Friday, December 30, 2011

Could be the end of the world as we know it (or not)

I find it kind of sweet that people still get caught up in a good old-fashioned doomsday prophecy once in a while.
It’s difficult to be certain of anything in this world, so I don’t mean to poke fun at those who believe the apocalypse is coming in 2012. It could be.
But what’s charming is that the belief has gained so much traction that even the well-regarded Guardian newspaper in London, England felt the need to run a rather serious story this month featuring a German scholar disputing rumours that the end is nigh.
I like that.  We seem all sophisticated and rational as a society, but just below the surface is a wide-eyed kid who still believes in things that go bump in the night. Prepare for a good year on that front regardless of what’s up with the apocalypse, seeing as the ancient Mayans aren’t the only ones predicting intense times in 2012.
It seems perverse to wish for disaster. But working ourselves up about a possible apocalypse is obviously something humans enjoy every now and then, and we do it well. Who can forget Y2K?
The 2012 doomsday prophesy revolves around a stone tablet carved by an ancient Mayan civilization from the Tortuguero region of Mexico. The tablet marks 2012 as the end of a 5,125-year cycle of the Mayan long-count calendar.
Some have taken that as indication that the world will cease to exist as of Dec. 21, 2012. Of course, you have to put a lot of faith in ancient Mayans to believe that. But that’s the thing about faith - it doesn’t need to make sense.
At any rate, the scholar quoted in the Dec. 1 Guardian article disputed that interpretation of the tablet writings.
Sven Gronemeyer contends the tablet is too damaged to make out some of the words written on it. He says the legible part in fact says what lies ahead is a return of the mysterious Mayan god Bolon Yokte. His arrival is said to mark the end of 13 consecutive periods in the Mayan calendar that each lasted 400 years.
Oddly enough, my partner and I will have a front-row seat for whatever action awaits when the fateful day - Dec. 21, 2012 - rolls around. We will have been in Honduras for almost a year by that point, on a placement with Cuso International in the very town that Honduran President Porfirio Lobo has singled out for a tourism happening tied into the Mayan prediction.
We’ll be in Copan Ruinas, the site of major Mayan ruins. Government hopes visitors pour into the town for the “countdown to the end of time,” giving the flagging Honduras tourism economy a boost along the way. Whatever awaits - Bolon Yokte, the end of days, or more likely just some big, wild party - we’re going to be smack-dab in the middle of it. 
A B.C. soothsayer warns of other shakeups closer to home in 2012. Georgia Nicholls, the Vancouver astrologist who writes a newspaper horoscope column, says “fiery Mars” will preside over all signs for most of the year. This is apparently a very unusual development.
She advises us to prepare for much more cosmic energy bouncing around next year. That’s neither good nor bad on its own, adds Nicholls, but the challenge is in managing all that extra energy.
Nicholls cautioned Sagittarians like me to ease up in 2012 on their tendency to resist authority. I am taking that to heart. It’s a reminder that I will soon be working in an unfamiliar culture, political structure and language, and will need to be the nicest, most easy-going version of myself.
There does seem to be agreement among the ancient Mayans, the astrologists and the Chinese that 2012 is shaping up to be a corker.
According to Chinese astrology, the 12-month period starting Feb. 4 is the year of the black water dragon. That heralds a year of uncertainty and unexpected developments.
“You can have either bad luck or good luck in 2012, and will have a chance to turn it into better or worse luck,” noted one Chinese horoscope site. Gulp.
But if it’s really all over next December, luck is the least of our worries anyway. Have a world-shaking year, and maybe Bolon Yokte and I will see you in Copan Ruinas.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It's all about the piles

I don't know what my new life will be like once we get to Honduras, but right now it seems to be about sorting. That and studying Spanish fill what I used to call "spare time" - the blocks of time in my life when I could do fun things like bird-watching or spend a leisurely couple of hours at the gym.
Now, there's only sorting and Spanish, although they have their own charms. Newly able to understand at least most of what I read in the Honduran on-line newspaper I've been checking out, I'm very happy to be finally making good on years of empty promises to myself that I would learn Spanish. But I've been hard at it for almost two months now and taking a two-hour private lesson every week as well, so no surprise that my birding time has suffered. So it goes.
The demands of sorting are multi-layered. First, you sort just to put like with like - tools over here, art materials over there, miscellaneous (and oh, there's so much miscellaneous) over by the wall.
Then you sort the newly sorted stuff into smaller piles: This one to store; this one to give away to family; this one for donation; this one to ditch. I'm an aggressive ditcher and my partner is right on the edge of being a hoarder, so you can imagine how pleasant that aspect of things has been.
The out-bound stuff then gets loaded into the back of my truck and off it goes to whatever the final destination, freeing up space in the basement for the next round of sorting. And on and on it goes. I feel the pressure of our Jan. 15 departure quite acutely at this point, but I've had to be careful not to be too efficient, or the next thing you know I've given away something we'll actually need between now and then.
The cabinet that housed our wine glasses and liquor went on its way today, up-Island to its new home in my son's house. The homeless liquor bottles are stacked on the floor in the dining room now, so much in our way that it's as if they're daring us to drink them up before we fly away. Well, if that's the way it has to be. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

It's Bad News Week

I'm reading Honduran newspapers on-line these days, trying to get a sense for the zeitgeist of the place before we land there Jan. 16. I must say, things feel a little gloomy based on the headlines. But I did a Google News search today to check in on what was going on in Canada, and the long list of bad-news stories reminded that gloom is just what media do all around the world.
Of the 16 "top stories" Google News had on offer at the time I searched, 14 were about bad things happening somewhere.
A guy dressed up as Santa kills a bunch of people. A Surrey man is shot dead on Christmas Day. Suspicious deaths, missing people, falling polls. Such catastrophic events just seem to be what we consider "news," although I often wonder what we're supposed to do with such news.
Do visitors interpret the nature of Canada based on what they see in our media, just as I'm trying to do with Honduras? If they do, we surely seem a much more dangerous country than we actually are. Maybe that's why those U.S. seniors tried to bust through the border at Aldergrove recently packing all those guns for surviving Canada's untamed wilderness and lawless culture.
For once, it pleases me to be reminded of the media's tendency to draw a country's sorrows into a tidy daily-news package, concentrating the feeling that everything is falling apart. Whether here or in Honduras, there's always more to the story. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Times like this reveal what matters most

Merry Christmas, everyone! This is my antepenultimate column for the Times Colonist. I had to search that word out just to have something fancy to say about my third-to-last opinion piece. I've been writing a column for the paper since 1996, so these are momentous times...

I’m on the brink of big changes in my life. Just how much that’s rocking my world sunk in this week when I realized that for the first time ever, I wasn’t going to put up a Christmas tree.
My partner and I are moving to Honduras on Jan. 15 to do volunteer work with the Canadian non-profit Cuso International.
I’m so distracted by all the preparation for the move that the Christmas process has barely registered on me. Yet it’s also going to be one of my most meaningful Christmases, what with so many people to say goodbye to after 22 years here.
There’s nothing quite like change to shake up your life. The Honduras placement is for a year, possibly two - not very long in the grand scheme of things. But in fact it changes everything in practical terms, a revelation all on its own.
My ties to the Island are lifelong because I have so much family here. But we don’t own a home in Victoria. So this change basically comes down to my partner and I collapsing the stuff of our lives into 50 kilos of luggage between us and a small storage locker.
A person really has to get serious about what items constitute “home” at times like this. We could be on the move in exotic lands for several years with any luck. What’s precious enough to keep when you know you’ll either have to carry it with you or pay to store it for a very long time?
Not much, as it turns out.
Photos. Memorabilia from years past, like my journals or the sweet and funny notes my partner and I wrote to each other in the early years. Useless but sentimental keepsakes, like the tiny Day of the Dead diorama of Trotsky’s murder we picked up in Mexico City.
I’ve been pawning off pretty much everything else on anyone who expresses a speck of interest. Our children in particular have been under pressure to take things we don’t want but are resistant to giving up, like the painted bull’s skull we dragged back from Arizona or the comfy but otherwise worthless brown chair from Ikea.
The kids eventually drew the line, and I turned to advertising things for free in the on-line classifieds. It has been way more fun than I would have anticipated.
Sure, I could have held a garage sale and possibly sold the 1970s cabinet stereo and the outdated computer desk for a few bucks. But I can tell you there’s way more pleasure to be had from handing your stuff to happy strangers who show up at your door delighted to be getting what they want for free.
I like knowing that my stuff is going to a good home. There’s something magical about giving people you don’t even know the very thing they’re looking for.
The young guy who took the Nintendo 64 game was thrilled that it fell into his hands on the very day his old one had broken. The kid who stuffed the cabinet stereo into his Jeep said he’d wanted one for ages. The family who took the computer desk actually wrote us a thank-you note.
I took in a boxful of forgotten knick-knacks to the women at PEERS Victoria and they were all over them. My partner’s excess art supplies are going to artists from the mental-health community, who are grateful for the abundance.
As for having less stuff - well, that’s just plain freeing. It has required much sorting and more than a few squabbles, but we’ll be a lean, mean and mobile unit by the end of it.
Why are we doing this? Why not?
Our lives have brought us to a point where it’s possible. Our needs are met. We have skills that Cuso International can make use of in developing countries like Honduras. Our kids and grandkids are cheering us on. Life is short.
I’ve still got a couple TC columns left before I’m gone, but after that you’ll have to catch up with me on my blog or Facebook. We’re throwing a farewell and fundraiser on Jan. 11 with proceeds to PEERS and Cuso - come on by that evening if you can,  to the Garry Oak room at Fairfield Community Centre.
And if I can interest you in some mismatched dishware or an old love seat, let me know.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Busted in Orlando for feeding the homeless

This story out of Orlando could easily be a satire for The Onion - but no, it's real! I mean, you can't have people just going around feeding poor, hungry people whenever they want. 
I like the indignant response from the local police force about how the three people who got arrested had deliberately breached the ordinance. God spare us from the day when people refuse to breach petty ordinances and just leave their fellow citizens to go hungry.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Mounties got their man - and he's got their number

Well, here's confirmation of what many of us have already figured out: Something's really wrong with the RCMP.
The new "top cop," RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, was in this morning's Globe promising to take extreme action to end the culture of bullying and history of botched investigations inside the RCMP.
What the heck happened to these guys, anyway? When I was a kid, being accepted into the RCMP was like a statement that you were smarter, more ethical, in better shape and certainly more dedicated than the average Canadian.
I don't know if that was a myth all along that has now been stripped away by one too many media stories about some drunk, violent, misogynist or otherwise disturbed RCMP officer doing something horrible. Or did something bad happen to what was once a noble profession in the intervening years?
At any rate, good luck to the changemakers. The concept of a national, well-trained and highly professional police force still appeals.
But trying to change culture is an extremely difficult undertaking that requires years of consistent, focused leadership that never wavers. Very few organizations have the long-term vision and stability to be able to pull it off.
You need compelling leadership to make it happen, but it's still bottom-up stuff. There's no way to force a change in culture from the top down. Just ask the Ministry of Children and Family Development about that.
My sympathies to the many good RCMP officers who have been tarred by a rogue culture and a few bad apples. But there's no question that something is deeply off-kilter inside the force.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

They say this is Christmas.....

I'm not a huge fan of the festive season at the best of times, what with the endless pressures to buy something for somebody. This year, it really just seems like an added complication to getting ready for our Honduras departure Jan. 15, as I run out to buy Gastrolyte or some other such specific medicinal product for our travels only to find myself at the far end of a long line of anxious holiday shoppers. (That said, I just had a very nice evening making shortbread and homemade Baileys with my youngest daughter Rachelle last night.)
My partner and I are going to Copan Ruinas, in the northeast of Honduras near the Guatemala border. We've never been there, but here's a Flickr stream from a kind stranger who heard about our travels and sent a few shots from her own travels. I've really appreciated getting a glimpse of where we're headed, and having some balance to what is mostly dire news coming out of the beleaguered country.
Here in Victoria, we are renters, so what this year (or two) in Honduras really means is folding up our lives. We looked around our house and realized that most of our furniture isn't worth keeping, so have farmed out some to our five kids, given some away to people who needed it, and become avid users of the "free"
 section on Craigslist to get rid of things like my parents' old cabinet stereo, a Nintendo 64, and a computer desk from another era.
It's interesting to see what things I value enough to keep. For the most part, it's photos and other memorabilia. Our remaining LPs, slimmed down from our last big move, have also made the cut, and will be stashed in what we hope will be a moderately sized storage locker that will await our eventual return.
I have many family ties to the Island, and know I'll be back this way often no matter what happens in the wake of this adventure. But what I hope is that we'll like this year or two so much that we'll keep doing this kind of work for a few years, in different countries.
The work with Cuso International is unpaid, but the organization aims to provide its volunteers with a "neutral" financial year - your housing costs covered, a small living allowance, a little money tucked into your account back home to ease your return. That model makes long-term volunteering much more possible.
And wouldn't that just be so cool - to be living in fascinating countries, sharing my skills with organizations that could really put them to use?

Friday, December 16, 2011

MacKay reveals massive disconnect from Canadians' reality

It's these kinds of stories that really make me think we're losing our way. When our own government reps don't get how completely offensive it is to Canadians enduring a recession to see their politicians spending like drunken sailors on luxury trips all over the world - well, what does that say?
At the very least, this latest spending revelation makes it clear that Peter MacKay has got to go. As the saying goes: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

One month to departure - yikes!

Honduras capital Tegucigalpa, where we'll first land.
Just back from an intense five-day training course with Cuso International as we get ready for our departure for Honduras in a month.
I admit, I thought I was pretty culturally aware, but it turns out I still had a ton to learn. It's going to be quite a challenge to be working in a new culture, a different language, different issues, much warmer climate (OK, I'm really looking forward to that part), and in a society where I'm definitely going to have to curb my tendencies to just shoot my mouth off about this or that.
Fortunately, my not-yet-terrific Spanish language skills should help keep that in check, at least initially. And I'm viewing it as a learning opportunity to feel out communications in a country where speaking up about government, politics, etc has to be done much more cautiously.
Part of the Cuso training was a three-hour meeting with a "country resource person,"  which in our case was a young entrepreneur by the name of Ricardo Juarez, who moved to Canada from Honduras in September. I'll be ever grateful to him for the straight-up information he had for us on life in Honduras, which I now recognize will involve a lot more sightings of guns than I'm used to.
He also filled me in on "Honduran time," in which I will be expected to be punctual but everybody else will arrive maybe 30-45 minutes later than planned. Some of the more seasoned volunteers we met on training suggest I just carry a book everywhere to be able to read while I wait.
We're not down there on a holiday, but Ricardo did give us a great tip about an amazing place to visit during our travels, Cayos Cochinos. Such an opportunity to get to know a part of the world that I have yet to visit! I appreciate connecting with anyone who has travelled in Central America, particularly Honduras, so please send me a note at if you've got tips to share.
If you've ever wondered about folding up the tent and doing some long-term volunteering, I can tell you that our experience with Cuso International so far has been great.
But one point they emphasize regularly is the need to stay flexible and adaptable. So if you're one of those people who likes all the i's dotted and the t's crossed well in advance, you'll need to let that go. We found out at the training session that our visas likely won't be completed until a few days before we leave, and I've been cautioned repeatedly that my job description is likely to change - and possibly change again - once I'm in Honduras. We won't know where we'll be living until a week or two, possibly longer, after our arrival.
Hope you'll stay tuned for what promises to be an amazing adventure. Click on the link just above this post to get to our fundraising page. And I'll be setting up a Shutterfly Web site once we're there so I can share photos with you as well. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Too much power in PM's office

This Ottawa Citizen story on the Harper government's increasing control over the federal bureaucracy applies equally in B.C. Our ruling political parties don't even make a pretence at keeping the workings of government at arm's length anymore - it's all just one big spin machine as far as they're concerned.
It's a frightening development. The bureaucracy has traditionally kept a steady hand on the wheel of government while the various political parties went about their crazy antics. As pointed out by the author of this report criticizing the centralizing of power in the Prime Minister's Office, corruption is not just a risk but a proven result when political parties treat government like their private resource. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A painful, late truth for young Victoria woman

Are there some parents so awful that they deserve to never see their child again?
Probably. But we've got a process for that in Canada, and it doesn't include kidnapping your own child against court orders.
I have great sympathy for everyone connected to the saga of the 20-year-old Victoria woman who has just learned that much of what she thought to be true about her life was a lie.
She does not even have the name she thought she had; she hasn't heard her real name since she was taken from Toronto by her mother after a 1993 custody fight.
The courts will sort out the truth of this crime. There's little served by people like me speculating about the mother, Patricia O'Byrne, who has been accused of taking her little girl, or trying to second-guess an Ontario court decision from 18 years ago.
But whatever the details turn out to be, it must be said that a grave injustice has been done to this young woman. What must it feel like, to find out at 20 that the foundations of your life have been built on sand?
She is now learning she has a father. A brother. A whole other extended family in Ontario - one that has been looking all over the world for her for the better part of two decades.
She's got a name she didn't know about, and no doubt some pointed questions for friends and family in Victoria who presumably helped keep her mother's deep, dark secret.
She's got 18 years of catching up with another side of her family who she likely has no memory of, including a brother who is close to her age.
And how unfortunate that she has to experience all these mind-blowing revelations amid the glare of national media interest.
But her father, Joe Chisholm, is over the moon to have finally found his daughter, and the saga makes for one heck of a story.
What makes a parent kidnap their child? Mothers and fathers are equally likely to be the offending parent, says the support organization Victims of Violence.
Often it starts with anger over a court decision around custody. Sometimes it's about fear, or a concern that the child isn't getting good care when with the other parent. Fortunately, most of the 230 or so parental kidnappings in Canada every year are resolved within a week.
Not so in this case. The girl was taken from Toronto after an Ontario court awarded joint custody to O'Byrne and Chisholm in 1993.
Ontario RCMP have had an open file on the kidnapping ever since, but it took a tip to the Missing Children Society of Canada this summer to bring the investigation to Victoria.
Chisholm has maintained a poignant blog on MySpace. There are years of unread Christmas greetings and happy birthdays to his daughter on the site.
"Happy birthday," reads one from Sept. 20, when his daughter turned 20. "Wherever you are and whatever you are doing I am thinking about you and I wish you and your family well. I await the day that we can meet again. Love, Dad."
Chisholm has found his happy ending, it appears. O'Byrne has landed in a nightmare. Being charged with kidnapping might not even be the worst of it, considering how it must feel to be caught out on such a massive lie.
The case is a good reminder that whatever we think is "in place" in our systems to protect us from such crimes is a fiction in itself. The daughter, whose name is now covered by a publication ban, went to school under a false name and nobody noticed. Her mother worked for government for years under an alias, with no one the wiser.
Neither kept a low profile. The mother was an active member of the school community, and well thought of. Yet a desperate dad just four provinces away never caught a whisper of any of it. If it weren't for the tip to Missing Children, this crime might never have been solved.
Who called in that tip? I like to think it was someone who loved this young woman, and couldn't bear to deny her the truth of her life any longer. I'm sure it took a lot of courage to make that call.
"The truth is rarely pure and never simple," opined the playwright Oscar Wilde.
We can only hope it heals this shattered family.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

How come I don't know what a meme is?

Gee, I've always had a soft spot for Facebook as a way to connect, but now that I see the list of the top status updates in the past year, I'm not so sure if me and my kind are really much of a presence on the social-media site.
Happily, I'm not completely out as a Facebook trendsetter - I did have a status update involving the death of Amy Winehouse. Other than that, the top-10 list isn't really resonating with me.
As for the listing of the top 10 most-visited fictional character sites, I'm glad to see Bob Esponja made the grade. I might have even visited that site if I'd known it existed. I first saw the Sponge Bob cartoon many years ago while holidaying in Mexico, where he's known as Bob Esponja, and I've never been able to shake my habit of referring to him as Bob the Sponge. My grandkids mock me mercilessly for this. Maybe now they'll think I'm cutting-edge.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Cuso adventure in Honduras coming up

My partner and I are heading off to Honduras next month (you heard it here first!) to spend a year or possibly longer on a Cuso International volunteer placement.
It's all very exciting, but also a little terrifying what with the abundance of grim statistics and media headlines about Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. But I read this Huffington Post piece  this morning with gratitude and relief. It finally adds some humanity to the country and reminds me of the importance of not listening solely to the naysayers.
We leave for the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, in mid-January, and will make our way shortly after that to Copan Ruinas, a small northern town where I'll spend the next year doing communications work for a Honduran agency that partners with Cuso, the Comision de Accion Social Menonita.
I'll be posting regularly to my blog during our travels, and am really looking forward to this experience - not to mention solidifying my Spanish language skills. I can't wait to take everything I've learned through decades of communications work and put it to work helping great organizations like CASM and Cuso International.
Stay tuned for more details as the date of departure draws nearer, and if you find yourself in Victoria on the evening of Jan. 11, please plan to come to our goodbye party/fundraiser at the Fairfield Community Centre! We'll be raising money for my past and my future - PEERS Victoria and Cuso International. 

Monday, December 05, 2011

Latest figures show income gap widening even more

I guess we're accepting that old saying about the rich getting richer as a fact of life, because they definitely are getting richer.
In Canada and around the world, the divide between those with money and those of lesser circumstance continues to grow - as this CBC story points out, the average income of the top 10 per cent of wealthy Canadians is now 10 times that of the bottom 10 per cent, up from 8:1 just a few years ago.
The trend is consistent throughout OECD countries - the gap is now 14:1 in the U.S. You need only go to a developing country to see where this trend leads: To dramatic increases in visible poverty; an even more fragile economy; higher costs for fewer public services; and a significant rise in security issues for the wealthy.
Even the rich lose out when the income gap gets too big, in other words. And yet we continue to bring in government policies (and governments) that worsen this trend, even while our morning newspapers bring us the news of all that is going wrong in countries being turned upside down by the revolts of angry have-nots.
I suspect we think such things can't happen in Canada. I fear we're wrong about that. 

Friday, December 02, 2011

If only science was a sure thing

Science is an uncertain science. That’s been brought home once more this past week with all the consternation over mammography.
“The Screening Mammography Program Saves Lives,” says the headline on the B.C. Cancer Agency’s on-line writeup about mammography, a type of x-ray of the breast that up until days ago was routinely promoted to Canadian women 40 and up as an annual must-have.
But the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care has rocked the boat big-time with new recommendations that reduce the use of mammography. 
The task force has toned down Canada’s 10-year-old guidelines around when to get mammograms. The revised guidelines suggest routine mammograms only for women ages 50 to 74 and even then no more than once every two or three years.
No big deal in the grand scheme of things. One less medical appointment to schedule.
But it’s disturbing when something that has been sold to us as an absolutely essential health measure suddenly reveals a dark side. The about-face on mammograms serves as an excellent reminder that health care can hurt.
In the case of mammograms, the issue is “false positives.” Mammograms are prone to turning up slow-growing lumps in the breast that look like cancer but in fact do no harm over a lifetime.
That means you can end up having surgery, radiation and chemotherapy you didn’t need - treatments that can damage your health permanently and waste precious health-care dollars to boot. False positives have been a major issue in prostate-cancer screening for years now for those very reasons.
Mammograms provide “a real benefit,” said task force chair Dr. Marcello Tonelli in media reports this week on the revised guidelines. “But compared with the risk of false positives, it’s relatively small. If you look at the numbers, you are much more likely to have a false positive result than you are to have your life saved with screening.”
New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell saw this one coming years ago. He wrote a brilliant article back in 2004, “The Picture Problem,” that detailed the challenges that even the most expert radiologist faces when trying to decipher a mammogram image.
“Looking at a mammogram is conceptually different from looking at images elsewhere in the body,” Memorial Sloan-Ketterer Cancer Centre radiologist Dr. David Dershaw told Gladwell in that piece. “Everything else has anatomy—anatomy that essentially looks the same from one person to the next. But we don’t have that kind of standardized information on the breast.
“The most difficult decision I think anybody needs to make when we’re confronted with a patient is: Is this person normal? And we have to decide that without a pattern that is reasonably stable from individual to individual, and sometimes even without a pattern that is the same from the left side to the right.”
The point of the article was that humans place too much trust in pictures as revealing “truth.” The picture that emerges from a mammogram is particularly open to interpretation.
Gladwell highlighted eye-opening findings from the University of Washington Harborview Medical Centre as to what happened when 10 radiologists were asked to interpret the same 150 mammograms.
One caught 85 per cent of cancers in the images right away. Another caught 37 per cent. Some saw many things to worry about, others saw none. In one case, three radiologists deemed a lump visible in the image to be normal, two others saw it as abnormal but probably benign, four weren’t sure, and one was certain it was cancerous.
Mammography does save lives. But not many, as it turns out. If 1,000 women who are age 60 right now have an annual (and let’s presume correctly interpreted) mammogram every year for the next decade - 10,000 mammograms, with all the expense that entails - breast cancer deaths among the group could be expected to drop from nine to six.
Nobody can blame us for wanting a fail-safe test that catches cancer early. Alas, the science isn’t there yet, and at any rate something new will likely be killing us by that point. Such is the nature of the human condition.
Preventing breast cancer remains important, of course. But so much of prevention comes down to personal responsibility - for what you eat; how often you exercise; how much you weigh; your alcohol consumption.
The world will rejoice when they come up with a screening program that corrects for bad habits. Until then, take care.