Human Anatomy at Colby

Rebecca Gray: Substance Abuse Isn’t F*cking Funny

February 23rd, 2015 · Comments Off on Rebecca Gray: Substance Abuse Isn’t F*cking Funny


I swear like a sailor around my parents. And I always have. Because my parents pick their battles, and the battle they picked was substance abuse. Substance abuse is not a joke to them. To them, impersonating the voice of a chain smoker is not funny, and the incoherent ramblings of a drunk friend are not comic storytelling material. My mother lost her brother to a drunk driver when she was thirteen, and my father lost all four of his grandparents to tobacco-related illness. Thus, they’ve always been strict with me, and the overwhelming message under their roof remains: the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other illegal, mind-altering substances is absolutely, positively, unacceptable. They spent so much time enforcing this rule and communicating its importance. Not only did I never get away with drinking in high school, I never had the inclination to; I knew how hurt my parents would be if they were ever to find out, and I couldn’t put them through that. And so, in return for 100% sobriety and transparency about where I was, who I was with, and how I was getting there, they let me swear.

I am glad this was the hill they chose to die on; I believe that I am a healthier and happier (as cheesy as that sounds) person for it. That is why Colby surprised me. The idea of drinking to the point of memory loss every weekend freaked me out. Did my friends not get that when their blood alcohol level rose too high, their brains actually couldn’t form long term memories? That when they woke up feeling like they couldn’t remember the night before, their brain in fact hadn’t truly experienced it at all? I couldn’t believe how many people my age smoked. Did they not know their skin was yellowing, wrinkling? That their lungs were turning black and their bodies becoming reliant on nicotine to function comfortably? I’ve had many a conversation with a fellow Colby student who is not familiar with the physiological effects their substance use has on their body. It is surprising and saddening to see.

Specifically, I recall a weekend last spring, during which a friend drove home with me to meet my family. That Friday, she consumed a lot of alcohol–too much– and vomited. A lot. Saturday morning, she awoke, hungover as all get out, and we trudged through the March sleet to my house. As my mom served us some soup, we chatted and caught up. It was around this time that I swore. My friend audibly gasped. “You can say that in front of your mom?” she asked.

Yeah. I can. My mom doesn’t care. What she does care about is that I don’t try a cigarette, that I don’t use marijuana without first understanding the side effects it might have on my psyche, that I don’t drink more alcohol than my liver can handle, and that I don’t rely on any mind-altering substance to feel happy. This brings me to BI 265. Having learned about the intricate system that is my body, I am even less inclined to mess around with its equilibrium. While cigarettes never tempted me before Jan Plan 2015, my newfound knowledge of arterial disease has made sure I will never get near one. I wish more parents choose to battle substance abuse with their kids, because it is so important and valuable. But even more so, I wish more people would choose to know about how their bodies work. How the things they put in their bodies, the things they do with their bodies, the things they let their bodies get near, affect their mental and physical health. Because only with this knowledge can we change substance abuse culture, both on Mayflower Hill and in general.


Tags: Human Health · Personal Story

Rebecca Gray: Healthy For All The Right Reasons

February 23rd, 2015 · Comments Off on Rebecca Gray: Healthy For All The Right Reasons


I love infomercials. I know it’s weird, but really I don’t think it’s any more shallow than tuning in to E! every week to see what the Kardashians have been up to. I remember being eight, and waking up at 5:30am to catch the Magic Bullet program on channel 8, which aired just before the Shark vacuum cleaner, which came on at 6. I’ll watch any infomercial–a brownie pan that cuts the brownies for you, a humidifier that cures asthma, a bra that somehow fits everyone. But what I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around are the fitness oriented ones: zumba work out tapes, overcomplicated pilates machines, a CD that somehow makes you lose weight if you fall asleep listening to it. I’ve thought a lot about this, and I think there are two reasons why I don’t find fitness programming engaging.

First, I’ve always felt generally okay with my body. I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. I eat leafy vegetables every day and drink mostly water. Throughout high school, I was always an athlete, and even now, I get outside pretty often, whether to ski or run or walk around a bit. In general, I’ve always been okay with my body and pretty proud of what it could do. These fitness programs prey on insecurity. People who feel okay about how they look aren’t going to spend money on a 30-day-shred work out DVD, and people who enjoy their exercise aren’t going to invest in an extravagant treadmill with separate tracks for each foot–they’re just gonna throw on their sneakers and head outside.

But second, and I think more importantly, I’ve never thought of eating or training as something I do for appearance. When I dragged myself out of bed at five in the morning to lift in high school, it was so I could shred my next ski meet. When I took up running last year, it was so I could get fast enough to train with my dad, who’s a speed demon, and spend time with him.    One of the most important principles I learned in A&P is that there is more to health than looking the right way or weighing the right amount. Getting enough sleep, exercising the right amount and in the right way, eating the right things at the right times, drinking gallons of water, and limiting stress are all key. But attitude is also important. Worrying night and day about whether you’re eating the right things or running enough miles is not healthy. Obsessing over ever calorie or every hour of sleep lost is not conducive to a well-rounded life. What I’ve learned is to aim for a sustainable lifestyle of health. This includes being aware of things that are good for me (skiing and hearty, unprocessed meals) and things that are bad for me (pumpkin-chocolate chip cookies and staying up all night watching Friends on Netflix), but also being gentle with myself when things don’t go perfectly. Sometimes I’m going to have weeks where I don’t get to exercise, or nights where I stay up until 3 in the morning, contemplating the universe with friends. This is okay. It doesn’t mean I’m terribly unhealthy, and it doesn’t mean I’ve doomed my body. It means I’m human.

So yeah, I love infomercials. And I’m okay with that, even though I know TV is basically melting my brain and there are more productive, fulfilling ways to spend my time. I still find solace in the fact that I can change the channel when vapid fitness programming comes on, because I am happy with my health, both physically and mentally. I am confident that I can live well, doing the right thing for my body for the right reasons (health and fun, not aesthetic), and be gentle with myself when I am not perfect. Because let’s face it, the only perfect thing in this world is the Magic Bullet, which chops a whole onion in less than 20 seconds and is still on my Christmas list.

Tags: Human Health · Personal Story

Rebecca Gray: Sociology of Epidemiology

February 23rd, 2015 · Comments Off on Rebecca Gray: Sociology of Epidemiology


Today, I met an epidemiologist. He spoke about disease control: how germs traverse continents, how we respond to global health crises, and how we can prepare for future epidemics, because, “after all,” he said, “they are inevitable.” To begin, he offered a bit of a crash course on HIV in America; while the subject matter was grim, the bottom line felt overwhelmingly hopeful. In a nutshell, we learned that HIV, at one time the leading cause of death for men ages 25-40 in the U.S., is now a condition well-controlled with proper medication. So yes, while HIV remains a gravely serious diagnosis, and continues to spread rapidly in underdeveloped regions of Africa, the vibe of this speech was uplifting, full of the promise of research, breakthrough, and medical revolution.

But I am skeptical. I am skeptical because this crash course glossed over the very gritty history of HIV in America. It glossed over they way AIDS (Auto-Immune Deficiency Disorder) used to be called GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency). It skipped the years that HIV drugs (AZT and others) spent in gridlock, waiting to be clinically tested, because policy makers refused to fund medical initiatives for “perverts” with “homosexual tendencies”. It did not mention that the decline of HIV-related deaths in the U.S. correlated exactly with the mobilization of the gay rights movement. In short, it did not admit that disease control intersects with issues of social justice on nearly every level: race, class, gender, and sexuality.

The outbreaks we hear about, the drugs we are sold, the preventative measures we are asked to take, are carefully calculated. Information can be manipulated to reassure or scare us, to rile us up or calm us down. Our recent preoccupation with the ebola virus is a textbook example of this. As midterm elections drew near, political candidates used a health crisis occurring in Africa as ammunition in an American political debate. Articles citing the ways in which ebola can be contracted, pictures depicting its unsavory symptoms, and bold political promises to end this epidemic pervaded our lives. Then, suddenly, voting season passed, effectively closing the door on ebola discussion. This happened because government officials, now secure in their jobs, could no longer bank on public fear. In fact, our speaker did acknowledge this, and made admirable efforts to include social discussion in his lecture. It is not my intention to discredit him; I understand that in a single hour, it’s impossible to cover the field of epidemiology and all its intersections with sociology entirely. I found his presentation to be smart, well researched, and engaging. Rather, I just hope to use this blog post as a means to discuss the social implications of epidemiology in a way that we were not quite able to in class. Medicine cannot function outside the realm of social intersectionality. To say that medical information and technology are the only roadblocks, or even the largest roadblocks between ourselves and global health solutions is to be sadly mistaken. As important and exciting as medical advancement is, we must also tackle poverty and discrimination when taking on issues of global health. Class, race, gender, sexuality, age, and ableism all affect a person’s access to proper healthcare and health education.

Tags: Guest Speakers · Human Health

Grand Rounds: Atypical Hyperplasia of the Breast

January 28th, 2015 · Comments Off on Grand Rounds: Atypical Hyperplasia of the Breast

Ariel Oppong, Jay Lee, Rebecca Gray

Grand Rounds _Hyperplasia powerpoint pdf

Grand Rounds Synopsis- Atypical Hyperplasia of the Breast

Hyperplasia occurs when an organ or tissue becomes enlarged because the cells within it begin to proliferate more quickly than usual, resulting in an abnormally large population of cells in one, concentrated area of the body. We categorize hyperplasia in two ways: (1) “simple” or “complex”, and (2) “usual” or “atypical”. The research we will explore focuses on complex, atypical hyperplasia. This refers to hyperplastic tissue that both engorges the tissue around it and contains deformed, non-uniform cells.

Hyperplasia of the breast falls into two categories: lobular and ductal. Within the fatty tissue of a healthy breast are mammary glands, and within those lie lobular clusters of alveoli. The cuboidal cells that line these alveoli secrete milk, which moves through milk ducts to reach the nipple, where it is excreted during breastfeeding. When hyperplasia occurs in the breast, it is usually found in either the lobules of the mammary gland or the associated milk ducts.

Usually, hyperplasia within the breast is relatively harmless. Because change in breast size and shape occurs normally over the course of a woman’s life, her body is designed to handle minor engorgement of the tissue there. This condition becomes concerning when hyperplastic cells within the breast become atypical; this is characterized by misshapen cytosol, nuclei, and membrane organization. When this occurs, the hyperplastic cells take on characteristics startlingly similar to those of tumors: they are clumped, proliferating rapidly, and lacking functionality. For this reason, atypical hyperplasia of the breast is linked with breast cancer and considered premalignant.

Usually if a lump or an abnormal mass is found during a female’s mammogram then a health professional will usually suggest a biopsy. During the biopsy tissue cells are removed for analysis by a pathologist.  If the pathologist can not make a definite decision as to if the excision is cancerous or not.

A 2014 report published by the New England Journal of Medicine published a new meta-analysis of the associated risk of breast cancer associated with atypical hyperplasia. The conclusions of the meta-analysis suggested that a women with a atypical hyperplasia has a least a 30% increased risk of having breast cancer within a 25 year follow-up. Due to this new information we ( the anatomy group) as well as the authors of this newly published report agree that there needs to be a reform in women’s health policies so that women are more aware of their risk and are also more informed about some preventative medicine including screening techniques, and treatment or surgical options if signs of breast cancer are already apparent.

Some of the current commonly used treatments are different types of SERMS. SERMS are selective estrogen receptor modulators. The most widely used antiestrogen for management of breast cancer is Tamoxifen. However, prolonged use of Tamoxifen does increase one’s risk for endometrial (uterine) cancer.

Another important issue is the health disparities in breast cancer diagnosis, quality of treatment, and mortality rates among different socio-economic groups, geographic locations, the unemployed and employed, and racial groups. Based of off data from the 2014 Racial Disparity in Breast Cancer Mortality Study in areas such as Memphis, Tennessee, black women are more than two times more likely to die of breast cancer than their white counterparts. Overall, our research indicates that we as a country need to implement new screening methods, need to promote more education initiatives, need to enact new policies to decrease health disparities, and need to stress the powerful conclusions that meta-analysis provide.


Tags: Grand Rounds