Gynecological Cancers; the “Silent Killers.” (Gynecological Cancers Awareness Month)

TRIGGER WARNING: Contains detailed information about women’s genitalia and references to fetal fatality. 

Gynecological cancers aren’t necessarily something that we hear a lot about, however, they are something every woman should know about and be on the lookout for. As defined by, gynecological cancer is “an uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells that originate from the reproductive organs.”

These abnormal cell growths can then also spread to other parts of the body, which results in more tumours forming where they spread.  There are several types of gynecological cancers; including ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, uterine or endometrial cancer, vaginal cancer, and vulval cancers.

Some gynecological cancers have been referred to as “silent killers” because women can often be unaware of their signs and symptoms. In these cases, the cancers may not be caught or treated until it is too late.

Types of gynecological cancers:

Gynecological Cancers; the “Silent Killers.” (Gynecological Cancers Awareness Month)

Cervical cancer: Cervical cancer is a cancer that develops in the cervix, the part of the uterus that opens up into the vagina. Cervical cancer is caused by abnormal changes in one of the two main cell types of the cervix.

Cervical precancers normally don’t have symptoms, however, it is the only gynecological cancer that can be prevented by regular smear tests. Symptoms will often only show once the cells turn into cancer and start to invade the deepest parts of the cervix or other surrounding organs.

Ovarian cancer: Ovarian cancer is cancer that develops in the ovaries. Ovarian cancer is the seventh most common cancer in women. There are four types of ovarian cancer:

  • Epithelial ovarian cancer, which is the most common ovarian cancer, forms on the surface of the ovary or the fallopian tube;
  • Germ cell cancer, which is an uncommon ovarian cancer that develops in the cells which form the eggs in the ovaries. This cancer normally afflicts teenagers and young women, and usually is found in only one ovary;
  • Stromal cell cancer, which is also rare and starts in the cells that hold the ovarian tissues together and create female hormones
  • Familial breast-ovarian cancer syndrome, which is a common inherited condition that causes 15-20% of all ovarian cancers. It is recommended that all women who have epithelial ovarian cancer are tested for this condition.

Uterine/Endometrial cancer: Uterine/Endometrial cancer is cancer that develops in the lining of the uterus (also called the endometrium). The most common symptom for this cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding. Postmenopause, any abnormal vaginal bleeding or brown discharge may be a sign of uterine/endometrial cancer. However, younger women must be aware of these symptoms too.

Vaginal cancer: Vaginal cancer is cancer that develops in the vagina, which is the muscular tube that connects the uterus to the outer genitalia. Most vaginal cancers are in the lining (squamous epithelium) of the vagina.

There are four different types of vaginal cancer, their diagnoses depending on where the cancer began:

  • Vaginal squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of vaginal cancer, and begins in the thin, flat cells that line the surface of the vagina;
  • Vaginal adenocarcinoma begins in the glandular cells on the surface of the vagina;
  • Vaginal melanoma begins in the pigment-producing cells in the vagina;
  • Vaginal sarcoma, which develops in the smooth muscle cells or the connective tissue cells of the vagina walls.

Vulvar cancer: Vulvar cancer is a rare cancer that develops on the inner or outer lips of the vagina, the clitoris, or the opening of the vagina and its glands. Vulvar cancer is highly curable if caught early, however, treatment can impact the appearance of the vulvar area, sexual function, and the function of the bladder and rectum.

Protection from Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection reduces the risk of developing vulvar cancer. Both self-examinations of the vulvar area for abnormalities and annual pelvic examinations can result in the early detection of vulvar cancer.

Gestational Trophoblastic Disease (GTD): Gestational Trophoblastic Disease is a rare group of pregnancy-related interrelated tumours that lead to the abnormal development of the placenta. Over 80% of these cases are non-cancerous, however, I feel this disease is important to mention in this article.

There are three types of GTD:

  • Hydatidiform mole (also called “molar pregnancy”) occurs when the fertilization of an egg that lacks maternal genes causes an abnormal pregnancy. Common symptoms of a hydatidiform mole are feeling pregnant while experiencing vaginal bleeding, abdominal bloating, severe nausea and vomiting, fatigue and shortness of breath due to anemia from blood loss, signs of an overactive thyroid, and high blood pressure due to pre-eclampsia. 
  • Choriocarcinoma is a form of GTD that is even rarer than molar pregnancy and spreads rapidly throughout the body and requires intense treatment. It can sometimes begin as a molar pregnancy or as the tissue that remains in the uterus following a birth or miscarriage.
    • Choriocarcinoma can be symptom-free, but some symptoms may occur based on the organs that are involved. It can cause complications in the uterus resulting in vaginal bleeding and unusual discharge; complications in the lungs resulting in coughing up blood, shortness of breath or chest pain; complications in the liver resulting in abdominal pain; complications in the brain resulting in headaches, issues with vision, convulsions, and weakness or loss of function; complications in the kidneys causing blood in urine; and complications in the bowel causing blood in stool/poo.
  • Placental-site trophoblastic tumour is a very rare form of GTD that develops in the uterus at the spot where the placenta is attached. These tumours dig into the muscle layer of the uterus but don’t normally spread throughout the body. All types of GTD can be treated, and in the majority of cases, the treatment leads to a cure. Most women who have had a single case of GTD can then have normal future pregnancies.

Signs and symptoms of gynecological cancers

Gynecological Cancers; the “Silent Killers.” (Gynecological Cancers Awareness Month)

General gynecological cancer symptoms to look out for:

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge
  • Abdominal (stomach) pain
  • Pain or burning
  • Pain during sex
  • Itchy skin around the vagina
  • Lump/s in the vagina
  • Sores, growths, or ulcers in the genital area
  • Vaginal odor
  • Trouble passing urine or bowel movements

Ovarian cancers, while being the deadliest of the gynecological cancers, do not currently have any effective screening tests to detect it. There are, however, some specific symptoms women can look out for:

  • Bloating of the abdomen
  • Pain in the abdomen/ pelvic area
  • Having trouble eating or feeling full quickly.

Is gynecological cancer preventable?

There are some things you can do to help lessen your chances of developing gynecological cancers.

  1. Reduce your exposure to the HPV virus: Having safe sex with all sexual partners -by using condoms- will reduce the risk of becoming exposed to HPV. Certain types of HPV can cause gynecological cancer or precancerous lesions, which are growths that can develop into cancer. There is also an HPV vaccine that can be administered before girls become sexually active that can protect them from the HPV virus and can help prevent vulval, cervical, and vaginal cancers.
  2. Be smoke-free: Not only does quitting smoking improve your general health, it can also decrease your risk of developing cancer, especially cervical cancer.
  3. Living a healthy lifestyle: eating healthy and regularly exercising can help to prevent you from developing gynecological cancer.
  4. Regular cervical smear tests (Pap tests): Smear tests detect cell changes that may become cervical cancer if left untreated. According to the Cancer Society NZ, having a cervical smear test every three years, from the age of 20, will help prevent cervical cancer. However, the recommended ages for cervical smears and the duration between them can vary from country to country. 

Like most cancers, the risk of developing gynecological cancer increases with age.

Are smear tests accessible to all women, including disabled and chronically ill women?

Gynecological Cancers; the “Silent Killers.” (Gynecological Cancers Awareness Month)

You’d think a procedure that is so important to women’s health would be equally accessible to everyone, right? Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. There are many testimonials online of women who have had bad experiences trying to get a smear test due to being disabled or having chronic illnesses. Age can also be a limiting factor in this, depending on what country you live in. 

There are many reasons a woman with chronic illness may struggle to get a smear test. For example, symptoms of disabilities or chronic illnesses may cause difficulties during the procedure. One example is that a woman with Cerebral Palsy may not be able to hold her legs in the requested position. Another example is that a woman who experiences spasms in the lower half of her body may not be able to remain still for the procedure. 

It isn’t only symptoms that can make getting smears difficult, however. Smear tests can also be made inaccessible by the professionals conducting them or the equipment (or lack thereof) they have on hand. 

If you use a wheelchair, you may find it more difficult to have a smear test than those who don’t. Many women have reported that they have had difficulty getting a smear test because a hoist isn’t available at their clinic. There have even been reports of medical professionals claiming disabled women don’t need smear tests, on the assumption that due to their disabilities they must not be sexually active. This is an especially ridiculous misconception. 

It is important that all women are aware of gynecological cancers and their signs and symptoms. That is why Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month is so important. Every time another woman learns about these things, it is a potential life saved. Make sure all your female family members are aware of gynecological cancers and their signs and symptoms. If you or a loved one experiences any of these symptoms, consult your doctor immediately.

About The Author

Amy Clements is a 20-year-old who has lived with chronic pain, the result of Fibromyalgia, since childhood. In her teens she was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome in her wrist, which was the result of a netball injury. Amy lives in New Zealand and studies Business part-time at University. She enjoys reading novels and writing. She especially enjoys writing about her experience with chronic illness.

How My Friend’s Cancer Journey Impacted My Life (My Experience with Grief)

How My Friend's Cancer Journey Affected My Life (My Experience with Grief)

When it comes to experiencing grief, I find this quote by Terri Irwin to be very accurate: “Grief is never something you get over. You don’t wake up one morning and say, ‘I’ve conquered that; now I’m moving on.’ It’s something that walks beside you every day. And if you can learn how to manage it and honor the person that you miss, you can take something that is incredibly sad and have some form of positivity.”

A string of thoughts swirls around my head when I think about my friend Daniel’s battle with brain cancer, on top of having Cerebral Palsy as a fifteen-year boy with so much ahead of him. 

I think things like: Another year has gone by without you, but it feels like just yesterday that you said goodbye to this world and the chapters of your book came to an end. But there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about you or the battle you faced. You were very brave and courageous and for that, I’m proud of you. 

Missing My Best Friend: How My Friend's Cancer Journey Impacted My Life

It’s been nine years since he’s been gone but, in all seriousness, it still feels yesterday.

Survivor’s Guilt

Within the first year of Daniel passing I struggled to come to terms with my grief and that cancer had taken my best friend, who was like a brother to me. He was my biggest supporter next to my mom. I became very angry at the world, to the point where I started to become more rebellious. As a result my grades started to slip.

I was finding my freshman year of high school so difficult that I started to skip classes. I didn’t care about my future. I would often ask myself if there was anything I could have done to save Daniel’s life. I would even wish that it were me who got cancer instead of him.

My experience with survivor's guilt as a side effect of my grief

The guilt was isolating. I couldn’t go out and do the things I enjoyed like going to the bookstore or attending football games without feeling guilty about it. I would often say things like “too bad Daniel can’t be here right now”. To avoid feeling like this I would stay home as much as possible.

As you can imagine, this was not good for me. At all. I would post about him every day on social media, writing about how much I wanted my brother back. A part of me hoped God would read my post and say: “Here’s Daniel back”. It was like I had separated myself from reality as a way to cope; away from the reality that Daniel was gone and that I had to move on.

Moving On:

Moving on wasn’t easy by any means. A year after Daniel’s passing, I decided I wanted to support children fighting cancer; so I would send toys to the kids in Hospitals. It was a good way to help me cope with my grief as well as setting aside the anger I felt.

I donated soft toys to child cancer patients to honor my best friend

Moving on from such grief requires a lot of bravery. “There is something you must always remember. you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”- Winnie the Pooh

A year later I went on to write James Ticking Time Bomb in honor of Daniel and his battle with cancer. I’ve been writing with the aim of bringing awareness to childhood cancer ever since. 

Though I’ve Moved On, I’m Still Grieving

It’s nine years later and I am now 24 years old and in college. I’m doing what I love most, which is spreading awareness for causes that matter to me through writing, the one thing that helped me cope the most with the grief of Daniel’s death. I still rely on writing as a coping mechanism to help me get through my grief as an adult. So now, every time I open up my laptop and begin writing, it serves as a reminder than Daniel’s spirit is always with me, and that I’ll see him again someday.

Tylia Flores is a 24-year-old born with cerebral palsy. Although her condition has affected her mobility, it has never affected her will and determination to make a difference in the world. Through her many life challenges and obstacles, she discovered her passion for writing. Tylia’s goal in life is to share her stories with the world.

Melanoma Skin Cancer Survivor

Trigger Warning, this article includes images of surgery.

Most people do not realize how serious melanoma skin cancer can be. For one professional, busy mother of two it took her doctor’s call to her husband to get her attention. Like many people in the United States Debbie was delaying treatment because she was concerned about the financial cost. Melanomas account for over 7,000 deaths in the United States per year so getting treatment quickly is a matter of life and death. 

Melanoma Skin Cancer Survivor Debbie with her family

Melanoma Explained

There are three main types of cells in the top layer of the skin. They are squamous cells, basal cells and melanocytes. Melanocytes are the cells that cause changes in pigment when exposed to the sun. They are also the cells that can get melanoma. According to the American Cancer Society melanomas more often occur in fair-skinned people.. Melanoma is also the most deadly form of skin cancer because it can spread to other parts of the body quickly. Melanomas typically appear as dark colored moles. However, they can appear pink or look like a normal mole so its best not to wait to get checked by a dermatologist on a regular basis.

Melanoma and Sunshine

It will probably not surprise anyone today that exposure to natural or artificial sunlight is the number one risk factor for skin cancers. Ultraviolet (UV) Rays damage the DNA of skin cells. While commonly known today this was not always the case. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest during the 1980’s Debbie sought that healthy glow during the few days the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. Like most people her age she used tanning oil to increase the pace at which her winter white would turn to a golden bronze.


Later, as a young adult, Debbie worked at a tanning bed salon where she took full advantage of the unlimited tanning bed usage. Salesmen that sold the beds touted the many health benefits of year-round tanning. Some of the benefits listed included increased mood, elevated Vitamin D levels, and reduction in acne. Nobody would have dared to put on sunscreen and limit the potential health benefits of the UV light. Now the FDA requires tanning beds to display a warning about potential cancer risks.

Other Skin Cancer Risk Factors

While anyone can start controlling the amount of sun exposure they get now, most risk factors are outside of any individuals’ control. As with most cancers, family history is a known contributor to increased risk. Once an individual gets a melanoma they have a higher risk for future melanomas. They should get checked more regularly by their doctor. In Debbie’s case, she will be checked every four months for now. Fair skin, freckled blonds are at a higher risk. As we age our risk increases especially past 50 years old. Certain weakened immune systems can also contribute to a higher risk.

While anyone can start controlling the amount of sun exposure they get now, most risk factors are outside of any individuals' control
moles can indicate an increased risk of melanoma

Spotting Skin Cancer

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends remembering the ABCD model to know when it is time to see the doctor. Asymmetry: is one side different than the other? Border: is the border as irregular as a lake on a map? Color: does the color vary within the mole? Diameter: is it more than 6mm in any direction? If you answered yes to any of these questions it is time to see your dermatologist.

Diagnosing Melanoma

Once at the dermatologist they will start with a physical exam in which they will visually inspect 100% of your skin. For many people disrobing and balancing the paper sheet over your private areas is the worst part of the appointment. If the idea of this causes anxiety for you, plan on bringing an advocate, friend, family member or partner. The doctor will likely already have an assistant in the room, but if not it is okay to ask for someone. If they see anything of concern they will want to do a biopsy.

Once at the dermatologist they will start with a physical exam in which they will visually inspect 100% of your skin.

A biopsy is either completely or relatively painless. A small syringe needle will be used to numb the area first. Then a small scalpel will cut away a piece of the skin tissue. This process usually takes less than a minute. The amount removed is typically about the size of the end of pencil eraser in diameter. It is probably thinner than a slice of shaved garlic. While it could scar, it often does not leave any noticeable mark. The tissue sample will be sent to the lab and you will have to wait to hear back from the doctor. This can take anywhere from a couple days to a couple weeks.

A Serious Diagnosis

For most people melanoma is not the first thing they think of when they hear the word cancer. This may be particularly true when it comes to terminal cancers. This is a mistake. Melanoma can quickly spread making it one of the most deadly cancers if left untreated. Most likely that suspicious mole is not a melanoma, but it is very important that you call your doctor back if they leave a message stating your biopsy revealed skin cancer. If the melanoma is removed quickly there is at least a 90% five-year survival rate for melanoma.

While unpleasant, the process for removing a melanoma is fairly simple. It is an outpatient procedure done in a clinical setting. First, the clinician will have to cut away all of the melanoma. In order to make sure that it is all gone they will test the surrounding tissue while you wait. In some cases they may have to remove more tissue. Debbie found this part of the process one of the most uncomfortable. She had to wait in a considerable amount of discomfort in the waiting room with other patients while she had an open sore.

Once at the dermatologist they will start with a physical exam in which they will visually inspect 100% of your skin.

Once the lab has determined all of the skin cancer has been removed they will stitch up the hole. Debbie felt the physician did a good job and does not feel there is a noticeable difference once she healed. Some people choose to get additional plastic surgery afterwards especially if the area is on the front of their face or are otherwise bothered by it. Debbie’s spot was fairly small yet still took 24 stitches to close.

Once the lab has determined all of the skin cancer has been removed they will stitch up the hole

Recovering and Lesson Learned

A few year’s ago a patient would likely have been prescribed a few narcotic pain pills to help with the post procedure pain. Doctors prefer more conservation treatment options in the post opioid epidemic area. Debbie was prescribed only ibuprofen for the pain. I have known Debbie for over 40 years and can personally attest to her strength. This woman runs marathons. A favorite summer past-time as kids was challenging others to race down the gravel road barefooted to see which was the toughest. So when she said it hurt, I believe her pain was more than most people would have quietly endured. Fortunately, that pain was short lived and within about a week Debbie was back to her happy self.

It has been awhile since Debbie set foot in a tanning bed or used baby oil to bronze her skin. She will now be much more vigilant about wearing hats to protect those delicate ears.

It has been awhile since Debbie set foot in a tanning bed or used baby oil to bronze her skin. She will now be much more vigilant about wearing hats to protect those delicate ears. As a mother she was already aware of the dangers of the sun and took appropriate steps to protect her children including wearing sunscreen. As an active family that enjoys running, hiking, bike riding, baseball, and other outdoor fun they will be even more vigilant about protecting their skin from UV rays.

The American Cancer Society recommends sunglasses, covering with clothing, wearing a hat and choosing the shade whenever possible. The American Academy of Dermatology has these guidelines for choosing and using sunscreen: most adults will need at least one ounce of a broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) water resistant sunscreen in an SPF of at least 30+. And, it should go without saying: never, ever get in the tanning bed again.

About the Author

Author T.J. Madden for The Unchargeables

Tami Madden wears many different hats as a regular volunteer with The Unchargeables community. She is also a Caregiver for a Chargie with Dysautonomia. She can be found on Instagram sharing her life as a reader, writer, teacher, baker, chicken soup maker, and fighter for all things healthier, stronger, kinder and better than yesterday here.

Surviving Cancer

I grew up knowing that my dad had skin cancer in his early twenties and so I knew it was a chance for me.  Cancer “runs in the family” on both sides.  There has been lung cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, breast cancer, skin cancer and a couple of others that run in the family as well (as far as I know and some I have guessed on).  I wanted to get checked for skin cancer in my twenties and thought that it wouldn’t happen to me. I had finished with 9 surgeries because of my car accident and was learning to function with how my body was and was just coming to terms with how I was feeling.

The Beginning

I went into the dermatologist just wanting to have a go-over and for him to say “you’re good to go!” That was not how it went, he looked at a couple of spots and then informed me that he was going to take 4 spots for biopsy and I would hear back in a couple of days.  I don’t remember the exact date that I got the call, but I was told that they had found precancerous spots that needed to be removed before they turned cancerous.  I had to go back in on August 30, 2012 to have two of the spots completely removed. 

Surviving Cancer

The Procedure

The day I went in, I thought that it would just be simple and quick to get the rest of the cells.  When the dermatologist removed the spot on my head, it was weird and horrible to hear through my skull the cutting and stitching.  What they don’t tell you when they are making a cut on your scalp that even if it is numb, you will hear the hairs being cut.  Not heard through your ears, but through the bone conduction in your skull.  The surgery for removing the spot from my head was as long as I expected it to be, but the surgery on my right breast took longer than I had thought it should have taken. 

My doctor was great at not showing when he noticed something going on when he was removing that spot of precancerous skin cancer.  They had to do 3 layers of stitches to close that one up and I remember the nurse commenting that it was deeper than she had thought it would be and the doctor just stayed quiet.  I had thought nothing of it at first and was just glad when it was done and I got to go home to rest and recover.  

Getting The Phone Call

A few days later I got the call that they were successful in getting all of the cancer out and that they were able to get the breast cancer completely as well.  My heart stopped with that phone call, I was told it was precancerous and that it was just skin cancer.  I asked for clarification because I assumed that I had heard wrong with what the nurse had said on the phone.  She clarified that between when they biopsied and when they did the surgery to remove both spots it had gone from precancerous to cancerous and was still changing when they removed the spots. 

She also explained that when the doctor was removing the skin cancer spot on my right breast, that as he got to the bottom of it he came across the top of something which turned out to be a lump.  He went ahead and removed the whole lump as well and had to stitch it up.  They had to do 3 layers of deep stitching and then the final top layer of stitches.  The nurse said that lump was sent in and was determined to be breast cancer.  

Around the time I had gotten the call I was about to call in because my incision on my breast was getting inflamed and hurting worse and I was trying to make an appointment to get in to see the doctor about that.  I was able to get in and was worried about the incision spot and that I had some hair fall out near that incision on my scalp as well.  The doctor took a swab of the spot and ended up having to cut all the layers of stitches out (what was left of it) because the infection was just eating them away. 

They had found that it was staph and the doctor didn’t dare stitch it up again.  I had to pack it to let it heal from the inside out.  That was the most painful experience I ever had to inflict upon myself since the bandage had to be changed out daily.  My spot on my head healed fairly quickly and I have a permanent bald spot the size of my thumbprint somewhat hidden by my hair. 


My spot on my breast was slowly healing and seemed to be taking forever.  Every time it was close to being completely healed, it would open up again and I would have to start over on packing it until it would almost close up.  From August 30th to February I went through this almost completely healed to having to take care of it.  I finally had another appointment with my doctor for another follow up (during the time between August and February I had about 6 appointments for follow up) I had mentioned that it kept doing this back and forth. 

The doctor stated that it could be one of two things, one was that the infection turned to gangrene or that cancer had come back.  The quickest way to find out was that he had prescribed a topical ointment with steroids and antibiotics in it, I had to change the dressing to my wound 3 times a day with this ointment and be back in a week for a follow-up. 

If the wound did not improve enough then it would be cancer and he stated that it would be assumed to be breast cancer.  I was told that if it was cancer that they would have to remove the breast (mastectomy surgery) and I needed to decide if I wanted only that one gone or to have a double mastectomy.  I went home and took care of my wound, but was afraid of looking at it too much and freak out if it was healing enough or not. 

A week later I went back into the doctor and he looked at my wound and changed the dressing, not saying much as he was looking at it and re-packing it for me.  He stated that it has healed enough to know it is not cancer and just a gangrene infection.  I was so relieved but apprehensive at the same time when he told me this information.   It had taken another 3 full months for it to finally heal and stay closed. 

The Outcome

I had a few more follow up appointments to check on the progress and then at my 1 year anniversary of being cancer free he told me that I “graduated” to appointments being only twice a year instead of every two months.  I was so overjoyed that there was no cancer that had shown up in that year.  After my 2 year anniversary I “graduated” to only needing to go in once a year.  I am approaching my 6 year anniversary with excitement that I made it past the 5-year mark. 

 1 year anniversary of being cancer free he told me that I “graduated” to appointments being only twice a year instead of every two months

After 5 years of being cancer free, your chances of getting cancer back goes down significantly and is a truly celebrated mark to get to in the cancer world.  I honestly never thought that I would make it to the 5-year mark cancer free, but I did it!  My story is not like the typical stories that you hear a lot about and I am grateful that I did not need to do the chemotherapy or radiation treatments on top of the surgeries.  I am even more grateful that I got to have my children and that I am around to see them grow up.  I will never forget my cancer scare and how it changed me forever.

About The Author

Pancreatic Cancer The Quick Killer

Subject of story in formal portrait taken outdoors with family

Pancreatic cancer is one of the fastest growing cancers in North America. According to the American Cancer Society, around 3 percent of all cancers in the United States are pancreatic cancers. In 2018, they expected around 55,440 people to receive a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the fastest growing cancers in North America. According to the American Cancer Society, around 3 percent of all cancers in the United States are pancreatic cancers. In 2018, they expected around 55,440 people to receive a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

Fast Friends

Nobody thinks about Pancreatic Cancer when they meet someone new. The memory of the first time we met Sweet Lou is as clear as yesterday. There was no way to know then that he would be taken away so quickly. Like so many things in life what seemed like a negative situation turned into something positive. We met some of the best humans we have ever known when a landlord defrauded us. Lou was one of those people.

Determined this landlord situation was certainly a sign that the recent relocation to Colorado was doomed from the beginning caused much tension in my marriage. Desperation set in to move back to Georgia where the support of parents and siblings would be certain.  Plus I was surprised my husband decided to share this personal information with people we had just met – that caught me off guard. But, when I stared into the friendly faces of our new neighbors that night I told the truth. Raising kids is hard without family around. Sweet Lou said, “We’ll be your family.”

As you may have guessed this story does not have an entirely happy ending. As I write this now Lou has been gone almost a year.

The Job of the Pancreas

 The pancreas is a spongy, elongated pear-shaped gland organ. It is located in the abdomen and helps your body digest food and regulate insulin
Photo Credit : My Fit Station

The pancreas is a spongy, elongated pear-shaped gland organ. It is located in the abdomen and helps your body digest food and regulate insulin. The pancreas excretes digestive fluids into the intestines and works with the liver and gall bladder to help break down foods. The most important function is to regulate the insulin in your body. “Maintaining proper blood sugar levels is crucial to the functioning of key organs including the brain, liver, and kidneys (Columbia University, 2019). Most people probably do not think much about the pancreas unless they are a fan of Patrick Swayze or Alex Trebek.

Pancreatic Cancer Statistics

  • Pancreatic Cancer is the 3rd leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States
  • More people die from Pancreatic Cancer than from Breast Cancer
  • The average lifetime risk of Pancreatic Cancer in the US is 1 in 64
  • The five-year survival rate for all forms of Pancreatic Cancer is just 7%
  • The one-year survival rate for all forms of Pancreatic Cancer is 20%
  • Death rates for all cancers have declined except for Pancreatic Cancer which has remained the same in the last decade.
  • Every day in the United States 155 people will be diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. Statistics can make it easy to forget that each one of them represents a human being: a father, mother, son, sister, husband, or friend like Sweet Lou

Behind the Pancreatic Cancer Statistics

When it comes to cancers two questions are usually on everyone’s minds. What are the risk factors? And, how do I prevent it? There are certain risk factors for Pancreatic Cancer that you cannot control. Some are a possible genetic predisposition, exposure to certain chemicals at work, age, gender, race, diabetes and chronic pancreatitis. Some factors within our control are thought to contribute to an increased risk and include obesity and tobacco use. Others such as diet, a sedentary lifestyle, infection, or coffee and alcohol consumption are not as clearly connected.

Most advocacy groups will point out that a healthy lifestyle may reduce your risk of getting certain types of cancers. This point should not be mistaken to mean that any individual is responsible for their personal cancer diagnosis. At the end of the day we are all just trying to balance our lives between what is good and what is good for us. In Lou’s case he was not at a high risk and was in generally good health.

Warning Signs

One of the most difficult aspects of Pancreatic Cancer is that there are few early warning signs. This is complicated by the rapid rate with which the cancer spreads. The symptoms are vague: pain in the abdomen or back, weight loss, jaundice, loss of appetite, nausea, changes in stool, pancreatitis or recent-onset diabetes.

One of the most difficult aspects of Pancreatic Cancer is that there are few early warning signs

Sending your husband to the doctor every time he has a stomach ache (as I have done the past year) is not very practical. Here is where it is important to know your body. Pay attention to what is normal personally. If any of the known risk factors or family history is a possibility it is better to err on the side of caution. The Mayo Clinic recommends a person “see your doctor if you experience unexplained weight loss or if you have persistent fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice or other signs and symptoms that bother you.”

Diagnosis and Treatment

Once Pancreatic Cancer is diagnosed the doctor will attach a stage level between I and IV to assign a seriousness of the disease

Imaging in the form of CT, MRI or PET scans are the first steps a doctor will probably take after a physical exam. There are endoscopic procedures if a biopsy or closer look is necessary. A blood test called CA-19-9 is available but is known to be fairly unreliable. Most doctors will record levels before and after treatment, none-the-less. Again, it is important to remember the success in beating Pancreatic Cancer depends in large part on early detection. So, get to the doctor if you suspect a problem.

Once Pancreatic Cancer is diagnosed the doctor will attach a stage level between I and IV to assign a seriousness of the disease. The lower the stage the better. The most effective procedure is thought to be the specialized surgery called the Whipple procedure. Other surgeries including the removal of the entire pancreas are sometimes done. Chemotherapy and radiation are other traditional methods of treating all cancers including Pancreatic Cancer. There are many clinic trials ongoing right now that have shown to increase a patient’s lifespan.

Pancreatic Cancer Palliative Care

Palliative Care is the next step. This is the stage a patient and their family reside in between ‘there is nothing more we can do’ and hospice, or end of life care. Palliative care encompasses a wide range of modalities designed to help a patient and their loved ones cope and be as comfortable as possible. They may also help a patient consider whether actively pursuing trials is a good idea. Alternative therapies like acupuncture may help with pain. Therapies like art and music help manage emotions. And, spiritual counseling can help many manage the complex emotions that accompany a terminal diagnosis.

Pancreatic Cancer Unspoken Survivors

The survivors of pancreatic cancer are most often those left behind when a loved one passes. When I reached out to Lou's Lady here is what she offered:

The survivors of pancreatic cancer are most often those left behind when a loved one passes. When I reached out to Lou’s Lady here is what she offered:

“I guess I would say do your research, get second opinions or third. Utilize clinical trials as they really do prolong life. But weigh the pros and cons when it gets towards the end as sometimes keeping someone alive longer isn’t more important than spending quality time. Go on vacation or do things that are important to you and your family. See people and make memories when you can. But don’t be afraid of offending people by setting boundaries of what the patient and caregiver can manage. Enjoy the time you are given and say everything you need to say. That goes both ways. The time you are given goes by quickly.”

Pancreatic Cancer Means Saying Goodbye

For my part, I have to add that one of my greatest regrets is not getting back to Colorado in time. Our family did eventually make our way back to Georgia. Our daughter is a Chargie with POTS and life seems complicated for us sometimes. A combination of our difficulty accepting the truth and the complications of leaving behind a chronically ill teenager for a trip out of state had us wait until it was literally too late. By the time we landed in Colorado, Lou was actively dying.

It had been suggested to us maybe we wait until the funeral. Two trips was not feasible for us. Given the chance again, I still would have chosen to try to make it in time to see him alive. Still, getting on that plane to come home without seeing him was one of the saddest days of my life. I will always regret that we never got to tell him how much his friendship meant to our family. Within a few days we got the message he was gone. Because of the amazing man he was his legacy still lives on in innumerable ways. He will always missed.

About the Author

Author T.J. Madden for The Unchargeables

TJ Madden has been a regular volunteer with The Unchargeables community wearing many different hats. She is a Caregiver for a Chargie with Dysautonomia. You can find her on Instagram sharing her life as a reader, writer, teacher, baker, chicken soup maker, and fighter for all things healthier, stronger, kinder and better than yesterday here.

Top 10 Toxic Cancer-causing Foods that You Need to Avoid

The top 10 cancer causing food that you need to avoid at all costs

If there is one love that has remained constant throughout life, then that is food. But did you know that certain foods can cause cancer? Well here’s a piece of heartbreaking news, from today onwards you need to keep tabs on what you eat and what you ditch from your daily diet. Read on to find out more about cancer-causing foods and why you should avoid them.

What is Cancer?

Cancer is a disease that is caused by the uncontrolled cellular division in the affected part of the body. Amid several factors that cause cancer, one of its leading causes is the type of food that you eat. Foods that are genetically modified, spiced or smoked or pickled, canned, processed, and subjected to chemical treatments are carcinogenic. Consumption of such cancer-causing foods can cause severe damage to health and well-being. The best alternative is to incorporate organic and fresh foods to stay healthy and prevent cancer.

Top 10 Terrible Cancer-Causing Foods that you Need to Avoid from Now

Top 10 Terrible Cancer-Causing Foods that you Need to Avoid

  1. Genetically Modified Foods
  • The production of genetically modified food has exponentially increased, and most of the healthiest foods in the agricultural sector like soy and corn are genetically modified.
  • Experts have sadly declared that most of the genetically modified foods are not adequately tested. This insufficiency in testing implies that no-one is sure about the long-term effects of the consumption of such diets on health and well-being.
  • Diet experts recommend the consumption of fresh, organic, and non-GMO foods to avoid cancer.

2. Microwave Popcorn

From its storage bag to its composition, microwaved popcorn is one of the most toxic foods that can cause cancer.
  • From its storage bag to its composition, microwaved popcorn is one of the most toxic foods that can cause cancer. It is one of the leading causes of lung cancer.
  • The kernel of microwaved popcorn is genetically modified, and it contains artificial butter and synthetic flavors that release poisonous diacetyl fumes.

3. Canned Goods

  • The cans which hold the food contain bisphenol-A which is a highly carcinogenic chemical. Extensive experiments reveal that the chemical composition of the boxes can genetically alter the brain cells of rats.
  • Preserve your health and protect your DNA against unnatural genetic mutations by eating fresh and organic vegetables and fruits instead of canned goods.

4. Grilled Red Meat

Grilled meat is perhaps the king of delicious foods, but sadly it is the king of cancer too. The process of preparation of grilled red meat releases heterocyclic aromatic amines which is a dangerous carcinogenic compound.
  • Grilled meat is perhaps the king of delicious foods, but sadly it is the king of cancer too. The process of preparation of grilled red meat releases heterocyclic aromatic amines which is a dangerous carcinogenic compound.
  • Grilling the red meat changes its molecular and chemical bonding structure, and the resulting structure is harmful to health.
  • Experts recommend the consumption of baked, broiled, steamed, and stewed red meat for the maintenance of good health and body weight.

5. Refined Sugar

  • Refined sugar, especially high-fructose corn syrup, is worst in the list of cancer-causing foods. Brown sugar is refined white sugar with little molasses added for color and flavor.
  • Foods made of refined sugar are the primary causes of insulin spikes that trigger the growth and spread of cancer.  
  • Ditch the cancer-causing foods that contain refined white or brown sugar and switch to organic honey, maple sugar, coconut sugar, and other such natural varieties of sugar to thwart cancer and fight against its ill-effects.

6. Smoked, pickled, and salted foods

  • Foods that are smoked, pickled or salted almost always contain nitrate compounds that are added to enhance shelf life. The synthetic additives of the different foods accumulate in the body and wreak damage in the form of cancer.
  • Cooking of smoked foods leads to the conversion of nitrates into nitrites which are toxic and far more dangerous for the body than nitrates.

7. Carbonated Drinks

There have been numerous health debates that discuss the adverse effects of carbonated beverages like soda and coke. Read more about foods that can cause cancer.
  • There have been numerous health debates that discuss the adverse effects of carbonated beverages like soda and coke. These drinks contain genetically modified high-fructose corn concentrates, artificial colors, synthetic flavors, and other chemical additives that cause cancer.
  • Sodas are one of the worst cancer-causing foods that are not only devoid of nutrients but are also known to deprive the body of nutrients.
  • Diet sodas are worse than regular drinks. They contain aspartame which is a chemical that is as toxic to health as a bottle of rat poison.

8. White Flour

  • White flour is refined flour which is flour that does not contain any nutritional values. The refined flour is bleached with chlorine to make it appear whiter and visually appealing.
  • White flour possesses a high value of the glycemic index. It makes the blood sugar level spike high without providing the body with any nutrients.
  • Excessive consumption of white flour can trigger insulin resistance which can lead to cancer.

9. Farmed Fish

  • Fish is cultivated commercially in a crowded and controlled environment to raise vast quantities of it. The commercially farmed fish go through a variety of chemical treatments like pesticides, antibiotics, and other carcinogenic substances to control and prevent parasitic, viral, and bacterial infection of the fish.
  • The chemical treatment of the farmed fish makes it one of the most toxic cancer-causing foods. Farmed fish are also devoid of essential nutrients and do not possess omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Experts recommend the consumption of wild salmon and organic fatty fish to stay healthy and prevent cancer.

10. Hydrogenated Oils

  • Hydrogenated oil is vegetable oil with chemicals and synthetic additives for color, flavor, scent, and appearance.
  • These oils possess toxic omega-6 fatty acids that can alter the cellular structure of body membranes and wreak cancerous damage.

A few tips to fight against cancer

  • Strictly avoid the foods that are labeled as “fat-free,” “light,” or “diet.” Such types of foods contain more chemicals than the regular variety.
  • Eat fresh and organic food
  • If fresh and organic food is not available then eat it clean frozen or raw. Avoid processed food and junk food.
  • Cut down on the consumption of refined sugar and grains to stay healthy.
The top ten toxic cancer causing foods to avoid

The key to a healthy life is healthy eating. If you can adhere to a strictly balanced diet of fresh, organic, raw, and steamed or baked foods, then no disease in the world can bring down, not even cancer. So dump the cancer-causing foods and fight cancer with healthy foods, courage, and positiveness.

Written by: Dr. Sohill

Top 10 Netflix Shows About Chronic Illness (3500 Words)

Read about Netflix shows featuring chronic illness on The Unchargeables.

Chronic illness isn’t a topic that seems to heavily feature in television shows and movies. At least, that was what I thought before I started research for this article. It turns out there are shows, movies and documentaries out there featuring chronic illness, and I was keen to see how accurately it was represented in a world of fairy tale endings and happily-ever-afters. I was reassured to find that there are some shows that don’t shy away from the hard-hitting reality of life with chronic illness. This article specifically focuses on Netflix shows and these are my thoughts on the ones I watched, including:

  • Alexa and Katie
  • Brain on Fire
  • Unrest
  • The Fundamentals of Caring
  • Kiss and Cry
  • Degrassi: Next Class
  • Gaga: Five Foot Two
  • My Beautiful Broken Brain
  • Atypical
  • Be Here Now


Alexa and Katie

Alexa and Katie is an American teen series following the lives of Alexa, who has been diagnosed with cancer, and her best friend Katie. Season one premiered on Netflix in March 2018 and the show has been renewed for a second season. Given that this was a teen show, set in an American high school, I was dubious about what the show could offer someone in their late twenties like myself. However, I did find myself enjoying it.

Read about how Netflix show Alexa and Katie features chronic illness on The Unchargeables.

The humour is questionable at times, but it did have some laugh-out-loud moments and the underlying message was beautiful. It focuses on the struggles of living with illness as a young person and how the support of a friend can be life-changing in that situation. Alexa hides her illness for fear of being treated differently, something which I think all of us can relate to on some level. The show follows her struggle to live a ‘normal’ life whilst also taking care of her health. This is something else I think is very relatable to everyone with a chronic illness.

The show is a clichéd American teen show, but the underlying message is fantastic, and the positivity shown by Alexa is commendable. There are some hard-hitting moments when your heart breaks to watch Alexa miss out on life because of her illness; however, the show is mostly humorous, so it doesn’t dig too deep into the more difficult side of chronic illness. I will be interested to see what happens in season two and much to my own surprise, I will be keeping an eye out for its premiere. If you want something easy to watch which keeps things light hearted, whilst not shying away from some of the difficulties presented by living with a chronic illness as a young person, then give this a go.

Brain on Fire

Of all the shows recommended by Chargies and the Unchargeables team to watch for this article, I was dreading this one the most. I watched the trailer for this film when it first came onto Netflix in June 2018 and decided it would be too close to home, too hard to watch. My husband watched the film while away on holiday earlier in the year and he said it hit very close to home for him and it wouldn’t be easy for me to watch. It was therefore added to my ‘do not watch’ list because I didn’t think I could face it. However, I am so glad I had to watch this as part of my research for this article.

Brain on Fire is based on the true story of Susannah Cahalan, who released her memoir Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness in 2012. The film follows Susannah, an up and coming journalist working in her dream job, living her ‘best life’ in New York. Seemingly from nowhere, Susannah develops an array of symptoms such as voices in her head, seizure, and hypersensitivity to sound. The film follows her story as she desperately tries to find a cause for her symptoms.

Read about how Netflix show Brain on Fire features chronic illness on The Unchargeables.

The struggle to have doctors take her seriously, let alone obtain an accurate diagnosis, is heartbreakingly relatable for so many of us with chronic illness. Susannah is misdiagnosed, told her symptoms are all in her head, and is written off by almost every medical professional she meets. Her symptoms deteriorate, and her family and boyfriend keep desperately fighting for answers. This film was difficult to watch because it is a reminder that medicine still has a long way to go and too many medical professionals still fail to investigate symptoms when there is no obvious cause for them. It was incredibly emotional to watch Susannah be told it was ‘all in her head’ and become a shell of her former happy, healthy self.

The film also tackles issues such as how difficult chronic illness can be for loved ones and how the support of loved ones can shine a light even in total despair. It also looks at how employers deal with chronic illness, although Susannah was fortunate to have an understanding employer who supported her.

This true story shows that all it takes is one doctor to change a life, even if all others doubt you. This is an issue which I am sure will strike close to home for many people with chronic illness and I advise you have tissues on hand to watch this film. Susannah eventually does find answers when she is diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease, anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis. Finally, she goes on to rebuild her life. She has since been involved in raising awareness of the condition, which was previously misdiagnosed in 90% of cases, according to information shared at the end of the film.

The film highlights the importance of sharing your story, no matter what that story may be. It is also a reminder that even after the diagnosis of a chronic illness, you are still you, just a stronger version of you. The film is hard-hitting. At points I genuinely sobbed, but it is also a story of hope, love and strength which I think anyone with a chronic illness will strongly relate to.


Unrest is a documentary following PhD student Jennifer Brea as she battles Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E). Jennifer started documenting her life to cope with her diagnosis and the debilitating symptoms of her illness.

Read about how Netflix show Unrest features chronic illness on The Unchargeables.

Jennifer fell very ill shortly after getting married and the documentary accurately depicts the struggle of a newly married couple coming to terms with a life-altering diagnosis and all that comes with that. It is extremely relatable to those of us with a chronic illness and tackles the grief, loss and heart break that come with losing your health. It is a stark reminder that life, and health, are extremely fragile and should not be taken for granted.

The documentary discusses the harm of misdiagnosis and the controversial opinion of many medical professionals that M.E/CFS is psychological rather than physical. Jennifer campaigns to bring more awareness to the illness and in doing so speaks with people from all over the globe who are also battling the condition. She does this via Skype and video interviews as she is bed bound for a large portion of time during filming.

The documentary does not shy away from sensitive topics such as suicidal thoughts, whether to have children, and the loss of her quality of life and the future she had hoped for. It also tackles the issue of females being less likely to be believed by medical professionals or not taken seriously due to the hysteria phenomenon. It accurately reflects chronic fatigue and the impact chronic illness has on a marriage or relationship. The documentary also shows the terrifying attitude some countries have towards illnesses that cannot be seen, such as M.E. It features the story of Karina, a young woman removed from her home by authorities in Denmark and effectively held captive for over three years in a psychiatric facility. It also features people living all over the world, which makes it extremely relatable to everyone, regardless of where you live. The documentary is honest, emotional and inspiring, featuring people from all walks of life as they fight to shine a light on an illness seemingly forgotten by medicine.

The Fundamentals of Caring

I had seen this film before and loved it, but I watched it again to refresh before writing this article. I would highly recommend this film. It is emotional, real, quirky and extremely funny.

Read about how Netflix show The Fundamentals of Caring features chronic illness on The Unchargeables.

This American comedy-drama is based on a novel written by Jonathon Evision and premiered on Netflix in June 2016. It features Paul Rudd as a retired writer who is struggling with personal tragedy. He becomes a caregiver and his first job is providing care to a teenage boy who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. The film follows their journey as a friendship blossoms and they both encourage each other to start living life again, rather than watching it pass them by. The teen boy is played by Craig Roberts, who brings a fantastic element of truly British humour into the mix. The film highlights issues such as feeling entitled to good health, wanting to live a normal life, and the feelings of fear and grief chronic illness can evoke. The film reminds us all to not let disability define who you are and never give up on your dreams. It is laugh-out-loud funny, motivational, hard-hitting at times and wonderfully uplifting at others.

Kiss and Cry

This film is based on the true story of Carley Allison, a 17-year-old figure skater and singer, who is diagnosed with an extremely rare type of Sarcoma. It shows how life can change dramatically in a short space of time. According to her own family, who supported the making of the film, it depicts what cancer actually looks like, and not some Hollywood version of cancer.

Read about how Netflix show Kiss and Cry features chronic illness on The Unchargeables.

The style of the film, where at points the actress playing Carley speaks directly to the camera, makes it very personal. It follows Carley’s journey as she comes to terms with her diagnosis and finds the positive even in such a horrific situation. The story also shows how her family, friends and boyfriend supported her, and tackles delicate issues such as friends who struggle to cope and therefore stop contact, pushing people away and wondering why a partner chooses to stay when you are very ill. It also shows Carley trying to protect others from the reality of her illness and faking a smile at times. Furthermore, it examines how relationships with health care professionals can be difficult and reminds us that behind every doctor and nurse is a human being with their own lives, issues and emotions.

Ultimately, Carley’s motto was to ‘always smile’ and the message within the film is beautiful, heartfelt, and very relatable. Carley leaves her mark on the world and reminds us all to do the same, even when life doesn’t go how you planned. The film is very real, down-to-earth and inspiring.

Degrassi: Next Class

This Canadian teen drama made its debut on Netflix in January 2016 and is comprised of four seasons. This was the show that took the most time to watch because all four seasons were available on Netflix and I couldn’t stop once I’d started.

This was another show I wasn’t sure I’d find very relatable because it is a teen drama and therefore focuses on teenage issues, but I was blown away by the range of issues this drama tackled. I genuinely wish teen shows had been this refreshingly honest back in my own teenage days. The show tackles issues such as abuse, drug use, sex, friendship, relationships, homophobia, racism, mental illness, sexuality, and religion.

Read about how Netflix show Degrassi: Next Class features chronic illness on The Unchargeables.

It also follows the life of character Grace as she comes to terms with a diagnosis of Cystic Fibrosis. Grace hides her diagnosis from her friends in the first season because she doesn’t want pity or to see them struggle to deal with it. In the second episode of season one we see one friend find out the truth and the show does an excellent job of accurately representing how others can struggle to cope with a serious diagnosis. It shows her friend Zoe refusing to believe the illness will eventually kill Grace; Zoe looks for crazy ‘cures’ rather than simply listening to Grace and being there for her. I found this very relatable, and I am sure many people with a chronic illness will too. It is often other people who struggle to come to terms with our diagnosis more than us, and this can hinder our own acceptance of it and the grieving process which is part of all chronic illnesses.

The show does not shy away from the issues of death, life expectancy with the disease, and everything that comes with that. It shows Grace as she moves between acceptance, grief, anger, and hopelessness before finally realising she deserves to live a full life, no matter how short. It also tackles the issue of transplants and the various therapies she must do, as well as how she deals with wearing medical equipment at school once her disease progresses.

The show also follows the character Maya as she struggles with her mental health and suicidal thoughts. It shows how depression and anxiety impact every aspect of her life, the challenges of reaching out for help, the stereotypes and stigma still attached to mental health and ultimately how she tackles those.

Trigger warnings: There are scenes of death and suicide attempts, so please bear this in mind as it may be triggering for some. There are also scenes of a severe car accident, which again may be triggering for some.

Overall, I found the show enjoyable, hard-hitting and unafraid to tackle difficult topics. I pretty much binge-watched this because I got so sucked into the storylines!

Gaga: Five Foot Two

In this 2017 documentary, we are introduced to the world of Lady Gaga. I’ve always enjoyed her music and I was interested to learn more about her, particularly her experience living with Fibromyalgia.

The documentary follows Gaga as she makes her fifth album, Joanne, and the lead up to her half-time performance at the 2017 Super Bowl. It is not solely focused on her battle with Fibromyalgia, but it does feature numerous times in the documentary.

Read about how Netflix show Gaga: Five Foot Two features chronic illness on The Unchargeables.

When I first sat down to watch this, I was unsure if I would be able to relate to Lady Gaga in any way. Despite liking her music, we lead completely different lives and I cannot imagine having anything in common with an international superstar. When I started watching the documentary, it seemed to confirm this; I didn’t find Gaga very relatable and if anything found her difficult to watch. However, as the documentary unfolded it was refreshing to see Gaga on a human level: relaxed, no façade and discussing issues which are incredibly difficult to open up about, including mental health, loneliness and chronic pain.

At one point, we see Gaga crying in agony in her apartment due to a flare of her fibro. It is heart-wrenching to watch such a strong woman be crippled by pain, and this is extremely relatable. In that moment, living lives that are different in a million ways becomes insignificant and you can relate to Gaga on such a personal level. You can see the pain written all over her face and body and anyone who suffers with chronic pain knows how she is feeling in that moment. Lady Gaga shows an admirable level of compassion when she acknowledges her privilege to be able to afford a team of people to help her manage her condition and treat her pain.

This documentary highlights that someone can appear totally okay and be functioning as normal, but still be in an incredible amount of pain. Hopefully this documentary is educational for people who do not suffer with chronic pain, as Gaga uses her platform to effectively raise awareness of a still very misunderstood health condition.

My Beautiful Broken Brain

My Beautiful Broken Brain shares the story of Lotje Sodderland, a 34-year-old woman living in London who suffered a Haemorrhagic Stroke as a result of Congenital Vascular Malformation. The documentary follows her journey as she rebuilds her life after her acquired brain injury. As part of her brain injury, she loses her ability to speak, read, and write, among other things, and must learn all those skills again. We witness her journey from the point of her stroke, through inpatient rehabilitation and beyond.

Read about how Netflix show My Beautiful Broken Brain features chronic illness on The Unchargeables.

The documentary focuses on her trials and triumphs, the unconditional support of her family and friends, and her fierce determination to recover. It highlights that everything can change in a moment, and accurately chronicles the challenges which surround invisible conditions. It is a raw, emotional, honest account of the every day frustrations of living with a complex health condition. The documentary doesn’t shy away from the realities of Lotje’s life post-stroke and she bravely shares the heartbreaking sense of loss anyone with a chronic illness can relate to.

The documentary was aired on Netflix in March 2016 and shows Lotje going through experimental treatment and the post-stroke complications which follow. It is the story of a woman who must rediscover her identity and learn to live with her ‘new’ brain. It is at times heartbreaking, but it is ultimately an inspiring and hope filled journey which is very relatable to anyone who has had to overcome health challenges and rediscover who they are after a chronic illness diagnosis.


Atypical is an American coming-of-age comedy-drama which premiered on Netflix in August 2017. The show focuses on the life of Sam, an 18-year-old with autism, and explores topics such as relationships, sex, friendship and the challenges Sam experiences as he attempts to get a girlfriend and navigate high school.

Read about how Netflix show Atypical features autism on The Unchargeables.

I can’t speak from experience as to whether this series accurately depicts life with autism. However, I found it insightful and a chance to view the world through different eyes. At the same time, I am aware that the show divided opinion when it premiered and I can understand both sides. It has been said that the show is very stereotypical which was largely unnecessary. I can understand the frustration of this because autism is a spectrum disorder and does not present the same way in everyone. Personal experience with family and friends has introduced me to people at various points on the spectrum and I would be frustrated if someone stereotyped them based on a narrow view of what autism is. However, I felt this show should be included on the list as it is refreshing to see Autism portrayed in the mainstream media and I believe it could help start important conversations about the condition. The other point made by some is that it would be impossible to accurately represent everyone on the spectrum in one character because by its very nature, autism presents differently in every individual it effects.

One of the things I thought was particularly positive about Atypical was it showed Sam in steady employment. I am passionate about ending disability discrimination in the workplace and know it is common place, so it was refreshing to see someone with a disability being positively represented in the work environment. The show also shows how a family unit learns to navigate the ever-changing challenges presented by disability, and how despite the difficulties they often face, Sam and his family have a close, supportive, loving relationship.

On the flip side there were some scenes which troubled me, including some showing how Sam coped with different situations and the behaviour of his mother’s character. I think it is important to remember when watching this show that it represents one person and their experience in a dramatized way.

Overall though I found the show humorous, informative and really exciting because it is fairly unique in that its main character has autism and the whole show is focused around how he views and navigates the world.

Be Here Now

This documentary follows actor Andy Whitfield on his journey to live life to the full with Non-Hodgkin‘s Lymphoma. It made its Netflix debut in 2015 and is a story of unwavering love between Andy, his wife, and their children as they fight to beat his cancer.

The documentary looks at both western medicine and alternative medicine and covers both in some depth. It reminds us that treatment is a personal choice and we must advocate for ourselves. It also explores the psychological impact of cancer and the allows a glimpse into some of the most personal, private moments of their grief.

Andy and his wife are beautiful to watch; their dynamic is remarkable. The documentary highlights the strength of their love, the resilience of their marriage, and their never-ending hope of a happy ending. We see them cling to each other through the storms life brings and navigate each challenge, setback, and triumph in a wholly united way.

It was an emotional watch; you cannot help but be pulled into their world and cry with them. What was truly beautiful about this documentary was how they turned the worst situation imaginable, losing a loved one, into a positive, learning journey. They remind viewers to count every blessing in life, no matter how small, and to always be present in every moment.

About the Author:

Rachel writes about top shows on Netflix featuring chronic illness.Rachel is a 29-year-old Chronic Illness blogger at, living in the North of England. She was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in 2015. Passionate about challenging stereotypes and disability discrimination, she is married to an awesome bearded bloke and owner of a super weird rescue dog called Blue.

In The Middle Of Cancer: How Cancer Effects & Shapes an Entire Family

A year after my father’s diagnosis of prostate cancer, my family and I have learned that the saying, “one day at a time” is more than a simple saying, but a way of life when you’re dealing with such a sneaky illness like cancer. My family and I aren’t strangers to overcoming obstacles but when we got the news about my dad having cancer my mom, sister, and myself all wondered how did we get here? Is this really happening? And what do we do now?

“…when we got the news about my dad having cancer my mom, sister, and myself all wondered how did we get here? Is this really happening? And what do we do now?”

Once the initial shock wore off, we had a game plan. We eventually started taking each day as they came. And soon we realized that all things considered we were very fortunate. To have had (and to still have) the outpour of love and support from friends and family means so much. We realize now that family doesn’t necessarily have to mean you share the same blood, but you can share family in spirit and in the heart.

While cancer will always be something we contend with, it’s comforting to know we won’t be doing it alone. I have noticed my dad has changed some since his diagnosis; he is more reflective and reminisces a lot. Music also has played a big part in our journey. When my dad first started chemo, my sister started a chemo countdown where he wore his favorite metal and rock band t-shirts to his chemo appointments, then talking to the artists via Instagram and Twitter. Does music heal? Maybe not from the scientific standpoint. But it does help, not only the person going through it, but it can also help soothe and forget your issues for just a little while.

“I have noticed my dad has changed some since his diagnosis; he is more reflective and reminisces a lot.”

I also believe a positive attitude is everything. If you believe you can, you will. It’s important to remember too, that putting on a brave face also means being real about your dealing with. If you’re pissed, be pissed. If you want to scream or cry then do just that. I have done all of the above.

When you’re faced with something as scary as cancer, it can teach you very quickly what is important. I also know that we could have it much worse than we do. I know for me that what I used to think of as a big deal isn’t. And that I do my best now not to take for granted any and all chances that I am given to tell those how much they mean to me, and how much I truly love them.

“…it feels like we’re walking on this surreal tightrope. Where are we balancing between keeping a normal routine? We’re holding our breath once more with the next doctor appointment.”

For my family and me, it feels like we’re walking on this surreal tightrope. Where are we balancing between keeping a normal routine? We’re holding our breath once more with the next doctor appointment. It’s in these moments where I turn to music once again. And one song I leaned toward to the most during the beginning of this was a song by one of my favorite bands called, Jonathan Jackson + Enation. The title of the song is “Anthem For The Apocalypse.” “Would you look me in the eye? You have nothing to fear the storm will clear. I will hold you in the night.” It just so happens that on the day that this album came out on, July 14th, 2016, that was the day my dad had his first chemo session.

I took that as a sign that everything would be okay. This journey will always be one my family and I will always be on. Cancer will always be a close advisory for us. I see cancer now as the unwanted guest we can’t get rid of. But if that’s the price my family and I have to pay to still have my dad then, we can learn to live with cancer.

I guess that’s the in-between of living with cancer. Having to deal with it, manage it in a way where it’s not the main focus in your life, but you still know it’s there. It will always be there for us; for my dad.

In other words stay on top of treating it, but making sure it doesn’t topple you in the process.

“I see cancer now as the unwanted guest we can’t get rid of. But if that’s the price my family and I have to pay to still have my dad then, we can learn to live with cancer.”

While cancer does bring a lot of uncertainty with it, there is one thing I am certain of and that is cancer has chosen one tough family to mess with. And we will never surrender to it. We are ready to fight with everything we have in the years to come. Cancer has nothing on us. Adversity and fighting against unbelievable odds are what my family and I do best.

We don’t like it, but we learn to live with cancer in the best way possible. And we do what we need to deal with it at that moment. And believe me, there are plenty of moments. We learn to lean our strength as a family and remember that tough moments in the journey of cancer are part of the deal. If cancer has taught me anything is that when you find yourself in the middle of a pile of crap, you push through it. Because that is only part of the journey and not the entire journey.

Jessica is the founder/writer of the blog, “The Abler.” She is also the host of her own podcast, “The Many Faces Of The Abled.” She is a passionate disability activist. You can find her blog at