Healing with books: Suggestions from Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital librarian

Sometimes you need a story that makes you laugh


“Pete the Cat: Pete at the Beach,” by James Dean, (2013) a my-first-reader book. Beginning reader (2013). Visiting the beach with his family, groovy Pete the Cat enjoys collecting shells and building a sand castle but resists going into the water or accepting a surfing lesson from Bob, despite the hot weather.


“Flora & Ulysses,” (2013) by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell. Winner of the 2014 Newbery Medal. It begins, as most superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences. The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but cynic Flora Belle does, and she is just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry.

Young adult

“Better Nate Than Ever,” (2014) by Tim Federle. Nate has a plan that – with a little luck – will take him from his bland Pennsylvania town to New York City and land him a role in “E.T.: The Musical.”

All ages

“Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book,” (2013) by Diane Muldrow. The author’s humorous yet practice tips for getting the most out of life are drawn from more than 60 stories from the sturdy little books with the shiny cardboard covers and gold foil spines.

Sometimes you need a story that lets you cry.


Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty, illustrated by Bryan Collier. 3 to 6 (2013). Every morning a boy and his father play a game. “Knock knock,” says Papa, and the boy pretends to be asleep before jumping into his father’s arms. Then one morning Papa doesn’t come anymore, and the boy realizes his father is gone for good. In a rare topic for younger children, Beaty explores the theme of permanent separation from a parent.


“Fly Away Home,” (1993) by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ronald Himler. 4 – 8 (1993). This is a story about a homeless boy who lives in an airport with his father, moving from terminal – to – terminal trying not to be noticed.

Young adult

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson. YA (2014). For the past five years, Hayley Kincaid and her father Andy have been on the road, never staying long in one place. He struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where Andy grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, a boy who likes her but is hiding secrets of his own. Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his memories drag him to the edge of hell where drugs push him over.

All ages

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. All Ages (1964). Once there was a tree and she loved a little boy. Every day the boy would come to the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches, or slide down her trunk and the tree was happy. But as the boy grew older he began to want more from the tree, and the tree gave and gave and gave.

Mary Laverty is a librarian in the Family Resource Center of the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital. Reach the center at 315-464-4410.

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Glass mural of pond inspires serenity at Upstate Cancer Center

Photo by Susan Kahn.

Photo by Susan Kahn.

Marie Luther is an artist who often visits a rambling creek and waterfall near her Syracuse home. “Sometimes I sit near the stream and listen to its melodic whispers and let the soft light that filters between the sugar maples stir my imagination,” she explains on her blog, Light Affects.

Visitors to the Upstate Cancer Center catch a glimpse of her tranquility when they see her 5-foot wide glass fused mural, “Window on the Pond.” It is located in the meditation room.

The mural is one of the many pieces of art, including photographs, paintings and other works, created by 31 artists from Upstate New York that highlight the theme of nature being a refuge during cancer treatment.

While her artistry includes sculpture, bronze casting, pottery building, Luther’s favorite medium is glass, which she describes as “the rigid liquid that melts and flows, yet through all of its manifestations allows colors to blend and light to bend, refract and reflect.”

Many poets and artists are attracted to water because it can inspire the soul to find serenity, something Luther says she believed would be fitting in a cancer center.

She says her mural “is a microscope and a telescope at the same time, allowing our eyes to inspect the finest detail of the view, yet letting our minds wander into far reaches we have yet to explore.”

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How to reduce your risk of esophageal cancer

A type of esophageal cancer called adenocarcinoma is on the rise in the United States largely because of the obesity epidemic. People who are overweight may develop reflux, which can damage the esophagus and lead to cancer.

Trouble swallowing is the most common symptom of esophageal cancer, and about half of all patients lose weight without trying. Some people may develop pain or discomfort in the middle of their chest.

Other symptoms can include hoarseness, chronic cough, vomiting, hiccups, pneumonia and bone pain.

Not all esophageal cancers can be prevented, but the American Cancer Society says you can reduce your risk by:

  • avoiding tobacco and alcohol,
  • eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits,
  • maintaining a healthy weight, and
  • seeking treatment for reflux.

 Hear an interview about esophageal cancer with Vanessa Gibson, MD

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Survivor develops career in cancer research

Chris Lucchesi

Chris Lucchesi in the laboratory of Ying Huang, MD, PhD, at Upstate Medical University.

Chris Lucchesi’s relationship with cancer began in a high school AP Biology class.

“We started learning about cancer and realizing that it’s nothing really crazy,” says Lucchesi, a graduate student in pharmacology in his fifth year at Upstate. “You have a cell in your body that gets a mutation, and then your own cells start to propagate at an uncontrolled rate and, more or less, learn how to survive better. They are more advanced cells, I guess you could say.”

“Cancer wasn’t like a virus or some pathogen that you could just target and kill. It was your own body that was going haywire. That intrigued me, that your own body is learning to survive better but ultimately leads to your demise. It was fascinating.”

Then it got personal.

Lucchesi was 17 when he was diagnosed with an esthesioneuroblastoma, a cancer that begins in certain very early forms of nerve cells and usually affects children age 5 and younger. His was located in his maxillary sinus, below his right eye. He underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

“I’m 10 years out now, and everything seems to be clear,” he says.

Today, Lucchesi is working toward his doctorate in pharmacology. He works in the laboratory of Ying Huang, MD, PhD. Their research focuses on a tumor suppressor protein that was discovered to be down regulated in esophageal cancers. Such proteins can stop a cell’s growth or cause its death.

In the petri dishes where Lucchesi grows cancer cells, he makes the cells express this particular protein – and they all die. When he takes non-tumorigenic breast tissue cells and makes them express the protein, they survive.

If that is not fascinating enough, take it a step further.

Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids. By switching one of the amino acids in the chain with a different amino acid in this particular protein, Lucchesi says, the protein completely changes its actions and becomes a protein that helps cancer cells grow, also known as an oncogene.

Such a complete about-face is meaningful, as oncologists strive to customize cancer therapies to individual patients, Lucchesi says with all the hope and fascination of that high school biology student.

“If you can cut out the tumor from somebody and do pathology on it and realize that it has this mutation,” he says, “well, then you will know what chemotherapies not to use, because they’re not going to be effective for those cancer cells.”

Hear an interview with Lucchesi

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‘Cancer Care’ publication for anyone touched by cancer

fall2014ccThe fall 2014 issue of Cancer Care magazine features the remarkable story of how a surgeon removed a bladder wracked by cancer and replaced it with one he built from a portion of the patient’s own intestine.

Readers will also meet a cancer survivor who has developed a career in cancer research, and a woman who was blown away by the support of her coworkers when she was in treatment for breast cancer.

This issue contains stories about promising research involving 10 scientists from Upstate Medical University, and a close look at cancers that may be acquired on the job. A variety of Upstate experts offer advice about the dangers of hepatitis C, the latest breast reconstruction options for women after mastectomy, and new technology that helps pinpoint prostate cancer.

In addition, learn how to avoid constipation, what to do about hair loss and six reasons to say no to e-cigarettes — plus a lot more.

For a free subscription to Cancer Care, send your name and address to magazine@upstate.edu with “cancer care” in the subject line. Did you miss the inaugural issue of Cancer Care, which showcases the new Upstate Cancer Center? Look through a digital copy here.


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‘Mercy Killers’ playwrite/actor to perform at Upstate

Michael Milligan performs a one-man play called "Mercy Killers."

Michael Milligan performs a one-man play called “Mercy Killers.

Michael Milligan plays the role of Joe in the one-man play he wrote called “Mercy Killers” that illustrates problems in the American health care system.

He visits Syracuse to perform the play from noon to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 19. Admission is free. The performance takes place in room 9295 of Weiskotten Hall, 766 Irving Ave. on the campus of Upstate Medical University. It is sponsored by Upstate’s Center for Bioethics and Humanities.

Reviews of the play call it “heart-breaking,” “deeply affecting” and “raw, emotional and devastatingly honest.” It is set in a police interrogation room.

Milligan, a native of Columbus, Ohio, has been writing and acting for the theater for almost two decades. He has performed on the Broadway stage and a variety of other theaters in New York.

Watch a clip from the play from the The Real News Network

Hear Milligan describe his performance from Arts Happening

Watch “Portrait of a Playwrite” from Art Voice West Virginia

Learn more about the show

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Remembering Jake: the president who built the hospital

Drs. Cookie and Jake Jacobsen meet with NY Governor Nelson Rockefeller  and his wife, Happy, at the newly opened Upstate University Hospital, 1965.

Drs. Cookie and Jake Jacobsen meet with NY Governor Nelson Rockefeller
and his wife, Happy, at the newly opened Upstate University Hospital, 1965.

Yesterday’s post told a bit about the late “Cookie” Jacobsen, the first lady of Upstate who is being honored tomorrow, along with her husband, Jake.

Carlyle “Jake” F. Jacobsen PhD, was president of Upstate Medical University from 1957 to 1965 and dean of its College of Medicine. He came to Upstate from an administrative post in health education at SUNY, through which he built a network of influential people in American medicine. He oversaw a period of tremendous growth at Upstate that included construction of University Hospital and the creation of several clinical departments in the College of Medicine.

Both Jacobsens published extensively. Jake Jacobsen was the author of numerous publications, including several books on cerebral function. Due to their joint expertise in  neurophysiology, psychiatry and medicine, the Jacobsens represented the United States Agency for International Development on assignments in Lebanon, Iran, and India.

Among their many accomplishments, the Jacobsens were instrumental in Upstate’s recognition of Elizabeth Blackwell MD, a graduate of Geneva Medical College (now Upstate Medical University) and the first woman physician educated in America.

The Jacobsen dedication is being held at 3 p.m. on Wed., Nov 12 in Weiskotten Hall, 766 Irving Avenue, Syracuse. It is open to the Upstate community and friends.

The medical alumni association offers opportunities to honor the Jacobsens through the Carlyle and Ellen Cook Jacobsen Memorial Fund and the Ellen Cook Jacobsen MD ’50 Fellowship in Psychiatry.

The Jacobsen Foyer in Weiskotten hall will be dedicated at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, November 12.

The Jacobsen Foyer in Weiskotten hall will be dedicated at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, November 12.

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Honoring the beloved ‘Cookie’ Jacobsen

Ellen Townley Cook Jacobsen, MD, ’50 (1919-2013)

Ellen Townley Cook Jacobsen, MD, ’50 (1919-2013)

On Wednesday, November 12 at 3 p.m., Ellen Cook “Cookie” Jacobsen MD and her husband Carlyle “Jake”  Jacobsen PhD will he honored at a dedication ceremony, held in Upstate’s medical alumni lounge, Weiskotten Hall, 766 Irving Ave., Syracuse.

Jake was president of Upstate Medical University from 1957 to 1965. Cookie was a 1950 graduate of the medical school and the first woman faculty member of the College of Medicine. (She retired as a full professor of medicine and psychiatry. )

Together, Cookie and Jake worked to promote academic excellence and a strong sense of community during a period of exceptional growth at SUNY Upstate Medical University.

Even after her husband’s death in 1974, Cookie was referred to as the matriarch of Upstate.  She was a wise counselor to colleagues, deans and university presidents. Few students, residents or clinicians have not benefited from her insight and wisdom.

Cookie’s life was defined by complete selflessness, fierce loyalty, unparalleled listening skills, and lifelong intellectual curiosity. She always had time to help a friend, patient, or colleague and had a special gift for nurturing trusting relationships with people of all ages and ethnicities. She made such extensive contributions to so many people’s lives that saying she is enormously missed is an understatement.

The Upstate community and friends are invited to the dedication of the Carlyle and Ellen Cook Jacobsen Foyer and the establishment of the SUNY Upstate Medical Univerity Archives. Contact Nancy Prott, 315.464.4513, prottn@upstate.edu for more information.

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What to do about hair loss from cancer treatment

Woman washing her hairMany of the drugs used to fight cancer go after rapidly-growing cancer cells but also wipe out other rapidly-growing cells, which includes hair cells. That means some cancer patients face hair loss ranging from thinning to complete baldness.

The amount of hair that falls out depends on the medication you are taking and the dose, and it may not be limited to the hair on your scalp. Some patients experience the loss of eyelash, eyebrow, armpit, pubic and other body hair.

Regrowth usually happens within three to 10 months after treatment ends, but many patients have hair of a different color or texture, at least at first.

Cancer caregivers encourage patients to plan ahead regarding hair loss and do things that make them feel comfortable before, during and after cancer treatment. This may mean planning for a head covering, whether wigs, scarves or hats.

Nothing has been proven to stop hair loss during or after chemotherapy. But a couple of treatments have been considered:

* Cryotherapy or scalp hypothermia uses ice to lessen the blood flow to your scalp during chemotherapy, so the medications are less likely to have an effect on your scalp.

“Studies of scalp hypotheramia have found it works somewhat in the majority of people who have tried it,” the Mayo Clinic reports. “However, the procedure also causes a small risk of cancer recurring in your scalp, as this area doesn’t receive the same dose of chemotherapy as the rest of your body.”

In addition, patients report headaches and a feeling of uncomfortable cold during cryotherapy.

* Minoxidil – the drug marketed as Rogaine for pattern baldness – is sometimes used to help speed up hair regrowth. Cancer experts say it does not prevent hair loss.

To minimize the frustration and anxiety that may accompany hair loss, hairdressers suggest a gentle touch. No bleach, colors or perms, which can weaken hair. No blow dryers, curling irons or hot rollers. Use a soft-bristle brush, and wash your hair only as often as needed, using a gentle shampoo.

If you opt to shave your head, be prepared to protect your scalp from the sun and cold air with sunscreen or a head covering.

The American Cancer Society says hairpieces that are used due to cancer treatment are tax deductible expenses, which may be at least partly covered by health insurers. The organization advises doctors to write a prescription for a “hair prosthesis” rather than a “wig.”

The Upstate Cancer Center features a boutique called Dazzle in its lobby where head coverings are sold for children, men and women. Owner Lois Ross says some people seek wigs for everyday wear, and others want something to wear just for special occasions. Some prefer hats. She says one popular item is a cap with hair, which can be put into a ponytail or left long.

There are no rules about whether or how to cover your head during cancer treatment, Ross says. “It’s really whatever makes you feel good.”

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Unique surgery treats aggressive bladder cancer

Patient Allan Sustare with his surgeon, Gennady Bratslavsky, MD, in the new Upstate Cancer Center.

Patient Allan Sustare with his surgeon, Gennady Bratslavsky, MD, in the new Upstate Cancer Center. The two men gave an interview about Sustare’s surgery on Upstate’s weekly talk radio program, HealthLink on Air.

Allan Sustare celebrates each day. He is grateful to be alive after coming so close to death from advanced bladder cancer.

He admits that he had no concept of the severity of his disease. He had no pain, just blood in his urine — once.

He wound up undergoing a novel surgery in which a new bladder was fashioned from a portion of his intestine to replace his original bladder, which had to be removed because of cancer.

“I count myself luckier than anybody I know,” says Sustare, 63, of DeWitt. “Between Dr. Seth and Dr. Bratslavsky, I don’t know that anybody could have asked for any better care anywhere in this country.” Rahul Seth, MD, is an oncologist, and Gennady Bratslavsky, MD, is chairman of the Department of Urology.

Sustare served as a medic in the military before attending Syracuse University. A professional artist, he has been a jewelry designer, illustrator and maker of collectible pocket knives. At the ribbon-cutting for the Upstate Cancer Center this summer, Sustare shared his story.

It was May 2011 when he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Seth told him his options, which included chemotherapy, radiation and surgery to remove his bladder and replace it with an external bag. Sustare thanked the oncologist. Then he ran away.

“I spent most of my inheritance,” he says, describing his time in Houston, in which he pursued alternative treatments. A new tumor had grown by the time he returned to Syracuse. Doctors at the Syracuse VA Medical Center removed what they could of the tumor and then sent Sustare to Bratslavsky.

They knew of Bratslavsky’s surgical prowess and his extensive experience in urologic oncology from his work at the National Cancer Institute. Sustare’s bladder would need to be removed because the cancer had invaded the muscle. But Sustare was adamantly against replacing it with an external bag or urostomy.

Bratslavsky gave Sustare another option. He could create a new bladder out of a portion of Sustare’s intestines. In an operation that would last all day, Bratslavsky and surgeons he is training in the specialty of urology would remove about 60 centimeters of Sustare’s intestine, cut it open lengthwise and configure it into a sphere. It would then be attached to the urethra and kidneys. In addition, the team would remove the bladder, prostate, seminal vesicles, vasa deferentia and 41 lymph nodes.

Such a surgery is not an option for everyone with advanced bladder cancer. But Sustare was a good candidate because he was young, healthy and active, as well as conscientious and responsible, Bratslavsky says.

The men spoke before the surgery in 2012, with Bratslavsky explaining what could go wrong. “The role of a surgeon is to go closely over all the options, and help patients understand what exactly the potential pitfalls may be,” he says.

A patient who chooses this option has to be able to sense if something is not right with his body. He has to realize he may need to use a catheter to empty the new bladder sometimes. And, nighttime urinary incontinence may be an issue.

Sustare remembers Bratslavsky’s talk. “He did not sugar coat it.”

Sustare underwent chemotherapy first. Then the surgery was done laparoscopically, using the DaVinci robot. His largest incision was no more than an inch.

Bladder cancers are prone to recurrence, so Sustare sees Bratslavsky regularly. “It’s only when I get those notices that I have to come in for a CT scan that I even recall that I had cancer,” Sustare says. Between medical appointments, he leads a normal, active life.

Listen to an interview with Sustare and Bratslavsky

Listen to an interview about bladder cancer with Srinivas Vourganti, MD


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