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Irene Maher, Times Staff Writer

Irene Maher

Irene Maher has reported on health for more than 25 years, mostly for WFLA-Ch. 8 in Tampa. She now writes about personal health and wellness for the Tampa Bay Times. She and her husband live in Tampa.

Phone: (813) 226-3416

Email: imaher@tampabay.com

  1. Kidney cancer: hard to detect, on the rise


    Kidney cancer doesn't get a lot of attention. Rick Thompson never gave it a thought until one day in 2012 when his urine turned red and he started passing blood clots. He thought it was a kidney stone.

    Three days later doctors told him it was renal carcinoma, kidney cancer, in both kidneys.

    "I never drank, never smoked, never did drugs," the 67-year-old Orlando retiree said, adding with a laugh: "So much for clean living." ...

    Dr. Philippe Spiess is a surgeon at Moffitt Cancer Center and one of Rick Thompson’s physicians.
  2. Black results matter: New program aims to boost minority participation in clinical trials at USF, Moffitt


    John Harrell was out of options.

    Diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2009, he had tried everything available. The seven drugs and two types of radiation didn't stop his cancer, nor did the bone marrow transplant.

    "I had to take a risk," he said. "None of those treatments gave me remission. The disease would always win."

    So in 2013, Harrell, 48, became one of the few African-Americans to try an experimental drug being tested in a clinical trial at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. ...

    Photo of John Harrell, an African American resident of West Chase, who has cancer. He entered a clinical trial at the Moffitt Cancer Center after other treatments failed to work, and the medication helped. Researchers want more John Harrells because they say too few minorities participate in drug trials, which can skew the results.

Credit: John Harrell
  3. Some words of caution about a Halloween favorite: caramel apples


    What's better at this time of year than a large, shiny caramel-covered apple? They're almost as much a part of Halloween as jack-o'-lanterns and goblins.

    But, if you're planning on dipping your own apples or buying ready-made, you might want to take a few precautions to prevent a potentially serious illness.

    Researchers reporting in the online journal of the American Society of Microbiology found that Granny Smith apples dipped in caramel became a breeding ground for listeria if the apples were made with sticks and stored at room temperature for several days. ...

    Researchers found that Granny Smith apples dipped in caramel became a breeding ground for listeria if the apples were made with sticks and stored at room temperature for several days.
  4. New drug combination can boost survival chances for some breast cancer patients


    Michelle King found her breast cancer during a self-exam last December. A month later, after further testing, the mother of two, 43 at the time, learned it was an aggressive form of the disease HER2-positive.

    But the timing couldn't have been better. A new drug had just hit the market that was improving survival rates and, in some patients, wiping out the cancer completely when found and treated in its earliest stages. ...

    Michelle King, 44, of Clearwater participates in a Gentle Yoga class. The class includes basic breathing exercises, as well as a variety of foundational postures.
  5. Breast cancer a rarity in men, but 'it can happen'


    Dennis Coyle was holding his granddaughter in 2013 when he felt something unusual.

    "She banged up against my chest," he remembers, "and it felt funny."

    He checked the area on his left chest and discovered a hard growth, smaller than a pea. Coyle, now 68, thought it was a harmless cyst and brought it up during a regular skin checkup with his dermatologist. A biopsy revealed a surprising result: He had breast cancer. ...

    Dennis Coyle of Lithia was diagnosed in July 2013 with breast cancer. He had a mastectomy in August 2013 and required no further treatment.
  6. Study underlines hazards of Southern diet, but there are ways to cut back


    Southern food tastes good. But what it may do to your heart can be bad.

    Really bad.

    New research from the American Heart Association provides more proof that a steady diet of Southern favorites could kill you, or might give you a heart attack or stroke.

    What's so bad about Southern food? All the fried and high fat foods, processed and organ meats, eggs and egg dishes and sugary drinks. ...

    Baked Cajun Catfish and Easy Collard Greens
  7. Walk of Hope designed to raise awareness of infertility


    Jessica O'Connor and her husband have been trying to have a child for almost five years.

    Last year, she decided a change in attitude might succeed where specialists, medications and high-tech treatments had failed. Rather than focusing on herself, she decided to focus on helping other couples in the same situation.

    O'Connor began organizing the first Resolve Walk of Hope in Florida, a fundraiser sponsored by the National Infertility Association to increase awareness of fertility issues, treatment and support programs. ...

    Jessica O’Connor organized the first Resolve Walk of Hope in Florida “because no one with infertility should walk alone.” Her work helped her become more open about her struggles, as well.
  8. For the start of school, and the rest of the year too, pay attention to 'sleep hygiene'


    As families prepare for the start of another school year, we're reminded of a critical activity that's often overlooked: getting children, even high school aged teens, back to an earlier sleep-wake schedule.

    All summer long many kids enjoyed staying up later and sleeping in the next morning, sometimes shifting their normal sleep-wake schedule by several hours. Now, it's time to shift back and lots of parents and kids are wondering: How do we do it?...

    Child sleeping with toy.
  9. Fab 50 for Women on the Run takes members from couch to race course


    Barbara Hawkins knew she had to make a change in order to enjoy an active, healthy retirement. The 58-year-old elementary school assistant principal plans to retire in 2016 and has watched her parents, siblings and extended family members struggle for years with weight problems, cancer, bad knees and hips, an unhealthy diet and a lack of meaningful exercise. She wanted a different future but wasn't sure how to get there. ...

    Yvonne Perkins, center, and Fab 50 Women on the Run enjoy themselves during the Centennial Parade in Clearwater.
  10. Depression common after serious illness or medical treatments, and should be treated


    You expect pain after surgery. Nausea with chemotherapy. Weight gain when taking certain medications. But few people see it coming when depression creeps in as a side effect of major illness or its treatment.

    "I was crying all the time. All I wanted to do was sleep to escape from it," recalls Sandra Knightley of Lake Wales, who was about seven months into a year of chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer when depression descended and wouldn't lift. It took months to convince her oncologist that she was depressed and get a referral for a psychological evaluation and counseling....

    Sandra Knightley rings the bell in the hallway at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa in April, on the day she finished chemotherapy treatment.
  11. Officials warn of bacterium in saltwater — but be careful what you call it


    Health officials are working to convince tourists and residents that Florida beaches are safe after their recent warning about a summertime bacterium generated overblown headlines.

    The Florida Department of Health sent out its annual warning May 29, saying the bacterium Vibrio vulnificus, found in raw oysters and warm saltwater, had caused two deaths this year and was "a potential health threat" that people should know about. It added that infections from the bacterium were rare. ...

    Vibrio vulnificus is shown in a colorized scanning electron micrograph.
  12. Testosterone therapy has rewards — and risks


    When middle-aged and older men feel fatigued, depressed, irritable, can't sleep and lose interest in sex, slick advertising suggests the cause may be low testosterone or low-T. The ads say the condition can be easily fixed with a testosterone patch, gel, injection or pill.

    But, now, there is some confusion over who should get the treatment and, furthermore, whether the therapy can lead to heart attacks and strokes....

    Dr. Justin Parker at USF Health says a warning on low-T therapy went too far.
  13. Skin cancer can surface in unusual places, so be vigilant in checking


    Conner Fenlon noticed he had a small bald spot on the back of his head, near the top, when he was in high school. He figured it was a sort of birthmark and never gave it much thought.

    Then, last year, Fenlon decided to participate in a fundraiser for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation and agreed to have his head shaved. With the area no longer blocked by surrounding hair, friends noticed and commented that it was red and inflamed. ...

    Conner Fenlon gives a thumbs-up in this photo taken by his father, Joe Fenlon, about 30 minutes after getting out of the operating room in May 2014.
  14. There's a reason why teenagers act the way they do


    If your loving, kind, considerate child has changed, seemingly overnight, into a not so lovable teenage stranger, the reason may be out of your — and your teen's — control. Take it from Dr. Frances Jensen, a neurologist, neuroscientist and single mom who went through it, having raised two boys and survived, but only after immersing herself in the scientific research on brain development in 13- to 25-year-olds....

    Dr. Frances Jensen, a neurologist, neuroscientist and mother, has co-written The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults.
  15. Moffitt opens lounge for adolescent, young-adult cancer patients


    Lindsey Lucas looked around the waiting area of Moffitt Cancer Center and saw lots of senior citizens. Lucas was only 28 years old and had just been diagnosed with advanced colon cancer.

    Three years later, she recalls that "I was the youngest person in the GI clinic waiting area all the time. Not seeing others my age did affect me. I felt very isolated."

    Even worse, she said: "Not seeing others my age, I automatically assumed it was because they were all dead. I thought there was no one else like me and no hope." ...

    Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa is opening a new lounge today geared to adolescents and young adults featuring modern furnishings, a large flat-screen television and a game console.