Are There Any Survivors in the Room? A Story for Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month

female-dr-comforting-patient“Are there any survivors in the room?”

I don’t remember why I was there, but it was a discussion of cancer. I looked around at the people who had raised their hands. It wasn’t until the speaker moved on that I realized I was a cancer survivor, too.

Does that seem strange? But my first cancer in 2004 was so ambiguous. I had had a routine Pap test, and was referred to a gynecologist. I had had problematic Pap tests before, and it had usually meant I had a uterine polyp or a vaginal infection. This time it was not simple dysplasia. It seems I had precancerous cells, and the recommended treatment was a hysterectomy. I thought about it, and my sister discussed it with a friend who was also a gynecologist, and reported back that surgery was indeed the treatment of choice.


How was I supposed to relate to a cancer diagnosis that was made only after the cancer was out of my body?


I was over 50, and had pretty much gone through menopause, though once or twice a year I would have some bleeding. Everything about my reproductive system was ambiguous. I had started menstruating at age 9, along with the body changes of puberty, but seldom had my periods. When I was 18 and starting to move beyond my circumscribed Jewish Bronx upbringing, I was diagnosed with Stein-Leventhal syndrome. Great, I thought, I finally get a diagnosis, and it’s Jewish! Since that time, the condition has been renamed polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. PCOS is a risk factor for many other diseases, including endometrial cancer.

But let’s get back to the hysterectomy. I had already decided that I would have the surgery when my sister got back to me. What had my uterus done for me lately, anyway? I had the doctors make the arrangements, met with the surgeon, and went through all the pre-surgery rigmarole. I made plans to stay with a friend for about a week after surgery, and checked into the hospital. When I woke up afterward, I was told that the biopsy that was done during surgery had been negative. Continue reading

Hepatitis B Vaccine: The Importance of the Birth Dose

babiesDid you know that Saturday kicked off National Infant Immunization Week, which is part of a worldwide observance that shines the spotlight on the importance of vaccination? Most of us think of infant immunization as a tool to protect babies from childhood illnesses like chickenpox and whooping cough. But did you know that one infant immunization protects them from cancer later in life?

Globally, hepatitis B virus (HBV) is one of the top causes of cancer. Every year, it kills more than three-quarters of a million people worldwide. An HBV infection might be defeated by the immune system, but when it’s not, it can become a chronic infection. And chronic infections can lead to serious health outcomes, including cirrhosis and liver cancer. The younger you are, the less likely you’ll be able to fight off an HBV infection — 90 percent of infants infected with HBV will develop chronic infections, and 25 percent of them will go on to die prematurely after developing liver disease. Compare that to 2 to 6 percent of infected adults who will develop chronic infections.


Because infants are so vulnerable to developing chronic infections, vaccinating them against hepatitis B at birth makes sense.


Most people think of hepatitis as a bloodborne disease, and it is spread very efficiently when IV drug users share needles, during needle-stick accidents and other occupational injuries, or by using contaminated piercing needles, tattoo equipment, or acupuncture needles. Even sharing items like razors, toothbrushes, and nail clippers can do it, as the virus can survive outside of the human body for a week. HBV can also be spread by sexual contact, including vaginal and anal sex.

Lastly, babies and children can be at risk as the virus can be transmitted from mother to infant during birth, and during early childhood when risk of chronic infection is high. A significant number of people with chronic infections acquired them during early childhood, but we don’t know exactly how they got them, as their parents and other household contacts were negative for the virus or its antibodies. Since infants and children are at the highest risk for developing chronic infections, focusing on that population for prevention is very important.

Luckily, there’s a vaccine. Continue reading

To Mammography or Not

The following guest post comes to us via Cynthia.

questionOctober is probably one of the best examples of a public awareness campaign catching on and sticking. Maybe you already knew, thanks to the ubiquitous pink ribbons you see all around you this month, but October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time to encourage people to receive screening for the most common cancer among American women. The movement to promote breast cancer awareness has become pervasive. But for me, breast cancer is more than just a campaign — it is a disease that has become a part of my family history. And it has become personal, with numerous friends diagnosed and getting treatment, some of them before they reached the age of 35.


Contradictions regarding mammography exist within the medical community. Where did all of this put me?


When I turned 30, I talked to my doctor about my family history and the concerns I had about breast cancer. Although most health experts don’t recommend a mammography until a woman is in her 40s or 50s, she provided me with a referral to get a mammogram so that we had a baseline image for future comparison. I was anxious while I sat in the waiting room at the imaging center, but I also felt like I was being responsible and proactive when it came to my health. The mammogram was normal and it was put into my file. It wouldn’t be looked at again until I was 40, when my ob/gyn recommended that I get my next mammogram.

This October isn’t just Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s also the month I turned 40. I am preparing for my next mammogram, but I have questions for my doctor before I make the appointment. Is it really necessary? Can I wait to get my next mammogram? I have a lot of questions, because there was conflicting information handed down earlier this year from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Continue reading

Sniping, Not Debating: The Center for Medical Progress Videos

The following guest post comes to us via a Planned Parenthood Arizona volunteer.

health care providersI watched or read the first few full-length videos and transcripts posted by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) beginning July 25, 2015. No doubt, coming weeks will bring more videos, but I would be surprised if they stray from themes of this first batch. In a nutshell, the heavily edited videos assert that uncompassionate Planned Parenthood representatives violate laws against collecting and selling fetal tissue for profit, “haggle” over pricing, and discuss abortion procedures and tissue in a distasteful, chilling manner.

I’m pretty weary of (though never surprised by) folks who oppose a woman’s right to make her own child-bearing decisions. Why? In this case, opponents refuse to stand and fight on the merits of their arguments. Instead, they use sniping tactics that trigger emotions and ignore facts.

CMP selected snippets of their hidden-camera videos to concoct a narrative not supported by the unedited videos. Consider these snippets they left out.

Planned Parenthood affiliates help WOMEN donate THEIR fetal tissue for medical research.

Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s senior director of medical services, spoke of the demand for fetal tissue donation programs:

“Patients will call up, make an appointment, and say, ‘I would like to donate my tissue.’ And the affiliates are really feeling like, ‘Oh, wow, I really need to figure out a way to get this done.’ Because patients are talking about — you know, in general, in health care, a provider is not going to offer a service unless there’s demand. And there is a demand now, I mean, women know that this is something that they can do.”

Continue reading

STD Awareness: Which STDs Are Vaccine Preventable?

scientistWouldn’t it be great if we could wipe sexually transmitted diseases off the face of the earth? If vaccinologists have a big “to-do” list out there, probably every single infectious disease is on it, including every STD. But some STDs have a higher priority than others, while other pathogens, unfortunately, don’t yield to our efforts quite as easily as other vaccine-preventable diseases.

Celebrate National Immunization Awareness Month by taking a look at a vaccinologist’s hypothetical “to-do” list below. While we already have a couple of STDs checked off that list, there is still more progress to be made!

check boxHuman papillomavirus: Gardasil, the most widely used HPV vaccine, introduced a new-and-improved version earlier this year. Gardasil 9 protects against seven strains of HPV that collectively cause 90 percent of cervical cancers and anal cancers, plus the two HPV strains that are jointly responsible for 90 percent of genital warts. Not only that, but vaccination against HPV will also reduce the frequency of “pre-cancers,” which are cellular abnormalities that can be treated before progressing into full-fledged cancer — meaning less time, money, and anxiety spent dealing with follow-up procedures and treatments. In fact, Australia is already seeing a huge nosedive in genital warts and pre-cancers — all thanks to their sky-high HPV vaccination rates.

check boxHepatitis A and B: Hepatitis, a disease of the liver, can be caused by several types of viruses, including hepatitis A virus and hepatitis B virus. Both can be transmitted sexually, but thanks to the vaccines, you can ask to be protected against them using a combination vaccine, meaning you’ll only have to get three shots over a six-month period rather than the five shots you’d receive if you were vaccinated for the two viruses separately. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • scientist face maskThe GOP debates were last night. Just an FYI: Every single one of those dingbats has deplorable, antiquated views on women’s reproductive rights and health. (Bustle)
  • The foolery surrounding unfounded allegations that Planned Parenthood has been illegally selling fetal tissue has reached ASININE LOWS, people. (NYT)
  • And it’s helped three state governments reach their ultimate goal of defunding us and further chipping away at women’s reproductive rights. Alabama is the latest. (CNN)
  • Speaking of Ass Backward Alabama, these clowns tried to snatch the parental rights of a pregnant prison inmate to stop her from getting an abortion! What in the hell! (Guardian)
  • With regard to fetal tissue, several organizations agreed to speak with The New York Times about their involvement in obtaining fetal tissue for the purpose of medical research on numerous degenerative diseases, such as leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, and others. (NYT)
  • Scientific and medical research is already beginning to suffer as a result of this fetal tissue non-scandal. Colorado State University officials have suspended the school from acquiring fetal tissue from entities linked to Planned Parenthood until “Congressional investigations are concluded.” (RH Reality Check)
  • Thank you, Salon, for covering the facts of this debacle in a reasonable manner. And exposing the fact that Planned Parenthood has prevented possibly 3 million abortions in 2013 and 2014 by providing affordable or free birth control to those in need. (Salon)
  • Ebony has a magnificent piece on what you absolutely must know about Planned Parenthood and black women. (Ebony)
  • Warren Buffett has funded a birth control revolution on the down low?!? #WhoKnew (Bloomberg)
  • The Economist has quite the chilling piece on how “exceptionally deadly” childbirth is in the United States. Gee, almost seems like women should have a choice about whether or not they want to risk their lives giving birth to a child rather than having it forced upon them, right? (The Economist)
  • The birth control pill has prevented how many instances of cancer in the last decade?! (Time)
  • In case it slipped your mind, our senator, John McCain, is still The Worst. (Phoenix New Times)

Teen Talk: Gardasil, a Shot of Prevention

pink vaccine cartoonOne of my least-favorite medical memories must have happened when I was 5 years old, give or take. All I remember is that I was very small, surrounded on all sides by my mom, my pediatrician, and a nurse, and shrinking into a corner as the nurse came at me with a needle. I was squirming and protesting and cringing, but she grabbed my arm and pierced it with a syringe, quick as lightning. Before I could howl in protest, it was over.


Arm yourself against genital warts with Gardasil!


But here’s the thing: It hurt. A lot. And for days afterward, I went about my business feeling as if I had been punched in the arm. When I complained to my mom about how sore I was, she said that my muscles were completely tensed up, and shots hurt more when your muscles are tense. That fact only compounded my annoyance — why had that mean old nurse pricked me at the height of my freakout? If someone had just explained it to me, maybe I could have calmed down enough to relax my muscles and minimize the pain.

That incident made a mark on me, and once I hit adulthood I saw no reason to continue inviting the painful sting of immunization if I didn’t have to. It wasn’t until vaccine-preventable diseases like pertussis and measles started making a comeback that I had to admit to myself that avoiding immunization wasn’t anything to be proud of, and I started getting all my booster shots and yearly influenza vaccinations. Continue reading