Video and comic book explain mothers’ cancer

A video and comic book aimed at children whose mothers have been diagnosed with breast cancer are now available free of charge from Kidscope, a nonprofit organization based in Atlanta.

Kidscope was formed by Charles Center, JD, and his wife, H. Elizabeth King, PhD, a clinical psychologist, after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992.

"Our kids had a very difficult time during her breast cancer treatment, and when we went looking for something to help them understand it, there just wasn’t anything out there," Center says. The comic book Kemoshark was the collaborative effort of King and then-7-year-old son Mitch, who envisioned his mother’s chemotherapy as a shark that was making her sick and well at the same time (killing cancer cells with his "stun vision" and accidentally killing healthy cells at the same time, causing side effects). A Spanish translation of the comic is in the works.

The 33-minute video My Mom Has Breast Cancer — A Guide for Families is narrated by King, who specializes in pediatric psychology. The video features interviews with several mothers who are breast cancer survivors and their children. The children discuss what it was like to find out Mom had cancer and to see the effect of treatment on her, as well as how family dynamics changed.

Unlimited quantities of both products are available free, with no shipping charge, to women’s health centers and their patients, but donations are encouraged. Contact: Charles Center, Kidscope, 3400 Peachtree Road, Suite 703, Atlanta, GA 30326. Telephone: (404) 233-0001. Fax: (404) 233-3756. World Wide Web: http//

In the January issue of Self, women who take antidepressants are warned about a little-discussed side effect: sexual problems. From diminished libido to difficulty reaching orgasm, sexual side effects are a problem for 30% to 40% of patients on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the class of antidepressants to which Prozac belongs. That’s because serotonin, the neurotransmitter that is the "effective ingredient" in these drugs, also is a known sexual suppressant.

Because women are about twice as likely as men to suffer from depression, they should be aware of the symptoms of depression and the array of antidepressant options available, the article says. They should realize, for example, that the SSRIs are not necessarily more effective than the older generation of antidepressants, the tricyclic antidepressants (such as Elavil or Tofranil) or the monoamine oxidase inhibitors (such as Nardil or Parnate). They are simply safer and easier to tolerate.

If an SSRI drug is an appropriate choice for the woman, what should she do if she finds her sex life altered by a drug that offers her real benefits in other areas of her life? First of all, she should not stop taking the drug without medical approval, and she should explore with her doctor other options, such as lowering the dosage of the antidepressant, taking a second drug to counteract problematic sexual side effects, or, in the case of some of the newer SSRIs, taking a "furlough" from the drug each week, under careful medical supervision.

Cosmopolitan reiterates findings from a recent New England Journal of Medicine study that women who opt for vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) should be aware that they have twice the risk of major complications. The article points out that although the risk of complications generally is lower and recovery quicker among women who deliver vaginally, those who have had a previous cesarean should not attempt to deliver vaginally if they are over 35 or if their first child weighed more than 9 pounds at birth.

Articles in both Cosmopolitan and the January issue of Glamour advise women not to worry about an increased risk of breast cancer from taking the Pill. The articles recap research published in The Lancet and Contraception, respectively, which found no long-term link between the Pill and breast cancer. The studies took into account many of the factors that influence breast cancer risk, such as family history, number of children, age at which pill use started, and pill type and dosage. (For more on the Contraception study, see Women’s Health Center Management, January 1997, p. 7.)

Glamour also features an article on the types, characteristics, and causes of nipple discharge, which occurs most often among women of reproductive age, says Douglas Marchant, MD, director of the Breast Health Center at Women and Infants Hospital in Providence, RI. Women should always report nipple discharge to their primary care physicians, Marchant says, but 90% of the time it’s nothing serious. Physical trauma, intraductal papilloma, and enlarged milk ducts are a few of the causes listed.

Women may be persuaded to think of their monthly menstrual cycles as more than cramps and inconvenience when they read an article in the January issue of Mademoiselle. The ebb and flow of estrogen, progestin, and testosterone influence women’s sex drives, sharpen their mental focus, and perhaps most importantly, protect them from sexually transmitted diseases, according to researchers. Charles R. Wira, PhD, a professor of physiology and director of immunological studies at Dartmouth Medical School in Lebanon, NH, has concluded that the immune system appears to be under the control of estrogen and that in lab animals, resistance to herpes and chlamydia is stronger in females than in males. Wira hopes to prove that immune response to bacteria and viruses in the reproductive tract are strongest in the first two weeks of the menstrual cycle, when estrogen levels are high.

A researcher at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, Joan Merrill, MD, theorizes that because estrogen cells act deep within bone marrow, they influence which white blood cells are manufactured in response to threats of infection. This action also may help explain why women are more susceptible to autoimmune diseases such as lupus.