Saturday, January 24, 2009

Mammogram misinformation.

I was shocked to read this on a blog I link to:

No, I refuse to have a mammogram.

It’s a dirty little secret of the medical profession, with all the scare talk and big shiny posters about how “mammograms save lives”, that the health benefits of mammograms are not scientifically proven. There is no proof that they save any lives at all. It is, however, certain they make some people a lot of money.

Furthermore, breast self-exams - you know, that thing we’re supposed to do every month and feel guilty if we skip? Doesn’t help us either.

You can click on the above to see the links she includes as evidence. Here's what else she says:

A common way to justify the nerve-wracking, expensive, fear-inducing body self checks and mammograms is for doctors to repeat ad nauseam “Studies prove women who get these exams survive an average of two years longer than women who don’t!”


Think about this logically.

If your cancer is detected two years earlier than it normally would have been… you haven’t really lived two years longer. Instead, what you’ve “gained” is two extra years of medical treatments that fail to save your life.

In other words, as the above articles show, “early detection” - that is, detection of cancer at a stage a woman wouldn’t ordinarily notice any differences in her breasts - does not save women’s lives.

Yet a slick, brilliant, fear mongering media campaign has been aimed at us for years. “Mammograms save lives!” “Early detection saves lives!” “Every woman over 40 needs to have a mammogram!”

All lies.

This, combined with the constant stories from women who have them on how uncomfortable, painful, and humiliating mammograms are, make me suspect the entire purpose of this mammogram scam is to sexually torture women and get away with it. I can’t tell you how many times people have looked at me - I am very large breasted - and made some comment like, “Wow, it sure is gonna hurt you when you have to go get a mammogram!” They always look shocked when I tell them I have no intention of doing so. “But but but - you HAVE to!” People with no reason to have any interest in my health get upset when they discover I will not fulfill their sadistic fantasy of having my large breasts clamped into a giant vise and irradiated. It reminds me of the sort of sadistic glee I would see on people’s faces when they would look at my hugely pregnant stomach and tell me the worst labor horror stories they could recall.

I'm not going to go digging around for stats (and I would really appreciate if, if you would like to do so, you don't post them here), but I will share my own experience, which is diametrically opposed to the above claims. I will also note that I've been working with some of the most esteemed breast cancer specialists in the country, and I think they would take issue with some of the above.

I don't really know that mammograms or self-checks are effective in picking up breast cancer. If you have dense breast tissue, as I do, those buggers can hide out. My cancer wasn't easily identifiable from a mammogram, though the mammogram indicated the need for further tests, which eventually led to an ultrasound guided biopsy and a cancer diagnosis. And, while I did eventually find a lump and may well have found it sooner had I been doing self exams, it's also true that the lump was likely present but missed at my annual exam in June.

But I will also point out that I have large breasts AND I have had quite a few mammograms. News flash: in my experience, they don't hurt. Or, rather - if they hurt, then 1) the technician is incompetent, and/or 2) you need to cut out the caffeine before you have your mammogram. But the mammogram, just as a procedure, is not inherently painful, just as a cervical swab is not inherently painful, though it can be if you have a condition that makes your cervix sensitive or if you have a GYN that isn't well-trained. Women should be angry that mammograms haven't always been sensitively and carefully administered, certainly, but recently, it seems that they have become a better experience for many, if not most, women.

But none of this really frustrated me about Amananta's post. The thing I found most upsetting was her assumption that women with breast cancer are going to die of breast cancer. Of course, when I was diagnosed, that's what I immediately assumed. And, of course, I still worry about that. But what I'm learning is that more women survive it than don't. There are some oncologists who even talk about being able to cure it (which is the hope for me), and my surgeon talks about it as a chronic condition, like diabetes, that can be treated and managed for years and years and years and years (and I'll take that, frankly). But a huge factor in survival is early detection, and that's what the self-checks and the mammograms are all about trying to do.

Determining what health care services one will or will not avail oneself of, just like determining one's course of treatment for a particular illness, is a very personal thing, and I support Amananta's right to make these decisions for herself. What makes me sad in reading her post, though, is that the women who are at greatest risk are the women who don't have access to healthcare, women who can't afford mammograms or don't have access to them. Women of color, particularly African American women, are at enormous risk. Yet Amananta has revisioned mammograms as a plot to make money at women's expense, as a form of "sexual torture," and such a ludicrous statement seems to me to make light of the struggles that women with breast cancer or who are at risk of breast cancer face (not to mention making light of actual sexual torture).

There is plenty to be critical of when it comes to the Breast Cancer Awareness Industry - absolutely. But spreading misinformation about breast cancer is not an ethical response.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Because I enjoy making myself crazy.

Let me start by saying that the chemo has caused me to have some embarassing effects that I won't go into here, but that have necessitated me visiting my GYN once already and twice showing my nether regions to male doctors who are not GYNS. In part, this is one of those stories. Don't worry, I won't go into detail. I seem to have recovered my modesty after that post a while back that I'm not linking to. Anyway.

So, I noticed on Monday night that something was going on that needed to be checked out, and I was a little freaked out about it because it was not something I'd experienced before, and anytime that happens on any part of my body, I usually worry that I have something that will be a big hassle, require many doctor visits (potentially embarrassing ones), be very uncomfortable, and difficult to get rid of. I determined to call my GYN the next day, which was distressing, because my GYN is actually part of a huge healthcare system that does not give me good care and that in fact caused my great trauma in the process of diagnosing my cancer. I need to get out of that system, because the way it's set up, I can't even call my doctor in a pinch - I need to call a central appt. line for an appt., and I get whoever is available when time is of the essence.

Anyway. Meanwhile, sometime last weekend when my immune system was at its weak point, I came into contact with some sort of stomach/intestinal bug. I discovered its presence at 5:45am on Tuesday morning, hours before my first class of the semester (which I cancelled, because there was no way I could make it there with various stuff coming out of both ends of my body).

As stomach/intestinal bugs go, this wasn't so bad. However, because I usually don't get the intestinal part along with it, and because my stomach, while not *horribly* nauseated and upchucky, was still nauseated and upchucky, I simply was not able to keep the fluid balance in my body at a healthy level. So, I got dehydrated. But I didn't notice, because I was just aware of being thirsty, of sipping my ginger ale, mildly aware of "A Mighty Wind" on t.v., and of sleeping much of the day. I did notice that every time I got up to use the bathroom, I felt dizzy, but I attributed that mostly to the fact that I was lying down all day.

It did dawn on me to take my temperature, and it was over 100.5, which meant that I had to call my oncologist's office to report in. By the end of the day, my temp was up to 101.7, and I was told to report to the ER for IV fluids and some tests to be sure that there weren't any other infections going on. I realized how awful I felt when I contemplated getting up, dressed, walking down the stairs, sitting in the car, and going to the ER - not nauseous, but just completely drained and exhausted.

Once there, my fever was 102, and they tested pretty much everything they could test. Everything was fine - I had a stomach/intestinal bug, as it turned out. I began to feel much better after they gave me the fluids and some cold water to drink. They did forget about me for about an hour, while I was lying down on my back, weak, with a blood pressure cuff on one arm and a (stopped) IV in the other, but I managed to reach the call button after listening to the nurses talk for a while about their favorite vacation spots.

But while I was there, I mentioned the embarrassing thing, because I was worried that it was some sort of infection that might be causing all the other problems. So, the male doctor who was not a GYN (as opposed to a male doctor who IS a GYN, which is a different story), and his male resident (also not a GYN), took a look, and I managed to not feel too uncomfortable. They didn't see what I saw and told me not to worry about. So I felt better until a couple of days later when I noticed that it was indeed there. And now I was back to square one. By then, my fever was gone and I was back to normal, so I knew at least it wasn't a dangerous infection. But I still had to deal with the GYN appointment. I made a mental note to get a referral when I saw my oncologist the next day.

Now that I wasn't worried that my vagina was going to kill me, I relaxed for a bit and read the paper...about brain aneurysms. Turns out that three of the symptoms of brain aneuryms are - symptoms I have! So now, I had something new to worry about.

I came armed with the newspaper to see my oncologist. When I mentioned aneurysms, before I could even point to all the symptoms in my handy article, he said that if I had headaches, that was reason enough to go for a brain MRI, and that he didn't think I had an aneurysm, that the symptoms (which he patiently let me describe) could be caused by numerous other things, but that if it would make me not worry, he'd be happy to have me go for an MRI. (And so I shall).

I figured I'd just mention the embarrassing other issue and tell him that I was planning to follow up with (sigh) the GYN, and maybe ask for a referral. Instead, he jovially said, "well, let's take a look at it. I AM a doctor, after all. That IS my job." So male doctor number 3 who is not a GYN took a look, but with a lot more capability and sensitivity than male doctors #1 and 2 who were not GYNs, and this time, I trusted his call that it was nothing to worry about because he saw exactly what I saw.

So - no worries below the belt, no worries above the neck (probably - I feel relieved just knowing that we'll be checking), and the space inbetween is responding well to chemo.

And I am not reading the paper anymore.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Do something about the BART shooting.

Oscar Grant, a Black man, lying face down, subdued, surrounded by (apparently white) cops, and with one officer's knee on his neck, was shot in the back and killed. The cop didn't even draw his gun until AFTER Grant was face down with the cop's knee on his neck.

As Kevin says at A Slant Truth:
What the hell did this cop think? That Grant was going to all of the sudden summon his super-human negro strength ala Hancock and suddenly toss the cop with his knee on his neck a good 200 yards and go flying away?

More from A Slant Truth:

New Video of BART Shooting is Clearest Yet

5 Things You Can Do Right Now about The Oscar Grant Shooting

Here's what I'm thinking. What do you think the story would be if there hadn't been witnesses? Need I even ask that question?

Friday, January 09, 2009

Too far.

The other day, I received this email:

Twin Cities Solidarity with Israel Gathering -
Sunday, Jan. 11

The United Jewish Fund and Council expresses its solidarity with the people of Israel during Operation Cast Lead against the Hamas terrorist group in the Gaza Strip. Please join the UJFC for a community-wide rally to show our solidarity with Israel and Jewish unity this Sunday, Jan. 11, 3 p.m. at the Sabes JCC, 4330 S. Cedar Lake Road, Minneapolis 55416.

This event is co-sponsored by the United Jewish Fund and Council of St. Paul, The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, AIPAC, Minneapolis Jewish Federation, National Council of Jewish Women, Hadassah, Minnesota Rabbinical Association, Christians United for Israel, Minnesotans Against Terrorism, Hillel, Sabes JCC, and St. Paul JCC.

View UJFC’s Gaza Situation web page, with the latest comprehensive situation update, which includes information on military, politics and the status of social needs via our beneficiary agencies in Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel. You will also find resources, stories from the front, multimedia material, news coverage and more – all updated daily.

I have to say, I'm surprised. I mean, I get the standing by Israel thing, generally. But in this case, I'm really floored. It's one thing to defend Israel in general. It's quite another to adopt an "Israel can do no wrong" position and proceed to always, always insist that Israel is blameless. Frankly, the email made me ill.

In contrast, consider what Tikkun has posted on its sidebar:
CLICK HERE to Sign and Help us circulate an Ad calling on President Obama to use this moment to help bring lasting and just Middle East peace

Since before I've moved here, the synagogue on the corner has had a sign out front that reads something like: "We Stand With Israel and Pray for Peace in the Middle East." I would like to see that sign come down now. All I know is that a temple that can still post that sign in the middle of what Israel is doing right now is a temple I cannot bring myself to step foot in or take my child to.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Out, damn spot.

Bean has been begging to use some red hair gel that a friend bought him months ago. According to the description on the package, when applied to damp hair, it will result in red, spiked hair. When applied to dry hair, it will result in red highlights.


As it turns out, when applied to dry hair, it results in globs of red glue in the hair that make the hair stick together in clumps that cannot be touched for fear of turning everything else red. It also results in "over-producted" hair, which is not fun or practical for the average seven-year-old. Fortunately, I was able to get most of it out with a washcloth and dry Bean's hair in time for him to get to school.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Random thoughts.

Well, I realized that I actually still have a week left of break before classes start, so I'm not letting the fact that Bean has to go back to school *this* week throw me. I plan to hit the gym tomorrow, assuming I can still walk (the Taxol-induced achiness has gotten a bit worse over the last couple of hours, but it's still FAR better than last time - I'm not in bed, for example).

Mr. P. is reading "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" to Bean. I always found that story disturbing and creepy, and I don't understand how it is that it seems to have become a delightful holiday movie, or why Mr. P. thinks it won't freak out Bean. I guess we shall see.

In other news, Bean now has in his possession the game "Operation," which I threatened not to buy after he tormented me by talking about the booger that is one of the many things that can be removed. ICK. I told him if he kept talking about it, I might have to throw up, and he delighted in saying "booger" over and over until I warned him that I would not get the game if he didn't knock it off. Now the question is, Will the child do his homework in time to be allowed to play the game before bed?

Oh, and - Franken won the election, but Coleman, that dink, is going to challenge him in court. I am very interested to see what happens next, and I can't imagine how Coleman isn't going to piss off MN voters by prolonging this...

Finally - I watched a little of Confessions of a Teen Idol - as much as I could bear - and came away feeling very, very sorry for these guys. What moved me to pity was that not once did I hear anyone say anything like, "I really loved acting/singing - it was the one time in my life when I felt like my greatest joy and my career were the same thing. I have always wanted to study the craft, and even though I left the business, I couldn't stay away - I got involved in my kids' school productions and did some community theater. I would just love to have another chance to make my living doing what I love." See, if anyone had said that, I would have thought, well, there's a person who will find happiness. They are in it for the love of the work. But instead, former teen idol after former teen idol kept saying dumb shit like, "I had it all, and now I don't, and I want it again." "It was a great life - I was on top of the world - I had any woman I wanted, and I partied every night. I'd love a shot at that again." Here's a tip, guys: that's not only really boring and shallow, but it also makes you pretty unsympathetic characters. Why on earth would anyone watch this, much less want to see more of you?

(Edited to add a link to a review I really like.)

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Worst birthday ever.

Today was Bean's birthday. Know what we did? Yelled at him all day to finish his homework (which, of course, he had had two weeks to do). We *were* going to go to Target to buy him "Operation" with his birthday money; Mr. P. and I had talked about taking him to feed his addiction at Build-A-Bear Workshop; there was to be cake, or at least the baking of chocolate chip cookies.

NONE of this happened. And do you know why? Because that child refused to sit and do the damn homework. For nearly 8 hours. I did what I always do, and sat down at the table next to him to do my work while he did his. Instead, major drama ensued, with tears and wailing. Eventually, for a break from this, he and I played catch, since he's been begging to do this for weeks and we've not been able to, and since I wanted at least something to go right for him on his birthday. But then, he disappeared into his room to read something that, while I'm glad he is reading it, is most definitely not the book he was supposed to be reading for school.

In retrospect, I'm wishing I had done at 2pm what I finally did at 9pm and simply stand over him, pointing to each math problem and helping him stay focused. The whole thing could have taken about an hour, including the reading of a book that I finally just gave up on, so thrilled I was that he finally finished the two math sheets.

As various relatives called to wish him a happy birthday, he would proclaim that it was "the worst birthday ever!" And I would feel a pang of guilt, or several pangs, until I remembered that we just had a lovely big party for him with the relatives a couple of days ago, and that we will be having a lovely big party for him in a couple of weeks with his friends at one of those places where parents take kids to run around and be noisy and eat cake.

Still, I feel that one's birthday should be special, and I feel like I've let him down. If it hadn't been 3 degrees with a wind chill of -15 today, and if I hadn't felt somewhat crappy, we would probably have made a much bigger effort.

He did get extra stories tonight at bedtime.

For my part, it was a melancholy day. I can't help but to feel vulnerable as my baby turns 7 and I wonder what things will look like for our family in another 7 years. It's also the last day of Christmas vacation (well, for Bean, anyway), which always makes me tearful and cranky. There's nothing like being slapped in the face with the cold reality of January after hiding out in cozy Hannemas and visits with family you don't see frequently enough. So, now I'm back to planning my syllabus (which will probably seem more exciting tomorrow, as it's a job I usually enjoy) for a semester in which I will be having surgery, but I don't know just when, or how long it will take me to recover enough to come back to class (or, the part I can't really bring myself to say out loud, what the outcome will be). A challenge.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

I'm still here, just tired, busy, and trying to relax.

I know I haven't posted in a while - I had relatives visiting, I had Hanukkah and Christmas to prepare for, and, oh, yeah, I spent a couple of days last week in bed in pain from the Taxol that is my final chemo drug. Hopefully that won't happen this time, but it was not unbearable, just approaching unbearable. The thing that was worse was getting sick from the Vicodin - I'll try sticking with Ibuprofen this time.

But anyway - it was a lovely holiday, and yesterday, during my 7-hour visit to my oncologist for lab work, doctor check, and chemo, I really enjoyed watching Season III of Weeds while simultaneously getting high on the Benadryl they were giving me in my IV. Though, I did worry that all the naked people in the episode where Andy does fetish porn (don't ask) might be inappropriate - fortunately, I was in a little room by myself.

I was advised to buy glutamine powder to take to prevent the muscle and joint pain I experienced last time, so I stopped at the hospital pharmacy on the way out, picked some up for $30, and then promptly lost it (I suspect it's still on the floor of the cab, though the cabbie checked and didn't find it - it's also possible that I threw it in the trash, thinking it was my McDonald's bag). So, after spending the entire day at the doctor's office, I got home and started calling around to see where on earth I could find Glutamine powder (answer: Whole Foods). I was happy to get home and into bed.

Today was used up on errands - Bean's guitar lesson, Bean's haircut, lunch at a great bakery that was closed last week when we tried to go there, returns/exchanges at Target, CVS for various meds/vitamins, my office for notes on my syllabus from last year so that I can redesign this semester's class, home (very briefly), back to the big city for my shot and then back to my office for some papers I forgot and then BACK to CVS for random things I needed. So again - good to be home.

I intend to watch the remaining episodes of Weeds tonight while eating cupcakes and Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream. Tomorrow is Bean's birthday, so if I am not in pain, we will play games (and I will try to squeeze in some work on my syllabus). I kinda wish my school had an interim session, and that I was not teaching it...