Cancer doesn't have to be a death sentence. About half of all cancers are preventable and can be avoided if current medical knowledge is better delivered*. This new series, beginning with Reimagining Women's Cancers—focusing on cancer of the breasts, ovaries, uterus, cervix, vagina and vulva—provides readers with that critical information to help them manage, cope, and recover through a concise, easy-to-read style and format.
Beginning with a view of basic anatomy and an overview of how we view a particular cancer today, chapters flow easily into an explanation of signs, symptoms, diagnosis, scientific information and guidelines, and include a comprehensive survey of treatments and prevention. Woven throughout are stories, both medical and anecdotal, from women such as Angelina Jolie, Joan Lunden, Melissa Etheridge, Sandra Lee, Rita Wilson, Christina Applegate, and Suzanne Somers.
Education is the key, and by using celebrity stories, Reimagining Women's Cancers can attract countless readers who might otherwise not pay attention to an epidemic that is likely to affect them or a loved one.
* The recent World Cancer Report from the World Health Organization
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Information is empowering, especially when it's dispensed in manageable doses. Reading about people coping with cancerthe same one you are dealing withis not only educational and inspiring, it can save a life. Couple that with our fascination with celebrities and there is much we can learn from their experiences.
Celebrity cancer memoirs, including The Time of My Life by Patrick Swayze and Lisa Niemi Swayze (Atria 2010), Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life's Adversities by Elizabeth Edwards (Broadway Books 2006), Cancer Schmancer by Fran Drescher (Grand Central Publishing 2002), Time on Fire: My Comedy of Terrors by Evan Handler (Little, Brown and Co. 1996, Argo-Navis 2012), provide readers with a behind-the-scenes look at how a famous person dealt with a cancer challenge that may be common to many of us. Not surprisingly, their struggles are essentially no different from any of ours.
It's no secret that celebrity information not only sells, it can educate people about many important issuesincluding cancer.
According to USA Today, when Katie Couric's colonoscopy was broadcast on live television, colonoscopy rates rose more than 20 percent. When Michael Douglas shared his throat cancer story, he taught us about the connection between human papillomavirus (HPV), oral sex, and head and neck cancers. Angelina Jolie's op-ed in the New York Times, detailing her genetic predisposition to breast and ovarian cancers, and her subsequent decision to undergo a bilateral mastectomy, educated millions of people on the issue of genetic screening and preventative treatments and inspired them to take a proactive role in managing their own health.
Hamish Pringle, author of Celebrity Sells (John Wiley & Sons 2004) and former Director General of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, explains that 'the role celebrities play in people's lives goes beyond a voyeuristic form of entertainment; they actually fulfill an extremely important research and development function for them as individuals and for society at large. People use celebrities as role models and guides.'
That's what 'infotainment' can do and what we hope Reimagining Women's Cancers exemplifies by dedicating itself to specific cancers affecting women and the people they love.
Because every twenty-three seconds someone in America is diagnosed with cancer, the number of people affected is continuing to grow and the data is not encouraging. The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 2 million new patients will need treatment in the coming year. A recent World Cancer Report from the World Health Organization expects a 57 percent rise in cancer cases in the next twenty years.
Christopher Wild, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, says, 'We cannot treat our way out of the cancer problem. More commitment to prevention and early detection is desperately needed in order to complement improved treatments and address the alarming rise in the cancer burden globally.'
The report says about half of all cancers are preventable and can be avoided if current medical knowledge is better delivered. The disease could be tackled by addressing lifestyle factors, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, and exercise; adopting screening programs; or, in the case of infection-triggered cancers such as cervical and liver cancers, through vaccines. 'The rise of cancer is a major obstacle to human development and well-being,' Wild says. 'Immediate action is needed to confront this human disaster.'
This emphasis on prevention and early detection demonstrates the necessity and value of education. It is the key for anyone who might otherwise not pay attention to an epidemic that is likely to affect him or her or a loved one.
But a diagnosis of cancer is notand does not have to bean automatic death sentence. With advances in genomic (DNA) testing and diagnosis, we have learned that cancerif detected earlycan be managed just like many other chronic diseases or, in many cases, prevented through changes in diet, exercise, and general lifestyle.
That includes developing a sense of humor, which has proven time and time again to help everyone, from patients to doctors and especially those who can't figure out what to do or say when confronted with such a big challenge.
Consider the story of Allison from upstate New York, who grew used to people staring at her bald head. One day a stranger nearly stalked her in a grocery store until she stopped her for what seemed to be a 'classified' question, asked in a sympathetic whisper, as if no one else should know. 'Did you lose your hair?' the woman said.
Allison smiled. 'Lose my hair?' she said. 'Oh, no. It's just invisible.'
The stranger stared at her in shock. Then she started to giggle, and so did Allison, who wished her a good day and continued on with her shopping.
Actress and breast cancer survivor Christina Applegate told womenshealthmag.com in 2013, 'I laughed more in the hospital than I ever have in my life, making fun of all the weird things that were happening to me. My friends would walk in with this sad look, and I would throw something at them and say, 'Come on! This isn't the end of the world!''
This book is full of anecdotal evidencefrom celebrities we have come to admire and trust as well as from 'normal' people with valuable viewpoints of their own who together offer us remarkably useful teachable moments that can educate and inspire and, in some cases, serve as life-saving cautionary tales.
Celebrity Diagnosis, the website we founded and launched in 2009, which is now featured as an integral part of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Foundation website, combines celebrity health conditions (diagnosis, treatment, survivorship, etc.) with up-to-date medical information on common and uncommon cancers. By doing so, we have created numerous teachable moments in medicine, leading visitors to increase their health awareness and medical knowledge, which subsequently increases the likelihood of their considering early detection and preventative behavior.
'We have found from our own reporting on medical news,' says Robert Stern, CEO of MedPageToday, a leading source of medical information online, 'that nothing resonates with our professional clinician readers more than a celebrity illness because call volume to offices increases from patients when a celebrity is diagnosed. This provides a teachable moment for the physician to share with the patient.'
The AACR, with its 35,000 members from around the globe, making it the oldest and largest scientific organization in the world, agrees, and by featuring Celebrity Diagnosis it is now expanding its support of high-quality, innovative cancer research and education. Through its numerous publications and frequent conferences, the AACR works with a vast umbrella of cancer organizations, hospitals, and individuals.
Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry, with its mission to address unmet medical needs by developing new drugs, still takes ten to fifteen years at an average cost of $1 billion to sponsor the applied research, tech development, and organizational structure to develop a single new drug, which may or may not serve its intended purpose.
What about the needs of consumers for better access to existing medical knowledge and practices? Can increasing health awareness and providing scientific information lead to better use of existing resources, including prevention and early detection screening methods? Social media and mass market books can be valuable allies in the task to equip people with what is necessary to manage and improve their own health.
We certainly hope so. That's why our philosophy of Participatory Medicine is a lynchpin of Celebrity Diagnosis and a key to empowering people to partner with their doctors in taking responsibility for their healing.
The definition of a modern 'e-patient' is to be engaged, equipped, and empowered, three integral qualities that form the foundation of our approach.
Dr. Katherine Smith of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health feels that traditional media coverage of celebrities contains little material that conveys useful health information, concluding that, 'media attention to such newsworthy events is a missed opportunity that can and should be addressed.'
We agree. There seems to be a large missed opportunity to educate people about prevention and personal empowerment. That's why Reimagining Women's Cancers now existsto inform, inspire, and ignite the appropriate type of action that is needed to live healthier lives. But you may ask, what does a famous person have to do with me?
Studies of the power of celebrity to create teachable moments, such as those conducted by Professor Graeme Turner of the University of Queensland Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies, Hamish Pringle at the Institute of Practitioners of Advertising, and Robert Havighurst, PhD, author of Human Development and Education, suggest that the personal life experiences of individuals we admire and respect from popular culture can create teachable moments that may be vicarious at first but ultimately prove to be educational and, in some cases, lifesaving.
According to Mable Kinzie of the University of Virginia Curry School of Education, who has developed instructional design strategies for health behavior change, there is a five-step process to developing educational materials that resonate and connect, producing real results.
©2016 Michele R. Berman, MD, Mark S. Boguski, MD, PhD, FCAP, and David Tabatsky. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Reimaginging Women's Cancers: The Celebrity Diagnosis® Guide to Personalized Treatment and Prevention. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.