When You Present Critical Findings About Your Friend at a Conference…and She’s in the Audience

img_4375Earlier this month I presented a small part of my research at the National Women’s Studies Association conference in Montreal, Canada. The conference took place in the wake of the devastating election results.

The timing of the conference couldn’t have been better. I needed to get out of D.C. and not worry about turning on the T.V. just to hear, repetitively, that Trump will be the next president. The election results felt personal, as it did for so many of us who are marginalized in America and for those who happen to give a damn about social justice and have made a life and career out of it.

Despite heading to Montreal with a flurry of gray clouds over me, I looked forward to meeting up with Elodie—my “research subject” and extraordinary friend. But, I felt nervous about giving my presentation, “The Right Kind of Other: Multicultural Imperialism and Flexible Citizenship in Women’s Olympic Beach Volleyball.”

I was going to talk about Elodie’s relative privilege over other African competitors, who she beat out for a berth to the 2012 Olympics. I had also prepared 13 PowerPoint slides with large pictures of her…in a bikini! This was not the glorious talk she perhaps imagined I’d give one day when I first asked if I could write about her life. The talk was physically and personally revealing of her.

It wasn’t until the final sentence of my talk that I felt, versus knew, the enormity of what I was actually doing. Holding back tears of gratitude, I read aloud:

“I have to thank Elodie, who has graciously allowed me to put under an academic microscope, her complex and beautiful life. Admitting one’s privilege is exceptionally difficult. I am profoundly impressed and humbled by Elodie’s openness to speak about her systemic privilege. I am thankful for and inspired by her difficult reflections and honesty.”

Elodie was in the audience and she sat there listening to my critical observations of her journey to the Olympics. She flew into Montreal to support me. She gave me permission to write about her and her family’s life. She trusted me to tell her story (the good, bad, and complicated).

I’m overwhelmed by her generosity in sharing her life for my academic career.

For a brief moment during the conference I panicked over the risk I was putting our friendship in. And then Elodie suggested we go get foot reflexology massages, eat Chinese food, and watch a movie at some point that weekend. We hadn’t just hung out, the two of us, since my son was born a year and a half ago.

IMG_4376.JPGAs we walked the streets of Montreal, we talked about our fears, hopes, and dreams, just like we had done growing up in downtown Toronto.

It’s intense, doing a dissertation largely based on one of my best friends’ life. It’s a massive and delicate responsibility. And yet, through this experience I’ve been able to have conversations with Elodie I may not have had otherwise. As an added bonus I’m able to share with her the frustrating, arduous, and exciting process of doing academic work, which so few people outside of academia know or appreciate. This experience has been personally and professionally enriching so far.

With 2016 coming to an end, I’m looking forward to phase two of “dissertating”—travel for research in 2017. I’ll be hitting up archives at the British Library in London, England, the Olympic Studies Centre in Lausanne, Switzerland, and visiting archives and Elodie’s family in Mauritius. Elodie plans to join me for parts of these travels, so stay tuned!

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Can We Move on From Mother’s Day Please?

Every Mother’s Day is wrought with complex emotions for me (as well as thousands of others). Here are two main reasons why:

  • I lost my mother when I was 20. Five years before that, we all knew she was going to die of cancer.
  • I’ve been painfully trying to become a mother for the past four years. Here’s a small snippet about that journey.

Mother’s Day also seems to be a unique blend of Hallmark commercialization with a dash of self-promoting “altruism.” Think pink washing or the ALS ice bucket challenge, where one feels compelled to publicly announce how much s/he cares.

I’m not against raising awareness or acknowledging mothers, especially if they’re totally awesome like my mom was. I just question the meaningfulness of this day, and what message it sends to many of us who don’t fit into certain conventions. These people include, but aren’t limited to: motherless children, single mothers, mothers with crappy children, children with crappy mothers, women without children, women who’ve lost children, women who are struggling with fertility, LGBT families, blended families, awesome aunties/grandmothers/sisters who raised you, incarcerated mothers, mothers with terminal illnesses, etc.)

Five years ago Anne Lamott published this article about why she hates Mother’s Day, and last week Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote specifically about the problems valorizing motherhood as the highest attainable goal for women. Both are worthwhile reads.

Rather than celebrating the importance and value of mothers (or maternal women in our lives) through various forms of material or public displays of affection (e.g. Facebook posts), I wonder how we can make this day stand for something a little more substantial, without reinforcing conventions that tend to exclude many types of women, children, and families. Perhaps we can put our effort into actually supporting mothers in a concrete way. John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight, suggests paid family leave, while simultaneously drawing attention to the rampant contradictions of how we actually do and don’t support mothers in America.

I highly recommend watching the full clip. The entertainment value alone is worth it.

Passing the Qualifying Exams

If we analogize the PhD journey to climbing an Everest-like mountain, I’m heaving to catch my breath right now. I just passed my qualifying exam.

After reviewing two hundred (plus) books—divided into three reading lists (“Gendering American Studies,” “Body Politics,” and “Contemporary Life Narratives”) that culminated in a week long examination where I wrote three essays and orally defended them—I struggle to feel “qualified” in anything.

It’s the academic trap.

Like Einstein once said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” It was quite paralyzing to come to this realization, weeks before my exam. My exam committee reassured me that the goal wasn’t to know everything, but rather to understand and identify the trends/conversations happening in the field—a much more manageable task.

Post-exam, I gave myself a week and a half to catch up on sleep, to not read or write, and to cocoon myself in a protective bubble against thinking of other looming deadlines. These things are considered significant luxuries among graduate students.

After my brief reprise, it took very little effort to realize I’ve just climbed the first of several peaks of a seemingly infinite mountain. Remaining, I have my comprehensive exam, research/writing of a book-length manuscript, editing and defending the dissertation, attempting to get it published, and doing those things all over again–should I choose an academic career.

We know about the tortured artist who finds refuge in the act of creating art, but is there a similar romance to the tortured academic? Perhaps.

For outsiders, PhDing might seem elusive yet inspirational at best, and masochistic or self-delusional at worst. As an insider, this process is undoubtedly hard, but it’s easy to remember the privilege of my choice. I get to spend a good chunk of my days, weeks, and months absorbing the ideas of past and contemporary scholars and intellects, and then figure out how I can contribute to those conversations.

I get to geek out for a living.

I’m still planning on writing a cultural biography about my childhood friend Elodie Li Yuk Lo—the Chinese African Canadian beach volleyball Olympian.

…of course with the support of a published and well-respected team of very smart people. (Well, almost. I still need to get my dissertation proposal approved first.)

Breast Cancer and Its Metaphors

Trade_Secrets_-_Breast_Cancer_WalkAfter reading Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphor I’m left wondering whether the stories we tell others and ourselves about our bodies are truly ours—especially stories about diseases. Sontag’s work has me reconsidering my mother’s experience with breast cancer and how she carried herself as a woman with this disease.

My mother had a proclivity to use writing as a way to be heard and to advocate for immigrant women’s health in Canada. This was the mid-90s and breast cancer advocacy and rhetoric largely spoke to, and reflected, white middle-class women’s concerns. Relating a disease along classed and racial terms had (and still has) real life-impacting consequences in terms of access to care, stigma, prevention, support, and even death. Through her writing and activism, my mother occupied two spaces in Toronto’s breast cancer advocacy community: one, as an outsider resisting the narrowly defined ways women with the disease are (or aren’t) recognized; and two, as an insider participating in walks, fundraising, national meetings, and evoking similar language of victimhood and survivorship in her own narration of the disease.

When Sontag published Illness as Metaphor in 1978, the Pink Ribbon Campaign (making breast cancer awareness a household topic) was a little over a decade away. Sontag, then, was writing about the mythology and morality attached to various diseases such as tuberculosis, cancer, syphilis, and leprosy. She was tracing a genealogy, centuries long, of socially constructed ideas about these diseased bodies that romanticized, villainized, condemned, or stigmatized the inflicted. Sontag’s book intervenes on the notion that illness (especially certain kinds like TB and cancer) is representative of larger-than-life ideas about human existence and death, and argues that these metaphors are emblematic of social rhetoric, fears, morality, rather than the disease itself.

As a woman with breast cancer in the 1990s, my mother found herself in a transitioning community of women gaining momentum in combating and refusing the stigma attached to breast cancer. Those inflicted were turning into victims, then to survivors, and to heroines. The Pink Ribbon Campaign launched walks, marches, fundraising, and advocacy events. Women were creating a new social landscape to understand and combat this disease that so personally attacked one’s female anatomy.

But these grand heroic narratives—reminiscent of Second Wave Feminism—didn’t apply to women of color and poor women, such as my mother. So she fought to be heard, insisted that her concerns weren’t addressed in the larger movement, and helped start the first immigrant breast cancer support group in Toronto. She wrote about her experience as an immigrant woman with cancer in English and Japanese, she participated in community activities, gave keynote talks at conferences, and spoke to the media. She was undoubtedly a hero to me, and at the time her actions seemed to have lessened the burden of her disease on our family because of the “greater good.”

Sontag’s book Illness as Metaphor has me rethinking what breast cancer really is and what it did to my mother. While my mother’s advocacy for immigrant women’s health is something I admire, the rhetoric she drew upon to invoke similar narratives of victimhood, survivorship, and heroism aren’t standing the test of time. As Sontag demonstrates, socially fabricated views on diseases change as society does. Without having the language or ability to speak plainly about her disease, I now realize my memories of my mother with breast cancer are largely veiled behind a narrative largely constructed outside of her.

When we “talked,” my mother rarely separated the breast cancer discourse (or her objection to it) from what was actually happening to her body and how she was doing. We didn’t talk about her imminent death, or her fears and hopes for me. She never told me “this is just cancer, and this is how I’m going to go.” She made it so much more than that and lived her seven years with the disease as a “survivor” and fought the “fight” it until the very end. With so few memories of talking about the disease, her death, and how to carry on without her, I’m left wondering exactly what she was fighting for? Whose legacy she was really leaving?

 

“But at that time perhaps nobody will want any longer to compare anything awful to cancer, since the interest of the metaphor is precisely that it refers to a disease so overlaid with mystification, so charged with the fantasy of inescapable fatality. Our views about cancer, and the metaphors we have imposed on it, are so much a vehicle for the large insufficiencies of this culture: for our shallow attitude toward death, for our anxieties about feeling, for our reckless improvident responses to our real ‘problems of growth,’ for our inability to construct an advanced industrial society that properly regulates consumption, and for our justified fears of the increasingly violent course of history” (Illness as Metaphor 87).

Guest Post: The One-Body Problem

Tenure, She Wrote

by @scidoctress

I hold immense respect for my female friends and colleagues who are struggling to advance their own academic careers alongside a spouse’s. I’ve watched brilliant women find a plethora of creative solutions to the “two-body problem,” as it’s termed, from negotiating spousal hires to commuting great distances to settling for second- or third-choice jobs, sometimes even leaving academia altogether. I have attended countless seminars on work/life balance where the same inevitable questions arise: How do I balance my commitment to my children with my commitment to my research career? How do I juggle my husband’s career demands with my own? How do my academic husband and I strategize to find two professorships in the same university? When someone mentions the two-body problem, a palpable sense of collective panic seems to overtake the room. I can feel the married women around me bristle with the deep-seated fear that the…

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“Coming Out” About (In)fertility

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I haven’t been keeping my fertility challenge a secret per se. I have, however, for the past three years struggled negotiating the elusive “outside world” in relation to my frustrations, disappointments, and fears trying to conceive, which have wreaked havoc on my sense of self. More often than not, it has been easier (and felt safer) not to share these pains, pushing me further into isolation.

As an academic, I study health and disease narratives, politics of the body, and feminist discourse yet I’ve feared writing about my personal experiences that intersect my research interests. It has taken me three gynecological surgeries (one from IVF), 70+ needles (and counting), countless pills (steroids, estrogen, progesterone, baby aspirin, prenatal vitamins, letrozole, clomid, metformin, valium, antibiotics, etc.), and too many bloody months to finally write myself out of this silence.

Taking pen to paper (and fingers to keyboard), I started writing a nonfiction story about my IVF cycle last fall. It morphed into a meditation on what it felt like being a reproductively challenged woman in this society, a reflection on my late mother, and a realization that I no longer recognized the relationship I had with my body. On a whim, I submitted an abstract to (and got accepted to talk at) this medical humanities conference in Iowa where I shared my story and discussed the politics of fertility challenges as a larger social issue. This was my first “coming out” to people I didn’t know.

It felt really good to share.

In my breakout session many women shared their fertility stories, which was heartening. Some women were still grieving their miscarriages, job loss because of a pregnancy, and isolation despite several decades passed. Others were feeling “the pressure” and felt conflicted about their decision to pursue demanding professional careers. We all craved a safe space to openly talk about our concerns beyond select friends and family. The group supported my assertions that there simply aren’t enough conversations (public and private) about, and support for, fertility challenges.

A woman I met at the conference just tweeted this blog post to me about unique (and not so unique) fertility challenges in academia. From her, I learned that this week is National Infertility Awareness Week. While I dislike the term “infertility” or its classification as a disease (it’s too final, stigmatizing, and pathologizing), I love the idea of raising awareness about fertility challenges and engaging more people in a nuanced conversation.

Although each woman deals with her fertility challenges differently, the Internet seems to offer general lists, guidelines, and tips on how to help support the women we care about. Here are a few. A Google search will yield more.

These lists are a bit crass but they cut to the chase. Personally, I rather share lists of what have been unusually difficult and unexpectedly comforting (beyond the obvious) rather than a “to do” and “don’t” list.

These lists are far from exhaustive, but here goes.

Unanticipated difficulties:

  • Knowing no one else in their early thirties enduring IVF or other aggressive fertility treatments is a psychological mind f*#k.
  • It was easier to give needles to myself than have my partner do it. I don’t know why.
  • Every medicated month, I’ve had disruptive hot flashes, emotional turbulence, chronic headaches, and/or fantasies of wanting to punch irritating people (often troublesome students I teach).
  • Not knowing why I’m not getting pregnant (despite ovulating, having balanced hormones, newly cleared fallopian tubes, and good general health) has been a hellish liminal space. Okay this one might be kind of obvious.
  • Trying to become a mother rehashes the pain of loosing my mother (over a decade ago) to breast cancer.
  • With more medical intervention and involvement, the emotional pressure and expectation of getting pregnant swell. Reoccurring periods become increasingly devastating. This has been hard to manage at school and work.
  • I really hate feeling pitied. If I sense another’s discomfort or pity, my instinctual reflex is to ease that person’s awkwardness by minimizing my own experience and pain, and moving onto other “lighter” conversation. This has been incredibly counter-productive.
  • Trying this hard to become a mother tests my feminist and liberal sensibilities about how I measure my self-worth and define the meaning of family.
  • People tend to be better at responding to difficult events (like loosing a parent) than difficult non-events (like not becoming one). This has been isolating.

Pleasantly surprising acts of comfort:

  • The number of friends offering to help me with the medical stuff: needles, doctor appointments, post-operative care, research, etc.
  • Male friends and family doing research and asking specific questions about my procedures to better understand what I’m going through. All of them did one and/or the other.
  • People asking how my partner is holding up and asking how to support him.
  • Frequent or spontaneous calls, texts, and check-ins from friends on the most “ordinary” days recognizing that regular days are often challenging.
  • The number of women (mothers and non-mothers by circumstance or choice) sharing their own fears and vulnerabilities about fertility.
  • People matching my vulnerability by sharing some of their own (fertility related or not). This has been a helpful way for me to remember that we all have “stuff” going on.
  • Telling fellow grad students and departmental faculty. They have been a surprising and most welcomed support system. It’s also a huge relief and source of inspiration to be around people who embrace my desire not to separate the personal from the academic.
  • Those who sincerely ask questions (medical details, emotional state, how they can help, or whether I wanted to punch anyone that day, etc.)
  • My reproductive endocrinologist giving me hugs. Frequently. And letting me cry on her shoulders.
  • People who ask how I am, then ask how I really am after I tell them “I’m fine.”

In the spirit of National (In)fertility Awareness Week, I’d love to hear your thoughts stories, or questions. Sharing is caring after all.

And because all health campaigns need celebrity spokespeople…

 

For more information visit:

Controversies of Hired Help – An Affluent Woman’s Concern

How do you feel about the need among middle and upper class women to hire domestic workers to help with household duties? Growing up in a poor single parent immigrant household, members of my immediate family were more likely be the help than hire the help. Now that I’m a middle class educated woman surrounded by similarly affluent women, I find myself listening to conversations about hiring or dealing with domestic workers. Some of these conversations are uncomfortable.

My husband and I are “DINKS” (dual income no kids) and we live in a small condo. The stresses of domestic work are minimal. When we’re up to it, we can probably clean our house top to bottom in less than an hour. (We’re rarely up to it.) It almost goes without saying that since our parents’ generation women have been active participants in the public sphere having careers and bringing home significant portions of the “bacon.” Yet the responsibilities of private and domestic work (childcare, cleaning, and cooking) haven’t shifted to the middle as drastically.

Often when women choose to focus on one arena of their lives, they do so at the expense of the other. It’s not so black and white though. Many women attempt to balance both career and domestic responsibilities at varying degrees (some women, like my mom, have no choice other than to balance both) but at some point or another ALL of my friends who are moms or are attached have felt guilty about not being a good enough mother/worker/partner. To “have it all” – a career, time with family, and a clean house – many affluent women hire help.

A vast majority of these helpers come from developing countries, or are immigrants, or are working class/poor women. They most likely don’t get work benefits, aren’t part of a union, have physically demanding tasks, get low wages, and have their own families to care for as well. I just read a book (for class) called “Servants of Globalization: Women, Migration, and Domestic Work” by Rachel Salazar Parrenas who addressed some of the significant sacrifices these women make to enable affluent women in developing nations to “have it all.” Often these migrant workers are faced with hard choices to either leave behind their family so they can provide for them economically or to remain in a cycle of third world poverty. Additionally, these workers have very little job security and protection, and are at the mercy of their employers which has led to exploitation and abuse.

Clearly, reading this book inspired today’s post as it got me thinking about how affluent Western women, who hire substantial domestic help, are on one hand assisting these women by giving them employment but on another hand perpetuating a cycle of inequality by accepting the terms of these worker’s poor laboring conditions and turning a blind eye to their personal sacrifices.

As I aspire one day to “have it all,” I worry about how I’m going to achieve that. At one point or another, I may very well be tempted to hire regular help for childcare or household duties. Fortunately, my husband and I discuss division of domestic labor very openly and we feel satisfied (most days) with how we’ve shared those responsibilities. But we also don’t have a screaming, crying, all consuming baby. We already know his work doesn’t give family leave nor do they expect his work performance or commitment to decline as a result of becoming a dad. Society has progressed to accommodate women in the workforce but it hasn’t quite figured out how to relieve men of their career duties to help at home. Until then, the controversial need to hire help won’t start to lessen.

I’m also fully aware that I’m only able to have this conversation because of my tremendous position of privilege. Considering my humble beginning, this topic brings up a lot of internal conflict.

Thoughts?

Men Who Change Diapers DO NOT Change the World. They Change Diapers.

 

Within one week, I’ve seen a bumper sticker reading, “Men who change diapers, change the world” three times.  There’s nothing new about this bumper sticker.  In fact I first saw it four years ago and thought to myself Yeah, that’s kind of a cool message.  We should applaud those men.

Now I’m bothered by it.

It took me a day to figure out what I didn’t like about this message and it came to me when I was doing the dishes cleaning up after my fiancé.  Before I proceed with my explanatory rant, I want to mention that I feel incredibly fortunate to have a partner who’s actually quite good about housework and very open about discussing what’s working and what’s not.  But no one is perfect.

And so my rant…

When I first moved in with my fiancé (two years ago and then boyfriend), we were okay about sharing household chores.  I’m sure part of it was about impressing one another and proving that we weren’t going to be one of those couples that fought about cleaning duties.  Neither of us were messy people to begin with anyway.  A few months later, my fiancé started pointing out every time he did the dishes, watered the plants, vacuumed, mopped the floor, or folded the laundry.

I was irritated to hear him announce all his household contributions suggesting I should do more.  And in the most mature way I said back to him “Oh, you want to keep score now?  Wanna know what I ALWAYS do?” I then proceeded to list all the chores I’ve done that day and the day before that and all the things I do that he never notices.  Mature right?

Well this continued for months and I grew more pissed.  Not because he was doing so much less than me (in fact we share housework quite equally) but because he wanted acknowledgment for things we both do (and even for things I do most of the time, like putting away the dishes).  He felt like he was doing more without realizing it just seems like that because I don’t announce every time I clean.

After enough bickering, we had an honest talk about where his score keeping was coming from.  He admitted not being proud of his tit-for-tat-ness and said he never had to be responsible for anyone but himself.  He was looking for encouragement and support for a challenging transition out of bachelorhood into cohabitation.  I love him for being so honest.

I don’t blame my fiancé for this struggle.  It seems as though our egalitarian intentions haven’t quite caught up with reality.  From a young age, my girlfriends and me were socialized to play house, play with baby dolls, and take care of others.  My fiancé and his buddies likely were not.  Also, we’ve observed our moms doing most of the cooking, cleaning, and diaper changing.

Between my generation to my mother’s there have been huge changes in women’s societal roles.  Educated women today have more career options outside of teaching, nursing, or being a secretary.  We are also expected to be significant income contributors.  On the flip side, it’s becoming more common for men to be stay-at-home dads and to significantly help with housework and raising children.  But it’s not as well supported or expected.  My past post on the need for more fathers’ day goes into it a bit more.

While I can appreciate that many good liberal men struggle with how they were brought up (watching women clean and change diapers) and how quickly gender roles have evolved, I just can’t bring myself to award “gold stickers” for every dish that’s cleaned or t-shirt that’s folded.

So when I read the bumper sticker “Men who change diapers, change the world” the second time around I cringed and thought that this was the ultimate ego stroking.  Encouragement is one thing but insisting that men who share child raising responsibilities are somehow extraordinary seems counter productive to the sticker’s intention.  Men who change diapers are great parents.  And so are the moms who change them as well.

If we keep our expectations about diaper changing and doing dishes low, won’t dads just live down to them?  Besides, I’ve yet to see a bumper sticker that says “Women who bring home the bacon save the universe from utter destruction.”

Ambiguity Over Breast Cancer Awareness Month

My good friend Luana playing a trivia game for cancer awareness month.

Every October I think about my late mother.  It’s partly because October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and my mother passed away from breast cancer. But the larger reason is it’s her birthday this month.  The influx of pink ribbons, breast cancer campaigns, and happy birthday commercials sung by Justin Bieber (sponsored by the American Cancer Society) swarm me with reminders that we won’t be eating cake together.

I would seem like the perfect candidate to join the fight against breast cancer campaign given my personal story and my professional background in public health, but I feel ambiguous about the fight.  Maybe it’s my aversion to the color pink?

I’ve participated in my share of cancer walks and fundraisers but never, at those events, have I felt bright or hopeful that progress was being made.

Don’t get me me wrong.  The money raised for cancer awareness, research, advocacy, and support is invaluable and progress has been made. More people know about breast cancer screening, scientists can conduct their studies to learn more about the disease, and survivors and their families have support and resources which may not have existed a few decades ago.

So why the ambiguous feelings, perhaps even doubt?

For one thing I can’t get over the big picture catastrophe of cancer in our society and how we approach the solution.  Apart from skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women and one of the leading causes of death from cancer.  An estimated one out of eight women will have breast cancer in their lifetime and almost 200,000 women a year are diagnosed with it.

There’s little more devastating to a family than watching someone you love weaken to the point where they can’t feed or dress themselves, wipe their own asses, and for some, lose the fight.  In my family, a single-mom household, my sister, brother, and I had to grow up quickly and make peace with the situation.  For me, making peace is still a work in progress, perhaps for rest of my life.

I’m far from being alone.  Too many of my friends’ families have shared similar and unfortunate experiences.  I’m sure you also know a friend or two.

Cancer is just too damn common.  At my most recent race for a cure event, I remember feeling overwhelmed by the sea of pink t shirts with signs written on everyone’s backs reading “I’m walking for/running for/in memory of…” There was an air of celebration, support, and fight.  But the message and the atmosphere of these campaigns are confusing.  There’s nothing celebratory about the overwhelming number of people with cancer.  And why are we so focused on finding a cure?  It’s way less painful (for the individual and society) to focus on prevention.

Not to be a Debbie Downer but isn’t walking for a cure one step too late?  Are we setting ourselves up for more disappointment when we put our hopes and dollars to find the all encompassing cure, that may not come in time for your loved one?

Among professionals in public health, we share a common frustration.  Our focus is predominantly on preventing illness and mitigating the ones that exist.  This is different from the more popular medical model which tends to focus on diagnosing illnesses and finding a cure.  Good prevention is like society’s unsung hero because it’s hard to see its efforts.  While it’s much easier to notice and react to waves of people getting sick. As a society we’re partial to letting situations get really bad then then trying to find a quick fix solution.  Dare I mention the economy, diabetes, or childhood obesity?

Imagine soliciting money from people for the “run for a disease we may never get” event.  Not too sexy.  After watching my mother battle cancer, I rather pour money and run millions of miles  for this kind of event.  Of course a cure would have been nice but one didn’t exist for her.  Also, I would much prefer to have never changed out bowls of vomit from chemotherapy, or to see my mom waste away and go bald.  Any day!

I don’t want to hold my breath for a cure to come because cancer is complicated.  Our risks for cancer are affected by age, race, income, sex, education, genes, environment, food consumption, lifestyle, attitude, etc.  Success in overcoming cancer are similarly influenced by these factors.

But we do know that risk can be reduced by eating well, regularly exercising, reducing stress, not smoking or drinking too much, and generally leading a healthy lifestyle.  But this isn’t always easy to do.  Our society praises those who work hard and long hours leaving little time and energy for leisure and physical activity.  We also tend to over-consume heavily processed foods because that’s what’s readily available and marketed to us.  And some of us can’t help living next to a landfill or in a smog filled city.

I still believe that cancer foundations and organizations are necessary.  We need the support, we need the advocacy, and we definitely need the research.  I just feel that prevention and reducing cancer risk deserves equal effort, money, research, advocacy, and attention, if not more.

No cure was available to my mother, and as we speak millions are fighting the fight with no steadfast solution.  There’s a strong need and urgency for a cure, no doubt.  But what are we going to do to significantly reduce this need for a cure?  I leave you with an Obama quote from his presidential campaign.

We all know the saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. But today we’re nowhere close to that ounce. We spend less than four cents of every health care dollar on prevention and public health even though eighty percent of the risk factors involved in the leading causes of death are behavior-related and thus preventable.

Work-Life Balance

Labor day weekend is approaching and for many (myself included) this means barbecuing, hanging out with family and friends, and most importantly NOT going into the office on Monday.  As a national day of observance for workers in America (and Canada), what does it mean to be a laborer in 2010?

In my most recent trip to Toronto, a few weeks ago, monster.ca, the Canadian equivalent of the job search engine monster.com, was conducting street interviews about today’s work climate.

Standing at one of the busiest corners of downtown Toronto (Bloor and Yonge) waiting for my lunch date, the monster.ca reporter and crew spotted me for a potential sound bite.  I must have looked particularly career oriented with my shorts, tank top, flip flops, sunglasses, and backpack look.  Or I was just the low hanging fruit among rushed businessmen and women on their breaks.

My post today is about the questions they asked and how they made me reflect on work-life balance well after the interview.

Going by memory, below are some of the questions and my reponses.  Feel free to comment on how you would have responded.

Q: Do you feel there is a shortage of jobs in your field?

A: No.  I work in public health.  If anything there’s a shortage of workers in my field.

How secure do you feel in your job?

A: I feel pretty secure in my job since there aren’t too many people in my field compared to the public health jobs out there.

Q: Are you worried that there will be another recession?

A: I hope there won’t be another one but I’m not entirely sure this recession is over yet, especially looking at our current unemployment rates.

Q: As a young person, do you feel there is more pressure on you to work longer hours because your employers assume you don’t have other obligations like family?

A: I think there’s more pressure to work harder and longer because I’m a young woman who is thinking about family.  Women today have more pressure to do it all.  We still have to be the primary caregiver, take care of the household, and still bring home a lot of the income.  The pressure is to work harder in spite of everything else to prove we can keep up.

Q: What can employers do to support work-life balance?

A: Be more flexible and understanding of our obligations outside of work.  Office buildings should have gyms and day care centers to make working out and childcare really accessible.  These things would help make it easier to balance work and life.

Q: How willing are you to reduce your hours and pay or take a different job to maintain your work-life balance?

A: Very willing.  In fact most recently I took a pay cut to reduce my working hours.  But I was only able to do this with a really supportive partner who makes enough for me to do this temporarily.  Most people I assume are not in this position so I feel very fortunate.

When Expectations about Being a Parent Lead to Unhappiness

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32545640

I want to tread (write) gently in today’s post about parenting expectations and happiness because I’m not a parent.  But my fiancé and I have been talking about having children lately.  A few friends have told me to “just worry about the wedding first” but I humbly disagree that talking about children is premature.

Not to trivialize the wedding, but it is just one day.  Our marriage and parenthood are permanent commitments and I want to be on the same page with my soon-to-be-husband about how we will function as a family and agree that our partnership is suited for children.

I tend to be a worst-case scenario type person due to my less than fairy-tale like upbringing, so I’m incredibly sensitive to what challenges couples today.

Along with money, children are right up there and naturally, I want to talk about it before we make that irreversible decision to have kids.

So far we’ve talked about our views on spanking, private versus public schools, financial burden, discipline techniques, sleepless nights, level of commitment to maintain a sexual and social life, and sharing parenting responsibilities.

We’re not trying to take the romance or experience out of parenthood, we just know that if we can’t work together on common challenges, there will be a lot of disappointment in our future.

So it’s no surprise that we gravitated towards the segment above, about parents loving their kids but being unhappy, that aired on the Today Show this morning.  What resonated was the kind of expectations couples place on parenthood to automatically bring happiness.

Watching this segment reminded me of weddings and young marriages.  So much of the focus and expectation is on love and romance.  Well there’s nothing romantic about fighting over dishes, arguing about changing the kitty litter, or stressing over balancing work, marriage, and a social life.  But these are the things couples negotiate throughout a partnership and romance doesn’t make it better.  It just confuses you into thinking there might be something wrong.

This parenting segment reminded me of a similar trend in our society to over-romanticize the awesomeness of marriage and now parenting.  It makes people feel guilty for saying less than amazing things about their experiences as husband/wife/dad/mom.  Just look at Charlotte from the Sex and the City movie.  She had to be drunk to admit her kids were driving her insane and that she cries alone in a closet.  I just made a SATC reference, which I know may reduce my credibility but there was an honest moment in that scene.

I don’t want to sound like an anti-romantic.  There’s so much value in the overwhelming love we have for our partners and children (for those who have kids.)  It supports us through those difficult moments.  It just shouldn’t be expected to do all the work and we should be careful about expecting it to make us happy.

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The Need for More Father’s Days

Growing up,  I had a father, whom I reluctantly visited once in a while on the weekends when I couldn’t fake being sick. He never knew my birthday (or didn’t bother acknowledging it), constantly told me how dumb my mother was, and lectured me about being greedy when I wanted juice with my meal at the Chinese restaurant we frequented during our visits.  As you can imagine, my image of a father figure developed into a dysfunctional assumption that men lacked the ability to raise children.

Luckily, I learned to distinguish a bad apple from a much larger lot of really wonderful men who are actual fathers to their fortuitous children.  I felt fortunate to have witnessed these relationships among my close friends who welcomed me into their families.

As my fiance and I talk about having a family of our own in the near future, I’m consumed with fears about becoming a single mom, which will have to be discussed in another post.  What’s interesting about our conversations is the amount of concern he has about being able to spend enough time with our unborn children.  His job is stressful, he periodically works long or odd hours, and he’s the breadwinner.  We talked about how it’s not fair that men frequently don’t get time off as easily as women for family reasons.

It turns out that my fiance isn’t the only one who feels stressed about juggling family and career.  According to yesterday’s New York Times article studies found that dads are just as stressed as moms about balancing work and family life.

Just last week, Boston College released a study called “The New Dad” suggesting that new fathers face a subtle bias in the workplace, which fails to recognize their stepped-up family responsibilities and presumes that they will be largely unaffected by children.

Putting our gender war aside about who does what and more, this article gave voice to family health concerns, rarely brought to the table at work.  Five years ago, I may not have wanted to acknowledge the importance of a father figure but I now know better than to think that a child is better off with one parent.  With the exception of extenuating circumstances, like abuse.

So in light of this article, here’s to more father’s days and not just the one day acknowledged by Home Depot and Hallmark.

Some interesting words from our president about this topic.