Archive for the 'Cancer' Category



Human Microchips? Told You So!

A few months ago I blogged about the push by the manufacturers of RFID chips, radio frequency identification computer chips, to begin implanting them in humans. At the time, I was pretty definite about the cons of the subject. I recommended against the idea in — ahem — the strongest of terms.

A report by the Associated Press (click here to access links to 90 different news outlets) states that in fact, the manufacturer, VeriChip, and the FDA may have ignored studies that linked use of the chips to higher incidents of cancer in pets and mice.

Cancer! So they aren’t just a lousy security risk, they cause cancer, too.

I’ll keep my chips on the poker table or in a snack bag, thank you very much.

Thanks to my security guru, Bob, for the heads up….

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Sad, BUT He Was a Smoker

According to yesterday’s newspaper, Gay Brewer died. If you are a golfer of a certain age or older, you’ll remember Gay Brewer as a hot shot on the PGA tour back in the 1960s. He was cool. I was a fan.

Turns out that Gay Brewer died of lung cancer.

Last week, I interviewed Dr. Leslie Kohman, thoracic surgeon from University Hospital in Syracuse, NY for my radio show. Our conversation was about lung cancer and the fact that funding from the government for lung cancer research is so much less than for other cancers, despite the fact that four times more men and women die from lung cancer than either breast or prostate cancers.

I asked her why she thought that was true.

Her explanation was one of those lightbulb moments that really makes you sit up and take note. “When you hear of someone who has contracted breast cancer or prostate cancer, you feel sorry for them. Your sympathies lie with that unsuspecting victim of those and most other cancers.

“But when you hear someone has been diagnosed or died of lung cancer, your reaction is, “Sad, but he was a smoker,’ as if he brought it on himself. It was his fault so therefore you don’t feel so sorry for him.

(Ohhhh, geeeez…. never thought about it that way.)

Dr. Kohman went on to explain about the bias against those with lung cancer because it is assumed they smoked, even when 40 percent of them never did. Most of that 40 percent, ended up with lung cancer after exposure to second-hand smoke.

I hate to think I’m so biased, but I probably have been before now. What I know about smoking from any of my friends or family who have ever smoked (thankfully, I don’t) is that nicotine is horribly addictive, and extremely difficult to get away from. Once it has you hooked, its claws are in you so tight, it’s almost impossible to get them out.

The vast, vast majority of smokers would give it up in a heartbeat if they only could. And that means it’s just not fair for me to find fault with them, or anyone else, for having lung cancer.

There are other diseases we have similar biases about, as if it’s up to any of us to make judgments. AIDs, cirrhosis of the liver, emphysema…. We also make judgments about who “deserves” to be treated — people who are obese, or unclean, or or alcoholic, or any of a number of other reasons…. Many doctors will even admit their biases in those directions.

Who among us can throw stones inside our glass houses?

We all deserve good health and good healthcare. None of us deserves a horrible disease or condition, nor have we “earned” one.

My condolences to Gay Brewer’s family and friends. He was a good man and deserved good health, regardless of the choices he made in his life.

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Kudos to Cancer Society

What’s the number #1 reason patients don’t seek medical care?  Because they can’t afford it. 

Recognizing that all the great technology, drugs, therapies and other cures in the world can’t help patients if patients can’t afford to go to the doctor for diagnosis or treatment, the American Cancer Society has decided to go out on an advertising limb to make people aware of what REALLY needs to be done….

The ACS will spend its entire advertising budget to promote awareness of lack of access to care. 

Millions of Americans don’t have health care because they can’t afford it.  Millions of additional Americans have health care, but still can’t afford the co-pays and their portions of the cost, plus millions of Americans can afford basic care, but not catastrophic care (for chronic or devastating disesases such as cancer or asthma or alzheimer’s or diabetes).

Read about it here.

What they AREN’T saying is how that improved access should happen.  No mention of a national health program, no mention of the word “universal”, no mention of expanding Medicare or patterning the VA.   To quote Larry, the Cable Guy, they just want the US to “get ‘er done!”

What they are saying is that access is, to them, the number one priority.  The ACS’s CEO John Seffrin explains it best, “I believe, if we don’t fix the health care system, that lack of access will be a bigger cancer killer than tobacco,” adding, “The ultimate control of cancer is as much a policy issue as it is a medical and scientific issue.”

I, for one, support these efforts.  Yes, I know, people will argue that the money could go to patients for testing or screening… or education about how to detect cancer.  I agree.  And for many, many years, that’s exactly what the Cancer Society has done. 

But more important, in this year prior to an election when so many just don’t understand that there’s a whole lot of lip service and not much activity to improving Americans’ access to healthcare….  Kudos to the ACS.

My donation to the ACS is being well spent.  And because of that, I’ll send more.

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Robin Roberts and Self-Advocacy

Robin Roberts, Good Morning America’s host, now in treatment for breast cancer, practices what I preach. Wise woman.

No — I take no credit for her progress. In fact, I very much doubt she has ever heard of me or my work. But in so many ways we are of a single mind, and I hope that you can learn from her experience, too.

Robin recently discovered a lump in her breast, and sought a mammogram, which turned up nothing. But she just “knew” — her intuition kicked in — and she and her doctor then sought an ultrasound, then a biopsy — and yes — they diagnosed her cancer. Surgery followed, and no doubt there will be courses of treatment beyond. But they caught it, and early, and she’s on the road, God willing, to recovery.

Intuition — trust it, act on it, follow it to its conclusions.

And the “God willing” part is important. Her faith and spirituality are in part responsible for her success so far. Not that one needs to be religious to find one’s best medical outcomes; rather, that one needs to understand the bigger picture. When we have these kinds of frightening experiences, how can we turn them into inspiration for others? Robin is doing that — with her return to the GMA set this morning, she has become that inspiration. She is taking some of her strength from the outreach of others, too. Yes, she’s practicing what I have tried to do for three years now.

Spirituality – use it for your own strength, use it to help you accept the strength of others, translate it to inspiration for others.

Chutzpah is that wonderful Yiddish term for having nerve and audacity — which is what is required in today’s healthcare environment. Sticking up for oneself, not accepting information on face value, making sure we get the very best care possible because we actively seek it, and not because we expect it will happen. Robin isn’t afraid to go that extra mile — if she hadn’t had chutzpah, then she might not have kept after her doctor for additional tests.

Chutzpah – stick up for yourself! Command the respect you deserve.

Robin Roberts is a perfect example of a woman who took her circumstance, her intuition, her spirituality and her chutzpah — and used it to save her own life.

Like I did. Welcome to our very exclusive club, Robin!

And welcome back to your on-air life. I’m pleased to see you looking so healthy and beautiful, just like you always do.

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Follow Up Post:  11/16/07:  Cancer, Chemo and Emotions:  It’s OK not to be SO OK

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An Exciting Update on SPTCL

Hmmm…. you’re wondering…. what on earth is SPTCL? 

It’s the cancer that was supposed to kill me.  It stands for Subcutaneous Panniculitis-like T-Cell Lymphoma.  And when I was diagnosed with it in the summer of 2004, everything I read told me it was very rare, highly aggressive, and even with chemo, my life would not last longer than two years.

That was, until I figured out I had been misdiagnosed

I heard yesterday from a gentleman named Andrew who asked about the basis for my information that everyone died so quickly.  He told me he had been doing some research and had found that there were, in fact, a couple different subsets of SPTCL and some were less deadly than others.  He had read my account of the diagnosis and was a little put off (my words, not his) that I claimed everyone would die if that wasn’t necessarily true.  (I can’t say as I blame him.)

I was excited. Could it be true that new discoveries had been made?  From everything I understood, the disease was so rare that little, if any, research was being done on it.  Not enough patients to bother, if you know what I mean.

I wrote back to Andrew and asked him to share his references, and he did right away.  Much of the information, as you can imagine, is incomprehensible to us mere patients, but I did find some that was a bit more patient-friendly which I’ll share with you — if you’re interested.  Here it is.

Bottom line — Andrew was right.  Here we are, three years later, and there is some hope for those diagnosed with SPTCL.  Different versions of the disease are more or less treatable.  At least it seems that way.  It’s all medspeak to me, but I’m thankful there has been progress.  It turned out I didn’t have the disease at all, but believe me, I sure do emphathize with anyone who is diagnosed.  Been there, but didn’t have to do that.

Bless Andrew for keeping me updated.  And bless anyone who gets a scary diagnosis. 

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Lymphoma Patients’ “Secret” Option

Before you read this blog post, I’ll beg you to be patient with me. Having been diagnosed with lymphoma myself, and reading the article I’m about to cite, my disgust and anger can’t be bridled…

If you have been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, there may be a cure for you that your oncologist hasn’t even mentioned to you. Yes, I said a CURE. Not just a treatment. A cure.And the reason you don’t know about it is because your oncologist won’t make any money from it. Since he can’t profit, you won’t be cured. Seriously.

Find the rest of this post at its new location:

http://www.trishatorrey.com/2007/07/23/lymphoma-patients-secret-option/

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Games Oncologists Play – and WE Pay

Quite the exposé about oncologists and drug reimbursements is found in an article written by Alex Berenson in the New York Times.

The crux of the story is that oncologists — cancer doctors — have the ability to profit from the drugs they prescribe for their patients. When they prescribe chemo, or any of the drugs given to patients as a result of chemo (such as drugs to boost their strength or to help with their recovery from the ravages of chemo), they do so knowing they will make more money than if they simply met with the patient. Unfortunately, it seems that for many of these oncologists, their goal is focused on milking the system for all it’s worth — not simply to profit — er, um, excuse me — to treat their patients.

To quote Dr. Robert Geller from the article, “As long as oncologists continue to be paid by the procedure instead of for spending time with patients, they will find ways to game the system, however much money they make or lose on prescribing drugs…”

Game the system???

Read the rest of this post at the new blog location…

Ovarian Cancer, Condescension and Intuition

Ovarian Cancer is one of those topics I’ve blogged about previously, because my mother-in-law was diagnosed with it six months ago.  Her diagnosis came after many months of complaints, mostly gastro-intestinal in nature.  Despite her ongoing complaints, she was never diagnosed until she was hospitalized.  At the age of 86, she underwent surgery (wrong, wrong wrong!  but tell that to my sister in law who made THAT decision) and today she is miserable, has little concept of reality, and is living in a nursing home.  It breaks our hearts when we visit.  We have no idea how long she will survive in this state of pseudo-living.

With that backdrop, you’ll understand why this morning’s news about a solid attempt at recognizing early symptoms for ovarian cancer makes me jump for joy.  I see my mother-in-law’s problems everywhere on the list of factors to watch for:  bloating, abdominal pain, difficulty eating, frequent need to urinate….  Yes, they are problems we have all had at one time or another (even boys do!) but when they continue, daily, for more than two weeks, cancer experts now tell us to get to the doctor, preferably an OB-GYN, for an examination.

The news was everywhere;  radio, TV and print. The New York Times covers this development better than most others, at least if you want more info than just the top level points. 

And here’s the quote from the NYT that makes your favorite Every Patient’s Advocate shudder, “In a survey of 1,700 women with ovarian cancer, Dr. Goff and other researchers found that 36 percent had initially been given a wrong diagnosis, with conditions like depression or irritable bowel syndrome.  Twelve percent were told there was nothing wrong with them, and it was all in their heads,” Dr. Goff said.”

I can’t begin to tell you how much that raises my ire!!  “There there, little lady.  There’s nothing really wrong with you.  It’s all in your head.”

As patients, we know when something isn’t right.  We KNOW when our bodies are signaling problems.  I believe the only reason patients are ever told something is “in their heads” is because the medical professional can’t do his job — he can’t diagnose – so he makes it the patient’s error and not his.  Condescension in the form of placing the blame on the patient is unforgivable.

We human beings are blessed with instinct and intuition.  We all have that little voice that tells us when something is right or wrong.  We know when our gut is signaling good or bad. 

Trusting that inner voice is the next step.  Those of us who know how to trust it have a distinct advantage.  It’s worth learning.  It’s worth practicing.  And when someone tells you something you KNOW can’t be true (because your inner voice has told you so) — then fight back.  If a doctor tells you something is all in your head, then see another doctor. If you aren’t satisfied with the answers, or non-answers, then continue searching.

That’s how I proved I didn’t have cancer.  That’s what kept me out of chemo. 

And that’s what will make sure women get diagnosed early and successfully treated for ovarian cancer. 

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