The Alabama Project at Loyola

Gradually, I’m settling back into Alabama time and writing about the amazing experiences I had this summer in Poland and back in Illinois. One highlight was the trip to the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center at Loyola University’s Medical Center to deliver some of The Alabama Project photos and to present background on the project during a reception there. The pictures that follow taken by my friend, Tanya, provide a glimpse at the exhibit and speaking engagement.

 

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Me pictured with the women at Loyola who brought The Alabama Project to cancer survivors in Chicago.

 

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An announcement of the photo exhibit alongside David’s picture of Debbie Tabb and her family. Attendees were also provided with copies of Cancer Today containing stories about some of the Alabama women.

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A look at the lobby where The Alabama Project photos were displayed.

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My presentation about the amazing stories behind David’s images.

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Pictured alongside my family, including Mom (seated), my Auntie Rose, Uncle Tom, and Dad (left to right, standing).

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Smiling alongside my gal pals, Tanya (who transported us to Chicago and played photographer) and Suzanne (van co-driver who accompanied me and the pics all the way from Birmingham).

 

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Mom, Dad, and me enjoying a happy moment at Loyola–much happier than Mom’s emergency hospital visit that took us there earlier this year.

 

“Material proof”

Celia and I have headed on to Warsaw, leaving the rest of our group at the airport to fly home. We were all exhausted–not surprising, since we pulled out of Krakow by bus at 2:00 a.m. this morning–but the memories of the places we visited dwell deep in our souls.

Looking back through the photos I’ve taken thus far, I was struck by two in particular: 1) a picture of the building where “material proof of crimes” was gathered to devise cases on which the innocent could be tried at Auschwitz, and 2) a black and white image of men and women, young and old, departing the train at Birkenau. Many, we were told, tried to hold onto hope that their lives and those of their families would be spared. The majority never left the place alive.

Weighing "material proof" at Auschwitz.

Weighing “material proof” at Auschwitz.

Departing the train at Birkenau.

Departing the train at Birkenau.

The horrors that awaited prisoners at Auschwitz I and II are unimaginable. Those who escaped immediate annihilation slowly suffered. They were tortured emotionally and physically, treated like animals.

Though I’ve heard the stories before, seeing Auschwitz, like Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam last summer, makes the past both more real and more unfathomable.

Papal Prayers in Poland

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind. Following a trip to Illinois to deliver The Alabama Project to Loyola’s Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, I embarked–along with my daughter Celia and 13 others from St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in Birmingham–on another journey to Poland for World Youth Day.

This week alone, we have experienced the horrors and hope of our world, from the bleak concentration camps of Auschwitz I and II (Auschwitz-Birkenau) to the blessings of Divine Mercy at the St. Faustina Chapel in Krakow.

The greatest moment was when Pope Francis arrived late yesterday afternoon as the rain came down to offer his welcome address amid thousands of WYD pilgrims at Blonia Park. As we stood along the streets awaiting the Popemobile (aka the Holy See’s fiat), Pope Francis flew by on public transportation. Most of us never considered that Pope Francis would opt for the tram, but that’s the kind of pope he’s proven to be time and time again.

The Pope’s message to the large group of youth from many countries, which we listened to intently through the assistance of handheld radios translating his words into multiple languages, was simple and moving: He told us that it disheartens him to see so many young people “retire” early in their lives, to give up hope and dreams before they reach their mid-20s. Apathy, drugs, desolation are among those evils affecting the world’s youth. To be merciful to others, he said, we must hold onto hope for our own lives. Only when we experience mercy and grace in our souls can we extend it to others.

In this post, I offer just a few glimpses of our journey thus far.

Inside the chapel at Niepokalonow, devoted to St. Maximilian Kolbe, who sacrificed his life for another prisoner at Auschwitz.

Inside the chapel at Niepokalonow, devoted to St. Maximilian Kolbe, who sacrificed his life for another prisoner at Auschwitz

The image of the Black Madonna at Jasna Gora-Czestochowa

The image of the Black Madonna at Jasna Gora-Czestochowa

The train tracks at Birkenau, which carried Jews, Roma and other prisoners to their fate

The train tracks at Birkenau, which carried Jews, Roma and other prisoners to their fate

 

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Celia and I enjoying “pope cakes,” a favorite of John Paul II, in his hometown of Wadowice

 

The Polish tram carrying Pope Francis to the welcoming ceremony

The Polish tram carrying Pope Francis to the welcoming ceremony

Pope Francis's address on screens across Blonia Park in Krakow

Pope Francis’s address on screens across Blonia Park in Krakow

Our view from far, far away of Pope Francis on the stage at Blonia Park. We're hoping for a better view for the Papal Mass!

Our view from far, far away of Pope Francis on the stage at Blonia Park. We’re hoping for a better view for the Papal Mass!

Sisters

Edwina (right) with her older sister, Wanda Fay, at our outing for Edwina's birthday.

Edwina (right) with her older sister, Wanda Fay, at our outing for Edwina’s birthday.

Today, after a long hiatus, Edwina and I agreed to meet up at the Burger King located across the street from Cooper Green Hospital in honor of her upcoming birthday on Wednesday. Many times, Edwina and I have headed to the same BK after a doctor’s appointment. She loves their famous Whoppers.

Edwina walked in with her sister Wanda Fay, who I’ve heard a lot about but never met personally. The two of them had me laughing for more than an hour, talking (mostly simultaneously) about their other sisters–the crazy ones!–the men in their lives, children, plans for the summer. As always, when I see Edwina, I remember how much I miss her. She’s funny and warm and doesn’t get overly concerned about the things she can’t control: her car that’s in the shop again, her husband Tyrone (who Edwina says is “gettin’ back into trouble, doin’ them drugs”), her son Steve who’s staying with a buddy out of town and living in a truck.

My friend had some good news to share as well. She has a new puppy named China. Her landlord dropped her rent by a few dollars recently. And her doctor thinks she might be able to take away some of Edwina’s pain with surgery in the next month or so.

Edwina promised to keep me in the loop. She’ll text or call until we can see each other again.

The puzzling progress of cancer

My post for the American Association for Cancer Research’s Catalyst blog just went live:

Puzzling Progress: What Strides Look Like in Cancer Research

It can be difficult to sit by patiently waiting for groundbreaking cancer discoveries while loved ones suffer from a form of the disease. My post addresses the complexity of cancer and the slow, but steady, pace at which cancer researchers are making strides.

One thing that has evolved in recent years is something called “convergent science.” As the complexity of cancer has revealed itself, scientists from many fields have collaborated to piece together the various components of the disease.

I’m working on an article right now for a new journal called Convergent Science, Physical Oncology, addressing the promises of tackling a puzzle from diverse disciplinary perspectives. For cancer survivors, it’s a direction that offers much hope.

Addiction, up close

My friend and colleague, Kerry Madden, just published a piece on addiction (and the upcoming vote over legalizing marijuana in California) in the LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-madden-addiction-marijuana-legalization-20160603-snap-story.html

Kerry’s essay is powerful, regardless of the snarky comments from readers–many of whom are pro-legalization. I’d love to introduce them to my brother who, no doubt about it, used pot as a gateway drug to a host of substances and continues to deal with addiction at 56 years old.

Scientists read, too

In its current issue, Science offers a list of summer reads for those of us who appreciate the discoveries and puzzles that preoccupy biologists, physicists, and so on: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/352/6290/1166.full

I have to admit that the selection Death on Earth looks particularly interesting to me. It must be due to my recent fascination with sustainable burials. And while I’m on the topic, I might as well add a link to another fun read from my friends at Mental Floss: http://www.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/smart-living/17-behind-the-scenes-secrets-of-funeral-directors/ar-BBtNVat?li=BBnbcA