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Living Life Before, During and After Breast Cancer

By Kenya V Beard

August 24, 2017

Image from the NIEH

“You have breast cancer” are four words that no one ever wants to hear. However, more than three million people have heard these words before and in 2017, at least a ¼ million more will hear it. According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer occurs in approximately one in eight women and is the most common invasive cancer. Following lung cancer, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths. The risk of death increases when the tumor spreads beyond the walls of the breast. African Americans tend to have a higher breast cancer mortality rate, even though white women over the age of 50 have a higher incidence. There is a multitude of factors that contribute to breast cancer disparities. However, breast cancer is no longer inextricably linked to death. Many women survive.

Jamie Philippe believed her breast cancer diagnosis was a death sentence. On Living Beyond Breast Cancer, she revealed how the disease disrupted her life and left her jobless, homeless, and without a car. Although the disease didn’t kill her, it shattered her livelihood. Jamie returned to work three years post diagnosis, a double mastectomy, and financial hardship. Now she is counted among breast cancer survivors. Novel ways to eradicate and treat breast tumors have emerged. However, more must be done to assist women with managing the sequelae of this horrific disease.

The fear of breast cancer is a reality for many women (it can also occur in men). Women should understand what they can do to decrease their risk for breast cancer and who should be screened. What’s more, women should know their options.

I reached out to Dr. Ted James, the Chief of Breast Surgical Oncology and Co-Director of the Beth Israel Deaconess Breast Care Center and asked him about plausible ways to decrease the risk for breast cancer. Dr. James discussed modifiable risk factors and why screening guidelines are not so simple. He also discussed the role of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in improving breast cancer outcomes and his concerns about the ACA appeal. The ACA has benefited many women by providing genetic counseling, free preventive counseling, mammograms, removing coverage limits and ensuring that breast cancer survivors are covered for pre-existing conditions. Dr. James described what is being done to help women manage the disease and improve outcomes. His center employs nurse navigators who help women work through the complex treatment decisions and challenges that often accompany a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Breast cancer statistics can be changed. Click the link below to listen to the interview with Dr. Ted James hear his response to what women should know about breast cancer. Know your risk, what you can do to decrease your risk, when and how you should be screened, what to expect from your provider, and what is currently being done to eradicate breast cancer.

Share your story and tell us what you believe everyone should know about breast cancer.


Kenya V Beard

HealthCetera is moving on: from fm radio to podcast

By Editorial Staff

August 10, 2017

Source: flickr



HealthCetera provides evidence-based news, analysis and commentary. For over 30 years – beginning with our roots in FM radio, we’ve fostered a place where diverse, dynamic, front-line experts discuss the latest real-world effects of healthcare and health policy. We believe journalism has a critical role in promoting a healthy and just society.

Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.


Editorial Staff

Research & Comics

By MK Czerwiec

August 1, 2017

As I’ve written on the blog before, comics are a powerful tool for use in health care. The growing community focused on the rich intersection of comics and health, illness, and caregiving is known as Graphic Medicine.


Comics have several roles to play in health-based research, such as an educational intervention to be evaluated, for example this study of comics as a tool for emergency room education, or as a methodology for doing research itself.

Geriatrician Muna Al Jawad describes how comics are, for her, a research methodology. Image courtesy of the artist. See citation above.


In this post I’d like to focus on comics as a valuable tool for communicating the results of our research. Thanks to the great work of medical librarian Matthew Noe, I became aware of a comic called “Randomized Control Trials: What Are They?” created by Martin Vuillème (working under the name Tekai).Tekai’s comics are predominantly made in French, a tradition of comics known as bande dessinée, or BD. This comic in the series illustrates this research study relevant to many nurses, questioning the value of inpatient routine three-day IV site rotation. (If the comic at the link above appears tiny, click on it and it will enlarge.)

Comic made about a research study on IV site rotation. For full citation see link above.


When I wrote to Tekai to express how thrilled I am with this work, he wrote, “ I am pleased to know that you like them… although I’m sure my comics only look good due to few alternatives in the research-genre to compare them with.” He’s not right about it looking good only because there are few comparisons, the work is very strong. But he is right about the lack of work in this area. I can see so many applications for this kind of comic as an excellent way to disseminate our important research. Why is this kind of work so rare?


Perhaps it’s because health researchers are not considering comics as a legitimate means by which to communicate their research. We in the Graphic Medicine field hope to change that. The field of graphic journalism is growing, and health care reporting should take note. For a few stellar examples of graphic journalism, see this 2011 Atlantic article. Of special interest to nurses interested in policy and media work is number seven on that list, The Influencing Machine by National Public Radio journalist Brooke Gladstone, illustrated by John Neufeld.

A variation on the use of comics to translate research results are white board videos, such as these examples by physician cartoonist Alex Thomas and health education specialist Gary Ashwal of Booster Shot Comics.


Another way comics can be useful in health research is to exemplify, using the power of narrative, the individual experience that a study seeks to illuminate. Consider this recent example comic by Aubrey Hirsch, “Medicine’s Women Problem” published last week on The Nib.

panel from “Medicine’s Women Problem” by Aubrey Hirsch. Link to full comic above.

There is much data to support the claim that women’s experiences in medicine are unequal to those of men, that is, that a gender bias exists in medical care. Hirsch cites several of these studies at the end of her comic. But it is her story, presented clearly, visually, and supported by data, that is uniquely revelatory and compelling.


Bottom Line: Consider building comics into your research plan. When applying for grants, include a budget for paying a comic artist to work with you. Bring a comic artist whose aesthetic you like into your work as early as possible. If you would like recommendations for partnering with cartoonists, or simply finding cartoonists whose aesthetic and background might match your research goals, here are a few resources for connecting with comic artist in your area.

You can contact cartoonist/health care practitioners via Graphic Medicine. You can be in touch with the place that confers  advanced degrees in making comics, the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. You can attend your local independent Comic expos, such as Small Press Expo (Bethesda), CAKE (Chicago), MOCCA (New York), MICE (Boston area), Short Run (Seattle), TCAF (Toronto), Alternative Press Expo (San Jose area). Walk the floor, see who is doing science-themed work, or whose aesthetic you might like, and strike up a conversation about potential collaboration.


As James Sturm, co-founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, said when discussing Graphic Medicine and his school’s applied comics program, “Comics are a blowtorch. So far we’ve only lit a few cigarettes.”



MK Czerwiec