Published: 09/23/2013 04:04 PM EDT on LiveScience
For people with cancer, being married may improve survival, a new study suggests.
In the study, married people with cancer were about 20 percent less likely to die over a three-year period compared to unmarried people with cancer, regardless of the stage of their cancer..
What’s more, married people with cancer were 17 percent less likely have metastatic cancer (cancer that has spread beyond the original site) — a finding that suggests their cancer is being caught at an earlier stage — and they were more likely to receive appropriate treatment for the disease.
It could be that the reason married people live longer is because they have more social support — they have someone to share the burden of their diagnosis, which may reduce depression and anxiety — as well as someone to take them to their appointments and ensure they adhere to their treatments, the researchers said. [6 Scientific Tips for a Successful Marriage]
The findings are not an affirmation of the health benefits of marriage, but instead, suggest that providing increased social support to unmarried people with cancer could benefit their health, the researchers said.
“If you have a friend or a loved one or someone you care about with cancer, you can potentially make a big difference in their outcome by going with them to their doctors visit, and helping them understand their diagnosis,” said study researcher Dr. Paul Nguyen, a radiation oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
However, research on whether social support improves outcomes for patients with cancer has been mixed. More studies are needed to understand what kinds of social support interventions — such as group versus individual counseling — are the most helpful, said study researcher Dr. Ayal Aizer, a radiation oncologist at Brigham and Women’s.
Benefits of marriage
The researchers analyzed information from more than 734,800 people in the United States who were diagnosed with cancer between 2004 and 2008. The study participants had one of 10 cancers: lung, colorectal, breast, pancreatic, prostate, liver/bile duct, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, head and neck, ovarian and esophageal cancer.
After taking into account factors that could affect patient survival, such as age, household income and cancer stage, the researchers found that people who were married were between 12 and 33 percent less likely to die from cancer than those who were not married. The biggest survival benefit was seen for head and neck cancers, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Interestingly, the benefit of marriage on cancer outcomes was greater for men than women. More research is needed to understand the reasons for this finding, but it could be that unmarried women receive greater social support from friends, relatives and the community than unmarried men, the researchers said. A 2011 study from Norway found that unmarried men with cancer were more likely to die than married men with cancer, and that the disparity between the two groups had increased over the years.
Comparable to chemotherapy?
For about half the cancers studied (prostate, breast, colorectal, esophageal, and head/neck cancers), the survival benefit linked with marriage was greater than that linked with chemotherapy in previous studies, a result that surprised even the researchers.
While no one would argue that chemotherapy is an important treatment that should be given when needed, the new findings suggest the strength of the potential benefits of social support, Aizer said.
And although social support therapies would come with a cost, “it could actually be that we end up saving money in the long run,” Aizer said, because the cancer is caught earlier, in stages where it is more likely to be curable.
However, Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in NY, said that there may be other differences between married and unmarried people (besides social support) that could explain some of the study findings. For instance, the study did not take into account whether participants smoked, drank alcohol, or exercised regularly — all factors that may affect cancer survival.
“There’s a connection [between marriage and cancer survival], but the connection is not necessarily marriage itself, it’s all the things that go with marriage,” Bernik said. Unmarried people may be more likely to engage in unhealthy lifestyle behaviors, which could contribute to their increased risk of mortality.
Future studies are needed that follow people forward in time (instead of looking back, as the current study did) to understand why marriage is linked with better cancer outcomes, Bernik said.
It is published today (Sept. 23) in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
I Don’t: 5 Myths About Marriage 10 Wedding Traditions from Around the World The 10 Deadliest Cancers and Why There’s No Cure Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. ]]>
I was automatically drawn to her. Maybe it a was knowing that at times in my life, I was not too far off from being in her position. Maybe it was the kindness she held in her eyes. Or maybe it was the simplicity in her message. Just need a little help. Who hasn’t needed a little help now and then?
I had no cash in my wallet. Instead, I gathered all the change I had in my car. I rolled my window down.
“Hi. What’s your name?” I asked.
“Joyce,” she responded with wariness in her voice.
“Hi Joyce, I’m Kelley.” I put out my arm to shake her hand. She reluctantly shook my hand. “It’s nice to meet you. I wish I had more to help you with but this is all I have right now.”
She graciously cupped her hands and accepted the coins. She then told me that things were beginning to look up for her and her husband. She started telling me how their house burned down last year and they lost everything. With no insurance and both loosing their jobs they were starting over.
Completely engrossed in conversation I was startled back into reality when a loud horn honked behind me. The light had turned green.
“Guess I have to go now. Will you be here later this week?” I asked.
“Yes, I’m usually at this intersection every night,” she answered.
“Then I’ll see ya ’round. Bye Joyce.” And I drove off.
It rained that night and I stayed up half the night thinking about Joyce and her husband. Where did they sleep? Did they get wet in the rain? Were they cold? Would I see her again?
3 a.m. Still up. I remembered the first time I was ever aware of helping a fellow human being and complete stranger.
I was 8 years old. I had gone to the grocery store with my dad. We were next in line to check out. A boy not much older than me stood before us. He was buying bubblegum baseball cards. He handed the cashier handfuls of change and after she counted it, she coldly announced, “You’re 67 cents short.”
The boy turned red and began digging in his pockets but came up with nothing. He didn’t speak. He was beyond embarrassed and didn’t know what to do. Without hesitation, my dad reached in his pocket and handed the cashier a dollar.
The young boy looked up at my dad with big astonished eyes, and in the quietest, tiny voice said, “Thank you, sir.”
“You’re welcome, son. We all just need a little help every now and then, don’t we?” Dad answered back.
The boy nodded then took his cards and left.
As we left the grocery I was in shock. I thought to myself wow we must be so rich! My dad is just giving away money to people he doesn’t even know. And he called that kid son, like he was his own child.
What I didn’t know was that we were not rich. We were nowhere near rich.
What my dad did was recognize the oneness in us all. We are each other. And if we cannot help out our fellow humans when they need it most what does that say about us?
All week I drove by that intersection hoping to see Joyce and give her more. One week later, once again I was the first in line at the red light and as I neared the light I smiled. There was Joyce. I rolled my window down.
“Hi Joyce,” I said with the same excitement I would have had of running into a friend.
“Hi Kelley,” she responded. Wow. She remembered my name!
This time I asked her what her plans were. Was she looking for a job? A house? Would she go to temporary emergency shelter?
She responded that her mother-in-law lives in Texas and they are saving for two plane tickets to go there. The mother-in-law owns a few rental houses and has agreed to let them stay in one until they get jobs.
“I have a little something to help you get there,” and I gave her a 20-dollar bill.
Joyce beamed a smile and offered up a thank you.
“We all need a little help every now and then, don’t we?” We both smiled and nodded in agreement.
Who knows if I’ll ever see her again. But I know in that instant she smiled and she knew that things really are going to get better for her. And maybe that’s just the boost she needed to get her through to the next day. And seeing her smile and the glimmer of hope in her eyes is what I needed to get me through the problems I had been facing.
The feeling I have for helping Joyce, even in such a tiny manner, is one of overwhelming gratitude — gratitude for all the people in my life who have helped me when I needed it most. Because without them, and without my dad first showing my how to help others, I would not be in the position I am in now.
Who in your life needs a little help? Who can you offer a smile to? Some encouraging words? A random gift? A little understanding? More patience and less nagging? I challenge you to do one random act of courage and kindness today to help someone and see how it affects both their life and yours.
For more by Kelley Whitis, click here.
For more on conscious relationships, click here.
With our extraordinary brains and other unique attributes, we humans think we’ve got it all figured out. But others in the animal kingdom have some life-affirming tricks to teach us — if only we pay attention.
Here are nine life lessons we can learn from animals:
1. Take more naps. Cats know how to catch some good shut-eye. They sleep 12 to 16 hours a day. What can napping do for humans? Boost alertness, increase creativity, and improve learning and memory, among other benefits.
2. Don’t neglect your friends. Did you know bats hang out with their besties too? So do elephants, dolphins, horses, hyenas and chimps. Some animals stay friends for years — like female humpback whales, who reunite with their buds every summer.
Why do we all need friends? Friendships are evolutionarily advantageous. Studies have shown that social bonds can reduce stress, increase lifespan, and improve reproductive success.
3. Get addicted to exercise. Exercise has many health benefits for the brain and body. It reduces stress, improves sleep, alleviates depression, and enhances learning — in addition to controlling weight and reducing risk for many diseases.
If you find you have to drag yourself to the gym, the animal world can provide some inspiration. Mice actually crave exercise and experience withdrawal when their wheels are taken away. Sled dogs can run 1,150 miles in 10 to 17 days.
That may be a lot to expect from yourself, but taking Fido for a walk can help you meet your fitness goals. A recent study revealed that people who walked their dogs were 34 percent more likely to reach benchmarks for physical activity.
4. Love learning. Sometimes the last thing you want to do is crack open the books. But brain studies have shown that we’re actually wired to feel rewarded by learning new things.
Maybe you’d expect apes to get a rise from picking up new skills, but even cows deserve some credit. Research has shown that heifers get excited about their achievements — their heart rates go up and they move more quickly after improving at a task.
5. Play fair. It’s not always easy to tell right from wrong. But evolutionary biologists say that fair play helps animals (and humans) survive — it boosts physical and cognitive development, and establishes rules so society as a whole can flourish.
Even dogs have a keen sense of morality, following their own “canine code of conduct” when they play.
6. Share and learn from each other. It’s easy to get caught up in achieving your own goals — but some species remind us that sharing information is important for survival — like whales, for instance.
“Our study really shows how vital cultural transmission is in humpback populations — not only do they learn their famous songs from each other, they also learn feeding techniques that allow them to buffer the effects of changing ecology,” Luke Rendell, a University of St. Andrews biology professor, said in a written statement.
7. Slow down. Ever think to yourself “where did all the time go?” Birds and insects don’t. A recent study found that small animals perceive time in slow motion.
It has to do with an ability to process more visual information at each moment — and humans can get better at it. Research has shown that elite athletes can perceive time slowing down during a game.
8. Be empathic. You might feel awkward walking by someone who’s crying. But dogs will comfort you whether they know you or not. A study showed dogs respond and markedly change their behavior when people cry. They lick and nuzzle their owners and strangers indiscriminately.
9. Don’t give up easily. Need inspiration to keep going? Salmon swim for thousands of miles upstream, somehow making their way back to their birthplace so they can spawn the next generation. If they can do that, you can probably tackle that seemingly impossible task on your to-do list.
Today though, dating isn’t so simple and many times people complicate it unnecessarily. Rather than following their hearts, they are influenced by societal expectations and their friends’ opinions. All too often people compare themselves to others who are married or partnered and set timelines for themselves. For example, I hear so often from my clients: “My friends are all getting married.” Or, “I have to meet the man of my dreams this year, be engaged within a year, married within two and have kids within three.” This urgency reeks of desperation and is about as appealing to potential partners as ordering cold cuts at the deli. That said, people should forget the fact that their friends are either married or engaged. They aren’t part of their relationship. Nor is there a life script that says you need to adhere to societal norms or rush to get married just because others have done so. Remember, it’s far better to be happily single than unhappily married.
Here’s what to do:
If you’re in love with someone and talking next steps, then move away from the idea of a fairy-tale wedding and focus on marriage and a life together.
Think about the pros and cons of marriage.
If you’re struggling to convince yourself or your partner that you’re doing the right thing, then marriage probably isn’t happening.
Address issues beyond love: things that are major parts of life such as goals, to have kids or not, geographic preference for settling, religion, careers and finances. These are the things that bring couples to see me for counseling much more than a lack of love. All too often, I hear from couples, “I love him but we’re just not on the same page when it comes to… ”
Other things to keep in mind: If there’s volatility while dating, that likely will continue in the marriage. Peoples’ personalities and temperaments usually don’t change just because there’s a marriage certificate.
Finally, if you feel you can’t live without your significant other and you can live with him or her, you have your answer. If you truly feel that you’re each other’s best friend, then you’re in great shape. This stands the tests of time — gray hair and wrinkles not withstanding.
For more tips on love, dating, relationships and other life lessons learned from Mom and Dad, check out my new book BE FEARLESS: Change Your Life in 28 Days.
For more by Jonathan Alpert, click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.
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