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.