Daughter of a Cancer-Survivor's Response to New Government Guidelines...

It's been a hot topic today, the announcement was made by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force that they do not recommend women before the age of 50 to receive annual routine mammograms. Doctors and women across the U.S. are outraged, confused, and disbelieving of this change in guidelines. I am one those women, as is my mother, a breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed after her first mammogram at the age of 35 in 1996. She began her annual mammograms much younger than most women because of her family medical history.

While the statement issued by the USPSTF is meant to exclude women like my mother who have a higher risk due to their family medical history, it is still a preposterous shift in standards for several significant, inexcusable reasons.
1) The guidelines do not take into account that not every woman has a thorough knowledge of their personal risk. Whether it is because they do not have contact with their biological family or because they do not know that they have been exposed to high-risk factors, like high dosages of birth control, radiation, or environmental hazards like contaminated drinking water or carcinogenic hormones in their food, each woman has a different level of risk that they may not be aware of. 
2) The USPSTF claims that the "risks" outweigh the number of lives saved in women younger than 50 who receive annual mammograms. These "risks" include: a) a frequent over-exposure to radiation from the mammogram equipment. b) "unnecessary biopsies" and "false positives that can cause anxiety for the patient and "over-treatment." According to the article I read on the FoxNews website, the USPSTF research shows the beginning mammogram screening at age 40 would save one life but lead to 470 false alarms per thousand cases.
What the USPSTF clearly does not understand is that momentary anxiety followed by the overwhelming relief of a false alarm is ALWAYS a better scenario than the gut-wrenching dread of discovering an aggressive cancer too late in the game. 
3) The USPSTF's statement on Monday also does not recommend any other form of breast examination tests instead of the mammogram. So not only do they discount the value of a yearly mammogram, but they have no alternative courses of preventative exercises for "low-risk" women.

The USPSTF does not seem to understand the value of EVERY LIFE. The "benefits" are no longer enough to promote self-examination, self-education, and preventative measures? The number of lives saved before the age of 50 are less important than the anxiety and money that can be saved on "false positives"?

Ultimately, I have to admit that my biggest fear is what this will mean for government health care plans. To be clear, I WANT all people regardless of their income to have access to affordable health care. However, my initial concern that government measures to insure everyone will infringe on patients' access to specialized treatment seems validated in light of this government task force's new set of guidelines. As it is, insurance companies will more than likely follow these new government guidelines if it means they will save money on "over-treatment."

I may be proven wrong in the long run. I hope I am. I am passionate about this because I know too many women who were diagnosed before they turned 50. Some of them never lived to their 50th birthday. Had it not been for my mother's own instincts and tenacity to fight for her own life, she would not have survived her first diagnosis, let alone her second diagnosis. She has been fighting this disease for 12 years. I shudder to think what our lives would be like if she had listened to someone else in the initial stages of her battle, or before she was even diagnosed. Truth be told, unless one has experienced cancer first hand, either through their own diagnosis or the diagnosis of a close family member, they will underestimate the depths of this illness. Cancer does not just taint bodies, it taints lives. These guidelines will not only influence the women who follow them, but will influence the lives of their daughters and granddaughters and their other loved ones.

Whatever the outcome of this change in guidelines, I know I am right in believing that government will never really be your advocate for your personal health concerns, whether they are about cancer or any other condition. Do not let the government or your doctor tell you that preventative measures are unnecessary, and ALWAYS self-examine. Early diagnosis and proactive treatment are your best bet.

YOU are your advocate. Evaluate your medical history, the possible exposure to hazardous material, and trust your instincts if you want to win this fight.

For more information on the USPSTF's statements, go to:


We Do Our Best Thinking Past Midnight...

My husband and I have the frequent habit of meeting together past midnight at Denny's. It started very early in our relationship, before we were dating and we were just goofing off with our friends, fully aware that we had 8 a.m. classes. And then in no time, we were dating and it became our station, an anchor to ground our friendship and our support for each other in our creative endeavors. My best friend even said at our wedding reception, "If it weren't for those late nights at Denny's, we might not be here today." She speaks truth.

Once again, it is well past midnight, and my husband and I have just returned from Denny's. It's the third time in a week that we've been to the Lake Street Denny's, or LSD as we so fondly refer to it. You can imagine what an eyebrow raiser the nickname can be in any given conversation, which makes it all the more dear to our hearts considering the effect that the char-flavored coffee can have on our thought processes at 2 a.m. At times it is the black hole, when we intended to be in a very different place, like IHOP, but we magically find ourselves there of all places, and we leave laughing hysterically and deeply satisfied that we came.

Tonight, once again, we sat sipping our piping hot, charred brew and discussing our future. What does he need to do to build his music career? What does he need to do to promote his guitar-teaching business? How will my phone interview go this week for that copy-editing job? Will I ever write, edit, or publish a book? Our conversation turns to our sources of inspiration, everyone from the Beatles to mewithoutyou to Unwed Sailor, from Shauna Niequist to Audrey Niffenegger to Sue Monk Kidd. How did they do it? How does it translate to my career?

Our answers to those questions, our ideas and inspirations, are always changing and evolving. It is in those moments, when we are staring at each other across the booth, that my heart lightens and I find the fuel to keep going. The insecurity associated with identifying myself as an artist- a struggling artist- somehow becomes insignificant and I discover with renewed hope and assurance the necessity for discussion, accountability, and coffee in our creative processes.

To My Hubs: may we live to be 87 years young and still meet at Denny's to mull over our future.


Planes, Trains, Journals, and Memories.

Since early September I have had the rare joy of reminiscing on exact places, thoughts, and feelings that I had at very specific moments in time. Last September I left for a 3 month trip to Europe and said good-bye to my school, my fiance, and friends and family. As my plane took flight, the surreality of my solitary trip enveloped me. I lived in a perpetual state of heightened senses and an acute awareness to the rare beauty of being totally independent and foreign to an area so rich in history and art.
The experience drove me to my writing, so within the week I had purchased a pocket-sized leather notebook that quickly filled with thoughts and feelings and the awe of my experiences.

I have been reading over each entry as I approach their dates, and I am so thankful to have that time capsule to connect to when I miss being there.

Below is an entry from Monday, November 3, 2008. It was our third full day in Copenhagen, Denmark, when we had only planned to be there for one day. Clogged train systems and a mistake on our part delayed us from going to Stockholm and on to the rest of our ten day trip.
"Most unfortunate happenstance. We are stuck in Copenhagen for another full day. We leave tonight for Stockholm, but a misunderstanding with the ticket master made us miss the fact that our train left from another station. We arrived at the right time at the wrong station! Our new reservations will take us away from Copenhagen at 6 this evening and will get us to Stockholm at 11pm. Because we made reservations for a train from Stockholm to Oslo tomorrow morning, we won't be able to spend any time in Stockholm. We won't even get to see it in daylight, which is really disappointing. Oh well, right? I'm sure there's more to your side of the story, ABBA, then our simple mistakes [...]I just think that sometimes, missing trains is a way of God sending us down a different track, for the better journey and the better destination."

And how true that has been for my life since I wrote that a year ago? All plans are tentative. There are a million places I could go, but my ultimate plan is to: 

1) Pursue the dreams He has placed on my heart, because I know from experience I will be blessed beyond my wildest imagination. 

2) Enjoy the journey. I'll be hopping on and hopping off trains my whole life, and who knows where they will take me and where I will end up, but I'll be glad that I spent time in each place, thankful for what I learned there.

3) Write everything down, for the future me, the one that is unsure of what to do next and is worried about what the future holds. To remember that God is guiding my course.