Friday, July 30, 2010

_________ gave me cancer

I've heard plenty of theories--many quite nutty--about what causes breast cancer. Obviously, we don't really know. For some reason, the incidence is much higher among women in my demographic--upper middle class, no pregnancies, history of birth control use, and whatever other lurking dangers are created by a privileged, professional lifestyle. I may not have lived in Marin County, but I seem like a model Marin case.

I've also heard many other possible causes (see a list here), including:
  • underwire bras
  • antiperspirants
  • heating food in plastic containers
  • plastic containers in general (BPAs)
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • not drinking enough alcohol
  • working the night shift
  • and now--sleeping on a mattress.
That's right; sleeping on a mattress. Sigh.

I actually try not to heat food in plastic containers anymore, or to use BPA-carrying plastics. I avoid parabens (though I just discovered that they're in my new Philosophy moisturizer, so once that runs out, no more Philosophy). I try to drink no more than three drinks a week. I work on getting enough cinnamon, turmeric, green tea, vitamin D, and omega 3s. I even just completed an 11-day "cleanse" to try to detoxify my system (Isagenix, if you want to know).

Really, we don't know where the f&#% this disease comes from, but we clearly live in a world swimming in toxins and contaminants, and I'm all for trying to find new ways to improve prevention and resistance. But COME ON, PEOPLE. Enough with the snake oil!

Or am I just one of the lucky ones, because my cancer was on the right?

Friday, July 23, 2010

New research on chemicals and breast cancer

It was sure a sexy headline: "Cleaning products linked to breast cancer." Imagine all the late-night jokes about that one ("Honey, I won't be cleaning anymore!")--well, maybe if late-night comics were women.

When I read the article, I was dumbfounded. The research sounded like a joke. It's a self-report survey in which women say how much chemical exposure they've had, and that is compared between women with and without a history of breast cancer. It sounded extremely weak.

But with the Shirley Sherrod debacle fresh in mind, I decided not to stop there. I clicked the link ("suggests") to get to the Science Daily description of the study, somewhat more in depth. It said that the study comes from an open-access journal called Environmental Health. Well, that's not great because it suggests that the study wasn't strong enough to be published in a regular, peer-reviewed, restricted access journal.

But OK. I then went to the study itself. Here it is. And it's not really too bad, as preliminary evidence goes. I won't be throwing out all the cleaning products in the house, but this is enough of a signal that other researchers should now do some deeper digging.

What I really want to say, though, is this: It is so important to evaluate the quality of the science behind any of these findings. There is breast cancer news every single day: eat this, don't eat that, Avastin doesn't work, don't clean your house. (OK, that last is a stretch.) Some of these findings are coming out of really important and rigorous research. Some are absolutely bogus and should not be listened to. And then there's the substantial middle, in which this study resides, where there are suggestive findings but so much potential for fear-mongering or knee-jerk reactions. Take a deep breath and read the study. Check it out. Don't take the news article's word for it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


The Huffington Post--whose living section I often find suspect, filled as it is with pretty quack-y medical articles (let me just say, I think Suzanne Somers' approach to cancer prevention is a giant duck)--has a GOOD article today on cancer and insomnia.

When I was going through chemo, my acupuncturist would ask me, at every appointment, how I was sleeping. Disrupted sleep is a common correlate of chemo, at least in part due to hormonal disruptions mimicking menopause (or, inducing menopause in many cases).

Further, I've found that my sleep post-cancer-treatment is much less reliable than it was before. I have times when it's hard to fall asleep or hard to stay asleep. The study described in the article seems like a valuable step in helping deal with this problem.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Telling someone they have the big C

Today's LA Times has an interesting blog post giving results of a survey on how people were told that they had cancer. The phone-message-on-Valentines-Day example seems, um, not great.

My own experience was probably on the "most positive" end of the continuum. I went in for a formal follow-up appointment and got the news from the surgeon, who spent roughly an hour with me (and Noah), drawing pictures and discussing the treatment and answering all the questions that could surface from the depths of our confused, overwhelmed brains. He (the surgeon) also emphasized the word "cure" repeatedly, and his tone was so confident and positive that I never felt--at that time--like "I might die," just like (as I told Noah) "my life [was] going to SUCK for the next year."

The only bad part of the news-delivery process, for me, was that the surgeon and the rest of the oncology staff were angry with my primary-care physician for not taking responsibility for that process himself. And they let their anger be known, just a bit. So I knew that there was some buck-passing, and maybe I could have done without that. Overall, though, I'd give Norris Cancer Center an A in this area.

How doctors deliver the news: It's cancer