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A good dose of laughter
toni sylvester 1
Dr. Toni Sylvester talks about the debate over breast cancer screening recommendations. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

While the American Cancer Society has issued new recommendations on breast cancer screenings, doctors are sticking to their guidelines.

Dr. Toni Sylvester, herself a breast cancer survivor and daughter of a survivor, told the crowd at the Effingham Health System’s annual Lunch, Laugh and Learn that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is holding firm on its advice for breast cancer screening.

“It’s caused a little bit of a ripple,” Sylvester said at last Thursday’s event.

The American Cancer Society has stated screenings should start at age 45, and the ACOG has said those should start at 40, Sylvester pointed out. The ACS also has recommended against MRI screening for women whose lifetime risk of breast cancer is less than 15 percent.

“The American College of OB GYN maintains their stand,” Sylvester said. “We maintain most masses are found by patients or by their parents. A lump is a lump, and it warrants further investigation. We still suggest breast screening at age 40.”

Women at low risk are those who have a first-degree relative — a mother or sister — who has not had breast cancer. A woman at high risk is someone who has had a first-degree relative with breast cancer before age 40.

“For the most part, we agree you should you do your clinical exams and you should see your primary provider,” Sylvester said. “Women are living longer because we’re better at screening.”
Sylvester said doctors stopped mammography for patients once they turned 70. But even that is changing.

“If that woman has a great life expectancy, continue screening,” she said.

Physicians have become more conservative on cervical cancer screening, Sylvester noted. The recommendations are to start at age 21 and perform every three years until age 65 or the patient has had a hysterectomy.

For the laugh portion of the event, Connie Carey of Macon, author of “Falling Up,” told the crowd that laughter is great medicine, no matter the instance.

“The tools of life are nothing like the tool of laughter,” she said. “The more you practice you laugh at life, the more resilient and healthy you are going to be.”

First, humor helps people not to take themselves so seriously. “G.K. Chesterton said angels can fly because they take themselves lightly,” Carey said.

She recalled an occasion during her single days when she went to get something to eat after church. She noticed an attractive young man who caught her eye, but after a server wiped off her seat is when the fun began.

When Carey got up to pay her bill, the server proclaimed throughout the restaurant, “Ma’am, your butt be wet.”

“Forks in mid air stop to see the lady whose butt be wet,” Carey said. “She wiped that seat with a damp towel but on that silk dress, I couldn’t feel it but it was absorbing. It teaches me you cannot take yourself so seriously.

“When the joke is on you just laugh at yourself,” she said. “If you learn to take yourself not so seriously, you will have a lot more fun.”

Carey also used former president Ronald Reagan as an example. During his administration, it was revealed Reagan nodded off during Cabinet meetings. While giving guests a private tour of the White House and its offices, Reagan pointed to the Cabinet meeting room.

“One day, there will be a sign — ‘Reagan slept here,’” he said.

“Humor helps us be more flexible,” Carey said.

Humor also changes perspective, she said.

“It’s about situations we did not sign up for,” Carey said. “There are ways to get from one side of grief to the other, not as a victim, but stronger in the broken places.”

She added that humor helps people be more resilient.

“If we can laugh at the annoyances and frustrations of life,” Carey said, “we are going to live longer, better lives.”

Humor also has healing power, both mentally and physically, Carey added.

“People who laugh regularly are 40 percent less likely to have a heart attack than those who don’t,” she said. “It actives natural tranquilizers, boosts your immune system, reduces blood pressure and tension leaves. Laughter is the best medicine and it is free and it has no side effects. The best part of being happy is gratitude.”