Wednesday, March 28, 2012

It's Elementary My Dear Watson

 HAL: Look Dave, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.  - 2001 A Space Odyssey [on Dave's return to the ship, after HAL has killed the rest of the crew]

I came across this article recently, about how the IBM supercomputer Watson was moving on from its dazzling stint on "Jeopardy!" to diagnosing cancer at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

While the concept of having a supercomputer helping some of the most talented doctors in the world treat cancer patients is an exciting prospect, it's also a bit disturbing to think that someday metal and bolts may usurp a doctor's unique insight in cancer care.


There are nuances in a patient's voice when describing symptoms, or realities in a patient's priorities (such as living long enough to see a child born) that simply "do not compute" when looked at as a sterile set of facts.

Already there is talk of having Watson go to bat for the insurance companies - which makes me even more wary of its place in the medical world and the level of care I might someday be restricted to based on a computer's logarithms rather than a doctor's intuition. Remember that CT and MRI scans all missed my cancer for years - it was my surgeon's gut that told her something wasn't right with my appendix (where my carcinoid was) that saved my life.

It's undeniable that for rare cancers like carcinoid Watson could be an unbelievable asset; but it's important to keep things in perspective and realize that this latest supercomputer is only a resource for experts to use and not an expert in its own right... otherwise Watson may just morph into HAL. And Dave, nobody wants that.

Read the Article: IBM's Watson Supercomputer Gets Job As Oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cancer and PTSD

"Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it." - Michel de Montaigne

My seniors have started my favorite novel of the year: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. (If you haven't read it, do so immediately if not sooner.) The narrative is told from the perspective of Chief, who is a paranoid schizophrenic - institutionalized in a psych ward in the early 1960s.

As part of the unit we go over various mental illnesses including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is generally defined as an anxiety disorder that a person can develop after experiencing or seeing a life-threatening or extremely frightening event. As I was reading my notes on PTSD I began wondering if those who survived cancer could develop the disorder.

Sure enough, I found several articles explaining that cancer patients (and their caregivers) are at risk for developing PTSD - especially if they had long hospital stays, cancer recurrences, or painful treatments. One of the most interesting pieces of information I found explained what are called "protective factors" - or variables that decrease a cancer patient's risk for developing PTSD, which include increased social support, accurate information about the stage of cancer, and a satisfactory relationship with their medical team.

I survived severe trauma as a child and young adult, which is probably why I never reacted negatively to my cancer diagnosis. People thought I was so brave - handling my surgeries so nonchalantly, but really it was probably just a coping mechanism I'd developed from a very young age... avoiding the reality of the danger by burying it.

I don't think any cancer patient ever forgets the reality that the cancer could come back. My doctors all tell me not to worry, but I continually hear stories identical to mine (carcinoid in the appendix, followed by a totally clean right hemicolectomy) that end with mets in the liver.  Sometimes I feel stuck and don't want to plan too far into the future just in case it returns. That's no way to live - it's like you're constantly sitting on the edge of your seat in a horror movie as the score crescendos, right before the dumb girl goes to "check out a noise" in the basement... where the killer lurks.

There is a  NJ carcinoid support group that has been on my radar for a while. Perhaps I should make it a priority to go.

Good Links: Article on Cancer and PTSD
National Cancer Institute's Article on PTSD
Breast Cancer and PTSD

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day (1976)

I am half Italian and half Irish, so dressing me up in traditional Irish get-ups for St. Patrick's day was always a fun grown-up pastime in my house. My step-dad is also Irish, and the following blessing hangs in my mother's home:

Irish Luck

Ample food and sturdy drink,
A clean pillow for your head,
And my you be forty years
in heaven
B'fore the Devil knows you're dead.

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all my friends and family - wishing you the luck of the Irish now and always.

Dress from Ireland - 1976
Irish Temper and Italian Attitude = one Sassy 3-year old

My maiden name (revealed on shamrock) is Gibbons. Later we learned my father's family name was "McGibbon" before they immigrated

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dinner Party Cuteness

Tomorrow, our handcrafted dining room table from Vermont is scheduled to be delivered, which means that we will be (hopefully) hosting our first ever dinner party very soon. I was looking for something that would bring some whimsy to a Spring dinner with friends... and uncovered these adorable "Marshmallow Favors" from a 1965 McCall's Family Style Cookbook (thanks to Retro Kitchen) and some "Little Lamb Cupcakes" by Food Network... (Click HERE for recipe). I'm excited to try these fun ideas out -  since I think that we could all use an extra dose of cuteness in our lives these days.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Day at Balboa Park

Artist studio at Balboa Park in San Diego
Whenever I don't write a blog for a while, I always want to start out like a 13-year-old girl who has neglected her bubble-gum pink puffy-vinyl covered diary for too long (ok - like a 1980s 13-year-old):

Dear Diary,
Sorry I haven't written for so long diary. A lot has happened. 

Truth is, a lot HAS happened... not the least of which was that I finished out the rest of my wonderful vacation with my mom. One of my favorite days was the one we spent together in Babloa Park - where we ate calamari fries, meditated at the Japanese tea gardens, marveled at the Spanish colonial architecture, and took a trip to the world famous San Diego Zoo (where I got some GREAT shots of my favorite zebra pals).

Since I've been back in Jersey, I've been able to see two movies (Pina and The Artist), throw a surprise birthday party for my boyfriend, and had my yearly teaching review.

And I got sick.

So I guess all I can say is - I'm back modern-blogger-diary, and I'll try to write more often in the future.

Japanese Tea Garden at Balboa Park
One of the Many Amazing Buildings at Balboa Park