Monday, August 29, 2016

A 'compassionate non-judgmental forum'

Sportscaster becomes veep of support group for guys whose partners have breast cancer

Bruce Macgowan
Noted San Francisco Bay Area radio sportscaster Bruce Magowan has been elected vice chair/treasurer of Marin Man to Man.

That's my weekly support group aimed at guys whose partners have — or had — breast cancer.

Bruce, a Fairfax resident, replaces Marv Edelstein, longtime officer of the group who's left it after 23 years because he's moved to Idaho from San Rafael.

Marv was one of the four original members of Man to Man, which is unique in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Its emphasis has always been on making guys "feel less isolated, uncertain, misunderstood or afraid."

It achieves that goal by providing an easygoing, compassionate non-judgmental environment and forum "in which each member can discuss and understand the difficulties of being a prime caregiver."

I , Woody Weingarten of San Anselmo, have been the group's chair for more than two decades — and reference some material from its website in my VitalityPress book, "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," which is aimed at male caregivers.

A lot more information can be found on that site, including an article describing the group more fully, first-person stories by members, and reprints of newspaper pieces about it.

Bruce, who's covered more than 5,000 major sports events, has been a regular attendee well over a year.

The group, which is free, welcomes drop-ins at its weekly 9:30 a.m. Wednesday breakfast meetings at West End Cafe, 1131 4th Street, San Rafael, across from the Rafael Film Center.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Op-ed in N.Y. Times charges TV ads pushing cancer drug are 'misleading and exploitive."

Are cancer drugs on television misleading?

In a word, yes.

A recent op-ed piece in The New York Times by Matt Jablow, a public relations director for an insurance company, underscored that answer.

Ronna and Matt Jaslow
in Tuscany, where
she was diagnosed
with lung cancer.
Jablow's wife, Ronna, was found to have lung cancer in August 2013. The diagnosis, made when they were vacationing in Tuscany, was later confirmed at Johns Hopkins Hospital near where the Jaslow family lived in Maryland.

Over the next two years, she was treated with chemotherapy for the Stage 4 disease and, when it metastasized to her brain, radiation.

She also took part in clinical trials for Opdivo, an experimental immunology drug made by Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Opdivo purportedly helped a person's immune system identify and attack cancer cells.

It didn't work for Jablow's wife, however.

She died in September 2015.

Jablow was doing as well as could be expected, according to his article, until he saw a 90-second TV ad for Opdivo "that began with soaring music and shots of older people in warm sunlight, gazing upward at a building on which the words 'A chance to live longer' were superimposed. The voice-over said, 'Opdivo significantly increased the chance of living longer versus chemotherapy.'"

It would be "incredibly uplifting," he continued, "if it weren't so utterly misleading and exploitive."

To date, Jablow contends, "only about one in five patients with Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer has seen any measurable response to Opdivo; and, in those patients who do respond, the median increase in life expectancy is only about three months compared with standard chemotherapy."

The hype, says Jablow, "far exceeds the reality."

So "it is shameful," he contends, "for Bristol-Myers Squibb to prey upon the fears and waning hopes of terminal cancer patients, and irresponsible of the Food and Drug Administration to let it."

Jablow notes that only the United States and New Zealand allow direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical ads, and that the American Medical Association has argued that they should be banned.

Information about cancer drugs, clinical trials and research 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.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Total remissions stem from patients' T-cells

'Serial killers' on the loose — how cell therapy is now being used to attack blood cancer

An evolving technique called cell therapy can make cancer disappear.

Total remissions already have occurred in "some patients who were out of treatment options," according to a recent story by Andrew Pollack in The New York Times that I just found on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser website.

How does the technique work?

Pollack's piece reports that a "patient's T-cells, the solders of the immune system, are extracted from the patient's blood, then genetically engineered to recognize and destroy cancer." 

And then "the redesigned cells are multiplied in the laboratory, and millions or billions of them are put back into the patient's bloodstream, set loose like a vast army of tumor assassins."

Dr. Carl H. June
Dr. Carl H. June of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the top three researchers studying cell therapy, calls the cells "serial killers." 

He also is quoted as saying the individualized technique "works better than nature made it."

One killer cell apparently can destroy up to 100,000 cancer cells.

Only hundreds — not thousands — of patients have been treated with cell therapy so far, however, mainly because "it works only for certain types of blood cancers, not common malignancies like breast and lung cancer," Pollack writes.

Another problem is potentially lethal brain-swelling as a side effect.

Details about immunology and other experimental techniques 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, August 2, 2016

Shannen Doherty's breast cancer metastasizes

TV actress' post-mastectomy treatments: chemotherapy, radiation, strong marriage

Shannen Doherty

Shannen Doherty's breast cancer has metastasized.

To her lymph notes and perhaps elsewhere.

Exactly what that means regarding treatments is still unclear, however.

US magazine this week reported that Doherty gave an interview to "Entertainment Tonight" in which she finally admitted having had a mastectomy in May, and that she's using an expander.

The 45-year-old actress, who's already undergoing chemotherapy (eight sessions have been planned), has now added radiation to her regimen.

Doherty, who during a four-year stint on "Beverly Hills 90210" gained fame as someone difficult to work with, told "ET" that "living without a breast is manageable. It's the worry of your future and how your future is going to affect the people that you love."

She also said that "the unknown is always the scariest part. Is the chemo going to work? Is the radiation going to work? You know, am I going to have to go through this again, or am I going to get secondary cancer?"

Last month she posted six black-and-white photos on Instagram showing her lopping off her hair, preceded by another picture with this caption: #cancersucks.

She said at the time that she'd probably be unable to have children because of the cancer treatments.

During this week's interview, she reported that "it was traumatic and horrible" being fitted for a new bra. "I broke down crying in the dressing room and ran out, and then sat in the car crying."

Her breast cancer diagnosis originally was made in February 2015.

On Tuesday, her photographer husband, Kurt Iswarienko, shared an Instagram shot of the couple flipping the bird to cancer. Doherty was wearing a bright pink wig.

She commented that he's been with her through all the chemo treatments so far, and that her cancer has "made my marriage a thousand times stronger."

Insights into mastectomies and other treatments 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.

Monday, August 1, 2016

N.Y. Times story tells of 'tumors melting away'

Experimental immunotherapies now sometimes replace chemo as a treatment for cancers


Long word. Comparatively short history.

But one suddenly filled with lots of promise about fighting cancer.

A recent story by Denise Grady in The New York Times deals with how a patient's own immune cells may now help — even when standard treatments fail.

The experimental treatment, according to the article, has resulted in "remarkable stories of tumors melting away and terminal illnesses going into remissions that last years."

Those stories, Grady writes, are backed "by solid data [and] have led to an explosion of interest and billions of dollars of investments…Pharmaceutical companies, philanthropists and the federal government's 'cancer moonshot' program are pouring money into developing treatments."

The explosion, the story continues, "has brought new optimism to cancer doctors — a sense they they have begun tapping into a force of nature, the medical equivalent of splitting the atom."

Dr. Jedd Wolchok
The Times quotes Dr. Jedd Wolchok, chief of melanoma and immunotherapeutics services at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, as saying, "This is a fundamental change in the way that we think about cancer therapy."

Immunotherapy — which "tries to help the immune system recognize cancer as a threat, and attack it" — now sometimes replaces chemotherapy, which attacks cancer cells more directly.

Two new techniques stand out.

The first "creates a new, individualized treatment for each patient by removing some of the person's immune cells, altering them genetically to kill cancer and then infusing them back into the bloodstream."

The second involves mass-produced drugs (called checkpoint inhibitors) "that do not have to be tailored to each patient. [They block] a mechanism — called a checkpoint — that cancer uses to shut down the immune system."

Those drugs are not cheap — they cost about $150,000 a year.

And that's not the biggest downside.

Grady notes that "immunotherapy has worked in only a minority of patients, and researchers are struggling to find out why."

Immunotherapy and other treatment innovations are addressed in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.