"The Big C" returns

I saw the cable cancer show, just once, last year, when it was launched. It was the only episode I could watch for free, since we don't have cable. If you so desire, you can read what I said here. It struck me as weird that she didn't tell anybody about her diagnosis. She just used it as an excuse to break away from her very very constrained life. (Watch for the new video, "Mets" patients go wild!!")The show is continuing, and a real-life melanoma survivor wrote a critique today in Salon. Mary Elizabeth Williams says, among other things: Much of the most interesting stuff surrounding a devastating disease is what it does to the people around you. And in that regard, "The Big C" shows improvement over last season. I'll have to take her word for it. Those of you who've seen The Big C--What do you think of it?

The new fountain of youth

[This is how I would look having coffee in London in 1740 if I were male. I'm the one in the powdered wig and breeches.]

All of us are terrified about losing our memories. About getting Alzheimer's. About forgetting just enough to realize how much we have lost. About becoming piteous burdens. Coffee can help! It seems so simple, so American, so gung-ho we can do it--didja know that the cure was right in our cupboards? Well, it seems to be true. Mice who were given coffee or a coffee-ish substance could remember better how to run through their mazes or open the drawer that housed the cheddar, or whatever the scientists were having them do, better than mice who didn't get a cappuccino.

Specifically: Researchers at the University of South Florida found that the caffeine in drip coffee, as well as an ingredient in coffee that they couldn't isolate, can stave off Alzheimer's. And, there's more! The USF web site sez: An increasing body of scientific literature indicates that moderate consumption of coffee decreases the risk of several diseases of aging, including Parkinson’s disease, Type II diabetes and stroke. Just within the last few months, new studies have reported that drinking coffee in moderation may also significantly reduce the risk of breast and prostate cancers. This will be reported in the June 28 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 25(2). More here: http://hscweb3.hsc.usf.edu/health/now/?p=19816

A cure for lymphedema?

A French doctor has pioneered the transfer of lymph nodes from the groin or other body area to the underarm in order to put a stop to lymphedema, which is the painful swelling of the arm after breast-cancer surgery. It's caused by the removal of lymph nodes, which, according to some research, isn't even necessary. Doctors are performing the surgery experimentally here. You can read more about autologous vascularized lymph node transfer here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/21/health/21lymph.html?ref=health

Note: This is not lymphoma we're talking about, which is cancer. This is "dema," as in swelling.

[Photos from mysassysleeve.com, which sells these covers to put over medically-necessary compression sleeves.]

News to me: estrogen is not the enemy

Two gynecologists have told my friend S she needs a hysterectomy, which she is scheduled to have in August. She told me that the docs told her that hormone-replacement-therapy would be fine for her afterward. I was shocked, and told her that the reason that breast cancer numbers are lower is that women have cut back on HRT. She countered that the second doctor told her au contraire. I looked around the 'net and found that this news was broken six months ago. At the big pow-wow for breast cancer oncologists in December in San Antonio (a smart place to go in December) last year, researchers presented evidence that women who take estrogen and have no family history of breast cancer are not at risk for developing it. The American Association for Cancer Research reported on the findings: While endogenous estrogen (i.e., estrogen produced by ovaries and by other tissues) does have a well-known carcinogenic impact, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) utilizing estrogen alone (the exogenous estrogen) provides a protective effect in reducing breast cancer risk, according to study results presented at the 33rd Annual CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, held Dec. 8-12. So now it makes more sense that a gynecologist at Fancy Hospital (who is tuned into non-traditional, or as they call it, integrated medicine, which is really traditional, in that it emphasizes nutrition) told me a couple of months ago that I could have soy products, that they were phyto-estrogenic, but safe for me to take despite having had estrogen-eating tumors. But only soy products that were in a natural form--edamame, soy milk, tofu and the like, not texturized vegetable protein. I asked her later if she would be my gyne, but alas, she said that she worked only on the study I am taking part in--a screening to prevent ovarian cancer. She also said that I should have 40-60 grams of protein in the morning to help with my memory/chemo brain. Do you know how hard it is to get that, if you don't eat mammals? That's a heap of a lot of soybean. Not a horrendous amount of fish, or turkey bacon, though.

So what did they expect?

Researchers in Portland, Oregon, found out that when people lost Medicaid dental benefits...they went to the dentist less, their dental health suffered, and they used the emergency room more often. On the one hand, I want to say, Well, wasn't this obvious? Why did you bother? On the other hand, I'm assuming this was done so that health-care activists would have some data to use in their arguments. In the meantime, the cavities yawn wider.

Test problems

Ah, it can make life difficult from time to time when your basic fear is of annihilation. I'm afraid of my personality being squelched, of my person being killed, of my being being obliterated, not to mention my soul. I went to a Psychic Healer (neuropsych consultant at Plain University) because I'm concerned about my memory loss. I told him and his minions that when I was 16 I had some tests, and I became hostile toward the tester. Later I said I realized why: It was the individual's response to the notion and action of the testing experience, where the tester is trying to capture you in the confines of the test. So of course what happened was, after giving me tests that made sense (repeat this list of words, repeat this list of numbers, recall this image, add these numbers and these numbers, recall the animals in the first list but not the second list, etc., etc.), though were also annoying because they showed a cultural bias, the minion gave me the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Profile to fill out at lunch. I was hoping to eat lunch at lunch and read about Reconstruction (of the South, not the breasts). Instead I answered True and False to statements like, I believe that working hard mostly leads to success. (In this economy? Among *all* people in this unequal world?) And: I fear earthquakes. I fear snakes. I fear spiders. I'm afraid of flying. I get upset before short trips. (Separate statements.)What is a short trip? I was anxious before driving to Valparaiso because I don't drive on highways much and I had to get myself organized to talk to a class and do a reading and an interview. Is 90 miles a short trip? Is going to Trader Joe's several blocks down? How about going half a mile to B and S's?

I was annoyed at the cultural bias (The world is generally a fair place.) and also at the lack of subtlety. Either true or false. Nothing in between. It was also decidedly archaic: I don't read all the editorials in the newspaper. If I were a journalist I'd like to cover sporting news. I remember that phrase exactly: sporting news. There were several statements about being a journalist. There was none, strangely enough, that said, If I were a journalist I would be depressed to be in a dying profession, and I'd probably be out of work and freelancing for my former employer at one-tenth the pay and without health insurance besides. Another statement was like this: I'm as happy as most people. What does that mean, in this land of foreclosures, in a world of war and suffering? As happy as most people? Even Freud famously and modestly attempted to restore people to ordinary unhappiness. Other statements: I have many brilliant ideas. I could be famous. I know more than some experts. People think my ideas are strange or peculiar. I could be a comedian. I'm assuming that a True would indicate mania and unrealistic ego inflation. But I have had brilliant ideas. Ten percent of the people I went to grad school with are famous. I know three MacArthur-certified geniuses. I was paid as a comedian in grad school. People do think my ideas are strange, and I think that's a positive. I've been analyzing culture through, as they say, feminist and Marxist lenses, for 25 years. I do know more than some experts. (But, Cancer Bitch, what if the statements have more to do simply with self-esteem and in the case of the comedy career, with optimism and sense of humor?)
L and my friend G the therapist say I shouldn't try to out-psych the test. Wanting to do so is probably a sign of a controlling personality and inflated ego. But I could have told you that.
And, said my other friend G: What if Maureen Dowd or Steve Martin took the test? What if a Nobel-Prize winner with truly brilliant ideas?
I decided not to turn in my answers. The Psychic Healer was annoyed. He said that the test helped him in his diagnosis. (Do you want to know what I fear? What I tell myself? What my faults are? If I'm anxious? For $20 I'll sell you any of my books and you can find out in any five pages. Or read this blog for free.) Yes, Cancer Bitch is hostile. Just like when she was 16 years old. Which disappoints her, she who wants to change into a better person. He gave me a test that he didn't like as much, but which I liked better, because there were gradations: False, Somewhat True, Mostly True, Very True.
But the main thing is, probably (and I could have told you this not much after 16), that I am afraid of being pigeon-holed. I'm afraid of a world going on without me. Of that old demon, Thanatos. Who isn't?

Time to parler that Frainch

The New York Times says that we're better organized and more focused if we speak two languages. There’s a system in your brain, the executive control system. It’s a general manager. Its job is to keep you focused on what is relevant, while ignoring distractions. It’s what makes it possible for you to hold two different things in your mind at one time and switch between them, cognitive neuroscientist Ellen Bialystok told the Times.

--illustration from here

The catch is you must be truly bilingual--and not just put in a mot here and there. Bilinguals staved off Alzheimer's for four or five years, and they were better able to multi-task. You can argue that multi-tasking is our problem, that we need to breathe, slow down and do one thing at a time, rather than two things a la fois. I am so happy when I'm speaking French. Should I strive to become truly bilingual? And in French rather than Spanish, which more of my fellow Americans speak? But for those of you who are thinking of speaking another language more often or studying another language--vas-y!

I had trouble finding a good bilingual image. Let me know if you have some better ones.