Friday, September 25, 2015

'Rollercoaster' writer's alternative: wait, watch

Author, now fighting breast cancer, urges Jews with gene mutation to get mastectomy

Elizabeth Wurzel
Author-journalist Elizabeth Wurzel can't understand "why anyone with the BRCA mutation...would not opt for a prophylactic mastectomy."

The 48-year-old, who found fame through her book "Prozac Nation," which detailed her battle with depression, had three surgeries in six months, eight rounds of the strongest possible chemotherapy, and still faces six weeks of daily radiation — because of her breast cancer and its spreading to five lymph nodes.

"All Ashkenazi Jewish women should be tested" for the BRCA breast cancer gene mutation, she contends, "because we have it at least 10 times the rate of the rest of the population: Up to one in 400 women is BRCA-positive, as opposed to one in 40 Ashkenazi Jews" — that is, Jews who originated in Eastern Europe.

Wurzel has had a double mastectomy and reconstruction, but indicates in a Sept. 25, 2015 op-ed in The New York Times she'd have preferred to have had those procedures earlier — "and skipped the part where I got cancer" — had she been aware she had the mutation.

To bolster her position, she also mentions statistics published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology that "the lifetime breast cancer risk for BRCA carriers is between 56 and 84 percent." 

She further notes that a Genetics in Medicine study found about 10 percent of the Ashkenazi women with breast cancer in New York carried the gene, but only half of those "had any family history of breast cancer among the first or the second degree relatives."

I, Woody Weingarten, author of "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," which is aimed at male caregivers, agree that all adult female Ashkenazi Jews ought to be tested for the mutation.

But I don't think they should immediately have their breasts removed — reconstruction or no.  

Why shouldn't an Ashkenazi Jewish woman just wait and keep a close watch on her body for any potential sign of breast cancer — and, if and when one shows up, then have the mastectomy done?

Why should she disfigure herself before that action is necessary?

More about the mutation, about breast cancer, and about the flip-flops that frequently occur in the medical and cancer industries can be found in "Rollercoaster," my VitalityPress book.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Marin County nonprofit eyes $100,000 goal

13th annual Zero Breast Cancer fundraising hike up Dipsea steps set for Sept. 26 

The 13th annual Dipsea Hike fundraiser for Zero Breast Cancer, a Marin County-based nonprofit, has been scheduled for Sept. 26.

Registration starts at 8 a.m., with the post-hike celebration to run from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The 6.29-mile hike, which includes beautiful Mt. Tamalpais trails, starts at Old Mill Park in Mill Valley and covers a variety of terrain — "the Dipsea steps, steep hills, dirt footpaths, wooded areas and some road walking," its website notes.

Last year's event drew more than 500 participants — hikers, runners and teams — and raised more than $75,000 to support the organization's research and education programs. 

This year's goal is $100,000.

The post-hike celebration and entertainment last year featured music from the UFO (Ukulele Friends Ohana) and massages. 

This year's? Come and find out.

More information is available at 1-415-507-1949 or

Not incidentally, under a headline that reads "Men caregivers need support, too, " the Zero Breast Cancer website spotlights "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, have aimed at male caregivers.

Friday, September 11, 2015

'Rollercoaster' book-signing slated at fundraiser

Phil Lesh and band will headline Sept. 19 benefit barbecue in San Rafael to aid cancer care

Phil Lesh
A Marin County family-style barbecue and music festival that spotlights Grateful Dead co-founder Phil Lesh and The Terrapin Family Band will benefit cancer care.

The 75-year-old star rock 'n' roll electric bassist-vocalist had performed with the psychedelic Dead for three decades after meeting Jerry Garcia in 1961 — despite the fact that he had never played bass before joining Garcia's group (called The Warlocks before being re-dubbed). 

The event, which also will feature a silent auction and sports memorabilia, will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19 at Terrapin Crossroads, the restaurant/music venue at 100 Yacht Club Drive, San Rafael, owned by Lesh and his wife, Jill.

Proceeds of the fundraiser will go to the CPMC Foundation, "to help innovate, expand and elevate the quality of cancer research and care."
Stan Cohn

Organizers are Stan Cohn of Kentfield — in celebration of his 60th birthday — and his wife, Roxanne, a breast cancer survivor who was treated at the California Pacific Medical Center, a Sutter Health affiliate in San Francisco.

Stan is a regular attendee at Marin Man to Man, the weekly support group for male caregivers that I, Woody Weingarten, have led for 20 years.

At the event, I will be selling copies of my VitalityPress book, "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer" — and signing them.

Fifty percent of the "Rollercoaster" selling price will go to CPMC Cancer Care. I also am donating signed books for the auction.

The Terrapin Family Band, the restaurant-club's house band, includes Lesh's two sons, Brian and Grahame.

Jill and Phil Lesh
Other scheduled entertainment — for which suggested donations are $60 per individual, $100 per couple, $150 per family — will be It's a Beautiful Day, an outgrowth of San Francisco's Summer of Love, and the Whitecliff Rangers, a blues and rock ensemble.

Sponsors of the event include the San Francisco Giants, Anchor Steam Beer, Double Rainbow ice cream and Neiman Marcus.

Lesh's website notes that "with the opening of Terrapin Crossroads in 2012, Phil has signaled his intent to keep playing with friends old and new for many years to come."

This is a chance to hear some of them — now.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Website features 'Rollercoaster' on home page

Online mag,, names 'Rollercoaster' as its current book of the month

"Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," has been named "Book of the Month" by an online magazine.

Thanks to Joseph Cillo, publisher/editor-in-chief of, the website
 is featuring the book I, Woody Weingarten, have aimed at male caregivers (husbands, boyfriends, fathers, sons and brothers) of patients.

The book is a guide to research, meds and where to get help — as well as a chronicle-memoir and a love story.

Just click on and then on the book cover on the magazine's home page to find out more about what I have to say.

The site's stated goal is to promote "choices for a more personally satisfying and fulfilling lifestyle — new and interesting events, destinations, travel, cuisine, beverages, culture and products."

Thanks, Joe, your endorsement is greatly appreciated.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Aging increase causes spread of medical facilities

What's behind boom in cancer centers across U.S.? Answer: 'silver tsunami' and money

A cancer center building boom is spreading across the country, according to a story this week in the Washington Post by Brady Dennis.

The piece reports the American Cancer Society as saying "more than 1.6 million people in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer this year," and goes on to suggest "the number is certain to rise with the aging of the baby boom generation."

A steady population increase among the elderly means "a push to bring the latest specialized treatments and access to more clinical trials to patients who don't live near major academic research centers," the article states.

Voila! The national building boom.

Furthermore, the piece notes that because "medical advances are allowing more people to live longer with cancer and, in some case, to treat it as a chronic disease…there is fierce competition among hospitals searching for reliable revenue in a rapidly changing health-care landscape."

There remain many skeptics in the medical community, however, those who contend the label cancer center can easily be applied by virtually any facility and, therefore, "doesn't guarantee that each place will have doctors with deep expertise, a track record of good outcomes or credentials such as a National Cancer Institute designation as a top-notch center."
Dr. Peter Bach
Daniels' article quotes, for instance, Dr. Peter Bach, an oncologist and director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at New York's famed Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Bach, whose wife, Ruth, died a few years back when her breast cancer recurred and metastasized, says his concern is that an average patient could have difficulty determining where to get "high-quality care when the market is flooded with places claiming to be cancer centers."

The Washington Post piece also says that "it remains unclear whether the proliferation of cancer centers…will lead to more tests, surgeries and mediations being billed to Medicare, private insurers and patients."

An outgrowth of the rise in the aging population, according to the story, is that well-known institutions — such as Sloan Kettering or Baltimore's Johns Hopkins — "are forming alliances with smaller hospitals in an effort to extend their brands, in some cases around the country and the globe."

The Post quotes Patrick Duke, managing director for a consulting group that advises hospitals about real estate projects, CBRE Healthcare, to the effect that the economics of cancer treatment "are good. That's a touchy subject for some people, but it's the reality…The procedures and the drugs are well reimbursed. It's a big business."

Is the boomer concept real?

Seven years ago, when I, Woody Weingarten, served on the Marin County Civil Grand Jury, I was repeatedly told our area was being inundated by a "silver tsunami." The truth of that became evident as I opened my eyes and saw who was driving on our highways, walking on our streets.

Clearly, the longer folks last, the greater chance there is for them to contract a life-threatening disease. My VitalityPress book, "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," whose aim is helping male caregivers, discusses the aging population, medical care in general and breast cancer care in particular, and high medical costs.

Shh! Don't talk of how docs, hospitals mess up

N.Y. lawyers argue for easing legislation and regulations that stifle malpractice suits

Malpractice suits are something hospital execs and physicians prefer no one talk about, especially in public.

But two attorneys took to the op-ed page of The New York Times this week to argue for a change in New York state law to lengthen the time in which lawsuits can be filed.

Thomas Moore
The pair, partner Thomas Moore and associate Steve Cohen of the firm Kramer, Dillof, Livingston and Moore, also maintained that "as long as hospitals and doctors block legislation and fight regulation, patients will remain in peril."

Their jumping off point, according to their opinion piece, was a futile legislative attempt to update a state law that allows victims only two and a half years "from the time of the medical mistake in which to bring an action, not from the time the error was discovered or should have been discovered" — the latter being the standard in 44 of the nation's 50 states.

The lawyers also asserted that "hospitals are dangerous places," noting that in 1999 "the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences published a study…which concluded that at least 44,000 patients were killed (and many more injured) in hospitals each year because of medical errors. By 2011, a study in the journal HealthAffairs estimated that the number of avoidable deaths was probably 10 times higher."

The attorneys, whose agenda clearly would line their own pockets, went on to claim that "doctors and hospitals are doing a poor job of policing themselves, yet they have been successful at keeping anyone else from doing it."

As might be expected, opposition to extending the statute of limitations came from the hospital and health care lobby, whose agenda is equally one-sided.

The KDL&M website cites the firm's success "in medical malpractice cases, labor law and negligence cases," and notes that it's won "more than 120 verdicts of over $1 million" and "negotiated settlements on behalf of their clients in excess of $1 billion."

I, Woody Weingarten, discuss medical silences and malpractice possibilities in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book particularly aimed at male caregivers.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Study's data splits docs over one-dose treatment

Risk of recurrence is debated because of less costly radiation therapy that's easier to take

Should a breast cancer patient opt for radiation that costs less and is more convenient when it might double or triple the small risk of recurrence?

That's what's currently being debated in the medical community regarding those in the early stages of the disease.

According to a story last week in the Wall Street Journal by Melinda Beck, a single dose of intra-operative radiation therapy, usually shortened to IORT, normally is given while lumpectomy surgery is happening.

The procedure reportedly has fewer side effects than conventional radiation with treatments that last five days a week for five to seven weeks.

Critics, the story says, claim a study shows the risk of recurrence in women treated with IORT is 3.3% rather than 1.3% over a five-year period.

But critics of the critics say the risk is small and worth it — and some point to a potential conflict of interest because many radiation centers take in huge amounts of revenue through the extended treatments.

Dr, Anthony Zietman
According to the article, Dr. Anthony Zietman, radiation oncologist at Boston's Massachusetts General and a Harvard professor, wrote an editorial in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology this month that said a single treatment, "depending on your perspective…is either a significant threat or a quantum leap forward."

The cancer industry debate has intensified because of the release of data stemming from the Cleveland Clinic study of 1,000 patients who've undergone IORT at 19 U.S. centers. 

Radiation has allowed lumpectomies to surpass mastectomies in popularity, with 60 percent of new patients now choosing the former. But its side effects include fatigue, skin blistering and, although infrequently, damage to hearts, legs and rib cages.

Because elongated radiation "can be disruptive for women who work, care for children or live far from radiation," Beck's article says, "about one-third of women who begin radiation don't finish their prescribed courses, studies show."

IORT started in Europe in the late 1990s but has grown in acceptance, with 260 medical centers worldwide now offering the treatment.

Want to know more about lumpectomy versus mastectomy, or about radiation treatments? Check out "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," the VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at husbands, boyfriends, fathers, sons and brothers who are caregivers.