Saturday, March 21, 2020

Look for 'Grampy and His Fairzona Playmates'

Coronavirus delays the publication of new children's book by Woody Weingarten and his granddaughter

OK, I admit that the coronavirus has greatly disrupted my life.

And my octogenarian wife's.

It's forced us into a real retirement: There are no plays or concerts or museum openings for me to review; there's no weekly support group for me to run (where I normally help men whose partners have or had breast cancer or some other life-threatening disease); there are no performances in senior facilities where my wife, Nancy Fox, can skillfully do her "Piano and Patter" shows.

Yes, the bug is keeping us isolated at home, visitor-less, turning almost everything we do into a virtual reality. But, wonder of wonders, it's also allowing us to clean closets and drawers that have been accumulating crapola (and dust) for decades.

The spread of the virus, however, is also delaying publication of "Grampy and His Fairyzona Playmates."

That's my new VitalityPress book, a children's fairytale co-written with my granddaughter, Hannah Schifrin, and illustrated by a talented artist, Joe Marciniak.

When it'll come out is now a huge question-mark. Watch this space, as publicists are wont to say: I'll let you know when it all becomes tangible.

In the meantime, of course, you can purchase my first book, "Rollercoaster: How to survive your partner's breast cancer," through Amazon or through your local bookstore (if it's still open).

Monday, March 9, 2020

Plutonium pickup is basis of lawsuit against govt.

Federal agency fighting class-action suit about cancer stemming from 1966 nuclear disaster cleanup

Cash settlements, even in cases of class-action suits, may be too little, too late.

Patients die.

Witness a lawsuit filed by Victor Skaar, a veteran, alleging "that he and hundreds of other vets were exposed to radiation in the service (in Palomares, Spain), which the Air Force has denied for decades." 

The suit's aim is to get the U.S. government to pay for the victims' medical care.

Victor Skaar, recently
According to a recent story by Dave Phillips in The New York Times, Skaar, an 83-year-old retired chief master sergeant, "was one of 1,600 troops scrambled by the Air Force in 1966 to clean up a classified nuclear disaster by collecting debris and shoveling up plutonium-laced soil."

In January of that year, an American B-52 bomber on a Cold War patrol exploded during a midair refueling accident that sent four hydrogen bombs hurtling toward the ground. Though they didn't detonate, because they weren't armed, "conventional explosives in two of the bombs blew up on impact, scattering pulverized plutonium over a patchwork of farm fields and stucco houses."

When many contracted cancer and other ailments later, the federal government denied responsibility and refused to pay for their medical care — not unlike what happened with Agent Orange in the Vietnam War era.

Skaar's class-action suit was filed against the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Upon being discharged in 1982, Skaar had found his white blood cell count "way off," Phillips' story says. He's been fighting ever since.

For decades.

"First," the plaintiff notes, they told me there were no records, which I knew was a lie because I helped to make them."

Officials admitted he'd been exposed but claimed "the levels were so low it didn't matter."

During the cleanup, in fact, he had jotted on a hand-drawn map where there had been high-radiation readings.

Victor Skaar in 1962
Through a Freedom of Information Act request in 1992, he'd obtained a list of 26 airmen — including himself — who'd tested high.

His suit was aided by a veterans' services clinic run by students at Yale Law School.

"The bunk science the Air Force was using was not just harming Mr. Skaar, but all the other Palomares veterans," Phillips quoted Meghan Brooks, a clinic member who has since graduated. "Mr. Skaar really wanted to fight on behalf of others."

The Times quotes Skaar as saying, "I want to go to my grave knowing I've done the best I could."

More information on lawsuits about cancer 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, February 17, 2020

Calif. attorney general backs weed-killer victims

Agri-business Monsanto claims that federal ruling supersedes California law as it appeals big cancer award

Who's gonna win in court — cancer victims or the manufacturer of weed-killers that have been deemed apt to cause malignancies?

Monsanto, which produces Ranger Pro as well as Roundup, has, in effect, decided to test that question.
Dwayne "Lee" Johnson

According to a story by Bob Egelko in an edition of the San Francisco Chronicle last week, the giant agri-business is — by challenging a $78.5 million damage award to Dwayne "Lee" Johnson, a Vallejo groundskeeper who was stricken with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2014 after spraying Benicia school grounds with Ranger Pro for four years — betting a federal ruling supersedes California law.

But Egelko's story indicates that Xavier Becerra, the state's attorney general, told the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco on Wednesday that the 2018 verdict "was valid based on state laws requiring warning labels for cancer-causing chemicals."

Glyphosate, the weed-killers' active ingredient, is the chemical that's been said to be carcinogenic.

Monsanto is depending on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruling — repeated in August — that the chemical is safe. 

Becerra's office, meanwhile, "argued that the EPA's statements about glyphosate, and its approval of a product label without cancer warnings, 'do not carry the force of law.'"

Lawyers from that office also contended that the EPA's stance "does not prohibit a state from finding that the agency-approved label 'is inadequate to protect public health and therefore constitutes misbranding.'"

In a statement, the article continues, Becerra maintained that "California process its residents from dangerous pesticides. We shouldn't be forced to put our heads in the sand simply because the EPA won't do its job."

Johnson's lawyers have said that Monsanto, now a subsidiary of the German pharmaceutical company Bayer AG, "unduly influenced EPA decisions and had 'ghost-written' reports for the government agency."

They furthermore cited a 2015 assessment by an arm of the World Health Organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, that glyphosate was a probable cause of cancer in humans.

The jury that awarded Johnson $78.5 million found unanimously that Monsanto was responsible for his cancer and should have known of the product's perils, Egelko's story notes.

Suzanne Bolano, the San Francisco Superior Court judge in Johnson's case, allowed lawyers to argue that Mosanto knew its product was dangerous and should have informed the public. 

Similar stances were taken by judges in two similar cases where huge verdicts were rendered against the company.

More information on corporations that are blamed for manufacturing products that cause cancer can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at caregivers. 

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Docs still unsure how to quash metastases

Women most likely to die of breast cancer have been getting the least attention, says Time mag excerpt 

Women with breast cancer that has metastasized are rarely the focus of breast-cancer research.

At least that's the position taken by health-care journalist Kate Pickert in a recent Time magazine excerpt from her book, "Radical: The Science, Culture, and History of Breast Cancer in America."

In the piece, Pickert notes that three-quarters of the 160,000 U.S. females who live with with metastases were originally diagnosed with early stages of the disease. 

And she quotes Lianne Kraemer, whose breast cancer has spread and formed tumors inside her brain, resulting in her being labeled a terminal patient, as bemoaning that "I believed the narrative that is pushed on women, that if you check your breasts and if you catch it early, you're fine."

But, she says, "you can do everything right and still end up metastatic."

Pickert, who herself was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer in 2014 at age 35, claims that many "women who die of breast cancer succumb to the disease for no other reason that that it manages to outwit the protocols" — even for those who have access to high-quality treatment and don't ignore signs of the disease until it's incurable. 

Dr. Cyrus Ghajar

The Time excerpt also quotes Dr. Cyrus Ghajar, a cancer biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, who pointed out that the Cancer Moonshot, a National Cancer Institute initiative launched by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, "does not explicitly provide funding to address the challenges of metastatic cancer."

Ergo, he asks, "How can you have a moon shot trying to cure cancer and not mention people dying of cancer?"

Ghajar, whom the article cites as "one of the relatively small number of scientists studying metastatic breast cancer full time," is also quoted as indicating that "25 percent to 40 percent of early-stage breast-cancer patients already have cancer cells in their bone marrow, and these patients are, on average, three times more likely than those who don't to develop other metastases later."

While asserting that women most likely to die of breast cancer have gotten the least attention, Pickert admits that pharmaceutical companies and researchers do "often test new drugs on metastatic patients before anyone else" — albeit because they are "women who are dying anyway, and they are the ones most willing to be part of experiments."

About 40,000 American women die of the disease each year, the article reports, adding that physicians still don't know "why some breast cancers eventually form deadly metastases or how to quash the disease once it has spread."

As a result, the excerpt continues, patients with metastatic disease "are typically treated with one drug after another, their doctors switching the medications whenever the disease stops responding to treatment. Eventually, nearly all patients with breast-cancer metastases run out of options and die."

Those interested in additional details about metastases can find them in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at caregivers.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Actress pushes women's mental, physical health

Angelina Jolie promoting care for breast cancer patients, especially through loved ones, docs, research

More and more, Academy Award-winning actress Angelina Jolie is becoming known for her work outside Tinseltown.

Such as promoting caregiving for breast cancer patients — not only in regard to the care of loved ones but other aspects pertaining to "mental and emotional health, and physical safety."

Angelina Jolie
In a piece she wrote for a recent edition of Time magazine, Jolie, who's gained even more fame as a special envoy of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, explains that "care is not just about medical treatments. It's also about the safety, dignity and support afforded to women, whether they're battling cancer or trying to manage other stressful situations."

Far too often, her column indicates, "they're not given nearly enough."

Jolie had a prophylactic double mastectomy in 2013 — plus surgery two years afterward to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes — because she'd learned through a genetic test that she carried a mutation of the BRCA1 gene, which sharply increased her chances of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

The surgeries reduced but didn't eliminate those chances. With the operations, she writes, she had an estimated risk of 87 percent of getting breast cancer, 50 percent of ovarian.

Without the mutation, women typically have a 13 percent risk of breast cancer.

But Jolie, a contributing editor of Time, insists that without proper care, a female patient can fall apart not only because of risks of disease like cancer but "because of other pressures in her life that receive no attention at all…her family situation, her safety and whether she is carrying stress that is undermining her health and making her days much more difficult."

It should not take "someone getting sick to realize that faring for them and not harming them is necessary," she insists.

The now 44-year-old Jolie, who'd lost both mother and grandmother to breast cancer before their late 50s, adds that although there's been rapid progress in technology and science since her surgeries that can help "more people survive in the future and [be] able to live better lives during their illness," there's still "no reliable screening test for ovarian or prostate cancer…and no effective treatment for the most aggressive forms of breast cancer, known as triple negative cancers."

The actress, daughter of actor Jon Voight, while maintaining that care and support of loved ones is the most important factor in women's ability to cope with cancer and to face even the possibility of the disease, cites other related problems that plague modern females — post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, "anxiety, psychological distress, sexual violence and domestic violence."

And then, she writes, there's "poor mental health" stemming from "discrimination, overwork, poverty, malnutrition, low social status and unremitting responsibility for the care of others."

Care for patients is an integral part of "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Allergan hit in piece on agency's foot-dragging

'Consumer Reports' blasts FDA and continuing risk of silicone-filled implants for breast reconstruction

Allergan, which manufactures silicone-filled breast implants with a textured surface, has come under fire by "Consumer Reports" because of the danger the devices present.

In an unsigned article in CR's December issue, the magazine — which noted that medical items such as pacemakers, artificial joints and implants — "are subject to much less rigorous premarket testing than drugs are."

Diana Zuckerman, Ph.D.
The result? According to Diana Zuckerman, Ph.D., president of the National Center for Health Research, "silicone breast implants were introduced in the 1960 with little or no safety research."

In fact, the piece also asserts, the Federal Drug Administration "didn't begin regulating medical devices or requiring research on their efficacy and safety until 1976, after many devices were already in use."

Even then, CR continues, "the agency didn't require premarket studies until 1991 — when it determined there was insufficient safety research, and soon after put a moratorium on sales."

In 2006, the FDA finally approved silicone implants, which are often used for reconstructive surgery — but only on the condition that manufacturers conduct post-market studies. 

Still, according to the "Consumer Reports" piece, "more problems emerged" and in 2011 the FDA "announced a link between silicone- and saline-filled implants and a form of cancer called anapestic large cell lymphoma (ALCL)."

Although Allergan's research into the device was abruptly halted — without the FDA penalizing or requiring a recall by the manufacturer.

In 2010, the FDA, after learning of "a significant increase" in known cases of of ALCL (aka BIA-ALCL), finally requested a recall (eight years after the agency had acknowledged a risk).  But there's still no system for "manufacturers to find and notify doctors and patients about a recall."

Also, the magazine contends that although Allergan "will pay for replacement implants in the case of a cancer diagnosis or implant defect, it doesn't cover the surgical costs of preventive implant removal. Most insurers won't cover it, either."

For more information on reconstruction and implants, pick up 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.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Quashing negative emotions may help healing

New Taiwan study finds that music might lessen pain, fatigue, appetite problems of breast cancer patients

Listening to music at home may reduce breast cancer patients' pain and fatigue.

At least in the short run.

That activity, according to a recent story by Carolyn Crist in Reuters Health, can also "ease symptoms like loss of appetite and difficulty concentrating."

Research in Taiwan, the article continues, found that breast cancer patients "assigned to 30 minutes of music listening five times a week had 'noticeably' reduced side effects of cancer and its treatment over 24 weeks."

A report on the study appeared in the European Journal of Cancer Care. 

Why did the music help?

Crist's piece says it aided patients physical and psychological well being "because it distanced them from negative thoughts about cancer."

Professor Kue-Ru Chou
Kuel-Ru Chou, professor in the School of Nursing at Taipei Medical University, senior author of the study that looked at 60 patients, notes that "music therapy is convenient, does not involve invasive procedures, and can easily be used by people in the comfort of their homes."

Home-based "music interventions," she continued in an email to Reuters Health, "can also be used with no cost." 

The study offered patients a choice of classical, pop, Taiwanese and religious music. 

A control group could only select from environmental sounds, which, Crist's story says, "research has shown does little to reduce pain or symptoms"

There is a caveat about the benefits of music, however.

Based on the study's findings, Crist writes, "music therapy may not relieve long-term physical and mental fatigue."

The scribe also explains that the study's authors speculate "because listening to music promotes endorphins, dopamine and serotonin in the brain, the chemicals may spark joy and positive emotions that distract patients from the negative emotions."

In addition, the authors maintain, "music could affect functions of the cardiovascular, respiratory, muscular, skeletal, nervous and metabolic systems as well, relieving muscle tension and pain."

Healing benefits of other things, such as humor, are addressed in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

HPV shots might save thousands of lives

Vaccines, screenings, treatments could severely cut deaths from cervical cancer, N.Y. Times says

Cervical cancer last year killed more than 311,000 women, one every two minutes, but early detection might have prevented thousands of those deaths around the world.

Such detection, it's believed, could have resulted in expanded screenings and treatments.

In addition, an increase in HPV vaccinations for teenage girls may have helped a great deal.

At least those are the conclusion drawn by Mia Armstrong in a recent story in The New York Times. 

Dr. Kirsten Austad
Armstrong quotes Dr. Kirsten Austad, director of women's health for the Maya Health Alliance, as saying, "Almost no one needs to die of cervical cancer."

Of the more than 300,000 annual deaths from cervical cancer, the fourth most common cancer for women globally, the Times piece notes, more than 85 percent were in low- and middle-income countries.

The story also mentions a World Health Organization estimate of 570,000 new cases in 2018, the same year that Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of WHO, "called for coordinated global action" to eliminate the disease.

Armstrong cites, too, the words of Dr. Silvia de Sanjosé, director of women's cancer for PATH, a nonprofit focused on global health, to the effect that such a coordinated effort "was crucial to elevating the issue," which had previously received little attention.

"I would not say that that's enough," she said, the story continues. "But it's clearly a turning point." 

She also told the Times about a couple of big challenges: The vaccine needs to be given after age nine, which is later than most routine vaccines, and the price tag, which in the lowest-income countries costs approximately $4.50, jumps to $150 in some places.

WHO recommends that 9- to 14-year-old girls receive two does of the [HPV vaccine, which protects] against HPV infections responsible for 70 to 90 percent of cervical cancers."

The difficulty is, however, that, according to the story, WHO estimates indicate that "only around 25 percent of 10-year-olds live in counties that have introduced the HPV vaccine."

Other calls to action about diseases can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his wife's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.