Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Life Happens. . . Even if You Have Cancer

****** Just because I am a person dealing with breast cancer; and adjuvant treatment options; and trying to find an enlightened oncologist that I can partner with in my quest for long term survival, does not mean that I am immune from the mundane and frustrating aspects of day-to-day life! No "get out jail card" here!

Hard drives still crash. Rebuilding a professional and business life that is sustained by said hard drive is still an agonizing and time-consuming endeavor. (And yes, Alice, I have now invested in yet a THIRD back up system. This techno-nightmare enabled me to discover that off-site data preserve and central network system do have gaps.)

Work still can become all consuming 7-day a week grinds. Can or should I complain? Absolutely NOT! Not in this economy! It does, however, put the breaks on side indulgences (like sleep, writing, and social contacts).

Kids still need to get early decision college applications done and study for SAT subject matter tests -- both of which, ironically, share deadlines. The tension that combustible combo causes is fodder for entirely different blog!

Husbands and business partners still have to travel for days at a time to tend to the needs of our diverse clientele, leaving me solo at the helm on both fronts.

And yes quarterly tax reports (ooohhh...taxes...the other half of life's universal certainties) and end-year planning for all of my myriad avocations have arrived. Hello!

Who has time to deal with cancer? Life itself eats up all available time!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Something to Think About . . . Guest Blogger


Now Age Minute - 11.22.09
Art vs. Science - A Holy War for the American Soul, part 2

In questioning accepted medical dogma, new studies suggests that cancer screening may be less effective than previously believed, and even risky. According to a recent article in the NY Times:

"Most people believe that finding cancer early is a certain way to save lives. But the reality of cancer screening is far more complicated.

Studies suggest that some patients are enduring aggressive treatments for cancers that could have gone undetected for a lifetime without hurting them. At the same time, some cancers found through screening and treated in the earliest stages still end up being deadly.

As a result, the chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society now says that the benefits of early detection are often overstated. The cancer society says it will continue to revise its public messages about cancer screening as new information becomes available."

In the first installment on this topic, I wrote about how my mother learned to trust her gut feelings in deliberations regarding issues related to diet, health, and medicine. What began with her choosing a chiropractor to deal with my sister's asthma in the early sixties, extended to her refusal of annual breast cancer screenings, year after year, for decades. I asked her why she resisted the screenings. "My feeling was that the high doses of radiation from the screenings was unnecessary, and even dangerous. It felt too risky", she said. But, she continued, "I feel the same way about dental x-rays. My dentist told me he can't treat me anymore, if I don't take the annual x-rays. I replied that my teeth are in fine shape, and I don't want the radiation. Of course, he insisted that the amount of radiation in a dental x-ray was safe. Yeah, right. So why do they put a lead shield over my chest, then run out of the room? I love my mother.

Over the past few days, there's been a lot of heated chatter by politicos and media types about the new recommendations suggesting that women wait till they're fifty to begin breast screenings, and then get them only every other year. The most interesting exchange I saw was on the MSNBC program, "Hardball with Chris Matthews". He invited Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz to give her views on the revised suggestions. For Wasserman-Schultz, the topic is personal. After receiving a "clean" mammogram a few years back, she was doing a self-exam and discovered a lump. She had it checked out, and a tumor was found. Based on her belonging to a "high-risk" breast cancer group (she's an Ashkenazi Jew of Eastern European descent), and testing positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation, she had both breasts were removed, along with her ovaries. Talk about preventative medicine!

Considering Wasserman-Schultz's experience, and that she's taken to push for breast screening and exams for even younger women, it was no surprise that she criticized the new screening recommendations. Based on the choices she made, I can understand her not wanting to know that there may have been another option to the "preventative" removal of her breasts and ovaries. Hence, she attacked the messengers, questioning the motives and qualifications of the research panel's members.

A few things struck me about the congresswoman's comments. First, attacking the science when the results bump up against one's beliefs reminded me of right-wing Republicans who deny the science behind climate change. Second, she took particular offense at the panel's concern that over-screening and self-exams may create anxiety, focusing too much on something most women are never likely to experience. That concern spoke clearly to me because, as my mother has always said, "thought becomes matter".

Last month, an article was published in the NY Times, titled, "Cancers Can Vanish Without Treatment, but How?" From the article:

"Call it the arrow of cancer. Like the arrow of time, it was supposed to point in one direction. Cancers grew and worsened.

But as a paper in The Journal of the American Medical Association noted last week, data from more than two decades of screening for breast and prostate cancer call that view into question. Besides finding tumors that would be lethal if left untreated, screening appears to be finding many small tumors that would not be a problem if they were left alone, undiscovered by screening. They were destined to stop growing on their own or shrink, or even, at least in the case of some breast cancers, disappear."

Disappearing cancers? Say what? But wait, there's more.

In August, Wired magazine ran a fascinating article called, "Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why", that brought to light the difficulties drug companies were having competing against placebos in drug trials. It's a must read. A notable part of the piece:

"...From 2001 to 2006, the percentage of new products cut from development after Phase II clinical trials, when drugs are first tested against placebo, rose by 20 percent. The failure rate in more extensive Phase III trials increased by 11 percent, mainly due to surprisingly poor showings against placebo. Despite historic levels of industry investment in R&D, the US Food and Drug Administration approved only 19 first-of-their-kind remedies in 2007—the fewest since 1983—and just 24 in 2008. Half of all drugs that fail in late-stage trials drop out of the pipeline due to their inability to beat sugar pills."

That there's a placebo effect at all is testimony to the power of the human mind. Think about it, a human being consumes a sugar pill they BELIEVE will have a curative effect, and, according to the Wired article, does so more often than the drug designed to do the same. And that the placebo has gained in strength over the past five years should inspire public health officials to celebrate the miraculous power of the human mind to heal one's self. But, as the article explains, drug companies, together with a special task force of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, have joined forces to, well, kill the damned placebo effect, for all intents and purposes. More evidence that only with a not-for-profit, single-payer health care system can we utilize and trust science for the public good.

I don't know the circumstances that led Congresswoman Wasserman-Schultz to take the drastic measures that she did, beyond what she's said, and has been reported in the press. Perhaps her cancer was determined to be so fast in growth, that, short of a double mastectomy, she would die. That said, the recommendations that women rethink breast screenings and habitually massaging their breasts to hunt for something that, in most cases, will never be there, can only serve to empower women to take more control over their well-being, and free them from focusing on what they want to prevent. Remember, thought becomes matter. Mom said so.

Craig Gordon

Let's all get up and dance to a song
That was a hit before your mother was born.
Though she was born a long, long time ago
Your mother should know
Your mother should know
Sing it again.