|Watching My Mother Die of Breast Cancer
By Michael J. McCurdy, Founder/Publisher – HealthNewsDigest.com
September 29, 2008 – 12:01:00 AM
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Television, radio, or any loud noise was out of the question. My wife couldn’t make it down from our apartment in New York City until the weekend. In need of friends and companions, I invited a case of red wine and a box of cigars to join me in my daily death vigil.
It was only a few short years before, that I had sat on the edge of another hospital bed and comforted my 46 year old sister Patricia, who was dying of cancer. An hour after I left the hospital, the doctor called me to say that she had passed away. (God, I trust that you have forgiven me for all the things I said to You that night.)
HealthNewsDigest.com was only 2 1/2 months old, when on a cool, crisp and sunny day in September 1999, I was on my way to the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan, to interview Nancy Brinker*, the founder/president of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, named for her sister who died of breast cancer at the age of 36.
Nancy is right out of Central Casting. Tall, attractive, intelligent, determined and very charming. She was in town to kick off the “Race for the Cure”, one of the most successful fund raising events in the country. We sat at a desk in her suite, and while my tape recorder rolled, I asked her several mundane and routine questions. I felt that I was missing a wonderful opportunity. As she got up to leave for a luncheon in her honor, hosted by Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Waldorf Astoria, I caught her at the door, and requested one more question: “If you had one wish for something to take place in the first 10 years of the new millenium, what would it be?”
“Wow, that’s interesting.” We returned to the desk and the tape recorder. “I wish that we find the CAUSE of cancer!”
There are over 100 types of cancer, so we still have our work cut out for us. However, Breast Cancer is a particulary hideous disease, with it’s hidden secrets – taunting us to defeat it.
My mother was a product of the Great Depression, and had some ingrained habits that still prevaled – like hiding money. When my wife and I visited my Mother for Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day, I would leave a note with clues to find $20 bills that I had hidden all around the house. It was only when I got home that I would call her and tell her where the note was that held all the clues. When my wife first found out about this game she said, “Michael, that’s so cruel!” My mother absolutely loved it! Sometimes she would call me the next day to say that she had stayed up most of the night, because there was still one $20 bill she couldn’t find.
My mother was rapidly deteriorating. It wasn’t a pleasant site to see a woman who was so active and alive. Driving, taking trips to Branson, Mo. for her new found love of Country music.
I had to undertake a very unpleasant task. I called a cousin whom my Mother adored, and asked Rita if she would help me. I explained to her that I feared that my Mother may have money hidden around the house, and could she please ask her for me.
With hand signals, she led us to the hope chest in the corner. Inside was a note that had a series of clues, that led to envelopes, keys to boxes, and riddles. After a day and a half of following clues that led to loose boards, picture frames, and false bottoms, we had uncoverd over $33,000.00 in cash. I didn’t have the nerve, so I asked Rita to please ask my Mother if we had found all of it. She came out of the bedroom with tears running down her face, “Your Mother said to tell you that it’s for her funeral.”
During those four weeks that I sat on the terrace, jumping at the buzzer as cigar ashes flew in my face, I reminisced of times gone by; I remember her yelling at police detectives telling them that her saintly son couldn’t possibly have done that; yelling at Mickey Mantle to look up and say hello to her son (he did), getting me into the best possible schools; (she had a way with authority figures);paying for Mrs. Murphy’s broken window; and a very strict code on how to treat girls.(The Nuns in my Catholic High School were pretty good at this too!) My mother was also a very big fan of Susan B. Anthony. I never knew who this person was. I assumed she was a movie star.
Breast Cancer is a hideous disease, I was thinking as I drove my Mother’s car to the County Seat to file her death certificate. I popped in her favorite cassette of Garth Brooks and sang along. It started to rain very heavily. I gratefully pulled the car off to the side of the road, as I was crying too hard to safely drive any further. (God, I trust you forgive me for the things I said to You that night)
So, how do you react to someone’s illness?
Your little girl comes screaming into the house, blood running down her knee, tears streaming down her face. How many seconds does it take for you to jump off the couch? Your pet dog or cat comes yelping and limping into the room – a thorn in it’s paw. How long does it take you to jump off the couch? A loved one comes into the room – she tells you she has breast cancer…I trust I did as well as I could.
I can’t even fathom or pretend to know what mental anguish a woman has to bear when she’s been told she has breast cancer.
We have a little over 2 years for Nancy Brinker’s wish to come through. Perhaps we can all look under our mattresses and find a dollar or two and send it to our favorite breast cancer charity. And may God be with every woman and family going through this ordeal.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In 2007 in the US, an estimated 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
*When Nancy Brinker’s sister, Suzy, died of breast cancer at the age of 36 in 1980, Nancy promised herself that she would fulfill her sister’s plea to help others battling the disease. In 1982, she established the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, today recognized as a global leader in the fight against breast cancer through its support of innovative research and community-based outreach programs. Currently, the Komen Foundation boasts more than 75,000 volunteers working in 15,000 communities. www.komen.org
(This article first ran October 2006)
COPD: One of the Most Confusing Healthcare Marketing Campaigns Ever!
Wife to husband returning from doctor’s visit: “Hi honey, what did the doctor have to say?”
“The doctor said I have C…..C….hold on, let me get the brochure. I have COPD.”
Wife: “What the hell is that? My God, Is it contagious?”
If you are in the Healthcare field, quick, think and tell us what COPD means. Don’t cheat. No googling. If you are among the numerous healthy lifestyle consumers who read us, I would bet the vast number of you haven’t got the slightest idea, because you’ll never remember it. Probably the only people who know the answer are those who keep trying to “breathe” life into it. Ok, I won’t tease you any longer. Here is a description from the National Heart and Blood Institute:
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
“COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is a serious lung disease that, over time, makes it hard to breathe. It is the 4th leading cause of death in the United States and causes serious, long-term disability. The number of people with COPD is increasing. More than 12 million people are currently diagnosed with COPD and an additional 12 million likely have the disease and don’t even know it.
You may have heard COPD called other names, like emphysema or chronic bronchitis. In people who have COPD, the airways—tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs—are partly blocked, which makes it hard to get air in and out.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has developed a national campaign—Learn More Breathe Better —to increase awareness and understanding of COPD and its risk factors and to underscore the benefits of early detection and treatment in slowing the disease and improving the quality of life.”
Is it a serious disease? Of course. But we need to have some professional marketing/pr people step up to the plate if this campaign is going to make any sense to the public so it can do some good. Millions of dollars are being spent by the Health Industry every year promoting this campaign on tv, cable, print and the internet, and still very few people can tell you what it means.
Several months ago I spoke to a doctor who heads up this portfolio at a major health institution, and among other things I asked him who dreamt up the acronym that is not an acronym. He told me that he thought it was a group of doctors who came up with it for lack of a better idea.
I asked a friend of mine what she thought it meant, and she said, ”The Colorado Police Department ?”
So, who am I to be such a critic. Well, since launching HealthNewsDigest.com in 1999, my credentials include writing/editing/publishing over 20,000 health-related articles/news stories on the health industry, as well producing/directing approximately 300 public service commercials for television over the last 25 years.
I would love to hear from those who think they have a better idea for this marketing/pr campaign…Mike McCurdy, Founder/Publisher – HealthNewsDigest.com
Welcome to the “Wild West.” This by far is my favorite expression to describe the Internet.
When I launched HealthNewsDigest.com on July 1st, 1999 I had 15 readers. Seven months later I was making a presentation to 9 bankers seeking 3 Million dollars in financing! The next day my banker called to tell me that we were not seeking enough money – the bankers were looking for larger investments. Our next presentation would be for 5 Million dollars!
In mid-March of 2000, the Internet bubble burst! In June, it went belly-up and we saw many heavily-financed companies go out of business. This was all just a normal procedure, I told myself…a new industry shaking out.
Back in the late 90’s you could compare the Internet with the San Francisco gold rush. If someone struck gold on a very small parcel of land, it would surely be an indication that you were in a gold field. So went the thinking. So, it made perfectly good sense to buy all of the land around it. The Health Industry was touted as being one of the premiere areas to invest in. Thank you God!
So, what ’s it like to publish an online news magazine? Or, ezine, if you prefer. Consider first that we receive over 3,000 emails per day. Over 1,000 of them are legitimate news items, mainly press releases, articles submitted for review, health tips, research papers, etc. An additional 2,000 emails are spam, which for the most part are seperated by Google email service. Thank God. When I tell people how much mail we receive daily, their first question usually is, “Do you read them all.” The answer is that I read Headlines. Spam is deleted when it gets in the hundreds, and legitimate news is read, for the most part, as it comes in. So, for all of you PR people reading this, make sure that your headline is to the point. Also of importance is the first paragraph after your submission is clicked on to open. On any given day we publish 10-15 submissions, or more than 200 per month, making us the largest health-news content site.
The day normally begins at 7am and contintues to about midnight. Seven days a week. I break it up with a two-mile walk everyday, and many mental health-breaks during the day. I attend press conferences, make calls to news sources, handle about 10 phone calls per day. Don’t feel sorry for me. I absolutely love this job.
News is submitted by all major medical schools, universities, government agencies, non-profits, pr agencies, associations and corporations in the health field. In addition, we have “stringers” all over the country covering key conventions, and special events. On Mondays, we send out a “Blast” to tens-of-thousands of subscribers, over 2,000 health industry journalists, and numerous major news syndicates who pick up our stories. On average, our news is picked-up by approximately 4,000 health-related websites. We allow all media to take our stories, so we also land on tv news, radio, magazines and television shows.
By now, you may be thinking that we have a huge office with people running around in a frenzy of news-gathering. Thank God, that is not the case. We all work out of our own homes and apartments! From writers, columnists, and technicians. Every time I think or say the preceding I break into a big smile Mainly from all of the rent money that I am not spending. And, oh yes…those rainy and snowy days that I look out of my apartment window in Manhattan and watch my neighbors trying to catch a cab. Life on the internet is wonderful. I know. I use to have 10 full-time television production professionals on salary, in a large and expensive office on Madison Avenue. For most of my business life I was a television producer of commercials and syndicated shows. Still produce tv public service commercials.
Monday mornings also bring a special treat. That’s when, bright and early in the morning, I get a phone call from London, from a pr woman who speaks the King’s English. It is a pure delight for me just to listen to her. Me, a true-blue Noo Yawker. “Good morning, is Mr. McCurdy there?” She knows damn well that it’s me, but, as I said, she is Proper English. And my response is always the same, “Good Morning Darling, and how is everything across the pond?” I can see and feel her blush…every single time We both look forward to this call…I am certain. For those of you not in the pr field, pitching news stories to editors is not a fun game. Specially early Monday morning.
One of the first things I do on Mondays is take a look at where our stories are appearing across the globe. In mid-August (the lowest month for readership in all media) we were being read in 135 countries, in 3,890 cities! Just imagine. When I was in tv we had to wait for Neilson ratings. Now I just click a link on the computer.
Some of the more fun and unusual happenings:
* “Hello, Mr. McCurdy, this is Miss America!”
I had just finished showering and the phone rang. I answered it and that’s what I heard. I had been told that Miss America 2004 would call me to be interviewed, but I had no idea when. I was standing there ringing wet in my birthday suit. “Please hold on a minute Miss America” I said. Yup, you guessed it. I got dressed, and then did the interview.
* “I’m Worth About 20 Million Dollars”
Ever been in a meeting with twenty-somethings who are all millionaires – on paper? I have…many times. The really strange thing about these meetings, is that they were all very calm and somewhat surreal. We “older guys” had something (business experience) that the younger guys needed, and they had what we couldn’t quite yet understand. But we all knew it was Golden.
* “Please, I Beg You – Don’t Print That Story!”
There was an ambulance driver in a rural suburb in the mid-west who started a fund for animals that had been abandoned. The story got on the Internet and blossomed worldwide. I got his phone number and wanted to do a follow-up story. When I got him on the phone he begged me not to publish it. He told me that he had received over 300,000 emails and lots of donations and he was overwhelmed by it all. He had to close down his site. “This wasn’t suppose to happen – this was just a local story. My life has been miserable since this began.” Of course, I did not publish a thing further.
* ”Can You Get Me In Touch with the Scientist Who Authored This Please”
We got an email from a professor at a University in Czechoslovakia who had read a paper authored by a scientist at Howard Hughes Medical Institute that appeared on HND, and he was very excited about their findings and what he had been working on. I did get the two together via email. This is what editors live for!
There are lots and lots more…but we’ll hold them for future blogs.
So, what would you think has been my biggest blunder so far, as an editor? That would be publishing an “Embargoed” news release. What a pain-in-the-ass! I never have any intention whatsoever in publishing embargoed news. Embargoed news is rarely earth shattering stuff anyway. To my defense, the ones that I have published usually had “embargoed” in very small black print, and I took them down as soon as I realized it, or am notified by the annoyed sender. I have pleaded with the offenders to put the notice of Embargoed in Bold Typeface, and, in Red. The majority of embargoed news releases come from monthly or quarterly medical journals who send out an embargoed release in order (so they say) for media people to research and add or enhance the embargoed story.
“The reasons given for such embargoes are twofold. First, they enable journalists to produce more comprehensive and accurate coverage, as the embargo provides time in which they can research the background to a story and thus publish “backgrounders” along with the story’s release. Second, they enable doctors and scientists to receive and to analyze medical studies before the general public does, enabling them to be better informed when called upon to comment or to react by journalists or by patients. However, some object to the medical news embargo system, claiming that it is driven by profit motives on the parts of the medical journals.
Now, let me tell you about the absolute dumbest Embargoed News Release that I have ever received. It happened several years ago, and I still get upset recalling it. A Major University that I will not mention, sent us a news-release on child/pet – safety advice that should you walk away from your parked car on a very hot/cool day. This release was in conjunction with a Non-profit Medical Association Journal. The release was Embagoed until Tuesday, the day the journal published, and the day after the long Fourth-of-July weekend! Let that sink in for a moment or two.
A reader once asked me to explain embargoes. After I did the best job I could, she said, “It seems like a sin that anyone should hold back news that can help mankind. Who do they think they are, People Magazine holding back pictures of some famous celebrity’s baby?”
As almost everyone is aware, newspapers are having serious financial problems and are downsizing staff, and expenses. Consider this: Internet publishers (that’s me) do not buy pulp, nor ink, nor do we have delivery trucks. To deliver our news nationally and internationally, we simply click on a link. Advertisers are interested in just one thing: How many eyeballs are reading our ads.
Since launching HealthNewsDigest.com in 1999, my credentials include writing/editing/publishing over 20,000 health-related articles/news stories on the health industry, as well producing/directing approximately 300 public service commercials for television over the last 25 years. I am a member of the New York Press Club, The Association of Health Care Journalists, and the Online News Association.
In my next Blog, I am going to discuss what I consider to be one of the most confusing healthcare advertising/marketing/public relations campaigns ever: COPD
Mike McCurdy, Founder/Publisher – HealthNewsDigest.com
HealthNewsDigest.comis a 9 year old Online Magazine that publishes news stories on the Health Industry on a daily basis. We are also the Health News channel on AvantGo, the handheld palm device service, with more than 7 million registered users worldwide.
In addition, we are syndicated to thousands of major health industry web sites, content and applications to PDA, wireless PDA, and smartphone users, with hourly worldwide news feeds. Also, over 2,000 news editors, directors, and health columnists subscribe and have free access to use any and all content. We are members of the New York Press Club, The Association of Health Care Journalists, and The Online News Association.Michael J. McCurdy
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