How to make a "cancer medal" for a patient in your life

I recently wrote about a meaningful gift I received from my friend Michael Pusateri, at the end of my primary treatment for breast cancer: this wonderful medal. So, today, Michael explains how to order one yourself. Give one to a cancer patient in your life! It's a really cool way to recognize what can be a confusing, ambiguous, strangely depressing milestone. Before all the "what's next" and "what if" thoughts take over, taking a moment to acknowledge the importance of that milestone is really beautiful.

A medal for completing breast cancer treatment

Update: Make your own!—XJ


I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December, 2011. In January 2012, I began treatment. Chemo, surgery, radiation.

When I finished 6 weeks of daily radiation, the last of my primary treatment round, I tweeted about this milestone and my friend Michael Pusateri said I deserved a medal. Well, Michael's the kind of guy who puts a medal where his mouth is: he made me one. I love it, and I am grateful and proud. I want to wear it every single day for the rest of my life.

Read the rest

On Romney, health care in America, and dying in your apartment

Recently, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney told members of the Columbus Dispatch editorial board, "We don't have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don't have insurance. We don't have a setting across this country where if you don't have insurance, we just say to you, 'Tough luck, you're going to die when you have your heart attack.' No, you go to the hospital, you get treated, and it's paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital."

Many of us who have cancer laughed and shook our heads. Yes, people in America do die because of lack of health insurance, and because having health insurance is not a guarantee that you will receive affordable care.

In an opinion piece over at HuffPo, Wendell Potter, former insurance industry PR guy turned whistleblower and author, writes:

Romney is absolutely right, people who are uninsured don't have to die in their apartments. They can indeed be rushed to a hospital, and the hospital is obligated to treat them. It's what he didn't say, and likely doesn't understand because he simply can't relate to 47 percent of us, that is actually more important: many of the uninsured die in the hospital, in the emergency room, because they could not afford to get care earlier when it might have saved their lives. Instead of going back home to their apartments, many of them, unfortunately, go to the morgue.

More: Romney's Talking Points on the Uninsured Are Like the Ones I Wrote When I Was an Insurance Industry Flack.

Potter's book looks pretty great. I just ordered a copy. (thanks, Lani)

This woman died of cancer today.

Via my fellow breast-cancer-traveler @hellojomo, who's waiting on word from her oncologists about her own cancer scans, sad news that a photographer, mom, sister, and fellow person with cancer has died. Her name was Jen Burgess Thompson, and she had ovarian cancer. This beautiful video portrait was created by her friend Benjamin Edwards.

Feds to debate medical use of marijuana

Marijuana is currently classified in the US as a Schedule I controlled substance: no medically accepted use, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

Ira Flatow's syndicated public radio program Science Friday has a segment out about next week's planned arguments to a federal appeals court by pro-pot advocacy org Americans for Safe Access, in hopes of relaxing federal restrictions.

The radio segment includes UCSF oncologist Donald Abrams, who speaks about the evidence on the medical benefits of pot.

Disclosure: I'm a cancer patient, I use pot for medical purposes, and I'm strongly in favor of legalization and easier access for seriously ill people (and honestly, who cares, everyone else too).

HT: @milesobrien

Tig Notaro's "Cancer Set" at Largo now a downloadable album, via Louis C.K.

Comedian and writer Tig Notaro was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. On the Oct. 2 "Professor Blastoff" podcast, she announced that she has undergone a double mastectomy, and there is currently no known cancer in her body. She also spoke about her experience on "Fresh Air" this week.

I note that a number of news outlets are reporting about her post-treatment (?) phase as "cured," or "cancer-free," and wince at that language because the disease is never that simple, and those terms imply something that we hope for but cannot guarantee. But it sounds like her course of treatment was successful and that she is in an excellent place.

Via fellow funnyman Louis C.K., who has had great success with direct-to-fan commerce, Tig's now-legendary set at Largo about her cancer diagnosis is now available for download.

I am not glad Notaro has cancer. But I am glad people with cancer now have someone like Tig to point to all that is laughable, and all that is darkly humorous, about the experience of being a person with cancer.

Redefining Pink

Jody Schoger, a writer and cancer advocate whom I met over Twitter during my treatment and now look to as a cancer mentor of sorts, writes about how to move beyond Pinktober, Pink Nausea, Pinksploitation, and the branding of a disease. Enough "consumerism masquerading as research, flawed studies, and misinformation about breast cancer," she writes. "We need to ditch the machine, redefine and be realistic about pink."

Marvel and Komen produce "pink-themed" comic covers

I can't manage to type how I feel about these Komen "for the cure" Marvel Comics breast cancer themed comic book covers because I'm too busy vomiting. And, not from chemo. (The Mary Sue)

Why are breast cancer rates so high among US troops?

In Marine Times, a Gannett newspaper targeting people in the Marine Corps and their families, an article for "Pinktober" (pink-ribbonny breast cancer awareness month, bleargh) about the high rate of breast cancer among men and women in the military. There are a number of theories as to why the breast cancer rates are so high, and a cluster of the disease affecting males at Camp Lejeune are a particularly vexing science mystery. "Researchers with the CDC are preparing a study that will try to determine whether contaminated drinking water at the Marine Corps’ largest base on the East Coast caused dozens of male Marines, sailors and family members to get breast cancer." Read more: Alarming breast cancer rates among troops (Marine Corps Times). Mother Jones covered this in a recent issue, also.

Shocking: NBC series "Parenthood" nailed the experience of breast cancer

Jody Schoger, writing about a rare instance of a TV show getting the cancer experience right: "Most women diagnosed with breast cancer aren’t feeling sick to begin with.  They walk from the land of the well into the land of the bald, the nauseated, the medical record number, the breastless and the reconstructed. Then they are encouraged to stay positive about all this, as if failing to do so will somehow impede their survival. Think about that.  It makes no sense."

Cancer and the High Holy Days: Rethinking Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die

Cancer survivor Lani Horn, who helped me through some painful times during my cancer treatment, writes in a piece for kveller.com about anger, justice, and the search for deeper meaning in the Jewish holy days. She talks about a moment of clarity during a workshop for survivors, where she witnessed much talk about "making meaning out of the cancer experience, deepening our gratitude for the ordinary, becoming more compassionate." Snip:

After losing my brother, two breasts, and almost three years of my life to illness and hospitals, I was over these platitudes. I stood up to speak. “This is all fine. I get it. But my problem is that I am mad at God.” I even talked about the Unetanah Tokef, which had been a grueling part of the High Holiday liturgy since Jeremy died. Who shall live and who shall die?

A surge went through the room. I had uttered the unspeakable. Afterwards people came up to thank me for my honesty. One was a hospice chaplain, himself a cancer survivor.

“Remember,” he said, “there is a such thing as holy anger. Think of the prophets. Anger can be a spiritual feeling.”

For the first time, I did not feel like my anger separated me from God. It was an honest description of my relationship.

Yes, I was angry. Who shall live and who shall die? Why him and not me? And why him at all?

Read the rest: Rethinking Who Shall Live & Who Shall Die (Raising Kvell)

(Image: Dad's Grave's Broken Headstone at the Jewish Cemetery in Mumbai, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike (2.0) image from Avi Solomon's photostream.)

MD Anderson launches $3 billion "Cancer Moon Shot" program on anniversary of JFK "moon shot" speech

MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas is today launching the Moon Shots Program, "an unprecedented effort to dramatically accelerate the pace of converting scientific discoveries into clinical advances that reduce cancer deaths." The program is backed by billions of dollars in funding, and there is some controversy around the money and the science. The program will initially target eight cancers, and will bring together sizable multidisciplinary groups of MD Anderson researchers and clinicians to mount comprehensive attacks on acute myeloid leukemia/myelodysplastic syndrome; chronic lymphocytic leukemia; melanoma; lung cancer; prostate cancer, and triple-negative breast and ovarian cancers - two cancers linked at the molecular level.

Actress Kathy Bates tweets news of her breast cancer diagnosis, treatment

After some four month of silence on Twitter, Kathy Bates returned to share news that she was diagnosed with breast cancer two months ago, and has undergone a double mastectomy. I felt an extra-strong twinge of sadness when I read Twitter replies from her fans wishing her a "speedy recovery." I get that line a lot, too. There's no such thing.

For those with cancer: make your own "With great power comes great radiotherapy" t-shirt

Science blogger Ed Yong whipped up this awesome graphic and made me a one-off tshirt to wear to radiation treatment for breast cancer.

Cancer patients, radiation oncologists, radiation therapists, and the people who love them all can make their own t-shirts and stickers with the JPEG if you are so inclined!

Thanks, Ed!

Breast cancer surgeon rides child's pink bike to get through traffic jam for surgery

Catherine Baucom, a breast cancer surgeon in Louisiana, was on her way to a surgery at BRASS Surgery Center of Baton Rouge last Wednesday morning when she found herself caught in a complete traffic shutdown caused by a major accident. She handled it like a boss: the surgeon, who is also a cyclist, borrowed a pink bicycle and helmet decorated with Disney princesses from a nearby friend’s 7-year-old daughter, and she pedaled like hell.

Dr. Baucom remembered a friend that lived a few blocks from her position in the mayhem and made her way to his house. "Catherine called, she was outside my house. She said 'Hey do you have a bike?' I walked outside and said yea, its a kids bike," said Dr. Brian Barnett. After a quick test run, Dr. Baucom decided the bike was her only choice to get to the hospital. "I got the air pump out and aired the tires up as much as I could."

He gladly loaned her his seven year old daughter's bike and helmet and the nearly six foot tall surgeon resumed her journey to the surgery center.

"It was hot pink and small," Dr. Baucom said, describing the bike. "The helmet was pink with princesses." He added he was laughing so much he couldn't get video of her before she peddled away. "But she did utilize the plastic basket on front, to put her cell phone in. Showed her experience with the bike."

Police stopped her, then when she explained what was going on, they escorted her to the hospital. More: Surgeon rides child's bike to get thru traffic nightmare (WLOX.com). More at local CBS affiliate WAFB.

(HT: Jim Maltese)