Friday, October 03, 2008

October Awareness

Most of us think of October as the month that ushers in fall, even though it began in September. The skies can be crisp, clear blue with cotton ball clouds or gray and brooding. Trees across the northern hemisphere change. We anticipate celebration. October has long been one of my favorite months and especially since my first born arrived on the 10th.

Did you know that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month? Have you done your self breast exam? Have you been squished with a mammogram lately? Even though there have been conflicting study reports recently on their effectiveness, I won't be stopping. Too many people I know found their breast cancer through self exams and mammograms.

My job-share nurse friend Michelle has now survived breast cancer about 15 years! Praise God! My friend Betty Boop did not survive; God chose to heal her in Heaven. Elaine battled bravely for more than ten years. She taught God's Word boldly, shared His love gently and LIVED every moment she was on earth. Two of my grand Aunts... Mickie and Betty, battled twice, succumbing to cancers secondary to their breast cancer. And in case you are a man or you love a man, don't think men are excluded. A friend of my Hubby's has an ongoing battle with breast cancer and HIS name is Ed. Probably everyone reading this could list at least one person they know who has battled breast cancer.

Do not be afraid. Be Aware. Be Educated. Do Exams. Do Mammograms. Encourage a cancer fighter and PRAY!

Did you also know that October is also Down Syndrome Awareness Month? This was news to me until I read Sherri's blog. This month she is posting "31 for 21" which is a post for each of the days of October for Down Syndrome Awareness because Down Syndrome effects Chromosome 21.

If you ever wondered what it would be like to find out that you have a child with Down Syndrome you should read Welcome To Holland, Sherri's October 1st post. Sherri's posts about her "Imp" as she calls him for anonymity purposes always delight me. I'm sure that I am seeing the sunshine and not the shadow, but her family has been an amazing picture of love as they have surrounded this young man and raised him together. I found Sherri's blog when I was just "surfing" one day and followed a link, but I came back and stayed because of her posts on the Imp.

I cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like to experience this myself, but I have a huge heart for "special needs" kids. When I was done with high school before high school was done, I volunteered in a special education pre-school that was part of my school district, working with children ages 3-10 of varying diagnoses. Several had Down Syndrome. I looked into teaching special education but after 3.5 years in college dismissed teaching altogether. That must be one of God's little chuckles considering what I do now! lol

One of the jobs I had in college was respite care for a little girl with cerebral palsy. After college I worked as a Certified Medical Assistant for ten years, most of which was pediatrics. In pediatrics you see the whole gamut of population and it is probably the most varied specialty in medicine. I loved so many of my patients and enjoyed working with parents to meet their children's needs. Sometimes we had to be advocates for the parent and/or child with the school district, insurance company or other agencies and it was something I found fulfilling - sticking up for the "underdog". Maybe I should have pursued social work, though my tender heart would probably have been in a permanent state of brokenness!

My heart for the "special needs" person began at an early age, long before these experiences in life.

L to R: Winnifred Lucy Kirkland Tisdale, Dorothy Winnifred Tisdale (front), Holly Mable Tisdale Hopkins, Fred Tisdale, Clifton K. Tisdale and Homer K. Tisdale about 1913.

My Grandma Hopkins' little sister, "Aunt Dorothy" did not have Down Syndrome. About 1918 she was thrown out of a Model T Ford in a car accident. To her dying day she was afraid of cars and always asked if you were a good driver and if you ever had an accident! She suffered a severe brain injury in the accident and never attained full mental maturity. After 2nd or 3rd grade, she left school and lived at home. For awhile some attempts were made to help her live on her own, but events that I don't know or understand about made this impossible. In the 60s it was popular to treat anything related to the brain with electric shock treatment, which Aunt Dorothy received at a state mental hospital. All of my life she lived in nursing homes.

This photograph was taken about 1918 and by her searching expression, I can't help but wonder if this wasn't taken after the accident. L to R, Homer Tisdale, my Grandma Holly Tisdale Hopkins, Dorothy Winnifred Tisdale, Fred Tisdale, Winnifred Kirkland Tisdale and Clifton Tisdale.

Mother and daughters, probably in the 1930s - Winnifred Kirkland Tisdale, Holly Tisdale Hopkins, Dorothy Winnifred Tisdale. (Mom, the dress Grandma is wearing reminds me of the one you wore for Grandma's memorial service 60 or 70 years later!)

I always knew that Aunt Dorothy was "different" and that she needed special help, but she was part of the family and was very loved and welcomed. Many times she spent a few days with us over Thanksgiving or Christmas. My Mom who self admittedly is not a "nurse", was always so gentle and caring with her. A day or so away from the nursing home and she became alive! Likely they had her medicated to zombie status so that they wouldn't have to deal with anything more than they wanted to. Looking back, some of those times where family were all gathered together and she stayed with us were some of the happiest.

Many people look at Aunt Dorothy, or probably the Imp or other special needs people and think they are stupid, don't get it, are annoying, ignorant, embarrassing... fill in the blank. Aunt Dorothy had spunk, a great sense of humor, was playful, collected dolls, souvenir spoons and her favorite color was yellow. She enjoyed beautiful jigsaw puzzles and in her 80s had a "boyfriend" in the nursing home. "He's an Indian!" she would whisper, having grown up in a time when that would be scandalous!

When we first came to our church, it was Christmas and there taking part publicly in the service was B.M. who has Cerebral Palsy. I held my breath subconsciously and looked around for others' reactions, being used to seeing people's embarrassment and non acceptance. To my surprise no one appeared any different than they should. Here was a person who in the world's eyes is "disabled" and unable to participate on their level, taking part in a "normal" part of the church service. Even in church circles, this is sadly, not common. Right then and there I knew it was a fit! Later I would learn that we have wonderful family in our church whose son N also has Down Syndrome. One day his Daddy shared a testimony of their discovering that N had Downs, their grief and how much they have grown in love and faith by being blessed to be his parents. N is like a little evangelist and must have the gift of hospitality. He walks through the halls, passes out tracts and greets people.

Top: my grand Aunt Elaine Horstman Hopkins (the only one living from this picture), my grand Uncle Philip Sedgewick Hopkins. (I'm not sure if they were married at this time or not. On the Right side: Winnifred Kirkland Tisdale and Homer Tisdale.

On the bottom, my Grandparents George "Alden" Hopkins and Holly Tisdale Hopkins (Grandma was never fat, so I think this may have been taken in 1934 when she was pg with my Aunt Grace.) Left side: Aunt Dorothy Winnifred Tisdale and Fred Tisdale.

Awareness is a good thing. Be aware that people who are different are not necessarily ignorant to what is going on around them, that they are people too, not inanimate objects, that they share the same needs, wants and desires that we all do and that they deserve to be treated with respect.

The next time you see a parent struggling with a special needs child, you might ask if they would like some assistance (if it is appropriate). Also, don't be afraid to hug (if appropriate), shake hands, encourage, pray with and share God's love with them. It's not likely that they will come up to you and ask for help, but a kind and genuine offer is appreciated even if it is not always practical to accept it. And if you see injustice, please speak up. It takes a coward to make fun of someone different than them. Sometimes we need to stand up for the rights of those who do not know how to do it for themselves.

So, in light of awareness month, if you know someone with Down Syndrome, breast cancer or other special needs, please say a prayer for them and maybe see how you can help! You will be greatly blessed.

I miss you Aunt Dorothy! Thank you for teaching me to see people with my heart!

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