Monthly Archives: April 2016

Myth of the Wellness Warrior, Part 2: Supplements, Denial and the Birthday Problem

I’ve heard a lot lately about fears that a conspiracy is being perpetrated by the pharmaceutical industry and the government to keep natural cancer cures (and natural or holistic care in general) away from patients. It makes for a dramatic story with lots of Hollywood appeal, but examining the accusations leads down a more insidious path. To get there and understand the full extent of the problem, we need to step back and look at a range of sub-industries within the healthcare umbrella, what they provide and how they intertwine. We also need to understand some basics about statistics and probability that will clarify what some of the facts surrounding this conspiracy really mean. [And when you are done reading this, please continue on with the next chapter in this ongoing series.]

Supplementing the Truth

To begin with, let’s examine the hugely profitable supplements industry (mentioned in Forbes’ SportsMoney column as one of the fastest growing industries in the world). “Natural health” advocates and self-proclaimed gurus often have their own supplement brands which they sell as part of  treatment plans pushed on their web sites, or they have affiliate arrangements with a brand that they offer as being somehow superior to other brands. The supplement industry has grown from the notion that manufactured (or synthetic) vitamins could be used to supplement areas in the diet where a person was not able to consume adequate quantities to be healthy. In an indirect way, it can be traced back hundreds of years to the discovery that citrus fruit — particularly lemons — could prevent sailors from getting scurvy. It turned out that scurvy was a disease caused by a Vitamin C deficiency. By “supplementing” this vitamin, the disease could be avoided. Continue reading Myth of the Wellness Warrior, Part 2: Supplements, Denial and the Birthday Problem

Girls Literature and the Culture of What’s Wrong With Me?

I have a daughter and I care what she reads. From her earliest days, books have been an important part of her life. She’s ten now and I still read to her regularly, though she reads voraciously on her own (and far more than I ever was able as a child, since she reads like lightning when left to her own device-free devices). That kid can devour stories, though lately has taken to being very choosy with her time. If a book doesn’t hook her, it goes back to the library unfinished. She wants to be sucked in; once she is engaged she absolutely must finish. Because it matters, I am always concerned with the messages in the stories she finds most enticing.

When she chooses her books, her mother and I try to be aware of the content and whether there is an underlying theme of “what’s wrong with me?” running through the pages. More and more, it seems easy to identify this theme almost as its own genre in children’s and specifically girls’ literature. The seeds of necessary therapy are sown implicitly between the lines as books for these young readers guide them to feeling less than adequate, training them for a life of unnecessarily pursuing products to fix themselves. This is a predictable byproduct of corporate America, where publishing is largely controlled by conglomerates that feed revenue streams in any way possible. Branding and downstream profits are the backbone of our consumer culture. But feeding this beast is optional. Continue reading Girls Literature and the Culture of What’s Wrong With Me?

The Chemo Diaries: The Worst Day

With chemotherapy, there is one thing that is certain from cycle to cycle: there is always a dance between the predictable and the unpredictable. Which is to say, much of what a patient goes through can be anticipated, but there is always the possibility of a subtle or surprising change. We plan out our schedule as best we can based on previous experience, but sometimes — perhaps every time — we need to roll with how our bodies react.

Breakfast at my desk
Breakfast at my desk

I had my infusion on Monday (as is my preference). For the past year, it has been safe to say that Thursday (today) would be my “worst” day. I should be feeling the effects in my head and my gut right now, full force; I should be tired, irritable, woozy, even slightly sick to my stomach. I should be curled up on the couch or wanting very much to be there. But I’m eating a bagel at my desk and typing this and ruminating on going out for a burger. And I’m doing the household laundry, a whole week’s worth, but that’s another story.

My last chemo cycle was pretty close to normal, but I started feeling crappy a day early and finished feeling crappy a day early, all more or less. It improved that weekend, because I was more active and felt better by Saturday. I like that as a trend and hope that this weekend is quickly cleared up — especially because the weekend after my next infusion has a camping trip clearly written on the calendar. This is a precedent I can get behind. Yesterday, however, rather than having me feeling crappy a day early, I barely felt crappy at all. It is certainly enough to give me pause. But there may be a very obvious reason for why I’m feeling better (or at least less ill) this time around. Continue reading The Chemo Diaries: The Worst Day