Keeping women’s health at heart: Closing gender gap in heart-disease awareness, health care

Cardiovascular disease has long been the No. 1 killer of both men and women older than 20, claiming more lives per year than all forms of cancer combined, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Yet decades of gender disparity in research, prevention and health care have left women at a disadvantage.

Compared to men, women are less likely to recognize cardiovascular disease as their leading cause of death, know the symptoms of a heart attack or receive aggressive diagnosis and treatment, according to the American Heart Association.

Heart disease and stroke took the lives of nearly 400,000 U.S. women in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent available data. That’s one in three female deaths — breast cancer causes one in 31.

But the AHA has made notable progress toward reversing these trends since launching its Go Red For Women initiative in 2004.

Go Red For Women not only raises awareness about cardiovascular disease in the female population, but also in the medical community, by providing women-specific treatment guidelines, pushing for equal gender representation in clinical trials and much more, said Brianne Harman, communications director of the AHA’s central Ohio division.

“Through outreach directly from Go Red For Women, roughly 293 fewer women die each day from heart disease and stroke,” Harman said, adding that since 1997, awareness among women that cardiovascular disease is their No. 1 health threat has increased from 26 percent to 56 percent.

Awareness among African-American and Hispanic women is significantly lower, according to the AHA.

And since 80 percent of cardiovascular disease is preventable through education and lifestyle change, Harman said, awareness is key.

“As an African-American female, it is a badge of honor to lead the charge toward heart disease research and preventive care,” said Kimberly Blackwell, CEO of PMM Agency and chair of the 2017 Go Red For Women in Columbus.

One way Go Red raises awareness is through National Wear Red Day, which is held the first Friday in February, falling this year on Feb. 3. More than 2,000 U.S. landmarks will light up red, including Columbus City Hall.

Columbus will host its 13th Go Red For Women luncheon on Feb. 23 at the Hyatt Regency Columbus, as one of 180 Go Red luncheons across the country, Harman said.

The top risk factors for cardiovascular disease are high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking, according to the CDC. Other risks include poor diet, lack of exercise and excessive alcohol use.

“Your family history is another thing that should definitely be discussed because that’s a big risk factor, and one that you can’t control,” she added.

Another issue is that women are more likely than men to experience nontraditional heart-attack symptoms, such as jaw pain, neck/back pain, pain down one side of the arm, nausea and fatigue, among others.

Misunderstanding these signals can lead to delays in diagnosis and treatment, Harman said. Fewer women survive their first heart attack than men, according to the CDC.

But advances are on the horizon.

The AHA has set a goal of reducing death and disability from cardiovascular disease and strokes in Americans by 20 percent by the year 2020.

The organization is on track to meeting the goal, with a decrease in deaths and disabilities every year since 2010, with the exception of 2016, Harman said.

And after a push for more gender-specific research, the FDA is now required to report on how many clinical trial results are documented by gender. The AHA has given more than $3.3 billion to cardiovascular-disease research — second only to the U.S. government.

Get involved in Go Red For Women by registering with the initiative at goredforwomen.org.

This story was originally published in The Columbus Dispatch’s Go Red For Women special section on Feb. 1, 2017.

Architects, design students team up to showcase leading home trends

A campfire crackles underneath a glowing crescent moon — or right in the middle of your living room.

While more and more homeowners have been extending their living space by covering and/or furnishing their porches, patios, decks and backyards, there is a new trend to look ‘out’ for in 2017, said Earl Lee, director of environmental design at Columbus-based architecture firm Moody Nolan.

That trend is to mix outdoor elements directly into the home— a concept that lies at the heart of an exhibit created by designers from Moody Nolan, as well as students from The Ohio State University and Columbus College of Art and Design.

“So you may find more natural materials like stone, grass and water,” Lee said. “Really the trend centers on making the walls of the house more transparent, so that the inside-outside transition is lessened.”

The exhibit includes four showrooms — a kitchen, bathroom, living room and bedroom —all of which infuse elements of nature within their design or decor.

The most obvious outdoor-indoor fusion — and what will likely be a visitor favorite — is the bedroom, which doubles as a treehouse that stands four feet off the ground. Other features include an outdoor shower, a half-inside, half-outside dining area, and an indoor fire pit.

It can be very simple, such as having a few potted plants in select locations,” said Chris Humphrey, a fourth-year architecture and construction-systems management student at Ohio State who helped create the exhibit.

On the other end of the spectrum, some homeowners opt to install a “green wall,” or a wall that has a growing medium on the surface, which allows plant life such as mosses and vines to grow and survive indoors, Humphrey said.

“We go outside a lot when we’re children, but we don’t necessarily think that our interior design or living spaces can reflect that,” said Toby Katz, a fourth-year interior design student at CCAD who worked on the project. “But we hope that this show tells people that you can be inspired by plant life and animal shapes and things like that, and that you can show it in your home in a tasteful way.”

An additional area features custom wall coverings designed by each of the six students who worked on the exhibit.

Similar to how vinyl tiles mimic hardwood or stone through modern printing technology, wall coverings can also be made to resemble various textures and patterns.

“It was a way to showcase and explore our interests, while also showing people that you’re not bound to the options that you have in stores,” Humphrey said.

While the exhibit is certainly fun to look at, its core purpose is to demonstrate to homeowners the new and trendy ways that they can enhance their atmosphere.

“A lot of the things we’re doing are definitely doable. It’s just about putting them together in the right combination to make the space what you want it to be,” Lee said. “Sometimes where people fall short is simply having the idea to do it.”

This story was originally published in The Columbus Dispatch’s Spring Home & Garden Show special section on Feb. 17, 2017.

Ohio’s growing web of entrepreneurs

Small businesses supporting hundreds of local artisans

insideshop

The inside of Glean, a small business in Columbus, Ohio, that sells items handmade by local artists from recycled and repurposed materials.

Some small businesses have taken entrepreneurship a step further by sourcing all of their products from local artisans, creating a robust network that celebrates local commerce.

With their diverse array of handmade and novelty items, these stores are essentially a one-stop shop for holiday gift buying and for supporting dozens of local merchants on Small Business Saturday, which is on Nov. 26.

One such retailer is Glean, a tiny, basement-level shop that’s flourishing with one-of-a-kind trinkets made from recycled and repurposed materials, all fashioned by local handcrafters, including jewelry, decor, trinkets and small furniture.

Dawn McCombs opened Glean on the corner of West First Avenue and North High Street in 2013. Following a 17-year teaching career, owning a small business was new territory for her.

“I just had this calling to go back to my creative roots,” McCombs said. “When you’ve been working for a long time, you sometimes become desensitized to what your passions really are, so I did some unearthing to find that.”

She initially stocked Glean with her own handmade goods as well as items made by about 10 of her friends. To procure additional merchandise she went to various craft shows to find interested local artists, such as Daisy Mae, who designs wine stoppers, bottle openers and other accessories with snippets of vintage maps.

Today, Glean sells handmade goods from 80 local crafters, said McCombs, who makes about 30 percent of the merchandise in the store. And because she personally selects her vendors, she knows details about each product, as well as the history of the maker.

“I think that helps, because in our society today we’ve lost that element a little bit,” she said. “It’s a bit of nostalgia that we don’t get anymore, like back in the olden days when you’d go to the baker or the butcher.”

A similar store practically shouts its business philosophy through its name — Celebrate Local, which transitioned from a farmer’s market in the parking lot of Easton Town Center into a year-round storefront at the mall in 2011.

Celebrate Local represents more than 300 Ohio farmers, artisans and entrepreneurs, said Lynn Stan, co-owner of the store, which opened a second location in Cincinnati in 2015. The shop sells everything from apparel and accessories to health and beauty products to food and wine.

“Small businesses are so important to the well-being of a community — economically, socially, culturally — but sometimes they’re not as loud as other companies,” Stan said, describing Celebrate Local as an “entree for small business.”

The value in buying local is that it keeps more money in Ohio’s economy, Stan said.

“It’s important for people with big purchasing power to buy local, to keep money from leaving the community,” Stan said. “A community begins with small business, and Celebrate Local is about remembering the little folks.”

Simply Vague, another retailer that sells Ohio-made products, began weaving a web of local artisans in Delaware in 2012. The small business has since opened two stores in Tuttle Mall and Polaris Shopping Center, said Andrea Archibald, who owns the store with her husband, Nate Archibald.

The store sells Ohio-themed products from roughly 250 local artisans, including apparel, home decor and jewelry.

The two lived in Ostrander before starting the business.

“There’s not many places to shop from out there, and we have always liked shopping locally, so we were driving really far to get everything,” Andrea Archibald said. “So we decided to house everything under one roof and make it more accessible to shop local.”

When the couple opened the original Simply Vague in Delaware (now closed), they were working in real estate and had no visions of the store becoming their full-time job. “We had no retail background,” Archibald said.

Now the two are managing five stores throughout Ohio, three of which are spin-off stores called The Direction.

McCombs, Stan and Archibald each expressed a high regard for their vendors.

“It’s become more than just a store they sell in; it’s become a network of people who are there to help each other,” said Archibald, who started a community-based organization in 2015 called Ohio Creative Collective, which connects Ohio-based small business owners, artists, authors and entrepreneurs through monthly events. She also runs the Made Local Marketplace Show, which takes place four times a year in Columbus and features more than 100 local artisans.

“A lot of the people that I’ve talked to think that it must cost so much money to start your own business, but there are ways around that if you’re creative enough,” McCombs added. “Find what your passion is and start off in little markets. You can’t fail if you’re doing something that you love.”

This story was originally published in The Columbus Dispatch’s 2016 Big Book of Savings on Nov. 20, 2016. 

The holidays: Big business for small business

Local gift shops gearing up for the end of the year

While most large retailers look forward to and rely on extra profits from the holiday season, the end of the year can make or break a small business.

In 2010, American Express recognized a need to counter the huge sales going to retail chains on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and created Small Business Saturday, a day dedicated to buying from small businesses. This year, Small Business Saturday falls on Nov. 26.

Whereas big-box retailers hire extra employees for the holidays, many small business owners pick up the increased workload on their own, including Mike Renner and Heather Ziegler, who own What The Rock?!, a 250-square-foot gift boutique in the Short North with an eccentric array of rock-and-roll-themed novelty items.

“Store hours are 1 to 7 p.m., but we’re usually working around the clock,” Renner said.

The story is the same for Josh and Niki Quinn, who own Tigertree, an apparel and gift shop in the Short North.

“At this point we’re always working, and even during any meal out with my wife and I, 99 percent of the conversation is work related,” Josh Quinn said.

Despite obstacles, What The Rock?! and Tigertree have both successfully sustained their stores for 10 years.

“We’ve seen a decade of consistent but slow growth, which I think serves us well because sometimes going slow is the best thing that you can do for your business,” Quinn said. “And I think Niki and I are both pretty resourceful. We’re good at learning on the fly.”

What The Rock?! brings in more than 25 percent of its business revenue from mid November through December, making it crucial to the business’ survival, Renner said. To make up for the dip in revenue during the remainder of the year, he and Ziegler sell their products and promote their store at various craft shows, music festivals and street fairs.

For Wholly Craft, a gift shop in Clintonville that sells handmade items from more than 400 vendors, the holidays constitute 35-40 percent of annual sales, said owner Olivera Bratich.

“We carry things all year round that are great to get for loved ones, but the holidays are the one time of year that you have to shop for 25 of your loved ones all at one time,” Bratich said. “So we spend a lot of time and energy making sure that we have a terrific selection from our crafters and designers.”

Wholly Crafts’ best-selling item is an Ohio-shaped cutting board, Bratich said, but the store is filled with miscellaneous merchandise, much of which is meant to be comical, like grenade-shaped hand soap and a coffee mug that reads, “Britney survived 2007. You can handle today.”

Similar off-the-wall items can be found at Tigertree, including unicorn or squirrel-shaped cookie cutters, paint-your-own-phone-case kits and earrings in the shape of tiny sriracha hot sauce bottles.

One of What The Rock?!’s best sellers is its line of whimsical baby onesies, Renner said. The onesies feature bands such as The Ramones, The Rolling Stones and Guns and Roses, and others have comical phrases such as ‘I still live with my parents.’

Also popular is the jewelry that Ziegler handcrafts, including guitar-pick earrings and “rock and rollsaries” (rosaries) picturing assorted music icons, such as John Lennon and Bob Marley.

Handcrafted guitar-pick earrings are just one of the unique gift items shoppers can find at Columbus, Ohio-based What The Rock?! Other fun products include onesies for babies with catchy phrases as well as “rock and rollsaries,” rosaries featuring pictures of iconic musicians.

Handcrafted guitar-pick earrings are just one of the unique gift items shoppers can find at Columbus, Ohio-based What The Rock?! Other fun products include onesies for babies with catchy phrases as well as “rock and rollsaries,” rosaries featuring pictures of iconic musicians.

“We find that at least 50 percent of people who come in during the holidays buying a gift also get something for themselves,” Renner said.

Regardless of the hard work, Renner, Bratich and Quinn all said they love what they do.

“We get to be our own bosses, and I get to deal with what I love — rock and roll,” Renner said.

“It’s a spread of ideas, a spread of aesthetics that I’m happy to be a part of,” Bratich said. “It’s been a great experience to sort of be invested in a community for so long and to see the growth and change in our customers.“

This story was originally published in The Columbus Dispatch’s 2016 Big Book of Savings on Nov. 20, 2016. 

Hundreds of experts team up to improve early detection of breast cancer

Flyer-and-banners-v3As part of Vice President Joe Biden’s $1 billion Cancer Moonshot initiative, hundreds of scientists and coders are attempting to improve the ability of mammograms to detect breast cancer.

About 100 out of every 1,000 women to get a mammogram will be recalled for further testing, but only five will be diagnosed with breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. This is largely due to issues in technology and image readability, especially as breast density increases.

“The breast is a three-dimensional structure, and standard mammograms take a two-dimensional picture of it,” said Dr. Jeff Hawley, breast radiologist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James). “Sometimes the tissue can overlap on the image, and that’s usually the cause for us to recall patients who are actually cancer-free.

Yet hospitals have had trouble improving the mammogram recall rate, despite efforts to utilize computer-aided detection (CAD) software, he added. In theory, CAD software can draw radiologists’ attention to subtle cancer indications that they may not have otherwise noticed. But many radiologists, including Hawley, find the current versions to be of questionable value.

So experts are teaming up in a large-scale, online competition to develop new computer algorithms in hopes of advancing mammogram readability.

“I think in the era of computer learning, it’s certainly possible,” Hawley said.

The competition, called the Digital Mammography DREAM Challenge, was launched in September by nonprofit research organizations DREAM (Dialogue for Reverse Engineering Assessments and Methods) and Sage Bionetworks.

The data-driven, open-source challenge lets participants train their computer models on 640,000 de-identified mammograms, said Dr. Thea Norman, director of strategic development at Sage Bionetworks and one of the competition’s organizers.

“This is not to imagine that an algorithm could replace a human being’s set of eyes,” Norman said. “It’s about asking the question of whether an algorithm can be developed that can help a radiation oncologist understand the relative risk that a mammogram is showing a true positive cancer indication.”

Research is conducted and data is recorded in a large online database, allowing scientists from around the world to collaborate across time and space.

If an improved computer algorithm for mammogram screenings is found, a team of advisors that includes radiologists and breast cancer specialists will help move it forward to clinical trials in hopes of eventual widespread use, Norman said.

“We see this as the beginning of a research project, not the end,” she added.

The mammography challenge is one about 40 DREAM challenges that have been hosted online since 2006. The challenges are a different approach to traditional academic research in that participants do not reap as many individual benefits.

The common strategy in each challenge is to make large volumes of data accessible to large volumes of scientists in both medicine and computer science, so that biological patterns can be identified faster and more accurately.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more of this, not only in radiology and breast imaging, but in all of medicine,” Hawley said, adding that no one from OSUCCC–James is participating in the challenge.

Institutions involved in DREAM challenges have included Harvard University, MIT, Stanford University, Columbia University, the European Bioinformatics Institute, IBM Research and many more.

The Mammography Challenge winners will be announced in spring 2017.

And the participants have more incentive than answering a key question in human medicine — their sights are on the $1.2 million in cash prizes, funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, a private foundation in Texas that invests in various philanthropic initiatives.

Beyond CAD software, another promising technology for breast cancer screening is 3-D mammography, in which multiple X-rays are reconstructed into a 3-D image of the breast, decreasing tissue overlap.

“If we can reduce tissue overlap, most studies are showing that we can lessen false positive recalls by about 30 percent,” Hawley said, adding that the James offers 3-D mammography at the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center and has plans to expand it elsewhere.

The original story was published in The Columbus Dispatch’s 2016 Pink Papers special section.


Husband finds solace in remembering through journaling

Doug and his late wife, Laura.

Doug and his late wife, Laura.

Amid a month of pink ribbons, feel-good stories and advertisements with smiling cancer patients, it’s easy to forget the millions of lives that are claimed by cancer each year.

And among death’s sickening array of characters, cancer is one of the cruelest.

Doug Alsdorf, professor at The Ohio State University, knows this reality all too well after losing his wife, Laura Behrendt-Alsdorf, to metastatic breast cancer in 2011.

It’s hard to talk about death. Most people avoid talking about death in the public sphere because death can’t be dressed up — not even in pink ribbons.

But Alsdorf will never forget or avoid discussing the bravery with which Laura — his soul mate and mother of his only child — faced death during her experience with breast cancer.

“In the face of pretty much everyone’s No. 1 fear, Laura did not cower,” he said. “She never said, ‘why me.’ She was courageous and resolute.”

It was a long, painful process for Alsdorf to say goodbye to Laura and accept that his life course has been altered on a profound level. But he is moving ahead with new dreams, goals, hobbies and passions — such as joining the fight to end cancer.

At the core of the fight against cancer is an unyielding drive powered by love, loss and hope — an arsenal that’s fortified by science and medicine. Alsdorf and Laura’s brother, Don Behrendt, are feeding that arsenal with the Laura J. Behrendt-Alsdorf Endowment Fund at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute. The fund has accumulated $120,000 thus far, and it benefits Dr. Sameek Rowchowdhury, who works on the genetic typing of cancer cells.

Shortly after Laura died, Alsdorf started to find some small comfort in blogging his personal thoughts about Laura, their life together and how he’s been coping without her.

His newfound love of writing is here to stay.

Alsdorf is 50,000 words into a book he plans to publish about Laura and “life, love, death and dating,” the proceeds of which benefit the fund at the James. He’s also working on another nonfiction book and a sci-fi novel.

“Everyone should create. Be a painter, a sculptor; play music,” he said. “I can’t do any of those things very well. But writing I can do. Everybody can write. Everybody has a story.”

He and Laura’s story began at Ohio State in Siebert Hall, where they were living as a resident advisor and graduate student, respectively. Ten years of friendship and romance later, they got married in 2001. Two years later, they welcomed their son, Garrett, into the world.

“She was in love with me and I was in love with her,” Alsdorf said. “Together, we loved Garrett.”

It was on May 17, 2011, that Laura’s story came to an early end at 43 years old.

She stood no chance in her six-year fight with breast cancer, but she won the battle in a different way — by living fully and passionately through it all.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in business marketing from Ohio State and, with her husband’s encouragement, an MBA from USC. The height of her career was spent at Mattel, a major toy manufacturing company. Laura’s spunky personality and love of the toy industry and automotive racing made her the perfect person to help oversee toy lines within Hot Wheels, Alsdorf said.

She was an avid diver, spoke French and had a great love for traveling. She made a point to keep exploring the world through her final days — her last trip was to Turks and Caicos with her family and friends, just six weeks before she died.

“She did all of that and so much more, all the while knowing that she was going to die young,” Alsdorf said. “She never let cancer define her nor a single day of her life.”

As it is inscribed on her tombstone, “cancer took Laura’s body, but it never touched her spirit.”

Laura’s memory will always be alive in Alsdorf and Garrett — who’s now 13 — and her selfless love continues to inspire them.

“I am so deeply grateful that Laura chose to love me,” Alsdorf said. “Her love now brings me peace.”

The original story was published in The Columbus Dispatch’s 2016 Pink Papers special section.


Pelotonia funds in action

It’s no secret that research is what’s going to help save more lives from cancer.

Since 2008, Pelotonia, Columbus’ annual cycling event and fundraiser for cancer research, has contributed more than $122 million to The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC–James).

One hundred percent of the proceeds are used to advance research through a variety of initiatives, including Pelotonia Idea Grants and the Pelotonia Fellowship Program, both of which fund selected cancer studies.

Two separate ongoing studies funded by Pelotonia at the OSUCCC – James are looking into the link between breastfeeding and breast cancer and figuring out how to alleviate depression in cancer patients.

BREASTFEEDING AND TNBC

Pelotonia awarded a 2016 Idea Grant to Dr. Bhuvaneswari Ramaswamy, an oncologist at the OSUCCC–James, for a study exploring the link between breastfeeding and triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) in African-American women.

Multiple studies have identified the protective effects of prolonged breastfeeding against developing breast cancer in general, but scientists have yet to fully understand the specifics of this link.

More recent data has pointed to a possible association between a lack of breastfeeding and the development of triple-negative breast cancer, prompting the need for further studies, Ramaswamy said.

TNBC is a subtype of breast cancer that’s particularly difficult to treat, as it lacks the three markers routinely used as therapeutic targets: estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER2). Chemotherapy is the only treatment option.

TNBC affects about 15 percent of breast cancer patients in the U.S., with younger black women being at significantly higher risk. In fact, 39 percent of premenopausal African-American women with breast cancer have TNBC, compared with 16 percent of nonblack cancer patients of any age, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

African-Americans also have one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the nation. “The data now shows that 40 to 50 percent of African-American women breastfeed their infants,” Ramaswamy said. “So if we can take that and increase the prevalence of breastfeeding, the hope is that we would reduce the risk of them developing TNBC.”

So how does breastfeeding help prevent cancer?

Ramaswamy and her research team think that the weaning process may have something to do with it.

Whether a woman gradually lessens breastfeeding frequency over time (weaning) or does not breastfeed at all, the breasts must stop producing milk — a process known as involution. For women who don’t breastfeed, this mechanism occurs much quicker.

Ramaswamy’s research team is looking at a specific gene involved in the involution process called STAT3, which they believe is over-activated in women who don’t breastfeed. This would subsequently cause an inflammatory environment in the breast, leading to a higher risk of breast cancer.

“Obviously it would be foolish to say that if we all breastfeed we can eradicate triple-negative breast cancer,” Ramaswamy said. “But if we can even reduce the risk and save a few lives from having to endure this devastating form of cancer, that would be critical.”

Her team will test their hypothesis using several mouse models, and if their prediction holds true, they hope to repeat the study on human breast tissue.

“I think knowing a little more about the biology of breastfeeding will strengthen the message that we can take to women and the community,” Ramaswamy said. “If, as a society, we provide the time and space for women — particularly working women — to breastfeed their children, can that help in preventing this type of cancer?”

This is the second Pelotonia Idea Grant that Ramaswamy has received.

COMBATTING DEPRESSION IN CANCER PATIENTS

Cancer research often is focused on developing new knowledge and therapeutics to fight the disease, but other areas of research can be just as beneficial, such as the work being done by Dr. Marlena Ryba, postdoctoral researcher and 2015 Pelotonia Fellow at OSUCCC–James.

Ryba’s study seeks to alleviate depression in cancer patients, which is often overlooked or under-treated. Along with Dr. Barbara Andersen, a clinical psychologist and professor at Ohio State, Ryba is testing the ability of an online therapy in reducing symptoms of depression in cancer patients that have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).

The study, called Beating the Blues, is based on cognitive-behavioral therapy, which attempts to reframe maladaptive thoughts and behaviors, which is the most effective treatment for depression, Ryba said.

Beating the Blues yielded beneficial outcomes when tested in the general population, but the intervention has never been tailored to cancer patients, who are typically undergoing multiple life changes.

The prevalence of depression in cancer patients ranges from 10 to 40 percent, depending on the type of cancer, Ryba said, adding that higher percentages are seen with breast cancer.

“As you can imagine cancer patients have many competing demands, so psychosocial care takes a back burner a lot of the time” Ryba said. “The unique challenges that cancer patients encounter warrant a different approach in treatment.”

In addition to a busy schedule, patients may be reluctant to seek help, so the online nature of the therapy lends a way for people to receive treatment in the privacy of their own homes, and at their own convenience.

The intervention was designed to be more interactive than other available therapies, allowing participants to build on previous sessions and choose specific issues they want to address, Ryba said.

There are about 15 patients enrolled in the eight-week intervention, which started in August. After its completion, a wait-listed control group will begin the treatment.

“Previous studies have shown the benefit of psychosocial care over and over again,” Ryba said. “This is just another way to deliver a treatment that has already shown to be effective to a population that really needs it.”

Those interested in Beating the Blues can email beatingtheblues@osu.edu or call 614-292-6874.

The original story was published in The Columbus Dispatch’s 2016 Pink Papers special section.


At four months pregnant, breast cancer was not on her radar

Pauline Russ

Pauline Russ

Breast cancer is diagnosed in roughly one pregnant woman in 3,000, according to the American Cancer Society.

In 2009, Pauline Russ was one of them.

Russ was 34 years old and four months pregnant when an ultrasound and biopsy confirmed that she had stage 2, triple-positive breast cancer.

Before her diagnosis, Russ informed her doctor of a pain in her right breast at a routine pregnancy checkup.

“Once my first trimester was over, she sent me to have an ultrasound just in case, although we both thought, ‘oh I’m sure it’s milk ducts getting ready,’” she said.

After the ultrasound, Russ was told nothing other than she needed to get a biopsy, but she could tell that something was wrong.

“When I left that day, I opened up the piece of paper they gave me, and it said ‘category 5, highly suspicious of breast cancer,’” Russ recalled. “I remember being in my car just banging my head against the steering wheel, thinking what am I going to do?”

At first, she feared that she could not be treated while pregnant.

Luckily, extensive research has proved that certain chemotherapy drugs, such as Adriamycin Cytoxan, are safe for both the mother and fetus during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.

Russ was told she would undergo chemotherapy for 12 weeks at no harm to her unborn child.

“Once it got confirmed and once I had a plan, the anxiety levels went down so much,” she said.

She said she felt well enough to continue her work as a physical therapist manager   at OhioHealth throughout the treatment, but the safety of her baby still weighed heavily on her mind.

“Every chemotherapy session, when I would watch the stuff drip in me, I was always scared that it was getting to him, too,” Russ said.

After the first round of chemo and a three-week break, Russ was induced into labor at 37 weeks pregnant. Just six hours later, on March 30, 2010, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Taxiarchi Michael Russ.

“I was bald at that point, and it was the most reassuring thing that he had hair all over,” she said. “He really was okay during the treatments.”

Russ underwent an additional round of chemotherapy, and after another small break had a successful one-sided mastectomy. She also began taking Herceptin, a targeted cancer drug.

“This was not how I imagined spending my first years as a new mom, but I learned so much during that time — lessons that have stayed with me and have made me a better wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend,” Russ said, adding that she wouldn’t have been able to make it without the support from her husband, family, friends and fellow staff at OhioHealth, where she also got treated.

One nurse told her that cancer is “like a big sandwich — you can only take one bite at a time,” which is what she tried to do by celebrating every step forward in her battle against breast cancer.

She is now cancer-free.

She transitioned from her role at OhioHealth as a physical therapist to the system director of surgical oncology, breast health and genetics at OhioHealth, which allows her to exercise her passion of helping those with cancer.

Russ recently participated in Dancing with the Survivors, in which she and several other local breast cancer survivors paired up with professional dancers in front of a live audience — similar to Dancing with the Stars. The event takes place in multiple U.S. cities each year, and donations and ticket sales benefit the Pink Fund, a public charity that offers financial assistance to breast cancer patients. Russ raised about $2,000.

Despite the countless bad parts, going through cancer gave Russ a new joy for life.

“All the cliches — ‘enjoy every day,’ ‘don’t sweat the small stuff,’ — are so, so true,” she said. “Everything in life is worth celebrating. That’s the big lesson here.”

And she doesn’t forget those who weren’t so lucky.

“Those of us who have survived don’t forget about the ones who have passed,” Russ said. “When we raise money, when we make efforts to progress research and the treatment of cancer, it is in their honor.”

The original story was published in The Columbus Dispatch’s 2016 Pink Papers special section.