The kindness of strangers (and friends)

Years ago, when I read "The Kindness of Strangers" an autobiography written by Kate Adie, presenter of "From Our Own Correspondent" on BBC Radio 4, I remember the feeling of being taken around the world, through historical events and vicariously living through the accounts of people making the
news headlines.

The book's title always resonated with and I have frequently meditated on the phrase.  Most recently, when I was sent a list of on line donors to the Breast Course for Nurses, I paused to reflect on that haunting idea.  

Jessica Knight and her sister ("the Santa Sisters") are riding the Joburg2C bicycle race and are raising funds for the Breast Course for Nurses.  Even before she started the race, over R16, 000 ha been pledged to our cause.  Some of the donors are known to us; others are not.  Our heartfelt, deepest thanks to all:

Elmarie Steyn
Vanessa Hofmeyr
Ana Johnson Robertson
Jessica Knight

Juliet Baxter
Judith Whittaker
Jane Canny
Kevin Pillay
Henlie Viljoen

I had an SMS from Jessica today with an update on her progress.  I quote, ".. so we have finished Day 5-well over half way-not without incident.  I had a silly fall yesterday.  Disagreement with a sharp rock and ended up rupturing my bursa so internal and external stitches.  Got patched and strapped and drugged and finished in good spirits."  I suspect the brief message doesn't tell us half the gory story.   What courage. Well done and I hope the rest of the ride goes well.

My son Matthew and I shot a movie clip of Jessica before she left.  When we had finished making it, I noticed that she was wearing a cycle top sponsored by Coronation.  They generously agreed to give R5000 for the unsolicited publicity.  Thank you Coronation!


Use of smell to detect cancer

This week, a study was published in the Journal "Urology" showing that dogs could be trained to smell urine and detect which samples had prostate cancer.  Whilst an astounding phenomenon, it is unclear whether or not it has any useful clinical application.

There is nothing new in the use of smell to diagnose disease.  In 2000 BC, the ancient Greeks and Chinese used smell to diagnose TB.  Over the last 50 years, there have been many reports published of researchers using dogs, rats and the electronic Enose in the diagnosis of various diseases. Some reports are anecdotal. However, there have been studies published looking at the skill of the use of smell to diagnose ovarian, breast, colorectal, bladder cancer and melanoma.   The numbers from the trials suggest that dogs, especially, are relatively accurate.  Dogs are able to detect scents at much lower concentrations than enoses so are able to deliver more accurate results.

In the present study, published by an Italian team in the journal, Urology, dogs were used to smell 900 urine samples.  360 were from men who had prostate cancer.  540 were from men who did not.  The dogs correctly diagnosed the status in 90% of cases. The results are very encouraging.  What is not clear is what odour they were detecting.  The standard method of diagnosing prostate cancer is to use PSA which is measured in the blood.

There are several groups promoting the utilisation of dogs in the detection of cancer. The Buckinghamshire based group, Medical Detection Dogs, feel that the medical profession should be utilising dogs more and the American group,  In Situ, are conducting trials with Duke University.

There are obvious practical issues about the training of the dogs, validation of their ability and the presence of a dog. Problems may arise, particularly when the breath of the individual is being smelt by the dog, and this diagnostic method may not be universally acceptable.

Is the latest study cutting edge and exciting science? Or is it history repeating itself?  To quote Sherlock Holmes, "There is nothing new under the sun.  It has all been done before."


The Santa Sisters

March is always a really busy month in Cape Town and this year was no exception.  What was different was the dreadful fire that ravaged the Southern peninsula burning 5000 hectares of mostly fynbos.  Despite the amazing work of the firefighters and the community, several properties were burned and one helicopter pilot unfortunately lost his life.

Access to the fire affected areas is limited.  I went up to the Constantia area in to meet up with Jessica Knight and talk about her training for the Joburg2c bike race.  900km in 9 days.  

I know nothing about cycling and even less about the preparation for a long race but am aware that there are many devices used for tracking the distance cycled.  Jessica has trained for over 96 hours so far this year in preparation.  Much of that has been off road through the National Parks.  She was one of the last cyclists in the Silvermine area before it was burnt. 

Jessica is raising funds for the Breast Course 4 Nurses as she rides with her sister and will be blogging about her adventures.  Please follow her on her blog and visit our website if you would like to support them by sponsoring the Breast Course 4 Nurses.