Feb 3

A friend of mine asked me if I’d like to help out with a fundraiser she’s in charge of planning for an organization in town called Healing Pathways. It’s dedicated to providing free psycho-social services to cancer patients and survivors. The fundraiser is an annual Bow Tie March/5K run for men’s cancer awareness. I went today to the committee’s monthly meeting to get an overview of what they’re doing and how I may be able to help out. Of course, I knew by simply going, I was dedicating myself to the cause. But I wanted to. I wrote previously about my sister’s battle with breast cancer and mentioned briefly that my dad was also diagnosed with cancer. Two months prior to my sister’s diagnosis. His was in his stomach.

According to my friend, one reason they are doing a specific event for men’s cancer is because a lot of men put off seeking medical advice, even when they suspect something is wrong. And as we know, when it comes to cancer, early detection is crucial. Women have been told for years to do self-checks and mammograms; who hasn’t seen or heard of the pink ribbon campaign? It’s hard to miss. What are men told? Get a yearly exam? And how many really do? Let’s face it. There is one gender stereotype that has a lot of basis in fact. Men typically don’t discuss problems, especially health-related concerns, with their buddies. And often not even their family members. Women, on the other had, typically do. I have four sisters. We’ve had group discussions of aches and pains, menstrual issues, childbirth, mood swings, bathroom habits…you name it, we’ve discussed it. And with women, the discussions aren’t always limited to family members. It’s not at all out of the ordinary for a phone call from a girlfriend to start with, Can I ask you a personal question? followed by Have you ever experienced (xyz issue)? By this difference alone, women are more prone to make appointments with their doctor to check out something that doesn’t seem normal.

My dad’s cancer diagnosis was a shock. He got the confirmation just weeks before Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, stomach cancer doesn’t always have early warning signs. But we all wondered. He suffered from heartburn for years. He’d drink Pepto Bismal and Alka Seltzer on an almost nightly basis. I remember my mother telling my dad more than once that he should go to his doctor. And I’m sure he did go at some point. But I’m also sure he wasn’t really persistent about issues, nor was he willing to go for every thing that may have felt strange. Like most men I’ve come across, that wasn’t his thing. But he’s one of the strongest men I know. And like my sister, he met his fate head on. Mayo clinic doctors are probably still talking about him. He had his stomach taken out and left the hospital ahead of schedule, in time to eat Thanksgiving dinner with us. In a wonderful, unexpected stroke of luck, his cancer had not spread, like a lot of stomach cancers do. He was blessed in that regard. But, of course, cancer has left an indelible mark on my dad. He’s literally almost half the size he used to be. Life has been drastically different for him. But he’s a survivor of a long, hard battle. Again, another courageous role model I look up to in my family.

I’m thankful today that I have the opportunity to help out with this fundraiser. It’s important. This one’s for my dad.

January 20: MLK day

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. day. A national holiday, which meant I had the day off. Some of my friends were jealous that they had to work, and I can’t say I blame them. It’s great to have national holidays off.

It’s gotten me thinking, though, of how many people really know much about our holidays and what their intended purposes were. For a lot of people, it becomes just another day off of work. But today’s holiday is in remembrance of a man who dedicated his life in hopes of making life better for a nation. If you look him up on the internet, you’ll find all sorts of information about him, probably the highlights that most of us enjoying the day off of work know.  About how he was a pastor.  And how he was the Leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an African-American civil rights organization. About how he won the Nobel Peace prize for his nonviolent protests. About his I Have a Dream speech. About his assassination. He was a man of significance in our American history, so we honor him on a day in January that comes close to his birthday of January 15th.

But I wonder how many of us remember that he was only 39 when he died. A young man. Younger than I am today. He left behind four children whom he referenced in his famous speech: I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. He left behind a wife who, regardless of the controversy surrounding their marriage, had to raise those four children without their father. He spent most of his adult life fighting for the causes he so passionately believed in because he was convinced it was best for his family and his country. And he was arrested almost 20 times and assaulted numerous times in the process. What a life. Not the kind of life that I’ve chosen for myself, and not the kind of life that most of the people I know would choose. Not because we don’t have the desire to make the world a better place, but because it takes something heroic to put your whole life on the line. Thank you, Martin Luther King, Jr. for being one of those people. I’m grateful today that we have such people in the world, paving the way for the rest of us.