April 30, 2004

QuickTake on Charles Schwab

So where can you get independent insights into the financial services industry? You might want to checkout the daily weblog of Tom Brown's Bankstocks Here's a sample from QuickTakes:

    Charles Schwab's FEE FRACAS: Not many companies in the financial services industry have historically provided better customer service than Charles Schwab--but even Schwab now seems to have tripped itself up as it figures out how to migrate its 1 million or so no-fee-for-life IRA accounts to its new, heavily hyped, Independent Investing Signature product:

    Dig deep into the fine print that accompanied Charles Schwab's recent letter to customers about "upgrading" their service and introducing new fees, and you'll discover alarming news for the tens of thousands of recipients who enjoy lifetime fee waivers for retirement accounts held by the San Francisco brokerage.

    On the second page of a closely spaced, legalistic "terms of service," it says that "accounts with pre-existing permanent fee waivers" -- in most cases, individual retirement accounts worth at least $10,000 that were opened between 1992 and 2000 -- will lose their fee waivers if the account holder is in Schwab's new Independent Investing Signature service.

    Not the kind of thing that endears one to one’s customers! My guess: the consultants who came up with the “Schwab Personal Choice” schtick—the product set that the company is more or less betting its future on—failed to think through those little annoyances known as “details” and "execution." To Schwab’s credit, it’s apparently trying to find a customer-friendly way to solve this unanticipated problem. It would have been a lot more helpful, though, for the product maestros to have foreseen the issue in the first place.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:52 AM | Permalink

Another Irish coffee please

'Irish coffee' injection prevents stroke damage

From the New Scientist, great news

    A caffeine and alcohol cocktail similar to an Irish coffee could prevent severe brain damage in stroke victims, new research has revealed.

    The experimental drug, called caffeinol, has the potency of two cups of strong coffee and a small shot of alcohol. When injected into rats within three hours of an artificially stimulated stroke, brain damage was cut by up to 80 per cent.

    Researchers at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School are unclear how caffeinol protects the brain after stroke, but the rat experiments showed that neither caffeine nor alcohol offered protection alone. In fact, alcohol alone actually caused more damage.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:49 AM | Permalink

April 29, 2004

How do You Handle a Bad Diagosis?

Elizabeth Austin, an award-winning health writer based in Chicago
gives 12 steps to handling a disturbing diagnosis in I'm afraid I have bad newst

    1. Start building your team.. "
    2. Don't let a gung-ho doctor rush you.
    3. Take a hard look at your primary care doctor. I
    4. Invest 40 bucks in a microcassette tape recorder.
    5. Tap two brains..
    6. Make hurried doctors listen.
    7. Get educated, not distraught.
    8. Choose your hospital wisely.
    9. After checking in, shake some hands.
    10. Chat up the nurses.
    11. Stay sane.
    12. Be blissfully self-indulgent.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:33 PM | Permalink

April 23, 2004

Other People's Good Deeds Make You a Better Person

I remember years ago watching the comedian George Carlin on television.
He was playing the part of a news announcer. I was absolutely charmed by his announcement of the discovery of a new color - it seemed totally ridiculous and very funny. I had a similar feeling when I heard about the "discovery" of a new emotion. Except, it's really true. Jonathan Haidt , Asst Prof of Psychology, at the University of Virginia, won the Templeton Positive Psychology Prize and a cash award of $100,000, in 2001.

According to Dr. Haidt, witnessing--even reading about--acts of kindness, heroism, or moral beauty produces an emotion called “elevation.” Elevation has been noted in different cultures around the world and often manifests itself as “a feeling in the chest, especially warm, pleasant, or tingling.” It also has a motivating effect: People who have experienced elevation report “wanting to help others, to become better people themselves, and to affiliate with others” who are also doing good.

Part of the Business of Life is becoming a better person, developing character and integrity. So, now we know that by seeking out stories of inspiring or heroic people make it more likely you will act that way yourself. I guess that's why there are inspirational section of bookstores. People know that if you are feeling in the dumps, reading biographies or inspiring stories can really help. Now we have a word for why it works so well.

Let me excerpt one part of
Prof Haidt's study on elevation

    Myself and 3 guys from my church were going home from volunteering our services at the salvation army that morning. It had been snowing since the night before and the snow was a thick blanket on the ground. As we were driving through a neighborhood near where I lived I saw an elderly woman with a shovel in her driveway. I did not think much of it, when one of the guys in the back asked the driver to let him off here. The driver had not been paying much attention so he ended up circling back around towards the lady's home. I had assumed that this guy just wanted to save the driver some effort and walk the short distance to his home (although I was clueless as to where he lived). But when I saw him jump out of the back seat and approach the lady, my mouth dropped in shock as I realized that he was offering to shovel her walk for her.the most common response was to describe generalized desires to help others and to become a better person.

    Several participants described the kind of openness and urge to be playful that Fredrickson ascribes to joy. The woman who wrote about the snow-shoveling episode above also wrote,

    "I felt like jumping out of the car and hugging this guy. I felt like singing and running, or skipping and laughing. Just being active. I felt like saying nice things about people. Writing a beautiful poem or love song. Playing in the snow like a child. Telling everybody about his deed".

    A common theme in most of the narratives is a social focus — a desire to be with, love, and help other people.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:44 PM | Permalink

April 22, 2004

Lettuce say Spinach

Everyone has heard "I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it," even though they may have never seen the New Yorker cartoon and caption by E.B. White.

But apparently people can't tell the difference between iceberg lettuce and spinach in sandwiches, burgers or tacos.

Tip to MacDonalds. Nutrition professors have conducted 3 blind tests to learn that people can't tell the difference except that the spinach is greener. Today, only 32% of Americans are getting enough folate every day. Substituting spinach for lettuce as a matter of course could make a great difference.

People who consume two servings of folate-rich foods have a 20% low risk of stroke and a 13% lower risk of heart disease.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:42 AM | Permalink

Save those baby teeth

Maybe you should be keeping them in the freezer.

Baby teeth revealed as source of stem cells

    The tooth fairy could soon face competition for baby teeth from scientists who have discovered the teeth are a source of stem cells. The cells could help repair damaged teeth and perhaps even treat neural injuries or degenerative diseases.

    Currently, researchers can isolate two types of stem cells. Embryonic stem cells can develop into any cell in the body, but their harvesting requires the destruction of embryos, which pro-life groups oppose. Adult stem cells avoid this problem, but have more limited abilities. Now it appears that the stem cells from children's lost teeth could provide an intermediate and easily accessible source.

    "These stem cells seem to grow faster and have more potential to differentiate into other cell types than adult stem cells," says Songtao Shi, a pediatric dentist at the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Shi and his colleagues found the baby teeth cells can differentiate into tooth-forming cells called ondontoblasts, and also neural cells and fat cells.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:05 AM | Permalink

April 20, 2004

Information to knowledge, knowledge to wisdom.

Richard Bolles of What Color is Your Parachute has written about the Spirit at Work, why faith is the key to maturity

Information is words + silence. Silence is what is what is omitted from what we are told
Knowledge is information organized and applied
Wisdom the addition of context and weight

Information to knowledge, knowledge to wisdom. That is our long journey in life, our journey to maturity.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:58 AM | Permalink

Insist on a simple blood test to screen for ovarian cancer

Kathy West's story below is why we all must take responsibility for our own health care. Ovarian cancer is insidious - silent and deadly. Women should insist on a CA-125 blood test when they have their yearly PAP test and mammogram if they show any of the classic symptoms of ovarian cancer:
an abdomen that rather suddenly enlarges and constipation and/or diarrhea.

The CA-125 blood test is a screening test much like a man's PSA prostrate screen and should be covered by most insurance. ONE out of every 55 women will get OVARIAN or PRIMARY PERITONEAL CANCER.

This is what John Hopkins says about CA-125<

    How accurate is a CA-125 test for ovarian cancer?

    The CA-125 test only returns a true positive result for about 50% of Stage I ovarian cancer patients. The CA-125 test is not an adequate early detection tool when used alone.

    The CA-125 test has an 80% chance of returning true positive results from stage II, III, and IV ovarian cancer patients. The other 20% of ovarian cancer patients do not show any increase in CA-125 concentrations.

    However several women's reproductive disorders can cause a false positive result. Endometriosis, benign ovarian cysts, first trimester of pregnancy, and pelvic inflammatory disease all produce higher levels of CA-125.

    70% of people with cirrhosis, 60% of people with pancreatic cancer, and 20%-25% of people with other malignancies have elevated levels of CA-125.

    The CA-125 test is not recommended for use alone as an early detection method. The rate of false positives is very high, and there has been no data concerning change in mortality.

A great resource Ovarian Cancer National Alliance

Again from John Hopkins You can download what you should know about Ovarian Cancer

    Ovarian cancer is a serious and under-recognized threat to women's health.

    Ovarian cancer kills more women than all the other women's reproductive cancers combined.
    Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States.
    Ovarian cancer occurs in 1 in 57 women, up from 1 in 70 several years ago.
    14,500 women will die this year alone. More than 25,500 will be diagnosed.

    Ovarian cancer is very treatable when caught early; the vast majority of cases are not diagnosed until too late.

    When ovarian cancer is caught before it has spread outside the ovaries, 90+% will survive 5 years.
    Only 24% of ovarian cancer is caught early.
    When diagnosed after the disease has spread the chance of five-year survival drops to less than 25%.

    Ovarian cancer is difficult to diagnose

    There is no reliable screening test for the early detection of ovarian cancer. The Pap smear only checks for cervical cancer.
    Symptoms are often vague and easily confused with other diseases. However, new studies indicate that ovarian cancer has recognizable symptoms, even early stage disease. Knowing those symptoms can help save women's lives. (See Goff et al. Cancer 89:2068-75, 2000 and Eltabbakh et al. Gynecol Oncol 75:476-9, 1999.)

    Raise Your Awareness

    Early recognition of symptoms is the best way to save women's lives. Early symptoms include:

    Bloating, a feeling of fullness, gas
    Frequent or urgent urination
    Nausea, indigestion, constipation, diarrhea
    Menstrual disorders, pain during intercourse
    Fatigue, backaches.
    Take action if any symptoms last more than 2-3 weeks.

    What You Should Ask Your Doctor

    While everyone has these symptoms from time to time, it is important to know your own body and know when something is not right.

    If you have these symptoms and they are not normal for you neither you nor your doctor knows why you are having them,

    Then ask to have these important tests to help you rule out ovarian cancer.

    Bimanual pelvic exam
    Ca125 blood test (If it comes back elevated, ask your doctor to repeat this test monthly for several months. If it comes back progressively more elevated each time, even if the values are low, this is an indication that the condition could very likely be serious.)
    Transvaginal ultrasound.

    Who Has the Greatest Risk?

    Have 2 or more relatives who have had ovarian cancer
    Have a family history of multiple cancers: ovarian, breast or colon cancer
    Were diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 50
    Have a personal history of multiple exposures to fertility drugs
    Are of Ashkenazi Jewish decent
    Have had uninterrupted ovulation (never used birth control pills, or no pregnancies)
    Have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
    Are over the age of 50
    Most women experience one or more of these symptoms from time to time, and only rarely do they indicate ovarian cancer. And remember - if you have ovarian cancer, and it is caught early, survival chances are excellent.

KATHY'S STORY: This is the story of Kathy West

As all of you know, I have Primary Peritoneal Cancer. This cancer has only recently been identified as its OWN type of cancer, but it is essentially Ovarian Cancer.

Both types of cancer are diagnosed in the same way, with the "tumor marker" CA-125 BLOOD TEST, and they are treated in the same way--surgery to remove the primary tumor and then chemotherapy with Taxol and Carboplatin.

Having gone through this ordeal, I want to save others from the same fate. That is why I am sending this message to you and hope you will print it and give it or send it via e-mail to everybody you know.

One thing I have learned is that each of us must take TOTAL responsibility for our own health care. I thought I had done that, because I always had an annual physical and PAP smear, that because I always had an annual physical and PAP smear, did a monthly Self-Breast Exam, went to the dentist at least twice a year, etc. I even insisted on a sigmoidoscopy and a bone density test last year. When I had a total hysterectomy in 1993, I thought that I did not have to worry about getting any of the female reproductive organ cancers.

LITTLE DID I KNOW. I don't have ovaries (and they were HEALTHY when they were removed), but I have what is essentially ovarian cancer. Strange, isn't it?

These are just SOME of the things our Doctors never tell us: ONE out of every 55 women will get OVARIAN or PRIMARY PERITONEAL CANCER.


I had these classic symptoms and went to the doctor. Because these symptoms seemed to be "abdominal", I went to a gastroenterologist. He ran tests that were designed to determine whether there was a bacteria infection; these tests were negative, and I was diagnosed with "Irritable Bowel Syndrome". I guess I would have accepted this diagnosis had it not been for my enlarged abdomen. I swear to you, it looked like I was 4-5 months pregnant! I therefore insisted on more tests.

They took an X-ray of my abdomen; it was negative. I was again assured that I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome and was encouraged to go on my scheduled month-long trip to Europe. I couldn't wear any of my slacks or shorts because I couldn't get them buttoned, and I KNEW something was radically wrong. I INSISTED on more tests, and they reluctantly) scheduled me for a CT-Scan (just to shut me up, I think). This is what I mean by "taking charge of our own health care."

The CT-Scan showed a lot of fluid in my abdomen (NOT normal). Needless to say, I had to cancel my trip. Tests revealed cancer cells in the fluid. Finally, finally, finally, the doctor ran a CA-125 blood test, and I was properly diagnosed.

I HAD THE CLASSIC SYMPTOMS FOR OVARIAN CANCER, AND YET THIS SIMPLE CA-125 BLOOD TEST HAD NEVER BEEN RUN ON ME, not as part of my annual physical exam and not when I was symptomatic. This Is an inexpensive and simple blood test!


Be forewarned that their doctors might try to talk them out of it, saying, "IT ISN'T NECESSARY." Believe me, had I known then what I know now, we would have caught my cancer much earlier (before it was a stage 3 cancer). Insist on the CA-125 BLOOD TEST; DO NOT take "NO" for an answer!

The normal range for a CA-125 BLOOD TEST is between zero and 35. MINE WAS 754. (That's right, 754!). If the number is slightly above 35, you can have another done in three or six months and keep a close eye on it, just as women do when they have fibroid tumors or when men have a slightly elevated PSA test (Prostatic Specific Antigens) that helps diagnose prostate cancer.

Having the CA-125 test done annually can alert you early, and that's the goal in diagnosing any type of cancer--catching it early.

Do you know 55 women? If so, at least one of them will have this VERY AGGRESSIVE cancer. Please, go to your doctor and insist on a CA-125 test and have one EVERY YEAR for the rest of your life.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:41 AM | Permalink

April 19, 2004

The Tax Preparation Industry

One blogger Jeff Cornwall estimates its a $5 billion industry for the preparation of individual tax returns alone. If you add corporate tax work, compliance and audits. Why would this industry want easier, simpler taxes?

    The tax industry is quite duplicitous with the source of all of their business: the government. Whenever “tax reform” or “tax simplification” legislation is proposed, hold on to your wallets. Most of this legislation is written by the very professions, accountants and lawyers, who run the tax industry. Tax law is purposely vague. Audits, and the tax law they create through IRS court cases, creates billions of dollars more for this industry. We pay this industry to create new tax law by defending us when faced with audits that are the result of ambiguous tax code they helped to draft.

Having worked in government, I appreciate how "vagueness" in laws is often deliberate.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:31 PM | Permalink

Teaching Kindness

Your wife is murdered in a suicide bombing and with her your unborn child.
What is your response to such terror? Revenge, paralysis, depression come to my mind first.

But if you are Schmuel Greenbaum, whose 31 year old wife Shoshana was killed in the horrific Sbarro pizza bombing in Jerusalem in 2001, your personal response is KINDNESS.

Greenbaum started a non-profit organization, Partners in Kindness whose purpose is to inspire people to committing more acts of kindness in their lives.

I have in awe of people who can transform such an horrific act by an expanded and enlarged consciousness that creates good.

There is an weekly email distribution called "Kind Words" with stories of kindness that people have submitted. It has become for me a necessary antidote to the news, sad and terrible, I read each day.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:20 PM | Permalink

Denial does not buy time or Where is the Men's Health Movement

What is it with men and doctors. Why are so many men in their fifties not going to doctors? Read There are fates worse than death for sobering examples of shattered families because the men didn't go to doctors.

Reading those stories reminded me of a piece called "The Do or Die Decade" all about men in their fifties link

If men can get through their fifties, they have a chance of living as long as women. But since so many refuse to go to doctors, diseases are not caught early, preventive care is not taken and chances to change to a smarter, healthier way of living are lost.

Women live 6 years longer. Their chance of getting cancer is 1 in 3; for men it's one in 2. Men have twice the rate of liver cancer. Most heart attacks happen to women over 75. Most men are dead by then.

Usually men go to health service because of 1) an accident, an act of violence or a health crisis or 2) a loved one made them go.

"Aside from prison, there's probably no more threatening place for a man to be then naked in an exam room" say urologist Ken Goldberg of Dallas, founder of the first male health center in the country. "They think someone is going to find a chink in their armor."

This male frame of mind can be considered as 'depressive disorder-male type' according to William Pollack, director of the Centers for Men and Young Men at McLean Hospital in Boston.

    Men, in general, have far fewer close friends and tight family ties than women. When depressed, they become even more socially isolated. "Men don't get weepy; they don't ask for help," Pollack says. Instead, they are more inclined to pull away from loved ones, throw themselves into work or alcohol or affairs as a coverup to pain, and run from help to the point of becoming rigidly autonomous. They deny they're sad and don't even have the vocabulary to put words to feelings

This issue reverberates with me. A man I loved had a little raised blueberry like mole on his arm. You should have it checked I said. It's nothing he said. I would bring it up frequently when I saw him. I will, I will he said after my daughter's wedding. Seven months later, he finally did get it checked. It was malignant melanoma stage 4. Despite the best of care from that point on, Jacques died because it had already progressed too far. Would it have been different seven months earlier. I think so.

How can we get the men we love and the ones we only like to get periodic checkups? Suggestions?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:10 PM | Permalink