Author Archive

STAT Blog   2 comments

I’ve started to work with blogger, but I think it will be easier to edit the page when I add pages to it, that way I can see how the page displays the links on the main pages.

Anyway, I’m going to go take a nap and start up again tomorrow morning.


Posted November 17, 2010 by capochetta in Uncategorized

Presentation Extras   Leave a comment

For those of you who were curious, here are my slides from last night:


Also, for those interested in the mice of Gonzalez Byass


And finally, for those who may have missed my post on the Educational Films found in Lisa Cartwright’s book:


If anyone has any questions, post them below.


Posted November 10, 2010 by capochetta in Uncategorized

Cartwright Educational Films   Leave a comment

Two Educational Films found in Lisa Cartwright’s book. We can discuss them tomorrow during the presentation John and I are giving.

Posted November 9, 2010 by capochetta in Uncategorized

My Mom Is Awesome   1 comment

This was by far the hardest reading for me, mainly because it hit the closest to home. In 2004 my mother was diagnosed first with ovarian cancer then with breast cancer. Several surgeries and several hundreds of pills later, she is almost fully recovered, but the last thing she wants to be called is a “survivor”.

I just got off the phone with her, and we had a long, rather amazing discussion about how much she hates the cultural narrative surrounding this disease. Its as if the term “cancer” has gained so much awe and weight that in order to beat it, we have to reimagine the cancer patient as mythic hero battling a demon in their own body. My mother disagrees.

“I was drugged up most of the time! I barely felt it!” she laughed as I described the first part of chapter one: Heroes. “I felt worse for you guys. You had to actually see what was happening to me. If I felt anxiety or anything, they gave me pills and I fell asleep. You guys couldn’t do that.”

But this attitude wasn’t just my mother being modest; she was outright hostile toward those who would try and act out the narrative when dealing with her. “You remember when you would visit me and the (religious individuals)* would come in and tell me ‘everything will be ok’ and ‘God doesn’t give you more than you can handle’? Remember how I told them to (please leave)*? I hated that! Hell, I hated it when you did it too!”

She even rejected any chance to socialize with other cancer patients in help groups or online forums or to read books from cancer survivors. In fact, the only cancer book she read was Cancer Schmancer by Fran Drescher because it “didn’t have any bull*” in it”.

Buy why did she feel this way? Why reject this narrative that so many others find so comforting. While we were talking, I mentioned the video Kathryn posted, “The Best Gift I Ever Survived” and her response was decidedly negative. “It’s not a gift! Diamonds are a gift! A million dollars is a gift! Cancer is cancer!”

There was a pause, and then, “people are weird. They need to feel like there is a purpose to everything. There isn’t; it just is. When you’re a kid and you fall down, is there a reason? No. Did God do it? No. You’re a kid. You fall down. You get back up. That’s all. I had cancer. I got over it. I’d like to not think about it, not be reminded by everyone that I’m a ‘survivor’.

“It’s not like cancer is the only thing that could kill me. I could go out and get hit by a bus. Then what? I’m some sort of ‘bus survivor’? Its something people have to deal with. I shouldn’t get special treatment for it. (That’s why) the worse part was losing my hair. I could hide scars under clothing, but everyone can see a wig. I knew I was wearing a wig. I had to be reminded. I don’t want a reminder. I want it behind me.”

Of course, this did not stop her from using this opportunity to invite herself over for the weekend. How could I say no? After all, my mom is awesome.


* euphemisms as needed, because my mom is more awesome than yours

Posted October 26, 2010 by capochetta in Uncategorized

Power in Words(?)   3 comments

In the last post I started, The Dead Language, I made the point that the use of Latin, and non-colloquial speech in general, separated medical discourse from the patients its supposed to help. Now that we are reading about a group that is actively trying to take this discourse back, I thought it might be interesting to play devil’s advocate and argue against both this book and my previous post.

Its hard on the surface to find a problem with breaking down the complex language of medicine into a form that the average consumer can easily understand. However, oversimplification can be just as dangerous as over-complication.

It is a popular belief that the term “cancer” applies to a single entity that happens to manifest itself in various parts of the body, i.e. breast cancer, lung cancer, skin cancer, etc. However, as is demonstrated in this PhD comic, the term “cancer” applies to a whole host of diseases, with an even larger variety of causes and associated symptoms. People often complain that we have invested millions to find the “cure for cancer” with no results when in fact we have found several cures, treatments and even vaccines for a variety of these diseases.

This oversimplification ironically complicates an already difficult task. As the comic points out, cancer research agencies cannot go out and ask for donations without reframing their research in the rhetoric that the general public understands, collecting to “find the cure” rather than to “find the protocols”. This might seem trivial; after all, what difference does it make if non-scientists understand how cancer research works?

It might not ultimately matter all that much in cancer research, but this same oversimplification might be to blame for the increase in mothers refusing to give their children immunizations. The testing process involved in finding causation between medicine and symptoms in the patient is far more complex than anti-vaccine activists like Jenny McCarthy make it out to be, but by rhetorically oversimplifying the process, its easy for people to strongly believe that vaccines are doing more harm than good based on one faulty study. This could obviously expand into other issues, not the least of which being “cyberchondria”, the consequence of having people self-diagnose with the false impression that symptoms always equal specific diseases.

Am I saying that the writers of Our Bodies,  Ourselves began the philosophy of oversimplification that led to these problems? Not at all. Oversimplification seems to be the norm in all forms of media now; blaming one book for this would be impossible. What these women did was invaluable in giving women back some power over their bodies that medical science had stolen by treating the patient like she herself is the disease. I only ask that now that we have this agency, is it right to keep the conversation simple?

Posted October 12, 2010 by capochetta in Uncategorized

The Dead Language   8 comments

Its hard to examine these types of readings without a strong emotional reaction; its even harder to try and find the words that can do these emotions justice. If it’s this difficult for us to discuss this material, I cant even imagine how difficult it must have been for these women to tell their stories in interview with Rapp. The sad thing is as hard as it must have been for them, more often than not, modern medical systems dont usually allow these women the outlet to mourn the loss of these children in any meaningful way.

Though it did help to give doctors a universal communications tool, the decision to name medical terms in Latin served to sever the link between patients and doctors. Where one saw the mass of cells as a baby, the other saw the baby as a mass of cells (220) a mass of cells with a long name labeling and classifying it, removing its humanity. Where doctors see amniocentesis as a routine mundane procedure, patients gaze at the spot of injection as a scar, a point of invasion.

This is constantly being tied to language; doctors have named these things, they hold power over them, they not only are the curators of this technology, but they know the secret coded language that these procedures are named for. It might sound like I am romanticizing this, but when non-native English speakers have no word in their native tongue for these procedures, how are they to even think about these things coherently?

This becomes even more problematic when not only language but culture stands in the way of patients being able to speak. For women, this seems to happen in the diagnosis, the testing; for men it appears at the loss of the baby. Society charges men with being in control; the men in these narratives seem to explode with language when confronted with the authority of the doctors. When there is nothing they can do, and society tells them they are not allowed to cry, they too are silenced.

I’m not trying to be ironic when I say that I don’t know what to say to this. Are these stories getting to those who can hear them? Judging from some of the reactions of the doctors, the need to label patients, and the general air of disrespect we have been reading this semester, I wonder how much voice patients are really allowed to have.

Posted September 28, 2010 by capochetta in Uncategorized versus Family Doctor   Leave a comment

One of the interesting things about this assignment is that we are all pre-assuming that these medical sites will give faulty, over-exaggerated diagnoses that will panic their users and cause them to pester doctors for no valid reason, a condition that sounded suspiciously like tech-based hypochondria. Seeing as how the condition of hypochondria is more rhetoric-based than scientific, my goal was to first challenge the notion of “cyberchondria” rather than assume it exists.

I decided to run a test to see if the base assumption of inaccuracy is true. As I mentioned in class, I have several food allergies that went undiagnosed until I was 25 since all my symptoms were either blamed on my asthma, or doctors would assume I was making symptoms up to avoid going to school.

So I figured that if these sites over-exaggerate their diagnoses, none of them would tell me that I have allergies or asthma, and instead would suggest things like chest cancer or heart attack to explain my migraines and chest pains.

The first site I tested was, which uses flowcharts to lead users to a diagnosis. I used the flow chart for chest pain, located here:

The flow chart lead me straight to asthma. In fact, allergies are not even on the chart, making a correct diagnosis impossible. Still, it is interesting that the site made the same misdiagnosis as its real-world counterparts, and the problem here might be that I could only look at one symptom at a time.

Next I looked at, which gave me the option of looking up more than one symptom. To my surprise, allergies actually showed up. It showed up as search result number 29 on a list of 402, and then only as airborne allergies not food allergies, but still it was closer to diagnosing what I actually have. In fact, adding “asthma-like symptoms” to the list of symptoms puts airborne allergies as the number one search result.

Finally I checked, and to my surprise it was not nearly as alarmist as I thought it would be. In fact, until I added “chest pain” to the list of symptoms, “allergic reaction” was one of the top condition results. Unfortunately the top result, even when I added migraines to the list, was still asthma.

This adds a sad level of complication when added to the rhetoric surrounding how cyberchondria is being treated by doctors, rhetoric that Genevieve posted on in detail. Unfortunately, cyberchondira might be the new hypochondria in more ways than one. While it is possible for bad research and faulty database search engines to cause paranoia, the initial reason for people using these engines is very real and often serious. The fact that these engines habitually gave me not only the wrong diagnosis but the same wrong diagnosis as my real-world doctors somewhat dispels the assumption that these sites do more harm than doctors do good.

For further research, it would be interesting to see how many studies have tested the accuracy of these sites in the way I just did, taking specific cases of doctor misdiagnosis and seeing if the internet could do better. Until the accuracy of these sites can be gauged, it seems unfair to believe that symptoms are “all in a patient’s head”. Our previous reading have shown how labeling a patient this way can affect accurate diagnosis.

Posted September 21, 2010 by capochetta in Uncategorized