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  • Understanding Media Reports of Studies

    Posted 4/15/2014 by hhill
      The hype can be huge. Even in serious newspapers (think The New York Times rather than The Inquirer), reports of health-related studies can be presented and read in ways that greatly overstate the realities. I am thinking about the coverage, for example, each year from the San Antonio Breast Cancer Meeting. Inevitably, there is a newspaper story about a new treatment that seems to suggest that, if not a cure, is at least a long extender of life for women with metastatic breast cancer. It is not impossible that the study actually found that disease free interval was extended by a few months, not at all what we are hoping for. Read more... Comments (0)
  • Longterm Effects of AIs

    Posted 4/14/2014 by hhill
      The very good news is that many women treated for breast cancer go on to live long and healthy lives. The less good news is that sometimes these lives are affected by cancer treatments. Obviously, the greater risk to us all is dying of cancer, so it is appropriate and smart and necessary to have prescribed radiation, chemotherapy, and/or hormonal treatments in spite of the fine print on consent forms. I often compare these forms to those we sign before any surgery. The surgical consents list possible death as a consequence, but we sign them anyway. Read more... Comments (0)
  • Painful Truth

    Posted 4/13/2014 by hhill

      Sometimes we don't want to know. Sometimes it is easier and less painful to not ask. Sometimes the doctor is relieved that we feel that way. The topic, of course, is dying or prognosis or "how long do I have?". Some of us want the numbers or the best guess and plenty of us would prefer not to hear those specifics. Not knowing, not wanting to know, brings its' balm, but also its' difficulties. There may be things that really need to be attended to, fences that need mending, relationships that need speaking, farewells that should be said. It is quite distressing to me that, not so infrequently, I have been the first person to speak the hard truth. Too often the patient and the family and the doctor seem locked into an intricate dance that avoids the central truth. At some of those times, with someone whom I know well, the question is posed to me: "Am I dying?".

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  • Sleep and Sex

    Posted 4/12/2014 by hhill

      The issues of the bedroom: sleep and sex. When both are going well, we are happy women. When there is trouble with one, we may be tired, cranky, lonely, or sad. If there is trouble with both, one possible explanation is cancer treatment. This is an introduction to another terrific essay by Susan Gubar from the New York Times; this one is titled Bedtime Issues.

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  • Sometimes Bilateral Mastectomies Make No Sense

    Posted 4/11/2014 by hhill

      This is a soap box issue for me, I admit it. It makes me nuts that women are, in growing numbers, opting for unnecessary and medically unhelpful bilateral mastectomies when less surgery would be just as effective and safer. There are always risks with surgery, and there are more risks with bigger surgery. It is generally better to have your breasts than not (and having lived both ways, I can attest to that one), and far too often this painful choice is made by distressed women who do not clearly understand the realities. They, of course, are motivated to a large extent by fear and the determination to do everything possible to stay well. What they often don't appreciate is that taking off one or two breasts usually makes no difference in survival; the big risk is not developing a second breast cancer in the future. The big risk is the one you already have.

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About the Blogger

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C is the Manager of Oncology Social Work at BIDMC. For more than thirty years, her daily work at BIDMC has been primarily focused on supporting women with breast cancer. A nationally known writer and speaker, she was the Susan G Komen Breast Cancer Foundation's first Hatcher Survivorship Professor. In 1993, and again in 2005, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and went through the standard treatments of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and hormonal therapy. These experiences have given her great credibility with her patients and transformed her life's work to her life. Ms. Schnipper lives gratefully with her husband in an ancient farmhouse outside of Boston and spends as much time as possible in a water front cottage on Mt Desert Island. Between them, they have five adult children and seven grandchildren; she claims biological responsibility for two and three of them.