Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mental Health or Mental Illness?

Yesterday morning in Seattle a man shot and killed several people in two different locations. When he was found, several hours later, walking down the street and confronted by police, he then shot himself. According to ABC news, his brother was interviewed after the incident and said it was "no surprise" to his family and friends. Apparently the shooter was struggling with mental-health issues.

The reason I'm writing about this today is because I live in Seattle and yesterday was terrifying. No one knew where, or who this man was. They didn't know his motivation. They didn't know if there was more than one person involved. This was a completely random incident.

The question for me is if so many people were aware of this man struggling with mental health, what were the reasons behind him not getting the medical help he needed?

As a country we tend to brush off mental health issues. I don't know if it's because of shame, or societal expectations.  I don't know if it has gotten worse over the years, or if we just hear about it more now thanks to the media. What I do know is there are entirely too many people with mental illness who are not being treated.

The National Collation for the Homeless published a study showing mental illness in the top three causes for homelessness. I don't believe this particular shooter in Seattle was homeless. However, according to another story from Miami this week about a naked cannibal eating a man's face, that man was homeless and drug addicted which may mean he also was dealing with some mental illness. My point is, mental illness happens in every category of people, and not every category of people has the coverage to be treated for it.

Homeless people have little access to health care. Part time employees have little access to health care. Full time contractors, small business workers, some retail employees, all have little access to health care.  That's a problem.

Here's a bigger problem, most health insurance policies don't cover very well for mental health. Premium policies may have catastrophic coverage up to a million dollars if a person finds him or herself in a terrible accident. However, in the same policy they may only  cover (with a high co-pay) a few sessions of therapy for the mentally ill. Considering the cost of antipsychotic drugs, the policy's coverage might be lacking there as well.

My frustration is when a mentally ill person who has not been adequately treated, causes the catastrophic coverage to kick in for someone else.  Wouldn't it make more sense to not cut corners on mental health coverage and potentially avoid a catastrophic incident? Mental health is not separate from physical health and it should not be treated separately.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Be The Match! (yes, you)

Have you ever considered donating bone marrow? 

We all have it... 

Each year approximately 10,000 patients need bone marrow transplants. Unfortunately, only about 60% of them receive the transplant they need. If that seems wrong to you, maybe you'd be interested in donating some of your own bone marrow to help raise that percentage.

There's a group called Be The Match  that would love to add you to their donor registry.

They're celebrating their 25th anniversary this year, and also their 50,000th transplant. In 1987 when they began their efforts they had 10,000 volunteers. Today the registry has grown to over 9 and a half million. 

Clearly with that many people donating they should have enough bone marrow to give everyone the transplant they need, right? 

Unfortunately, bone marrow is a finicky thing. Even some siblings are not a match for their brother or sister in need of a transplant. 

There's also not enough diversity in the registry. Right now there are more African-American and multi-racial patients in need of transplant than there are African-American and multi-racial donors. 

So many people like to run races to raise money for research as their chosen way of helping a cause. It's not the only way though. Donating an actual part of yourself is another way to help. Living people can not physically give their heart to save another life, because we only have one. However, living people can give their blood and their marrow-- because we have plenty.

For me personally, I'm in a good place right now with my medication keeping my leukemia in check. There are no guarantees though. Many people with my specific leukemia become resistant to the drugs, and other blood cancers don't even have a drug to try. Often times the only option is a bone marrow transplant (BMT). 

Can you imagine being told your life can be saved only if someone you may not know happened to make the decision to donate a piece of themselves?

What a scary position! 

Superheros exist in every day clothes. You can be someone's superhero--- Be The Match!


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cancerversary: Celebrating 5 years since rebirth

The first time I heard the word "cancerversary" I remember thinking it was so clever, albeit a little morbid. I was fairly certain no one celebrated having cancer. Why would anyone celebrate having cancer?

Once I was inducted into the cancer community though, the word made more sense to me. No one was celebrating cancer, they were celebrating life. Life with cancer, life without cancer, life in general.

Cancerversaries are sometimes set as when people finish their treatment, or eradicate their disease. 

For me,  I count my cancerversary as the day the doctor came into the hospital room and told me I have leukemia. Since my leukemia is chronic, I don't get to celebrate the day my cells went back to normal and the leukemia vanished from my body. 

I do however, have the opportunity to celebrate my rebirth. 

There was a jolt. I felt like my body and my spirit were separate. At one point, that night of diagnosis, I felt claustrophobic within myself. My spirit "I" was at odds with my physical "I." The spirit "I" didn't want to deal with the physical "I's"drama. 

In that moment, when I separated from myself, I could see things much more clearly than ever before. The love handles on my form that caused me to wear a larger size of jeans didn't matter. They hadn't mattered all along, my physical "I" just didn't know love handles didn't matter.

My conflicted relationships with others weren't conflicted at all. There were people I had to let go of, and there were people I had to pull closer. In that moment when I separated from myself, I knew exactly where each relationship fit.

Passion for music, love, creativity, spirituality, assisting a greater cause, and leaving a legacy far outweighed the amount of money I had squirreled away in the bank. 

I was clear. 

In this, my fifth year of cancerversaries, I am reminded of my rebirth.  The clarity of that first day isn't as searing now. However, the ability to prioritize, is still strong within me. 

I am celebrating today the love in my life, the passion in my words, the deeper understanding of self, and yes, five years of living with cancer.

Happy Cancerversary to me, and to anyone else who has been given the gift of deeply understanding the importance of living.