I love you with all my boobs. I would say my heart, but my boobs are bigger
I’ve spent twenty years working as a biomedical breast cancer researcher. Then, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I thought I knew breast cancer before it whacked me upside my left boob and left me bleeding on the curb of uncertainty. I thought I knew cancer. I had a lot to learn. The purpose of this blog is to share my personal adventure with breast cancer, from the laboratory bench to my own bedside, and to provide accessible information about breast cancer biology for non-scientists. I say adventure, because I’d rather think of it as action movie with some really cool side quests instead of another tragedy-to-triumph saga. I’m not big on sagas. I am big on kickass intellectual badassery, pathological nerdiness, and talking about my sweet, sweet rack.
I’ll be posting about breast structure and function, how breast cancers arise from normal breast tissues. Notice I wrote “cancers” instead of “cancer.” Breast cancers are a actually a collection of diseases, and all breast cancers are different. To date, there are at least 5 subtypes, and subtypes within those subtypes.
It’s complicated, which is one reason why we haven’t cured these diseases. Another reason is how tricky and adaptable cancers are by their very nature. We’ll get into all of that in a few posts. In the meantime, let me get into the other purpose of this blog: fighting pseudoscience and scams with peer-reviewed, vetted science.
We live in an age of fake news and pseudoscience, made worse by the pervasive anti-intellectual and anti-science political culture gripping the United States and much of the world. The Internet and social media are plagued by scammers selling “alternative medicine” and woo woo “cures” for cancer. Through TALKING TATAS, I offer accurate, evidence-based science that is accessible to laypersons, including the more than three hundred thousand individuals diagnosed with breast cancer every year*, their caregivers, and their loved ones. Submit questions, ask for follow-up on any and all posts, be a part of the discussion. Knowledge is power, and it can save lives!
I can’t believe I have to write this post. I’m shaking my head and weeping for the future of humanity as I write it. Are people really stupid enough to believe that ivermectin – a drug we use in our laboratory mice to treat pinworms (butt worms) – can cure Covid?
Yes (sadly). Yes, they are.
Ivermectin is used to treat butt worms in animals. It can also be used to treat roundworms in people. It works by paralyzing worms, specifically by binding to proteins on motor neurons (nerves that tell muscles to move) and disrupting their activity. It also mucks around with the ability of nematode worms to reproduce.
Fun fact: the naturally occurring analogs of ivermectin, avermectins, were discovered in bacteria from soil samples collected by Dr. Satoshi Ōmura from woods near a golf course in Kawana, on the south east coast of Honshu, Japan. The name “avermectin” reflects the activity of these compounds, making treated organisms “worm free.” Dr. Ōmura and Dr. William Campbell shared the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for this discovery. You can read more about that here. Ivermectin in pill form can be used in humans to treat parasitic worms, and topical (on the skin) formulations are also used to treat head lice and rosacea.
It does actually have other, non-butt worm related activities that include treatment of severe muscle spasticity in patients with spinal cord injuries and shows activity against leukemia in laboratory animal models. It may also target molecular pathways relevant to treatment of other cancers, including lung and colon cancer and glioma based on laboratory animal studies, and could block inflammatory T-cell activity in atopic dermatitis, relieving irritation. A recent review covers the research on these applications.
Okay, given these other potential applications, I guess I can kinda sorta see why some folks without a science background might be buying into the idea of using Ivermectin to treat Covid, but(t) still…
This apparently became trendy because of ongoing clinical trials designed to test the efficacy of Ivermectin for Covid-19 treatment and prevention, alone and in combination with other drugs.
Why? Because laboratory studies (in petri dishes in a lab, NOT in people) have shown that Ivermectin can inhibit viral replication, which means it can stop the virus from making copies of itself, which is how it spreads. In vitro. In vitro means “performed or taking place in a test tube, culture dish, or elsewhere outside a living organism.” Plenty of other previous studies showed that ivermectin blocks replication or interferes with the production and spread of other viruses, including HIV, Dengue virus, West Nile virus, and a few others. In vitro. You can review some of these studies here. In spite of these in vitro studies, there is no evidence that ivermectin has any anti-viral effect on the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19. For a link to clinical trial data, click here.
And misuse of ivermectin can be dangerous. According to theFDA,“Even the levels of ivermectin for approved human uses can interact with other medications, like blood-thinners. You can also overdose on ivermectin, which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hypotension (low blood pressure), allergic reactions (itching and hives), dizziness, ataxia (problems with balance), seizures, coma and even death.”
The best way to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2 is to get the vaccine. Period.
And Now for the PSA I never thought I’d have to make…
About the whole so-called “urine therapy” thing – something I never in a million years imagined I would blog about. It isn’t a thing. Apparently, some anti-vaxx conspiracy theory wingnut named Christopher Key has been encouraging his followers to drink their own urine to ward off the SARS-CoV-2 virus instead of getting vaccinated.
For the sake of being thorough and due diligence, I performed a PubMedsearch for “urine therapy covid” on January 16. The search produced 188 results, most dealing with the effects COVID-19 on kidney function, studies related to the potential spread of the virus through urine (risk reported to be negligible), urine-based COVID-19 testing and analysis of cytokines and other diagnostic markers, and testing for SARS-CoV-2 in waste water.
The funniest result was a paper with the title, “Influence of perceived threat of Covid-19 and HEXACO personality traits on toilet paper stockpiling” published inPLoS One.
This one was more sad than funny, but apparently some folks in India are using cow dung to treat COVID-19. People…rubbing animal shit and urine all over your body isn’t effective at treating ANYTHING and is likely to expose you to a whole lot of nasty zoonotic (spread by animals) diseases. Plus you’ll stink. Just…don’t.
You know what I didn’t find in my literature search? I didn’t find a single peer-reviewed study endorsing the use of drinking your own piss as a treatment for COVID-19. Zero, zip, zilch, nada – no evidence to back up this ridiculous claim.
Not that the crazies need silly things like evidence. This actually fits quite nicely with the all-natural woo woo trends. Can you picture it? All natural, locally sourced, sustainably harvested on tap pee pee for your health needs! You’ve heard of eating placenta (don’t do that, either), but why stop there? Drink your pee! When it’s fresh, it looks like a beer.
Sure doesn’t taste like beer. Stick to drinking nice, cold brewskies, and get your vaccine. Please.
I hope everyone is off to a great start – avoiding Covid, staying healthy, and finding happiness and joy wherever you can!
I’m so excited to share news about my new job with the Susan G. Komen Foundation! It may come as a bit of a surprise to those who’ve been following my blog and slices of science and life as a scientist. Why leave research? Well, I actually haven’t left research. I’m just doing a different kind of research. More on that later, but first, why the change? As with any big life decision, there were a LOT of contributing factors. Some of the most important include:
Having an Immediate Impact on Patients and Survivors
I love research, value my time in the laboratory, and appreciate every project I had the opportunity to lead or contribute to in some way. I commend and support my colleagues, especially those who will continue my projects in the lab and build on them to make great strides. Since becoming a survivor, however, something was missing for me. I hope something I’ve done in the lab makes it to the clinic someday, but there’s no guarantee. As a survivor, it’s really important to me to make a difference now. At Komen, I’ll have that opportunity. And I’ll also have the opportunity to support Komen Scholars and grantees conducting research! Since I’ll be coding funded grants (click here for more on Common Scientific Outline [CSO] codes) to capture data, which involves reading applications, I’ll also be able to keep up with the latest advances in the field – advances that I can share with my followers and readers here!
100% Remote Work
This is so great in the age of Covid! I want to protect my health and the health of my loved ones, so being able to work from home minimizes my risk of exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and all its variants. Since I no longer have a commute, I’m saving on gas (and cutting my carbon footprint), can hit the ground running by simply turning on my computer and starting my work day, and I can be more efficient and focused. My furry office mates are great company, and I can eat healthier from home and carve out more time for exercise. No excuses!
Also, with 100% remote work, the job can move with me! My husband and bought land in North Carolina for our dream home last year. We haven’t been able to break ground yet due to ongoing supply chain issues and high prices (Thanks, Covid), but it will happen soon. I didn’t want to be moving while looking for a new job at the same time. Don’t have to worry about that now!
Academic Research is very rewarding and has a lot of pros: flexibility, freedom to pursue a myriad of research directions (so long as you can get funding), and being the first to make a new discovery or push the field forward, to name a few. But there are also challenges. The struggle to acquire funding and increasing competition as funding is limited creates a great deal of stress, not to mention long, long hours generating new preliminary data and preparing new grant applications. Before I left, I submitted three grant applications in the space of two months, and it took a toll on me physically and mentally. It also took me away from the things I love about research, like actually doing experiments, mentoring, networking and collaborating, and it took away so much personal time and time with my family. In academia, you’re never really “off.” You’re constantly bringing home papers to read, answering emails after hours, performing literature searches and working on manuscripts before and after dinner and family time, and often working into the wee hours of the morning. At this point in my life and career, I wanted and needed a better work/life balance – as a human being, as a parent, as a caregiver for aging parents – I needed to stop burning my candle at both ends. Komen is all about work/life balance.
Career Growth and Learning New Skills
As a Research Evaluation Manager, I’ll be tracking the impact of Komen funded research in many areas, including products like biomarkers and new drugs, clinical trials, new interventions, and career progression and trajectories for Komen-funded investigators using data collected by amazing colleagues since the early 1980s. The data are so rich and informative, a veritable history of progress in breast cancer research and milestones in treatments. I’m so excited to dig in! I’ll also be involved in adding to the data by coding newly funded grants, as well as evaluating the impact of research and programs sponsored by Komen. There are a wealth of opportunities, and I’m excited to be a part of it!
I’m also stoked about opportunities in communication and outreach! As a writer and communicator with a mission to bring accessible science to the public, this is my jam! I’m hoping to use the skills I honed from writing Talking To My Tatas to be a vocal and effective ambassador for science and liaison between researchers and stakeholders.
A Mission and Community I Believe In
The mission of Susan G. Komen is to save lives by meeting the most critical needs in our communities and investing in breakthrough research to prevent and cure breast cancer. Everyone working at Komen is 100% committed to this mission, which is patient and survivor focused. It’s not just lip service – many of the colleagues I’ve met in my first week are breast cancer survivors or have been directly impacted by breast cancer through friends, family, and loved ones diagnosed with breast cancer. I feel comfortable sharing my story and feel a deep sense of connection and common purpose when I hear the stories of my colleagues. It makes the work so meaningful. I believe in it, and I’m committed to giving it my all to be a part of the solution to the huge problem that is breast cancer.
Greetings, beautiful people! These past two years have been tough, haven’t they? Pandemic fears, economic woes, and uncertainty about the future have caused everything from low level anxiety to outright terror for so many people. I’ve experienced anxiety during each breast procedure I’ve endured over the past two years, from unilateral mastectomy of my left breast followed by physical therapy, expander fills, autologous DUG flap reconstruction surgery, and three revisions to match size and shape that included fat grafts on the left and and mastopexy plus scar revision on the right.
Of course I was anxious about anesthesia, outcome, what I was putting my body through – again – and when it might end. But I was also terrified of exposure to the Covid virus.
Then, I imagined how terrified patients undergoing chemo and radiation must feel, knowing they are at an even higher risk due to a compromised immune system. If you are one of those patients, check out these resources from the American Cancer Society.
That’s left me feeling pretty powerless, and I don’t like that feeling. What can I do? How can I help?
In addition to working in the lab, sharing my knowledge and experience, and giving to my organization, I’ve found giving to organizations dedicated to helping patients facing cancer empowering. These organizations do fantastic work. They not only fund research for tomorrow’s new treatments, they also fund initiative to help patients today. Right now.
For #GivingTuesday2021, I’ve chosen Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Like ACS, they support research, outreach and advocacy, and provide patient resources and support. And they are fully breast cancer focused, providing information and also financial assistance to patients in need – that’s SUPER important in these difficult times. SGK has supported my survivor sisters and their families, my colleagues in research, and they will continue to do so thanks to the generosity of donors.
You don’t have to break the bank to support them, either. Small donations really add up, especially with matching initiatives from partnering sponsors. In fact, donations made to SGK through December 1 have DOUBLE the impact thanks to matching. So this year, consider supporting SGK for Giving Tuesday.
Here are some other great breast cancer/cancer focused organizations you can support, many of which are highlighted in my book and many of which focus on healthcare equity and equality.
OrganizationsYou Can Support
METAvivor is an organization that supports patients with metastatic breast cancer and funds research that specifically seeks to improve outcomes for patients with metastatic disease, https://www.metavivor.org/
Sisters Network, Inc., brings awareness of the impact breast cancer has on the African American community and provides a space for African American breast cancer patients to meet, bond, and receive support while receiving cancer treatment, http://www.sistersnetworkinc.org/.
The African American Breast Cancer Alliance focuses on promoting awareness, early detection, and prevention while providing emotional and social support with culturally specific information and programs for women of color, https://www.aahafortwayne.org/.
Sisters by Choice seeks to eliminate access barriers to screenings and quality care for breast cancer, including a mobile clinic to bring care to uninsured and underserved communities in Georgia, https://www.sistersbychoice.org/.
Black Women’s Health Imperative focuses on improving overall health and wellness of African American women and girls, provides outreach and curates black women’s health data through its #WeRefuse initiative for breast cancer, https://bwhi.org/.
Latinas Contra Cancer is dedicated to creating an inclusive healthcare system for cancer care in the underserved Hispanic/Latina population, http://latinascontracancer.org/.
The Latino Cancer Institute is devoted to promoting education, services, research, and policies that impact Hispanics/Latinos in the United States when it comes to cancer, https://latinocancerinstitute.org/.
The American Indian Cancer Foundation seeks to eliminate cancer burdens of Indigenous people by improving access to prevention, early detection, treatment, and support for survivors, https://www.americanindiancancer.org/.
Asian American Cancer Support Network is dedicated to providing education, support and a diverse network of resources for Asian Americans affected by cancer, http://aacsn.org/.
Maina Foundation is dedicated to raising awareness and support for breast cancer early detection among South Asian Indian women, https://mainafoundation.org/.
The American Association of People with Disabilities is dedicated to increasing political and economic power for people with disabilities, supports access to quality comprehensive and affordable healthcare for people with disabilities as part of their mission, https://www.aapd.com/.
American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities works to protect the universal human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, supports access to quality healthcare, https://www.aaidd.org/.
National LGBT Cancer Network, an organization that provides education, support, and advocacy for LGBT cancer patients and survivors, and also maintains a directory of LGBT-friendly cancer treatment facilities, https://cancer-network.org/.
National LGBT Cancer Project, an organization providing support and advocacy for LGBT cancer survivors and supporting equal and appropriate access to cancer care for the LGBT community, https://www.lgbtcancer.org/.
Got any other organizations to add to my list? Send them my way! Please!
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, something comes into your life just when you need it the most. That was my introduction to The Bloggess (aka Jenny Lawson aka Amazing/Funny/Fabulous human being). I LOVED her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir), gifted to me by my BFF. If you haven’t read it, treat yourself. Her other books are just as poignant, engaging, and hilarious. They’re like Pokemon – gotta catch them all! Or maybe potato chips – betcha can’t read just one. Something like that.
Better yet, grab the Audiobook! Jenny narrates it, and the humor and heartache and hope just flows from her voice directly to your brain cells, releasing serotonin and making you feel better no matter what you’re going through. Which brings me back to my first point – the something-that-comes-into-your-life-just-when-you-need-it-the-most point:
The day I endured two breast biopsies was a bad day. It would have been worse without Jenny, who allowed me to escape into her world and kept me company while I was waiting to go on the slab. And guess what?
SHE FOLLOWED ME BACK ON TWITTER!!!!
This was the highlight of my year, people! It also kept me going and inspired me while writing Talking to My Tatas. Jenny’s story touched and inspired millions, and she’s saved lives, y’all! I wanted to do the same. Whenever I got frustrated, stuck, or wanted to just give up on the writing, querying, and rejections, I remembered Jenny.
Fast-forward to the present, and guess what? Jenny Lawson endorsed my book!
“I don’t know much about cancer, but I know good writing and humor, and Dana Brantley-Sieders has those in spades.” — Jenny Lawson, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened”
I’m delighted, grateful, and I’m totally going to stalk visit her at The Nowhere Bookshop someday soon. Thanks, Babe!
It’s been a while. This is my first post for Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2021, but I promise I’ve been busy in the laboratory. In the past two months, I’ve submitted grant applications to Breast Cancer Alliance, METAvivor, and Department of Defense CDMRP Breast Cancer Research Program. The first two are foundations that fund novel research projects, supporting scientists like me so we can take a chance on new projects that are higher risk/high reward and generate preliminary data for larger funding proposals. DOD supports larger research projects at both early (Breakthrough Level 1) and later (Breakthrough Level 2) stages. Fingers and toes crossed for grant funding! If you’re looking for organizations to support, I highly recommend Breast Cancer Alliance and METAvivor.
For this post, I’d like to highlight some survivor communities that have helped me and continue to help me, and to encourage patients and survivors to reach out for support. Cancer made me feel powerless. Sure, I was taking care of myself and following instructions from my surgeons, oncologist, and other providers, but they were doing things to me and for me – cutting out the cancer, managing my followup therapies, monitoring me to make sure the cancer wasn’t back, but I felt like I wasn’t (or couldn’t) do anything. That’s part of the reason I wrote Talking To My Tatas and why I started this blog. I needed to DO something.
I also needed to know I wasn’t alone. Enter other breast cancer patients and survivors. These people are some of the most generous human beings, providing support, practical advice, sharing their stories, and giving lots and lots of love to people who join this club we never wanted to be a part of but is filled with survivors in every sense of the word.
Where can you find support? Plenty of places! The Internet can be a terrible and wonderful place, and in the case of support for cancer patients and survivors, it can be a lifeline. Here are some survivor communities who’ve helped see me through on Facebook:
This is a large FB group dedicated to shared experiences and full of practical advice! I went to them when I was preparing for my mastectomy and I got a TON of tips for what to expect, what to stock up on (soft cotton camis and cardigans with pockets for surgical drains, pillows, etc.). Need advice from folks who’ve been there? Need to vent? Looking for hope? A safe place to express yourself? This is a great one!
Want to know about the latest research? Looking to connect with survivors and get involved in advocacy, or do you need information on resources from financial to physical and mental health? This group is a great place to start.
No matter your background, culture, or identity, you don’t have to go it alone when it comes to breast cancer. I encourage you to find your support network and lean on them. And, when you’re ready, be a part of that community and give your support to someone in need.
I am so fortunate to have the support I do for this project, from fellow survivor sisters to a leading expert in the fight against cancer. Shout out to the incomparable Dr. Alice Randall, the amazing Cynthia D’Alba (a.k.a. Dr. Cynthia D. Morgan, EdD), and Dr. Lynn Matrisian for taking the time to read the uncorrected proof of Talking to My Tatas and providing such outstanding endorsements!
“Reading Talking to My Tatas is a little like discovering you have a wise and funny friend who is an expert on breasts and breast cancer and is willing to talk through your worries anytime of the night or day. This is the book I wish existed when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Don’t send a casserole. Send Talking to My Tatas.”
—Alice Randall, professor and writer-in-residence, Department of African-American and Diaspora Studies, Vanderbilt University
“Talking to My TaTas contains the factual information that all newly diagnosed breast cancer patients need, but presented in an easily understood, and sometimes humorous, style that will appeal to non-medical as well as medical breast cancer patients. Talking to My Tatas is a deep dive into the personal world and experiences of a breast cancer researcher and survivor who isn’t afraid to pull back the curtain on breast cancer reality. The author does a credible job debunking myths, falsehoods, and junk cancer therapies, leaving the authenticity only a person steeped in cancer research and cancer treatment can. As a two-time breast cancer survivor, I can recommend this book unreservedly.”
—Cynthia D’Alba, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, breast cancer survivor, 2016 and 2021
“Informative, witty, and engaging, Dr. Brantley-Sieders effectively combines her scientific training and her personal experience to tell it like it is.”
—Lynn M. Matrisian, PhD, MBA, Chief Science Officer, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
These women represent my two worlds: survivor/advocate and scientist. Both of these worlds have shaped me and made me who I am, as have these incredible human beings who’ve their support to my work. I am forever grateful!
A cancer diagnosis affects all aspects of a person’s life, and that includes employment. Coupled with the astronomical cost of cancer healthcare, especially for the un- and underinsured, the short and long term impact of cancer on financial stability and employment can be disastrous. If you are female, a person of color, disabled, and/or LGBTQIA+, these negative impacts are very often compounded by sexism, racism, ableism, and homophobia.
The stigma is real*.
Sexism, racism, discrimination, and other biases make working, maintaining productivity, and feeling valued for your work much more challenging in the face of cancer. I’ll cover some of those challenges in this post, as well as protections in place within the United States to alleviate them (with the caveat that we need more), and additional policies and protections that we could implement to protect and support cancer patients and survivors in the workplace. I’ll focus on breast cancer, but many of these challenges and solutions apply to people diagnosed with other types of cancer.
What are some of the challenges cancer patients and survivors face when it comes to work and careers? According to a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncologychallenges like job loss, decreased earnings, and increased spending (the last two described as “financial toxicity”) are some of the greatest. It seems like a no-brainer: if you lose your job or part of your income plus healthcare coverage while the medical bills for treatments pile up, you’re not really surviving all that well financially, let alone thriving. But we like and trust peer-reviewed data here, so let’s look at data.
Financial distress caused by job loss/lost wages not only makes you feel worse, it has also been linked to “increased symptom burden and emotional distress and to decreased quality of life and treatment adherence.” In other words, if you’re strapped for cash or you’re suffering from the mental health effects of a cancer diagnosis without resources, you’re not as likely to be treatment or medication compliant. That leads to poor outcomes. Worse, cancer patients are more than twice as likely to file for bankruptcy after diagnosis, and bankruptcy is associated with almost double the risk of death among survivors.
That’s the biggie, and adds insult to injury. You have to pay for your treatments in order to live, but you may have to go bankrupt to do it, which increases your risk of DYING!
2. The scope is significant. Around 45% of people diagnosed with cancer in the United States are working age (20-64). This affects a LOT of people, y’all!
These are the same essential workers we’ve failed as a nation to support during the global pandemic.
4. Aside from concrete challenges, the mental and emotional health costs of a cancer diagnosis can reduce social engagement and a patient’s sense of self worth. I work as a cancer researcher and a cancer center, have a TON of privilege, and even I’m not immune to these challenges*. If I’m not, imagine how awful it is for patients and survivors with fewer resources and protections.
5. I cover disparities related to cancer care, outcomes, and financial toxicity in my book, but suffice to say, if you are female, not white, not able bodied, and not straight, you are likely to disproportionately experience all of these challenges on a much more significant level thanks to racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism.
Existing and Future Solutions
In addition to FMLA and ADA protections (for those who qualify), many non-profit organizations offer financial assistance to cancer patients. Funds are available from Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the American Cancer Society, Young Survival Coalition, and other organizations, many of which I cover in my book, that can be used to cover the costs of treatments, bill pay, home health care and childcare, and a variety of other expenses.
But to truly and comprehensively tackle this issue, we need systemic changes. Some of the more so-called “progressive” solutions, like universal healthcare coverage, tend to be met with skepticism or outright hostility from free-market (*cough, cough – rich, white conservatives – cough, cough*) advocates who complain about lack of “personal responsibility,” think the current system works just fine, and/or think vouchers for purchase of private insurance and other non-government solutions work better (even though universal healthcare works very well in most other industrialized nations).
Aside from universal healthcare, there are other initiatives that have worked in other nations that might appeal to conservatives while making a significant impact on job retention and financial stability for cancer patients and survivors. For example, as noted in the Journal of Clinical Oncology Society study cited above, “A 2012 systematic review evaluated the effectiveness of government policies in place from 1990 to 2008 in Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom to change employer behavior with regard to return to work. The most successful policies included financial incentives for employers to hire people with disabilities; flexibility and adaptations in the work environment, particularly with flexible schedules and giving employees more control over work demands; and programs that involved employers in return-to-work planning.” These incentives benefit everyone, including employers, patients/survivors, and society as a whole.
Patient-oriented interventions that tackle physical, psycho-educational, and/or vocational portions of cancer patients’ employment retention were associated with higher return-to-work rates compared to patients who received standard care. And patients who received this type of multidisciplinary intervention “experienced a significant increase in perceived importance of work, work ability, and self-efficacy with regard to returning to work, and return to work was 59%, 86%, and 83% at 6, 12, and 18 months, respectively.”
It’s going to take a lot of work in the form of political will, advocacy, legislation, and incentives to solve this problem. What can you do to help? Contact your elected officials and voice your support for programs that support cancer patient financial stability and access to reliable and affordable healthcare, job retention, and return to work with appropriate accommodations. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s good for the economy, society, and humanity.
If you’ve experienced workplace discrimination based on your status as a cancer patient/survivor, click here for information about your rights and what you can do to protect them.
You’d think being a cancer researcher who works at an academic institution dedicated to cancer care, research, and saving and improving the lives of those diagnosed with cancer, I’d be immune to the bullshit discussed above.
In many ways, I am. Thanks to a supportive Department Chair and Division Chief (both female), I was granted an extension on my tenure clock, additional discretionary funds, and professional/personal support from my (largely female) colleagues. To these individuals, I see you. I appreciate you. I love you.
Then there are the (largely male) colleagues who have made my experience working while undergoing cancer treatment and returning to work after the Covid-19 shutdown and a (very short) medical leave a lot shittier. My passion for breast cancer researcher didn’t diminish when I was diagnosed. I became MORE passionate! I worked through radiation treatments, horrible systemic therapies while trying to find one I could live with for 10 years, and after surgeries when I remained swollen, sore, fatigued, and mentally struggling with all of the emotional fallout associated with cancer.
And yet…a peer reviewer for a grant I submitted felt the need to make the following comment in his (I’m 99.999999% certain it’s a dude) review summary: “Dr. Brantley-Sieders is an Assistant Professor of Medicine…who completed her Postdoctoral fellowship in 2003. A concern is her lack of productivity, with only a single first or last author publication since 2017, and only 4 in total since 2012. That said, as noted in her letter of support by [DEPARTMENT CHAIR], she is a breast cancer survivor and there may be circumstances that underlie her less than optimal extent of productivity.”
First of all, it’s not true. I had and have more first/senior author publications since 2017 and 2012. In fact, I have published over 55 papers in high tier journals, which demonstrates my highly collaborative approach to science. Secondly, WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK??? This reviewer thought it was okay to weaponize my own breast cancer diagnosis on a grant I submitted to a BREAST CANCER RESEARCH ORGANIZATION in the presence of other BREAST CANCER SURVIVORS serving as consumer reviewers. But, since my application wasn’t de-identified, and with my hyphenated last name (for which I’ve received inappropriate feedback about), this reviewer felt entitled to pose this outrageous and untrue criticism on an application by a female scientist.
Rather than hiding in a corner to lick my wounds, I reported this to the organization starting with leadership. Was it a risk? Of course! Backlash and retaliation are always a risk, especially for women who dare to speak out. But, if I stayed silent, I would have become part of the problem. I refuse to do that. I’ll be part of the solution.
I’m in the middle of another situation with a colleague I once trusted (my mistake) that centers around perceived shortcomings related to how I am balancing my work and ongoing treatments. What started as a communication issue is rapidly escalating into something more serious. At best, it’s a problematic situation. At worst, it may represent a serious violation of policy. I hope to resolve it in a way that is fair and satisfactory to both parties, but the damage is done in terms of trust and my perceived value to the project. Again, I could just sit quietly and accept it, but I’m not going to be part of the problem. I’m a fighter. I’m a damned good researcher who has made and will continue to make valuable contributions to science, and I’m worth it.
Talking to My Tatas: A Breast Cancer Researcher’s Adventure With The Disease And What You Can Learn From It is scheduled to be published February 8, 2022!
On. My. 49th. Birthday.
I’m not one for signs, but this is the second serendipitous date associated with this book baby so far. The first was getting the offer for publication from Rowman & Littlefield on November 5 of last year, the same day I was in surgery for the first step in my left breast reconstruction. This is the second. I am filled with joy and delight!
What’s next in the process? Now that I’ve turned in finalized chapters and other components of the book with edits in response to super helpful comments and notes from editor Suzanne Staszak-Silva (shout out to my amazing literary agent Barbara Collins-Rosenberg for giving me edits and notes prior to sending them to Suzanne), the manuscript enters the production phase. I’ll be receiving notes from the Production Editor, completing any revisions, going through proofs, reaching out for endorsements – shout out to the folks who already said, “Yes, send it to me for an endorsement!” – and planning for the release and promotion.
I cannot WAIT to see the cover!
I also cannot wait until this book is available to the public, including the hundreds of thousands of newly diagnosed breast cancer patients, current patients, survivors, and caregivers. If I can help even one of those people – my survivor sisters and brothers – by informing them, inspiring them, helping them cope, or giving them a much needed laugh, then I will have accomplished something really special.
This book will also help me develop a guide for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients at my institution, another labor of love.
I send love and gratitude to all of the mentors and colleagues who’ve made me into the scientist I am today, my healthcare team for saving my life and helping me thrive, and my family for being my strength and limitless supply of love.
Healthcare workers are under tremendous stress, which has been made worse by the global COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has also brought to light the ugly underbelly of the (for profit) United States Healthcare system and how it fails the poor, POC, women, and the uninsured/underinsured. These are complex problems that will require equally complex solutions, some of which I’ll cover.
But first, I’d like to highlight a glaring example of the WRONG approach to these problems. This one is brought to you by ER physician, author, alleged man of faith (though he really needs to read what Jesus said about the poor), and blogger, Dr. Edwin Leap. It’s an older article, circa 2014, but the attitude toward poor folks seeking healthcare in the ER (because they can’t afford primary care, don’t have health insurance, can’t get off work, etc.) is one that I’ve heard from medical professionals in my circle and from the GOP. We have the opportunity to change the system in ways that will increase healthcare coverage, lower overall costs, and create a healthier population, but do we have the will? Do policy makers?
I believe we do, but if people like Dr. Holier-Than-Thou have their way, the system will continue to be draconian, one in which blaming poor people for their plight, making false assumptions about their frivolous spending on “luxury items” rather than prohibitively expensive healthcare plans, and belittling them for life choices and culture (that are often code for racist and sexist assumptions) are standard-of-care.
What does Dr. Edwin consider America’s “inverted priorities?” For starters, he has a big problem with tattoos, piercings, and Smartphones, particularly in the context of uninsured patients. Why would they spend money on frivolous things like ink, bling, and phones when they could use the money to pay for (overpriced) health insurance? Tattoos and piercings have grown in popularity, but apparently Dr. Edwin still thinks only bikers, gang members, drug addicts, unruly metal heads, or ex-cons get inked and pierced, a prejudice experienced by ordinary human beings who choose tattoos as a form of self-expression.
BTW, bikers aren’t bad people, nor are metal heads. Gang members, drug addicts, and ex-cons are often victims of circumstance. Yes, they made poor choices, but you won’t “turn their lives around” by refusing to attend to their medical needs.
According to Dr. Venita Mehta, this phenomenon, known as “controllable stigma,” is like “obesity, drug abuse, and lung cancer as a consequence of smoking. This is known as a ‘controllable stigma,’ and it includes tattoos, because they arise as a matter of choice.”
The stigma is worse for women. “Research reveals that women with this form of body art are perceived as more promiscuous, as being heavy drinkers, less attractive, less caring, less intelligent, and less honest.” Given Dr. Edwin’s assertion that, “on the southern end of things, carefully groomed pubic hair is not at all out of the question. The teeth may fall out; the nether regions will be carefully tended,” he’s likely judging his female patients more harshly based on ink as well as personal pubic grooming habits, since women are more likely to shave, pluck, wax, tweeze, and laser all parts of their mammalian bodies to satisfy the demands of the patriarchy.
Side note: what kind of doctor publicly obsesses over his patient’s pubic hair? That’s creepy. I’m pretty sure that violates the spirit of ethical standards if not the letter of the law. So gross, dude.
Of course, people with tattoos, piercings, and/or groomed pubic hair aren’t inherently awful leeches to the system who should spend less on their proclivities and more on health insurance. It’s a false equivalence. And even if these patients didn’t have tattoos, piercings, or Smartphones (which are a necessity these days for school and work), they wouldn’t automatically have the funds to pay for health insurance. Tattoos cost anywhere from $150-$800 (and up to $4,000), and body piercings run between $30-$85. Smartphones are priced at $550-$1,400 + carrier service, and are often essential for work or school (think of students in virtual school who can only access online classes by phone; think how many times you check work emails or answer work calls in the 24/7 economy; think gig workers who rely on phone Apps in ride share and food delivery). I’m sure Dr. Edwin, like my clinical colleagues, uses his smart phone to check messages, review patient records, communicate with colleagues, etc. How is that different from his “irresponsible patients?”
He’s a very busy and important doctor, and his patients are mere peasants who can’t manage their money or priorities?
Spoiler alert: That’s ^^bullshit.
For the sake of argument, even when you factor in additional costs of personal grooming (assume Brazilian wax at $50-$120 every month – $1,020/year). Add that to $400 for ink, $50 for piercing, $1,368/year for phone and service, you’re looking at $2,838. Private insurance for a HEALTHY person will cost around $5,580/year with up to a $4,000 deductible. Even if you took your took your “savings” of just under $3,000 and scrimped on other trivial things like food, clothing, and shelter (smell the sarcasm?) to come up with around $2,700 to cover your private insurance, you’d still be dealing with that steep deductible, high co-pays, procedures and preventative care that may or may not be covered, expensive prescription drugs that keep getting more expensive thanks to greedy assholes like Pharma Bro, and probably conditions related to malnutrition and homelessness since you can’t get health insurance AND pay your rent unless you’re privileged like, oh I don’t know, and medical doctor!
Would Dr. Judgy McJudgyton have a problem if the inked/pierced/groomed patient with a cell phone in question had insurance or could pay full price? Three guesses!
The answer, according to Dr. Self-righteous is priorities! It’s so simple. Modern definitions of poverty need to change, because heaven forbid poor people have things like an “expensive cell plan, new truck and big-screen TV with satellite” without putting up “a little money for their own health care.” Newsflash! $5,580/year isn’t a little money. It’s a year and a half’s worth of car payments (at $300). It’s 6 months’ worth of groceries (at $200/week). It’s 6 months’ worth of rent ($784/month).
Nearly 8 million people in the United States are impoverished. One in four workers are either unemployed or working at poverty level wages. Three of four are WORKING (as hard if not harder than doc here) for pittance. Are they less important? Do they matter less? Or, perhaps, are the bootstraps of the poor frayed, broken, and a WHOLE lot shorter than the doc’s?
The doc’s biggest flaw, as far as I’m concerned, is behaving as if he’s the rightful moral authority for his patients. He claims, “I care for the poor; I love the poor and have always tried my best to help those in genuine need. Those truly hurting.” But in the next paragraph, he bitches about, “But when cosmetics, vices and electronics are considered reasonable expenditures while the rest of us pay for necessities like prescriptions (or over the counter Tylenol and Motrin as I’m often asked to prescribe for Medicaid), then we are entering the death spiral.” Well, thanks for clearing that up, Dr. God Complex! How dare the poor turn to “vices” like personal expression and phones necessary for work when they COULD be living right in your eyes by paying for healthcare while living in a box.
Oh, and he’s all about shaming smokers and opioid addicts, which is of course the best way to inspire lifestyle changes (NOT). Try that on veterans. I fucking dare you. I doubt you’d get funding or IRB approval for that study.
This sort of mindset is common among cis/het white males who are voluntarily blind to their privilege, so they preach “hard truths” to the downtrodden people without privilege while profiting from their misery. The real hard truth to face is owning your own privilege (as an educated, affluent, cis/het female, I’ve got plenty), understanding the advantages of a system that rewards you for no other reason than you’re a white human being and you’re a male. Do I doubt he’s had struggles? Not at all. But his race, gender, sexual orientation (he’s straight), religion, and self-professed conservative views haven’t been barriers to his success.
Speaking of being completely unaware, this is from his blog: “I’m also a conservative, so you’ll excuse me (I hope) if I also post things that reflect my political views. I promise not to be hateful, cruel or demeaning to anyone, because that would violate my allegiance to Christ, against which political leanings are merely dust in the winds of eternity.”
Because shaming the poor is totally what Jesus would do and isn’t totally hateful and cruel…
“Hate me if you want,” he writes. I don’t hate him. I pity him. But I pity his patients and colleagues and those he influences even more. You want to be a moralist? Leave medicine and enter philosophy or the clergy. You want to help people? Judge less and advocate for expanded access to healthcare, preventative care, and an end to poverty – there should be no such thing as the working poor. Do that, then I might be inclined to listen to you “speak the truth.”
Facebook is a great place to meet some weird-ass motherfuckers. We all know that. But I’m still surprised and more than a little dismayed by the scammers. I normally just report ads that include woo woo, sometimes leaving a snarky comment, or just hide or block scammers. It’s rare that they actively seek me out, but it does happen.
Check this out! In response to my post on a blog post about legitimate, peer-reviewed science and breast cancer, Mr. Ansari was compelled by the power of the spell caster, “Dr” Akhigbe, to testify about the amazing things the spell caster can do.
It’s an impressive list worthy of the most outrageous scammy chiropractor. He apparently has the cure for herpes (HSV – I assume the genital variety), HIV, gonorrhea, low sperm count, menopause disease (it’s not a disease, even if it feels like it sometimes; he’s big on STDs and fertility), epilepsy, asepsis (I think he means sepsis – “asepsis” refers to aseptic techniques that minimize risks of bacterial, fungal or viral contamination during surgery and medical procedures), and cancer (which kind, dude?).
Where has this paragon of the medical community been all my life? Why haven’t we heard of him?
I have a few theories, but I decided to go down the rabbit hole and read more about the good “doc” and his miraculous healing abilities. First off, he has at least three profiles. Sketchy. The spell caster profile is apparently now dedicated to marriage, fertility, and “total freedom and happiness.” Hmm, I wonder how much that costs?
The posts are a feast of stock photos with tons of woo, attractive people who seem to be happy, and hashtags a plenty (candlemagic #magicspells #candlespells #astrology #occult #spellcandles #witchyvibes #bruja #pagan #witches #astrologer #psychicreading #witchcraftspells #spellcraft #conjurer #metaphysical #lovespecialist #spellcasters #brujasofinstagram #spiritualoils #spellworker #moneyspells #spiritualawakening #healing #lovespellsmaster #follow #spellcandlesofinstagram #spiritual #altarsofinstagram).
Yup. He’s a busy, busy man. There’s a lot going on there…
I kind of hope there’s a mockumentary based on this dude. Not that it would be as good as What We Do In The Shadows, but I’d LOVE Colin Robinson to explain the history of herbal medicine to The Spell Caster until he’s utterly drained.
I’ll focus on the other profile, which deals with herbal remedies for “great diseases,” because “it’s a gift from God.”
Here’s one of his posts related to cancer:
I’ve already covered turmeric, antioxidants (this includes the berry thing), and I’m covering mushrooms in my book, so let’s dig into what garlic and ginger can do for you (and more importantly, cannot do for you) as a cancer patient.
Note: My medical oncologist is a fan of veggies as well as legitimate research on diet and breast cancer molecular signaling/drug responses. Check out his blog for legit information and some great recipes!
Garlic. It makes food delicious, your breath stinky, and wards off vampires, but what can it do for cancer? When I searched the web, the first promising result I found was from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Reputable enough for me! When I clicked, a big fat pop up window with a disclaimer and a “Continue” button I had to click to proceed tried to jump out of the screen:
“This Web site — Information About Herbs, Botanicals and Other Products — is for general health information only. This Web site is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. Users of this Web site should not rely on information provided on this Web site for their own health problems. Any questions regarding your own health should be addressed to your own physician or other healthcare provider.”
They have a whole disclaimer to protect them from yahoos looking for woo woo!
What did it have to say about garlic? In terms of cancer, here’s the 411:
Getting into the nuts and bolts, the clinical summary (with references) states:
1. Possible correlation with garlic supplement and gastric (stomach) cancer mortality (death) but not incidence (getting cancer), but other studies found no evidence of either. Remember, correlation does NOT equal causality.
2. Mixed results on garlic and colorectal cancer, with some observation of reduced number and size of adenomas (precancerous lesions) in patients with a history of adenomas.
3. Mixed or unclear results on risk of other cancers, but possible association with reduced risk of blood cancer. Remember, correlation does NOT equal causality.
Bottom line: garlic makes food tasty! Enjoy it in your favorite recipes, but don’t rely on it to keep you safe from cancer or to treat your cancer.
As far as ginger, I found a great article that already covers it:
“Walk Gingerly Before Declaring Ginger a Cancer Cure It is not at all unusual to find plant extracts that will kill cancer cells in vitro. There are hundreds of phytochemicals that will do this. Neither is it unusual to find an effect in mice that have implanted tumours. But this is a long way away from demonstrating a viable cancer treatment in humans.”
Bottom line: this pretty much sums up the majority of studies on plant extracts and cancer. Enjoy ginger for the flavor, but don’t count on it to cure your cancer.