We get handed brochures about mastectomies with cartoon drawings of women who have two breasts before and a little line across the chest for "after." We get reconstruction materials with little graphs and happy faces showing our expected emotional level as we recover. We get pink booklets called "chemo and you" filled with photos of vibrant young models who look not only incredibly healthy, but fabulously chic when bald.
I will be taking a new drug called Zometa in early July. This is a bisphosphonate infusion, traditionally given to people whose cancer has metasticized to their bones to help shore them up. But, there is some research that bisphosphonates are useful in the adjuvent setting to protect against the spread of cancer, although it's not given routinely for that use yet. Because I have osteopenia, my insurance company will pay for me to get Zometa, so I am lucky.
And, of course, to help me understand this, I was handed a Zometa brochure.
Most of these pamphlets and "Patient Education" materials are designed to be understood by the broadest possible population. Which means, they aim for a 6th grade reading level. Which also means I typically throw them away and search Medscape, Medline or other medical sites for the medical information I want.
It's almost insulting how stupid they think we are. Almost, I said, because I suspect in most cases, they may actually be right. I've seen Leno do his "Jaywalking" segment before.
The Zometa brochure captured my hard to capture attention. First, when you open it up, you see this lovely photo of a couple. Here is a close-up of the man:
Tell me that doesn't look like Dennis Haysbert. I've had a crush on him for the longest time, and was pleased to see him in my cancer materials.
Kind of gives you something to live for, you know? I might be more accepting of Tamoxifen if Josh Holloway would model in their pamphlet.
Aside from tall, dark and handsome models, this brochure struck me for another reason: it reads exactly like a Dick and Jane primer. It has the same cadence, and even the illustrations have a familiarity about them.
Here's a story from my youth: I was always an advanced reader, and by the start of first grade I was reading books such as Little House on the Prairie and Little Women. On my first day of school, I was assigned a Dick and Jane primer by my teacher. I eagerly took it home, wanting to be a good student. I read the thing right away, from cover to cover, and was proud of myself and was sure my teacher would be too. I was done with the book. I could get a new one.
For you youngsters who missed out on Dick and Jane, some of the text of the book was as follows: See Spot! See Spot Run! Run Spot, Run!
I was surprised to discover that we were to read that book all year, when I had finished it in less than 15 minutes. And, because I refused to open it again (even at age 6, I didn't think it merited reading twice) I was put in the Busy Bee reading group instead of the Floating Butterflies. Which, as you guessed, meant I was put in with the slow kids.
Thus began my long, slow hatred for school that ended with my refusing to go to college (a decision I do not regret). I find it deliciously ironic that my abhorrence for school led directly to a lack of higher education which in turn led me to taking a job - working in a school.
It also may explain my ADD tendencies. When you are forced to turn your brain inward and entertain yourself for long periods of time, as I had to do in school, it becomes harder to focus when you need to.
Back to this Zometa brochure. It was, clearly, written for the Cancerous Busy Bee group:
Imagine that your bones are a house that is under construction It is being rebuilt with 2 teams of workers. One team takes down the old walls. A second team puts up brand new walls in their place. When these 2 teams work together, the house stays strong.
When the 2 teams stop working together, the house becomes weak. One team works too much and makes holes in the walls, which can weaken them. The second team also starts to work too much, but it gets confused and builds walls in the wrong places."
While I do wonder why one team would get confused and build walls in the wrong places, I imagine that is because they can only read at a 6th grade level and can't follow plans.
And, we get this illustrative photo:
Just for comparative purposes, I present you with a photo from the Dick and Jane series:
Tell me you don't see a resemblance.
To be honest, I actually think it's good that these brochures are super-dumbed down. Because, simplistic as they are, they do explain difficult concepts to those who probably need it the most. Not everybody reads the Merck Manual for fun, as I always have.
The rest of us, we know how to get the information we need. Medscape and a medical dictionary are a good starting place.
Jane gets Cancer. Run, Jane. Run!