Answers to your breast cancer questions

(CNN) — When Angelina Jolie revealed she’d had a double mastectomy, she probably had a pretty good idea that her bravery would empower other women to tell their breast cancer stories.

What she didn’t know was that one of these women co-anchors a national morning news show.

On May 14, when Zoraida Sambolin walked into work and heard Jolie’s news, she realized this was the right time to tell viewers that five weeks before, she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer and had decided to have a double mastectomy.

“Angelina Jolie chose to bear her soul in writing and I chose to follow her lead in front of all our viewers Tuesday,” she later wrote in an article on “I am not yet on the other side, but judging by all the e-mails I’ve received from survivors, I am headed to a place that is stronger, wiser and definitely more empowered.”

Sambolin, co-host of CNN’s “Early Start,” is grateful for all the love and support she’s received from CNN’s viewers and readers. Many asked questions about their own health or the health of someone they love. Sambolin asked me to help answer these questions.

I’m worried I might have breast cancer. What are the signs?, the National Breast Cancer Foundation and the Mayo Clinic explain the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

Angelina Jolie got a test to see if she carried a faulty breast cancer gene. Should I get that test?

Read this Empowered Patient column and this CNN article by Dr. Susan Domchek to help you decide. CNN’s iReporters have weighed in with their own decisions about breast cancer genetic testing, and this CNNMoney article discusses whether your insurance will cover genetic testing.

Like Angelina Jolie, I carry a faulty gene for breast cancer. Should I also get a double mastectomy?

Dr. Aaron Carroll writes on about the risks and benefits of Jolie’s choice. For another woman’s perspective, read Allison Gilbert’s moving article on

My doctor thinks I might have breast cancer. What tests will she use to find out?

Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the American Cancer Society explain the tests doctors use to diagnose breast cancer.

I’ve had a biopsy and read my pathology report, but I don’t understand it. Can you help? breaks down the information in a pathology report.

I was just diagnosed with breast cancer. What’s my next step?

My Breast Cancer Coach and Susan G. Komen can walk you through this new world you’ve entered.

I thought breast cancer was breast cancer. Now I’m learning I have a certain type of breast cancer. Help — I’m confused.

The Mayo Clinic explains the different types of breast cancer.

Sambolin has breast cancer and decided to get a double mastectomy. Actress Christina Applegate made that same choice. I have breast cancer — should I get a mastectomy?

There are a lot of treatment options for breast cancer, and it’s not always easy to decide which is best for you. Komen, the American Cancer Society, and the National Breast Cancer Foundation all have treatment guides.

If I get a mastectomy, how will surgeons give me new breasts?

This article explains breast cancer reconstruction options.

Should I get involved in a breast cancer study?

The American Cancer Society has some guidance.

My cancer isn’t going away. What should I do?

The American Cancer Society has this advice for what to do if breast cancer doesn’t go away or if it returns.

I’d like to connect with other women with breast cancer. Where can I find them?

There are many forums and online communities for women who have breast cancer, such as Previvors and Survivors, the Association of Cancer Online Resources, and


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Angelina Jolie undergoes double mastectomy

(CNN) — Actress Angelina Jolie announced in a New York Times op-ed article on Tuesday that she underwent a preventive double mastectomy after learning she carries a mutation of the BRCA1 gene, which sharply increases her risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

“My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman,” Jolie wrote. “Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy.”

Jolie’s mother, actress and producer Marcheline Bertrand, died of ovarian cancer in 2007 at the age of 56. Jolie is 37 years old.

In the Times op-ed, titled “My Medical Choice,” Jolie said she finished three months of medical procedures at the Pink Lotus Breast Center in California on April 27 that included the mastectomies and reconstruction.

A mastectomy is an operation that removes all or part of the breast.

She wrote that her experience involved a three-step process. On February 2, the actress had a procedure that increases the chance that the nipple can be saved. Two weeks later, she had major surgery where the breast tissue was removed and temporary fillers were put in place. Nine weeks later she described undergoing “reconstruction of the breasts with an implant.”

“There have been many advances in this procedure in the last few years,” she said, “and the results can be beautiful.”

“I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made,” Jolie wrote. “My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent.”

BRCA stands for breast cancer susceptibility genes — a class of genes known as tumor suppressors, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have been linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. A blood test can determine if a woman is “highly susceptible” to the cancers.

Fellow actress Christina Applegate had a similar procedure in 2008. She also had a mutation of the BRCA1 gene.

Oscar-winning film star

Jolie may be best known for title role in the “Lara Croft” series of films, but she also won an Academy Award for best supporting actress in “Girl, Interrupted.” She also received a Golden Globe Award and SAG Award for the same role.

Jolie serves as a special envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and has visited refugee camps around the world.

The actress has been in a relationship with actor Brad Pitt since the mid-2000s, and they are engaged. The couple has three biological and three adopted children.

In telling her story, Jolie acknowledged that surgery might not be the right choice for every woman.

“For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you to know you have options,” Jolie wrote. “I want to encourage every woman, especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, to seek out the information and medical experts who can help you through this aspect of your life, and to make your own informed choices.”

But for Jolie, the decision ultimately came down to her kids.

“I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer,” she said.

When zero tolerance makes zero sense

— Kiera Wilmont a black, 16-year old straight-A student was handcuffed, arrested and charged with two felonies after her high school science experiment blew the top off a small water bottle. Kiera, an honor roll student has a reputation for being nice to everyone. She has never been in trouble with the law. However, she was expelled from school and charged as an adult. Kiera is black.

Kiera, who attended Bartow Senior High School, in Bartow, Florida, became the victim of a zero tolerance policy that disproportionately channels poor and minority students into the criminal justice system for minor incidents that warrant a more thoughtful, less life-altering reprimand.

According to the police report, “At 7:00 a.m. Monday April 30, Kiera and a classmate mixed aluminum foil and toilet bowl cleaner in a small water bottle. After about 30 seconds, the reaction created pressure inside the bottle, blowing the cap off with a pop that according to witnesses sounded like firecrackers going off. The reaction created a small amount of smoke. No one was hurt.”

Science sites familiar with the experiment describe what to expect: aluminum in the foil reacted with hydrochloric acid in the cleaner. The reaction produces hydrogen gas, which quickly builds the pressure inside the closed bottle until the plastic can’t take it any more and explodes outwards.

After the “explosion” Kiera tidied up and went to class thinking there was no problem. One can imagine her shock later in the day when police showed up to arrest, escort her off school grounds, and charge her with two felonies: possession/discharge of a weapon on school grounds” and “discharging a destructive device.”

She was also expelled from school under a zero tolerance policy, which required immediate expulsion for any student in possession of a bomb (or) explosive device — while at a school (or) a school-sponsored activity— unless the material or device is being used as part of a legitimate school-related activity or science project conducted under the supervision of an instructor.”

The aluminum foil and drain cleaner reaction is a popular high school experiment. “The problem seems to be that she wasn’t doing the experiment under controlled safety conditions, as in class or with her teachers.” Kiera told police she conducted the experiment in preparation for an upcoming science fair.

Authorities said if she had performed the experiment “in her own backyard, there would never have been an issue. But, since Kiera lives in an apartment, she “didn’t have access to any private outdoor areas.”

Public outrage over this well-publicized incident has been tremendous. It perhaps accounts for the fact that now Kiera will not be charged as an adult. At this time the felony charges are still pending. Her family is hopeful that the case will be dropped and she be allowed to return to school.

Things are looking brighter for Kiera. Her situation no doubt benefited from the national attention. Nevertheless, it makes one wonder how many other students suffer from an overzealous adherence to a policy that may or may fulfill its original intention.

A policy research report by Indiana University examines the history, philosophy and effectiveness of zero tolerance school disciplinary strategies. The following extract is an excellent departure point for a thoughtful consideration of these policies:

Growing out of Reagan-Bush era drug enforcement policy, zero tolerance discipline attempts to send a message by punishing both major and minor incidents severely. Analysis of a representative range of zero tolerance suspensions and expulsions suggests that controversial applications of the policy are not idiosyncratic, but may be inherent in zero tolerance philosophy.

There is as yet little evidence that the strategies typically associated with zero tolerance contribute to improved student behavior or overall school safety.

Research on the effectiveness of school security measures is extremely sparse, while data on suspension and expulsion raise serious concerns about both the equity and effectiveness of school exclusion as an educational intervention.

Community reaction has led some districts to adopt alternatives to zero tolerance, stressing a graduated system matching offenses and consequences, and preventive strategies, including bullying prevention, early identification, and improved classroom management. Building a research base on these alternatives is critical, in order to assist schools in developing more effective, less intrusive methods for school discipline.

Jayne Matthews Hopson, an education writer and mother of three school-aged children believes that “education matters, because only the educated are free.”

HBCU Sports Roundup

Morgan State: Morgan State’s Kimberly Fontaine went 3-for-3 with a game-high 3RBIs and Danielle Lugo added a 3-for-5 performance with two runs scored and 2RBI to lead Morgan State’s softball team to a 12-8 victory over the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) game on Sunday afternoon at Hawks Field. The victory helped the Lady Bears win the weekend series, by taking two of three from the Lady Hawks and moved them into a tie for fifth-place with UMES. Morgan State however, holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over UMES.

Coppin State: Hampton softball’s Gabriel Ziller went 2-for-4 and scored a run, but Bianca Vallejo scored from third on a Coppin State throwing error with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning lifting Hampton to a 3-2 victory over the Eagles this past Sunday at Pirate Field.

University of District of Columbia: With some exemplary performances on both days of the inaugural East Coast Conference Outdoor Track & Field Championships, the University of the District of Columbia finished as the runner-up for the team title behind Georgian Court with a score of 162. “I am so proud of the effort we put in during this weekend, I can’t put it into words. I asked a lot of the entire team, ” Track and Field Coach Alton McKenzie said. “Even though we came up short, I’m overwhelmed with pride and joy knowing how much the team stepped up to the challenge and how well we performed during our first ECC Outdoor Championships.

Howard University: In its inaugural season as a Division I Women’s Lacrosse conference, the Atlantic Sun announced the first All-Conference Honors, which includes three Howard University student-athletes. Sophomore attacker Jaymie Cox was a unanimous first team choice, while midfielder Courtney Lackey was named second team and midfielder Victoria Lockhart received “Atlantic Sun Freshman Team” honors.

The historic Globe Poster legacy lives on

— The Globe Poster legacy lives on. The panel for the Globe Poster event was held at the Creative Alliance on Eastern Avenue. Answering questions and talking about the legacy of Globe Poster were John Lewis, Bob Cicero, Rosa “Rambling Rose” Pryor and Frank Cicero.

Hello everyone! Oops, I know if you were looking for my column last week, and it was missing, don’t worry, it was a slight oversight and it won’t happen again. I really hoped that the Pasha Grand Temple (A.A.O.N.M.S.) F & A.A.Y.M PHO NC Oasis of Baltimore Desert of Maryland Annual Potentate Ball was a success. Just know that this Masonic organization gave a ball and it was one hell-la-VA party.

The Annie S. Banks Chapter No. 42 hosted a Country Western Dance cabaret style last week. This event was held at the Masonic Temple, 1307 Eutaw Place. I heard it was YA—–HOOOOOOOOOOO!

Larry Washington, lifetime member of the Arch Social Club hosted a dinner dance with live entertainment featuring Phill Butt & the Sunset Band last week. Donna T. Hollie reported back to me saying it was a sellout and the event was very, very nice.

Now, if you have some quick cash in the bank you can join Winky and Peaches Camphor for their Coppin State Alumni Cruise that is leaving from Baltimore on May 24-31, 2013 on the Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas. I believe they have a few cabins left. Give them a call at 410-521-3439 or email them at or call 410-363-3111 ext. 2405.

Last week I was honored to be able to take part in a panel discussion and screening of a John Lewis documentary about the Globe Poster Printing Corp. called “Say it Loud!” The panel consisted of John Lewis, Bob and Frank Cicero, former owners of Globe Poster, and yours truly, Rosa “Rambling Rose” Pryor, entertainment columnist. It was so much fun! It was held at the Creative Alliance located at 3134 Eastern Avenue. The guests had a chance to hear the Globe story straight from the source. Afterwards, Globe had an opening exhibit reception. Following that, it was a “Globe Tribute Dance Party.” Mannnnnnnnn, I tell you, this was the BOMB! I felt very proud to have been a part of this historic event.

Let me tell you just a little about Globe Poster. First of all, do you remember all the colorful posters that were placed on trees, lampposts and vacant buildings in and around Baltimore, Washington, DC and the Metropolitan area announcing the upcoming shows and concerts at local venues? Do you remember the bright and unique posters that were stuck to buildings up and down Pennsylvania Avenue back in the days of the Royal Theatre? Well, it was the one and only Globe Poster Printing Corp. that designed those posters. Globe Poster was founded in Baltimore in 1929 and was a family owned and operated company. Globe printed posters for a wide range of clients, from political campaigns to traveling circuses, but their most iconic posters were for popular music. When Globe closed its doors in 2010 the company’s collection of posters and printing tools was purchased by the Maryland Institute College of Art where it lives on as a working collection, accessible and used by students, artists, educators and historians. Yes, it was an honor for me to be invited to participate in such an event; due to the fact that the owners, Bob, Frank and their father, Frank Sr. Cicero are friends of mine and I spent a lot of time in their printing shop back in the early 1970’s to the 1980’s getting posters made up for my groups when I was a promoter and booking agent.

Oops! I almost forgot. My dear friends James & Brenda Hamlin, the owners of “The Avenue Bakery” are hosting a music series at “The Avenue Bakery” located 2229 Pennsylvania Avenue. The first event will be “A Taste of Jazz @ The Avenue Bakery” featuring the Dunbar Jazz Ensemble, on Saturday May 4th from 2-6 p.m. It is free! Ladies and gentlemen, please take my word for it; you cannot leave this place until you take home a dozen of their home made rolls made by James the baker right on the premises. I’ll see you there.

Before I go, I want you to promise to get your subscription for the Baltimore Times, by calling 410-366-3900 if you don’t have a computer. If you have a computer, you can read me on line at And leave a comment. I would love to know what you think. Joy Bramble, my boss, would love it too.

Well, my dear friends, I am out of space. So in the mean time, if you need me, call me at 410-833-9474 or email me at UNTIL THE NEXT TIME, I’M MUSICALLY YOURS.

Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones saves lives in Baltimore

— Debbie Freed lost her son in a drowning accident when he was just five years old. When Olympic Gold Medalist Cullen Jones was five, he nearly drowned.

Every minute, more than two people in the United States drown, incidents that have proven to be the leading cause of accidental death in America.

For Freed and Cullen, they share a similar mission.

They wish to prevent as many accidental drownings as possible.

The duo has teamed up with the Connor Cares Foundation, which is named in honor of Freed’s late son, Connor Freed, to give swimming safety lessons to Baltimore City kids.

“The thought of swimming is more of an activity than a life skill, and that’s the first thing we need to do is change that perception,” Jones said during a foundation event April 27 at Callowhill Aquatic Center where he also donated life-saving defibrillators to the city’s aquatic program.

“With my son, it didn’t have to happen,” Freed said. “He was floating under an empty lifeguard chair and one problem in Baltimore is that you have one lifeguard, usually someone 16 years of age, responsible for 50 people and there was no requirement for them to know about defibrillators which could have saved my son’s life,” she said.

Freed started the foundation and its mission is to further the education and training of lifesaving personnel at all public and private pools.

Freed said it was important, especially for inner-city youth.

“Cullen Jones talked about the need for swimming lessons because swimming is recreation and it’s done all the time,” Freed said.

At the event, Jones spoke passionately on such topics as diversity, black heritage, overcoming adversity, his Olympic journey, motivation and the importance of learning to swim.

“The thought of swimming is more of an activity than a life skill, and that’s the first thing we need to do is change that perception,” said Jones, who became the first African American to win a gold medal in the 50 freestyle at the World University Games in 2005.

In 2006, he became the first African American to break a world record in swimming in an olympic contested event at the Pan Pacific Games.

“Every child needs to learn how to swim because children are going to get near the water,” Jones said.

Freed successfully lobbied to have legislation requiring every public pool in the state to have a defibrillator. The governor signed it into law last month.

The Connor Foundation had donated defibrillators throughout the state since its founding in 2006 and its goal is to have a defibrillator at every public and private pool nationwide, Freed said.

The Connor John-James Freed Scholarship Fund has sponsored over 400 children in Arlington Echo’s Drown- proofing Program in Anne Arundel County and the fund has provided an assortment of necessities for underprivileged children that otherwise could not afford the program.

A second scholarship fund, “Not One More Child Drowns,” helps to support the Infant Swimming Resource program, which teaches children 6 months to 6 years old life saving techniques.

A third program is currently underway that will benefit inner-city children in Baltimore.

The new defibrillators from Cullen were a welcome gift, city officials said. “The city of Baltimore is delighted to accept such a vital piece of equipment, which could mean the difference between life and death in an emergency,” said Ernest Burkeen, the city’s Recreation Parks director. “This life-saving equipment will be a vital resource for our aquatics staff and the citizens who use and visit the city’s swim facilities,” he said.

For more information on the foundation, visit

I’m just asking

What happens to students when a school closes, and what is the impact on the alumni?

As a native Baltimorean and proud graduate of the city’s public school system I am saddened each time a schoolhouse padlocks its door for the final time. These closures make me wonder if others feel the same sense of loss or displacement.

Every primary and middle school my siblings or I attended has been closed. Once shuttered, the classrooms where I learned to read, count, make friends and began my dream of earning a living as a writer, often fall upon hard times.

One of my old schools sat vacant for years, vandalized nearly beyond recognition. Another building etched into youthful memories was re-purposed into municipal use as a training facility. The middle school my brother attended became an alternative learning center for at-risk juveniles. Years after it was closed, toxic installation materials were discovered in the school where I attended kindergarten. It was quickly and quietly demolished.

During the 2013 Maryland legislative session, Baltimore City Public Schools secured permission and funding to implement a multi-million dollar facilities improvement venture. It remains to be seen if a better building equals a better education. One thing is certain, for many current students the upheaval and anxiety of going to a new, unfamiliar school will be disruptive at best and in some cases disastrous.

There is also the impact on underserved neighborhoods that desperately need the jobs and professional presence of a public school. Long after the chain grocery stores, first-run movie theaters, pharmacies and banks pulled up and moved away, schools and churches are often the only institutions left to anchor the community and offer a safe haven to residents.

I am aware that the city’s long-range plan is to replace the aging school buildings with new and better structures. But, in fragile neighborhoods, 18 months (or more) of construction and displacement can be tough on a family’s routine.

A few months ago, I heard that my high school, Northwestern is slated for closure. I can remember when the school opened. I was a seventh grader at Pimlico Junior High, which by the way closed a few years ago and is now a rather elaborate, state-of-the art police training facility. Former mayor Sheila Dixon graduated from Northwestern, a school that produced a number of doctors, lawyers, at least one public school principal and scores of professionals in other respected fields.

It’s no surprise that I’m pretty upset by the prospect of Northwestern shutting down. Given my thoughts on this issue it may seem I’m just someone resistant to change, reluctant to let go of the past. However, consider the words and thoughts of 17-year-old Alexis Banks,

a senior who spoke out publicly in protest of the planned closing of her high school. “Every student should have a high school to go back to, to say, ‘This is where I came from. This is what got me where I am.” Alexis, has been accepted to seven colleges including Virginia Tech and offered a full scholarship at Towson University.

Moving on, I’m just asking… am I the only one disturbed by the fact that one of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers had failed seven college courses without getting kicked out of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth?

In my years as an educational advocate for poor and African American students, I have seen several young people who struggled academically be dismissed from a white college after failing two or three classes. To me this is an unbelievable footnote to the bombing that killed three bystanders and seriously injured over a 250 people. Nevertheless it’s true!

The New York Times obtained a copy of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s college transcript. The 19-year-old University of Massachusetts (UMASS) student had seven Fs over three semesters, a D and a D-plus in two other courses. Ironically, one of his failing grades was in “Introduction to American Politics.

According to the school’s website the average GPA of accepted students is 3.25. Yet, he was a white, foreign-born student with grades that put him well below the college’s academic standards.

A former classmate reports that Tsarnaev said he wasn’t doing as well as he expected because going from high school to college is “totally different.”

Reports indicate he was in this country on a student visa, which would have been revoked if the school had kicked him out of college for academic failure. This is of course pure speculation, but perhaps the Boston Marathon tragedy could have been avoided with more diligent and fair academic oversight by UMASS.

Jayne Matthews Hopson, an education writer and mother of three school-aged children believes that “Education matters, because only the educated are free.”