Thank You

I've been wonderfully overwhelmed with support after having written the blog post on the cancer survivor narrative.  Thank you all so much for letting me know if you liked it (or if you didn't -- all feedback is always great) and how it affected you -- I've found that there are a lot of other folks out there who had felt the same way.   I was especially touched by the positive, kind comments of cancer survivors.  It really means a lot to have your all's support and to know that my words made a difference. 

Thank you all so much. 

 

Big hugs,

Anne

What the cancer-survivor narrative gets wrong

The language of a cancer survivor's narrative might unintentionally come across as offensive for the families of those whose family or friends didn't survive. One small adjustment to the narrative can change that.

 

I recently participated in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in Chicago.  It was a weekend full of tears, laughter and sore muscles from walking 39.3 miles to raise money for breast cancer research, treatment and education.

During the closing ceremonies, we celebrated survivors, and I was right there, cheering with hundreds, thousands of others, for the survivors as they entered.  My heart filled with happiness for them.  And a pang of jealousy.  I wish my mother could have been one of them.

My mom passed away from what doctors presumed was breast cancer on May 6, 2012.

Today is June 10, 2014.  My mother would have been 59 years old today. 

As I stood in the sea of light pink t-shirts, pom-poms and crazy wigs, I cheered as giant checks (literally -- the checks were about as big as a person) of $100,000 dollars and above were presented to various cancer research institutes in the Chicagoland area.  

It brought tears to my eyes because I'm hopeful for the future.  I hope we are able to find a cure some day. 

But there was something in the closing ceremonies that really, really bothered me.  

As we all listened to one survivor's story -- it is a remarkable one and I wanted to give her a huge hug and to let her know that I hope things continue to go well for her -- I felt a bit of frustration bubbling up, frustration with what the language of her narrative implied for all of those who haven't survived.

It's the kind of language I've heard many other survivors use.  

It's something like, "I decided that I was going to survive.  I made up my mind that death wasn't an option.  I got through on sheer willpower."

And please, please don't get me wrong.  I think attitude is such an important part of facing any difficult obstacle, especially when it comes to facing something like cancer.  But, when it comes to cancer, attitude isn't everything.  It's simply not. 

Sometimes, you can 'make up your mind' that you're going to survive.  You can work as hard as you possibly can to fight the deadly growths invading the inside of your body.  You might go through treatments for years, like my Mom did.  And you might say and believe that death isn't an option.  You'll outwork it.  You'll pray for healing.  You'll keep a positive attitude.  You'll dip into the power that is in the human will to survive.  But guess what?  Not everyone, even with an attitude like that, even with a strong faith, is going to survive.

My mom's death was not the result of her not wanting it badly enough.  It was not the result of her not finding or having the will to survive.  She faced her cancer with courage, strength and grace.  She fought it.  She worked hard to prevent it from spreading.  I was often brought to tears by her optimism and her ability to keep on smiling.

And even though I understand that the speaker was not, in any way, intending to suggest that any person who has died from cancer didn't have enough willpower, it still felt like that was the implication, somehow.

My mom wanted to be here to see her three children grow up.  She wanted to watch her youngest son graduate from high school, her daughter graduate from college, her eldest son purchase his first house.  She wanted to grow old with her husband.  

She wanted to celebrate all of the milestones that a 56 year-old would normally have to look forward to.  She wanted to be a grandmother. 

Her death had nothing to do with willpower.   She didn't choose to die.

I completely understand what people mean when they say something like, "When I was diagnosed, I decided right then and there that I was going to survive."  They're trying to articulate just how much work it took to stay positive, to keep fighting.  I'm not angry with those who have used this narrative.  I'm really not.  I understand the intent.  

But a nod to the lack of complete control over a cancer patient's ultimate outcome, despite willpower, despite attitude, despite everything, can easily change how a survivor's narrative impacts others.  It can make that narrative stronger.  It can bring us all closer together.

"I tried my best to keep a positive attitude.  I worked, day in and day out, to fight cancer.  And I've been one of the lucky ones who has survived."  Something like that.  It demonstrates an understanding that cancer is not completely in our control.  It leaves room for the families of those who didn't survive to celebrate your survival without feeling like you think their loved one should have worked harder or that they should have had a stronger will to survive.

My heart swells for each and every cancer survivor out there.  I have seen how tough the road through treatment can be.  To get through something like cancer is something worth shouting about from the rooftops.  I just hope we can begin to shift the language of the survivor narrative to be considerate of how powerfully the language of a survivor's narrative can impact the families of those who were not quite as lucky.

solar roadways

A friend of mine shared this on Facebook recently and I thought I'd share it here because I think it is so cool!   Solar roadways.  How had we not thought of this before? 

Ok, folks!  We're approaching the end of the third quarter... Unreal.

On the previously-mentioned stories:

The piece on the pastor who used to be a part of a gang didn't turn out quite how I'd hoped it would as a video piece.  That being said, I'm planning to use audio from the video to make a neat audio piece!  

The TFA piece went well.  Not as well as I hoped, but still.   I keep hearing Ira Glass' words on the creative process going through my head... one day, I'll get there.  Day by day.  Check out the video below for more on that...

I just received some great feedback on my CrossFit for Kids piece today and am looking forward to reworking parts of it and strengthening my narration... I'll post it as soon as it's complete!

As for the interview with the Holocaust survivor who was on Schindler's List?  I interviewed her daughter instead.  It was an awesome interview!  I feel like focusing on the way that the Holocaust has impacted the children and grandchildren of survivors is really, really interesting.

Wait, it's already May?

Oh hey there!

Where has the time gone?   It's casually May 2 and I'm now halfway through my third quarter at Medill!  Kind of difficult to believe.

 

Updates

I'm on the documentary track here at Medill.  And I'm taking advantage of the opportunities that are coming my way to focus on stories that mean a lot to me.  

I'm working on a lot of different things simultaneously right now... learning to balance multiple stories at once is, I think, part of this learning process.  So, what are the stories?

One is a character-driven piece that is centered on a man who used to be a gang member but who is now a pastor.  He does gang outreach.  I spent a large part of a day with him and heard his story and learned about how and why he does what he does.  This was for a video project, but I imagine I'll make an audio piece out of this as well.

Another story is on Teach for America.  What's up with the retention rate?  How does that affect students (and parents?)?   I spent an entire school day with a TFA teacher in what some people might say is one of Chicago's roughest neighborhoods, West Englewood.  This will be an audio piece.

Crossfit is, as many of you probably know, all the rage right now.  There's been some controversy though -- some people think it pushes participants too hard, potentially causing health problems.  Now, there's Crossfit for kids.  And classes in Chicago have sold out.  I'm checking that out and talking with a young gal who loves Crossfit, her father (who also does Crossfit) and I'll be talking with folks in the medical field about what weightlifting from an early age means for a body.

Last piece currently in the works:  Two interviews:  One with a woman who was on Schindler's List.  One with her daughter.  I hope to get a third interview from a grandchild.  I feel incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity to sit down and talk with this family.  I'll write a piece from these interviews, but I also plan to produce an audio piece.

The Chicago Art Institute, May 1, 2014. (Anne Evans) Check it out on Instagram.

Life after Medill

I have no idea yet.  I've been checking out a few different filmmaking groups (two have really caught my eye -- one close to DC and one in Denver, a third one out in Oregon has also caught my eye), online news sites (one in particular in NYC) and nonprofits (again, NYC).  

It's somewhat terrifying to have no idea where life is going to take me.  It's also kind of difficult.  Because I could see myself taking a variety of paths in life.  And crunch time is approaching.  But it's also exhilarating. I could end up anywhere.  Literally.  

Makes me think of a very favorite, very applicable quote by Cheryl Strayed...

I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.
— Cheryl Strayed

Until next time... 

My family is so important to me.  I'm a lucky gal to have the family that I do, truly.  My dad, brothers and I met up this weekend at my younger brother's indoor track meet.  It was SO good to see him run and to see the fellahs!  Talk about a great Valentine's Day weekend.  

I need to work on some thing for class tonight before tomorrow, so I really don't have time to write much... but it was a great weekend!

On my way back to Chicago, I snapped the photo below... it practically begged for me to hit the brakes and pull over to snap a shot... I love when photos present themselves to me like that... I always feel like my best shots kind of hit me before I even have the camera in my hands.

old and new a bit of pretty perfect light.  there's beauty in the everyday, every day.

old and new a bit of pretty perfect light.  there's beauty in the everyday, every day.

I'm loving all of my classes at Medill, but I'm especially loving my photojournalism class.  

Going out and shooting photos and getting to know people in the Chicagoland area is seriously wonderful.  The homework assignments for this class are always my favorite.

This week we were asked to cover a news event.   I went to a public art event in Evanston, Ill.  The community was invited to take part in a "yarn bombing" -- I'd never heard of yarn bombing before I saw it listed on the City of Evanston's public calendar. 

It was so fun!  A typical yarn bombing would, apparently, involve a lot of people going outside and knitting around trees or whatever items were destined to wear a sweater for awhile... but because it was so cold in Evanston this past weekend and because a lot of folks dropped off wool sweaters, socks, or scarves, Evanstonians decided to weave the bits of what they had together around trees, bike racks and hand railings in Evanston. 

The co-directors of the Evanston Public Art Committee did the weaving outside while others stayed inside and knitted or stitched things together.

Here are a few of the photos I snapped from the event! 

Residents of Evanston gather in the public library to “yarn bomb” the trees outside of the public library on Orrington Avenue, Feb. 8, 2014, Evanston, Ill. (ANNE EVANS/MEDILL)

Residents of Evanston gather in the public library to “yarn bomb” the trees outside of the public library on Orrington Avenue, Feb. 8, 2014, Evanston, Ill. (ANNE EVANS/MEDILL)

David Gear and Jason Brown, co-chairs of the Evanston Public Art Committee, stitch pieces of wool fabric around a tree outside of Evanston’s public library on Feb. 8, 2014, Evanston, Ill. Gear and Brown stitched the fabric around the trees while other people knitted indoors. (ANNE EVANS, MEDILL)

David Gear and Jason Brown, co-chairs of the Evanston Public Art Committee, stitch pieces of wool fabric around a tree outside of Evanston’s public library on Feb. 8, 2014, Evanston, Ill. Gear and Brown stitched the fabric around the trees while other people knitted indoors. (ANNE EVANS, MEDILL)

Jason Brown, co-chair of the Evanston, Ill. Public Art Committee, stitches pieces of fabric around a tree on Feb. 8, 2014 as part of a public art project. (ANNE EVANS/MEDILL)

Jason Brown, co-chair of the Evanston, Ill. Public Art Committee, stitches pieces of fabric around a tree on Feb. 8, 2014 as part of a public art project. (ANNE EVANS/MEDILL)

David Gear, co-chair of the Evanston Public Art Committee, enjoying the yarn bomb event on Feb. 8, 2014, in Evanston, Ill. (ANNE EVANS/MEDILL)

David Gear, co-chair of the Evanston Public Art Committee, enjoying the yarn bomb event on Feb. 8, 2014, in Evanston, Ill. (ANNE EVANS/MEDILL)

Scraps of wool and even usable clothing items, such as wool socks, are part of a public art installation in Evanston, Ill., Feb. 9, 2014. (ANNE EVANS/MEDILL)

Scraps of wool and even usable clothing items, such as wool socks, are part of a public art installation in Evanston, Ill., Feb. 9, 2014. (ANNE EVANS/MEDILL)

The yarn is holding tight on Feb. 9, 2014, around bike racks and trees one day after a public art installation, a “yarn bomb” in Evanston, Ill. (ANNE EVANS/MEDILL)

The yarn is holding tight on Feb. 9, 2014, around bike racks and trees one day after a public art installation, a “yarn bomb” in Evanston, Ill. (ANNE EVANS/MEDILL)

A hand railing outside of the Evanston, Ill. Public Library is part of a public art installation, Feb. 9, 2014. (ANNE EVANS/MEDILL)

A hand railing outside of the Evanston, Ill. Public Library is part of a public art installation, Feb. 9, 2014. (ANNE EVANS/MEDILL)

new website!

I'm so thrilled with this new website!  I'll be posting random thoughts as the mood strikes, reactions to events, photography, videos, etc. 

Actually, I'll post a video now.  

I hopped on the El one day to head home and I noticed that there was a solo seat in the very back of the car, looking out a back window.  And when the train started moving, I realized it could make a great time-lapse video piece.  So, here is the result.  

Enjoy!