered a lump.  No big deal, I thought.  I had discovered a lump in the other breast a year earlier, which turned out to be nothing.  I wasn’t so lucky the second time around.  And everything changed just a few short weeks before Christmas in 2000.

It had taken three months to confirm a diagnosis of breast cancer.  It was small, but extremely aggressive and it had already spread to my lymph nodes.  I was given a one in 10 chance of surviving.  I fought through 10 months of treatment, to emerge on the other side as a cancer survivor.

Q: Why did you start this project?

A: When I finished treatment, I was expecting that I would be ready to party. The reality was very different though.  I had been so strong all through treatment, but when treatment finished the reality started to really hit home.  I didn’t know what I was supposed to do next. As my diagnosis was life threatening, I wasn’t quite sure if I was waiting to live or die and I dove into a short depression.  The worst part was that I thought I was the only person that this ever happened to and from there; guilt and shame took over for a while.

I started this project because if I was aware that this might have happened, I would have found the support I needed instead of thinking that I had to face it alone.  I now understand that this is a very common occurrence for breast cancer survivors. I wish I would have known that then.  This project is about helping people understand the reality of survivorship.

Q: What is Survivor Secrets all about?

A: Survivor Secrets is a conversation or perhaps a narrative might be a better way to explain it.  I wanted to provide a platform for cancer survivors to share their insights as a community, so that others may benefit from our experience.  Hindsight is such a wonderful thing and particularly when you face a life-threatening diagnosis.  I also felt it was important to share the conversations we generally have within our community, but to share them publicly.

Sharing the reality publicly can help the survivor to heal, because then they know they are not facing the trauma alone.  I believe it can provide a way for people to maybe heal a little easier, with more understanding and support.  But, it can also help their family, friends and colleagues to understand and get a little more insight into the life of someone diagnosed with cancer—some insights into the challenges, the fears and tears, the reality, rather than the pink wash of how you are supposed to “do cancer”.

Q: What have you learned from Survivor Secrets?


A: I have learned so much.  I loved the conversations with the ladies. Each one of them opened their hearts and provided a treasure chest full of insights.

As I have spoken more broadly about this project, it has given me a much deeper understanding of the real impact of a cancer diagnosis on family, friends, colleagues, husbands and children.  My diagnosis was personal for me, but in a way, it was personal for them too. I think I am just starting to really understand that.

Another thing that I have learned is that everyone has a survivorship story.  It isn’t always cancer, but it is something very deep and personal for them.  I believe our survivorship stories connect us all deeply if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to share our secrets.

survivor secrets

 For your FREE copy of Breast Cancer Survivor Secrets, see my last post:

Cancer Roulette


It really saddens me when I hear comments like, “I ate a vegan diet, ran 5 miles a day, was in perfect mental and spiritual health, BUT I STILL GOT CANCER!”  It certainly perpetuates the myth, “There is nothing I can do about cancer”, which is one of the four common myths recognized by World Cancer Day.  (You can read the other myths here.)

A few years ago, I met a middle aged man in a hospital.  He was overweight, a heavy smoker, and had just suffered a near fatal heart attack.  While his doctor and his family pleaded with him to make lifestyle changes, the man refused, saying, “My grandfather was over-weight his whole life and smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, and he lived to be 93!”

When I mention to people that I eat a mainly plant based diet, I often get comments like, “I don’t believe that diet has anything to do with cancer.  My great-aunt Ellie ate a medium rare steak every day of her life, and she lived to be 100.”

Do you see something wrong with the logic in these three examples?   I am happy for great-aunt Ellie, God bless her, but folks, if you are going to eat a medium rare steak every day of your life, aren’t you begging for a heart attack, stomach cancer, and a host of other illnesses?   I would imagine that chubby great-grandad had great genes, if he lived to be 93 while smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, but would you want to play cancer roulette with your life?  It is a sad fact of life that some people who take excellent care of their bodies get sick anyway, but is that a good reason to “let yourself go” when it comes to healthy living?

Here is what is flawed with the logic:  You cannot take a single case study and use it to justify your opinions when it goes against a multitude of scientific studies which suggest otherwise.  Sure, there are some cases of people who smoked all of their lives and lived to be a ripe old age without major health complications.   However, there are literally millions of cases of people who smoked cigarettes and died from illnesses related to their habit.

I am sure that there is a delicate inter-play of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle choices in the game of cancer roulette.   I am equally sure that by practicing a healthy lifestyle, I am removing some of the bullets from that gun.  That does not guarantee that the cancer bullet won’t get me in the end, but if it does, I will die knowing that I did my best to unload that gun.  What about you?  I would love to hear your opinions!


This entry was posted on February 9, 2014, in breast cancer and tagged cancer roulette, environmental factors, genetics, lifestyle choices, World Cancer Day. 19 Comments

The Right To Fight

Lisa Adams

Lisa Adams

I recently came across a disturbing article written by Bill Keller of the New York Times, about a 44 year old breast cancer survivor named Lisa Adams, who “…has spent the last seven years in a fierce and very public cage fight with death.” .  (Read it here.)  One might assume from the title “Heroic Measures”, that this piece of journalism pays tribute to the fighting spirit of Lisa Adams,  but in thinking so, one would be wrong.  What Keller actually does in this controversial article is challenge Lisa Adams’ right to fight.

Keller seems to believe that there are two ways for a human being to die.  On one side of the fence are people like his father-in-law, who, rather than take aggressive treatments for cancer, was “…allowed to slip peacefully from life. His death seemed to me a humane and honorable alternative to the frantic medical trench warfare that often makes an expensive misery of death in America.”  On the other side of the fence are people like Lisa Adams who choose “…endless “heroic measures” that may or may not prolong life but assure the final days are clamorous, tense and painful. (And they often leave survivors bankrupt.)”  While Keller does not come out and blatantly state that there is a right way and a wrong way to die from cancer, his choice of words certainly send that message!   In case there is any doubt as to which side of the fence Keller is on, these words will surely banish them:  “It seemed to me, and still does, that there is something enviable about going gently.”

So if it came right down to it, which side of the fence would you be on?  Being a three year survivor of stage 3 breast cancer, which yields just over a 50% five year survival rate, I have had plenty of opportunity to ponder that question.   For me, it’s a no-brainer.  I would choose to fight like a girl!  While Keller seems to take offence to the “combat metaphor”, I can think of no better comparison.  Having endured three surgeries resulting in the loss of my left breast; four months of chemo therapy; and 25 radiation treatments, I can honestly say that I did not “journey” with cancer, I battled that bastard, and I continue to do so on a daily basis with drugs and significant lifestyle changes.   That is MY choice and I do not judge any person who chooses to refuse treatments, to decline follow up medication due to side effects, or to alter their lifestyle in any way after a cancer diagnosis. That is THEIR choice.  So why should Lisa Adams or anyone else be judged for exercising their right to fight?  One thing I know for sure, nobody gets out of this world alive.  When my time comes, I hope to go gently in the night and experience the grace of a peaceful death…..but death won’t get ME without a fight!







This entry was posted on January 15, 2014, in breast cancer and tagged Bill Keller, , New York Times. 16 Comments

Guest Blogger: Dr. Arjun Rayapudi

It was a beautiful day in April, 2011, when a handsome young man looked me in the eyes and said those three little words that would change my life forever: “You have cancer.”  That man was my surgeon, Dr. Arjun Rayapudi (or Doc. McDreamy as me and my sisters referred to him.) I remember crying out in anguish, “I’m going to die!”, for in my mind, stage 3 breast cancer brought with it a guaranteed death sentence.  Little did I know that two years later, a very healthy Flo would be standing side by side with this very same doctor, educating people about diet and cancer prevention.

Dr. Rayapudi is a board certified General Surgeon with an avid interest in Cancer Prevention/Treatment and Nutrition, currently working at Burin Peninsula Health Care Centre.  He was kind enough to guest blog for me this post on the link between diet and cancer.  I welcome Dr. Rayapudi to the blogosphere!


Dr. Rayapudi Says:

It is a great privilege for me to contribute to the Perks of Having Cancer forum. Flo’s positive attitude towards cancer diagnosis is inspirational. Her attitude to seek opportunity in the problem she faced, reminds me of sayings “Tough people last tough times don’t” and “What doesn’t kill you make your stronger”. Her blog has been helpful to patients and families to navigate through difficult phases of their lives when faced with cancer diagnosis.

In this post, my objective is to empower women by raising awareness about the connection between the diet/life style choices and breast cancer.

The incidence of Breast cancer and Colon cancer on BurinPeninsula is appalling. I had the opportunity to take care of several patients with breast cancer in last 2 and half years at Burin Peninsula Health Care Centre. Most patients with breast cancer that were when diagnosed in early stages did well. There were some patients who died in 40’s and 50’s due to advanced breast cancer despite conventional treatments including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. The suffering of the patients and their families is enormous. It motivated me to explore the causes of breast cancer and increase my focus on breast cancer prevention. The causes of breast cancer are multifactorial. The important factors that increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer are positive family history of breast cancer, Diet, Obesity, smoking, amount of estrogen exposure throughout the life.

Genetic factors are important but genes by themselves do not determine who gets the disease. Genes load the gun with bullets whereas diet and lifestyle factors appear to pull the trigger.

Diet appears to play a significant role.  Cancer cells form and multiply because of alteration in the genes. Our bodies have immune system which helps to knock off the cancer cells. Numerous studies have shown that cancer is more common in populations consuming diets rich in fatty foods, particularly meat and much less common in populations with diets rich in grains, vegetables and fruits.

As you can see from below various colorful plant foods have anti-oxidants/phytochemicals and fiber which boost the ability of the immune system of the body to fight the cancer cells. Fiber in the plant foods also binds the toxic carcinogens in the gut before they try to enter the blood circulation.


(Source: Above chart is from PCRM website)

In contrast, animal foods lack fiber and several protective anti-oxidants which boost the immune system.  Attached graphs below show the relationships between animal fat intake, daily meat consumption and risk of acquiring breast and colon cancer in various countries. These charts display that as intake of animal fat and meat increases the risk of breast cancer and colon cancer increases almost in linear fashion. Studies show that animal products contain potentially carcinogenic compounds that may contribute to increased risk of cancer. Consuming high fat diets increases estrogen levels which can contribute to increased risk of breast cancer. Breast cancer has also been linked to consumption of cow’s milk products. Consumption of cow’s milk products increases the level of hormone called Insulin like growth factor (IGF-1). Studies show that circulating levels of this hormone is positively associated with breast cancer risk.


(Sources for above charts: Carroll, K.K. (1975), Cancer Res 35:3374-3383 and China Study by Dr. Campbell)

In summary, eating plant foods and less processed foods appears to decreases risk of breast cancer, and eating more animal based foods and processed foods appears to increases  risk of breast cancer. My suggestion to anyone who is serious about decreasing your risk of breast cancer is to minimize or eliminate animal based foods and embrace whole foods plant based lifestyle.

I encourage everyone to be proactive and learn more about this important health issue.

Click on the following links for articles for further education – Women and Cancer: Opportunities for Prevention – Health Concerns about Dairy Products

Some resources I would recommend are

  1. Read book “China Study” by Dr. Colin Campbell
  2. Watch DVD – Forks Over Knives
  3. Browse website (Physicians committee for responsible medicine). This website is by Dr. Neal Barnard.
    1. There is extensive amount of  valuable information on this website about Nutrition and Cancer Prevention
    2. Look for low fat plant based recipes on the internet
    3. Read book “The No-Dairy Breast Cancer Prevention Program” by Dr. Jane A. Plant
    4. Some cookbooks to browse – Forks over Knives cook book, Cook books by Dr. McDougall, Cook Books by Dr. Neal Barnard.
    5. – this website has several recipes for plant based diet

I highly encourage everyone to educate their families and friends about the prevention of breast cancer.

Flo says:

Thank you Dr. Rayapudi for sharing this very educational post.  To my readers, I would like to say that even taking small steps towards a healthier diet  can have big benefits.  When I first started my “cancer-fighting diet”, I did not eliminate any foods. Rather I added foods that are proven to fight cancer, like berries, broccoli, and cauliflower.  Gradually, I decreased the amounts of meats and added more and more fruits and veggies.  After about a year, I had no desire for meat any longer and in its place, I had beans, legumes and nuts for protein.  As long as you are eating MAINLY a plant based diet, you are doing something good for your body!  Here is a good way to begin:  Meatless Monday.  Try eating plant-based for one day of the week.  And don’t forget, plant-based does not mean eating only salads…you can have soups, stews, burgers (black bean burgers), pasta dishes…..the possibilites are endless!

This entry was posted on February 20, 2013, in breast cancer and tagged Burin Peninsula cancer rates, cancer prevention, cancer prevention and diet, link between diet and cancer. 9 Comments