Wednesday, July 30, 2008


My Dad's name was Jimmy. Esophageal cancer killed him two months ago. As a young girl growing up in the 70's, I remember reading the warning label on his cigarettes. Being that innocence often questions reality, I wanted to know, "Why would anyone allow cigarettes in the stores if they maybe hazardous to your health?" Daddy quit smoking because he wanted to be able to run with his grandkids. Maybe he didn't quit soon enough. Wonder if he has talked to any tobacco executives in heaven who pushed a product knowing it was addictive and deadly. . .

I'm 42 and still question reality: why do cancer surgeons and the Amish invest in tobacco knowing its undisputable reputation as a killer and thief? Where is the logic as to why cancer sticks are allowed to be on the market when their very nature robs the entire well being of a nation? Smoke is an infringement upon those of us who value our lungs. Call it toxic trespass of a faulty product which pulled the economic wool over America's eyes. The tobacco industry has externalized their hazardous waste on all consumers not just the ones who buy their hazardous product. Everyone pays for the pain big tobacco unleashes on their customers. The industry profits and call it freedom. Right. Freedom to kill. Can I get an amen from the Supreme Court? Not today I'm afraid.

Another Jimmy that influenced my life greatly, whom I never knew, would had celebrated his 40th birthday this month had cancer not snatched him away just shy of his teenage years. Like my Daddy, hazardous waste killed him, too.

I first learned about Jimmy as Micah was getting his 4 year old spine punctured with a needle. The procedure room was sterile. The mood dead serious. One mistake of injecting the anti-leukemic drug vincristine into the central nervous system of a child was catastrophic. Nurses triple checked their vials and left no room for error.

Dr. Abshire, a white-haired, pediatric oncologist with a military background, and get down-to-business, Nurse Practitioner, Colleen, were chatting matter of factly. They evaluated Micah before beginning to make sure his drugs of fentanyl and versed were kicking in. They assured me Micah wouldn't remember a thing.

Curled up on the table notably in the fetal position for easy access to his spine, Micah mentioned that it was kind of his medical team to give him a back massage. Now that's the type of drug combo his mother needed too at the time: one to take away the pain of a needle that could penetrate bone marrow and convert it to a soothing back rub. A customized prescription for me would call for one that could take away the agony of watching my child suffer, and transform it to the comfort of the good life of baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chevrolet. Or something similar to the tune of that illusion.

I would learn eventually that Jesus was stronger than narcotics with no side effects. He would take off my blinders, and allow culture shock to set in big time. The farce of the American dream we are indoctrinated to chase winds up killing our kids, and is as addictive as hallucinogenic drugs. The Great Physician was healing Micah and me that day through a lumbar puncture.

Listening in to the medical team's dialogue hoping to glean some knowledge, comfort, or both, Dr. Abshire said,

"Awareness of childhood leukemia will increase due to the movie coming out now."

Nurse Colleen seemed to agree with Dr. Abshire's analysis of this new movie hitting theatres. It appeared from their conversation that both had read the book upon which the movie was based.

I logged the title in my head, A Civil Action, and made a mental note to remember it because just maybe the hospital library might have it. I was hungry to learn more about Micah's illness, this "garden variety of the good type of leukemia" as Dr. Olson had described it when he broke the news to me.

And then the calls started. Friends telephoning to let me know I should go see this movie about children who died from leukemia who drank toxic water starring John Travolta. Reed Liggin, one of my high school classmates and a pharmaceutical rep, had just read the book, too. His review was the book was better than the movie.

And then there was Ruth Ann Warwick, the lady from church, one of the few I trusted to babysit my baby daughter in the nursery. She was the hands and feet of the Spirit in so much of what she did for others. Her light was bright. After she saw the movie, the tone in her voice to me was almost one of a prophetess commanding to go watch it.

And then there was talk show host, Leeza Gibbons. I seldom watched TV, but having moved into the basement of family, there was a TV on most regularly. The families from A Civil Action were Gibbons' guests, and were discussing their tragic experiences. The sickness and deaths of their children from contaminated water gripped me. How the families dealt with the madness glued me to the screen.

I saw Nancy Chuda on the same program. Never heard of this lady who lost a beautiful daughter to cancer from environmental exposures, and began a nonprofit to educate others on children's environmental health. She was giving a demo on how to mix nontoxic cleaners from common household products.

I wept. I could not take it to hear about a little boy named Jarred, so close to my own son's first name, who died in the car as his parents drove him back to the hospital. I knew that familiar drill of logging miles to the hospital. Could that happen to Micah? How did my son wind up with this same type of rare leukemia like A Civil Action? It happened so long ago before we had the protection of our environmental agencies I reasoned. Isn't that why former President Nixon founded EPA and declared a war on cancer?

I would wait until the movie came out on video, or at least until I was sewn back together emotionally. Maybe I could handle it once Micah was beyond this critical stage of intensification chemotherapy that dominated our lives. I tried to put those poor children and families from that town near Boston out of my mind.

But neither them nor the gnawing to get our water tested would go away. I took a few of the urinals which we had collected from our hospital stays, drove over to our abandoned home, and filled them up with water from our tap. I would take them to the University of Georgia lab when I got the chance. Then my mind would be settled.

Jimmy Anderson's death was caused from a system failure that still existed twenty five years later when my son was diagnosed with the same disease. One young boy in Massachusetts would save another boy's life in Georgia...from the grave.

Only Jesus could pull that off.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Junkyard Jesus

I began this blog in December 2007 to highlight a book in the works about my 4 year old son's journey with leukemia linked to corporate abuse of the environment. His cancer awakened me to an existence of evil not eons away in an dark abyss of hell, but a very present operating system living incognito as my neighbor.

As I pieced together the remnants of my faith as my son's health deteriorated, it was hard to accept that children die as collateral damage everyday from chemical trespassing and involuntary exposures unleashed by our ever growing psychotic behavior of doing business as usual. The dehumanizing agony of realizing that my son was the sacrificial lamb of government and industry made me appreciate Jesus more.

Athens Banner Herald writer, Jason Winders, welcomed me into the blogging world in January 2008. Where did you come up with the words "community activist" to describe me, Jason?

I would had much rather been labeled a Jesus freak who believes every church in Athens should be speaking out against the dumping of our collective waste on our brothers and sisters next to the landfill.

Or maybe a radical Christian who expects environmental health agencies to stop lying and deceiving about the unrefutable and irreversible harm being done to our current and future generations.

And I would had been flattered if you penned me as a junkman's daughter who came to realize her Dad's salvage yard could be as spiritual as any misguided ministry amassing wealth for a personal kingdom rather than doing the Father's will on earth as it is in heaven.

No sooner had Jason made his New Year's introduction of me as a fellow blogger, my writing suddenly stopped. No more entries as if I got a severe case of writer's block. My cyber journal, that ceremoniously began on the anniversary of my son's diagnosis with leukemia, came to a standstill when my Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer in February. He lived less than 4 months. I spoke on a beautiful spring day at his graveside services in late May.

And now, therapeutically, back at the keyboard, this entry is yet another disturbing reminder that cancer is a merciless disease claiming itself as triumphant in my life. It hasn't taken Micah yet, but holds him hostage and forced him to look on as it devoured both his grandfathers that he revered and adored. It continues to taunt and dare me to take on its power and greed. And if I was the greatest community activist in the whole world, I would want to run and hide now shaking in my shoes with fear.

But I'm a Jesus follower believing perfect love cast out fear. It's a radical vision taught and embodied by the GodMan. I compare it to lessons learned in my Dad's junkyard:

1. A junkyard is not the end of the road, but an opportunity to be useful in a different capacity. Dad pointed out vehicles we'd encounter on the road in our small hometown that had made doctor visits to his junkyard. A door and tire here, a starter and hubcap there. Once he stripped and sold all the operating parts he could off a junk vehicle, the remainder would be crushed and made into something different. The transforming love of Jesus is doing the same spiritually taking away the old and creating in us new.

2. A 65 Chevy transmission won't fit a 2005 Mazda. The goal is to restore each to their fullest potential, but not all makes and models are interchangeable. The same with human beings and how they accept spiritual teachings. No religious leader, male or female, that has ever lived or living today is without flaws. That includes the Pope or Reverend Billy Graham. No doubt the controversial pastors of the current presidential candidates fall short. Why shouldn't they being mere mortal men? Jesus gets human restoration right everytime because He wrote the operating manual. His ministry is of reconciliation and unity. He reunited us to Yahweh, our Creator, and backed up His words with His blameless life...and volunteered death....and life resurrected.... and everlasting.

3. Invest in junk. My Dad had a lucrative business turning trash into treasure. He sat down one day before his death and gave me the 411 on recycling limited resources. It was easy to see the economical and environmental profitability. Jesus poured Himself into the sick, sad, and broken hearted. He called His followers to have a permanent relationship with the poor, prisoners, widows, and orphans. Oppression, which devalues the sanctity of life, is a consistent enemy of the Christian to be fought wherever it rears its ugly head--- be it at an unjust landfill in Athens Clarke and Oglethorpe County Georgia, or ethnic cleansing in Africa.

I found it coincidental when my Dad passed away that another descendant of a "rag and bone man" (a British term for junk dealer) discovered his grandfather had given him a 2,400 year old Persian gold cup of great value. The cup had been the object of target practice earlier and left stored under the bed. A good reminder we can have misplaced value right under our noses sometimes. A spiritual analogy as well that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also.

Dr. Bill Sheehan, a waste management expert, passed along this thought that God recycles and the devil burns. Bill never claimed to be a theologian, but an ecologist. I think a good theologian is also an ecologist. Jesus was. What would Jesus drive? I think he would probably still wear sandals and walk, take mass transit, and bike. But I think he would appreciate a visit to a junkyard.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Death at the Door & Life at the Bookstore

I dropped to my knees, and grabbed Micah hugging him in ecstasy. He wanted to know why I was "acting so funny."

The fax from Dr. Dowain Wright, read, "lab work shows only slight anemia. . ."

Dr. Wright was the rheumatologist we had visited earlier in the day in Atlanta.

He had wanted me to stay until the blood work results were back after off-handedly mentioning the possibility that Micah could have leukemia. That was just too much bad news for me to handle alone if Micah's complete blood count revealed that awful dreaded disease of bald children. So I politely declined the invitation to wait, and requested that Dr. Wright fax the results instead to my home.

On our way back to Athens, Micah and I stopped off in Monroe to visit my brother, Jim, at his office. I needed some moral support before going home to face Dr. Wright's verdict. We shared a pizza and my fears. My brother's colleagues picked up our spirits.

Micah was having a blast with the inflatable, giant purple gorilla which was an advertising gimmick. The day almost seemed normal. I cherished normal which was few and far between the past two months. I felt as if Dr. Wright's news would be positive.

How overjoyed I was to find that optimistic fax waiting for me! I welcomed it as proof that Micah was on the road to recovery.

Looking back, the place I felt most emotionally secure in receiving Dr. Wright's news was ironically the source of my son's illness. My sanctuary of home was a temple of doom. Death was knocking on our door at Oakwood.

Oakwood was the mobile home park we had lived in the past six years. Named after the surrounding hardwood trees which were now arrayed with beautiful fall colors, the trees thrived even as a diabolic nature possessed the land decades earlier.

Oakwood was a killing field for corporate abuse of the environment. Micah was one of its intended victims from conception. The effect of a lifetime of exposure was unleashing its terror now four years later. Death was intent on claiming Micah.

The neighbors were preparing for their seasonal production increase of fuel operations. I was preparing for my son to get better. The two could not co-exist in The Toxic Triumvirate.

Four weeks later after Dr. Wright's fax, I would hear our pediatrician say, "Micah has almost no platelets and a hemoglobin of 5."

He would immediately receive a blood transfusion upon emergency admission to the hospital followed by platelet transfusions so he could undergo surgery for a port-a-cath without bleeding to death.

Dr. Wright would be one of the first doctors to visit Micah on the oncology floor, and apologize to me for delivering us a false sense of hope on that memorable day. He explained that a small percentage of children he and his partner evaluated did present with symptoms much like Micah where chronic anemia eventually progressed to childhood leukemia.

But was it Dr. Wright's fault that medical school did not train him in children's environmental health?

The sinister and health-robbing operations in The Toxic Triumvirate thrived on secrecy. There was no mercy...not even to a helpless baby boy born in its grip. Life was being sucked right out of Micah, and that evil had escaped recognition by any doctor that had examined him.

The quality of a child's environment is paramount to his well being. A poison triangle was Micah's playground. He hunted sharks in a bathtub full of cancer causing chemicals. He dug for dinosaurs in a yard with contaminated soil under his feet. His air in intergalactic space was loaded with extreme volumes of benzene, a bi-product of gasoline known for over 100 years to cause leukemia.

I could not blame Dr. Wright. How could he know that we lived next door to millions of gallons of petroleum pumped in by shoddy pipelines. Everyday we were breathing and drinking our neighbors' migrating chemicals and accumulating a toxic threshold. Micah's little body, like a hazardous waste drum, was filled to capacity.

Dr. Wright had been thorough with his examination, and thought Micah was just too mobile to have juvenile arthritis. But something was extraordinarily wrong as he took Micah's history and physical:

"Is he normally this color?" he inquired.

"Well, he is fair skinned like me, but since he has been sick, he has been paler," I replied.

"Does he eat well?" came the next question.

"Well, I force feed him because he has no appetite," I answered. Dr. Wright asked me to elaborate.

"He lays on the couch because he is tired so I feed him there." I responded.

What abnormal answers! It was as if I was beginning to accept Micah's slow deterioration as a normal part of life. I adjusted his daily schedule around a monster that would not let go of him. Like the proverbial frog slowly boiling in warm water, I was becoming desensitized to the seriousness of his illness. How did I suppress that once strong maternal instinct which told me SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT?

But one comes to trust the medical world of pediatricians and specialists with their catch all phrase "a virus that has to run its course" ---even after repeatedly hearing from friends and family:

"Micah looks fine except for he's a little pale."

Being pale is a sign of anemia. I knew that so I purchased a supplement with iron thinking it would do the trick and bring Micah's energy level back up. How could that happen though? No amount of nutrients or vitamins could fight off my powerful oppressors disguised as neighbors. They were slowly taking my son. I was letting them.

The mental health of our family was being stretched. Homeschooling with four children, our collective lives began to revolve around Micah's declining health and not our academics. Looking forward to Fridays as our field trip day, we were canceling out more and more because Micah just did not feel up to it.

We attempted to bribe Micah with toys thinking our conquering Anakin Skywalker would return to save the day... like it was possible to turn up his energy level like a thermostat. Jordan, 12, my oldest son, frugal with his money, took his savings and bought huge dinosaur figures with hope that the magic would return in Micah's life.

His kind gesture touched my heart, but it was a failed attempt that proved money cannot buy health or happiness. Conversely, however, in The Toxic Triumvirate, the love of money did buy the silence of many. It was their bought silence that resulted in the loud banging of death at our door.

I suppose death peeked into our window on Christmas, and delighted in my crockpot full of homemade soup made with petroleum ingredients. No one warned us that death is more than a peeping Tom finding thrills in skull and crossbone meals. It is the thief who comes to steal and kill the potential of children misleading society into thinking poor unfortunate genes are to blame instead of industrial abuse of the environment.

I had promised to take Micah to an after Christmas sale at Books-a-Million. Still not able to hold out walking on his own, I pushed him in the stroller down to the children's section. We thumbed through a few preschool selections, but Micah's love affair had long been with prehistoric giants that once made the ground shake. His mind was healthy as his repertoire of dinosaurs was impressive, but his little body was screaming to be healed.

Why didn't I wake up and see how sick my 4 year old son really was? Why didn't I march myself back into the emergency room again with Micah, and demand another hospitalization like I had at Thanksgiving? I made a fool of myself that night, but I never regretted it.

Here one month later and what did I have to show of his improvement? Other than the fact that he was alive, there was nothing else that gave the slightest hint that Micah was better. I had tricked myself into believing he was on the road to recovery when all the signs were otherwise staring me in the face.

I had become defeated while my son was dying. But mothers don't have the last word with their children, God does.

Unbeknownst, as we browsed and chatted in the kid's reading section, someone was eavesdropping on us.

He approached us boldly. A distinguished, gray-haired man with a buttoned-down, solid red holiday shirt, I had noticed him earlier sitting at a reading table when we strolled by. There was no mistake that we were his intended destination as he got up and headed for us. Maybe Micah and I were too loud in our dinosaur discussion.

He was intrusive and to the point:

"Excuse me ma'am, I was listening to you and your son's conversation. I am a doctor. May I ask you a question: Is your son well?"

I glanced over to see what he had been reading. It was an indicator that he might just be telling the truth, or it could be a prop for a set-up to a scam. A thick physician's desk reference book was opened at his table. That prompted me. It was an opportunity to quiz him. If he was a doctor, surely he knew what a mean virus could potentially do to the heart of a child.

So I obliged him with a response,

"Actually, he was hospitalized and diagnosed with a viral infection right before Thanksgiving. Would you happen to know what an extended virus could do to his heart?"

He answered correctly passing my qualifying test.

It felt good to unload so I stood there, and told this total stranger my son's medical history of the past months. He asked provocative questions. He wanted to know why I was pushing Micah in a stroller if he was recovering.

An effective teacher as well, he demonstrated skin tone differences by comparing Micah's to mine. He pointed out blood vessels in my arm which were not evident in Micah's.

He also gave timely advice. He requested that I take Micah back to his pediatrician, and ask for an iron test. He was confident from his observations that Micah was still anemic.

We parted exchanging our names. I specifically asked where his practice was located. I felt leery about giving out my address so I refrained. Internal debating began in my head as we left the bookstore. He was most likely not a doctor. He was pretending to be one. So, he said that he was a general practitioner from Savannah. He was visiting his daughter who was a doctoral student herself at the University of Georgia.

No. I preferred to remain skeptical. I did not want to take Micah back in to see the pediatrician. It meant more screaming and crying, more specialists, more out of pocket payments, but most of all, it meant he was back at square one. It meant my illusion that I was getting my little boy back would be shattered.

The first thing I did when Micah and I arrived back home from the bookstore was to pick up the phone and call information.

My inquiry of a Dr. Ben Hubby from Savannah proved the man in the bookshop was legit. He would be the doctor I attributed to saving Micah's life with a predestined appointment at Books-a-Million.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Crossing Dimensions in 1999

I sat in the dark watching Micah sleep. Even at the midnight hour, his paleness was evident under the glow of lights from hospital gadgetry keeping him alive. A knock on the door interrupted my thoughts. It was Nurse Julia.

I had become accustomed to the flurry of activity in Micah's hospital room, but he certainly had not. In a previous outburst, he sat up in bed with his frail self and demanded, "What's SHE doing here?" Another nurse. Another order. Another traumatic experience for Micah. But this time the medicine from Nurse Julia was for me.

She handed me a styrofoam cup with nonalcoholic champagne and whispered, "Happy New Year."

Now there was an oxymoron. Remembering the tune of Prince, I had dreamed of many things I would be doing when 1999 actually did arrive in history. Yet I never envisioned this nightmare in a million years.

Ringing in the new year at the hospital bedside of your child just diagnosed with cancer doesn't paint a rosy picture for the future. My mind raced with gripping questions: Would Micah respond to treatment in 1999? Would I lose him? Would I lose myself? I was in a combined state of emotional denial and information overload. I dug deep for something to be grateful for.

As I reflected on the events of the last week in 1998, I observed a pattern of intriguing spiritual nearness. I could be grieving over a dead son had it not been for the kindness of a complete stranger who was eavesdropping on a conversation between Micah and myself just days earlier in our local bookstore.

Micah could had been given any oncology nurse upon admission, but Edith Yeargin just happened to be there. She didn't normally work on the hospital floor, but chose to come in and help over the holidays. She had leukemia when she was a girl. She became Micah's favorite nurse. She became a voice in the wilderness for me.

Have you ever made a toast to God in a time of crisis? To thank Him for your struggles because He approved the course to shape you into a more compassionate human being? It is hard to embrace words of the Bible in 1 Thessalonians directing us: Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks; for this is the will of God in Jesus Christ concerning you.

It doesn't come natural to do this. So I approached the supernatural to hold my hand amidst the ever present anxiety of confronting my deepest fear: MICAH COULD DIE.

I had been cocky to think I was immune from pain and despair. I saw it all around me as a manager of Oakwood Mobile Home Park. Now I was immersed in it. When I asked the One who gave me Micah to reveal Himself, He showed up. His arrival shook my narrow-minded world view of life and death.

As the dawn broke with the first light of 1999, my pride was waiting to be broken as well. Micah found comfort in the playroom, and we would migrate there at some point in our day. I watched him imagine, explore, and create as if all of his trauma had melted away. But there was always his chemo-pole nearby to remind me of more trauma to come. I thought of the long road ahead for him trying to choke back my tears.

I was sitting beside little Michael's mom. He was the same age as Micah battling the same disease.

She attempted to comfort me, "It gets easier. The first week is always the hardest," she said.

Why do children get cancer? I looked around the playroom at fragile little bodies in various stages of cancer and blood disorders as their lifelines of chemotherapy dripped into their veins. Why did I want to scream? Why did I quickly forget my toast to God?

In my hurting, I was silent to the world, but in my heart I defiantly declared in a thunderous outrage, "This is not suppose to happen to my child."

And it was as if God spoke back to me and softly reminded, "This is not suppose to happen to anyone's child."

With the radio playing in the background of the playroom, I was caught off guard by lyrics I had never heard from a gravely male voice, "Everything is gonna be allright, rock-a-bye, rock-a-bye."

What a beautiful message to hear at a time of brokenness. I think at that moment I realized we are constantly crossing dimensions from the physical world to the spiritual realm. We perform in the physical being led in the spiritual. We participate in society joining the angels in worship. We experience pain of the flesh while rejoicing in our souls. We can decide to stay trapped in the fear of the physical never allowing the Spirit to comfort us. Or we can choose to walk in the Spirit which equips us for the challenges of the physical. I chose the latter maybe initially out of selfishness because I was completely helpless to heal Micah.

Within a month, I would learn from a mysterious sequence of events that the last six years of my life had been spent as an unwilling participant in The Toxic Triumvirate... three poisoned places that formed a triangle. My place of residency was the weakest of the trio, a perfect dumping ground for the other two parties who were very much aware of their clandestine activities.

Under the beautiful hardwoods, vices of the poor and broken-hearted were hidden within the cheap paneled walls of 15 mobile homes. Low target population was the phrase I read in the government file. I read it once. Twice. Three times. I cried each time thinking perhaps I was misunderstanding its definition.

The massive bulk petroleum facility with above and underground storage tanks is kept alive by snaking buried pipelines. It breathes in money and exhales hazardous air emissions. It's like living next door to a giant gas station not required to clean up serious environmental messes because the value of the neighborhood is $0.00. Rubber-stamped by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as acceptable collateral damage of the oil and gas industry, the list included Micah, my family, neighbors, and even me. How crushing. But that is what the leader of The Toxic Triumvirate does. It crushes. It kills. And it does so all in the name of progress.

But the Low Target Population Report didn't mention God. He was there, too. He has a thing for the poor, oppressed, and broken-hearted. We meet Him in dark, scary places, and He lights our way.

I met Him crossing dimensions in a children's hospital ringing in 1999.