Thursday, September 05, 2013

Radical Elements, Technetium

Okay, it seems like my first post on this project was just an introduction.  Now I would like to tell you more about it. My element is fascinating!  The teacher in me wants to take a very long side bar to tell you ALL about it, but I fear that I may bore you to tears.  So, I will direct you to the Wikipedia page...if you are interested.  Here are just a few tidbits for you.

1.  It's atomic number is 43, and every isotope of it is radioactive.  That's pretty unusual for such a low atomic weight.
2.  The guy who invented the periodic table, Mendeleev, knew that this element existed even though no one had discovered it yet.  That was in 1871.  So, he left a blank spot in the periodic table for it's eventual discovery.  Smart guy!  And it was discovered!  In 1936.
3.  There isn't hardly any of this stuff left on the planet.  It has all decomposed (radioactively) since the formation of the planet.  Where do we get it now?  It comes as a by-product of other nuclear reactions, waste from spent fuel rods in nuclear reactors.  And it's tricky to get the form of technetium used as a medical tracer. Technetium-99m, has a very short half life, only 6 hours.  So to get it to a medical facility before it decomposes, you have to ship it's parent isotope, molybdenum-99.  And then there are other procedures to separate the technetium from the molybdenum....

And, there is MORE, much MORE!!  Okay, I did warn you I might go off on a tangent here.

Back to the project...
Technetium is injected into the bloodstream and goes straight for quickly dividing cells, i.e., tumors.  It emits low energy gamma rays, which are then detected by gamma ray detectors.  They put one plate above your breast and one below it, and create an image of the tumors, if there are any.  The high density breast tissue appears grey, so it is easy to see real tumors in white (see the middle image).  Also, they don't have to squeeze you with nearly the same pressure as a mammogram.  I think it's about half the weight, or maybe even less.  I would be hard pressed (pun intended) to see the tumor in the mammogram below (left image), all because of the high density breast tissue.
see the research for this image here
For my quilt...
I decided to use a common household light switch.

When the viewer flips the switch, the lights (LEDs) will turn on, to symbolize the medical imaging.  I also wanted to have the switch turn off automatically, so that each viewer gets the experience of flipping it and interacting with the work.  So I made a circuit with a timer on it and turns off the circuit and the lights after about 30 seconds.

This was the HARD part, or I should say, one of the hard parts of the project? The timer circuit has 8 pins.  Why does it need so many?  And, the entire circuit has stuff like resistors and capacitors, and my knowledge of such things has long ago been filed too deeply in my brain to retrieve.  Physics 101, or maybe it was 102? was more than 30 years ago.  How convenient it is that after my rather confusing search on Google, the ex-husband steps in to save the day.  As an electrical engineer, he has all the skills to sketch this out in about 5 minutes, then think and edit for another 5 minutes, and its DONE!  Wow! thank you, thank you!!

I decided to select a population group and represent only a fraction of that population as having breast cancer.  I numbered all the "participants", and used a random number generator to decide which ones would get the lights.  That's why you see the numbers on the circles on this tissue paper sketch.  However, this symbolic act was very disconcerting and troubling.  I couldn't help but think that I would prefer not to put ANY lights on the quilt because we had cured breast cancer.  Am I being a hopeless idealist in this respect?
And, if you look carefully, you will see in a photo above (the one with the light switch cover plate) a tiny label that says Victoria Secrets.  This plan did not work out (as Victoria preferred not to donate any labels to my project).  I wanted to include the labels from Victoria Secrets bras to allude to the 'secret' of what type of breast tissue I have, and others have.  Why would doctors keep this a secret from me?  It just goes to the ingrained paternalistic viewpoints of so many in the medical profession; which is more that a slight irritation to me, it's unconscionable.  If you get well checks, and mammograms, ask your doctor if your breasts are high density or not.  More information gives you more choices and more power over your health!  My doctor did not even know what Molecular Breast Imaging was....sigh.

Last, MBI, may or may not be a useful imaging tool for you.  It comes with risks, as does everything.  However, it should be part of the conversation with your doctor if you do have high density breast tissue.

Hopping off my soap box now, and off to the studio to quilt a little modern quilt with fun colors!
Hope you have a great day!


Vivien Zepf said...

Great idea, Kathy! How are you going to protect the fabrics of the quilt from getting too hot from the bulb beneath?

kathy york said...

The LED's only stay on for 30 seconds, because of the timer chip in the circuit. And, we are NOT supposed to use any fabric. Stay tuned for the next episode!