Be happy * it's Adar.

Adar is the Hebrew month that we're in now, and sundown Saturday is the beginning of the holiday of Purim, which is when we're supposed to get gifts, not during that puny little holiday in December. But we live in a Christian society.
Rabbi Susan Schnur has a fine series of articles in Lilith about the holiday and its misogyny and pagan origins. And more.

[Anne Gauldin as Waitress Goddess Diana, 1978; put it in context by reading the Lilith pieces.]

Gimme That Ol' Gift O' Cancer

And Annie and I fell in love all over again. We refer to the gift of cancer, because despite the hell she went through, it delivered us heaven on earth. It gave us gratitude for every blessed second we have together
--Mark McKinnon, media strategist and name-dropper, on his wife's cancer in the Daily Beast

Ruth Pennebaker
alerted me to this saccharine-filled bromide-fest.

Mark McKinnon, who should be asking for public forgiveness for helping George W. Bush and John McCain meet strategic challenges, is instead lauding the wonderful attitude of his perfect wife. She was diagnosed with an unnamed cancer that kills 85 percent of those who get it. She decided she was going to be in the 15 percent. And she was. And despite radical radiation, aggressive chemo, and surgery to take out basically all non-essential organs, Annie beat the terrible odds. She turned out to be Lance Armstrong in a skirt.

Apparently there are some people out there who are unaware of mortality. They need a jolt of lightning, in the form of cancer or other life-threatening disease (any will do), to wake them up to the notion that Life is Limited. We will die. Carpe diem. Or as the liquor store down the street and around the corner puts it: Carpe noctem.

McKinnon writes about always having been lucky. Apparently that luck came without a drop of empathy. His brother is paralyzed from an accident, his sister has endured 30 operations for severe arthritis, and he calls himself lucky. Oh well, he can move without pain. A more aware person might write about the sadness of being the only well sibling (a term used recently and well by Jessica Handler) and having to watch the suffering of people he loves.

Hey Mark, please talk to my young friend Jesse. Ask him about cancer being a gift. He could drop names, too: he hangs out with famous people like Oscar Mayer and Jack Brickhouse and Frances Willard.

And you can guess the punchline: in the cemetery.

[photo: entrance to Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago]

Gimme that ol' gift o' cancer
Gimme that ol' gift o' cancer
Gimme that ol' gift o' cancer
It's good enough for me.
It was good for Gracie Paley
It was good for Molly Ivins
It was good for Mimi Engelberg
It's good enough for me.

"Take two (or so) and call me in the morning (or next week or next month or next year)."

A large study that was just published shows that women with breast cancer who take aspirin are more likely to live longer and to not have a cancer recurrence than women who don't take aspirin.

Doctors at three Boston-area hospitals observed 4,164 female registered
nurses in the Nurses’ Health Study who were diagnosed with stages I, II, or III breast cancer between 1976 and 2002. They were observed until June 2006, or death, whichever came first.

The main outcome was breast cancer mortality risk according to number of days per week of aspirin use (0, 1, 2 to 5, or 6 to 7 days) first assessed at least 12 months after diagnosis and updated..There were 341 breast cancer deaths. Aspirin use was associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer death.

Full report here.

The study says of itself that it's unprecedented: Of several large prospective studies of the association of aspirin use with breast cancer incidence, only one found a protective association, whereas four others did not. The 10-year Women’s Health Study Trial found no effect of low-dose aspirin intake (100 mg every
other day) on breast cancer incidence among almost 40,000 women. However, meta-analyses of either NSAID [non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents/analgesics such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen] or aspirin have found a 9% to 30% reduced risk of breast cancer incidence. Despite inconclusive evidence linking aspirin and breast cancer incidence, aspirin may improve survival through various mechanisms.

To our knowledge, this is the first study reporting a survival
advantage among women with breast cancer who take aspirin. Abundant
scientific evidence supports why aspirin may confer this advantage.
More than 2 million US women are living after a breast cancer
diagnosis6 Survival among women with breast cancer is variable, and
risks of dying of the disease are elevated even 10 or 15 years after

How much aspirin is helpful? I kept reading reports about this and couldn't find the number of milligrams. I'm especially interested because I take 162 mg. for polycythemia vera. What a nice surprise it would be if something I take for one disease would help me survive another. Alas, the researchers admit: We
lack details on aspirin dose. If there is a dose response, the effect size in
the current study may be diminished because frequent aspirin users
may be more likely to be low-dose users attempting to prevent heart
disease. Confounding is always a limitation of observational studies.
We addressed this by adjusting for all relevant covariates and through
marginal structural models.

Another caveat: Our results may be generalizable only to longer term breast
cancer survivors (ie, only women who have lived long enough after
diagnosis to report aspirin use after diagnosis, which is approximately
4 years). Fortunately, almost 90% of women diagnosed with breast
cancer live at least 5 years. Thus, our findings have considerable
clinical importance.

"Take-home message," as they say in business: It couldn't hoit. Aspirin has relatively benign adverse effects compared with cancer chemotherapeutic drugs and may also prevent colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.

One skeptic has already pointed out that this is an observational study that does not prove cause and effect.

Laughing Baby

This is a very recent picture of my step-granddaughter Brielle, who was born Jan. 2, 2010 (an' I hailped). We think she has a nice personality and is very curious and alert.

I had never seen a birth before, and many years ago asked my stepdaughter if I could watch if she ever had a baby. When she told us she was pregnant, she said, Sandi, I didn't forget. She and her husband plan to spoil Brielle, but not rotten.

MRI Results

I got the results of the MRI. I'm clean. It's clean. Or however you say it. People keep asking if I get scanned for cancer lurking in my body. I guess this is the closest I've gotten. Aside from mammograms, but people don't want to hear that mammograms are all that's protecting me from a relapse. Though mammograms are not protection, per se. The Pinks have brain-washed everyone to believe that mammograms can somehow keep cancer at bay. Early detection is good, but it is what it is: a way to show that cancer is there, early on, when it can be treated and there's more of a chance of survival. Prevention is important, even more important, but it's much less concrete than a mammography machine. Where does prevention start? At conception? Gestation? Birth? Puberty? At the first food eaten and drink drunk and air breathed? And every one thereafter? And much as I like to blame everything on our military-industrial complex, I have to admit that breast cancer is an old, old disease, pre-dating by many centuries Blake's dark Satanic Mills.

A new Facebook friend who went to high school with me asked why so many people in our class have or had cancer. I didn't know that our numbers were so high. He's getting back to me. We grew up in a polluted city, Houston, where we had mosquito fogging every summer. So how were we different from anyone else in the population? Does he know something about the school building itself? We shall see.

[a two-breasted MRI image, Boca Radiology Group]

There is no cancer in the family. L had two spots on his face removed last week. He just found out today that they're something that doesn't have a name, and which isn't cancer.

Free nipple tattoos

Those of you not in the breast-cancer world might be imagining blue mermaids inked on someone's nipple. But what I'm talking about is more ordinary. When women get breast reconstruction, they often need to have the surgeon shape a nipple, and then have it tattooed, meaning, get nipple color added. University of Chicago plastic surgeons and trainees will get a tutorial from an experienced tattoo artist at her West Loop studio. They're looking for nipple-less women to volunteer for the session and in exchange, get free nipple tattoos (aka areola repigmentation). If interested, email me directly: SLwisenberg (at)

Tales from the MRI

I got an MRI on Wednesday, as a precaution, because I've had calcifications that are "probably benign" on my mammograms for the past year and a half. An MRI can't display more calcifications, but it would show if there is any small cancer. This has to do with trusting your medical advisers. E tells me that hospitals don't like to do MRIs on breasts because there are so many false positives, which require radiologists to perform biopsies, and they don't like doing biopsies because they are labor-intensive and not profitable enough. Can this be true? As the lady in the joke says, An MRI couldn't hoit. My first MRI was a very big deal, partly because it involved waking up at the crack of dawn. This was my third, and in the afternoon, and I went by myself. All three times I've taken a Valium because I'm claustrophobic. So much so that I bolted down the the skinny winding turrets of Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, as well as a person can bolt when there's a crowd climbing up in front of you and behind you. I probably could have made it to the top of the cathedral if I'd had a Valium with me in Spain.

[La Sagrada Familia]
There was confusion and ignorance at Fancy Hospital, so I ended up wasting 45 minutes waiting for someone to find the order for me to get blood work done beforehand. I take the one medicine that can interfere or interact in a bad way with the MRI dye, and they needed to figure out the level of it in my blood. It turned out that the receptionist had sent me to the wrong place to wait. The surgeon's nurse figured it out for me and then they took my blood and sent me to wait.

A young woman came into the waiting room with a hat on. The kind of hat that could be used to protect against the cold and also to cover a bald head. It was tightly-woven knit or maybe felt, light blue, with a flare around the edges. She was eager to talk. She had had stomach problems and was losing weight but waited four months before going to her doctor, who gave her some pills. They worked for a week and then she couldn't eat, she felt like something was in her throat. She went to the ER and one of the Saint hospitals, where a doctor told her she had stomach cancer that had spread to the rest of her body and that her chances of survival were 50/50. Then the doctor left the room.

The girl told her mother to take her to another hospital, which she did, which is how she ended up at Fancy. There she was told that the cancer had not metastasized, and that she was going to get chemo to shrink the tumor, which was the size of a baseball. And so she cut her beyond-shoulder-length hair, as she and her mother and brother cried, and she got chemo and more chemo. A friend of hers who'd had breast cancer warned her in a voice-of-doom fashion that her hair would fall out in the shower and that she'd lose her eyebrows and eyelashes. Finally she told this friend not to call her any more, because she was so negative.

The girl asked her mother, Why me? I'm not a bad person. I'm not like gangbangers who are shooting each other and don't value their lives.
Her mother said, Only God knows.

Below the hat you could see her dark eyebrows and eyelashes, and under the hat she had very short dark hair. Her tumor has shrunk so much that the doctors are telling her that it's a miracle. I told her about my temporary tattoos on my scalp during chemo, but didn't tell her about the protest in the middle of my head, US Out of Iraq. I was afraid that she might support the war and put an end to the good feeling between us. Was that cowardly? Probably.

I was supposed to get the results of my MRI within 48 hours, but did not and now it is the weekend. Another demerit for Fancy Hospital.

Bits & Pieces

Click here to read Dennis Pyritz's thoughtful new review of The Adventures of Cancer Bitch.

Today I had my 7th session with my personal trainer at the Y. We continue to try to get my left shoulder to get lower down and to be more flexible. The problem is the scapula, she said, which was a big breakthrough for her, meaning she has a better handle on how I can move to fix it. It's been a problem for years and doesn't have anything to do with the mastectomy. I call it a rogue muscle, though I'm unclear if it's the muscle or joint that's the problem. But there aren't joints in shoulders, are there? How much we knew in junior high and how much we've forgotten.
The trainer, L, says the shoulder is catlike (aloof, mind of its own) instead of doglike (perfect in its eagerness to please).
I consulted with an orthopedist about five years ago and he said there was nothing wrong with it. Luckily, I had sprained my ankle the night before so he was able to help me with that by wrapping it. So the appointment wasn't all for naught. I'd imagined that the trainer would stand around and watch me use the treadmill and be like a cheerleader. But that's not what she does. She's like a physical therapist. My knees started hurting me in November when I was traveling a lot and going up and down stairs carrying a suitcase. She puts me through paces to strengthen my legs around the knees, and we (we?) work on strengthening my abs. She has a bag of tricks and gets out little things like a frisbee-like disk to put one foot in and slide around. There are thin and thick yellow resistance bands and a heavy pole I use either as a cane to help me balance or a long weight to lift up. I will write more about my trainer later. At any rate, I'm to do my aerobics on my own. It's hard to find a machine that doesn't hurt my knees. It's hard to find a good TV station while I'm working out. I bought my first i-Pod two weeks ago and I think we downloaded a French language audio book from the library. I checked it out for a few weeks. What happens after? Does it disappear inside the i-Pod? I couldn't figure out how to figure it out. I need to read the little instruction pamphlet that came with it. It's amazing; little kids know how to load their i-Pods.