Wellness Wednesday: Manage that muffin-top

November 27, 2013 | by   

Despite its cute moniker, a muffin-top could be a legitimate concern for good reason. Hint: That reason isn’t about the size of your jeans.

Belly fat

Visceral fat surrounding the organs is associated with higher risk for disease. In fact, some research associates belly fat with a higher risk of premature death even in those with a BMI in the healthy range.

Belly fat, even in those who otherwise fall into a healthy weight range, is linked with health problems of more serious concern than cosmetics, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer.

“Abdominal obesity is associated with high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, insulin resistance and other problems. These go hand-in-hand with type 2 diabetes and increased risk of heart disease and stroke,” said Raynald Samoa, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism. “Sometimes, the presence of belly fat could indicate a patient also has visceral fat, which is often invisible to the eye by surrounds the internal organs.”

In his research and clinic, Samoa is committed to fighting fat and its associated diseases. He is particularly interested in studying how the body sends and maintains appetite signals that keep some people eating and gaining weight – even though they don’t need to.

Visceral fat poses greater health risks than overall weight, but don’t fall for diets that claim they can spot-reduce belly fat. Only a comprehensive approach to weight loss will do the trick: calorie restriction, exercise and adopting these healthy habits for the long-term.

That won’t lead to an immediate reduction in visceral fat, but over time, weight and its associated risks can be managed.

Manage that muffin-top by starting with a few simple changes:

  • Stop drinking your calories. Eliminate sodas, and embrace water.
  • If you bite it, write it. Study upon study shows that keeping food records is a consistent habit of those who lose weight and keep it off.
  • Plan ahead. Know what you’re going to eat before you get hungry.
  • Add some spice. Hot sauce, salsa and other spicy seasonings pack a lot of flavor without fat and with only a few calories.
  • Move more. Don’t feel you need to start training for a marathon, but 30 minutes of exercise a day – even broken up into smaller segments of time – is a good place to start.

“Make changes a few at a time,” Samoa said. “Be patient with yourself, and be aware that reducing your weight even by 10 percent is a good step toward better health and reducing the risk of disease.”



Giving thanks: Nurse inspired patients – and colleagues

November 27, 2013 | by   

“If there are indeed angels who have lived amongst us, then I believe that they have come to us as nurses, and none graced our lives more than Angela in her life and career. And for that I am forever grateful to her.”

– Stephen J. Forman, M.D., the Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope

– In a letter read at Walk for Hope 2013 about Angela Calvanico, R.N.


Angela Calvanico

Angela Calvanico, shown with her family in Maui in 2011, touched patients and colleagues alike at City of Hope. A patient herself, Calvanico inspired everyone she met. Shown: Her husband, Al, and their two sons, Al, left, and Michael. Photo courtesy of the Calvanico family

Even during the last weeks of her life in May, when Angela Calvanico, R.N., was fighting breast cancer, she asked to be put on the schedule, confident she’d be able to work her usual shifts as a nurse in the 3C infusion unit at City of Hope.

“She was just about one of the best nurses we ever had,” recalled Debra Varsier-Thomas, R.N., clinical nurse III, who knew Calvanico for 11 years. “She never let her disease get in her way of taking care of patients.”

Like other City of Hope nurses, Calvanico embodied the institution’s core values of scientific knowledge, technical acumen and boundless compassion. But Calvanico also had a special empathy for City of Hope patients. She was one of them. And as both a nurse and a patient, she understood better than anyone what patients need. Doctors and nurses at City of Hope have taken those lessons to heart. » Continue Reading

Rose Parade float: Hannah Komai dreamed to be called a ‘survivor’

November 26, 2013 | by   
Cancer survivor Hannah Komai

Hannah Komai underwent treatment for osteosarcoma at City of Hope. Photo credit: City of Hope

For those who have battled cancer, each tomorrow is, in reality, a dream come true. On Jan. 1, 2014, former City of Hope patients treated at City of Hope will see another dream come true: They’ll be riding atop City of Hope’s float in the 2014 Tournament of Roses Parade.

The theme of this year’s float is “Turning Hope and Dreams into Reality”; the theme of the parade is “Dreams Come True.”  Here is the story of one rider: Hannah Komai.


My name is Hannah Komai. I am a 23-year-old college student pursuing a degree in nursing. I am in my first year at Mount St. Mary’s College. I am learning to balance the stress of school and attempting to maintain a normal social life.

In June of 2010, I received word that I would have to begin fighting for my life. I felt like my world of strength and independence began to crumble right in front of my eyes. I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a childhood bone cancer that was localized in the distal end of my right femur. I would have to undergo 15 weeks of rigorous chemotherapy, an attempt to kill my tumor as much as possible; a major surgery to remove my tumor and the surrounding areas and finish up with eight more months of intense chemotherapy. The hardest of all was giving up my independence and allowing family members to help dress and bathe me.

Due to the nature of the chemotherapy, I was an inpatient for all of my chemotherapy sessions. This meant that City of Hope became my home for the 11 months that I was treated and I’m beyond thankful for that. Everyone at City of Hope became family. The staff made the extra effort to get to know not only me, but my family, too. I have built relationships with patients, nurses, doctors and supportive care team members. Those relationships are what carried me through treatment and gave me the strength to continue to fight.

» Continue Reading

How to give back: Some do’s and don’ts for giving to a sick child

November 26, 2013 | by   
Hospitals nationwide often depend on donations to supply their patients with holiday gifts.

Hospitals nationwide often depend on donations to supply their patients with holiday gifts.

The first in a series about how to give, and give back, during the holiday season ...

There’s something about the holiday season that brings out people’s charitable side. It makes them want to “give back” — especially when it comes to sick children.

Hospitals nationwide often depend on such holiday generosity not only to help supply their patients with gifts, but to spread holiday cheer. For patients and families spending the holidays in the hospital, that cheer can sorely be needed.

But before you venture out in the holiday madness to purchase a gift for a hospitalized child, remember that not every toy is suitable for pediatric patients.

We asked City of Hope’s pediatrics business director Tami Case what the well-meaning among us should give — and what they should avoid.

First, here’s a list of what not to donate:

  • Stuffed animals/plush toys: At City of Hope, stuffed animals and plush toys are strongly discouraged. A number of patients suffer from weakened immune systems and these toys can easily trap dust and other substances that can potentially make the children even sicker.
  • Used toys: Even toy collectibles that haven’t been opened, but have been sitting in a closet collecting dust, can carry germs or other materials that can potentially harm a patient.
  • R-rated movies: While these types of movies may be suitable for older patients, only G and PG movies are permitted for pediatric patients at City of Hope. PG-13 movies are permitted for adolescents and young adults.
  • M-rated video games: All of City of Hope pediatric inpatient rooms have a Play Station console for their entertainment. Patients love new games, but only E- and T-rated games are allowed.

If you’re unsure what to buy, go with a gift card. Case said gift cards are often needed by families.

“One of the biggest blessing for us is gift cards,” she said. “We can give one to a mom to buy groceries or baby formula; we can give gas cards to families who need help paying for transportation to get here; and we can use them for families who just need some help for basic needs.”

Among the most-needed cards are for those for gas stations, Target, Walmart, grocery stores, Toys “R” Us and iTunes.

But if you prefer to give presents, consider LEGO kits, doctor kits, developmental toys, Barbie dolls and craft supplies — all are great ideas for younger children in the hospital.

For adolescents and young adults, consider journals, nail polish, poker sets, video games (Wii games or PS3), iPods, scarves and trendy hats.

If you’re still not sure what to give, Case suggests asking your kids. “Buy what your kids would want. They’re no different, they just happen to be sick in a hospital,” said Case.


At City of Hope, toys and gift cards can be dropped off — preferably unwrapped, to ensure they’re appropriate for the child — at the desk of the pediatrics department or at the front desk in the main medical building. Please label donations to the pediatrics department or to Katie DuBois.

To make sure gifts are given to the children in time for the Christmas holiday, please make holiday-themed donations by Dec. 18.

For more information about donating gifts during the holidays to City of Hope, please contact Katie DuBois at 626-930-5430 or



Ask the Experts: Physicians, patients talk lung cancer (w/VIDEO)

November 25, 2013 | by   

“In 2010, there were 201,144 new lung cancer diagnoses … and 158,248 deaths,” said Jae Kim, M.D., assistant professor and chief of thoracic surgery. Kim, along with Karen Reckamp, M.D., M.S., associate professor and director of the Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program, presented remarkable facts on lung cancer, including diagnosis, screenings, surgical advances and progress in personalized treatment at a recent Ask the Experts free community lecture.

Here are some quick highlights from the lecture:

  • People age 50 and over who are current or former smokers with a history of at least 30 pack years of smoking are candidates for a lung cancer screening.
  • A robotic lobectomy is a minimally invasive lung cancer surgery that results in less pain, better lung function, faster recovery and fewer complications than other surgeries.
  • Targeted therapies, which target molecules and help block the growth of cancer, can be combined with traditional cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation, or it can be delivered on its own.

» Continue Reading

Patient satisfaction: City of Hope earns 2 Press Ganey awards

November 25, 2013 | by   

City of Hope excels in patient care – and that’s according to City of Hope patients.

City of Hope Helford Hospital

City of Hope has earned two prestigious patient care awards from Press Ganey, which bases the honors on patient surveys.

The institution recently earned two prestigious Press Ganey Awards for top-quality patient care – its fifth consecutive year of being honored by the  health care industry’s leading performance-improvement firm.

City of Hope received both the Guardian of Excellence Award and the Beacon of Excellence Award. The Guardian of Excellence Award, formerly known as the Summit Award, honors hospitals that have reached the 95th percentile for patient satisfaction. The award is given annually based on a single year of data. City of Hope received the Summit Award the past four years.

The Beacon of Excellence Award is awarded to institutions that have maintained consistently high levels of excellence in patient satisfaction for three years; or – for two years – consistently high levels of excellence in employee engagement, physician engagement or quality performance. City of Hope was one of only 26 institutions in the nation recognized for patient satisfaction.

All Press Ganey clients are considered for the awards. The firm currently partners with more than 10,000 health care facilities – including more than 40 percent of U.S. hospitals – to measure and improve the quality of their care. » Continue Reading

‘My cancer diagnosis: What I wish I’d known’ – Carol Duran

November 25, 2013 | by   

The year 2008 started out promisingly for Carol Duran. At 43, she and her husband, Jaime, were enjoying the daily adventures of raising their rambunctious 3-year-old twins, James and Julian. Now that the boys had been accepted into preschool near their Alhambra, Calif., home, the paralegal planned to return to college to finish her degree. “Then, it all came crashing down.”

Former breast cancer patient Carol Duran

Trust your instincts, former breast cancer patient Carol Duran urges other women. She’d felt a lump, but a mammogram showed nothing suspicious. She insisted on additional follow-up and was diagnosed with HER-2 positive breast cancer. Duran is shown here with husband Jaime and sons Julian (left) and James. Photo courtesy of Carol Duran.

Duran felt a lump in her breast yet a mammogram revealed no abnormalities. Having fibroadenomas (benign breast tumors), she had undergone regular mammograms for years, and was diligent about checking herself for lumps. This one concerned her, though, and she asked to be retested, overruling her doctor’s suggestion to wait six months. After another mammogram, an ultrasound immediately revealed a lime-sized growth. A biopsy confirmed it was malignant.

“The first thought was, ‘I’m going to lose my life, and leave my kids without a mom,’” Duran recalled through tears during a recent KNBC interview.

She came to City of Hope in 2008, under the care of Stephen J. Forman, M.D., the Francis and Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope.

Duran was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer, an estrogen-driven cancer that’s particularly aggressive, and  underwent chemotherapy, a mastectomy and reconstruction. “Literally, they gave me hope to think I was going to get through this, that I was going to be here for the long haul and see my children grow up,” she told KNBC.

She received much of the treatment as an outpatient, enabling her to return home most nights to her children. “It was nice to be able to come home even though I wasn’t feeling that great. At least my boys could climb into my bed or I could sit on the floor and play with them or read to them. I was with them a lot, which was important to me. In case something happened, I wanted them to remember me.” » Continue Reading

Rose Parade float: Story of Charlie Habib, 11, started in 1996

November 24, 2013 | by   
Charlie Habib at school, enjoying the things all middle school students do. Photo credit: Habib family

Charlie Habib at school, enjoying the things all middle school students do. Photo credit: Habib family

For those who have battled cancer, each tomorrow is, in reality, a dream come true. On Jan. 1, 2014, former City of Hope patients treated at City of Hope will see another dream come true: They’ll be riding atop City of Hope’s float in the 2014 Tournament of Roses Parade.

The theme of this year’s float is “Turning Hope and Dreams into Reality”; the theme of the parade is “Dreams Come True.” Here is the story of one rider: Charlie Habib. Her battle was with an extremely rare cancer known as dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, a tumor of the skin. Her mother discusses the disease in this video.


My name is Charlotte. Most people call me Charlie. I am 11 years old. I am loving and kind and compassionate. I am goal-oriented. I am a bit stubborn. I love to embrace life. I look at all of life’s opportunities and obstacles right in the face. I like to win. I love a good challenge. I am determined. I am strong. I am a fighter.

My parents have always told me that I am “one in a million,” but as it turns out, I am one out of 7,413 kids who are diagnosed with cancer each year.

When I was 14 months old, my mom found a strange little bump about the size of a small pea on my body. She took me to my doctor and he told her that it was just a clogged pore. Each time she took me to the doctor, she would show him the bump and each time he would tell her that it was nothing. She told him that she was afraid that it was cancer. He told her that she should stop worrying because cancer is extremely rare in young children.

When I was 3 years old, my mom noticed that the little bump had turned into a big black lump, about the size and color of a fig. She took me back to the doctor’s office, but he didn’t know what it was, so he sent me to another doctor. Every doctor that we saw did not know what it was. None of the doctors would talk to me, they only would speak to my mother and none of them wanted to touch the bump. It made me very mad and embarrassed.

Finally, the seventh doctor that we went to decided to help me. He was very nice. He didn’t know what the bump was but said he was going to remove it so he could have it tested and then he would be able to tell my family what the bump was. » Continue Reading

Stop smoking: Twitter users have questions; we have answers

November 21, 2013 | by   
Brian Tiep, M.D. went to Twitter to answer questions and discuss strategies on how to quit smoking.

Brian Tiep went to Twitter to answer questions and discuss strategies on how to quit smoking.

Most smokers want to quit.

Nearly 69 percent of current U.S. adult smokers have reported that they want to quit completely, and millions have attempted to quit smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To help these smokers kick the habit for good, Brian Tiep, M.D., director of pulmonary rehabilitation and smoking cessation, and Rachel Dunham, M.S.N., nurse practitioner for smoking cessation and lung cancer screening, used Twitter to answer questions and discuss quitting strategies that work.

Smoking cessation experts from the Mayo Clinic also joined in to discuss the benefits of quitting and provided additional resources to help smokers quit.

Most smokers know they should stop the deadly habit, but what they don’t realize is that the nicotine in the cigarette makes them not only an addict, but a victim, as well.

“Nicotine affects the brain within 7 seconds of a puff. This causes a rush, which the victim gets dependent on,” Tiep tweeted.

Once a smoker realizes he cannot quit on his own — less than 5 percent of smokers can quit cold turkey — he can get the help he needs from professionals.

Here are some tips the experts gave on how to effectively quit smoking:

  • “”Focus on the positive, celebrate small victories, be available for relapses & expect them.”  -@BrianTiepMD
  • “If you’re going to #quitsmoking don’t get down on yourself if you slip. Usually takes smokers several tries to kick habit.” –@nhanson22
  • “Make a list of your reasons for stopping smoking (kids, exercise, better health, etc…) and keep it visible as a reminder.” -@kelleyluckstein
  • “Persistence in quitting works. It is hard to stop smoking, but each time a person tries, they learn something more about success.” -@micburke1
  • “Let everyone you interact with know you are trying to quit, so they can rally for you and encourage you.” -@kelleyluckstein
  • “Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider, get medications, get counseling.” -@PamKrenik

View the full list of tips on how to stop smoking and the Tweet chat.


Rose Parade float: Christine Pechera’s dreams come true

November 20, 2013 | by   
Christine Pechera unveils 2014 City of Hope Rose Parade Float Rendering at the Wrigley Mansion.

Christine Pechera unveils 2014 City of Hope Rose Parade Float rendering at the Tournament of Roses – Wrigley Mansion. Photo credit: Fran Rizzi

For those who have battled cancer, each tomorrow is, in reality, a dream come true. On Jan. 1, 2014, former City of Hope patients treated at City of Hope will see another dream come true: They’ll be riding atop City of Hope’s float in the 2014 Tournament of Roses Parade.

The theme of this year’s float is “Turning Hope and Dreams into Reality”; the theme of the parade is “Dreams Come True.”  Here is the story of one rider: Christine Pechera.


Ever since I was a little girl in New York, I dreamed of some day going to Pasadena, California, to see the Tournament of Roses Parade. But 11 years ago, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

I was told I only had a few months to live. To fulfill one of my last wishes, my family took me to the parade to see the floats and marvel at the beauty and wonder. Even in my weakened state, slumped in my wheelchair, I felt so blessed to finally have my childhood wish come true, though the reasons were bittersweet. After the parade, I went straight into the hospital, thinking, “Well, I guess this is it.”

That was 10 years ago. » Continue Reading