Aging and HIV: Why One More Test Matters

“Are you HAVING sex?”

My gynecologist asked me this question at a routine checkup to monitor my use of hormones to deal with the symptoms of early menopause.

In my head, my answer was, “well I’m married so why do you need to ask?” But his question indicated that he was making no assumptions. Me saying the medicine was working in the absence of being sexually active would be misleading. His question was a good one.

National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day

HIV PreventionAlthough assumptions are dangerous any time a medical professional rules out the need for HIV testing based on how a patient looks or acts, they are especially dangerous when the patient is 50 or older. Today, National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day, is a day to make sure Americans ages 50 and above have full and complete access to HIV education, testing, and treatment.

Cynthia’s Mom

Cynthia shared her experience with me of having to insist her mother’s physician test her mom for HIV back in 1986. Her mom had been ill with pneumonia for a long time, and had had every other possible test.HIV Prevention

RUN THAT HIV TEST, demanded Cynthia.

It turns out her mom, who was in her mid-50s at the time, was HIV positive.

Her doctor had not thought Cynthia’s mom was the type of patient who was likely to be at risk for HIV.

There’s no “type of patient” likely to be at risk for HIV.

Consider this:

  • People aged 55 and older accounted for 26% of all Americans living with diagnosed or undiagnosed HIV infection in 2013.
  • People aged 50 and older have the same HIV risk factors as younger people, but may be less aware of their HIV risk factors.
  • Older Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with HIV infection later in the course of their disease.

More from Cynthia in her own words:

We need to replace “MAY BE” with “ARE”

When I asked Cynthia, who works frequently with people ages 50 and above to educate them about HIV and encourage them to get tested, I asked about the main message I needed to communicate.

I said, “what I need to do is remind my 50-ish year old peers that their parents may still be sexually active, right?”

Her response?

“Not MAY BE sexually active, ARE sexually active.”

She is right. This is not the time to hesitate; it is the time to be specific, concrete, and to the point.

According to the CDC, many older people are sexually active, including those living with HIV, and may have the same HIV risk factors as younger people, including a lack of knowledge about HIV and how to prevent getting it, as well as having multiple sex partners. Older people also face unique issues:

  • Many widowed and divorced people are dating again. They may be less aware of their risks for HIV than younger people, believing HIV is not an issue for older people. Thus, they may be less likely to protect themselves.
  • Women who no longer worry about becoming pregnant may be less likely to use a condom and to practice safer sex. Age-related thinning and dryness of vaginal tissue may raise older women’s risk for HIV infection.
  • Although they visit their doctors more frequently, older people are less likely than younger people to discuss their sexual habits or drug use with their doctors. In addition, doctors are less likely to ask their older patients about these issues.

A Physician Knows

Dr. Cyneetha Strong, a family practice physician in Tallahassee, FL, shared:

If you are in a demographic that “doesn’t seem to be at risk for contracting HIV” you could have a delay in testing and diagnosis. The elderly is a growing demographic of new cases of HIV. Because of our hang ups about sexuality, it is difficult to think of the elderly engaging in high-risk sexual behaviors.

The advent of Viagra has played a significant role in increasing the spread of STIs [sexually transmitted infections]. Some retirement communities have been hotbeds (no pun intended) of disease. I will admit that I even have trouble broaching the topic with some “little old ladies.” I have also been shocked at some folks activities. So, that’s the problem.

One solution that has been proposed has been a recommendation of universal testing. Every adult, regardless of age or situation should be tested at least once. Also, it has been proposed to remove the requirement of a separate consent form for HIV testing, so providers could routinely test for HIV like we do for so many other things. Just like you might get tested for cholesterol, diabetes, or chlamydia as part of routine care, HIV could be done as well. The stigma that still goes along with the diagnosis makes testing without separate consent unlikely in the near future.

Why Are There Additional Challenges for Those 50 and Older?

Through Cynthia’s story as the daughter of an HIV positive aging woman (and as an HIV positive person herself), and Dr. Strong’s comments about her experience providing care to aging people at risk of HIV infection, several of the specific issues faced by aging Americans repeat themselves. The issues fall into two main categories: age-related risk factors and barriers to prevention.

Age-related risk factors:

  • Lack of knowledge
  • Biological risk factors
  • Risky sexual behavior
  • Accessibility of erectile dysfunction medications

Barriers to prevention:

  • Aging stereotypes
  • Low HIV testing rates
  • Underdiagnosis of HIV/AIDS
  • Late diagnosis of HIV infection
  • Discrimination
  • Internalized stigma

For details on each of these risks, visit this link.

Support, Don’t Stigmatize

If you watched the video above with Cynthia and Walter, you heard Walter explain what he told the participants in the treatment center where he worked when an opportunity arose to be tested for HIV:

I’m not like y’all; I don’t do what you do.

Stigma crops up in so many different ways. For Walter, he did not think his behaviors, as compared to those of the people in recovery from drug addiction, made him likely to be HIV positive.

It turns out he was more like them than he thought; he tested positive.

When it comes to your aging friends and relatives, cast aside stigma, assume they ARE sexually active (and therefore at risk) rather than that they MAY be sexually active, and you may save their life.

Being HIV positive is no longer a death sentence at all, but the longer someone waits to be tested the less options they have to get on treatment and thrive.

Here’s how you can help:

Be clear yet respectful when discussing HIV risk factors with aging adults. If you’re at a loss for words, there are some great conversation starters in How to Talk to Grandma and Grandpa About HIV.

It’s a longer-term action, but support efforts to have HIV Testing integrated into the standard laboratory tests that are conducted as part of annual physician exams such as blood glucose and cholesterol. Learn more in Routine HIV Testing in Older Adults.

I love the way the Diverse Elders Coalition expresses their wish for the outcome of this year’s National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day: we envision a present where no elder has to face HIV without support, and a future where no elder has to face HIV at all.

HIV Prevention

Cynthia told me her mom often feels that aging people who are HIV positive do not have their “own” support or attention. None of us can solve that problem overnight. What we can do, however, is give each aging adult who is at risk for HIV their own chance at maintaining their health.

We can help them get their own “one more test,” an HIV test.

This post is made possible by support from the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign. All opinions are my own.

Many thanks to Cynthia A., Dr. Strong, and Kaitlin Sovich for their assistance with this post.

 

Hope for Jose

As I write this, we have had power back on for almost 8 hours. Yes, we did do a happy dance of celebration at 3 am when the whole house lit up after a hurricane-induced outage of more than 48 hours.

Our outage was a “hardship.” Our home was really hot; we had to cook our eggs in a cast iron pot on the grill before they spoiled. My son mastered backgammon by flashlight. I was the first to volunteer for ANY outing that would take me out of the house and into blessed air conditioning. It was sad and frustrating to deal with my father-in-law’s constant requests for TV (he has short term memory issues).

In the scheme of things, however, we had it good. Our home is solid. Legions of utility personnel flowed into town and worked day and night to get us back up and running.

For families served by Unbound in Guatemala, the set of challenges is different. Because homes are often constructed of less-than-solid materials and methods. Because families rely upon day-to-day agricultural or other “get it as you can” work, a natural disaster poses daunting problems.

As this 2010 blog documenting the Unbound response to natural disasters in Guatemala documents, issues can include perilous roads, mudslides, volcanoes, and theft of personal property because homes are not secured.

For children like Jose, sponsorship can make a difference through providing food, health care, education, and support of his family’s efforts to make a living for themselves (via owning animals like chickens that produce eggs or by instructing a mom in a skill like sewing). In addition, Unbound holds two quetzales per child specifically to be able to respond immediately in case of disaster.

Child Sponsorship

A home we visited in Guatemala — it always humbled me that the family put so much work into creating the welcome sign and the dad said “I am sorry my home is so small.” It was very large in hospitality.

Unbound does an incredible job of balancing its imperative to help families learn how to help themselves, with providing support at times when survival is at stake. That’s one of the many reasons we love Unbound and sponsor three children (a young adult woman in Guatemala, a young girl in Guatemala, and a little boy in El Salvador).

Meet Jose, age 7, from Guatemala, who is seeking sponsorship now:

Child Sponsorship

Unbound shares the following about Jose:

Jose has fun singing and playing with toy cars, alongside his two brothers. He’s diligent in his studies and loves physical education.

At home, Jose helps his grandmother feed the pigs and he helps make the beds.

He and his family have lived with his grandparents for some time now. Their block home has a sheet metal roof and cement floor. His mother tends to the household chores.

Jose’s father is a mason’s assistant, but the work is unsteady. To augment his income, he also has a part-time job at a local store.

To help Jose:

If you are interested in sponsoring Jose, please outreach (at) unbound.org or call Clair, the Outreach Coordinator, at 800.875.6564 ext. 7309. I would also be happy to facilitate putting you in touch with Unbound.

Sponsorship is $36 a month. In the scheme of things, it’s a small investment which yields enormous results both for Jose and his family, for the good of humankind in general, and in the relationship you’ll develop with Jose and his family via letters (and, when fate really smiles upon you, VISITS).

You can also learn more about Unbound at their website, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram.

I am part of an Unbound effort to help secure sponsors for 100 children by Christmas. Since Jose turns 8 on December 10, I’m shooting for about 15 days earlier than that for him to hear those happy words “you have a new friend.”

Child Sponsorship

A neighborhood we visited in Guatemala. The families are VERY grateful to the sponsors and humbled us with such a grand welcome.

Child Sponsorship

thoughtful-thursdays4

 

Coffee Grounds, Goats, and Soap (A #LiveUnlimited Post)

What does “living unlimited” mean to you?

When the Muscular Dystrophy Association began its 2016 summer campaign, #LiveUnlimited, I shared this picture on social media (which generated $1 from a generous sponsor).

What Does it Mean to #LiveUnlimited?

loved the ziplining experience at North Georgia Canopy Tours. There was a moment during one of the longer zips that felt spiritual. I was suspended high above a gorge, zipping along rapidly, all thoughts of mundane worries as well as life’s bigger problems stripped away as I flew.

Living Unlimited Is Conceived in Smaller Moments

I have become acquainted with Linda Freeman through my work at Weaving Influence. Every week, I help share her blog posts on social media. With every post (as well as our phone conversations and emails), I see her take something common as a starting point and nurture it into something BIG. Here are three examples:

Goats

Linda is incorporating goats into her work with the Kratie Province in Cambodia in several ways. She and her team are working to start a Goat Bank. Selected province families will receive goats to use for milk, and as the goats reproduce, they will donate a kid back to the bank to perpetuate the availability of goats for their fellow province residents. It’s not just the goat bank, though. There is the possibility of a biogas digester using goat and human waste, as well as lots of goat milk to be made into organic body products.

Leftover Coffee Grounds 

Did you know you can incorporate leftover coffee grounds into facial scrubs? I didn’t either until Linda and her KidPower Organics line started including them in their Vanilla Latte Coffee Scrub. (Linda has also shown the Kratie Province residents how to utilize used coffee grounds to help plants grow.)

Clean Water and Two Hands

According to the CDC, handwashing with soap could protect about 1 out of every 3 young children who get sick with diarrhea and almost 1 out of 5 young children with respiratory infections like pneumonia. Linda provides more details about why it works in  this post. With her KidPower Handwashing Project, she explains how ambassadors will be appointed and trained from within the community. They will receive small stipends via the sales of Kid Power Organics as well as private donations to Cambodian Care.

Goats, coffee grounds, water. So simple, yet with such profound potential. These are three of Linda’s team’s projects, but the list is lengthy. There are

  • KidPower2015 with its bicycle generators and impact on families affected by incarceration through Children of Inmates
  • The NeighborhoodHELP program with its medical outreach in underserved communities which brings the household-based framework to life
  • The Future Ready program in Miami Dade County which uses an evidence-based campaign to help junior high and high school students understand the consequences associated with at-risk behaviors that lead to HIV/AIDS, STDs, and teen pregnancy.

How Can YOU Live Unlimited?

I hope Linda’s story has demonstrated how living unlimited isn’t always about something as daring as ziplining. Sometimes it is as daring as overcoming your own doubts and those of others to turn something common, like a scoop of coffee grounds, a cup of goat milk, or soap and water into a life saving gift of unlimited proportions!

Any time you reach beyond your limits — whether they have been set by someone around you or yourself — you are achieving a #LiveUnlimited moment. #LiveUnlimited moments come in all sizes, big and small. Yet, what unites them is that we all face limits, and we all have the power to break free of our limits. ~ MDA’s #LiveUnlimited Campaign

I am sending Linda this #LiveUnlimited bracelet to celebrate the ways she demonstrates the #LiveUnlimited principle. She may choose to keep it for herself or pass it along to someone else who needs encouragement, maybe to one of the many girls she has encouraged along the way.

Supporting Muscular Dystrophy

How can you incorporate the #LiveUnlimited idea into your life? If Linda can do it with coffee grounds, I’m guessing you can do it with something right at your fingertips or with some seed of an idea that has been aching to take root and thrive!

Supporting Muscular Dystrophy

Children in Kratie Province Cambodia

The #LiveUnlimited Bracelet and Campaign

If you would like your own  #LiveUnlimited Bracelet, you can purchase it by clicking here. $6 from the sale of each bracelet goes directly to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

If you would like to participate in the MDA #LiveUnlimited campaign, you can:

  • Created a custom graphic (like my ziplining picture above). For every #LiveUnlimited custom graphic shared, $1 will be donated to MDA. Click here to create yours!
  • Keep up with MDA and the campaign on Twitter at @MDAnews, @EndorphnWarrior, and the hashtag #LiveUnlimited
  • Visit MDA on Facebook by clicking here
  • Follow MDA and the campaign by visiting this Instagram account and using the hashtag #LiveUnlimited
  • Purchase a #LiveUnlimited tshirt by clicking here ($7 from each sale goes to MDA)

I was given a #LiveUnlimited bracelet for myself and one to give away to someone who inspires me. All opinions are my own, especially about the coffee grounds, because coffee rocks. 

thoughtful-thursdays4

One Simple Conversation at a Time: #StopHIVTogether

This post is made possible by support from the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign. All opinions are my own.

In the late 1980s, I explained how to use a condom to hundreds of men I didn’t know who had called the Florida AIDS Hotline as they tried to figure out what to do about the new challenge threatening their health. I had been volunteering and acting as an on-call supervisor at a local crisis hotline, and it was awarded the contract for the AIDS Hotline. I was not an ally yet; I was just doing a job.

Over on the west coast, Mark S. King was also volunteering for an AIDS-related project. When he chose to volunteer for AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) in 1986, he was doing more than “just a job.” Having been diagnosed as HIV positive in 1985, he needed to do something, and coordinating the APLA speaker’s bureau was his outlet. He thought he would be dead soon and craved immediate gratification.

As it turns out, Mark did not die in 1986 (thankfully). Although he lived in “three year increments” for quite some time after his initial diagnosis (hear more about that in this video with his friend, Lynne), he has now been living with HIV for 31 years and the virus is undetectable in his blood stream due to treatment (although the antibodies which result in an HIV+ test result will always be there).

HIV Prevention

Lynne and Mark

When I had an opportunity to interview Mark recently, I learned that many facts about living with HIV have changed. Specifically, the definition of “prevention” is much broader than it was back in the late 80s. For me in 1988, it meant telling strangers “don’t have sex” or “use a condom.” Mark says the most powerful preventative among his community at the time was: funerals.

In 2016, Prevention and Living with HIV Are Different

In addition to condoms, there are now more options for prevention:

  • PrEP (Pre-exposure Prophylaxis) – people at high risk for HIV can now take a medication that lowers their chances of getting infected. Learn more here.
  • PEP (Post-exposure Prophylaxis) – People who have been potentially exposed to HIV can take antiretroviral medicines (ART) after being potentially exposed to prevent becoming infected. Learn more here.

For people who have tested HIV+ but are on treatment, remaining on treatment in order to keep the virus undetectable is an option. Partners who go this route should know that:

  • · Everyone’s “undetectable” status is only as good as their most recent test.
  • · This choice clearly requires a level of trust between partners.

HIV Prevention

Simple Conversations Can Dispel Misinformation

Ironically, having not batted an eyelash throughout Mark’s book, which chronicles his experiences owning a phone sex hotline and frequent cocaine consumption in the 80s, I found myself hesitating to ask what he meant when he said several times, “I am able to have sex safely with my husband because I am on treatment.” Finally, I just admitted I needed to know more about what exactly he meant.

That’s when he clarified that an HIV+ person on successful treatment can’t transmit HIV. This has been the case for five years.

If I hadn’t asked or he hadn’t been willing to share, I would not have known. The solution to clearing up my confusion was a simple conversation.

“At Risk” Can Mean Anyone

To be perfectly honest, I am not sure if a single person I know and interact with here in Tallahassee is HIV positive.

Even though I don’t currently have someone in my circle who is HIV+, my circle has gotten a heck of a lot bigger since I have gotten involved in (some say addicted to!) social media.

Is there someone among my 2500 Facebook Friends, 9500 Twitter Followers, 3000 Instagram Followers, or 225 Snapchat Friends for whom I can make a difference?
I can’t be sure, but I know that doing nothing is not an option when:

  • Youth aged 13 to 24 accounted for more than 1 in 5 new HIV diagnoses in 2014.
  • Young gay and bisexual males accounted for 8 in 10 HIV diagnoses among youth in 2014.
  • At the end of 2012, 44% of youth ages 18 to 24 years living with HIV did not know they had HIV.
  • My peers are re-entering the dating world as decades-old marriages end and/or discovering that their partners were not monogamous and may have put them at risk.

Will someone identified in one of the above bullet points see something I post and feel less alone, more fortified to proceed with testing, more confident in engaging in a simple conversation?

Even if the people in the populations mentioned above don’t see one of my posts, maybe you will (and I know you’ve read this far, so you are equipped to help!). Stigma is eliminated one chat at a time, and I am asking you to help make a difference.

HIV Prevention

A Year Can Change Everything

I love the fact that this post is going live on June 26. Last year at this time, rainbows proliferated as same sex marriage was legitimized. However, the year has brought with it the flip side of the coin: those who spread hate.

I was so very excited to speak to Mark. We both sort of threw out the pre-written interview questions and just …. talked. The only moment of silence was when our conversation wandered to the tragedy that occurred at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Mark told me how he, at 55, an award-winning activist in a happy marriage having overcome so many hurdles, was shaken to the core, immediately transported back to feeling like an unsafe sissy at risk of daily beatings. I stumbled for words, failing to respond adequately but empathizing at the same time.

What does that have to do with HIV?

It has to do with HIV because it’s hard enough for some people to come to terms with their own sexuality, much less the strategies they have to employ in order to protect themselves and others from HIV infection. Feelings of being unworthy can be the most difficult barriers to self care. As Mark says, the enemy is a virus, not our humanity.

What Can One Person Do?

If you still don’t understand HIV, ask.

You can get the facts.

If you are ready to help, click here for tons of resources.

You can get tested or help someone who needs to get tested figure out how.

You can get involved and share a story.

You can get materials to share.

And to learn more about Mark, visit his site, follow him on Twitter at @myfabdisease, like his Facebook page by clicking here, or buy his book here.

Lastly

My journey to being an ally was, in retrospect, pre-ordained. I am grateful every single day that I was put in that little room talking to all those strangers about condom usage. I heard their fears. I went myself for an HIV test (never mind the fact that the behaviors I thought put me at risk were, um, hardly risky). For the long version of my ally story, Not About Me, click here.

Yes, Mark is HIV+ but the part that came through to me was our commonalities. We laughed about the fact that we both have “old fashioned” AOL accounts. We shared some fun word play as we exchanged messages. We talked about how each of us goes about life trying to live with joy and humor.

I don’t know about you, but I’m all for more joy and humor, and a lot less stigma.

HIV Prevention

Migraine and Headache Awareness Month

Migraine Headache Awareness

I first became acquainted with Barbara Ross when my mother-in-law, Barb, was on the executive director selection committee for the agency that is now Lighthouse of the Big Bend. As the years elapsed, we became friends. I have always respected her many professional gifts; I love her loyalty, perceptiveness, and communicativeness as a friend.

Barbara has had many health challenges over the past several years, severe enough to leave her job. The process of finding a diagnosis has been daunting. Many mysteries remain, but one thing she does know is that migraines are a part of the complex of issues with which she is dealing.

When she posted “30 Things About My Life with Migraine” on her Facebook page, I asked if I could share this list with my blog readers. Although everyone’s experience is different, the list does an incredible job of a) explaining one person’s experience with migraine b) explaining to friends, family, and the general public what they can do to help someone who suffers from migraine, and c) acknowledging the people who have been her devoted supporters.

Thank you for sharing this migraine headache awareness post, Barbara, and for making one of the hardest things you’ve ever endured a vehicle to help others understand.

1. My diagnosis is: migraine without aura, chronic (i.e. daily)

2. My migraine attack frequency is: 6 – 7 times a week

3. I was diagnosed in: 2000-ish with migraines maybe twice a month

4. My comorbid conditions include: a) POTS / neurocardiogenic syncope / orthostatic hypotension (aka when I stand, my blood pressure falls and my heart races, resulting in fainting because of a screwy autonomic nervous system) b) reflux/GERD c) hypothyroidism

5. For prevention I’m trying Botox, plus one daily medication, plus one supplement (CoQ10.) I use 3 triptan medications to treat acute attacks although these only work 60% of the time.

6. My first migraine attack was: on a plane flying back from Ireland in 2000. In June 2015 my migraines worsened and by December 2015 they were daily.

7. My most disabling migraine symptoms are: severe nausea, vomiting, extreme pain in temples, painful sensitivity to noises, inability to think (brain fog)

8. My strangest migraine symptoms are: anything touching my skin hurts like rough sandpaper rubbing against me

9. My biggest migraine triggers are: bad weather and disrupted sleep

10. I know a migraine attack is coming on when: I have a sudden, extreme drop in energy.

11. The most frustrating part about having a migraine attack is: not being able to make my brain work – it interferes with everything I try to do on a practical level, but also my identity is tied to my intelligence & creativity which are often inaccessible.

12. During a migraine attack, I worry most about: being an imposition, letting others down, and not getting ill in public.

13. When I think about migraine between attacks, I think: I have to find something to prevent my being sick so often so I can resume my life – be a partner to Michelle, have fun with friends, dance, write, get a job to continue making a difference in the world, etc.

14. When I tell someone I have migraine, the response is usually: crickets in the awkward silence – most folks don’t seem to know what to say.

15. When someone tells me they have migraine, I think: ‘Oh NO!’

16. When I see commercials about migraine treatments, I think: I wish that worked for me…

17. My best coping tools are: Quiet (thank goodness for ear plugs), ice pack on head, lying down on something soft, cool air, sleeping.

18. I find comfort in: empathy from others, affection, understanding of loved ones, kindness

19. I get angry when people say: “You need to do better at getting a handle on this.”

20. I like it when people say: words of understanding & empathy or sympathy, even ‘you poor thing’ is better than silence.

21. Something kind someone can do for me during a migraine attack is: keep things quiet, cool, and bring me an ice pack.

22. The best thing(s) a doctor has ever said to me about migraine is: I know this is horrible for you.

23. The hardest thing to accept about having migraine is: it sucks there is no cure… I would do anything to end this.

24. Migraine has taught me: to take advantage of energy when I have it and be grateful when I’m not so ill I have to lie flat.

25. The quotation, motto, mantra, or scripture that gets me through an attack is: I know this will ease up eventually.

26. If I could go back to the early days of my diagnosis, I would tell myself: save more money!

27. The people who support me most are Michelle & Robin

28. The thing I most wish people understood about migraine is: there is very little you can do about it, it is not in your control.

29. Migraine and Headache Awareness Month is important to me because: maybe awareness will bring funding which will bring a cure.

30. One more thing I’d like to say about life with migraine is: Every time I have an actual good day, without a migraine, I hope that somehow I’m healed and can return to life… only to be crushed with disappointment.

Being so sick every single day is one of the hardest things I’ve ever endured.

To follow along on social media during Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, use the hashtags #‎MigraineAwarenessMonth‬ and #‎MHAM.

You can also find more information at Migraine.com. People with migraines and their families/friends/caregivers can request to join the Migraine Support Group on Facebook.

Migraine Headache Awareness

 

The Puppy Run: A Race Report

Yesterday morning (5/21/16), I ran The Puppy Run, a virtual run presented by FitFam which benefited Valhalla Canine Rescue.

Dog Rescue Virtual Run

Many people ran with their dogs, such as KR Endurance Coach Rebecca, who ran with her pup Teaka Bear:

Dog Rescue Virtual Run

Since I don’t have a dog, I tried to figure out how I could meaningfully participate. Since many of my friends either volunteer with organizations that help rescue dogs or have rescue dogs themselves (or both), I decided to use the opportunity to help tell the stories of some rescue dogs who need homes.

My friend Gabrielle connected me with Black Cats and Old Dogs, a rescue organization which prides itself on “rescuing what others refuse.” I used their website to filter for the most senior dogs. Since there were three, I dedicated each of the three miles to one of the senior dogs who needs a home! Here’s the way I modified the bib to feature them:

Dog Rescue Virtual Run

Mile One – Fannie

Dog Rescue Virtual Run

 

Fannie is a 9-year-old Yellow Lab mix who acts more like a 4-year-old! If you play ball with her, you will be her best friend for life. Fannie is good with other dogs and doesn’t have any concern about cats. She is house broken, spayed, current on vaccines, and heart worm negative. Learn more about her (and see a video!) here.

 

Mile Two – Maria

Maria is a 12-year-old Husky Shepherd mix. She loves to cuDog Rescue Virtual Runddle on the couch and she also loves all cats and dogs. Most of all, she loves relaxing in a quiet home.

 

Mile Three – Nicholas

Dog Rescue Virtual RunNicholas is a 7-year-old lab mix who will make the perfect family dog! He’s a sweet and gentle guy who just wants to be loved! Nicholas is neutered, current on vaccines, and has begun slow kill heart worm treatment.

 

 

The Race Itself

The actual running part of the race wasn’t all that remarkable. I’ve run the route around my neighborhood countless times before. My time was one of the worst times for that route (I am still experiencing some heart rate challenges so I’ve tried to stop obsessing about “bad” times). However, I did pass a neighbor run/walking with her new dog (twice), which seemed fitting given the dedication/purpose of my run.

The “medal” was a piece of paper designed to look like a medal:

Dog Rescue Virtual Run

(Note: There were actual medals (for humans AND dogs!) but I opted for the digital swag package!)

I also had the additional momentum of being part of a community who cares about dogs and wants to celebrate their role in the fitness world — as companions, motivators, and diversions (with their amusing antics).

Awesome pace or not, it was still PAWsitively fantastic (I had to fit one pun in!) to be part of The Puppy Run!

More on Fannie, Maria, and Nicholas

For more information about these three dogs and the other animals up for adoption from Black Cats and Old Dogs, please click here.

If you are here in Tallahassee, stop by P.A.W.S. tomorrow (5/22/16) between noon and 4 p.m. to meet some of the animals up for adoption!

Dog Rescue Virtual Run

 

Dog Rescue Virtual Run

World Immunization Week 2016

April 24, 2016 is the start of World Immunization Week 2016, a week when WHO and other global health advocates highlight recent gains in immunization coverage, and focus on further steps countries can take to “Close the Immunization Gap” and meet global vaccination targets by 2020.

On Saturday, April 30, 2016, I will be hosting a FUNdraiser at Nuberri on Blairstone Road here in Tallahassee. Nuberri is donating 25% of the pre-tax amount of the checks for any customers who mention Shot at Life!

Having participated in three Shot at Life Champion summits, a Social Good summit, and other immunization-related trainings, I am well aware that the process of getting a vaccine to a child in a developing country is not as simple as, say, pulling down on a pump and getting a delicious cup of frozen yogurt. Still, there are similarities:

Worldwide Immunization Advocacy

Immunizations: The need is clear. One child dies every 20 seconds from a vaccine-preventable disease.

Yogurt: Well, OKAY – this is a want not a need but … FROZEN YOGURT PEOPLE!

 

Worldwide Immunization Advocacy

Immunizations: Planning is paramount in order to have the right vaccinations, in the right amount, at the right time.

Yogurt: A business has to plan in advance for what people are going to choose and when they are going to choose it.

Worldwide Immunization Advocacy

Immunizations: The process of manufacturing vaccines for developing countries involves a dizzying array of details.

Yogurt: That deliciousness doesn’t happen magically. Someone has to mix up the components of the tasty treaWorldwide Immunization Advocacyts!

Immunizations: Many vaccines must be stored at cool temperatures in order to remain viable. This is not simple.

Yogurt: It’s called FROZEN yogurt for a reason! You have to chill it to keep it refreshing!

Worldwide Immunization AdvocacyImmunizations: Finally! With immunizations, children are more likely to make it to their 5th birthdays!

Yogurt: Nom nom. All that work pays off as we share sweet desserts and sweet time with friends!

More About April 30

I think we would all agree it’s easier to get a cup full of delicious frozen yogurt than it is to get a rotavirus vaccine to a child in Pakistan, but with the April 30 Share Day you can do both, thanks to the generosity of Nuberri Blairstone Road. They are donating 25% of the proceeds from that day for anyone who mentions Shot at Life to help children around the world have access to immunizations! How cool is that?!

Details:

Date: Saturday, April 30, 2016, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Location: Nuberri, 101 North Blairstone Road (in the Governor’s Crossing shopping center)

To Help Shot at Life: Mention Shot at Life at checkout. You will be asked to sign your receipt.

If you want to participate but can’t make it: You’ll be missed! Please feel free to donate by clicking here.

Giveaway!

I’m giving a $10 giftcard to Nuberri to one of my readers. Use it at the Share Day or use it whenever!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: For winners who do not have access to Nuberri, I will donate $10 to Shot at Life in your name instead.

I have the good fortune to live in a place where it is as simple for me to ensure my children have necessary immunizations as it is to indulge in a delicious frozen yogurt treat. Millions of mothers worldwide are not so fortunate.

That’s why, this World Immunization Week (and year-round), I am using my voice to make Need * Plan * Make * Chill * Serve apply to more than yogurt. It’s also about giving children around the world a Shot at Life!

Worldwide Immunization Advoacy

Worldwide Immunization Advocacy

Making a Difference Among Friends

Phew! I returned from the 5th Annual Shot at Life Champion Summit (this was my 3rd), with plans for a blog post overflowing with reflections, facts, and experiences.

BUT, it didn’t take long before it became apparent that maybe I should have spent about half an hour at some point in the prior months and gotten the flu shot I’ve been encouraging everyone else to get as part of the Give a Shot Get a Shot program.

Immunization Advocacy

At a Walgreens in Washington DC, checking out a Give a Shot Get a Shot display.

That’s why tonight’s post from the sick bed contains a few anecdotes and pictures, with the promise of a “bigger” post later!

I am so grateful that this summit gave me the opportunity to finally meet (and interview in front of the summit audience) Minda Dentler. She is a triathlete, polio survivor, and mom. I first learned about her when Charity Miles encouraged participants to vote for her when she was nominated for an ESPY. She may not have won the ESPY but she won my gratitude and admiration in the biggest of ways!

Immunization Advocacy

Even for a cause I love so dearly, such as making sure children worldwide have a chance at living to their 5th birthdays and not succumbing to vaccine-preventable diseases, I still find it difficult to speak up sometimes.

When I spotted Debbie Wasserman-Schultz conducting a press interview as we waited for our meeting with Rep. Alan Grayson, I faced a choice: leap in front of her path and give my elevator speech or leave it at telling my fellow champions “yeah, I remember her from her time in Florida, when Wayne (my husband) was a staff person in the legislature.”

I leapt. I gave the elevator speech. Her staff member now holds a packet full of Shot at Life material. Every leap holds the potential to make a difference.

Immunization Advocacy

My view as I tried to decide whether to leap or not.

Did you know food is not allowed in the US Capitol complex? EVEN if the food is Girl Scout Cookies you’ve been carrying around ALL DAY LONG to enjoy at the end of hours upon hours of advocacy. Although we dodged the cookie confiscation bullet one time when we entered the US Capitol complex, we weren’t so lucky at the end of the day when we entered the Capitol complex for a reception honoring Rep. Jim McDermott.

Security was having none of it.

I won’t go into our technique, but suffice it to say although we were instructed to put the cookies in the dumpster (really, is it even AMERICAN to put unopened boxes of Girl Scout cookies in a dumpster?), we, um, “found another home for them” and the cookie party later that evening was worth the hassle!

Let me tell you, these advocates are as creative and dogged about protecting children worldwide as they are about safeguarding Girl Scout cookies. The children of the world are in the best (and most fun, for what it’s worth!) hands!

Immunization Advocacy

And lastly, a travel lesson learned:

I had a companion on my Super Shuttle on the way from BWI to Washington, DC, who gave me a piece of advice about the return trip to BWI. She suggested that Uber would be more comfortable and roughly the same price as a Super Shuttle. That sounded good to me, so I didn’t make a return reservation.

I’m a bit of a freak about punctuality when traveling, so I ordered the Uber in plenty of time to make BWI prior to my flight. Imagine my surprise when Uber notified me that it was “surge pricing” time and it would cost a lot more to get to BWI than it would at non-surge pricing time. I called Super Shuttle, which said it was too late to hop on one of those. I was just on the verge of accepting the surge pricing (sigh….) when I got a notification from Uber that regular pricing was back in effect and I should request as quickly as possible. I did and all was good, but notes were taken for the future. Backup plans are good.

Cookies, Leaping, and Inspiration aside … why do we do this? Take the 1:38, less than two minutes, to watch this video and I’m pretty sure it will be clear.

Jumping for Joy!

I have so many ideas for posts, but the more pressing issue is the 5:30 am flight I have tomorrow morning for the annual Shot at Life Champions summit!

While at the summit, I will be the advocate behind the @Vaccines Twitter account. Keep me busy — send me questions and encouragement!

I also hope to catch the first commercial-free showing of He Named Me Malala tomorrow night on the National Geographic Channel at 8 ET/7 CT! (Read more in my blog, The Magic of Malala, from a few weeks ago!).

For now, a simple thank you to the four women who shared this past weekend with me as they ran the Seaside Half Marathon and I ran the Seaside 5K. The good company, the beautiful place, and the energy of being surrounded by so many runners simply made me (and them!) JUMP FOR JOY!

Jumping for Joy

I hope something during your week makes you jump for joy! 

Autism Cooks: More Than Cookies

When I walked into Autism Cooks Thursday night, the first person I spoke with was Joy Moore from the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities. Any time I speak with someone from CARD, and any time I go to an autism-related event at all, my mind flashes back to me, sitting in an observation room, watching my 13-month-old be assessed for signs of autism. I picture the staff person pointing to an object on the wall, trying loudly and animatedly to get his attention as he just looks at her, utterly nonresponsive to her efforts. (Responsiveness to cues is one indicator researchers look for in children who can’t speak yet to assess their receptive language skills.)

There would be other moments just like that over the year when he participated in the First Words project. More videotaped assessments (I’m sure the video still exists somewhere!), a therapeutic playgroup, months when my mind was preoccupied by the “what ifs” regarding whether or not my son was on the autism spectrum.

By his second birthday, the conclusion was that he was not on the spectrum, and that developmentally he was age-appropriate and a “slow talker” (which is hilarious in the light of his verbosity now). He stayed involved in CARD through his fifth birthday, participating in annual assessments for a longitudinal study they were conducting. I am sure that helped them research-wise but it also helped me as a parent have a sense of how he was doing developmentally.

All of that – the research, the early exposure for me as a parent to the signs of autism, the compassion and professionalism shown to me by the staff members at CARD – contributed to the fact that I am a passionate supporter of autism-related causes. I know that a growing issue, as autism becomes more prevalent, is how adults with autism will have a way to make a living, to have shelter and food, and to be supported by their communities.

That is why the Autism Cooks event Thursday night, and the potential for Autism Cooks to become a full-time location where people can come together with friends who have autism as well as friends who don’t and feel at ease while learning life skills, captured my heart and my imagination. There’s no reason our community can’t be a place where that happens.

At Autism Cooks, Kevin Graham and Kiersten Lee, of Paisley Cafe, along with Chef Arturo, demonstrated how to bake sugar cookies, distributed delicious fresh cookies and milk, and sent everyone home with take-home bags! In addition, the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities was present to distribute information, promote its upcoming 5K, and accept voluntary donations.

Here are some pictures of the event:

Autism Cooking Project

Kiersten explains the baking process.

Autism Cooking Project

A rapt audience watches Kevin, Chef Arturo, and Kiersten prepare the dough.

Autism Cooking Project

The finished product!

I’m most excited to hand everyone their cookies. I know they will like them. – Kevin Graham

Autism Cooking Project

Kiersten reads the Autism Cooks brochure – the first time Kevin has seen it!

He came into my life at just the right moment. I could tell he needed some Kiki, but what he didn’t know is that I needed a friend like him more. He’s the best present Paisley’s given me. – Kiersten Lee

Autism Cooking Project

Who needs Gordon Ramsay (no offense, Gordon); I’ve met Kevin Graham!

A few comments from the Autism Cooks Brochure:

Autism cooks is an original Tallahassee project spearheaded by restauranteur and entrepreneur Kiersten Lee and her forever friend, Kevin Graham.

The pair met the way Kiersten meets a lot of people — at Paisley Cafe over a bowl of grits. Kevin, a Lively Tech. culinary student, was an employee of then neighbor Lucy & Leo’s Cupcakery. He’d spend the early morning hours before his shift quietly hanging out at Paisley.

“You should have seen his smile when I handed him that bowl of grits,” laughed Kiersten. “He looked up at me and said, ‘Thank you, Kiki.’ He had known my name all along.”

The future of Autism Cooks is an evolving concept. The dream (to reiterate from above): A full-time location where people with autism can come together with friends like Kevin and Kiersten and feel at ease while learning life skills.

For more information:

About Paisley Cafe: Website, Facebook, Twitter

About the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD): Website

About CARD’s April 9 Superhero 5K and 1 Mile Fun Run (hint please sign up!!!!!): Details

Autism Cooking Project