Brown professor tells survivor stories in ‘Breast-Cancer Breakthroughs’
04/25/2011 01:00 AM EDT
Barry Lopez hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “Sometimes people need a story more than food to stay alive.” I believe this and witness the power of story each and every week during our various support group meetings. Women catching the courage from the women whose stories are being shared. And once in a while a book will accomplish the very same thing. Indeed, it is a very beautiful thing to be a part of.
Dr. Sattar Memon’s new self-published book, “Living Longer — Breast Cancer Breakthroughs,” is a compilation of moving and inspirational patient stories combined with information on the latest screening tools and treatment options for the breast cancer patient. Although the stories themselves are based upon actual events, stages, diagnoses and treatment (at times unfavorable), they are all fiction. This should not take away from the very purpose of the book, and, speaking for myself, it didn’t.
An associate professor of medicine at Brown University, specializing in the practice and education of cancer medicine, Memon left India to come to America, where he attended medical school on a scholarship. During his residency training in the late 1970s, he received word that his father was ill with what was thought to be a chronic stomach ulcer. He left for home — a remote and poor village in northwestern India where physicians and clinics were nonexistent.
“Returning to America was a very difficult thing to do,” Memon said. Not long after, he learned of his father’s passing. “I had come to believe that what my father had died from was actually stomach cancer,” Memon said with sadness but slowly perked back up as he began telling me how the death of his father had been the catalyst in shaping how he envisioned his future. Once back in the U.S., he applied for a fellowship in medical oncology at Brown University.
“When contemplating what area of oncology to work in, I chose breast cancer because at the time, so many things were happening in the field. New treatments and new screening tools. It was all very exciting,” Memon said. But that was not the only reason for his choice of focus. In the back of Memon’s mind, and heart, lived the sadness that stemmed from the memory of a childhood friend in India who, for lack of medical care, died from late-stage breast cancer. “The field [breast cancer] lacked much of the glamour that many of my fellow comrades were choosing, but it held much promise, and that was exciting to me. To be able to help others to live is what I wanted to do,” Memon said.
The book is written in a thoughtful and honest format that allows the reader to connect with the patients in the stories, stories that can share courage as well as abundant information on the hows and whys of the disease. From the staging of breast cancer to the treatment and genetics of the disease, the book does not disappoint. Captivating artwork by Dr. Mahendar Paul graces the pages of the book, helping connect the reader to the topic being presented. Near the back of the book, Memon has included a chapter on the “100 Most Commonly Asked Questions,” along with their most up-to-date answers. Proceeds from the book will benefit various Rhode Island nonprofits.
Linda Phelan is founder and executive director of The Healing Co-Operative in Middletown, supporting and celebrating the lives of women with cancer since 1996.
With early detection becoming more common, why is it that so many women are diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer? It can range from lack of health insurance and education to fear, all of which can mean the difference between life and death. Mammograms and self breast exams DO save lives.
Better Screening Tools
Most women are familiar with the "standard" screening tools of mammogram and ultrasound but few ever hear of Breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), a noninvasive (no radiation) screening tool that uses a powerful magnetic field, radio frequency pulse, a computer to produce detailed pictures of the breast tissue and frequently a contrast dye given through an intravenous needle (IV).
Molecular Breast Imaging (MBI) also known as Miraluma Sestamibi or Scintiamammography is an experimental screening test considered to be as safe as mammography and as powerful as an MRI, at a fraction of the cost with an equal or lesser amount of radiation than mammography. The big advantage of this new test is that doctors gain markedly increased visibility of tumors in dense breast tissue, with a lower breast compression, which means a much less painful/uncomfortable experience. .
Thermography measures the (breast) skin temperature through the use of a highly specialized infrared camera. Malignant tumors have increased blood flow due to new blood vessel formation, which the cancer needs to thrive. This increased blood flow makes malignant tissue hotter than healthy breast tissue. Thermography picks up this heated image on its camera and shows the areas as red, while cooler tissue is blue.