Can Marriage Save You From Cancer?

A version of following piece was originally written for the Aetna Intelihealth website where it was published earlier today. 

Social connectedness again proves important for improved health. A study just released from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston by my friend Paul Nguyen and colleagues shows major health benefits for married people who develop cancer. For example:

  • People who were married when they were diagnosed with cancer tended to live longer than those who were not married.
  • Married people tended to have their cancers diagnosed earlier. This means the cancers were at stages when treatment was more likely to be successful.
  • Married people were more likely to receive appropriate treatment for their cancers.

These findings were true no matter what the type of cancer. And there was an even more amazing finding — the survival benefits of marriage were stronger than the benefits of chemotherapy!

Perhaps these findings come as no surprise, since the benefits of marriage have been seen for other medical conditions as well (and I have written about it before here…). Take the case of heart disease. One study showed that people who are married when they have heart bypass surgery are twice as likely to survive as unmarried people. And those in happy marriages fared better than those in unhappy marriages. Other studies have shown that married people have lower risk of heart disease overall and tend to come in sooner for evaluation when having a heart attack.

Why does marriage seem to have such a positive effect on health?

There are lots of theories. A spouse can be helpful in countless ways:

  • Helping care for you at times of poor health
  • Helping with medicines
  • Making sure you eat right and stay active
  • Assisting with travel to and from appointments
  • Following up with your care providers
  • Making sure you stick to the treatment plan

Spouses also provide moral support and love and affection, which can be critical during times of illness.

What Changes Can You Make?

While this research focuses on marriage, the benefits may have more to do with having adequate social supports. That social connectedness may lead to improvements in overall health, lower stress and depression, and even lower risk of heart disease.

Even if you are not married, you can make sure you stay connected socially and use the supports around you to help improve your health. Here are some examples:

  • Reach out for help. Being sick is hard. It’s particularly hard to go it alone. Ask for help. Maybe a family member, friend, neighbor or colleague at work can provide some assistance in your time of need.
  • Bring someone with you to your appointments. Even if you are not married or have no significant other, consider bringing someone with you to your appointment. Doctor visits can be overwhelming with so much information packed in. Sometimes you just need another pair of ears to make sure you heard everything correctly. And you may need someone to drive you back and forth, too.
  • Stay connected. Even if you are not well, stay in touch with friends and family. Being connected to others can have a big impact on your overall health.
  • Ask your doctors for help. Sometimes we forget that the medical community has resources to help with social supports. Social workers, home health aides and other services may all be available and may even be covered by insurance.  Ask to meet with someone to find out what is available to you.
  • Get help for depression. Lack of social supports can lead to depression. And depression can have a tremendous negative impact on health. If being sick is hard, being sick and depressed makes it particularly hard to care for yourself, get healthy and stay healthy. If you are depressed, talk to your doctor and get help for depression as soon as possible.

Of course, we can’t just ask all our patients to go out and get married! But as a medical community we do need to pay closer attention to our patients’ social situations. Doctors need to do better at making sure people have adequate social supports to manage their disease. That connectedness can have a huge impact on health.

this week’s menu – Sept 8th – reboot!

Well, I certainly have been off the grid when it comes to keeping up with the weekly menus. It’s been a wonderful summer, packed with time spent by lakes and beaches, with some canoeing and some surfing, and well, lots of change on the career front (I promise a separate and detailed post about this…).

And like all good habits, this menu thing is hard work to keep up with (but worth it…). So having fallen off the wagon, I’m gonna pick myself up and get back on it. Here’s to change, here’s to keeping up, and here’s to good eats.

CSA goodies from this week that need to be incorporated: Corn, eggplant, onions, green beans (green, yellow, and purple varieties), potatoes, squash, peppers, tomatoes, collard greens, and more.


Monday: Tofu green curry with green beans; White rice; Potstickers

Tuesday: Roasted chicken with rosemary and thyme; Sauteed green beans and potatoes; Arugula, beet, goat cheese salad

Wednesday: Grilled steak; Heirloom tomato salad with shaved parmesan; Couscous

Thursday: Grilled striped bass (the boys caught a 40 in. striper over the summer!) and garlic shrimp (for Sonia); Roasted corn and tomato salad; Ricotta-stuffed grilled peppers

Friday: Braised collard greens; Red beans and rice; Butter carrots


With dinner meetings and soccer practices slated for this week, not sure how we’ll do, but we’ll give this reboot a try!






this week’s menu – Trying gluten-free!

I am embarrassed to admit just how long it’s been since my last menu. Really, I have no excuse. By some miracle, the Pandes have survived. Food made it to the table. The CSA veggies have been eaten. But being organized is so much more fun. Well, so much easier at least.

But I’ve been busy. Details forthcoming… Career in motion, in a good way. No, in a fabulous way! Stay tuned! That was the teaser, now for the menu:

The kids are with the grandparents this week so we are gonna try something new. First we thought maybe we’ll go vegetarian. But I was stymied off the bat by the goat curry and pork arepa at Viva Mi Arepa. Holy mamacita! Vegan? Well, that’s out, because I am unable to survive without eggs and butter. Hmm, maybe gluten-free? Still get eggs, still get butter, still get meat, still get fresh fruit and veggies. But we largely we rid ourselves of stuff we shouldn’t be eating anyway and lots of carbs. Done. Until the kids get home…

We also have an abundance of veggies from our CSA to be used up, including beets, beet greens, kale, salad greens, cucumbers, squash, fennel, cabbage, and peas.

Sunday: Garlic shrimp with sauteed greens on a bed of creamy polenta

Monday:  Eating out with friends. Let’s see if we can keep up the gluten-free thing. Pretty sure raw oysters will work out okay!

Tuesday: Rosemary-garlic grilled lamb chops with garlic scape pesto, side salad with roasted beets, walnuts, and goat cheese

Wednesday: Beet green and kale frittata and fennel-cucumber-orange slaw.

Thursday: Grilled salmon steak, grilled eggplant, and garlic scape pesto potato salad with fresh snap peas.

Friday: Japanese vegetable pancakes (holy mama these look gorgeous! And I’ll try to do with rice flour instead of all-purpose to stick with the no gluten business.), korean-style sauteed beef and scallions, and white rice.

I think we can do this!


this week’s menu – May 27th – greens galore!

OK, folks, we need a menu. Mom’s back on service. Dad’s in charge of the kitchen (and if the grilled lamb chops from this weekend are any indication, we gonna be eatin’ well this week!).

Our CSA provided us a bounty of greens this week, some of which I had never even heard of. Some of you have seen this fridge image of my prepped and bagged veggies from this week. I think from left to right we’ve got Tokyo bekana (in the chinese cabbage family), spinach, bok choi, mixed salad greens, and kale. Not to mention the scallions, something called vivid choi (it’s hiding in the back), and cilantro. Oh, and fresh eggs. Insanity.

We’ve already eaten two of these bags of greens and it’s only Monday.

Here’s what we’ve got on the menu:

  • Green curry coconut grilled chicken
  • Green beans
  • Tokyo bekana slaw - and I added toasted ramen noodles


  • Whole wheat spaghetti with Tutto Italiano meatballs and sauce
  • Baguette
  • Salad


  • Roast chicken with peas, potatoes, and carrots
  • Baguette



  • I have no idea. Maybe we’ll just toss all the leftover greens together with beans and shrimp and garlic and pasta and whatever else is left in the fridge. Sounds pretty good actually!


Hey, Docs, What Took You So Long?

Here’s the thing about doctors. We are stuck in our ways. We are slow to change. We are cautious when it comes to ‘progress.’ And we are busy, too busy to pay attention to the world moving forward around us. This absolutely perfect interaction between Warren Buffet and Bill Clinton in the twitter-sphere reminded me of this. One day soon we docs will wake up, and someone somewhere will shout, ‘What took you so long?’

Someone’s going to say that to me one day (would that it were Bill Clinton!), ‘Reena, what took you so long?’ My tour of introspection over the last few years has led me to this understanding. Time’s up. Enough thinking. Time for action. I have been on the path, climbing the proverbial ladder. But it’s time to stop climbing and to start doing.

Here’s another thing about doctors. Most of us want to do good. We want to help people. But too few of us wake up and think, ‘I want to change the world.’ It’s turns out there is has been a proliferation of people who want to change the world. And they’re not doctors. So who are they? According to this article, a study of LinkedIn profiles reveals they are entrepreneurs and they largely live in the San Francisco bay area. Egotistical? Yes indeed, but let’s face it – Facebook, Twitter, and others have changed the world.

Docs, it’s time for us to get on the ‘change the world’ bandwagon.

But how? Well, I recently read Dan Schawbel’s Forbes interview of Gary Keller, cofounder of Keller Williams Realty and author of the new book The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. Short of reading the book, I was still able to glean this one lesson from the interview alone. You have to figure out what your one thing is, focus relentlessly, and just do it.

Here’s my one thing. And here’s how we docs are going to change the world. Health care is not about health. Don’t be fooled. Our health care system is really a disease care system.  What we really need is a system that fills the chasm between doctors visits, that capitalizes on the rest of life to find ways to help our patients help themselves get healthy and stay healthy. And to do so in the context of each individual’s life, in concert with that person’s goals and needs, and in the manner which best fits with the way they live. I want to find that sweet spot, and it lives at the intersection of wellness, well-being, and health.

Take the example of a company called AbilTo and its founder and CEO, Michael Laskoff. Michael understood that recovery from major life changes, illness or otherwise, is challenging, and that our current system is not set up to help people cope when they are most at need and in the manner in which they are most likely to engage, in their homes. 

This is not rocket science. It’s about getting un-stuck. It’s about being willing to change. It’s about finding innovative ways to help people not just fight disease when it occurs, but to reduce the likelihood of it coming back, or better yet, never developing in the first place. To my eye, it’s about capitalizing on all that empty, wasted space between interactions with the ‘health’ care system.

The world is moving forward around us doctors, and we need to move forward with it. We need to work with entrepreneurs and engineers and venture capitalists. With politicians and advocates. We need to focus relentlessly on identifying the big challenges in medicine and working collaboratively to fix them. Not just tweak the existing system, but profoundly change the system. I second David Shaywitz’s voice in his recent Forbes article entitled ‘Hope, Hype, and Health in Silicon Valley:’

My hope is that we’re inspired by technologies and ambitions of Silicon valley to go beyond the creation of more efficient healthcare processes and more consistent service delivery – as important and difficult as these goals are – and learn how to develop profoundly improved therapies, that cure – or better yet, prevent – disease and disability.

We need to capitalize on the current ‘change the world’ energy out there and harness the humanity of docs. Hey docs, what took us so long? Let’s do it.

this week’s ‘menu’ – CSA begins and Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day!

It’s a good weekend! Not only is it mother’s day, but we also picked up our first installment of our CSA farm share from Brookwood Farm and our fresh eggs. Oh my, how glorious! Here’s the list of goodies:

  • Nettles
  • Pea tendrils
  • Salad greens
  • Arugula
  • Scallions
  • a few carrots and radishes

And so the fun begins! And if I remember correctly, it was about this time last year that we had our earliest menu together.

The honest truth is that I’ve got my parents visiting this week.  So our menu might read ‘Monday – mom’s choice; Tuesday – mom choice; Wednesday – mom’s choice…’ (thanks, mom!).

But instead of a full menu, I’m just going to tell you what I have planned for the goodies listed above.


Yesterday I took advantage of the stinging nettles to make a nettle pesto. I used this recipe with some minor changes. I never buy pine nuts, but instead use whatever nuts I have at home (sliced almonds this time). Had a dollop of this goodness on my egg this morning. And going to use it for sandwiches today…

Pea tendrils

Planning to do this two ways - Pea shoot and arugula salad with lemon vinaigrette and pea tendrils sauteed in garlic.

We made Moroccan lamb for tonight’s dinner. And last night grilled a whole butterflied chicken. Try that some day. Yowza!

Happy eating and happy mother’s day!

this week’s menu – may 5th – on the grill

One more week until our CSA begins! Wahoo!  Guessing next week’s menu will be full of green leafy stuff. I can’t wait to see what we get.

It’s still unseasonably cold in Boston. Yes, it’s May and it’s in the 50s. But that hasn’t kept us from firing up the grill. To get into the  mood of the season (even if the temps don’t follow…), this week’s menu has a few favorites for the grill. Enjoy!

  • Grilled salmon steaks - super simple from Ina Garten. Marinade is just Dijon mustard, soy, garlic, and olive oil. I did 5 minutes each side on the grill for a 1.5 inch salmon steak.
  • Watermelon-tomato-feta salad
  • Grilled eggplant (just sliced with salt, pepper, garlic, and olive oil and dropped on the grill)
  • Couscous
  • Easiest BBQ pork ribs ever! – I’ll admit that I bought the rub and the BBQ sauce. But the formula for goodness is simple – marinate in the rub overnight, slow cook at 250 degrees for several hours, slather on BBQ sauce and grill to finish off. Yum.
  • Cole slaw
Beer can chicken
  • Beer can chicken - I’ve always wanted to try this… Stand the chicken on the beer can. Grill. Crazy.
  • Corn on the cob
  • Mixed greens salad
  • Tacos
  • Guacamole
  • Pico de gallo
  • Individual chicken pot pies - I have never made chicken pot pie before… inspired!
  • Sauteed broccolini
  • Antipasto plate (olives, prosciutto, mozzarella)
  • Whole wheat spaghetti with pesto
  • Eating out… or left overs… or something!

just get off your ass

I just love this. That’s right, baby. That’s right. Just get of your ass.

I’m going to be a little irreverent here but, you know what, I’m going to speak my mind. Here’s the situation, people. This eCard from says it like it is. There is no magic bullet to getting healthy. You just have to get up and do it. That’s it.

#1: You have to muster some semblance of self-control and stop eating the potato chips, cookies, soda, fast food. Let’s be honest, no one forces you to eat that stuff but you. You know it’s true. No one but me made me stop at the McDonald’s drive through and get an order of small fries this weekend (look, I’m just as human as the rest of you…).

#2: You have to get off your ass and move. There is nothing complicated about it. Step one, stand up. Step two, put on your shoes (and preferably some clothes… Though they don’t need to be fancy running clothes by any stretch. My exercise clothes come from the sale rack at TJ Maxx). Step three, move. Really. That’s it. Get off your ass. You have no idea how good you will feel. I can guarantee it.

#3: Turn off the TV, shut down the internet, and ignore the fads. I happened across Dr. Oz on TV yesterday touting hot pepper jelly as some sort of cure-all for obesity. ‘Eat two spoons of this every morning on your eggs and english muffins and blah blah blah.’ Don’t get me wrong. I definitely admire Dr. Oz for elevating health care to a new level of popularity. But seriously, hot pepper jelly?

Look guys. I’m a doctor. I’m a heart doctor. I want you to get healthy. I want to help you get healthy. I want to find innovative tools and technologies to help you get healthy.

But there’s no magic to this. It’s simple. Eat right and get off your ass. It may be hard, but it’s the right way to live healthy.

I’m just saying like it is.

Now it’s your job to live it.

this week’s menu – April 21st

IMG_5472 After a rough week in Boston, we awoke Saturday to an end to the madness. There was a cathartic rainfall, glorious sunshine, and a reminder of the beauty that accompanies the beginning of springtime.

We needed some love in this week’s menu. It’s eclectic but with lots of favorites (minus tacos… sorry, kids, just couldn’t do it). Pande senior is the official chef tonight, pulling out all the stops with lamb kabobs! The rest of the week is all me…

  • Cioppino - going back to this winner, using mussels, fish, and shrimp
  • Corn on the cob
  • Ciabatta bread
  • BBQ pulled pork sandwiches
  • Cole slaw
  • Sauteed collard greens
  • Garlic cilantro chicken
  • Rice
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach lasagna (bought frozen from Tutto Italiano!)
  • Arugula salad with parmesan
  • Eating out…

this week’s menu – April 14th

I am living off the high of doing the Boston Athletic Association’s 5K race this morning. It’s no marathon but fun anyway and let’s you get into the Boston Marathon spirit, cross the finish line, and feel like you are part of marathon fever with everyone else! I will be working tomorrow, but will be thinking about my many friends who are running the real deal (and who might just convince me to do it myself one day!)

Busy two weeks ahead on service. Here’s what dinners at the Pande household will (hopefully…) look like:

  • Roast chicken with potatoes and carrots
  • Steamed peas
  • Bread
  • Avocado BLTs
  • Onion soup
  • Veggies and ranch dip
  • Bird’s nest something or other that involves putting an egg in a hole in a piece of bread in a pan (Sonia’s choice from Rachael Ray magazine)
  • Sausage
  • Arugula Salad
  • Spaghetti with meatballs
  • Eat out, take out, or leftovers… We’ll see!

At the intersection of happy and healthy