Speed On.

I turned 35 on Friday. 35 doesn’t feel old enough to have friends with cancer. 35 doesn’t feel old enough to lose friends to cancer. At least not friends my age.

My friend Mark passed away this morning. He filled his last months with all of the things he’d always wanted to do. The last time we chatted, he was brainstorming menus for the bar he recently opened, and I told him how much I was enjoying following his “fuck cancer” adventures. He turned 40 last month. I don’t even know what to say.



Welcome to Bonnaroo!


Mark, I hope that paddle boat we always talked about stealing is waiting for you wherever you end up.


Race for the Cure

On Saturday, my friend Tina and I will be running in the Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure.  The fundraising for this race supports breast cancer research and women’s health advocacy around the world.  If you know me well at all, you know that both of these things matter a great deal to me – which is why I’m asking for your support in my fundraising efforts.

When I was 17 and a senior in high school, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 44.  My brother, then barely a year old, refused to nurse from one of her breasts, so she had my dad, an oncologist, check it out.  He found a lump, and a biopsy found that it was cancer.  I remember coming home between school and rehearsal and getting the news from my dad, then going back to school and being wrapped up in the arms of two family friends – one of whom had been my dad’s patient when she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma – as the three of us cried.  My senior year of high school was overshadowed by the fear and uncertainty that goes along with chemotherapy, with watching your mom’s hair fall out, with helping to care for your baby brother because your mom is sick from a treatment.

Me and Mom at Iowa v Illinois, fall 2006

Jen and Grandma

Jenn and Grandma, Thanksgiving 2006

We are very lucky and thankful that Mom has been cancer-free for a number of years, as has my grandma, who was diagnosed in her 60s and is still healthy at 91.  With two close family members diagnosed and treated, though, my sister and I are considered to have an elevated risk.  It’s fair to say that my interest in supporting breast cancer research is a selfish one – I want there to be money for research so that if/when my sister and I are diagnosed, there will be a better understanding of the disease, leading to better treatment for patients and better education for their loved ones.

In addition to these personal reasons, I also believe strongly in helping women become advocates for their health.  Several of the Komen programs emphasize education and strengthening doctor-patient communication – both things that we worked on when I was a gyne instructor at UIUC.  I grew up in a medical household – my father’s an oncologist, and my mother’s father was first a surgeon, then practiced occupational medicine until he retired at age 79 – so medical care is something I’ve taken for granted all my life.  Despite this, it wasn’t until I worked as a gyne instructor that I felt any sense of ownership of my own healthcare.  Going to the doctor was something that I did because it’s what you’re supposed to do – not because I wanted to make sure I was getting what my body needed.  Gyne instruction changed this, and I now feel responsibility to help empower my loved ones to ask questions and get the care they need.

If these things are important to you and you can spare the money, please consider donating on my behalf – or to our team, Team Helpful Paws.  If you’re in the DC area and feel like running on Saturday, consider joining our team!  For personal, selfish, and altrustic reasons, I greatly appreciate your support.

Do Breast Self-Exams Do Any Good?

I don’t really know what to think about this article from Time, which argues that conducting regular self breast exams may actually be worse for women than not. They argue that while self exams do lead to early detection – they frequently lead to the detection of benign cysts, resulting in unnecessary biopsies, scarring from these unnecessary treatments, and emotional scars from the imagined scare.

What this seems to indicate (to me at least) is that women need to be educated as to what they’re looking for – not just that they need to do an exam. In gyne instruction, we were trained to teach doctors to teach patients to look for anything that changes from month to month – and to not necessarily panic at every little lump and bump. Healthy breasts are full of all kinds of nodules and other weird-feeling bits of tissue, fiber, and ductwork. They change from day to day, month to month. Being aware of these normal changes will make it easier to notice when something abnormal pops up.

The results of this study also point to a trend towards overtreatment. I’m not sure what I can say about that, so I’ll just let it stand.

Regardless, I feel like it’s really irresponsible to discourage women from doing a simple, painless, easy thing that might lead to early detection. As the daughter and granddaughter of breast cancer survivors, and also as the daughter of an oncologist, and also as a former gyne instructor, I think I know what I’m talking about.