The Alabama Project on the NCI website

My friend and colleague Suzanne Parker initiated publication of a story about The Alabama Project on the National Cancer Institute website before she experienced an aneurysm several weeks ago. I stepped in to flesh out the piece, which I’m happy to report has just gone live on the NCI’s website:

The story will soon be posted on the NCI homepage as well, so many more can see the beautiful images David captured and hear these survivors’ powerful stories.

Thank you, Suzanne!


It’s Father’s Day, a great time to honor the man who’s had a huge influence on how I live my life.

Dad is a fourth-generation Illinois farmer who has spent his days tending to fields of corn, soybeans, and occasionally wheat. Over the years, he also tried his hand at raising livestock. At one time or another, my parents owned cows and sheep. An array of other animals have also lived on the Ryan farm, including a duck, goats, and plenty of dogs and cats.

Though he’s retired now, Dad still loves the land. Every time I head home for a visit, we hop in the pickup and drive by the fields. Last summer, we took photos of the two of us standing in one of his corn fields, the stalks rising above our heads.

As he’s grown older, Dad has also taken the time to teach me some vital lessons about how farms operate since one day, I’ll step into his shoes. They will be big shoes to fill.

If I had to choose just one word to describe my dad, it would be “integrity.” The most important thing I’ve learned from my dad is to stand your ground, even if others disagree with you.

When farmers were borrowing large sums of money in the 70’s to purchase land, Dad didn’t follow suit. He believed that the economy would shift, as it always has, and those who borrowed too much might not be in a position to pay it all back. He was right. Our family kept our farm while many friends and neighbors lost theirs during the 80’s Farm Crisis.

There are so many examples of my dad’s unwavering commitment to what he thinks is right. His Catholic faith. His insistence that spending money to appear rich and important isn’t worth the anxiety you’ll feel at night when your head hits the pillow. His conviction that good leaders are those who recognize disparities in how people around our country live and attempt to do something about it.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

Meeting Cloe

My 17-year-old and I just returned from London. When I was invited over a year ago to make a presentation at a conference in Oxford this summer, I asked Celia if she’d like to come along to England with me. She didn’t skip a beat before signing on for her first international adventure.

During our time in London, we visited the usual tourist sites: Big Ben, Tower of London, Buckingham, London Eye, and so on. But we also did something out of the ordinary that I’m still trying to wrap my brain around.

A few days into the trip, I sat at my computer catching up on emails while Celia kicked back on the hotel bed to check out some you-tube videos. Suddenly, I heard a high-pitched squeal coming from Celia’s direction:

“Mommy, Cloe is having a meet and greet at Princess Diana’s memorial in Hyde Park this Saturday!!!!!!! Can we go?!”

“Um, maybe. Who’s Cloe?”

“Cloe from Cloe Couture! She’s one of my favorite you-tubers!!!”

Priding myself on being a semi-cool mom, I do know what you-tube is. Heck, I’ve even watched a few videos. One demonstrated how to wrap my sari, something I’ve never quite mastered despite being instructed by more than a few Indian women. Others have featured clips from interviews and talks by people whose work I’m interested in. But Cloe Couture? Never heard of her.

Celia showed me one of Cloe’s videos, confident that I would recognize the girl’s brilliance. Cloe is indeed entertaining to watch–a little bit of information on clothes, shopping and other teenage matters is mixed in with humor and lots and lots of energy. Plus, she’s just a tad older than Celia, and will be heading to UCLA in the fall to begin her freshman year.

So on Saturday, my British pal Kathryn, Celia and I trekked our way through Hyde Park to Cloe’s gathering. A number of fans were already there when we arrived, and Celia soon joined the circle to get to know the other girls, play a game, and take photos with Cloe. Celia was very, very excited to have met her online friend in person. And Celia’s friends expressed (via text, instagram, and snapchat) their extreme jealousy that Celia had the opportunity to actually meet someone that they’ve only seen from afar. As far away as you-tube.


Celia and I are heading to England a week from today. I’ll be presenting a paper on the Indian women’s magazine Women’s Era, and then Celia and I plan to tour London. Since she didn’t get to accompany her church youth group to California last summer due to health problems, Celia is extremely excited to embark on an adventure in the UK. I’m looking forward to some one-on-one time with my oldest as well before she begins her senior year of high school!

As is often the case when I’m preparing to depart the country–especially when such a short amount of time has elapsed since my last international excursion–I find myself steeped in deadlines and seriously lacking enough sleep to feel both caught up and refreshed by the time we board the plane.

I’ve been thinking more than usual about sleep this past week for other reasons, too.

My friend Suzanne, who experienced a seizure after being sent home from the hospital following surgery for a brain aneurysm, was sedated for some time to allow her body to heal. It’s a strange feeling to know that someone you care about is on the mend, but can’t communicate to tell you how she’s doing. Fortunately, Suzanne is now awake and talking.

And just today, Edwina underwent a procedure to alleviate a blockage in her heart. Instead of inserting a stent, the doctors “burnt out” the blockage. They say her heart should be as good as new.

I noticed that while Edwina resisted the idea of being put to sleep several years ago when she was being wheeled in for a mastectomy, she didn’t have any objections this time around. In 2010, she feared that the doctors at Cooper Green would put her to sleep and forget to wake her up after her operation. Today at Princeton Hospital, she told me she just wanted to go to sleep and “get the operation over with.”

Sleep can be a good thing.

Friends facing challenges

Since returning from the Netherlands, I’ve been spending time with two friends who are experiencing significant physical challenges.

Suzanne, who at one time was a student of mine and who has since become a colleague in the writing world–and who, God bless her, jumped onboard to help transport The Alabama Project photos to Philly and back last month–suffered a brain aneurysm a little more than a week ago.

I’ve visited Suzanne a couple of times since her surgery, first in the NICU and then at home. While I’m extremely grateful that Suzanne survived, she’s seemed very different than the person I’ve come to know during the past several years. She’s somehow detached.

Today, I received a text from her daughter informing me that Suzanne was found unresponsive in her apartment last night. She’s experienced a prolonged seizure and is now back in the ICU under sedation.

At the same time Suzanne is facing a difficult situation, Edwina has been preparing to undergo surgery later this week. She’s suffered a couple of TIAs (mini-strokes) and doctors are planning to address some clogged arteries. Edwina has long had problems with blood clots, and doctors suspect she’s had a minor heart attack during the past couple of weeks as well.

I’ll meet Edwina at Princeton Hospital at 6 a.m. on Wednesday and stay with her until she’s back in recovery.

Sometimes, all a friend can do is show up and pray for the best.