Saturday, 22 August 2009

Michael in the news!

overcast, some showers, muggy, temps 25

Just finished exercising and swimming, lounging and editing. Fun day. Very quiet. Living off the left-overs from the party the other night. Yum.

The big news in our household is that Michael has been featured in one of our local weekly newspapers - The Townships Outlet. The reporter who wrote the story, Alanna Fahey, did a fabulous job! Here's the story -

Sutton hematologist sheds new light on cancer screening

Michael Whitehead, former Director of Hematology at the Montreal Children’s Hospital for 25 years decided three years ago to write a book that would both tell a truth and shed light on a controversial type of cancer screening for neuroblastoma– “a childhood cancer that kills too many children, ”according to Whitehead.
“The idea came to me three years ago unexpectedly, prompted by hearing the name of a colleague and remembering this remarkable scientific study we were both involved in,” said Whitehead. Having written countless research grants, scientific articles, chapters for medical texts and journal reviews, Whitehead knew he was ready to go the distance with the encouragement of his wife, New York Times best-selling mystery writer, Louise Penny.

“Louise encouraged me every step of the way. Without her support, I would never have begun this journey, let alone have traveled as far as I have,” said Whitehead.
Whitehead’s Book The Halo Effect and Screening for Cancer is about screening for neuroblastoma. “Neuroblastoma cells make chemicals that can be measured in the urine. Screening was pioneered in Japan and became a universal program with every Japanese child being screened for neuroblastoma. Initial results were so exciting, and seemed to say this terrible cancer could be cured, that everyone wanted to screen for it,” stated Whitehead.

A scientific study mounted to verify the Japanese findings was carried out in Quebec, the only site in North America capable of doing it.
“Half a million Quebec babies were screened over five years and findings compared to unscreened babies in control regions totalling 4.5 million babies. The results proved a complete shock,”Whitehead said. “Screening failed to save a single child. Even more shocking was that none of the children found by screening needed to be treated. Their cancers would have disappeared all on their own. All these children, twice as many as were found in the control populations, were overtreated, exposed to the risks and complications of surgery and chemotherapy. Because of the scientific rigour of this study, neuroblastoma screening ended everywhere. This story has many parallels to cancer screening programs in adults.” said Whitehead.

“Screening for cancer in adults, particularly mammography screening for breast cancer and PSA (prostate-specific antigen) screening for prostate cancer, Whitehead explained, share many of the key problems experienced with neuroblastoma screening. Mildest is the occurrence of false positive results, which require repeat testing to resolve, resulting in anxiety and more testing. Even a biopsy may be needed.
“More serious is overdiagnosis. Cancers found through screening are so slow-growing that they will never cause symptoms. Such cancers are regularly found at autopsy in people who die of some unrelated condition such as a car accident, or heart attack). But no one knows which cancer is which, so both the benign and fatal cancers found by screening are treated the same way - surgery and sometimes radiotherapy.
“We don’t know how many people actually benefit from screening and how many are overtreated unnecessarily and exposed to side effects and risks. That’s mainly what I was referring to.

“The toughest concept for people to grasp is that cancers found by screening are different from those that the doctor sees. Both are called by the same name and lethal cancers are certainly found, often in time to be cured, but there are others that may look the same, but aren’t. These can disappear, stay the same for years or grow so slowly as to never be known to whoever has them.”

Writing The Halo Effect has changed Whitehead in some respects “I have felt stretched by the process, stimulated,” he said. “I’ve a lot more respect for and understanding of writers. I would like to say it has made me a better person, but that’s something only others could see, certainly not myself.
“It has shown me what a brilliant writer Louise is, something I always knew, but can appreciate at a whole new level now, which is a blessing in itself and more than sufficient reward, even if my book ends up under the bed. I can tell you that there is nothing I’d rather be doing than writing this book. It is unbelievably stimulating and exciting.”

Isn't that amazing??? Alanna really is terrific - and so is Michael. I'm SO proud of him. I've read what he's done so far and it reads like a thriller. Absolutely riveting. And what a lovely man, too. I hope you'll get a chance to read it one day soon. You've all been so supportive of him in this process. We'll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, hope you're enjoying your weekend - be well!


Cornflower said...

Fascinating and of huge importance. I shall look forward to hearing more on Michael's work.

Margaret J. McMaster said...

What great courage Michael has to step forward and say this in a profession known for its conventionality and conformism. When will the book be available and where?

Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Cornflower,
Thank you so much for your encouragement.It is a great challenge, but is looking more promising each day.

Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Margaret,
I consider it a privilege to be telling this story. Thank you for your support. My guess is it will not be in the bookstores before a couple more years.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to Michael for the book and for his important work.

I wish I had him to consult with, even though I am an adult with what I have been told (about 2 years ago) is a pretty severe kind of anemia. The problem is that I don't know if I can trust my hematologist and when I saw the word "over-treated" in this post, I wondered if this might apply to me.

When I was first diagnosed, I had to take intravenous iron treatments that lasted for weeks (one morning a week) and it made me lose a lot of work time and was, of course, uncomfortable. When those were done (although I also have to have an extrememly expensinve shot once a month called Procrit), the doctor told me there was no need for me to take any iron pills. I have asked him again about it several times and he never said that I should take them. In the past month he suddenly said I needed to take the intravenous iron treatments again and I refused for the time being (becasue I can not take off that much time from work right now). I told them that I would start taking the (inexpensive) iron tablets to see if that brought my iron levels back up again. They said (grudgingly) that I could try that. Well, last week I went back and after only 3 weeks of the iron pills, my iron levels were way up and my hematocrit, which is normally 32 or 33 even with the monthly injections, was already up to 38. So what I am to think about this and how am I supposed to trust this doctor (who my primary care doctor strongly recommends)? How am I not to think that he only cares about billing the health insurance company for the most expensive possible treatments?

By the way, there are not a lot of other hematologists near me who are accepted under my insurance plan. This is why I haven't just gone to someone else.

If Michael's book helps with issues in this area of medicine, we will all benefit from it.

--Anonymous (in the cast of this post, but a regulatr poster who doesn't want to be public about health issues. I hope you all understand. I am sorry if this is inappropriate, but I guess I wanted to vent about it.)

Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Anon,
I was a Canadian Hematologist, now fully retired, and never licensed in the USA. So, I can't offer you a professional opinion. However, in reading Jerome Groopman's book, How Doctors Think, he makes the strong point that patients need to have good communication with their doctor. You need to find out to your satisfaction from one or other of your doctors,what the nature of your anemia is and why you require the treatments prescribed. You will feel more comfortable in your care and in the reasons for it and more trusting. I hope this helps you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Michael. I appreciate the advice. I only wish that I could find a doctor that I felt had the same kind of caring that you had for your patients. You and your wife are rare in your thoughfulness and humanity.


clazy said...

Your Michael rocks! Can't wait to read his book.

lil Gluckstern said...

I have worked with a child with a childhood cancer, and he had such spirit, and courage. I believe that people who work with children, as Michaael did, are doing the work of angels. His book sounds wonderful, and eye opening-good, good luck. by the way, I feel that way about veterinarians as well-working with small and helpless. What lovely people you two are.

Sandra D said...

Louise! It is Sandy, of Sandy and Sylvain. Every now and then I come back to your blog and become completely engrossed once again. You guys are such an inspiration -- congrats to Michael on his book and research! Guess what? We moved back to Montreal last week! So maaaaaybe one day we will get to spend some time again. I sure hope so.
xo to both of you
ps-Mom still reads your blog daily.

Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Clazy,
Thanks for your support. I'm really enjoying writing this book.
Best wishes,

Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Lil,
What very kind things you say. Like you, caring for children with life-threatening illnesses was a real privilege and gift. Such courage, as you say. Thank you for caring.

Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Sandra,
What great news that you are now in Montreal. Please give our best wishes to Sylvain, as well as yourself. I'll tell Louise you wrote here. Such good news that your Mom is such a fan of Louise. Please give her our best wishes. And we both hope to see you again, soon.
Michael and Louise