October: Breast Cancer Awareness and Memories of a Mother’s Fight

The following guest post was written by Catherine Crook, who is a senior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and interning at Planned Parenthood Arizona in the communications and marketing department. A lifelong Arizonan, she has spent every October promoting breast cancer awareness and taking part in citywide events in Phoenix since 2001.

mother_and_daughterWith October in full swing, your calendars are probably already filled with costume shopping, haunted house visits, and drives north to see the leaves — all things we can’t help but love about October.


Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a time to share our stories to raise awareness of breast health.


For me, October is a reminder. When I was 13 years old, my mom was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer, marking the beginning of a long and difficult road ahead. I don’t remember everything, but I do remember that it did not feel fair. My mom is so compassionate; she will cry watching TV for the loss of someone she has never met. Few things make her happier than making new friends on planes and dancing to Aerosmith or Darius Rucker. Starbucks is her only addiction and she takes better care and a deeper interest in her hair than most professional stylists.

At the midpoint of enduring four months of chemotherapy, she lost all of her hair, which I was sure would destroy her. To my delight and surprise, she found a place that sold nice wigs almost identical to her blonde, preppy, shoulder-length cut, and tried to work her way back into the world. At this time, I was still fearful of becoming a victim to my own optimism regarding my mom’s disease, and there wasn’t a day that passed that I didn’t worry about a phone call that would take all of us to our knees. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Gonorrhea, Women, and the Pre-Antibiotic Era

Penicillin, the first cure for gonorrhea, was developed for mass production in the 1940s.

Penicillin, the first reliable cure for gonorrhea, was mass produced in the 1940s.

It’s Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the achievements of women worldwide — like Margaret Sanger, Rosalind Franklin, and Florence Nightingale, or contemporary heroes like Wangari Maathai. But it may also be a time to examine some of the sadder aspects of womanhood, including the increased burden gonorrhea imposes on women. While gonorrhea is no picnic for anyone, it wreaks the most havoc in female reproductive tracts. In fact, before antibiotics, gonorrhea was a leading cause of infertility — one 19th century physician attributed 90 percent of female infertility to gonorrhea. Not only that, but the effects of gonorrhea could seriously reduce a woman’s overall quality of life.


With gonorrhea becoming more resistant to antibiotics, the CDC warns of a return to the pre-antibiotic era.


Gonorrhea is described by written records dating back hundreds of years B.C. Ancient Greeks treated it with cold baths, massage, “cooling” foods, and vinegar. In the Middle Ages, Persians might have recommended sleeping in a cool bed with a metal plate over the groin. A bit to the west, Arabs tried to cure gonorrhea with injections of vinegar into the urethra. Kings of medieval England might have had their gonorrhea treated with injections of breast milk, almond milk, sugar, and violet oil.

Although gonorrhea is as ancient an STD as they come, because women rarely have symptoms while men usually do, for much of history it was mostly discussed in terms of men. The name gonorrhea itself derives from the ancient Greek words for “seed flow” — gonorrhea was thought to be characterized by the leakage of semen from the penis. This confusion inspired many misguided notions throughout the millennia, such as the idea that almost all women carried gonorrhea and transmitted it to their unwitting male partners. Continue reading