This Sunday, October 9, my family and I will be watching “Growing Hope Against Hunger,” a one-hour Sesame Street special designed to raise awareness about hunger in the United States and its impact on children. (Click on the screen to watch a behind-the-scenes video.) This is a topic we pay close attention to at Parents (see our story and the accompanying mini-documentary), and it’s one that the folks at Sesame Street have been addressing for quite some time. They have an initiative called Food For Thought which offers resources that provide assistance, powerful videos of families affected by hunger, and much more. This primetime special is the latest step, made possible by funding from Walmart. It’s hosted by Brad Paisley and Kimberly Williams-Paisley and features a new Muppet named Lily, who sometimes needs the services of a food pantry. The special also features four families who candidly share their own experiences in needing help getting enough to eat; they are the heart of “Growing Hope Against Hunger” and their stories will move you.
Every family with children as young as preschool-age can benefit from watching. Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, the senior vice president for outreach and educational practices at Sesame Workshop, told me that the special has two important missions: to continue to provide hope and strategies to those experiencing food insecurity, and to teach those who aren’t affected that they can play a role and help others. The goal is to jumpstart a meaningful conversation, whether it begins with “This is happening to our family, and we’re not alone” or “This is happening to families in our community, and there’s something we can do to help.” Families who don’t have enough to eat feel very isolated, she said. I especially liked what Dr. Betancourt said about the very act of talking about the problem: “It allows you to move forward.”
I’ll be honest: Hunger is not an issue I’ve ever explained to my daughters, who are 6 and 3. As a parent, I’m so glad to have a show like this to introduce the subject in a clear, compassionate way and to talk about how we can make a difference. Click here to find out when and on what channel the show will air in your area.
Okay, I have to end by showing this picture of me and a certain lovable, furry monster. I got to meet him over the summer when I visited the set of Sesame Street (career highlight!) to watch the filming of “Growing Hope Against Hunger.”
Next month is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and to help celebrate, the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) will hold Buddy Walks in more than 250 communities around the country. The goals of the Buddy Walks are to promote acceptance and inclusion for people with Down syndrome and to raise funds for local programs. This Saturday, September 24, my uncle, Chris Burke, will attend New York City’s Buddy Walk in Central Park.
Chris is best known for playing Corky on the TV show “Life Goes On” from 1989-1993. Since then, he’s made lots of TV appearances, traveled around the world speaking to families, and since 1994 he’s served as NDSS’ Goodwill Ambassador. (Chris is a big part of why I feel so strongly about people misusing the word “retarded.”) That’s us in the picture, with his mom and my grandmother, taken during one of our many vacations together. This one was in Key West when I was about 6 and Chris was probably 13.
NDSS has a cool program called My Great Story, which honors those who have Down syndrome by sharing stories that highlight their achievements. I was touched that Chris chose to write about his dad (my grandfather); I also love the story NDSS founder Betsy Goodwin wrote about her daughter, Carson, otherwise known as “The Mayor of Main Street.” Carson works as a greeter at Sephora and sometimes Betsy will park outside the store to watch the reactions of the customers as they come and go. She loves to see how many of them leave smiling: “If I had been told 30 years ago that my new baby would spread so much good will, it would have made those difficult first months a little easier,” she writes. “But then, of course, one never knows what each baby’s particular gifts will be. We only know that each will have some.”
To participate in a Buddy Walk near you—and by the way, you don’t need to know someone with Down syndrome to walk—click here. Take a few minutes to be inspired by the loving entries in My Great Story. And if you do have a loved one with Down syndrome, share a story of your own.
This summer I met an incredibly inspiring woman named Alesia Shute (that’s her in the photo). When she was 7, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. Throughout the rest of her childhood and early adulthood, she endured six major surgeries and several minor ones, spending months in the hospital. Today she is a happily married mother and grandmother and the head of The Alesia Shute Foundation, which has a mission of improving the lives of families facing childhood disease. She says she has dedicated her life to giving back “because I am here, because I beat the odds, and because I can.” Alesia also wrote a book about her life called Everything’s Okay: My Journey Surviving Childhood Cancer, and, timed with Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, a comic-book version has just been published, ideal for tweens and teens. Alesia donates a portion of her proceeds from her books to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where she was treated.
I asked her what she’d tell parents whose children are facing a diagnosis. She quickly said, “Do your homework”—but added that even if you don’t like what you find, never lose hope. “I’m almost glad the Internet wasn’t around when I was going through this, because my parents would have given up. The odds were so against me, they wouldn’t have pushed for me to get the next surgery.”
Approximately 12,400 children each year are diagnosed with cancer. Their families are thrown into a world they want no part of and yet they have to quickly learn to navigate it. A book like Alesia’s can give parents and older kids a preview of what they may endure—and more importantly, a whole lot of hope.
Unfortunately I’ve had breast cancer on my mind in a big way this summer. My mom is an 11-year survivor, having been diagnosed at age 47, which is why my gynecologist has been gently pushing me for the past two years to get tested for the breast cancer (BRCA) gene. But then it became clear that it’s really my mother who should be tested for the gene; if she had it, then my three sisters and I definitely would also get the test. For whatever reason, we were all–minus my doctor–taken aback when my mother’s results came back positive. She has the BRCA2 gene (there is also a BRCA1 gene).
You may ask what a lot of people have asked: But what does that mean? It means that her chances of a breast cancer recurrence go up dramatically, as does her risk of developing ovarian cancer. It means that decisions need to be made about how to help prevent a diagnosis, whether through vigilant screening or surgery to remove the risky body parts. It means each of her four daughters have a 50 percent chance of also having the gene.
So we’ve all started the testing process. I don’t have the gene. Neither does my younger sister. Another sister is waiting until the fall to get tested. But my other sister just learned that she does have the gene, and even though she lives in California and we only see each other a few times each year, we happened to have been together when she got the call. I won’t get into details about what that was like, but to say it was painful is an understatement. And now my sister, who is 32 and hasn’t yet had children, is faced with all kinds of big questions about what she should do with this information.
Meanwhile, a childhood friend was diagnosed with breast cancer last month. A mother of three, she will have a double mastectomy this week–she has since learned that she, too, is a carrier of the BRCA gene–and then begin 16 weeks of chemo. And we still have the results of my third sister’s test to get through… not to mention those of my mom’s sister and brothers (yes, men need to be tested too, as their risk of both breast and prostate cancer jumps if they have the gene).
Then there’s the matter of my job. I’m a health editor for a magazine for women and we’re currently producing our October issue. In other words, there’s no shortage of breast cancer-related information swirling around. I think back to a conversation I had earlier this summer with Susan Love, M.D., the president and medical director of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. It was an honor to speak with her; Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book was what everyone in my family consulted when my mom was diagnosed. Hearing her say things like, “We can be the generation that stops breast cancer” was not just inspiring–it was reassuring, coming from someone with her knowledge.
Dr. Love has a mission to discover the cause of breast cancer. And to that end, she’s joined with the Avon Foundation for Women to create an Army of Women. The goal is to recruit 1 million women–those with a connection to breast cancer and those without–who will participate in research that will eventually eradicate the disease. To join the Army, you simply provide some basic information and then wait to be contacted about studies you can participate in. When you’re contacted, you either join the study or not–your call–and you’ll hopefully tell a friend about it so that she may consider joining. I’ve joined the Army and it just feels good to know I’m doing something about this disease that seems to hang over so many of us. If you, too, feel powerless in the face of breast cancer, maybe this is the cause for you. In addition to their web site, you can find the Army of Women on Facebook.
Once your new baby arrives, it’s only natural to put baby’s needs and well-being ahead of your own. But you shouldn’t neglect your own health. In fact, new research funded by the Avon Foundation for Women finds women are at an increased risk for developing breast cancer for up to five years (or longer) after giving birth. During this time, women must pay attention to breast health and discuss with doctors any changes in their bodies, as well as their risk and screening options.
The new research on pregnancy-associated breast cancer was presented by Pepper Schedin, Ph.D. from the University of Colorado, at the Avon Foundation’s 2011 Annual Breast Cancer Forum. The research team also confirmed prior research that showed women who undergo first full-term pregnancy before the age of 30 have a reduced risk of breast cancer later in life after menopause. This line of research seeks to better understand breast cancer risk and develop new ways to reduce risk and prevent the disease.
Every three minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States, which is why it’s essential to stay on top of your breast health. To help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer I’m outlining five easy things you can do, which are recommended by expert groups, such as Zero Breast Cancer and the American Cancer Society:
Five Steps to Reduce Your Risk
1. Maintain a healthy weight: check your weight and body mass index regularly to see if you need to lose any weight.
2. Participate in routine exercise: considersigning up for a “mommy and me,” workout class at your local gym or purchase a DVD you can do at home.
3. Reduce alcohol consumption: studies show that women who drink excessive alcoholic beverages (2-5 daily) develop cancer at higher rates.
4. Do monthly self-examinations and keep a regular doctor’s appointment: consider making your annual check-up or mammogram when making your babies’ next doctor appointment.
5. Don’t smoke or quit now: long-term smoking has been associated with chances of developing the disease. If you quit for your pregnancy, continue to resist the urge to smoke.
If you’re looking to get involved with the cause, consider participating in one of the nine annual Avon Walk for Breast Cancer events. (The photo above is of the women who participated in last weekend’s walk in San Francisco.) The Walks raise life-savings funds for research and breast health medical care for women and men who can’t afford it. We have three walks left in 2011, and I’m pleased to offer a $20 registration discount for Parents.com readers. When registering at www.avonwalk.org, just enter the code “WALK1″ at checkout to receive the discount. The remaining 2011 walks include: Santa Barbara (September 17-18), New York (October 15-16) and Charlotte (October 22-23). I hope to see you at one of the upcoming Avon Walks!
The sweet girls you see here are Maddie Savoie (left) and Meghan Duffy (right). They met five years ago when they were patients at the Jimmy Fund Clinic, part of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and immediately became best friends. Their friendship and upbeat attitude was so inspiring, the doctors at Dana-Farber often asked them to talk to new young patients to help them understand what to expect through the treatment process. Meghan even started her own Kids’ Ride bike-a-thon, a spinoff of the annual Pan-Massachusetts Challenge (PMC) that raises money for cancer research and treatment at Dana-Farber.
In September 2007, Meghan died; Maddie passed away the following year, in October 2008. In part to help channel their grief, their moms, Kristen Savoie and Colleen Duffy, have carried on their daughters’ generous spirit and participated in the PMC rides. On August 6 and 7 they’ll ride they’ll ride once again, covering more than 150 miles.
To donate to Kristen’s and Colleen’s team, Pedals for Pediatrics, click here. Want to join the PMC yourself? There’s still time to register. If you live in the northeast and you’d like your children to do a Kids’ Ride, check out the schedule of upcoming rides—there are still a few more happening in September.
Last week I wrote about our story in the July issue called The Hungry Home, which is about the hunger crisis affecting 18 million Americans. In it, we talk about the importance of donating food (and money) to pantries–and not just any food, but the stuff you’d want your own family to eat. In the video we created to accompany the story, a mom named Tangela describes how her pantry is often filled with castoffs such as dented cans and even items simply labeled “FOOD.” (??)
I got an email over the weekend about a program that connects families with something else they need: socks. I’d never thought about socks as a need, and I guess I’m not alone: Socks are among the least-donated items of clothing. In response, the company No Nonsense has created a program called Socks for America. Over the next year, working with K.I.D.S. (Kids In Distressed Situations), they’ll donate 1 million pairs of socks to people in need.
You can get that number higher than 1 million. Become a fan of No Nonsense on Facebook or purchase a pair of specially-marked socks, and another pair of socks will be donated.
In honor of National Foster Care Month in May, the Toy Industry Foundation and My Stuff Bags Foundation are hosting the 3rd Annual Do Good Stuff-a-Thon, in which volunteers pull together duffel bags full of toys, toiletries, clothing, and other essentials for needy kids in foster care. If you are interested in helping out, the Virtual Do Good Stuff-a-Thon site is set up to collect donations. Click here to participate or find out more information.