Fitting for a Monday

David-Bowie_Chicago_2002-08-08_photoby_Adam-Bielawski-croppedThe last way I wanted to start my day was learning that music/acting/fashion icon David Bowie died yesterday just two days after releasing a new album, Blackstar.

This song, Under Pressure, pairing Bowie’s voice with the equally talented Freddie Mercury (whose talent was also gone too soon) and Queen, is appropriate for a Monday.

Why I’m not going purple today

If you are using social media (at least Facebook) you may see a lot of profile pictures washed in purple as part of World Cancer Day today. There are all kinds of good ways to support cancer research, cancer patients and survivors, health care professionals, and caregivers.

I have a friend who begins chemo tomorrow. She’ll beat this.

Cancer sucks.

I’m not going purple today.  Instead I’ve picked up the phone and shared a call to action.

The Georgia Senate Natural Resources Committee is meeting this afternoon to consider SB 299, which will strip away water protection and leave us just as exposed and vulnerable as the people in West Virginia.  I called and left a message asking Chair Ross Tolleson to vote NO on this bill.

coal ash waste
coal ash waste

Yesterday a shuttered Duke Energy coal plant spilled at least 50,000-82,000 pounds of coal ash and 27 Million gallons of water into the Dan River near Eden, North Carolina. The coal ash and water are saturated with cancer causing heavy metals and toxins that never “go away” or evaporate.

There are all kinds of ways we can support cancer patients today, and tomorrow, and the day after that. The ribbons and the walks are fine, but we also need to have the hard discussions about what we are doing to the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. Because cancer sucks.

It’s October. I’m not wearing pink.

Cancer sucks. It doesn’t matter which “cancer of the month” it is, because all cancers suck.

I’m all for walks, races, bike rides, and bake sales to support patients and their caregivers as well as cancer research.  But it isn’t even the middle of October and I’ve seen enough pink stuff to last me for the rest of the year.

Mammograms are great. Early detection rocks. My cancer was found very early as a result.

What we don’t hear enough of any time of the year, is the fact that we can’t “cure” cancer until we quit poisoning our air, water, and food with cancer causing agents like mercury, cadmium, and lead.

Of course each of us can impact our health status by exercising, eating as well as our pocketbooks allow, sleeping enough, taking meds as they are prescribed, blah blah blah. We’ve all heard it.

Do our doctors really understand that if the water they encourage us to drink is loaded with cancer causing agents, we’ll never outpace the risks of cancer by adding another mile to our daily run?

It’s October. Let’s get serious about what’s missing in the discussions about preventing breast cancer.

Still drafting members of Team Brilliant

In little rural communities like the one I live in, it isn’t unusual to see donation jars in convenience stores, bbq lunches cooked and sold, and motorcycle rides planned to support someone who has cancer but no insurance.

Team Brilliant has taken fundraising and support for a cancer warrior and his family to an international level.

Last Wednesday, on September 5th, National Team Brilliant Spot Removal Day, my friends asked about my team t-shirt and were impressed with the campaign progress to eliminate a family’s worry about paying for health care when they need all their energy to beat kidney cancer.

Overnight 12 people came off the Free Agent list. We are just 12 team players shy of 1000 donors/team members and less than $4,500 from meeting our goal of raising $100,000 dollars. That’s what community is all about.

People all over the country (and probably around the world, I can’t keep up with all the ways people have stepped up) have sold art, handmade goods, web site design work, and weekend yoga classes. At least one restaurant has devoted an entire day’s business as a “pay what you can” so their customers could join the team.

We need to meet the 1000 team members and $100,000. Hear John and Patti share their deep appreciation for those who have become part of this phenomenal community and then join Team Brilliant.

The good fortune of knowing Naima

The Friday Photo
A weekly photo inspired by art, community, and spontaneity
July 27, 2012

I’ll never win the lottery because I don’t buy tickets. But I took home a grand prize when I applied for a retreat at the Wind River Cancer Wellness Retreats nestled in the North Carolina mountains near Asheville.

When I arrived on the appointed Thursday afternoon, Shannon, one of the retreat directors told me who I would room with, hesitated, and said, “No, I think you need to be with Naima.”

All of us soon to be good friends were sitting together early that evening, and when Naima arrive, someone whispered, “Oh, she is so beautiful.” And Naima was.

Wigs were shed by Friday morning, including Naima’s stunning page boy style. We were there to let our hair down, and that was especially important for the women who had no hair or were growing theirs back.

We drummed, we painted, we walked, we read, we slept, we shared and cried, cooked, learned Taichi, and experienced incredible healing touch therapy (I was completely amazed by it, just like those who are sure hypnotism won’t work on them).

Young women talked about balancing work, young children, and chemo. And hard decisions to come, like whether, with a seven month old baby at home, it was the right time to lose a breast to cancer.

And Naima smiled all day, so broadly. She even belly danced when we drummed on Saturday night. But her pain was so real, the uncertainty so heavy, a dark diagnosis weighing on her as her cancer had spread through her abdomen. She had a beautiful daughter who would graduate from high school in the spring. Naima wanted to be there for Jasmine, and she was.

But by late June, despite new treatments which gave her a little more time, at least enough to get to graduation, Naima’s long and painful fight came to an end.

Later today, the women who came to know Naima over a four day retreat, all of us strangers when we arrived, and all of us now friends in a way that only we may truly understand, will remember Naima for the survivor she was up to the end.

Each of us will write her name on an “In Memory Of” bib and pin it to our shirts, and we will, most likely, tearfully, ride together as survivors in a cancer event in Charlotte.

Wind River brought us together, and we are lucky to come back together today, healthier now on the most part, but without one, the one who was so beautiful one of us had to say so.

I will always owe a huge debt of gratitude to Wind River, to Shannon and Dave who open their homes to survivors in all stages of treatment and health. I got lucky when I rushed my application in, but I was even luckier when Shannon hesitated and said, “No, I think you need to be with Naima.”

You can find out more about Wind River and support them in a special event today called One Vote/One Day Only-Make a Difference that could provide them with a Toyota Prius to extend their outreach to cancer patients.



What is missing from all the noise about breast cancer funding?

Last week when the country erupted over Susan G. Komen’s decision to yank funding for Planned Parenthood, one key element was missing from all the shouting: how many cancer organizations are talking about the very real dangers and causes of cancer resulting from how our food is produced, and what is in the air and water we rely on?

Genes play a part in one’s proclivity for disease in many cases, but what we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink play a large part in our health. Exercise does too, but if you have asthma or respiratory problems, being outside on a bad air quality day isn’t an option.

Why aren’t more health and disease focused groups insisting that these contributors to poor health status be addressed? Before quitting my job as the Executive Director of the Georgia Rural Health Associaction (GRHA), I made mention of my volunteer work, more than once, with the Fall-line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE). My “hobby” fighting coal was just that, a volunteer thing I did on my own time and dime.

I would go to meetings with state partners fighting three proposed coal plants in Georgia and folks would ask why, if GRHA was working on behalf of better health for rural Georgians, wasn’t the organization speaking up to protect the air and water sheds in the threatened communities? That remains a mystery to this day.

Standing up to new coal, AND talking about the problems already plaguing rural communities from existing coal plants, would have been appropriate and right. I couldn’t make my personal agenda GRHA’s, but it still begs the question: why aren’t more health care advocacy organizations speaking up for what lies at the root of so many health problems? The silence from the Department of Community Health in Georgia is stunning.

While so many of us focus on how Komen let politics get in the way of delivering preventive      health screenings to undeserved women, we shouldn’t forget that our environment and access to healthy foods play a part in good health too. When you consider where to donate, think about what isn’t being said publicly. Better yet, ask them why before you sign the check.


(Read a 2011 post asking if any state agency in Georgia is protecting citizen health here:

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