Thursday, July 23, 2009

Joys of Journaling

It's amazing how putting down your thoughts can be so powerful for so many people. A good friend and patient at the UW Carbone Cancer Center has been interviewed for WISC TV/Channel 3000 on the benefits of journaling. The lymphoma patient who is being treated by Dr. Brad Kahl has been helped, more than anyone can even imagine, by sharing her thoughts, including her fear of death. She has gotten 30,000 hits on her Caring Bridge site, since her cancer journey began earlier this year! Please watch the story at 10pm tonight or check channel 3000 tomorrow morning. It's a great "feel good" story.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Another case of: just when you think you've got enough to handle, along comes someone who makes your troubles seem like nothing. Melanie Decker is 28, a new mom and a survivor of one of the most aggressive cancers, inflammatory breast cancer. What's that? You never heard of it? Neither had I until Melanie came along. Now she wants all women to know. The scary thing is, there's no lump, nothing that'll show up on a mammogram. Your only clue is the appearance of the breast--red and inflamed and with an inverted nipple. She's being treated at the UW Carbone Cancer Center and by one of the brightest, young medical oncologists you could possibly find, Dr. Kari Wisinski. With the scariness of a very aggressive cancer, Melanie has time on her "worry list" to be concerned about other women who've never heard about inflammatory breast cancer. Just helping Melanie spread the word!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

25,000 in the 25th Year

My, how time flies when you're saving lives! University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinic's Med Flight just completed it's 25,000th live-saving mission. The milestone was reached last night when a patient in a motorcycle accident was air lifted to UW Hospital. We all know that high quality, rapid emergency care is essential. But I really didn't feel it at a gut level until I spoke with Tracy Ohrt, a young mother whose life was saved by Med Flight and specifically Dr. Mike Abernethy, chief flight physician. I had been asked to write a news release about the milestone. I learned that in 2005, Ohrt's car was smashed like a tin can by a vehicle that crossed the centerline of a county highway during morning rush. Because of the commuter traffic crunch, Ohrt couldn't wait for treatment. Med Flight was dispatched. Within minutes, Med Flight touched down and Dr. Abernethy immediately began treating her, even though she had to be freed by a lengthy extrication process. Ohrt said her upper and lower jaws were shattered and practically every facial bone was fractured. It took dozens and dozens of surgical screws to fix her face (she lost count). I've always been proud of, and felt lucky to be associated with, the Med Flight staff. But when my conversation with Tracy was over, I was in absolute awe of what that crew did to save her life. And now with a landmark number of flights, there are 24,999 stories just like Tracy's to help me appreciate the Med Flight staff. Congrats!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Energizer Bunny

I think this guy should be the new spokesman for Duracell batteries. Dan Lester, a multiple myeloma patient (blood cancer that's incurable but treatable), was expected to die within months of his diagnosis. Fast forward to today, he can ride 60 miles on a bike from Waupun to UW Hospital and Clinics for his next appointment. TV reporters jockeyed for position around him as a welcoming committee from the UW Carbone Cancer Center cheered and clapped at his accomplishment. One reporter asked why he challenged himself with the brutal bike trip. But his response was fitting for a hero. "I didn't do it for myself. I did it for all the cancer patients who are losing hope." Nice going, Dan!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Monday Moment of Inspiration

Even the cynical me can find some meaning and inspiration in this. One of my accounts as a media specialist for UW Health is the Carbone Cancer Center. A patient who has multiple myeloma, and has had two transplants, is riding 60 miles on his bike to his next appointment at UW Hospital. I could bike 6 feet, let alone 60 miles. And this guy has serious health issues. I plan to meet him at the end of his trip this afternoon. This is one of those times when all my nit picky problems seem pretty insignificant. GO DAN!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Eat With Gusto or Cut Calories and Live Longer?

Science magazine has just published a study by University of Wisconsin Professor Richard Weindruch which shows that monkeys who ate a third less calories live longer than their pals who ate like it was their last days on earth. Who hasn't struggled with weight issues? I've gained and lost hundreds of pounds in my lifetime and my heart isn't happy about that. However, it's an intriguing question: Do you prefer to be overweight and eat what you like or count calories and live longer? Despite my love for food, I want to live longer BUT with a good quality of life. I guess I'll be forced to give up Snaps.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

SPF Overkill

You know those products which brag a sun protection factor (SPF) of 75, 100 or more? You know it, complete overkill. But my musing about why and when you would need 100 times sun protection lead to some interesting thoughts from UW Health dermatologist Dr. George Reizner. He says the outrageous SPF's are nothing but gimmicks. Reizner admits companies that make sunscreen are doing a much better job creating products that filter out more harmful rays. But Reizner says if you fixate on numbers as you slather on the sunscreen, there's a false sense of security that you can loll in the sun for as long as you want, without reapplying protection. You may not get sunburned, but you're getting light nonetheless, including harmful ultraviolet light. Reizner says sun protection is a matter of common sense. Look for products with zinc oxide and titanimum oxide that areappropriate for your skin type, interpret products that are labeled "water proof" as water resistant and reapply it a few times not just before hitting the beach. Reizner says companies are so busy out-doing each other on SPF that before we know it, SPF 10,000 products will be on the shelves. I thought I had a real scoop. I started out researching a story about high SPF products and ended up with news that companies are developing 10,000 SPF products! He was kidding. See, there's a sucker born every minute.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A "Total Freakshow"

ABC News contacted me at UW Health this morning to find if we have any experts on the drug, propofol, involved in the latest twist about Michael Jackson's death. The University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health has respected pharmacy researchers who may offer some insight on the drug, NOT a reaction to the allegation that MJ was desparately seeking the drug just days before his death. When I put out an alert to all the appropriate contacts, one very ethical and well-known researcher said he refused to be part of a "total freakshow," by putting himself out there in any way as an expert. Interesting point. I respect him for his decision. But I'm wondering where the PR and marketing line should be drawn on this one. There is a middle ground. We could answer questions related only to the drug, its use and any research we may have done on it, and refuse to comment directly on MJ. The "reach and frequency" model applies here--get our name out there consistently to as many people as possible. Could we turn it around and make it very helpful and insightful information that might enlighten news consumers? Or is this ghoulish and opportunistic? I always think the latter.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

MJ Shrine

I spent a long weekend visiting my mom and family. Coincidentally, they live in Hammond, Indiana, a stone's throw from Michael Jackson's home town of Gary, the much fabled "troubled" neighborhood.My sister, Tina, and I have a great sense of adventure. So it's not a surprise that on Saturday, just two days after Michael died, we jumped into her Jeep and motored 10 minutes to see the MJ shrine. I was stunned that it wasn't a mob scene. Sure, there was traffic. But we were able to quickly find a parking spot. We parked two long blocks away from the Jackson home and hoofed it to the place where it all began. People who lived there were in lawn chairs in their front yards taking in all the traffic and watching a steady stream of people making the pilgrimage. When we got there, we saw a tiny home, two bedroom i think, that isn't even big enough for one person let alone a couple and their 7 kids. TV live trucks were sending live pictures of the scene back to their stations. Teary fans were placing flowers, stuffed animals and touching notes at the front step. Others sold cold water for $1 and hawked MJ t-shirts. People snapped pictures with their cameras and phones and took turns taking pictures of each other standing in front of the house. The Mayor, Rudy Clay, a dead ringer for Super Fly, was holding court. Clay chatted with his constituents and signed full-color photos of himself while pledging to "bring Michael home." Clay told a local reporter that he was negotiating with the family to bring Michael home to "lie in state." All this was going on as two huge speakers blared MJ music.Sure, it was surreal, and some would argue tasteless. But in the middle of all this activity, there was a peace that was as gentle as Michael's soul. I'm glad I went.

Who wants to know?

I'm least by the numbers. And there are millions of boomers just like me. And all you youngins, who aren't thinking about grey hair, aching joints and Alzheimer's disease, have a stake in us too. I don't deny it could be paranoia since I am surrounded by nasty diseases and conditions as a media specialist for the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics and the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. But I think I'm at risk for Alzheimer's Disease. I've never been screened to determine my risk for the disease that ravages minds, even at surprisingly young ages, and breaks the hearts of their loved ones. I'm terrified that my husband and two kids will have to carry the burden because of my failing mind and disfunctioning brain. As I age, I become more and more like my dad, who, I believe, died in the throws of AD. Dad was never diagnosed. Every once in a while, I have to search my mind for a word and I've developed little signs of what many people mistakenly think is a routine part of growing old. As frightening as it is, I'm not sure if I really want to know if Alzheimer's disease is in my future. Dr. Mark Sager, director of the Wisconsin Alzheimer's Institute of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, says a majority of people want to know as soon as possible. It's not just what he sees in clinic. It's supported by a University of Chicago study. Why do people want to know? Because they want to live their lives NOW, plan and do what they want to do...not what other people want them to do. Sager supports a national system of early screening for Alzheimer's disease. He argues that not only are the current medications more effective in people who catch the disease early. But, do we really have to go here?, early screening could save billions of dollars by keeping Alzheimer's victims at home longer and out of ridiculously expensive long-term care facility. It's so sad that the tragedy of the disease isn't enough to get the attention of the health care and government communities. But it becomes downright upsetting when you have to point out the incredible financial benefits of including early screening in health care reform, in order to get someone's ear. Would you want to know? I remain on the fence.