Sunday, September 21, 2014


      What does survival really mean?  Most cancer statistics have a little disclaimer on the end, stating that they are the five-year survival statistics.  This is fine in many adults cancers, where the average age at diagnosis is in the upper 60s, and five years is longer than their average life expectancy.  But with childhood cancer, the average age is 10, meaning a child lives to be 15.  Is this really survival?  To most people, no, but this is the form the statistics take.  Five years.  That's it.
       The overall childhood cancer survival rate is about 80%.  However, since these are averages over all types of childhood cancer (over 100 kinds), they don't actually represent what these cancers are like.  ALL, the most common childhood cancer, has a survival of 87%, and retinoblastoma has a survival of 99% (keep in mind that the treatment is removal of one or both eyes).  However, the survival rates have a downward trend from there: Ewing's sarcoma is about 75%, AML and rhabdomyosarcoma have survival rates of about 60%, and DIPG is terminal upon diagnosis.  Not all cancers were created equal.

Friday, September 19, 2014


  I was thinking the other day about luck.  Someone said to me how my brother was lucky with his cancer, to get such good treatment.  Ii wanted to think about just how lucky we got.

    First, my brother was unlucky.  He got cancer, a 1 in 330 chance.  Specifically, he got rhabdomyosarcoma, which is a 3% chance for a child with cancer.  Rhabdo itself has a five-year survival of about 60%.  However, of the two sub-types of Rhabdo, my brother had alveolar, stage 3, putting him even lower on the survival chances.
    But then my brother's luck started to change.  He had no metastases, as 80% of childhood cancer patients do.  There was a hospital equipped to treat childhood cancer within 40 miles of our house, and our insurance company was willing to cover treatment there.  He completed his treatment without any major complications.  He went into full remission, and even now, nearly 7 years later, he is still cancer free.  The only side effects he has in being color blind (which might just be a coincidence), a bald spot from radiation, and he can't feel his toes very well.  The only thing to worry about now is that annual CT and blood work.
    So, you might wonder why I am so invested in childhood cancer, if my brother was so lucky.  After all, wouldn't some people consider my brother's treatment and outcome best case scenario?  I am invested in ending childhood cancer because this is the best outcome.  Because we don't have a cure, just treatments.  There will always be a treat of recurrence, always the possibility that new late effects will surface.  Because my brother beat the odds with his childhood cancer, I think about the kids in the majority, who weren't so lucky.  That is why I am so invested in ending childhood cancer.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Photos for Support

    In order to work to raise money for the CureSearch Walk, I am putting my photography up for sale.  You can select from prints here, or comment below if you are looking for a specific kind of print.  Prints are available for the following prices:

4x6 - $3
5x7 - $5
8x10 - $12
11x14 - $25
Includes shipping.

To order prints, email Payments will be collected as donations to the Rhabdo Warriors team page.  You can also donate online without ordering prints to the CureSearch team Rhabdo Warriors.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Childhood Cancer Recap

       September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. I wanted to provide a mid-month recap of some childhood cancer information.  Please use these to help spread awareness!
Some Childhood Cancer facts (courtesy of Candlelighters
  • Every year in the US 13,400 children (ages 0-19) are diagnosed with cancer. That equates to 46 children a day.
  • Another way to approach this number: 1 in 330 children will get cancer.
  • Childhood cancer is the leading cause of disease related death.
  • About 1 in 5 children diagnosed with cancer will die as a result of their cancer.
  • Over 60% of those who do survive suffer moderate to severe complications, including infertility, diabetes, heart disease, and secondary cancers.
  • The most common childhood cancers are leukemias, followed by brain and CNS tumors.
  • The average age for a childhood cancer diagnosis is 10 years old.
  • 80% of children has a metastic cancer (meaning the disease has spread and is therefore harder to treat and survive), as compared to 20% of adult cancer patients.
Now some facts about childhood cancer research and funding:
  • While the NIH allocates 5.6 billion dollars to cancer research yearly, only 100 million goes to Childhood Cancer. The NCA gives less than $250,000 annually.  
  • The American Cancer Society uses less than 1% of it's money towards pediatric cancer research, while using 21% of it's funds for fundraising, and another 7% on administration.
  • Over 90% of Childhood cancer drugs are adult cancer drugs that were reapproved for children. They are usually an afterthought of approval.
  • In 2012, President Obama signed the Creating Hope Act into law, allocating additional funding to companies persuing pediatric cancer research.
Now, my plea:
A common saying in the childhood cancer world is that when a child has cancer, the entire family has cancer. This couldn't be more true. Parents, siblings, grandparents and friends are all affected. A child with cancer often misses a year or more of school, setting them back academically. They are also separated from friends and family for long periods of time. Childhood cancers are often more aggressive than adult cancers. Childhood cancers are also usually diagnosed later, as there are very few screening tests, and even fewer are availible. Syptoms os childhood cancer are also syptoms of other childhood diseases, such as headaches, bruises, frequent colds and fevers, limps and soreness, or frequent nosebleeds. These diseases (over 50 different types) are horrible. We need a cure!
What can you do to help?
  • Spread awareness. Tell everybody about childhood cancer. Nobody wants to hear about dying kids. Too bad. You can't escape the reality of childhood cancer. The more people who know and are fighting for a cure, the better chance we will find one.
  • Donate to a childhood cancer research organization, such as CureSearch or St. Baldricks.
  • Wear Gold to support the kids.
  • Volunteer your time at a pediatric hospital or with a childhood cancer group.
  • Donate coloring supplies, gas/grocery cards or other day to day nessecities to families affected by childhood cancer.
  • Participate in a Childhood Cancer awareness event, such as a St. Baldricks festival or a Curesearch walk.
  • Learn more about childhood cancer.
  • Write to your representative in government to tell them how important it is to support pediatric cancer reasearch.
Thank you for supporting childhood cancer!
learn more at these websites:

Monday, September 15, 2014

Natalie Grace Fundraising

Natalie Grace is at it again, raising money for childhood cancer research one dollar at a time.  Last year, Natalie had a goal of $50,000 and raised $110,000!  This year she has set her goal at $150,000.

 You can help her reach her final goal online, or via the mail:
P.O. Box 4064
Middletown, NJ 07748
c/0: Infinite Love for Natalie Grace (Andrea Verdone Gorsegner)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Rhabdo is personal

       When I was twelve, my world changed.  I was thrown into the world of childhood cancer because my younger brother, Nolan, was diagnosed with Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma, an aggressive soft tissue tumor, which was lodged in his sinus cavity.

     The treatment for Rhabdo included nearly a year of three week chemo cycles of VAC - vincristine, dactinomycin, and cyclophosphamid, removal surgery, and four weeks of proton radiation therapy.  We met other families, other kids, who were getting rhabdo treatment at the same time, who had been diagnosed before or about the same time.  My brother is the only one left.  Rhabdo is a killer, with a 60% 5 year survival under good conditions.  Relapses and metastases are common, and many of those who made it to the five year mark died afterwards, more relapses, more metastases, more complications.

      For a long time, even the mention of my brother's cancer made me cry.  I was twelve, and the only experience I'd had with childhood cancer was hearing about my teacher's daughter dying of leukemia complications the year before.  But over the years, the tears gave way to a racing heart and sweaty palms to the ability to talk about my brother's disease without flinching.  Now when I speak up about childhood cancer it's only because I'm not a huge fan of speaking to people in general.  I know that childhood cancer is what I want to study, what I want to work on, what I want to work to end.  This is why I'm here, to help end childhood cancer.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Cancer is so limited.
It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope.
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot destroy peace.
It cannot kill friendships.
It cannot suppress memories.
It cannot silence courage.
It cannot invade the soul.
It cannot steal eternal life.
It cannot conquer the spirit.
Cancer is so limited.
-author unknown

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Meet the Players

      As a recap from last year, here are the main players on the childhood cancer field.  On the visiting team, we have:
  • Leukemia - a blood cancer that begin in the bone marrow and affects leukocyte development (white blood cell blasts).  The most common type of childhood leukemia is ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukemia), followed by AML (acute myloid leukemia).  There are also chronic and infectious leukemias, which occur mainly in adults. 
  • Lymphoma - a cancer of the B or T lymphocytes, a crucial part of the immune system.  It affects the lymph system as well.  There are over a dozen kinds of lymphoma, with the most common kinds being Hodgkins and Pre-T Cell Lymphoma.  
  • Sarcoma -  a soft or connective tissue tumor that can occur in various tissue types, such as bone (Osteosarcoma, Ewing's Sarcoma), cartilage/connective tissue (chondrosarcoma, fibrosarcoma, neurofibrosarcoma), skeletal muscles (rhabdomyosarcoma), or smooth muscle (leiomyosarcoma).  While these cancers are rare, 15% are diagnosed in children. 
  • Wilm's Tumor - a tumor of the kidney, which occurs only in children. 
  • Neuroblastoma - most common solid tumor that occurs outside of the brain.  50% of cases occur in children under 2, and grows on the sympathetic nervous system.
  • DIPG - as discussed in Tuesday's post, a tumor of the pons in the brain stem, which occurs only in children, usually in those under 5.
  • Glioma - a diverse group of tumors affecting the various glial cells that account for many brain tumors in children.  Types include glioblastoma multiform, astrocytomas, and ependyomas. 
And on the home team, swinging for the win we have:
  • Chemotherapy - also known as chemo.  Literally a chemical that treats a disease.  Chemotherapy usually refers to the caustic chemical used to kill cancer cells.  Chemos come in oral and intravenous forms, cause a variety of side effects, from hair loss to infertility and secondary cancers, and may or may not be effective on various types, stages and cell etiologies in cancer.  while they are often seen as ineffective, they are the only option for treatment in most cases.  
  • Photon Radiation - traditional, high-energy radiation used to shrink cancer tumors and to kill the cells, also known as x-ray radiotherapy.  Photons spread as the impact the body, radiating into surround tissues and causing additional damage.  However, this is a very effective way to nuke tumor cells.
  • Proton Radiation - a newer type of radiation treatment using protons as the radiation.  Proton radiation was first used in 1989, with the first US treatment opened in 1990.  There were 6 US treatment centers when my brother was diagnosed (late 2006), and there are now 14 US centers.  
  • Immunotherapy - uses immunoglobulins (proteins that stimulate the immune system in the hopes to prod it into fighting the cancer.  These include "cancer vaccines", antibody therapy, and cytokines.  
  • Bone Marrow Transplant - the body's immune system is completely wiped out with a heavy course of radiation and chemo.  Bone marrow is the innermost layer of the long and large bones (femur, pelvis, ect) and where blood cells are produced.  The marrow is removed from the pelvis of the donor and is infused into the recipient.  
  • Clinical Trial - a method of getting cutting edge treatments that are being tested.  Since there have been few new drugs for pediatric cancer in the last few decades, a vast majority of childhood cancer patients are part of a clinical trial.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Going Gold

    There are many creative ways to Go Gold in September.  You can paint your nails, wear gold ribbons, decorate your car or front door.  You can make jewelry, wear awareness t-shirts, or join a CureSearch walk.

How will you Go Gold?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Bone Marrow

       The most common type of childhood cancer is leukemia.  While leukemia can often be treated with chemotherapy, some children require a bone marrow transplant.  Siblings and parents are tested first, but if they don't match, the only chance is a stranger match through the bone marrow registry.
       The only way to get a stranger match is to have a large group of donors to choose from.  The best matches are often from donors with a similar ethnic background, so a variety of donors are needed.  Joining the registry is easy, but make sure that you are ready to commit to a bone marrow donation before joining.  These patients are counting on you to help them survive.
      If you aren't able to commit to donating marrow, consider donating financially.  It can cost hundreds of dollars for all of the testing required for donors before they can join the registry.   That also doesn't include costs for the donation.
      Please consider either joining the registry or donating to help those who can't afford to but still want to give marrow.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Open your hearts...

     ...and your wallet to help end childhood cancer.  In just under three weeks, I will be walking in the Salt Lake City CureSearch Walk as the team captain of the Rhabdo Warriors.  You can help us end childhood cancer by donating:

Who do I walk for?
Nolan - Rhabdomyosarcoma survivor
Per - Angel, Neuroblastoma and Rhabdomyocarcoma
Amelia - ALL survivor
Elizabeth - ALL survivor
Ariel - Angel, Rhabdomyosarcoma
Brittany - Angel, Neuroblastoma
Mariah - Angel, DIPG
Emma - Angel, ALL
Jessica - Angel, Rhabdomyosarcoma
Aiofe - AML survivor
Jack - Angel, Neuroblastoma

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Childhood Cancer Globally

   While the majority of the information I post about childhood cancer is from or about the US, childhood cancer is a global disease.  There are over 200,000 cases around the world annually.  Though the 5 year survival rate in the US and other high-income countries is around 80%, the survival in low and middle income countries (80% of the children diagnosed) survival is under 5%.  While childhood cancer isn't the biggest worry or cause of death by disease in low income countries, it still has a high prevalence around the world.  

Friday, September 5, 2014

Genetics and Cancer, part II

     As promised, a more in depth look at the role of genetics in cancer:

Cancer is, by definition, mutant cells. Somewhere in the cell line, a cell had an abnormality in it's propagation control and it's DNA damage control checkpoints.  This allows the cell to propagate without check no matter what damage it accrues.
     This abnormality happens in two main ways: oncogenes, which cause cell growth and multiplication, and tumor suppressor genes, which prevent excessive cell growth.  Cancers occur when either oncogenes are amplified or tumor suppressors are suppressed.  Usually, these mutations happen in cell line, and then cause a tumor to develop in that specific site.  One example of this is mutations caused by tobacco in lung cells, which causes a lung carcinoma.  Sometimes, these mutations occur when the embryo forms, known as germ line mutations.  These are commonly associated with high incidences of childhood cancer, such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome.

    Lots of research has been done in the past few years about the role genes play in cancer, especially in childhood cancers.  Because there hasn't been enough time for carcinogens to build up to the level of causing a tumor, most childhood cancers are thought to caused by genetic abnormalities.
     Researching the genetics of cancer cells also provides the ability to target treatments to the specific mutations they have.  An example of a targeted treatment is Gleevec for the treatment of Philadelphia Chromosome CML.  With increasing research, it is hoped that many cure rates will be greatly improved with genetically targeted treatments.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A little bit about Rhabdo

   Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) is a form of soft tissue tumor.  It arises from skeletal muscle progenitor cells, and while they can occur in any area of the body, they commonly occur where there is no skeletal muscles, such as the sinuses, neck, and genitourinary system.  There are two main sub-types, embryonal and alveolar, based on the embryo stage they resemble.
    RMS is diagnosed in about 350 children annually, which makes it the most common childhood sarcoma.  By contrast, RMS is very rare in adults, with under 500 cases being documented in the last 30 years in adults in the US and Europe.  The majority of cases are diagnosed in children under 5, who also have the best prognosis.  Embryonal RMS has a higher survival rate than alveolar or undifferentiated, and prognosis also varies with site.
     Treatment can include up to five chemotherapies, along with radiation and surgery.  VAC, a three chemo combination treatment of vincristine, dactinomyocin, and cyclophosophomide, it the most common chemo treatment.  Treatment lengths vary with tumor location, size, and response to the chemo.  Relapse occurs 95% of the time within 3 years of treatment completion, and up to 90% of children who relapse don't survive five years.
     While most of the causes of RMS are unknown, 10-25% of cases have an underlying genetic risk factor, such as Li Fraumeni, Costello, or Beckwith-Weiderman syndromes.

Sources: X, X, X

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Life as a Cancer Sibling

    To help share my story, I want to talk about what it's like to be a Cancer Sibling.  You might ask why this is important.  After all, we aren't the ones with cancer.  It's important to remember everybody left in cancer's wake.  It's important to realize that childhood cancer effects an entire family.

     I was 12 when my brother was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma.  The only experience I'd had with childhood cancer was my teacher's daughter dying of leukemia.  At the age of 12, I was forced to face mortality, the idea that my brother could die in the next year, the idea that this could happen to anyone.
     We siblings stop living our lives for the one, two or three years our brother or sister is on treatment.  We don't see our parents for days or weeks at a time, and our lives revolve around keeping our sibling healthy and safe.  We don't bring friends home, we don't go out.  My sister and I lived with my grandparents for 10 months in our own house.
     We feel guilty.  Was this our fault?  That one time we said or even thought "I wish I was an only child," was that the reason this happened?  And what if we get sick while our sibling is on treatment?  We hide it, it's not as bad as cancer.  I broke my foot, wrapped it in a bandage myself, and only told my mom when the middle school got involved because I was limping.
     We often live with mental health problems for our teenage years and beyond, especially if we were over 10 when our sibling was diagnosed or in treatment.  Depression, self-harm, low self-worth, and other mental health problems are common.  We lived terrified of losing our sibling to a monster we couldn't even understand.  That takes a toll.
     After treatment though, we become crusaders.  We fight back, whether it's one year or five years after treatment, as long as it takes for us to be ready to fight back.  We run blogs, solicit donations, speak out.  We want to become what cancer fears, because we've seen it's ugly face.  We are going to end childhood cancer.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ways to help

   There are a ton of ways that you can help children with cancer, and they all take less than an hour of your time:

  • Donate blood.  Childhood cancer patients require blood throughout their treatment.  In my brother's year on treatment, he had 27 blood units.  Many patients, especially those with blood cancers, require even more blood.  
  • Get your vaccines.  As a result of chemotherapy, children on treatment are immuno-compromised.  This means their bodies cannot fight even the most common of infections.  The flu could be deadly.  By getting vaccines, you can preserve herd immunity and protect these vulnerable children.
  • Join the Bone Marrow Registry at  If you are ineligible due to health or age, please donate.  It costs about $100 to test and tissue type each donor's sample.  Many donors, especially the younger, preferred donors, can't afford this cost, and your donation will help grow the registry by allowing them to join without paying for their typing. 
  • Post on social media to raise awareness - see yesterday's post
  • Donate to CureSearch or St. Baldricks to support research.
  • Donate to ACCO (American Childhood Cancer Society) to provide support and resources to childhood cancer families, or find your local support group here to donate directly to area families.  

Monday, September 1, 2014

Media Monday

     To kick off this year's Childhood Cancer Awareness month, I thought I'd start with some social media advice on spreading awareness.  There are many ways to use media to spread awareness about childhood cancer. We've all seen the Ice Bucket challenge lately.  How can we help make childhood cancer awareness go viral?

  • Post about childhood cancer on your blog/microblog (see the majority of posts on this blog for types of posts and ideas)
  • Change your Facebook cover photo: Go Gold coverSimple Go GoldNo More Neuroblastoma coverKeep Calm coverFlow-y awareness cover
  • Change your social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tublr, ect) photo/avatar to a childhood cancer awareness photo: Bee AwareWage a Gold WarI'm Aware (simple)Keep Calm and FundAwareness Stats
  • Post these 7 Childhood Cancer statistics on your social media page (one for each child who died from cancer today):
    • 1 in 330 children will get cancer before age 20
    • 20% of children diagnosed will not survive
    • 30 - 50% of survivors have serious complications from their treatments
    • Each day 7 children die from cancer, and 42 more are diagnosed
    • Pediatric cancer is the leading cause of disease death in the US, more than asthsa, cystic fibrosis, and pediatric AIDS combined.
    • Only One new treatment for pediatric cancer has been approved in the last 25 years.
    • Childhood Cancer research receives only $230,000 of the NCI budget annually - about how much it cost for my brother's treatment.
  • Use social media to solicit donations for CureSearch or St Baldricks - the two leading childhood cancer charities, each giving more than the NCI's allotment by at least triple.
  • If you use Blogger - hit reblog.  
Thank you in advance, and let's turn this September Gold for Childhood cancer awareness!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The return to Utah!

With the end of August, so comes the beginning of my Junior year of college.  It's amazing that it has been two and a half years since I started this blog, that it's my third year of not living at home for most of the year.  I want to reflect on what has changed since I started this blog on April 30th, 2012, and on what hasn't changed.

What's changed:

  • I live in Utah for most of the year
  • I'm part of regional SWE - higher level than school or state, a position I was elected to
  • I'm considering a PhD instead of a medical degree, despite below.
  • I have an amazing new collection of friends
What hasn't changed:
  • I'm still majoring in Biomedical engineering
  • I still want to be a pediatric oncologist
  • I'm still a Girl Scout
  • My room is always still messy, and I still don't like cleaning it

So, all in all, I'm not all that different from when I started this adventure.  In blog tradition, Monday will mark the beginning of September - Childhood cancer awareness month.  I will be posting daily on childhood cancer awareness, media, and other related topics.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Summer reading

As summer continues, enjoy this list of reads:

  • The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman - about cross-cultural medicine in the context of Hmong refugees.  Also has a nice back-story on the Hmong people.
  • Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder - about the life's work of Dr. Paul Farmer, who started a thorough public health and medical clinic in rural Haiti
  • The Book Thief, by Markus Zuzak - the holocaust, written from the eyes of Death about a little girl living in rural Germany
  • 33 Things Every Girl Should Know about Women's History, edited by Tonya Bolden - a collection of shorts about women's history and political movements
  • Return of the Black Death, by Susan Scott and Christopher Duncan
  • Buffy the Vampire comic books - entertaining, but not my favorite ever
Most of these I read in May, since Day Camp is a full time commitment. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Science in life

This summer has been fairly relaxing so far (although that is partly due to the fact I was furloughed from work for two weeks).  I've been catching up on my reading, and have come across a few gems of scientific and historical note:

  • A 1500 year old skeleton showing signs of Down's syndrome (trisomy 21) was found in France. The child was buried in similar fashion to the others in the site, possibly indicating that the child was treated no different than others.  Read about it at New Scientist.
  • A 50+ year old frozen smallpox vial was found while researchers were cleaning out an old freezer at the NIH facility in Bethesda, MD.  The vial, though unsecured, was still intact and fully sealed.  The CDC has gained custody of the vial.  The contents were DNA tested to verify it's contents (definitely smallpox) and is now being tested to see if it could have infectious.  Read about it on NPR, CNN, and TIME.  
  • Apparently plants can hear themselves being eaten.  Yes, that lettuce you had for dinner converted the vibrations of your munching teeth into the terrifying (I assume) sound of their imminent death.  Read about it here.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014


      As I have previously mentioned, the NCI gives under 4% of the cancer research budget to childhood cancers, of which there are hundreds of types (dozens on leukemia, scores of sarcomas, ect).  In the past decade, funding has decreased 30%.  
      In a new campaign, StepUp, we challenge Congress, the NIH and the rest of the government to spend more on childhood cancer research. The goal of the campaign is to reauthorize the 2008 Caroline Pryce Walker Act, as well as to increase NCI appropriations for childhood cancer research.  You can join by visiting:

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

CureSearch Walk 2014

     This marks the third year of me walking in the CureSearch walk to end childhood cancer.  It's also the second year of the Rhabdo Warriors team at the walk.  
     I'm super excited to be walking again, and I hope to make an even bigger impact by raising more money and creating a bigger team.  You can donate to me here, or to the entire team here. You can also visit my walk page:  

     So, if you're going to be in Salt Lake on September 27th, 2014, come join the rhabdo warriors as we walk to end childhood cancer.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Recent Developments in Life

      School ended a couple of weeks ago and I finished the semester with strong grades. I'm back in Wisconsin for the summer, and will be returning to camp as Snickerdoodle.  
      I've been on a busy adventure on the East Coast this past weekend.  To the right you can see all the places I've been: Penn, Ben Franklin's Grave, Chemical Heritage museum, Mutter Museum, Washington monument, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, WWII memorial, the White House, the Liberty bell, Independence hall, Arlington National Cemetary, Philly Art Museum, Smithsonian - Natural History Museum, Capitol, and John's Hopkins Hospital.  It was a fun filled weekend.
      It's finally starting to green up here in Wisconsin (everything was still leafless and grey when I got here).  We have a robin's nest in our yard, with three baby robins in it.  They hatched last Saturday, so they are 10 days old.  They've gotten their feathers finally, and are starting to get super cute :).

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Reliable vaccination sources

     Here is a short list of some reliable sources for information on vaccines, many of which were used in my latest series of posts on vaccination (I, II, III, and IV). - a site by the College of Physicians and Surgeons on vaccinations, their history and how they work. - CDC's website on vaccinations, the related illnesses and immunization schedules. - The NIH website that allows access to research peer-reviewed articles on a variety of topics, including vaccination. - information on adult vaccinations - Vaccine information about vaccine science, vaccine preventable illnesses and travel vaccines.  


Monday, May 5, 2014

Truths about Vaccination, part IV

Myth: Children get too many vaccines – it’s dangerous to get so many.
Since vaccines work by stimulating the immune system, they aren’t the same as a by weight dosed medication, such as benydryl, which works by influencing biochemical pathways.  It takes the same amount of exposure for any individual to develop immunity, and more or less exposure doesn’t mean a different outcome.  For example, if I sneezed on a baby and a teenager each once, they both could get sick.  It doesn’t take one sneeze to make the baby sick and five sneezes to make the teen sick.  One sneeze does it for both.  Chemical additives, as previously discussed, are dose specific, and are added in much smaller quantities than is required for any kind of side effect. 
Myth: The diseases we vaccinate against aren’t a threat anymore
The only vaccine preventable disease that isn’t a threat is smallpox, which was eradicated in 1979.  As a result, we don’t vaccinate against it anymore.  However, the diseases we do vaccinate against are still a threat.  Mumps? 295 cases in Ohio in the past three months.  Measles? 1,219 cases in Swansea, Wales in 2013, with 80 hospitalizations.  Pertussis? 48,277 cases in 2012 (USA only), and 4,838 cases in 2014 (reported to CDC as of April 14), up 24% since last year in the same period.  These dieases aren’t gone, only held in check by vaccination, and most are only a plane ride away. In fact, many of these diseases are experiencing an increase in cases.  Why? Parents refusing to vaccinate their children.  Help us keep these diseases from reaching their previous death tolls by vaccinating your child.
Myth: Vaccines are a ploy to make doctors and pharmaceutical companies rich

Vaccines are a very low cost method of preventing disease.  DTaP costs about $20 for a 10 pack of immunizations, or $2/child.  By contrast, hospitalization, which is required in 50% of whopping cough cases (Pertussis, the P in DTaP), costs up to $8000 a day.  Hopsitalizations cost a lot more than vaccinations, therefore earning the doctors more of a profit.  Drug companies also make more from hospitalizations, as these stays often require complex interventions, including fluids, IV antibiotics and medical devices such as respirators.  It’s in their best profit interest to not vaccinate and get paid for hospitalizations.  Vaccines do not turn a large profit.  In fact, many areas require free vaccinations for children, so doctors don’t make any money giving them.  

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Truths of Vaccination, part III

Part III on vaccines

Myth: Vaccines cause Autism
This is just loads of wrong.  The study that considered this was rejected by peer-reviewed journals and the writer was stripped of his medical license.  The study itself used techniques that were quite harmful to the children involved (unnecessary enemas, colonoscopies and other painful tests were performed).  Additionally, recent studies (2014) have concluded that the changes in brain structure and function that result in autism begin in utero (long before childhood vaccinations).  Vaccines do NOT cause autism. 

Myth: The decline of vaccine prevented illnesses wasn't due to vaccines
While some graphs seem to show that diseases were in decline, and therefore the decline wasn’t due to vaccines but other measures (from nutrition to sanitation and quarantine).  While these public health measures may have had some effect on the decline of these diseases, they weren’t enough to wipe out or even slow down these diseases.  Additionally, many of these public health measures had been used for decades previous to the decline of these diseases.  Vaccines were truly the cause of these diseases declining. 

Myth: Vaccines contain dangerous chemicals and toxins
Vaccines, like thousands of other products, have certain chemicals in them to keep them functional and safe for long periods of time.  These are called adjuvants.  There are a variety of adjuvants used in vaccinations, but all are safe and have undergone rigorous testing to prove so.  The scary names you hear are really not that scary, and are often found in other, everyday foods.  A pear contains many times more formaldehyde than a vaccine, which is still less than the amount found naturally in the body.  MSG is found in thousands of foods, and is responsible for that tasty, meaty flavor (umami) in broths, meats and salty products, as well as vegetables, sauces and other dishes.

Myth: Vaccines haven’t been tested by double-blind studies so they aren’t effective
Firstly, a double blind study of vaccines would require deliberately exposing unprotected children to deadly diseases and infections.  There are some obvious ethical problems with that.  As a result, many vaccines are studied using titer testing, which tests immunity based on blood chemistry and anti-bodies in the blood stream.  These trials are undertaken by willing volunteers.  Comparison trials are also done in pre-cursor animals studies, under rigorous conditions.  Many such animal studies (in multiple animals, over short and long time periods) must be conducted before a possible vaccine can even be suggested for study in humans.    

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Truths of Vaccinations, part II

Part two in my series on vaccinations

Myth: I’m not a danger to people if I don’t vaccinate myself
You are a danger to others if you chose not to vaccinate yourself (or your children).  See that infant? She’s too young to receive the whooping cough vaccine, but she has a 1 in 200 chance of dying from it, as well as a 50/50 chance of needing hospitalization.  Infection could last up to 100 days, and will require supportive treatment, such as oxygen, IV nutrition and fluids, and possibly mechanical ventilation.  See that bald man?  He has cancer, and his body can’t fight infections due to the chemotherapy.  The flu could easily kill him.  See that little boy wearing a mask? He is immune-compromised from a genetic condition.  He can’t be vaccinated because his body doesn’t form antibodies in response to vaccines, so they are not effective for him.  See that girl over there?  She’s allergic to the eggs in which vaccines are grown and can’t receive them. 
All of these people are susceptible to the illnesses usually prevented by vaccines.  Additionally, vaccines are not 100% effective, meaning even a healthy person who has received a vaccine can get them.

Myth: If vaccines aren't 100% effective, why should I get them?
Vaccination campaigns are hugely successful due to herd immunity, as well as the immunity provided by the vaccine.  When you receive a vaccination and it simulates an immune response your body remembers it.  Just like with a natural infection, sometimes the body doesn’t remember that infections and therefore isn't immune.  This is why someone who has been vaccinated still has a chance of getting sick.  They do however have a much better chance of not getting sick (90-99% depending on the vaccine), and a better chance the infection will be milder.  Saying that vaccinating is a bad idea because it’s not 100% effective is like saying one shouldn't take birth control because you might still get pregnant or not use an umbrella because you can still get wet. 
Herd immunity is when an entire population is immune due to a lack of susceptible individuals.  People can either be non-susceptible (immune) due to previous infection or to vaccination.  The percentage of individuals who must be immune to cause the entire community to be safe through herd immunity depends on the disease in question, due to variance in virulence, infectious period and transmission rate.  Once this level of community immunity has been reached, herd immunity has been reached.  This means there aren’t enough individuals left in the population, and they are separated by social connections, that the disease can’t take hold in the population because it lacks a reservoir (somewhere to stay active).  Many diseases were kept in check for decades with herd immunity.  New disease pockets are immerging because herd immunity in population groups is gone.  Examples include the recent outbreak of measles in New York.  These cases are connected by social groups.  Similar outbreaks can occur in any pocket of non-vaccinated people.   

Friday, May 2, 2014

Truths of Vaccination

   Today I'm going to start a series on vaccinations and immunizations.  I'm appalled by the amount of misinformation out there, and I want to address some of the common myths from a science/bio-engineering side.  If you have any additional myths you would like addressed, please comment on this post and I will address them. I will also provide reliable sources for the facts I discuss.
I feel the need to write a post about vaccination, due to the insane amount of misinformation out there on the internet.  Vaccination/immunization shouldn’t even be a debate, in my opinion.  It’s a no-duh kind of situation, yet an inordinate amount of people, nearly all unqualified to do so, feel the need to vehemently disagree with vaccination.  I shall now offer an argument of my own, as well as some refutations of commonly cited issues.
I did go through a questioning phase, where I wondered about the science behind vaccines, which prompted me to do my own research.  As a high schooler, I was able to see the logical fallacies and problems presented in the anti-vax literature, as well as understand the science and medicine behind immunizations to come to the conclusion that vaccine are good
Vaccines work by stimulating an immune response, using either attenuated or killed germs, or even pieces of germs.  The body’s immune system sees the invaders and attacks them, producing antibodies.  The body now knows this germ, and the next time it encounters said germ, it knows how to produce the correct antibodies, thereby mitigating or eliminating the infection. 

Myth: Vaccines cause the disease they are supposed to prevent.
The most common time I hear this is about the flu vaccine.  The flu vaccine doesn’t give you the flu.  In fact, the flu vaccine is made of part of a dead virus, so it is impossible to get the flu from it.  (Note: some nasal spray flu vaccines contain attenuated virus). However, since people often get the flu vaccine in late fall, they often have sniffles, runny noses and mild coughs, maybe even a mild fever, that appears shortly after they get the flu vaccine. This is not influenza! It’s a cold.  Influenza causes a high fever, muscle aches, headaches and fatigue, along with the aforementioned cough and sniffles.
Most other vaccines are also killed viruses or virus particles (a piece of a virus).  This means they have absolutely no ability to cause the viral infection.  There are a few vaccines that are live virus.  These viruses are attenuated, meaning they have been weakened.  MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine) is an attenuated vaccine, as are the vaccines for chicken pox/shingles, rotovirus and yellow fever.  The viruses in these vaccines have lost their ability to replicate in humans.  Again, they cannot cause infection. 

Myth: Risk of vaccine side effects are much greater than risks from the actual disease.
The diseases against which we are vaccinated are severe, and often cause lasting side effects.  For example, measles, once a common childhood disease was down to around 50 annual cases (2002 – 2007), with the majority being due to travelers exposed outside of the country, jumped to nearly 200 in 2008, with the majority being home-grown cases.  1 in 10 measles patients require hospitalization, and up to 30% of those who contract measles will have complications, including pneumonia in 1 in 20 children, and encephalitis in 1 in 1000 children.  By contrast, the MMR vaccine causes a fever in about 1 in 3000 children and a severe allergic reaction in 1 in over 1 million.  All of the diseases that we vaccinate against have greater risks from the illness than from the vaccine.  

Modern Genocide

     Ask the majority of people about genocide, and they will tell you about the holocaust.  You might ask them if they know of any other genocides, and a few might tell you about the movie Hotel Rwanda.
     What the majority of Americans don't know is that there have been many more genocides.  There have been hundreds of crimes against humanity, some of which are still going on now.  243 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from school two weeks ago, yet I see very little on the news.  Today, 30+ people were killed in a Syrian marketplace, and on Tuesday 14 children were killed and 80 injured when a school was bombed.  These things should be making the news, but instead I see profiles on sports stars and celebrity gossip.
     Crimes against humanity still happen.  They didn't stop with the Holocaust.  Be aware that not everything is as America-centric as we may think.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

As a Woman in Engineering

"Consider going into a classroom and looking around, and you’re the only man there. Even if you’re totally ok with that (heck, you expected it), you notice. You feel all the women in the room notice you and see that a lot of them are glancing over at you or making comments about your presence. Ok, you knew that might happen. A woman next to you says, “Hey, cool, a guy in a CS class, good for you.”
When it comes time to form a study group, half the women in the class don’t want to work with you because they assume men aren't as good at CS. The other half jockey to work with you, some for the novelty (“Hey, I’m in a group with the guy, “) and half because they want to ask you out.
When you go to apply for an internship, a lot of companies seem really interested in you, but you’re not sure if it’s because they like your resume or just because you’re a guy in CS and they want to look open and forward thinking by having lots of male interns coding. You meet up with a group of female interns and one makes a slightly sexual joke. Everyone freezes and looks at you - are you one of those guys in CS that is serious and can’t take a joke, or will you be one of the girls?
At your job after you graduate, it’s naturally not ok for a woman to say outright that she’s prejudiced against male coders… But maybe your boss gives you slightly different work, or it takes longer for you to get a promotion because they need more proof that you are good - you don’t get the benefit of the doubt the way the girls do. When you express a strong opinion about a tough problem, the women write it off as you being sensitive and emotional - men often are, you know. When discussing your career ambitions, your coworkers often ask you how children play into that - I mean, you’re probably looking for a wife and plan to have kids since you’re in your late 20s. Everyone knows it’s a safe bet that kids are going to derail your career at least temporarily, if not permanently. You frequently police how often you mention family at all for fear people will assume you’re expecting a kid soon…
… Does this begin to explain it, at all? Even when a company is open to women working in all areas and no one is a dick, there is still a lot of pervasive bias that affects how women are treated and perceived. Why would you notice? It doesn’t affect you."
— Electrostaticrain (Reddit)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bald is Beautiful

   Recently, 9 year old Kamryn shaved her head at St. Baldricks in support of her friend Delaney, who is battling cancer.  In response, her school kicked her out until she either got a wig or her hair grew back.
   This is the response that a young girl who took a brave step in loosing her hair was given.  She should be applauded for shaving her hair to support her friend, not ostracized from her school.  This is the response of St. Baldricks:
"Kamryn, by your sacrifice and willingness to be bald like Delaney, you’re demonstrating that love is more powerful than fear and that life’s most valuable lessons are often learned outside the classroom."

Kathleen Ruddy, St. Baldrick's CEO, shares her support in an open letter to Kamryn Renfro and Delaney Clements.

After a massive social media campaign, Kamryn's school board voted 3 to 1 to allow her back into school.  This still means that there was an adult who thought she shouldn't be allowed back.  Let that sink in.

Monday, March 17, 2014


Millions of people around the world need organs, and the demand is only growing.  Organ donation, either post-mortem or from a living donor, is not growing enough to keep up with demand, and, indeed, has never been able to meet the demand.
Below is a 2009 documentary about the illegal organ trade between impoverished eastern Europe and it's richer neighbors in western Europe and the Middle East.
Think about becoming an organ donor.  Your death can be a gift of life for over a dozen people.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Steffi's latest adventures in college

So, the last two months have been pretty busy.  I'm taking some really cool classes this semester: Diversity and Evolution of Life, Drawing for Non-majors and French Conversation.  I've been spending a good amount of time in my lab.  This semester I'm going to be presenting in the Undergraduate Research Symposium, which is pretty exciting.
Last night was Girl Scout Night with SWE, the third one I've organized in the time I've been here.  We had 110 girls, which is a huge event, the largest I've ever organized.  It was a bunch of fun, and we really reached a lot of girls.  We also had a forum for the parents with some of our female engineers, so we got to educate the parents too.
Next week I'm going to San Diego, which is going to be awesome.  It's the SWE region B conference.  There's a big career fair, lots of workshops and keynote speakers. I'm going to apply to present at Annual conference next year, so I'm hoping to pick up some pointers.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Be a Voice

Be a voice for children with cancer.  In the time since this video was made, four of the children have passed away.  What does that say about how "treatable" childhood cancer is?

Friday, January 3, 2014

Exciting STEM

   Yesterday, I was notified that I was approved for a grant for an awesome event for middle and high school aged girls.  I'm organizing an into to Engineering event: Edible Engineering.  I'm really excited my grant got approved, so I can reach even more girls.