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Running For More…

The personal blog and website of Kristen Cincotta

Archive for the ‘Everything Else’ Category

New Year, New Beginnings

Friday, January 1st, 2016

Welcome to 2016!

Much has happened since the last time I clicked myself over to this blog, with new beginnings happening all over the place. Since today is the first day of the new year, it only seemed fitting to give everyone an update about where I’ve been, and more importantly, what’s on deck for 2016.

Career Changes

By far the most significant change for me has been a job change, a change that was not unforeseen. I was employed at the CDC as a research Fellow, and my Fellowship was scheduled to end on Thanksgiving day, 2015.

One last stunning sunset over Atlanta, as seen from my office at the CDC.

One last stunning sunset over Atlanta, as seen from my office at the CDC.

Going into the final year of my Fellowship, all parties involved were both expectant and excited about the likely possibility that I would be staying on permanently at the CDC, as part of the rapidly growing Prescription Drug Overdose team. My team had the funds to hire several people and both my supervisors and I wanted me to be one of those people. However, over the summer, I learned that it wasn’t going to be possible. I’m not going to go into the details as to why here, but suffice it say, everyone was disappointed that it didn’t work out, including me. I LOVED being a part of the CDC, I really liked the vast majority of the people I worked with (both at the CDC and beyond), and I was pretty dang excited about several big things that were/are in the pipeline for the PDO team. To compound things, even as it became increasingly apparent that the primary project that I had been working on throughout my Fellowship was taking significantly longer to wrap up than expected, there was just no possibility of extending my Fellowship further. To be completely honest, it made for a pretty difficult last few months, especially as new people with less experience than I had were brought in to the permanent positions that I had been hoping to land. I wanted to stay and finish my project at my high standard of work, and instead, I felt like I was being pushed out the door. I would not give up my time at the CDC for anything – I had dreamed of working there for as long as I can remember and I am thrilled I was able to make it happen. I just wish things had ended on a better note.

A major SABCS highlight - meeting Dr. Susan Love and several Komen Advocates in Science at the Brinker Awards Reception.

A major SABCS highlight – meeting Dr. Susan Love and several Komen Advocates in Science at the Brinker Awards Reception.

BUT! When life closes a door, it opens a window, as they say. And in this case, life has opened a giant, beautiful bay window for me, with a stellar view of the future. With a bit of persistence and a good bit of luck, I was able to secure a job with Susan G. Komen as an Evaluation Manager, focusing on scientific research programs. In this position, I will be joining the team at Komen that is responsible for assessing the impact of the dollars that Komen has invested in breast cancer research over the years, identifying research successes that have stemmed from those dollars, and helping to improve Komen’s research programs overall. I will also get the opportunity to take these rusty blogging skills out for a spin by writing some pieces for the Susan G. Komen blog, email newsletters, and other social media properties. It is, in short, my dream job and in just three short weeks of employment, I have already had a career-high moment when I got to attend the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium on behalf of Komen. I have followed the news coming out of SABCS for years, dating back to when my mom’s oncologists presented her case there during one of the case study sessions. To be there in person, just days after starting my new job, was an amazing experience. I cannot understate how excited I am for this new opportunity, especially given how crushed I was to have to leave a job I loved at the CDC.

Lifestyle Changes

The cherry on the sundae that is my new job is that in addition to doing work that I’m genuinely passionate about, I am going to get to do said work from home! My greatest frustration at the CDC was being forced to adhere to a standard 9-5 workday, with little freedom to manage my own time. While I will still have regular hours at Komen, working from home does give me a bit more flexibility. I will be able to do things like fold laundry while thinking through tricky problems, go for runs on my lunch break, and other things like that. At the CDC, I was easily spending 2.5 hours in the car every day between driving to & from daycare and commuting to work. Being able to just pop Dash over to daycare (or better yet, run commute him over on nice days!) and come right back home is going to save me TONS of time. Dash is about to have his own new beginning starting next week when he transitions to a new classroom at his daycare, so it’s nice to know I’ll have a little more flexibility in the event he needs me a bit more for the next couple weeks too. Plus, my beloved Shenanigans never really forgave me for taking an office job (she developed severe separation anxiety), so to stay home with her all day, every day, just feels right. Feeling like I’m in control of my time again has me VERY optimistic for everything I’d like to get done in the next year. And speaking of things I’d like to get done in the next year…

Volunteering with Komen Atlanta

I am once again serving as the Teams and Recruiting Chair for the 2016 Komen Atlanta Race for the Cure!

One of my homes away from home!

One of my homes away from home!

As always, the Komen Atlanta Race for the Cure will take place on Mother’s Day weekend, returning again to the Lenox Mall. Race registration will “officially” open on Monday, but shhh…. a little bird told me you can actually register now (click here)! And to make things even better, this year I have a 25% off discount code that everyone can use to save some money. Simply enter “KCincotta2016” during registration and the computer will do the rest!

In addition to recruiting new teams and participants directly, I am also taking on something new this year – I have recruited 10 absolute superstars to serve as Race Ambassadors for the Race this year. I’ve already held one training session with them that left me totally jazzed up for the potential impact of this program on our Race registration, and especially on the performance of our teams. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about this group in the coming months, so be prepared. As a I said, these ladies are superstars – longtime participants, top fundraisers, big time team captains. They are going to really push me to bring my best to our Race this year – I can’t wait!

I am also trying to launch one other initiative for Race that centers around improving the Race experience for our best performing teams on Race day. I don’t want to go into too many details here because it’s still in the preliminary planning stages. But – I AM looking for someone to join my “Teams Team” and head up this new effort for me. I’ll be there to help along the way, but I’ve already committed to launching the Race Ambassadors program this year and don’t want to give either program short shrift by trying to do both all by myself. So if you, or someone you know, might be interested in working with me on this new effort, let me know by shooting me an email. Thanks!

Volunteering with Atlanta Track Club

Dash trying out the indoor track at the snazzy new ATC offices.

Dash trying out the indoor track at the snazzy new ATC offices.

Last June, I was thrilled to learn that I was selected to once again serve as a Community Ambassador for my beloved Atlanta Track Club. The ATC has really helped me become a “real” runner over the last few years, and I’m honored to be able to spread the word about everything that they bring to our local running community. However, shortly after my Ambassador term started, I decided to back off of any racing until I knew what was happening with my job situation (and more specifically, our financial situation). I was already committed to the Atlanta 3-Day in October and I needed to devote my limited training time to that event anyways. So I didn’t really do much running between mid-July and mid-November, despite my best intentions. And as you can imagine, that made it pretty difficult to trumpet all the wonderfulness of the ATC.

Thankfully, right around the time I was tip toeing back into the running world post 3-Day, all of the Ambassadors were invited to extend their terms by an additional six months or so, so that our terms aligned with the calendar year. I sent off an email accepting that offer within seconds, knowing that this was my chance to really bring my best efforts to my Ambassador gig. So, you can expect much more from me about my experiences with the various programs and races that the Atlanta Track Club offers, both here and on social media, throughout 2016. Yeah!

Running in General

With my GOTR race buddy, before she totally smoked me!

With my GOTR race buddy, before she totally smoked me!

As I already mentioned, I began tip toeing back into running in mid-November after a bit of a break over the summer and early fall. I did my best to complete the “Striding through the Holidays” challenge that the

awesome ladies at Another Mother Runner organized, which was great motivation to get back into more consistent running and workouts. I also ran with my friend Julie’s daughter in the Girls on the Run ATL 5K, during which Niblette (her online nickname) absolutely dusted me. I was pretty dang proud of her wheels, but boy, was that the kick in the pants that I needed to get serious about running again. So I sucked it up, set some goals for myself for 2016, and got started. I rolled directly from the Stride challenge into training for the Publix GA Half Marathon (now being run by the ATC – holler!), following the final 14 weeks of the AMR Half Marathon Finish It! plan. This plan is a bit higher mileage than I’ve been running lately, but with more flexibility in my day to day schedule (see above), I am certain that I can handle it. I am also certain that my butt needs to really feel like I’m training for something if I’m going to stick with it, so hopefully this plan hits that sweet spot. I’ll wrap up my third week of training on Sunday and I’m pretty stoked with how it’s going already. More to come on that soon.

Beyond the Publix Half, I’ve got some other big running goals as well. But since this post is getting monstrously long already, I’ll save those for their own post. Cliff hanger!

Blogging

Celebrating with my Atlanta run-blogging ladies at our annual holiday get together.

Celebrating with my Atlanta run-blogging ladies at our annual holiday get together.

Throughout this beast of an update post, I’ve alluded to the fact that I’m hoping to blog A LOT more regularly over the next year – about Race for the Cure, about ATC, about my running in general, and many other things. I feel like I promise this to myself and the four people out there reading this at least once every few months, but again, with a more flexible day to day schedule, I’m super optimistic that I can actually make it happen this time. I love having this outlet to share my thoughts, successes, and struggles, and I really don’t want to let it languish as I have in the past. I’m going to let the content evolve naturally as I see what happens with my new job, but I definitely want to get back to regular training updates and race updates as a start.

So that’s a bit about where I’m at and what I’m looking at for 2016. The last time I was this excited to kickstart a new year was when I started my Fellowship at the CDC, when I had a lot of similar things on tap. Thanks for joining me on this ride – let’s make it great!

Baby C Update and a Cause Worth Supporting!

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Hi all!

Since today is my due date, I thought I’d start with a quick Baby C update, but then I wanted to post about something that I think is really important – my friend Michelle’s IndieGoGo campaign to raise money for medical supplies for the medical aid workers trying to contain the deadly Ebola virus outbreak.

From our maternity photoshoot at Piedmont Park with Allison DePalma.

From our maternity photo shoot with Allison DePalma.

But before we get to Ebola, an update on me! I have somehow gone an entire 40 weeks with almost no posts about my pregnancy. That was entirely by accident, due to a number of circumstances beyond my control. However, if you’ve been following my #100HappyDays challenge, you’ve seen plenty about all of our last minute preparations. At this point, we’re feeling prepared, if not yet ready. I’m not sure anyone ever feels totally ready for this magnitude of a life change. But we are prepared. We’ve taken birthing classes, breastfeeding classes, a baby basics class, even infant CPR. We’ve both had haircuts, eye appointments, and dental cleanings. The dog has had a bath and her most recent shots. The baby’s room is FINALLY done and we think we have everything we need for these first few weeks. Mike has been diligently cleaning every inch of our house and every linen/baby outfit he can find (truly, that’s all been his efforts and I could not be more grateful!). Heck, I even got my nails done last week so they’d look halfway decent in those new baby photos. So we’re prepared.

Baby C, however, doesn’t seem to be quite ready to make his big appearance just yet. I haven’t had any signs of early labor that I’ve recognized as such, so we’re thinking he’s going to take after his mom and come into the world a little behind schedule. But that’s ok. I’ve been lucky to have a fairly comfortable, non-eventful pregnancy so I’m not sitting here in misery. I’m excited to finally meet this little dude who’s been wiggle-worming his way around my insides for the last nine months, but I’m actually fine with waiting for him to be ready to enter the world. For now, I’m finishing up some things from work (from home at this point, thankfully!), taking care of some things around the house, and just generally taking it easy. We’ll be sure to spread the word to excited and anxious friends and family once there’s actually news to tell, I promise.

Now, onto my friend Michelle’s IndieGoGo campaign. Doctor Michelle is my college roommate and is easily one of the most impressive people I’ve ever met (and I know some pretty impressive people). She is Harvard-trained in emergency pediatrics and global health and has lead medical outreach efforts all over the globe. Of the many places where she has worked, Liberia has captured her heart. She speaks passionately about her experiences there and the wonderful people that she’s gotten to work with. Her great pride in how far they have come is clearly evident.

Doctor Michelle in Liberia

Sadly, Liberia, and its neighboring countries of Sierra Leone and Guinea are currently facing one of the worst Ebola outbreaks that the region has ever known. To use Michelle’s own words from the IndieGoGo campaign page:

In a world where conflict and war is raging on across so many countries, this is a war with no sides and no fault. There were no instigators, there will be no winners but the victims are many. The number of people killed by Ebola in this three-country region is more than half the total number of deaths from all prior outbreaks in Africa combined. Healthcare workers are on the frontlines where the sick flock, their safety is in jeopardy while they charge straight into danger to care for their own people.

Ebola is a highly contagious virus with no cure and no vaccine that spreads easily through contact. In the people that it affects, it starts out like any cold with fever and vomiting but turns into deadly internal bleeding. Ebola infection has claimed the lives of 12 brave healthcare workers and infected over 30. Only 1 in 3 infected with the virus are expected to survive this deadly disease, making the frontlines of healthcare in Liberia as deadly as armed conflict. Yet these brave individuals put their lives on the line to treat emergencies, pregnant women, children and those with chronic disease. Healthcare cannot come to a halt while Liberia waits for Ebola to go away.

As in all developing countries, medical supplies are scant and an outbreak like this taxes the few resources that the healthcare workers do have. To help ease this burden, Michelle has created an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds for the healthcare workers in her beloved Liberia. You can read more about their needs on the IndieGoGo page, as well as more detailed information about how these funds will be distributed. But keep in mind this one number: $2.50 is enough to provide a healthcare worker with one set of protective equipment. That’s it.

Michelle’s initial goal for this campaign was to raise $10,000 in two weeks. Her friends and family blew that out of the water in the first day. So, as is Michelle’s relentless way, she raised her goal. She is hoping to raise $250,000 in the next 30 days. I hope that you will consider giving to this important effort. You can do so at the link below:

Click here to donate in support of the healthcare workers in Liberia in their fight against Ebola!

I am lucky that when Baby C decides he’s ready to enter the world, he will be doing so in a well-equipt medical facility where his risk of contracting scary infectious diseases is nonexistent. The same cannot be said for the healthcare workers in Liberia that Michelle considers to be family. Please consider making a donation to this most worthy campaign today!

#100HappyDays

Monday, June 9th, 2014

It has been over four months since I last wrote a blog post. It has been an eventful four months, to say the least. Pregnancy (only seven weeks left!) and all of the related preparations and doctor’s appointments that entails, job uncertainty for my husband Mike, significant restructuring around my job, rehabbing my first significant running injury, ailing relatives, and significant volunteer time commitments have combined to keep us on our toes this year. But by far, the hardest thing that we have had to face has been the loss of my mom to breast cancer after a seven year fight. Her health declined significantly over the last six months and we finally had to say good-bye to her in mid-May. While I am coming to some sort of peace with what has happened, my heart has been forever changed by it. That she will never know the little guy growing in my belly is something I will never be able to truly comprehend.


With Mom (and Dad) at a Braves game last September

With Mom (and Dad) at a Braves game last September

I have many more things to say about my mom’s passing, as well as all of those other things I mentioned above as well. With time, I will attempt to fill in some of those blanks. I have always found writing (and running!) to be a great way to work through complicated thoughts and feelings around all sorts of topics. With everything that has been swirling around my head in the last four months, my return to this small corner of the internet has been long overdue. But tonight, I have something else that I wanted to write about: #100HappyDays!

For those who are unaware, #100HappyDays is an online photo challenge of sorts, and theoretically, an easy one at that. You sign up for the challenge on the website, and then every day for the next 100 days, you post a photo of something that made you happy during that day. Truly, anything that has brought you a moment of joy can be shared – a get together with friends, a snuggle from a loving pet, a great cup of coffee, anything. You can post your pictures on any social media site that you choose (or just email your photos to the #100HappyDays curators), although most people choose to use Instagram. And that’s it. At the end of your #100HappyDays, you will have a nice archive to look back on of everything that has brought you happiness of the previous 3+ months.

After hearing about this challenge from a number of friends (and seeing the hashtag explode in my social media feeds), I decided I wanted to give it a try. At the time, it was clear that Mom’s health was declining significantly, although we didn’t yet know how little time she had left. I was looking for a way to stay positive and focus on all of the good things happening in my life despite everything happening with Mom and this seemed like a great way to do just that. When I realized that it was approximately 100 days before my due date, it just felt right – one positive thing for each day leading up to the arrival of our little dude. So I jumped right in and began posting my pics.

Two weeks later, I flew to New York to say good-bye to my mom for the last time. I am generally a very positive, happy person. But the thought of trying to find something, ANYTHING positive in those last few days was just too much for me. While my mom was in the ICU, my father-in-law was upstairs on the main floor for a week fighting a nasty kidney infection that stemmed from some brutal kidney stones. Two days after I got to the hospital, my lifelong best friend’s father was also admitted to the same hospital (five doors down from my FIL) to recover from reparative knee surgery. I was surrounded by loved ones in all types of pain. The thought of posting a picture of an ice cream bar from the hospital cafeteria just felt trivial and disingenuous. The only thing bringing me any comfort was the immense support network that the universe conspired to provide me at the hospital in the form of my always great in-laws and a friend who has been there for me whenever I’ve needed her for the last 32 years. But they were dealing with their own stresses and posting artificially cheerful photos of them just didn’t seem right. I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t in the mood to fake it. So I stopped.

Now that I have had a bit of space from everything that happened, I think it is time to start my #100HappyDays again. I need to continue to heal and the reality is, I still have much to be happy about. Baby C is healthy and in spite of everything, this pregnancy has gone very well. I have a wonderful husband and great friends who have continually surprised me with their generosity and kindness over the last few weeks. And while not everything is great (still sorting out Hubs’ job situation!), I again want to focus on the positive. I don’t want to wallow or descend into a hole. I am taking responsibility for my own happiness as we count down to Baby C’s arrival.

Today is my new Day 1. It is exactly 50 days until Baby C’s due date, meaning approximately half of my challenge will precede his arrival and half will follow in his wake. I can’t think of a better way to document this unique time in my life.


#Day1 - Reaping the rewards of last year's hard work with my highest ever start wave placement at the Peachtree Road Race!

#Day1 – Reaping the rewards of last year’s hard work with my highest ever start wave placement at the Peachtree Road Race!

If you would like to follow along during this second attempt at #100HappyDays, my Instagram feed can be found here. I also generally share the pictures to my Twitter feed, which can be found here. See you there!

Happy 4th of July!

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

It was a little wet, but we successfully completed the Peachtree Road Race 10k today – the 4th time for Mike and I and the first time for my brother-in-law Matt! I’ll be back with a full recap later, but for now, I’m off to a soggy backyard party to eat picnic foods & pie!

Happy 4th of July everyone!!

Our little group before the race!

Our little group before the race!

PS – Even though the race is over, my Peachtree Road Race fundraiser for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (aka my #Run4Research!) is still ongoing! You can make donations through the end of July. Click on the image below to visit my fundraising page today!

Clicking on the image will take you to my fundraising page too!

Gone, But Never Forgotten

Friday, April 5th, 2013

I know that I still owe everyone a recap on my first half marathon and an update on the results of my Running for the ROC fundraiser. Those posts will be coming, soon. But tonight, I wanted to talk for a minute about Bridget Spence.

Bridget, featured in an ad for Komen for the Cure

Bridget was a member of my pink family. I never had the privilege of meeting Bridget, but as part of the extended 3 Day family, I felt like I knew her. I think a lot of us felt that way. She was so open and honest in her blog, My Big Girl Pants, it was hard not to feel like she was an old friend. Today, we all received word that after a long battle with breast cancer, Bridget passed away last night surrounded by those who truly did know and love her best.

Bridget’s cancer was similar to my mom’s. As similar as a cancer can be, I guess, when it strikes a woman in her early 60s and a young lady in her early 20s. Both of their cancers were/are HER2+, a protein marker that we didn’t even know was a thing until the last two decades. The discovery of HER2+ cancers quickly led to the development of Herceptin, the drug that both my mom and Bridget credited with extending their lives far beyond what used to be expected for Stage IV metastatic breast cancer.

Herceptin is a different kind of drug. The HER2 gene causes cells to express extremely high levels of cell surface receptors that promote improper, aggressive cell division. Herceptin is an antibody that gloms onto those receptors, effectively blocking them from promoting cell division. Unlike other chemo drugs, which interrupt universal cell division processes (and therefore target ALL dividing cells in the body, leading to those side effects that are commonly associated with cancer treatments), Herceptin only affects the cancer cells that are over-expressing these receptors. As a result, it is tolerable for far longer than most chemo drugs. My mom was on Herceptin for the entire first 18 months she was being treated and has been on it continuously since her cancer came back in early 2010. From what she wrote, Bridget was on it for most of her 6+ years of treatment. Herceptin is not a cure in and of itself. Instead, Herceptin keeps the cancer at bay so that individuals like Mom and Bridget can live their lives. Herceptin turns metastatic breast cancer into a chronic condition rather than an immediate death sentence.

Herceptin first gained FDA approval 15 years ago. That’s not that long ago, as far as biomedical breakthroughs go. But scientists aren’t generally the sort to be contented with one breakthrough. Herceptin isn’t perfect. So scientists and the organizations that fund them started asking “What’s next?”. And what was next is TDM-1. TDM-1 is a new drug that is a hybrid of two cancer drugs that we already had: Herceptin plus a super potent molecule of traditional chemotherapy. On its own, that chemo molecule is too damaging to be used in medical care, even for metastatic cancer. It just wouldn’t be tolerable at the doses you’d need to give to get full coverage of a cancer that has spread throughout the body. But! Stick that molecule of super chemo onto a Herceptin molecule, and it’s the equivalent of adding a honing device to missile. Suddenly, the chemo bomb is delivered directly to the cancer cells. That means that far less of the chemo needs to be given to have the same anti-cancer effect. All of the potency, relatively minimal cellular collateral damage. This is what a I truly believe is the future of chemotherapy. And because of Herceptin, HER2+ breast cancer is the first one to have a specific antibody-chemo conjugate that targets it.

TDM-1 was approved for use by the FDA on February 22nd, 2013, when it was rechristened “Kadcyla”. It was in clinical trials last summer when my mom was told that the current treatment she was on might be the last one available to her once her cancer outsmarted it. These last few months have been stressful, wondering what would happen first: would Mom’s cancer would wisen up to the taxotere she was taking and become resistant or would TDM-1 get approved? Thankfully, the clinical trials were successful and the FDA, recognizing the potential in TDM-1, expedited the approval just in time. Mom’s cancer hasn’t yet outsmarted the taxotere. But a few weeks ago, the taxotere outsmarted her lungs and caused significant fluid accumulation, making it unsustainable as a cancer treatment.

Mom will start Kadcyla in a few weeks, if not sooner. And because of Bridget, my mom knows what to expect of this brand new drug. That’s because brave, strong Bridget was in the clinical trials for TDM-1.

When your parent is diagnosed with cancer and you are told that it will be okay, because there are treatments available, you are relieved. You probably don’t give much thought to the people who came before you, who tried all of those experimental drugs and surgeries before we knew what they would do. When you’re told there may not be any more treatments available, it is terrifying. You are obsessed with the clinical trials: who’s in them, what are they experiencing, is it going to work???

You almost never get answers to those questions. Because of Bridget and her honesty, I did. And more importantly, my mom did. That kept Mom fighting so that she would be here for the day that TDM-1 became a reality for her. That’s why Mom is still here, feeling strong and optimistic about this next phase of treatment.

Bridget gave me the greatest gift I have, and probably will ever receive: more time with my mom. That is a priceless gift. In her final blog post back in December, Bridget asked that we not forget her. I know that I absolutely never will.

When I Ran for the ROC at the Publix Half Marathon in March, I dedicated one of my miles to Bridget, knowing that she had made the courageous decision to end her treatments. Tomorrow morning, I will run the Northwestern Mutual Road to the Final Four 5K benefitting the American Cancer Society’s Coaches vs Cancer program in Bridget’s name. It is the very least I can do to honor someone who has given me so much.

My BIG News – Dr. C Got a Job!

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

So… I sort of fell off the #NHBPM wagon. The goal was to write 30 blogs posts in 30 days. And I promise, I had every intention of doing just that. But yet, it’s now December 3rd and I only wrote/published 3 posts. I feel sort of bad about that. But not too bad, because I had a REALLY good reason for not posting:

I GOT A JOB!!!

It was a very long hiring process, one that honestly stretches back to last December when I applied for a public health policy research position on a team working on Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As it turns out, I didn’t get that job. But my resume did catch the eye of the team lead, who also serves as the acting branch chief for the Health Systems and Trauma Systems Branch in the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention (DUIP), which is a part of the larger National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC). When the next possible opening on the TBI team came up in May, she got in touch with me and we had a phone interview that went great.

And then I didn’t hear anything more all summer, other than assurances that NCIPC/DUIP were re-organizing and they’d be in touch. In the mean time, I continued applying for other jobs (and hearing nothing… ), researching possible fellowship opportunities, and networking, networking, NETWORKING. Anyone that I came into contact with who had even the most remote connection to a place I wanted to work or experience in the fields I’m interested in, I was all over it. In August, I spent over an hour chatting up a very nice woman who happened to work at the CDC while hanging out at my friend Kristin’s pool. And that conversation was where I learned about ORISE fellowships.

ORISE is an acronym, that stands for Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, a Department of Energy (DOE) institute focused on recruiting scientists and engineers to work on a whole host of health, science, and engineering issues. ORISE itself is a physical place located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee that is managed by the Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) consortium. However, not all ORISE scientists work in Tennessee. Rather, ORAU also sponsors a series of ORISE fellowships at a number of member institutions and partners, including at the CDC here in Atlanta.

So, what does this have to do with my new job? Well, as part of the big reorganization over in the NCIPC/DUIP, a team working on public health policy relating to prescription drug overdose (PDO) was relocated into the Health Systems Branch, which, as I noted above, is currently under the direction of the head of the TBI team that I interviewed with. The PDO team happened to have openings for two ORISE fellows to work on a two year project evaluating a series of state-run prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs). And my contact, who was still looking for a way to bring me in, recommended that I apply for the position, which I did.

And then I didn’t hear anything for over a month.

Thinking that the lack of communication meant the fellowship was a long shot at best, I soldiered on, pursuing networking opportunities with a commitment that could best be described as “relentless fervor”. As part of this pursuit, I figured out a way to attend the Network for Public Health Law Conference here in Atlanta in mid-October. The conference was awesome and I learned A LOT. But more importantly, I met A LOT of people who were generous with their time and really went out of their ways to help me build my networks within the public health field. As it turns out, one of the people that I met at the conference just so happened to work on the PDO team at the CDC. And he went back to his team lead and talked me up, effectively moving my resume to the top of the pile.

[Side note: When you are looking for a job, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, will tell you “It’s all about who you know!“. I was told this three separate times at my dental cleaning in early October alone. Reluctantly, I admit that they’re right. But what people don’t tell you is that you, and you alone, control who you know. So if your current network isn’t generating promising leads, get out there and meet new people!]

Shortly after I got back home from my networking trip to DC (like I said, relentless fervor!), I had a phone interview with the PDO team lead and another senior member of the team. It was on a Friday morning, it lasted 27 minutes, and I had no idea if they liked me or not. After a weekend of trying to convince myself I didn’t blow it while simultaneously preparing for another networking meeting with a public health lawyer at the CDC the following Monday (RELENTLESS FERVOR), I received an email on Monday morning that basically said “Congratulations on being selected as an ORISE fellow! Here’s 800 pieces of paperwork we need to start working on to get your hiring approved and processed.”

I was FLOORED. But I was also cautious. In all of my networking meetings, I had learned that opportunities with the federal government can fall apart just as easily as they come together. So I tried my best not to say anything until everything was finalized (although my mom leaked it to my 94-year-old grandmother who then posted about it on my Facebook wall… ), which happened the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. So while I was stuffing my face with turkey and potatoes and pie, I was also incredibly grateful that after a long, frustrating search, I had FINALLY landed a fantastic position where I will get hands on experience learning how public health policy is set at the federal level.

I’ve now been at work for a little over a week and I’m still really excited, even though all I’ve gotten to do so far is paperwork and background reading. I hadn’t really considered working in drug abuse policy, but I’m finding the material stimulating and intriguing. Prescription drug misuse and abuse is a huge public health problem across the country right now and different states are trying different things to counter it. My job, then, in a nutshell, will be to help figure out which interventions and controls are working (and why) and which aren’t (and why). It should be a fun challenge and I know I’m going to learn a lot!

The one caveat, though, is that as a guest researcher at the CDC, my understanding is that I need to be careful what I choose to blog about here. In terms of “reporting” on the fundraising and awareness events that I try to take part in on a regular basis, I think I’m fine to keep blogging away. Likewise, fundraising for private organizations like American Cancer Society and Komen for the Cure. However, there are obviously confidentiality issues relating to the work I’ll be doing at the CDC, so beyond what I’ve shared in this post, I probably won’t write much about that specifically. Additionally, I need to be careful that any health and science posts (like my “cancer awareness month” series) are not misconstrued as approved by or representing any kind of official position by the CDC, ORISE, ORAU, or the Departments of Energy and Health and Human Services. A simple disclaimer should do the trick, but I’ll probably err on the side of caution for a while just to be safe.

Finally, I strongly suspect (although I haven’t seen it confirmed anywhere yet) that I am not supposed to do any public advocating or politicizing on issues pertaining to government-funded research, including the current state of said funding and the potentially detrimental effects of sequestration on it. It is something of a conflict of interest to be advocating for protecting/increasing CDC funding when said funding levels have huge implications for the future of my fellowship and whether or not I get hired on as a permanent CDC employee. So PLEASE. Since this is the only thing I’ll be writing publicly about sequestration from this point on, do me a favor and look it up. Look up the effects that an 8% across the board cut in funding will have on NIH, NSF, FDA, AHRQ, and yes, CDC. If you do nothing else, read through this report from Research!America. Read the info that AAAS (especially this report), CIBR, and the Society for Neuroscience have compiled on the issue (note, those links will take you to their sequestration pages). This letter by the Coalition for Health Funding is also worth a read, as is this ACS CAN blog post on sequestration and breast cancer research. Read the Cures Not Cuts! website. And CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTATIVES. The US government funds the vast majority of biomedical research in this country, research that will find the cures for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, diabetes, and yes, someday, cancer. These potential cuts to research investments will have ramifications for decades. We’re falling behind already. We cannot afford any more budget cuts to our science and research budgets and everyone needs to make sure their representatives know it. This PDF from Research!America includes sample letters, tweets, and Facebook posts that you can use as inspiration. Do it for me. Call it a “Congratulations on the new job!” present.

So that’s my biggest news. But I do, actually, have other news as well, this time on the volunteering front. The day before I found out that my fellowship was approved and I had a start date in place, I was asked to be on not one, but TWO important committees at the Atlanta affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, with whom I’ve been volunteering at health fairs and fundraising events since late last winter.

First, I will be serving as the Safety Chair for the Atlanta Race for the Cure which will take place at Atlantic Station in May (registration is now open!). That means that I’m responsible for lining up the medical and ambulance support for the race as well as making sure everyone is where they should be and everything runs smoothly on race day. As I’ve gotten more involved with the local running community here in Atlanta and I’m pretty comfortable with the medical community here as well, it’s kind of a perfect fit! Organizing, race planning, and health care – it’s a perfect fit! I thought I had my first planning meeting for Race for the Cure committee tonight (we meet on the first Monday of each month), but it turns out that doesn’t start until next month. As best as I can, I’ll try to post updates and you can be sure that come spring, I’ll be recruiting as many people as possible to take part in the race!

Second, I will also be serving as a member of the Community Grants Review Board, something I’ve been wanting to do for years. For those who don’t know, 75% of the money that the Komen affiliates raise throughout the year (including through the Race for the Cure) stays with the affiliates and is redistributed throughout the local communities in the form of community support grants. The majority of these grants go to fund breast cancer initiatives and patient support work at local healthcare providers, community support centers (like YMCAs) and cancer support organizations. I’m thrilled that I now have the opportunity to help direct how Komen Atlanta chooses to use their funds. I have grant review training on Thursday and will have until early January to review my assigned grants. Then in late-ish January, I will get together with the rest of the reviewers to decide on which grants to fund for 2013-2014. I’m really looking forward to experiencing this aspect of Komen’s work from the inside and as best I can, I’ll try to keep everyone posted. However, to avoid conflicts of interest and all of that, I will need to keep the specifics of much of this work private as well.

So that’s how the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 are shaping up for me. After my defense last December, I thought my whole life would just start moving forward immediately. I fully expected to have a new job in place well before I graduated in May. I never anticipated that I would be unemployed for as long as I was. Moreover, I had no idea how restricted I would be financially because of my lack of a job, which, in turn, restricted the charitable work I was able to do. In short, throughout most of 2012, I felt stuck in the mud when I all I wanted was to be finally moving forward. Well, after almost a full year of fighting to get unstuck, I can proudly say: I AM UNSTUCK. I have a new job that I’m really fired up about where I’m going to learn a lot about public health policy, law, and hopefully communications from inside the federal government. I have two great volunteering gigs where I’m going to have a real influence on how a large breast cancer not-for-profit does their work. I honestly haven’t been this excited for the coming year in such a long time. It’s such a great feeling to finally be on my way!

#NHBPM Post 2: Where Do the Candidates Stand on Health, Science, and Research Issues?

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

Note: This post is a part of WeGo Health‘s National Health Blog Post Month: 30 posts in 30 days challenge. The prompt for Day 2 that I’m responding to is “Find a quote and use it for inspiration”. To see the rest of my #NHBPM posts, please click on the image at the bottom of this post.

“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

Unless you live under a rock, you know that this coming Tuesday is Election Day here in the United States. While many people have already early or absentee voted, the bulk of Americans (including me) will be going to the polls to cast our votes for the next President of the United States, for our members of the House of Representatives, and for other elected officials at all levels of government. As a research scientist who has been funded by a federal grant from NIH, the platforms of our candidates on research investments and regulation are incredibly important to me. The US government is far and away the largest investor in science and health research in the country. As both advocates for and beneficiaries of this life changing (and economically stimulating!) research, I think it is important that everyone going to the polls takes a moment to understand where their chosen candidates stand on issues pertaining to science, health, and technology.

To help everyone be as informed voters as possible on the candidates’ positions on these issues, I’ve compiled a series of resources and reviews that I think present the candidates’ policies and positions as fairly as possible. If you feel that I’ve linked to a particularly biased source, please let me know in the comments. While I definitely have my own personal preferences for how this election will turn out, it is not my goal here to sway anyone’s vote towards or against a specific candidate. Rather, I just wanted to point out some solid resources for those looking to better understand the candidates’ positions before voting on Tuesday.

ScienceDebate.org

Science Debate is an initiative that was started a year ahead of the 2008 election by six concerned citizens (two screenwriters, a physicist, a marine biologist, a philosopher, and a science journalist) in order to help bring science and technology issues to the forefront of the political debate. As they note on their website, within weeks of its founding, the Science Debate initiative had been endorsed by more than 38,000 scientists (including me!), engineers, and other concerned Americans, including every major American science organization, dozens of Nobel laureates, elected officials, business leaders, and the presidents of over 100 major American universities.  Their “call to arms”, as it were, states:

“Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we call for public debates in which the US presidential and congressional candidates share their views on the issues of the environment, health, and medicine, and science and technology policy.”

While the movement has yet to persuade the candidates for President to take part in a physical debate on these issues, it has been successful at pushing the candidates to more clearly define their positions on science, technology, and research. Starting last year, the folks at Science Debate began crowd sourcing a collection of important science questions that scientists, engineers, and concerned citizens wanted to hear the candidates answer. Together with their partner organizations (you can find the list of these organizations on their website), Science Debate culled the list to 14 critical questions, which were then presented to President Obama and Governor Romney. A subset of 8 questions were also presented to 33 members of Congress who serve in leadership positions on committees or subcommittees dealing with science issues. The answers from both Obama and Romney can be found here and the list of Congress members who were surveyed along with links to their responses can be found here.

The questions that were asked cover a wide range of topics and include: Innovation and the Economy, Climate Change, Research and the Future, Pandemics and Biosecurity, Education, Energy, Food Safety, Water Safety and Availability, Internet Regulations, Ocean Health, Science in Public Policy, The Future of Our Space Program, Protection of Critical Natural Resources, and Vaccinations and Public Health. The responses from each candidate are presented side by side, making it easy to compare and contrast between their positions on these issues.

For more information, please visit the Science Debate website here. You can also find Science Debate on Facebook here.

AAAS.org and Science Magazine’s Review of the Republican and Democratic Party Platforms on Science

Following the completion of both the Republican and Democratic conventions in September, Science magazine, the primary publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and one of the pre-eminent science journals in the world, published this editorial reviewing the platforms of both the Republican and Democratic parties on issues relating to science, technology, and the environment. The article touches on the parties’ overall stance on research funding, as well as their positions on funding for embyronic stem cell research, climate change, the future of our space program, energy policy, immigrant scientists, the role of “politicized” science, and actual budgets for this work proposed by each party. I felt that this piece was both comprehensive and fair in its assessment of each party’s platform. Please note that while this article is free to read, you may need to register with the AAAS website in order to view it.

The same author also wrote this editorial for the ScienceInsider section of the AAAS website on Paul Ryan’s record on science and government following his selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate in August. This analysis focused heavily on the funding allotted for various science agencies and initiatives in the budgets that Congressman Ryan has proposed over the years in his position as the Chairman of the House Budget Committee. To my knowledge, this article does not require registration to view.

You can read more about AAAS on their website, here, and you can find the website for Science magazine here. You can follow AAAS on Twitter, here, while the Twitter feed for Science magazine is here.

Research!America’s Your Candidates – Your Health Initiative

Research!America is the nation’s largest not-for-profit public education and advocacy alliance committed to making research to improve health a higher national priority. Research!America recently completed some polling that showed that (to quote from their website) “while Americans consistently describe medical, health, and scientific research as important, just 8% of people say they are very well informed about their elected officials positions on these issues”. To help address this shortfall and to aggregate presidential and congressional candidates positions in one place for easy access, they launched the Your Candidates – Your Health questionnaire and website in 2006. In a similar vein to ScienceDebate.org, Research!America sent a letter explaining the initiative and a 13 question survey to every candidate for President or Congress who appears on the ballot this November. All of the responses that they’ve received to date have been published on their website unedited, where they are easily searchable by state, zip code, or name.

Questions in the Your Candidates – Your Health survey touch on: the role of health research investments in rising healthcare costs, investment in research and innovation as a job creation strategy, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, military investments in research, the budgets for science and technology agencies including the CDC, AHRQ, and the FDA, research and technology tax credits, the role of the government in prevention research, federal funding of embyronic stem research, and whether or not candidates have a science advisor.

It should be noted that Governor Romney chose not to answer each question individually, and instead released a statement summarizing his position on many of these issues, which can be found here. President Obama’s responses can be found here. You can find the responses of the candidates for congressional seats by searching here.

Starting in 2006, Research!America has also been collecting and posting the responses of the sitting members of Congress to these types of questions, on their Your Congress – Your Health website. It is worth noting the questions on the survey have changed over the years and some of the responses on the Your Congress – Your Health page are in response to questions that are no longer a part of the survey. For reference, you can find Congressman Ryan’s answers (submitted in June 2007) here. President Obama’s answers from when he was in the Senate (submitted in July 2007) can be found here. Vice President Biden did not respond the survey while he was still serving in the Senate.

You can find more information about Research!America on their website, here. You can follow Research!America on Facebook, here, and on Twitter, here.

CancerVotes.org

In recognition of the fact that cancer will kill more than half a million people in the United States this year alone, CancerVotes was started by the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Advocacy Network (ACS CAN) to help educate both the public and the candidates about the actions that lawmakers should take to make fighting cancer a national priority. As Chris Hansen, the president of ACS CAN, puts it:

“While we have made great progress against cancer, the disease continues to kill 1,500 people a day in this country. Lawmakers have the power to make decisions that directly impact the lives of cancer patients and their families, which is why it is important that the public understands where candidates for every office stand on issues critical to fighting and preventing this disease.”

As part of their work, CancerVotes presented Governor Romney and President Obama with four questions addressing the most pressing issues for cancer patients and their families prior to the first televised presidential debate. The candidates’ answers to these questions were then posted on the CancerVotes website, and can be viewed here under the title “US President Voter Guide”. The four topics covered in this guide are: the role of the government in leading the fight against cancer, cancer prevention, access to care, and protecting citizens from the dangers of tobacco consumption. The answers from each candidate are again presented side by side for easy comparison.

You can find more information on ACS CAN on their website, here. You can also follow ACS CAN on Facebook, here, and on Twitter, here. You can also follow CancerVotes on Twitter here.

I hope that everyone finds these resources informative and helpful as you all make your way to the voting booth on Tuesday. You are all going to vote, right?!

 

“Pink Ribbons, Inc.” – A Worthwhile Documentary That Every Breast Cancer Activist Should See

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Pink Ribbons, Inc. is a 2011 National Film Board of Canada documentary that asks a series of tough questions to try to uncover the truth about what that well known pink ribbon actually represents. The film, which is based on the 2006 book “Pink Ribbons, Inc: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy” by Samantha King, was filmed over a series of four years and was first screened for the public at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall. It opened in theaters in Canada on February 3rd, 2012, right at the height of the controversy surrounding Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood. It has since been screened throughout the United States. I can’t remember when I first became aware of it, but as a (fairly outspoken) breast cancer advocate, I knew that I wanted to see it. Luckily for me, the local independent theater just up the street from me screened it for a week at the end of July. I found the film to be incredibly thought-provoking and it has taken me a few weeks to really wrap my brain around those thoughts before I felt ready to write this review.

Before I go any further, here’s a brief synopsis of the film, as described in the press release:

Pink Ribbons, Inc. reveals how breast cancer fundraising may boost corporate profits and brand awareness more than it benefits people with the disease. After all, despite the millions of dollars raised each year for the cause, breast cancer rates are rising, prevention is vastly underfunded and, over the decades, we’ve seen only incremental improvements in chemotherapy and surgery treatments. Even worse, the film suggests that some of same companies profiting from pink marketing campaigns may actually be contributing to the breast cancer epidemic by selling known carcinogens.

The film is inspired by the book Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy by Dr. Samantha King, who is interviewed in the film along with activists and medical experts like Barbara A. BrennerDr. Charlene ElliottBarbara Ehrenreich and Dr. Susan Love. Also featured are candid personal discussions among women living with breast cancer, as well as interviews with the leading players in breast cancer fundraising, including the director of the recently embattled Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Nancy Goodman Brinker.

Director Léa Pool hopes the film will encourage people “to be more critical and more politically conscious about our actions and to stop thinking that by buying pink toilet paper we’re doing what needs to be done.” She adds, “I don’t want to say that we absolutely shouldn’t be raising money. We are just saying, ‘Think before you pink.'”

Given a lot of the recent criticisms being lobbied at Susan G. Komen for the Cure in recent months (including some from me!), and having read some of the articles and blogs written by women interviewed for this film, I expected this documentary to put me on the defensive. I expected it to be accusatory and for it to cast blame on some organizations and individuals while excusing (and potentially even celebrating) others. I really thought that it would make me angry.

And ya know what? It did make me angry. But not in the way that I expected. Instead, I found Pink Ribbons, Inc. to be a truly fair and balanced look at the ongoing, underlying issues that have, whether maliciously or not, infiltrated the breast cancer movement. No one organization is exempted from critique but no specific organization is thrown under the bus either. In fact, the director, Lea Pool, goes to significant effort to portray breast cancer activists and the movement in general with respect. As she said in the press release:

“I wanted to make sure we showed the difference between the participants, their courage, and will, to do something positive, and the businesses that use these events to promote their products to make money. What was really important was to show that, at heart, each woman sincerely wanted to do something. They want to feel like they can have some power over their own lives and the lives of those close to them and we didn’t want to attack that. I was more interested in being critical of those who profit from breast cancer.”

I would even go so far as to say that the film doesn’t even accuse the various breast cancer organizations it references of malicious intent. Instead, the film takes more of a position of recognizing the intent of organizations to do good and to evoke positive change, even if some of their methods for doing so are questionable at best and hypocritical at worse. It was a surprising tone for this documentary to take and one that I very much appreciated.

The film itself was comprised of interviews with oncologists and cancer researchers, activists, various leaders in the cancer movement and a handful of survivors intercut with footage from four separate breast cancer awareness/fundraising events: the Revlon Run/Walk for Women in New York City, the Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure in Washington DC, the two day long Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in San Francisco, and the Pharmaprix Weekend to End Women’s Cancers in Montreal. I found that some of the most powerful scenes in the film feature members of the IV League breast cancer support group for women with metastatic breast cancer in Austin, Texas. Much of what those women talked about rang especially true for me in light of recent (and ongoing) conversations that I’ve been having with my mom, who is also living with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. In fact, I felt as if she could have been sitting on the couch alongside these women.

As the documentary moved along, it touched on a wide ranging number of topics, almost all of which could be blog posts in of themselves. In fact, seeing this documentary reignited my desire to start blogging on a regular, focused basis just so that I could weigh on many of the things covered in this film (with this blog post serving as just the beginning!). Just to give you an idea, here are some of the topics touched on in this film that I am planning to write more about in the future:

  • Why are we still treating cancer the same way we were 60 years ago if we’ve spent all this money on it?
  • Why aren’t the survivorship numbers overall improving?
  • The use of the color pink – an attempt to “pretty” up an ugly disease?
  • The “warfare” based language that we use when discussing cancer.
  • The glorifying of survivors and the insensitivity inherent in that towards those with terminal cancer.
  • The focus on mammography and early detection at the expense of research on causes/prevention.

The primary focus of Pink Ribbons, Inc, though, is on the explosion of cause marketing surrounding breast cancer. As the film notes, women buy 80% of consumer products and make most of the major buying decisions for their households. Given that the top two risk factors for getting breast cancer are being a woman and getting older, it makes sense that women want to be involved in the fight against breast cancer. But we’re busy. We’re all busy. Not everyone has time to train for a marathon or organize huge fundraisers. We also don’t have the financial resources to just cut a big check. And so, we buy things that purport to give money back to cancer charities that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to support without giving another thought to the potential harm that might be inherent in this “pink washing”.

Pink Ribbons, Inc. does a remarkable job of spotlighting the inherent hypocrisy in a great many of the cause marketing campaigns. Namely, many, many of these companies that claim to want to help put an end to breast cancer are the same companies producing goods that contain KNOWN CARCINOGENS. In particular, the film emphasizes four industries where this is particularly rampant:

  1. The automotive industry, both through the toxic fumes that their workers are exposed to in their factories and through the production of carcinogens by the cars themselves. Interestingly, one of the strongest voices in this film was Dr. Susan Love whose own foundation is one of the beneficiaries of the Ford Warriors in Pink program.
  2. Alcohol, the consumption of which is known to increase risk of breast cancer. Among others, we’re talking about you, One Hope Wine.
  3. Food, especially dairy. The film spent a good amount of time clucking about the infamous Kentucky Fried Chicken “Pink Buckets” campaign benefitting Susan G. Komen, especially given that maintaining a healthy weight is known to reduce risk of breast cancer. They also questioned the long running Yoplait Pink Lids campaign, noting that the yogurt company used dairy products containing hormones that could act as estrogen mimics, a practice they halted in response to growing pressure from cancer activists.
  4. Personal Care Items, especially those produced by Estee Lauder and AVON, two cosmetics organizations that also have their own associated breast cancer foundations (the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the AVON Foundation for Women, respectively).

While the extent of this “we’re simultaneously causing AND curing breast cancer” hypocrisy was pretty eye-opening for me, I found the resulting discussion around it to be fascinating. The film asks important questions: Who’s responsibility is it to protect people from these carcinogens? The manufacturers? The government? The consumers themselves? And if these products truly do raise money for breast cancer research/awareness/patient support programs, is right of us to expect breast cancer not-for-profits to turn down those funds? Pink Ribbons, Inc. asks all of these questions and more. And in the end, they don’t have an answer to them, and honestly, neither do I. But it’s certainly worth having discussions about, something I intend to do here on this blog much more often.

While I generally feel that Pink Ribbons, Inc was a very good documentary that everyone involved in the breast cancer community should see, there was one aspect to the film that made me uncomfortable, and it’s something that’s increasingly come to my attention: the inadvertent conflation of how we expect individuals fighting the disease of breast cancer to act and how we act/brand the larger activist movement to end cancer. In the film, almost all of the survivors of the disease (including, most movingly, the women in the IV League) expressed dismay that they were expected to embrace and inhabit the role of upbeat, hopeful, pink-bedecked activist when the reality is that their experiences with the disease itself were ugly, cold, frustrating, and oftentimes disheartening. As they said, to paraphrase, the pink ribbon is pretty and hopeful and I don’t feel that way so I don’t feel like the pink represents me at all.

Fair enough. But the reality is that the pink ribbon doesn’t represent survivors or their individual battle against cancer, which can and should take on any form that it needs to help each person as they go through it. The pink ribbon (and the upbeat music and pink feather boas and all of that nonsense) represents  and is part of the larger fight against breast cancer. And to my mind, it’s not just ok, but it’s admirable that this movement is a positive one. That doesn’t make it any less serious of a cause. But it makes more fun to be a part of and that gets more people involved. We unfairly expect survivors (including those who are newly diagnosed, those in remission, and those fighting daily against terminal cancer) to be the face of the disease and the leaders of this larger breast cancer movement, and thus, we expect that how they comport themselves in their individual fight is the same way we should be conducting the larger movement. Generally, this takes the form of a subconscious message to survivors of “you have to be optimistic about your chances of survival, because we’re optimistic about finding a cure”. Pink Ribbons, Inc. rightly criticizes that as an unfair expectation to place on survivors. But then the film turns around and says that because the actual reality of a cancer diagnosis and the treatment thereof is painful, ugly, etc, that we need to have a similarly harsh and serious tone to our movement to reflect that. I think that is equally unfair. I think that all of us should be careful and measured in our expectations. The mobilization of a large group of people to evoke change is not and should not be talked about or held to the same expectations as an individual’s fight against breast cancer and vice versa.

In the end, I truly feel that Pink Ribbons, Inc. is a great documentary and is well worth spending 98 minutes to watch it. In fact, when it comes out on DVD, I intend to watch it again. The film does a great job of spotlighting some the major issues surrounding the breast cancer movement as a whole and it asks tough questions that we should all be working to answer. Ultimately, the film makers aren’t trying to undermine the cancer movement or even to dissuade people from getting involved in this cause. Rather, their take home message is this (to paraphrase director Lea Pool again): “We need to be more critical and more politically conscious about our actions.”  In other words: Think Before You Pink.

Pink Ribbons, Inc. is still being shown at a handful of locations across the country in September and October. You find the list of dates and locations where you can see this documentary on the film’s website, here. The Facebook page for the film is here. I also highly recommend that you check out the website Think Before You Pink which is not officially associated with Pink Ribbons, Inc. but which directly addresses many of the pink-washing concerns raised by the film.

Disclaimer: I am not a movie critic and my goal here really wasn’t to talk about the quality of Pink Ribbons, Inc, as a movie or documentary. I wanted to focus on the content instead. For more of a film critic’s take on the documentary, I recommend checking out the film’s page on Rotten Tomatoes. Also, I certainly wasn’t paid to review or invited to a screening of this film. I paid for my own ticket and my opinions are fully my own.

 

Happy Fourth of July!

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

May your Fourth of July be filled with fun, friends, family and fireworks!

Mike and I with my Mom and Dad at the Atlanta Symphony 4th of July Concert, 2009

Happy Independence Day!!

Happy Father’s Day!

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Just a short message to wish everyone a very Happy Father’s Day!

Dad and I at my wedding in 2005

Thank you for everything Dad!  You’ve inspired me so much over the years – I wouldn’t be the person that I am without you!  See you in Boston!