Breast Cancer Awareness for You and Me!

October 25th, 2018

This past month I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Kristi Funk, founder of the Pink Lotus Foundation, breast surgeon, and author of the book, “Breasts: An Owner’s Manual”.

It was inspiring to hear her personal story of how she came to be a breast surgeon, and how she wants to help women maintain their best breast health.

I was fascinated to hear how the majority of breast cancer is NOT the result of genetics (at least, not specific mutations, that we know of), and that lifestyle choices play a major role in this disease. Isn’t it true for so much illness these days? It seems the “Mad Men” lifestyle is not sustainable or even suggested. Too bad, although I don’t really feel so great after a three martini lunch anyway…

Dr. Funk recommends the usual suspects to stay healthy and avoid breast cancer: exercise, sleep, reduce stress, and diet. All of these are great ideas generally. And, from all that I have read, making these adjustments reduces inflammation in the body, which has been implicated in the development of many health disorders.

Now, while taking steps to lifestyle change can reduce inflammation and improve health, it is not a silver bullet. Some people have propensity to cancers, and that’s just the way it is. We still don’t know enough to say who will get it and who won’t. It’s a game of risk reduction and probabilities.

So, even though I appreciate the advice from Dr. Funk that the best way to reduce breast cancer risk is to become vegan, that is not a dietary choice that works for me, personally. I don’t eat a lot of meat (only chicken and fish, and not regularly), and because of lactose intolerance don’t eat much cheese. I love grains and fruits and vegetables… meals made from foods that people call “whole”. But, I’m going to continue to eat eggs, and the occasional slice of pizza (who am I kidding? The occasional half a pizza) because that works for me.

I want to be healthy, but I’m not going to make myself crazy trying to manage every aspect of my and my family’s diets. Life, for me, is a balance. And, I don’t think the stress of vegan meal-planning is worth the slim percentage of cancer risk reduction that diet might provide.

My favorite advice from Dr. Funk, that I will definitely make a concerted effort to follow, is to spend time with people you love. And even though they may be a source of stress for some, friends and family are a support network. They are a release valve for built-up tensions. They are people who love you in return. And, that in itself, is something to invest in.

Sex, Science, and Politics

October 23rd, 2018

Thanks to a conversation with an individual on Twitter, I now understand that there is a segment of the US population that is in denial about the reality of developmental biology, specifically that people can be born as something other than strictly male or female. I doubt that those in denial about gender identity in the modern age will come to read this post. But, for others who might not understand what the hubbub is about, please, read on.

Gender is not sexual preference. Gender is not the same thing as sex.

Gender is usually something personal. You put on your make-up, or shave your face in the privacy of your home without anyone else’s input. Sex is also personal. It’s not often that the clitoris and penis are discussed openly.

Yet, sex and gender are also a huge aspect of social life, and thus politics. Once upon a time in America, the owning of land was allowed (or dis-allowed) on the basis of one’s sex. If you were born with genitalia that looked male, lucky you. You could be a landowner. This, too, led to determinations of who was allowed to vote. Men could. Women could not. Nevermind that sex and gender don’t always align perfectly.

Our Western society has operated in this sort of binary gender construct for much of its history. But, thanks to science and social media, the last several decades have been filled with voices asking us all to consider the reality that gender is not just binary.

On the basis of chromosomes (XX for women and XY for men), it seems cut and dried. But, sometimes there are chromosomal duplications or abnormalities leading to XXY, X, or mosaic karyotypes. Additionally, hormones play a huge role in development of the genitalia, and excess androgen or estrogen can lead to changes in the appearance of the genitals compared to what is considered normal. Sometimes genetic or epigenetic factors can lead to hormone insensitivity, which means that even though the karyotype and hormone levels are normal, the body doesn’t develop in parallel. It’s even been suggested that environmental toxins are having an increased effect on the abnormal development of sexual characteristics in some parts of the world.

Taken together, this means that the genitals that a doctor looks at to determine a baby’s gender at birth aren’t always representative of the individual’s internal state. And, sometimes because of hormonal factors that difference doesn’t really appear until puberty. For the majority of people, it is fairly straightforward. But, for the millions of people born transgender or intersex, growing up can be extremely confusing and difficult.

Recently, and probably in a bid to drum up their conservative-base, the Trump administration reported that it is considering a change to Title IX that would legally pin-down the definition of sex. According to the NY Times:

“Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” the department proposed in the memo, which was drafted and has been circulating since last spring. “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

Clearly, considering hormonal influences on gender identity that go beyond what can be determined based on genetic screening, this definition is inadequate to say the least.

My conversation on Twitter let me know that there are many people who don’t care to understand that gender is more than what many of us learned about in sixth-grade sex education classes; who don’t care to understand what it feels like to be a minority; who don’t care to understand how our social policies leave some people out; who live in a state of denial.

And, I do hope that this media play does get people off their butts to vote. Let’s get our Democracy back.

 

Oh, The Humanity – Our Urge To Escape

October 16th, 2018

I understand the need to escape from reality. There come moments when the pressures of the real world just get to be too much. Flight can be easier than fight. It can help to escape into a book, movie, or “mindless” television watching. But, problems arise when this escapism becomes something practiced by society writ-large rather than being momentary acts of individuals. There are two very different places this society-level escapist attitude is openly playing out: willful ignorance within certain demographics and virtual-reality technologists.

People who refuse to look cultural or environmental change in the face in favor of sticking their fingers in their ears and repeating misinformation and disproven ideas are escaping into the comfort of their own identities. When online conversations turn into shouting matches where no one is listening to each other, it is likely because at least one side has escaped from the present reality. When someone refuses to listen to empirical, rational ideas in favor of what they heard on Fox News or read on Breitbart, being willfully ignorant of advances in understanding, it is because what they know is more comfortable than this new information.

When willful ignorance plays out on the wider political stage it begins to have real consequences. It becomes more than a spat between individuals. It holds back progress on large issues like climate change. For, if a large proportion of the public has run away from the scary idea of dangerous impending environmental change, refusing to see the reality, that reality does not exist for them. And, if it doesn’t exist, why does anything need to be done?

The second group, one you would think totally unrelated to the willfully ignorant, are the very well-educated and informed technologists working on developing virtual reality. At first glance, virtual reality with its goggles and gloves seems like it should be categorized along with the personal escapist entertainments like books, games, and movies. But, I see it in a different light when I consider the eventual goal of a virtual reality; that many look forward to the day that we create a construct into which humans will upload their consciousness.

The people working to create the technology that will allow humanity to shed its flesh, are looking forward to escape. They aren’t trying to fix any problems in this reality. Rather, they are building a new reality. One in which they envision no hunger, no poverty, and eternal life. It sounds like Heaven.

But, who needs Heaven if you have a computer generated existence? Or, well, who needs to fix anything here and now, if we have an escape hatch?

The Pivot

August 28th, 2018

I’ve hit a moment in my life where I think it is time to make a change. I look around at the science communications landscape, and it is FULL of amazing people communicating science. The YouTube space is now overflowing with intelligent, energetic young women explaining science. And… I feel aged out.

I’m not old, but I’m not young anymore either. It’s hard to believe that I could be a mom or even grandmother to most YouTube viewers. So, why do I keep doing the same things – producing content that is now being produced by younger voices and faces?

Like I mentioned in my last post, I’ve started a small video production company, and that is part of my pivot. I can use my experience to help others tell their stories. I don’t need to be the face in front of the camera any more.

However, I like to talk with people. I like to use my voice. So, I’m considering working on new shows beyond the weekly science news of TWIS. I want to produce shows that have personal value to me, and that set me apart from the pack of youngsters I no longer fit into. I’d love your feedback on my thoughts and experiments, so that I can really figure out what works and what doesn’t.

First, I’d like to interview more people – scientists, primarily, but I’m also thinking about a focus on women and the various issues that crop up as we age. My concern here is that although this is something that I am very personally interested in, it is a HUGE shift from what I have done historically, and away from the audience that I have built up over many years. Not that it’s a bad thing to do that. It’s just fear-inducing to consider something so different.

And, second, I’d like to do something with my son. I think it would be extremely rewarding to spend time creating a science-based show with him. This would also be targeted at a different audience, but the same amount of fear isn’t there because this show wouldn’t be about me as much as something to experience with my son. He has expressed interest, but seems to like the idea of a gaming channel more than science at the moment. So, we’ll see whether this idea gets any traction.

Finally, as far as helping other scientists tell their stories goes, I’ve also been thinking about putting some videos together about story-telling and video production for science. Maybe a weekly or monthly video workshop would be helpful for people…

Anyway, it’s time to pivot. I have ideas. I just need to start moving forward on execution. And, like I said, I’d love your feedback on what you think will be both useful and enjoyable.

Getting What I Want

August 22nd, 2018

I am… I think… finally, starting to see my work for the past year or so beginning to bear fruit. It’s a wonderful feeling to have clients and to be doing work that I enjoy. The best feeling in the world is actually completing projects to send them off into the world.

My little video babies…

Lol. Now I’m making my self laugh. Which is good. For the soul, for the heart, for me.

A few years back I decided that I would really make an attempt at running my own video production business. At first, I was full of excitement at the idea, but then anxiety about my abilities took hold (Would I actually be able to do the things I say I can? Am I actually just full of myself? Am I crazy to try this new thing?), which was followed by the depression, which led to me not doing anything to make the business move forward. Ugh.

That couldn’t go on forever. It was making me miserable to have a goal and NOT be acting on it. Thank you, therapy, for helping me to take actionable steps (yes, they were little baby steps) toward me facing my anxiety head-on so that I could get back to being productive.

Skip forward, and I’m working at building a small business in video production that focuses on telling science stories to the point where I now have sufficient business to keep myself busy. I might be too busy though…

I don’t know. Maybe my level of busyness is just right. It’s summer, and I (like everyone else) would rather be lounging on a river or beach than working in my office during these beautiful days, which are a VERY seasonal occurrence in Portland, OR.

Part of my decision to work for myself is based on wanting to be able to spend time with my son. And, yet, now that I am beginning to get the success I am aiming for as a video-maker, I find myself handing him the iPad so that I can work. This is a less than satisfying result for my soul. These years with the child will be gone before I know it, and there are no do-overs in this game.

Still, I also feel as though I haven’t taken a real break for a very, very long time. I went from working, to having a child, back to working, and then there was the anxiety and depression, not to mention the move to Portland, struggling for money, creating a new life in a new city, still working… and I’m still working.

Thankfully, I do love my work. And, I don’t think I could have kept it going this long if my work didn’t feed my soul. But, I think I’m tired, and I don’t know how to fix that because I made my decision to create a business that requires constant attention. Between work and family and my crazy brain, I honestly don’t know when I will be able to rest.

Maybe it’s time to hire some help? (That idea panics me because hiring people would mean that I realio, trulio am running a business, which is a bit scary and exciting to consider.)

Anyway, as I work through the emotions of balancing work and life, I’d love to hear from other parents. Do you work for yourself? As an entrepreneur, what do you do when the beautiful season hits? How do you make ends meet, and not feel like you are working all the time? If you work a steady job, how do you handle the summers when kids are home?

Wisdom Versus Weakest

July 17th, 2018

This week has been a doozy for news in America, and it’s only Tuesday. Trump has travelled the world, cow-towed to Putin, and managed to do unfathomable damage to our world standing… oh, yes, Germany now lists us as adversarial thanks to recent comments by Trump. AND, Jimmy Kimmel once again reinforced the inadequacy of the American educational system.

Understanding that the bit is edited to be a shocking and humorous as possible, it is still hard to believe that people don’t know the difference between a continent and country – many responses were to point at Africa when asked to locate/name a country on the map. Even more disturbing is that when given the option to locate ANY country on the map, they don’t even start with the United States. Thankfully, we are relieved when a young boy-child seems to name all the countries in North and South America. The future is in good hands… can the rest of us just leave already?

But, the problem is I can’t even be shocked by the revelation of ignorance in this video clip. The news for the past couple of years has etched this reality into the nerve pathways of my brain. A good portion of Americans don’t know anything about the rest of the world, let alone where the rest of the world is located. They also don’t know much beyond their own experiences. The educational system has let a lot of people pass through its grasp without actually teaching them to see beyond what is right in front of their own faces.

Of course, the media is to blame as well. It perpetuates what people want to see, and it seems as though that vision is driven by the least curious among us. Once again we fall victim to the influence of the weakest link instead of being lofted by the wisdom of the crowd.

How we change this pattern is something the brightest minds are trying to figure out. For the time being we don’t have an answer that involves systemic change. For now, it is up to each of us to be responsible for a few things:

  1. Ourselves – be curious, and feed that craving for information. Don’t take things at face-value. Do your own research.
  2. Our families – inspire curiosity in the next generation.
  3. Our communities – conversation doesn’t have to be argumentation. Learn to listen, and practice compassionate communication to build stronger, more resilient communities. Kindness really is essential in the present moment.
  4. Our world – Vote. It really is the chance you have to voice your preferences in a way that will count. Local elections are essential to a functioning democracy. Forget about “trickle-down” economics, politics is all about trickling up. The grass has strong roots, and it will grow.

Not too hard, right?

Together we can turn the weakest links to wisdom.

Back At It…

July 2nd, 2018

Dr. Kiki WAG TV ShootI looked at the date of my last blog posting… just about 6 years ago, in fact… and am amazed at how things have progressed since then.

I obviously stopped blogging, but in the past 6 years I have managed to continue broadcasting TWIS, written articles for some great science magazines, appeared on cable tv science programming, done bits for what is now called Seeker on the Discovery Digital Platform, been hosting a second podcast (the Stem Cell podcast), become part of an amazing science communication organization called ScienceTalk, started to build a science media production company called Broader Impacts Productions, moved to Portland, and raised my little NanoKai into a wonderful 7-year old boy.

During that time, I also struggled off and on with depression, which certainly added a challenge to life. But, I discovered ways to deal with the lows, and try to really appreciate the good days. It doesn’t always work out the way I envision, but I am getting better and better at rolling with the unpredictability of my moods.

More recently, however, I have been feeling like some part of myself that was lost somewhere in the past is returning. Hence, this post, and my plan to get back into blogging… writing on a regular basis. Words stream through my mind that in the past few years have simply been lost to consciousness, slipping through the neuronal fingers of my mind. Now, I’m grabbing them with intention – some to be placed here for posterity.

I don’t know how many of these words will hit the pages of this blog. There are so many things I want to say; books I want to write. It might take me a while to hit my stride again, but I look forward to every moment of trying. Thank you for joining me in this venture.

Write on…

Dr. Kiki is on the Loose

June 28th, 2012

I’ve been waiting to write this. I don’t know why exactly, but it felt like the right thing to do.

Last week, I posted on twis.org that our show will no longer be netcast by the TWiT.tv network. Since that announcement people have asked me about my other TWiT.tv program, Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour, but I kept quiet.

I am very sorry to say that Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour (DKSH) will no longer be a part of the TWiT.tv lineup. Although the show has many loyal fans, it just isn’t enough to contend against the belt-strap tightening currently underway at TWiT. I’ve additionally been informed that the network is trying to focus its content to give the audience more of what they want.

DKSH isn’t alone in this. There will no longer be any science shows on the TWiT network. This saddens me, but business is business. I hope that the many changes at TWiT will allow them to move forward to become even stronger, and that one day they will bring science back into their lineup.

Regardless of these actions by TWiT, I will continue to endeavor to communicate science. TWIS will continue; exactly how is uncertain, but I will not let it disappear. And, now that DKSH is done, I find myself with a bunch of extra time on my hands.

If you have ideas about how I should spend that time, please let me know. I have over a decade of experience in science communications and media, and would love to work with content creators and science educators to make science even more appealing to the world at large.

I guess it’s time to go clean up my resume…

Does Your Brain Have Self-Control?

March 2nd, 2012

Yesterday I interviewed Dr. Kelly McGonigal, author of “The Willpower Instinct”, on Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour.

We discussed how willpower and self-control work, how the brain functions with regard to willpower, and tips and techniques to short circuit your habits in order to build self-control. The interview was an hour well-spent with many lessons learned. You can view it below.

Additionally, I recommend The Willpower Instinct as a great read and tool for anyone searching for insight into the way their brains work.

The Science Hour Provides Newsy Minutes

February 14th, 2012

For several months now I’ve been putting together a brief summary of the week’s science news stories at the top of Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour. I feel like it is a great way to get the science juices flowing before jumping into the main interview, and a little variety seems to spice things up for everyone.

During some of my precious free-time between tapings of the Science Hour, I had a thought that the science news portion of the show could stand on its own. So, starting this week, we will be releasing a new program called ‘Science News Weekly with Dr. Kiki’ via YouTube and the regular RSS channels for you to enjoy!

Science News Weekly will always be a brief review of the science headline news, so you will be able to enjoy it in minutes rather than having to put aside an entire hour. And, for those of you who are wondering if this means anything different for the Science Hour, rest assured that DKSH will be business as usual.

Look for Science News Weekly with Dr. Kiki!