Monday, March 28, 2016

Advice carries perils, Guardian writer warns

Don't tell cancer patients how to cure themselves, cautions prize-winning journalist

Steven W. Thrasher

It's dangerous to tell cancer patients what they could be doing to cure themselves.

At least that's what Steven W. Thrasher wrote recently in an opinion piece in The Guardian.

Thrasher, an award-winning print, digital and radio journalist, believes recommending pseudo-scientific treatments (or homeopathic remedies) is one of the worst things you can do to relatives, friends or co-workers.

He suggests that falls into the abyss of taking your own mortality fears out on cancer patients.

Thrasher starts off by giving the example that "if you're a religious person, for the love of God, don't tell someone with cancer that if they'd just drink juice (or take vitamin, or pray or have a 'positive attitude') that they could cure themselves."

And he immediately follows up with, "And if you're not a religious person, for the love of reason and decency, don't tell someone with cancer any of these things, either."

Thrasher notes that his sister died after having lived with a rare type of sarcoma tissue cancer for 15 years — and his having watched people tell her (and him) "that she could cure herself…if she were only willing to take vitamins, or eat raw food, or do yoga or look on the bright side of things" — none of which, he adds, "have been validated by peer-reviewed science" or are true.

Any more than suggestions that folks should eat raw calf liver or "shove coffee grounds into their rectums."

Advice like that, he insists, is (a) condescending, (b) "a sneaky and harmful way of dealing with your own fear of death," and (c) "blames the sick person for your discomfort with their reality."

He quotes comedian George Carlin's line that "if you want to do something to help someone in distress…unplug their clogged toilet or paint the garage."

More seriously, he says that telling cancer patients "they've missed a simplistic way they could have avoided their fate further isolates and shuns them."

"Trust yourself to love them," he concludes, "in the condition they're in, instead of ignorantly and egotistically giving useless advice that won't ultimately change their prognosis."

Tips on how to be a real help — based on real experience — can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sharing the ultra-personal, autobiographical

Heartbreaking video game about 5-year-old's fatal brain cancer depicts real-life tragedy

Interactive video games people play now, rather than emphasizing violence, have become ultra-personal.

Autobiographical, in fact.

Joel Green as depicted in video game
Like one created over an 18-month period by Ryan and Amy Green, who share the heartbreaking real-life tale of their son, Joel, who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at 12 months and died four years later in 2014.

Their game is called "That Dragon, Cancer."

Players, according to a feature story this week in The New York Times, "are inspired to intimately share their own stories of battling illness and coping with loss."

The Times piece detailed the Green's story along with those of two other video developers, Matt Gilgenbach ("Neverending Nightmares," about obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression) and Anna Anthropy ("Dys4ia," about the transgender experiences and hormone replacement therapy).

The aim of new games like "That Dragon, Cancer" is not to win, the story indicates, "but to share personal experiences from the creator's life as a work of creative, interactive nonfiction."

Not everyone loves the concept, however.

Among the comments on the Times website is one from Dan Stackhouse, who says his reason "for playing is as an escape from the annoyances and mundanities of life…My mom just passed away from cancer, and it was a depressing and painful time, I'm still getting over it. Why on earth would I want to immerse myself in the experience of having a child die of cancer? I'm fully aware of how agonizing and bleak it is, no need to go through it again with a game."

In contrast, successful real-life experiences battling cancer can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Recurrence prevention becoming a priority

Zero Breast Cancer launches new website and logo, plugs 'Rollercoaster,' healing event 

Zero Breast Cancer, a Marin County nonprofit, has launched it new website.

With a spanking new logo and brighter color palette.

All that, according to Rose Barlow, its executive director, reflects the organization's commitment to the next generation and an ongoing search for the most effective ways to help young women and men learn about the environmental causes of breast cancer — as well as to assist folks in becoming "aware of ways to reduce breast cancer risks."

A mouthful, perhaps, but critically important.

Regarding its mission, ZBC also notes that "in addition to primary prevention…recurrence prevention is becoming a priority."

Although the site is new, Zero Breast Cancer is still, thankfully, promoting "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

That item appears on the ZBC site under the headline "Male caregivers need support, too" — and can be found by clicking on

Marilyn Kwan, Ph.D.
If you check out the home page, by the way, you'll find another important plug — for a 6:30 p.m. April 6 talk by Kaiser Permanente researcher Marilyn Kwan, Ph.D., with the elongated title of "Lymphedema in Breast Cancer Survivors: What's at Risk and New Information on Racial/Ethnic Disparities."

And the ZBC blog contains such informative items as "High Fiber as Teen Equals Lower Breast Cancer Risk," "New Study Shows Big Benefit of Breast Cancer Survivors Stopping Smoking" and "Feeling Bad about Our Weight is Unhealthy!"

May 10, the organization will hold Honor Our Healers (a name change for the annual signature event from Honor Thy Healer).

KGO's Cheryl Jennings will once again be the emcee, and the keynote speaker, Dr. Louise Greenspan, co-author of the book "The New Puberty," will reprise her recent TEDMED talk.

Zero Breast Cancer, which just turned 21, is using its year-long anniversary to celebrate the fact that "breast cancer rates in Marin and California have continued to decline."

In a personal email, Barlow told me this: "As we are now telling everyone — the very good news is that Marin breast cancer rates are way down. The bad news is that they are now just as bad as everywhere else in CA, the USA and in line with rates in other advanced societies with our first world lifestyle."

Zero Breast Cancer, under its original name, Marin Breast Cancer Watch, twice honored me with awards — once as a healing partner for my wife, Nancy Fox, and once as a leader of the Marin Man to Man support group.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

You can learn about radiation, lumps, self-exams

Kansas City newspaper debunks seven popular myths about mammograms, breast cancer 

Lisa Gutierrez
Ignorance about breast health can can be fatal.

But it's now questionable if determining whether obtaining information via mammograms is the most intelligent way.

The American Cancer Society recently issued new guidelines that urged most women to get mammograms yearly only between the ages of 45 and 54. Other groups, however, still recommend starting them at 40.

Virtually all organizations have hedged their bets by insisting that testing be voluntary, meaning woman still can choose to have mammograms earlier or more often. 

No matter what, consultations with physicians are strongly advocated.

According to a recent story by Lisa Gutierrez in the Kansas City Star, there are at least seven popular misconceptions — or myths — about breast health. They are:

Myth No. 1: "Annual mammograms increase your risk of cancer because of the radiation they use."

Fact: The amount typically used is low and safe. Older machines that used higher amounts have been discontinued.

Myth 2: A negative mammogram means you're safe.

Fact: Tests fail to detect from 10 to 20 percent of breast cancers. 

Myth 3: Lumps always mean cancer.

Fact: About 80 percent of breast lumps are benign.

Myth 4: Your self-exam showed no lumps so you must be safe.

Fact: Breast cancer can present itself in other ways. Good breast health means routine checking for pain or nipple tenderness, changes in how breasts feel and look, lumps or thickening near a breast or in the underarm area, red or swollen skin on a breast, a breast that feels warm to the touch, and nipple discharge.

Myth 5: Small breasts mean no cancer.

Fact: Size means nothing. But larger breasts can be harder to examine and might be less comfortable with the mammogram procedure.

Myth 6: Men don't get breast cancer.

Fact: Wrong. More than 2,000 males are diagnosed with the disease each year.

Myth 7: Coffee, antiperspirants, underwire bras and chemical hair straighteners cause cancer.

Fact: None of them have been proved to be causal. Some research, in fact, shows coffee can lower your risk.

To read about other myths and facts concerning the disease, check out "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," the VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Melanoma mistaken for pulled shoulder muscle

Young Liverpool woman's death proves that not testing for a cancer can be a fatal decision

Clare Daly
I've long advocated advance testing for the purpose of detecting cancer early.

For good reason.

I still believe all women over 40 should get mammograms regularly — despite the insurance and cancer industries pushing to delay most tests until 50.

Had my wife not had them regularly, and not been doing self-exams as well, she'd most likely have been dead from the breast cancer she contracted.

I still routinely get PSA tests, despite their now being pooh-poohed by most medical folks.

Had I not had such tests with regularity, I'd most likely been dead from the prostate cancer I contracted.

A Liverpool Echo story repeated by other publications many times this week tended to underscore my feelings.

It told of a 29-year-old British woman, Clare Daly, a fair-skinned blonde who died in December, three months after being diagnosed with a malignant melanoma, an aggressive skin cancer.

She'd had chronic shoulder pain but believed it was just a pulled muscle.

So she hadn't checked out any possibility of cancer, and settled for physical therapy.

A story by Dana Dovey in yesterday's Medical Daily, one of multiple online and print sites that reiterated the Echo tale, quoted the Skin Cancer Foundation to the effect that "a melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, and grows when unprepared DNA damage to skin cells, most often caused by the sun or tanning beds, triggers mutations that cause skin cells to multiply rapidly."

Doctors eventually linked Daly's melanoma to a mole she'd had removed years earlier.

Moles are usually harmless.

When Daly's cancer finally was diagnosed, she began aggressive treatment with a therapy not covered by health insurance.

But it was too late.

After her death, her family and friends, who'd previously pitched in to cover her medical costs, began a nonprofit foundation to raise melanoma awareness.

Because it made the story more sensational, Daly was described in many reports as a newlywed. She'd actually been married to her partner of five years in July 2014.

Details of my journey with my wife's breast cancer, and my own with prostate cancer, can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," the book I, Woody Weingarten, wrote to help male caregivers.