Monday, September 21, 2020

Finishing touches being done on kids' book about misadventures of sorcerer and young fairies

Last-minute enhancements are being added to the front and back covers of "Grampy and His Fairzona Playmates."

When they're completed, the text and illustrations of the children's book, co-authored by me, Woody Weingarten, and my granddaughter, Hannah Schifrin, will be done except for a few technical details. Can publication of the fantasy be far behind?

Enchanting, full-color illustrations by Joe Marciniak greatly enrich the storyline, which features a sorcerer, Grandpa Graybeard, who frequently has to get his granddaughter, Lily, and her best friend, Penny, out of trouble when the two eight-year-old fairies mess up their magic spells. Their misadventures become great fun for all three and for young readers who love to let their imaginations run wild.

While "Grampy and His Fairyzona Playmates" is being finalized, I'm also editing "The Roving I," a book that will contain a compilation of columns I'd penned over an 11-year period. By deleting some hyper-local references, I expect the book's appeal to be more universal.

Meanwhile, for those who want to see first-hand that I can put one word after another, check out through your local bookstore or Amazon "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress volume I aimed at male caregivers (one, indeed, that I'm thinking about updating). 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

If 80% benefit from a treatment, is that enough?

Researchers confirm lone targeted radiation dose may work as well as longer breast-cancer course 

Can one dose of targeted radiation be as effective a breast-cancer treatment as a longer course of radiation?

Yes, according to a story by BBC health reporter Rachel Schraer last week that reports as well that researchers "said people who received the shorter treatment were also less likely to die of other cancers and heart disease." 

There exists a challenge to the study, however.

Some cancer specialists point out, the BBC piece says, that 20 percent of the patients studied received extra doses of radiotherapy.
         Professor Jayant Vaidya
According to Schraer's article, Professor Jayant Vaidya, lead author of the study, while noting that 80 percent still benefitted, "said he had expected a proportion of the women to need extra radiotherapy, since post-op tests could reveal tumors were bigger or more aggressive than expected."

Targeted Intraoperative Radiotherapy, which was developed by doctors at University College London, where Vaidya toils in addition to having a private practice, involves the lone dose being delivered by a small device placed inside the breast directly on the site of the cancer immediately after the tumor is surgically removed.

The procedure takes place during the same operation as the removal.

Standard radiation treatments normally call for between 15 and 30 additional hospital visits, although that number has temporarily been reduced to about five because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Findings, involving 2,298 women with breast cancer in 10 countries, were based on 10-year marks and reported in original researchThis follow-up study, which tracked women up to five years after their treatment, confirmed the original conclusion.

Previous studies, not incidentally, "had shown the [single-dose] treatment also had fewer radiation-related side-effects, including pain and changes to the breast's appearance," Schraer writes. 

Information about other treatments can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers. 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Story of wizard and fairies 'in homestretch'

Children's fantasy by the author of 'Rollercoaster' and granddaughter is getting close to publication

Illustration by Joe Marciniak for 'Grampy…'
Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night, to borrow a phrase, can stop my writing. 

Nor can the coronavirus. 

Although Covid-19 has caused a major delay in the publication of "MysteryDates," which may not find its audience for another year or so, it won't be able to stop the public from seeing "Grampy and His Fairyzona Playmates," a children's fantasy co-written by me, Woody Weingarten, and my granddaughter, Hannah Schifrin.

The collaborative effort — about a wizard, his fairy grandaughter and her fairy best friend will be published any month now, even though we're Sheltering in Place just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Pre-publication details, as they say, are rapidly being ironed out — and are entering the proverbial homestretch.

Also in the offing (a little further down the 2020 road) is "The Roving I," a compilation of columns I'd penned over an 11-year period.

For those who need to see that I can put one word after another, check out "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I aimed at male caregivers (and which I'm seriously thinking about updating). 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Workload blocks woman from finding disease

Eagle-eyed viewer in Tampa tips off TV reporter to neck lump that's cancerous and requires surgery

A 28-year-old Tampa TV investigative reporter last week credited a viewer with helping her find a cancerous lump.
Victoria Price
According to a story by Johnny Diaz in The New York Times, Victoria Price was to undergo surgery today to remove a neck tumor, her thyroid "and a couple of lymph nodes."

Price reportedly has been fatigued but had attributed that to her heavy workload. "Full-throttle, never-ending shifts in a never-ending news cycle" is how the Florida reporter labeled it in a Twitter post.

Then she added, "Had I never received that email, I never would have called my doctor. The cancer would have continued to spread. It's a scary and humbling thought."

She also said she expected to "be forever grateful for the woman who went out of her way to email me, a total stranger. She had zero obligation to, but she did anyway."

Said Price, pointing out that the catchphrase of her station, WFLA-TV, is "8 On Your Side" but the woman had reversed the roles, putting "a viewer on MY side."

Diaz also wrote that it's "not the first time a keen viewer has spotted a medical issue of a TV personality." One of them came to light in April of last year "when Deborah Norville, the anchor of the syndicated news program 'Inside Edition' had surgery to remove a cancerous nodule from her neck. She said she had been monitoring the lump after a viewer noticed it on her neck and brought it to her attention."

In a video message, Norville had said: "We live in a world of 'see something, say something,' and I'm really glad we do."

Clearly, early detection of a disease can be of great medical benefit. More examples can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

'Alternative care' ads are perilous, says debunker

Pseudoscientific advertising on social media swamps cancer patient who exposes it in N.Y. Times op ed

Facebook targets users who have cancer with "alternative care" ads.

At least that's the opinion of Anne Borden King, a consultant for Bad Science Watch, who published an article to that effect in The New York Times last week.

King, who's also the founder of the Campaign Against Phony Autism Cures, insisted she'll never fall for those ads because she's "an advocate against pseudoscience."

Her opinion piece held high a red flag proclaiming that "being targeted by those who traffic in false promises feels like a 'slap in the face' to patients like me," according to a secondary headline in the Times.

Unfortunately, King postulated, there may be no hope that Facebook will change its policies on how it handles "hate speech and misinformation." As proof, she cited a meeting the social media giant had last week with representatives of the advocacy group Stop Hate for Profit. 

"In the view of the organizers," she wrote, "the meeting did not go well."
Jessica J. Gonzalez 
King, in fact, quoted Jessica J. Gonz├ílez, one of those organizers, who in January was named co-CEO of Free Press, a media advocacy group: "Facebook approached our meeting today like it was nothing more than a PR exercise."

The op ed writer, whom the Times describes as "an advocate working to prevent the spread of medical misinformation," noted that the Facebook ads promoted "everything from cumin seeds to colloidal silver as cancer treatments. Some ads promise luxury clinics — or even 'nontoxic cancer therapies' on a beach in Mexico."

She further noted that she's "learned to recognized the hallmarks of pseudoscience marketing: unproven and sometimes dangerous treatments, promising simplistic solutions and support. Things like 'bleach cures' that promise to treat everything from Covid-19 to autism." 

King also indicated that she found it interesting that no "legitimate cancer care ads" have appeared in her newsfeed, "just pseudoscience. This may be because pseudoscience companies rely on social media in a way that order forms of health care don't."

She elaborated: Pseudoscience companies "use influencers and patient testimonials [and sometimes] recruit members through Facebook 'support groups' to sell their products in pyramid schemes."

And the social media environment, she wrote, gives patients "a sense of belonging, which makes it harder  for them to question a product."

Cancer patients, she alleged, "are especially vulnerable to this stealth marketing" because it becomes normal for them to be "told where to go, how to sit and what to take. It can be painful and scary and — and then all our hair falls out. During the pandemic, many of us are also isolated. Our loved ones can't come to our appointments or even visit us in the hospital. Now, more than ever, who is there to hold our hand?"

Pseudoscience companies, King added, have found a way to "tap directly into our fears and isolation, offering us a sense of control, while claiming their products can end our pain. They exploit our emotions to offer phony alternatives."

She then voiced a strong statement that "the evidence is clear: Death rates are much higher for people with cancer who choose alternative therapies instead of standard care."

More debunking of pseudoscientific cures can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Neither bras nor caffeine cause breast cancer

Article details risk factors for breast cancer while outlining preventive measures and dispelling myths

Are the causes of breast cancer known?

No, according to a feature story by Dr. Lizellen La Follette in the Marin Independent Journal that I've kept around quite a while because it's a good summary.

Both the article and its headline note, however, that although the roots of breast cancer aren't clear, the risk factors are.
Dr. Lizellen La Follette
La Follette details those factors: gender (being a woman); age ("two out of three with invasive cancer are diagnosed after age 55"); family, personal health, menstrual and reproductive histories; dense breast tissue; radiation to the chest; genetic changes; poor diet and alcohol consumption; obesity; lack of physical activity; smoking; and exposure to DES, a medication to prevent miscarriage that was heavily prescribed from the '40s through the '60s. 

Also, looking for dimpling or puckering of the breast, inversion of the nipple, redness or scaliness of the breast skin or nipple/areola area, or discharge of secretions from the nipple.

La Follette also dispels some myths about the disease — including the biggie, that it's contagious. It's not.

Other myths include that the disease can be caused "by wearing underwire bras, implants, deodorants, antiperspirants, mammograms, caffeine, plastic food serving items, microwaves or cellphones."

The article also suggests what women can do as prevention: having monthly breast cancer exams, checking for changes in breast tissue (such as in size), and feeling a palpable lump.

As for the risks, La Follette writes that a woman's "risk of breast cancer nearly doubles if she has a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) who has been diagnosed" with it — "and her risk increases if a relative was diagnosed before the age of 50."

Furthermore, she notes, "studies show about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers can be linked to one mutations inherited from one's mother or father."

Regarding smoking, the columnist contends that smoking is a danger "particularly when it's long-term, heavy and among those who started before their first pregnancy." Meanwhile, the risk "is about 1.5 times higher in overweight women, and two times higher in obese women than in lean women." 

In addition, La Follette maintains that "numerous studies confirm on average alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer in women by about 7 to 10 percent for each drink consumed," and she writes that "women who have two to three alcoholic drinks a day have a 20 percent higher risk…compared with non-drinkers."

Finally, she postures that "early menstruation (before age 12), mate menopause (after 55), having first child at older age or never having given birth can be risk factors."

La Follette also takes a moment to mention males, citing statistics that while the average man's lifetime risk is about 1 in 1,000, African-American men "are hit harder by breast cancer than their white counterparts and after diagnosis are three times more likely to die" from it than white men.

To learn more about other causes of the disease, get a copy of  "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

30,000 suits against weed-killer still in play

Bayer, parent of Monsanto, agrees to pay $10 billion to thousands who claim Roundup caused their cancer

Bayer AG has unexpectedly agreed to pay $10 billion in cancer settlements in regard to the world's most widely used weed-killer.

According to a story by Hannah Denham in The Washington Post, the German company, the world's largest seed and agrochemical maker that had merged with agribusiness giant Monsanto in a $63 billion deal, "will allocate between $8.8 billion and $9.6 billion to resolve the current Roundup litigation."

That will cover "75 percent of the 125,000 current filed and unfixed claims that the product leads to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma" — meaning that some 30,000 suits remain unsettled.

Judge Vince Chhabria
In addition, Bayer "will also pay $1.25 billion for a separate class agreement for potential future claims, which will be subject to approval in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by Judge Vince Chhabria," Denham's piece reports.

Although agreed to, the settlements have yet to be signed and sealed.

At the time of the 2018 merger, and since, Monsanto has "maintained that glyphosate — the active weed-killing ingredient in Roundup — had a history of safe use, and Bayer has echoed that since its acquisition."

In 2015, however, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, proclaimed that the herbicide was "probably carcinogenic to humans."

Details of the settlements became public today, only one day after U.S. District Judge William Shubb, ignoring the verdicts of three California juries against Monsanto, had issued a permanent injunction against the state's requiring a warning label on the pesticide.

Plaintiffs in those cases had won nearly $300 million. Monsanto, however, will continue to appeal all of them, and the settlements — which involved negotiations with 25 different law firms — do not apply to any of the three.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, according to EcoWatch, an environmental website, had “argued that the [Environmental Protection Agency's earlier] insistence that Roundup does not cause cancer is spurious since there was evidence the company had unduly influenced the federal agency and had ‘ghost-written’ purported research studies on the product’s safety.” 

EcoWatch strongly suggested that the settlement, one of the largest ever in U.S. civil litigation, came about because of "the spate of lawsuits and their legal fees [that made Bayer] lose 40 percent of its value."

The plaintiffs also alleged, the website's story said, that “Bayer manipulated studies and deceived the scientific community to make glyphosate seem safer than it actually is, according to Reuters.”

The Post article noted meanwhile that "Bayer said that the settlement was a unanimous decision from the company's board of management, supervisory board and input from the special litigation committee, adding that the settlement doesn't mean an admission of liability or wrongdoing."

The piece indicated further that "chief executive Werner Baumann said in a statement that the action allows the company to 'bring a long period of uncertainty to an end.'" 

More information on court cases alleging that products cause disease can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Verdicts of three California juries nixed

Federal judge sides with Monsanto, blocks cancer-warning labels from most widely used weed-killer

Ignoring the verdicts of three California juries, a federal judge ruled yesterday that the state can’t require a warning label on Roundup.

U.S. District Judge William Shubb
U.S. District Judge William Shubb, according to an Associated Press story, issued a permanent injunction against the labeling of the world’s most widely used weed-killer — despite plaintiffs in the three cases having won nearly $300 million after the juries agreed that glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, Monsanto’s herbicide, causes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other blood cancers.

The AP cited a contrary quote by Shubb in the San Francisco Chronicle to the effect that “the great weight of evidence indicates that glyphosate is not known to cause cancer.”

The U.S. District judge noted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and similar agencies in Europe “haven’t found a connection between the chemical and cancer.”

The judge contended, according to the AP, that “the state couldn’t meet a legal standard” for requiring the labeling — in effect overturning California’s warning requisite on cancer-causing products under its Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act that was approved in 1986 by voters. 

California had wanted the labels based on a 2016 finding by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, that glyphosate "was probably a cause of cancer in humans.”

Monsanto, which is now owned by Bayer AG, a German chemical and pharmaceutical giant, sued to overturn that position and, in 2018, Shubb temporarily blocked the labeling. In his latest ruling, the judge suggested that the state can force a company to change its label only if the statement is purely factual and non-controversial — itself apparently a controversial posture.

The monster agribusiness, meanwhile, has appealed the verdicts in all three cases.

It had been facing some 125,000 lawsuits in spite of contending Roundup is safe. But of those cases — reports a story on the EcoWatch website that features “environmental news for a healthier planet and life” — Bayer “made a verbal agreement to settle 50,000 to 85,000 cases in May, awarding plaintiffs anywhere from a few thousand dollars to a few million, according to Fortune” magazine.

The reason for those settlements, EcoWatch speculated, is “the spate of lawsuits and their legal fees [that] made the company lose 40 percent of its value.”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs in those instances, that article continues, “argued that the EPA’s insistence that Roundup does not cause cancer is spurious since there was evidence the company had unduly influenced the federal agency and had ‘ghost-written’ purported research studies on the product’s safety.” 

The story also noted that the verdicts in the three cases with huge settlements, all of which are being appealed by Monsanto, came after the plaintiffs alleged that “Bayer manipulated studies and deceived the scientific community to make glyphosate seem safer than it actually is, according to Reuters.”

More information about lawsuits pertaining to products that may cause disease can be found in “Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer,” a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.