In October, 2020, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to two women for their discovery of a method in the field of genetics with far-ranging applications. The Nobel Committee, in its announcement, called their effort:
“Genetic scissors: a tool for rewriting the code of life”
I think I’m like many Americans—probably many people worldwide—in my reactions to the news that two vaccines appear close to receiving FDA approval and the beginnings of distribution. A total of five are currently in phase 3 (safety trials).
With the numbers of people infected and dying seemingly out of control, we are clearly in dire conditions and in desperate need of effective interventions. No question.
The intersection of race and health is complicated. But the emerging picture seems to be that health conditions that affect Black people disproportionately—such as kidney disease and maternal deaths—may have their roots not only in poverty or access to health care, but also in preconceived and unproven notions of race that affect medical decision-making. (emphases mine throughout)
You may recall my recent post describing studies that demonstrate how accurately dogs can sniff out COVID-19. The answer to “What’s Next?” may be found on your wrist right now.
“Wearables” outfitted with artificial intelligence (AI) to report back health data may send a message to asymptomatic or presymptomatic people with the virus before they spread the disease. That means Fitbits, smartwatches, and heart rate monitors that cardiac patients strap to their wrists may help us fight against those dreaded spikes we’re seeing nationwide. The key is that these wristlets monitor heart rate.
These are times that are creating great and widespread anxiety, to be sure. Many people report experiencing nightmares. Few of us can remain fully unscathed as we’re forced to change our routines and cut ourselves off from the people and places that have offered comfortable reassurance.
And being alone with our thoughts does not, as Anne Lamott cleverly suggests, always provide us with the best company. We can be hard on ourselves by ruminating on our plights and getting stuck in a cycle of worries.
I reallyreallyreally do not like inanimate objects talking to me. I avoid Siri, preferring to do my own research than to hear her voice—or to have her record my every Internet search (though I hold no illusions about privacy anymore…). I am not tempted to invite Alexa into my home to find that old Sinatra record for me, thank you very much.
And back in the day when we actually got into cars and drove places, I always resented the high-pitched voice of that GPS woman, who on occasion directed us to dead-end streets and once recommended that we exit sharply to the right when we were in the middle of a bridge. I’m not accusing her of malicious intent, but her satellite-guided bumbling was not a confidence-builder. I am perfectly capable of bumbling on my own.
Why then, do I invite the man-in-the-box into my life practically every day?
This wasn’t the post I’d originally planned to publish. That one can wait for another time. This post is more timely. And since my story may become your story—if it hasn’t already—I thought I should tell it to you now.
I have been fortunate to connect with Abigail Johnston, a dynamic woman who has selected a title for her blog that's a perfect description of her and her mission: "No Half Measures: Living Out Loud With Metastatic Breast Cancer."...
...I am pasting her most recent post, "Ring Theory," below because its approach to communicating with seriously ill people--and their loved ones--provides information that I think we all need. And, when we eventually find ourselves in the center of the ring, I believe we will all hope that those around us are similarly well-informed.
Well, sure: the holiday season is, ironically, a time of stress. But we know there are high levels of anxiety that have preceded this supposedly joyous time and will surely follow us into the New Year/decade.
I don’t have to itemize the list: it’s as close as your newspaper or electronic device. All sorts of problems and calamities—natural and manmade—have been occurring just about everywhere.
We can’t change the world, but we do have some control over how we view the world and our place in it. And if enough of us exercise that control, we can make a difference.
I love to write about good news. I especially enjoy elaborating on advances in the world of science during these times when science is too often attacked. This story shares some happy qualities with my recent post about the extraordinary Nobel Prize Winners in Physiology or Medicine.
Like the Nobel discovery, this one seems destined to save lives and dramatically reduce suffering. It’s the result of one brilliant woman’s using her own status as a breast cancer survivor to create potentially dramatic changes in the detection and treatment of the disease.
Do any of the following apply to you?
—You’re hard-pressed to find some good news in the public sphere
—You’re troubled about the anti-scientist trends swirling around
—You have, have had, or know someone who’s had anemia
—You have, have had, or know someone who’s had a heart attack or stroke
—You have, have had, or know someone who’s had cancer
—You’d like to live in a place with a higher altitude than you currently can handle
—You’d like to improve your sports performance
If so, you may find the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine as exciting as I do. And the above list of diseases and circumstances is merely the beginning of what scientists believe will be the impact of the work the Nobel Committee has just recognized.
Here I go again! Only this time, I’m eager to join the action…I think.
As you may know, in two previous posts, I’ve written about my ambivalence concerning the legalization of marijuana. Each time, I got new subscribers among the happy pot community, who somehow overlooked my ambivalence (or seized on my description of my single, and singular, pot experience) and adopted me as a kindred spirit. That’s fine; I welcome anyone who’s interested in what I have to say—and I would be happy to have them join our dialogue, though so far they’ve merely silently “liked” my posts....
That’s not my purpose here, however.
Today we’re talking CBD (cannabidiol), derived from the part of the marijuana/hemp plant that, unlike THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), doesn’t create a high.
My, my my: so much drama—even attacks on No Drama Obama!
Let me state at the outset that I had never intended to become so overtly partisan in this blog. I even wrote a post a while back explaining why I wouldn’t discuss the elephant in the room (President Trump) because so much stuff was appearing elsewhere, and I wanted to focus on finding our common ground. My overarching goal remains, and in my own way, I’m still trying to do that.
When the President is an incumbent, it’s assumed the election is a referendum on him. But now that this President has made blatantly racist attacks on people of color a feature of his daily rants, I believe the 2020 election is a referendum on us. Who are we as Americans? What kind of country do we look forward to, and how devoted are we to working toward a more perfect union?...
I believe/hope...that we are seeking leadership that unites us in hope and common purpose, rather than divides us in hatred and fear.
In that spirit, I offer you my thoughts after viewing the second round of debates—and I’ll explain why I found them sorely lacking.
I have a few friends who are medical nihilists (several of them are married to physicians). They avoid medical care whenever possible, rarely see a physician, and when they go, generally ignore the physician’s instructions.
I am cut from a different cloth. I go to the doctor for preventive care, get my flu shot every year, and seek medical guidance if I’ve had a problem for more than a few weeks. I do have several chronic conditions and a bionic knee and wrist. However, I am fortunately, at this point, in good health. (Cue my late mother’s voice here, making clucking sounds to ward off the evil spirits.)...
And, after years of working as a medical writer/editor, I realize that I have just enough medical knowledge to be a danger to myself and others. (I do, however, refrain from prescribing and for the most part avoid misdiagnosing my friends and family.)
Did you know that Facebook Addiction Disorder is really a “thing”—and not a FAD? (Sorry, another bad pun—and so soon!) It’s not in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), but it, and obsessive Internet use in general, is increasingly drawing the attention of psychiatric researchers...
None of this may sound very serious, but it’s all tied up with how our brains function. And, not surprisingly, it’s connected to all those other areas of our lives that we know we should better control—such as overeating, smoking, and stressing about things real or imagined.
Why, if we’re so smart, and we know what we should do, is it so hard for us to follow through? Are there ways that we can take better control of our lives—without investing a fortune of time, money, and energy?
Not so many months ago, I wrote a post about the “Wild West Marketplace” of consumer genetic testing. That description came from Laura Hercher, a highly respected genetics counselor whom I interviewed for the piece. Though our focus primarily was on the entertainment aspect of consumer DNA testing (tracing one’s ancestry, etc.), we also discussed the more serious health implications. I find the topic fascinating, but I thought I’d leave it there. Hercher pointed out many of the flaws and potentially false results that these tests may yield.
Then events made me take a second look at the feasibility of genetic testing in my own life: my sister died of pancreatic cancer, only 43 days after she’d been diagnosed... I began to think about my likelihood of developing a heritable cancer....
As a former health writer/editor and continuing catastrophizer, I immediately felt I needed more information...
Well, I didn’t really think I’d be returning to this topic—certainly not so soon—but I’ve learned some things since the first post appeared that I feel are worth sharing.
As I noted previously, despite my ambivalence concerning legalization, I’ve been assuming that it will eventually happen. I still do. A number of you have pointed out the analogy to Prohibition, and we all know how that effort to oppose the public will turned out.
But a New York Times report on the collapse of an effort to legalize marijuana in New Jersey, which was a campaign promise made by the state’s governor, Phil Murphy, and had both his strong backing and statewide public support, points to some opposing arguments that legislators made. (I promise if you stay with me through this, you’ll see that not all my findings are negative.)
Probably not. If you’re reading this, you are either a) one of my very loyal readers, in which case I am most grateful for your perseverance; b) interested in all things medical, no matter how icky; c) a catastrophizer like me, who always goes to the darkest possibility in terms of health; or d) just plain curious to find out what this strange woman is up to.
"The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience."
A mini-celebratory brunch is in order: the doctor reported both heart and aorta are sound.
“We’ll take you out,” we say.
“You’ll come here,” she insists. “The best bagels, fresh eggs, delicious fruit, plus quiet and lots of room.”
Four years ago, the collapse—after a symphony hall concert.
She attended concerts often—multiple subscriptions, with friends and alone. And the art galleries, the library lectures, the trice-weekly swims, the scheduled trip to Macchu Picchu…
That evening, she was alone.
First, sorry about that title; I couldn’t help myself.
When I was in grad school, a sheltered 21-year-old living on her own in the Big City for the first time, I had a friend I’ll call Bo. An English major like me, Bo was a wildly creative character who scavenged through garbage cans and transformed odd stuff he’d found into some very interesting works of art.
He was also eager to share some of the things he regarded as life’s gifts with his friends. And so one day he offered me—a non-smoker, rule-abider, and pretty fastidious sort—a dirty-looking piece of hemp. ....
In an article in The New York Times Sunday Review, genetics counselor Laura Hercher described a man named Matthew Fender, who—after searching for heredity data through 23andMe—had placed his genetic test results into Promethease, a DNA search engine that probes such data for variants cited in the medical literature.
Fender had sought to learn his risk for developing a pulmonary embolism, the condition that had killed his sister, a seemingly healthy young woman of 23. The report didn’t mention that, but it did provide the alarming news that he carried a mutation (PSEN1) strongly associated with early onset Alzheimer’s, as well as two copies of a gene variant (ApoE4) that indicates greatly increased chances of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s.
After getting no satisfactory guidance from his primary care doctor and other professionals, Fender checked out a competing genetics company, Ancestry DNA, to see what his results there would say about the PSEN1 variant. They said nothing.
He then persuaded his doctor to order the test, which proved negative....
It’s worth noting that both companies claimed their tests were 99.9% accurate. Yet a 23andMe representative told Hercher that “a 99.9% accuracy can still mean errors.”
Well, there really was a blue wave—reportedly the greatest turnover since 1974—and a number of races remain too close to call or subject to a recount. These victories are especially impressive because of the gerrymandered districts and increased state restrictions that led to long lines at the very least and disenfranchisement of numbers of voters, mostly people of color. For a detailed look at what voters faced, read What It Takes to Win, published by the Brennan Center for Justice in October.
As I stated in my last post, I view this not as a partisan issue—but as a critical win for our democracy. Unless/until the Republicans become better stewards of their Constitutional oaths, or are replaced by a new political force more willing to seek compromise for the good of the people, I hope Americans will continue to shun them in large numbers.
However, one of the consequences of this election was the defeat of some of the most moderate Republicans, increasing the likelihood that the party will become even more intransigent.
And so, although I am grateful that the Democrats can put the brakes on many of President Trump’s chaotic and sometimes horrific actions, I see reason for concern that to accomplish anything on the substantive issues needed to show voters they are delivering and to hold their majority, the Democrats face an uphill battle.
Cat and dog parable, pet stories,