Monday, March 24, 2008

Losing Sight Amidst the Drama

With the news out of Detroit this morning that Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his former chief of staff Christine Beatty have been charged with a slew of felonies, I'm left wondering what to think.

I don't live in SE Michigan anymore, and even when I did, I never technically lived in the city of Detroit. But don't think I didn't care what happened in Detroit, and don't think that I still don't care what happens in Detroit.

I had the pleasure of working in downtown Detroit for well over a year and while I hated the rush-hour commute to my home in the suburbs, I loved working in the city. The sights, the smells, the tastes, the people, the noise, the entire experience that was Detroit was great. Even the unpleasant part was still an experience that shouldn't be missed.

Working there and visiting there for conferences, events, friends, and everything in between only furthered my love of the city. Say what you want, there are very few places like Detroit and I think all of us should experience Detroit at least once in our lives, because if nothing else, it's a part of Michigan, and a part of who we are as a people and a state.

For me, Detroit is a great underdog story, and there's nothing I love more than a good underdog to root for. It's the perfect candidate because while it lacks much now, you need only look back to what it was (pre-1967) and you see what it could be. There are so many people now moving back, and there's a lot of revitalizing going on, and so many more who are starting to look toward investing in the city, whether it be through a business or a home. There's just so much promise, and I'm tired of feeling that for every two steps the city takes forward, there's another three back.

It's exactly that kind of defeatist attitude that has caused so much of the flight and blight that has brought Detroit down. The city has made progress, a lot of it, but there's still so much to be made. Kwame Kilpatrick was a fresh voice for the city, and I think most of the state was relieved to see him be brought on when he first got elected. But now, well, now it's time to continue to put the city first. Regardless of these charges, they are a massive black eye on the city, and the entire Text-Gate episode has stolen the show from the real player, the city itself.

So let's get back to business, put the drama where it belongs, off to the side, and let's focus on moving the city of Detroit forward with the hope, dedication, and promise that it deserves because it's so much more than just one man and his legal troubles. When Detroit moves forward, Michigan moves forward, and we all benefit in the end.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Takes one to know oneself

In all my years of living with a chronic illness, there's been several saving graces, and chiefly among them, I've never had to deal with the C-word.

If I hadn't had my colon removed eight years ago, my risk for developing colon cancer would have been five-times higher than most of the rest of you. Don't forget that colon cancer is the third most common form of cancer and the second deadliest of all the different types of cancer, so make sure you get that colonoscopy, because it's almost the most preventable of all the cancers. (Take it from a girl who's been through enough colonoscopies to keep her doctors fat and happy for the rest of their lives, they're not that bad.)

All that aside, because of some of the medicines I was on and complications/side effects of the disease, I'm now at an increased risk for other types of cancers like lymphoma and cervical/ovarian cancer. Go figure.

But I digress.

I've been following the blog of a fellow Michigander that despite having never met, I feel quite a bond with, and need to thank. Jodi Wilson was 26 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer last October. She's also a page designer over at the Detroit News and bravely decided to share her entire journey with us from start to what we all hope will be victorious finish. Her blog over at the paper is appropriately titled The Breast Monologues.

Jodi's been brutally honest with her readers, and for that I applaud her. It's not easy bearing your vulnerable side to the exhibitionist world we live in, especially when you're talking about losing various parts of your body that society still hasn't completely come to term with. Trust me, I know all about it.

Sometimes it's darn right hard for me to read her words, because flashbacks of my own days of pain and hospital stays and depression often rush back in a way that make my head spin and my heart race. I try to put a positive spin on it just to keep things balanced - remind myself how far I've come, how I've now had almost 4 years hospital-free. How long ago it all seems, and yet like it was just yesterday.

She recently opted to have a mastectomy and as expected, it brought an awful storm of memories back. My surgeon warned me for months that I'd be better off if I just decided to completely remove my then partial-colon and rectum and at the ripe age of 20, I couldn't even begin to imagine what life would be like physically un-whole. It didn't matter that I was in the hospital multiple times a month, or that I had a deeper relationship with my doctors and nurses on 6 North than I did with my best friends. I was 20 years old, and if I wasn't whole, what life could possibly exist for me out there in the big scary world?

Obviously logic wasn't part of my thinking, and those wiser than I knew that it was a decision I had to come to on my own. I was actually more worried about meeting Mr. Right, getting married and being loved by someone else than I was living, and looking back now, that terrifies me.

It took nearly spending Christmas in the hospital (I got a 24 hour reprieve) before I finally woke up. My then-boyfriend literally had to tell me that he'd still love me despite my missing organs before I was ready to sign on the dotted line and go under the knife. I think about it now and it breaks my heart.

Looking back now at the many scars that line my abdomen and various other parts of the body and what those scars represent in both physical and emotional pain and victory, it's amazing to think that I was that insecure person so long ago.

It's easy for me to go through my daily life and occasionally not really remember everything I've undergone. My scars and my ileostomy are my only real daily reminders. All of my other physical reminders like my weight, my fatigue, my daily pain from the chronic kidney stones, I've just grown used too. I don't like them, I try hard to remedy what's able to be remedied, particularly my weight as of late, but I just deal, because in the end, I'm alive when I probably shouldn't be.

But when I read a post of Jodi's and I'm thrown back into a different time of my life, a personal Mt. Everest that I'm still attempting to climb, and it terrifies me in a way that I need to experience every once in a while. It reminds me of what I've overcome, how much further I still have to go, and my duty to keep paying it forward to others. It's one of the reasons I still blog and despite working in a field that can get nastier than most, it's why I stay true to myself and others. Because in the end, it really does take one to know oneself.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Music to your ears (weekend edition)

Music's always been an integral part of my life. I was raised in a church where music was the ultimate expression, studied music seriously and almost pursued a career in it until my Crohn's dictated otherwise. For me there's a song for every moment, emotion, and thought. The soundtrack of my life is as varied as it gets, encompassing everything from classical to rap to opera to electronic to instrumental to world.

That being the case, I love many artists but I have a Top 5 and right at the top is a group that mainstream society still hasn't quite caught on too, and why is anyone's guess, but consider tonight's sampling an intro to a group that could change the way you look at music.

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones might sound like a group that caters to kids, but I assure you it's anything but. Bela himself has literally revolutionized the way people think of the banjo and if you have heard of him, it's probably through his well-known jam sessions with the Dave Matthews Band. Joining him are brothers Victor Wooten and his brother Futureman. Victor is highly regarded as one of the world's best bassists, and Futureman is right up there as a percussionist, but he doesn't sit in front of his drum set, he wears around his shoulder, just like a guitar or a banjo. No joke. This guy has literally designed a one-of-a-kind instrument that allows him to do all the percussion standing up jamming with the rest of the group. Though 95% of the group's music is vocal-free, Futureman has contributed vocals for several tracks throughout the years. Jeff Coffin is recognized as a top performer and composer of the sax (all types) and most other woodwinds, including the flute and clarinet, among others.

While playing as a group, each also pursues solo careers and together they've revolutionized the way many, including myself look and think about the boundaries of music.

Below is perhaps one of their best known songs, A Moment So Close and I love this performance so much I own the video of this concert taped in 2005. Featured are Tuvan throat singer Kongar-ol Odnar, hailing from Mongolia where he's been trained to be able to hit three notes at once, something that just boggles the mind. The Flecktones are also joined with a kettle drum, bassoon, oboe, and that's Jeff Coffin on a soprano saxophone (that looks like a clarinet) and Sandip Burman, a tabla player from India. If it sounds like a strange group, it is, but once you listen and watch you'll be just amazed as I was.

The second selection tonight is from the same album, same group of performers, and this one is titled Hoedown, featuring some of Sandip Burman's amazing skills.

And we round out the selection with another from the album - Earth Jam. If you want to seem some truly amazing skills and some serious jamming, you won't want to miss this.

Here's hoping your weekend is as sweet as the melodies above!

Stem Cell film featured in E. Lansing Film Festival

If you're in the Mid-Michigan area on Sunday and looking for something to do, stop by MSU's campus and take in a film or two. Specifically take in Life is for Living by U-M pre-med student Michael Rubyan.

The following information was sent out to her constituents by State Senator Gretchen Whitmer, one of the distinguished politicans interviewed in the 41 minute film -
EAST LANSING - Michael Rubyan, a pre-med student at the University of Michigan, was so moved by a class presentation about stem cell research that he decided to make a movie about it.

"Life is for the Living," a documentary film directed by Michael Rubyan, a junior majoring in film, will be featured at the East Lansing Film Festival on Sunday, March 16, 12 p.m., in Wells Hall on the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing.

The 60-minute film highlights the touching - both painful and hopeful - stories of six families struggling with incurable diseases and includes appearances by CBS's Mike Wallace, former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, Gov. Jennifer Granholm, and others.

Rubyan produced the documentary to highlight the importance of moving forward on promising and potentially life-saving medical research.

"'Life is for the Living' was created to educate the public about the complex issues surrounding embryonic stem cell research," Rubyan said.
"The film seeks to explain the issue from four different perspectives - the people, the politics, the science and the hope."

The film presents the stories of six American families living with the painful realities of diseases such as juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's and spinal cord injury. It is set against the national debate over embryonic stem cell research and features three generations discussing their frustration with President Bush's restrictions and their hope that more funding for embryonic stem cell research will relieve suffering and perhaps even save lives.

"Life is for the Living" also explores the science behind stem cell research and the political debate taking place across the country, as well as here in Michigan. More than 15 political leaders were interviewed, including Reno; Granholm; Michigan U.S. Sen. Carl Levin; Dr. Sean Morrison, director of the UM Center for Stem Cell Biology; and Dr. David T. Scadden, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

View the trailer and learn more at

For a complete list of films featured at the East Lansing Film Festival visit their site.

If you have the opportunity to check it out this film or any of the other 93 films at this record-setting film festival, between now and Thursday, March 20th, you should definitely a point of it!