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.