Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Did You Know that January is Manuary - Men Grow Facial Hair Awareness Month?

The list of the causes we should become aware of just the first month of the year is this long:
  1. Awareness Month Awareness Month
  2. Be On-Purpose Month, National
  3. Bird-Feeding Months, National
  4. Celebration of Life Month
  5. Creativity Month, International - by Randall Munson
  6. Clean Up Your Computer Month, National
  7. Constipation awareness month,
  8. National Drag History Month,
  9. National (Established by Logo T.V. to celebrate the history and role of Drag Queens in the LGBT community.)
  10. Financial Wellness Month
  11. Get Organized Month
  12. Glaucoma Awareness Month, National
  13. Hot Tea Month, National
  14. Mailorder Gardening Month, National - according to the Mailorder Gardening Association
  15. Manuary - men grow facial hair
  16. Meetings History Month, National
  17. Mentoring Month, National (USA)
  18. National Clown College Month
  19. Oatmeal Month
  20. Poverty in America Awareness Month, National - according to the Catholic Campaign for Human
  21. Development
  22. Radon Action Month, National - US Environmental Protection Agency
  23. Self-Help Group Awareness Month - according to the Mental Health Clearinghouse
  24. Skating Month, National - according to the U.S. Figure Skating Association
  25. Volunteer Blood Donor Month, National

It was a good idea in its original form otherwise it wouldn’t have gone so viral…all of this monthly awareness stuff.  I need to note that I am not trying to belittle the diseases or the causes that groups are trying to educate us on, some of them are  important.  For example,  it’s important for a woman to be able to do a self-exam. Early dection is  important to teach the public,  it saves lives.  Manuary, well… I appreciate the snicker at the idea when I read it on the list, and I am glad whatever group, or person, thought of that one, are not pushing it too hard.  (I don’t know if this list is complete, so if your cause is not up there it because I am not being through, it is nothing personal.)

I admit I used to turn off the St. Jude infomericals that were on TV (years ago before Kevin was diagnosed).  I tried once to watch one and thought to myself this is too depressing and turned it off.   I tuned out what eventually became my son’s saving grace.  I’m glad other people didn’t make the same choice I did.

I now live in a world where I see other moms post on Facebook about going to their child’s grave to visit, I hear about the newly diagnosed and those who have lived, but also live with the late effects caused by such a terrible disease.  This is my normal. I never imagined it would happen to one of my children.

Today I met more newly diagnosed as we waited for my son's follow-up appointments at St. Jude. As we waited for blood draws for labs, we met one little boy the same age of my youngest  who was diagnosed with Leukemia on my oldest’s birthday. His mom is 9 months pregnant.  My heart just sinks because I have a clue as to how hard the journey is going to be. Treatment is tough and scary. We, parents of kids with cancer, agree to fill our children with poisons, stuff we would normally call poison control for if they ingested, to save our children.  We walk with our children and hold their little hands through hell, praying they make it out alive.

It is hard not to cry at the end of the day here, despite all the amazing things St. Jude does to try to soften the blow. It is a terrible reality of life. And I hate more people are experiencing it.  Cancer knows no socioeconomic status, it knows no one faith or church, it sometimes does single out one community if they don’t protect their environment, but it is completely clueless about race.

This brings me to my quandary. September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.  In a way, it seems like one more thing to fill the air with, something that can be easily tuned out or turned off. I used to do it. It was too sad. So I have asked myself what is the point of making people aware of such a terrible thing? These are the answers I have come up with:
  1. If you find yourself or someone you know facing cancer with a newly diagnosed child (God forbid), hopefully the stories of others will have stuck and help you make educated decisions.
  2. When elections come around, if you understand what is happening (I believe strongly there is a connection between environment and cancer, in some cases) you can vote wisely.
  3. This is our future. It might seem like just my kid, but it’s not. It’s one of the leading killers of children. And the kids who live through it are left with late effects.
  4.  I know of enough kids who have died from the disease, or the diseases they get as a result of treatment. The earlier cancer is caught the better chance a child has. Parents need to be aware it can happen and its typically the last thing your doctor will look for when a child starts showing symptoms. 
  5. Because I believe in my son’s vision for cancer to someday be treated like the flu; you take some medicine, your sick for a few days and then you go on with life as normal. This won't become a reality with out funding for research.
  6. I hate cancer, but I especially hate it when a kid  gets it.

Today we also met a man who is participating in a St. Jude survivor research project. He had cancer when he was 11. That was 23 years ago. As we both waited for our appointments in the waiting area for physical therapy, we discussed life and moving on. He was a very handsome well spoken man that looked completely normal with his jeans on. His wife, who sat next to him was bubbly,  happy and appeared very supportive. But as he told me his story I learned one of his legs is a prosthetic. He lost it to cancer at the age of 11. Bittersweet, but meetings like this sometimes fill me with hope and sometimes make me so thankful for research and improvements in treatment.

A couple years ago I met a young man who had had the same type of brain tumor as my son, only 20+ years ago. He was obviously mentally challenged. As I spoke to his mom I learned that the dosages that they used to give medulloblastoma kids were much higher then and caused some mental retardation.  My son did not make it out without consequence, but nothing as sever as that mother and son have to live with.

I am so thankful for the improvements made to treatment. We must keep moving forward as the invasive cancer rate for children has increased 29% over the last 20 years. Rare? Hardly feels like it to me. I wish it was more rare; I shouldn't be meeting so many people in my own community affected by childhood cancer.

So I will do my part to raise awareness this month. You can tune it out or participate. I was forced not to tune it out any more. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pro-life, Pro-Choice and Parenthood: A Multidimensional Subject that Should Drive More Social Issue Discussions

Note: This entry was inspired by Frances Kissling's interview on NPR's On Being.

It’s my oldest child’s birthday. This 7 pound 2 ounce -- 3 week early baby-- is the baby boy that made me a mom for the first time.  He wasn't a planned pregnancy, but he was wanted, a choice made on the fly and one that has enriched my life and made my life (and me) better.  I went to the doctor after being sick and throwing up for 3 weeks.  The doctor asked if he could do a pregnancy test. I agreed while openly expressing (in the privacy of the exam room) that there was no way this blood test would come back positive; I  didn't feel I was ready to be a mom and I was on birth control that had worked so far.   Though recently married, but I was unsure of my marriage, very unsure of myself, and pretty convinced that both my new husband and I had not married the right person for ourselves.  In my mid 20’s, so old enough but much younger than I wanted to be to start having children;  I did own a very small place of my own -- but a child was not a part of my then-current plan.  When the doctor called and told me I was pregnant me,  he gingerly asked about discussing termination.  I declined. The nurturing part of me already kicked in the moment I learned he was growing inside of me. I was going to see to it that this child was protected and cared for the best I could figure out. 

I had grown up in a household where topics like this were discussed openly in the conservative backdrop of a Mormon family. This little person, who I did not know yet, was here in the physical world in my beliefs.  I had always valued life; I had experimented with vegetarianism in my late teens and early twenties because I didn't enjoy eating the flesh from another living animal. Yet the people who were close to me convinced me I was wrong and that being vegetarian was a hassle and was not healthy.... in their meat-eating world.  I went back to doing what I did best, trying to make those around me happy and silencing my own young voice.

Lots of people come to the doorstep of parenthood in their own way, with their own perspective and beliefs.  For me, being the oldest of my 4 siblings and having to babysit a lot -- sometimes for days at a time -- formed my thoughts about the demands of parenthood.  I didn’t  have a close knit extended family to offer a child, something I feel is very important.  I saw parenthood as a very difficult job that required a lot of resources, some of which we don’t get to choose and can’t buy with money. We are either born with those extra resources, kind of have it or don’t have it at all.  I fell between the first two categories.  I understood from taking care of my younger siblings that children are amazing beings that deserve the very best that we can give them.  When I found out I was pregnant, I considered adoption, -- as I was thinking about my lack of preparedness for this, I questioned if adoption would be the unselfish thing to do, but my new husband was not onboard with that idea.  He was determined that we would just figure it out.  My dad encouraged me to have faith, and I began to believe that -- though I didn’t have a plan for this--it would somehow work out. 

August 2000 my first son entered my world and I have never been so in love (except when his younger brothers came into the world later on). I held him the first 24 hours, rarely putting him down, amazed by this little life that now was in my care. I have done my best to love, care and protect him as best as I can while navigating this world without my own mother to guide me through. I appreciate my own father, who was once was willing to reject me, his oldest daughter, to please my mother, yet in the end he did not turn his back on me and has since remained an active part of mine and my children’s lives. It really does take a village to help teach and guide a child to be able to understand and navigate this world as an adult successfully.

My choice to keep my child changed my life in profound ways that cannot be measured in monetary gain or any other very obvious measure, only in who I was before and who I have now become.  I have held all three of my children on the day of their birth in awe and respect of the life they inhibit and it is my love for them that sometimes pushes me to be better myself.

All mothers and fathers have limits as to how much they have to give; how many children they are equipped to care for.  And parenthood does leave an uneducated woman or man in a position that can lead to vulnerable situations, for both the parent and the children. It is well known in my family that my mother wanted a small family because that was all she felt capable of taking care of, and my father wanted a large family.  I believe he truly wanted a large family, but I think some of the reasons behind it were due to the religious and social pressures. My mother felt the same pressures and ignored her internal voice. My father got a large family, and to put it bluntly – my mother lost her marbles – literally and seriously.

This is where I struggle with religion, culture and societies that encourage all to procreate without the means to educate all to think critically. It is my belief that not everyone is meant to be a parent. School teachers have names for children who are “Parentally Challenged”. To me, sometimes "procreation for all" is a way to spread an ideology, a religion, but also dangerous when groups of people are encouraged not to listen to their own voices about their own limitations, and be honest about who they really are. This leaves open to the fact that children will be born into difficult challenges most will not overcome.

All this leads me to this odd intersection. It is hard for me to comprehend why would a socially conservative movement be anti- social programs;  if we  want to protect an unborn child yet throw the mother and the baby out after the birth?

It seems that are few issues are as complicated or intimate.  We have to be honest what brings a girl or woman to making the abortion choice.  It is a fact some girls and women are being abused by husbands and boyfriends, some are being pressured to have sex by boyfriends, peers  and much older boys and men, some are not educated about birth control (or do not feel that is an option), along with pressure to have abortions by the fathers of the babies, some face their own uncertainty about themselves as young teen mothers already in difficult living circumstances, some want to finish school, live in poverty, lack opportunity to adequately care for a family and for others it is their own demons be it drug addictions or abusive personalities, mental illness.  Here's what I learned: sometimes life is too messed up to bring a baby into it and we, as a society, don't have the social safe guards to catch majority of the girls or women who find themselves in one or many of these situations nor the children brought into the situation.

As of right now, I believe life starts within weeks of conception.  I understand, yet struggle, with the idea that all life is not equal.  I get the idea, but I internally struggle with the argument that a life that has the faculty to survive outside of the womb might be of more importance than the one that cannot live without its mother’s womb.  But I detest the fact that after that child is born into poverty --or difficult situations -- our society tends to  shun that young life and his parent(s) for their poor choices in life, their limited education, etc.  There’s a disconnect in that thought process that makes my stomach churn because this ideology is forming our society, our public policies.  It is affecting real lives not just hypothetical lives that don’t exist.

My belief of where life starts is the one point where modern society tells me I am socially conservative, but it is the driving belief that encourages progressiveness and a belief in a mixed capitalist society as being the ideal goal; yet I find myself in the midst of a family and community that seems both economically liberal and fiscally conservative  while being socially conservative.   I know we need to have the social programs for those in difficult places yet trying to make what some would call the “right, yet difficult decision”.

I still believe very deeply in the sanctity of life beginning within weeks of conception. I was given a choice to terminate my pregnancy, but I didn't.   I knew then I would not, though going through that choice has increased my compassion for others who do.

Some women are going to feel abortion is the only choice, no matter what anybody else says about it.  If abortion is not safe (and legal), many of these women will die from that choice.  I am not cold and callus to say either death is okay. Life is difficult and sometimes life forces one to face difficult decisions.  For some it is being told their cancer is progressive and having to choose to pursue treatment or not to, some parents have to make those decisions for children they have chosen to have.  I do not categorically support every woman's possible reason for getting an abortion;  I especially do not support late term abortions or the chilling stories I have read about babies being born alive and then killed.  It is these instances  it is important we make adoption easier, make it easier to give a young life a safe home when the child is not to be with the birth mother. Not everyone should be a parent. As a society we should empower women to 
understand their sexuality as the beautiful thing it can be
, not throw it away.  Women should be encouraged to educate themselves throughout life.   We all should choose our relationships carefully.  This is a big complicated issue, I refuse to see as one that can be contained in singularity; it is a multidimensional issue that begs for congruity, internal and external consistency in thought and practice, especially in the midst of many politically driven social issues that sprout from the birth of a child in a less than favorable situation.

Emotion, reason and policy: Thinking liberally about feeling | The Economist