Written by: Vanessa De Aquino, RPN, 3rd year Nursing BScN student at Trent University
July 17th: Glioblastoma Awareness Day
July 17th marked a very important day that brings awareness about the most common and complex type of brain cancer: glioblastoma. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, it was estimated that 3,200 Canadians were diagnosed with brain and spinal cord cancer last year (1). Having said that, let’s talk about brain function as well as some current statistics about brain cancer in Canada.
Have you ever heard anyone say that the brain is like a computer? Or some one-of-a-kind masterpiece? Well, the brain is part of a highly specialized system called the nervous system which is then, subdivided into two, the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The brain and the spinal cord are parts of the CNS which is responsible for carrying and transmitting information such as pain, vibration, temperature, movement and pressure. Other functions include movement, coordination, vision, hearing, language expression and comprehension, and so many more. The PNS includes all other structures outside the CNS, such as the spinal and cranial nerves. This system is responsible for sending information to the CNS but also other very important functions such as regulating blood pressure, heart rate and digestion. With that being said, how to ensure that your brain is healthy? What if a tumour starts to grow? Do you know someone with brain cancer? How can you help? Let’s learn some facts about brain tumours in Canada.
Did You Know?
According to the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada:
- 27 Canadians are diagnosed with brain tumours every day (2).
- About 55,000 Canadians are surviving with a brain tumour (2).
- There are over 120 different types of brain tumours (2).
- After diagnosis, it’s estimated that the average patient visits their healthcare team about 52 times (surgery, chemotherapy, blood work, radiation, etc.) within the year (2).
- Glioblastoma is the most common type of malignant brain tumour (2).
- Two-thirds of all primary brain tumours are non-malignant (2).
- Brain tumours can significantly impair one’s physical and cognitive abilities, as well as their quality of life (2).
- Access to high-quality specialty care, clinical trials, follow-up care, and rehabilitation programs is necessary to improve the quality of life for persons with brain tumours (2).
- Children’s brain tumours differ from those in adults and are frequently treated differently. Even while up to 60% of kids with brain tumours survive, they frequently experience long-term side effects (2).
What to Do?
If you have been diagnosed with a brain tumour, it is important to find ways to help you relieve some of the anxiety and stress you may be experiencing. If you feel comfortable, talk to your family, call a friend, or find a support group. There are Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) programs that teach emotional skills such as self-compassion in addition to understanding the importance of living in the moment and the “power of now”. Your mental health is just as important. Take a breath and put your one-of-a-kind masterpiece computer in a relaxed mode! Speak with your healthcare team to find some coping strategies that can work for you.
Know someone who has a brain tumour and would like to help? Offer a car ride to their medical appointments. Have you thought about how much this person may pay in parking the 52 times they may need to go to a hospital during the first year of treatment? It can be very costly and it can add a lot of stress not only for the patient alone but for the whole family. Babysit, cook a meal, get groceries, offer to clean the house. Any help is a big help.
The National Cancer Institute has issued a booklet, Eating Hints: Before, during, and after Cancer Treatment (3) which has great tools to manage eating problems due to medications, chemotherapy and radiation. Alternatively, talk to a dietician to help you choose foods that are nutritious and meet your caloric needs.
Recipe to help with weight loss
Yield: 1 serving
Serving size: 1 1/4 cups
- ½ cup rolled oats
- ¼ cup whole milk Greek yogurt
- ½ cup whole milk
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- ¼ cup of favourite cut-up fruit
- 1 tablespoon chopped nuts
- Combine oats, yogurt, milk, chia seeds, cinnamon, and maple syrup in a sealable container (such as a Mason jar or Tupperware) and stir with a spoon until combined.
- Place the lid on the container and put it in the fridge overnight (or for 8 to 10 hours).
- Remove from fridge and remove the lid. Top overnight oats with fruit and chopped nuts.
Since the brain is being tackled this month, let’s talk about brain exercises. There are some activities one can do to help with cognition, memory and creativity levels. It is known that additional stimuli to the brain can help with neural plasticity which simply means the ability of the brain to capture and understand new information and change its way of doing things according to these stimuli. This ability helps the brain to learn new skills but also to re-learn skills that were once lost such as walking or moving an affected limb after a stroke, cancer or head trauma, for example. Practicing a new language or an instrument, playing a board game or jigsaw puzzles and sudokus can stimulate your brain while helping you to take your mind off the disease process. Improve your cognition by doing some memory games, or by drawing a map of your city. Have your tried chess? Crosswords? Mahjong? How about painting or writing?
Put your brain back into gear!
- Canadian Cancer Society (2022). Brain and spinal cord cancer statistics. https://cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-types/brain-and-spinal-cord/statistics
- Brain Tumour Foundation Canada (2023). Facts about brain tumours. https://www.braintumour.ca/facing-a-brain-tumour/facts-about-brain-tumours/
- National Cancer Institute (2022). Patient education publications. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/eating-hints