BiTE®Into Science and Cancer Research to Support CPS Classrooms

The following is paid content, sponsored by Amgen Oncology. 

When your child dies of cancer, there are infinite ways you could respond to that trauma.  You could crawl up into a ball and stream a lot of Netflix (something I appreciate between the hours of 10 pm – 6 am).  You could start training for 5Ks and marathons to raise $ and awareness (not a fan of sweat or blisters).  You could be mad at the world and drown your sorrows in alcohol or full sugar soda (those bubbles, tho) and no one would blame you.

I dabbled in some of those after the death of my daughter, my dear Donna, but all of my coping, adaptive and maladaptive, seems to lead back to one crucial thing:  research.  Cancer research has been at the core of much of my efforts on behalf of childhood cancer advocacy for ten years now.  I’ve written about it, spoken about it with a room full of doctors, nurses, and scientists, and even shaved heads and baked cookies trying to earn money for it.

This weekend in Chicago, there is an opportunity to learn more about cancer research.  Amgen Oncology is hosting live street art events on Saturday and Sunday to introduce their proprietary BiTE® technology at two Museum Campus locations.  The BiTE® technology uses engineered proteins to enable the human body’s own immune system to target and fight cancer cells.  Powered with that concept, two artists are using their skills to help the rest of us visualize what BiTE® technology looks like.

Yesterday afternoon I watched local artist Nate Baranowski create his vision of this research.  BiTE® technology is a targeted immuno-oncology platform, meaning it is engineered to use the immune system to fight cancer. BiTE® molecules are designed to engage (or “bridge”) patients’ own immune system cells to a specific protein that appears on the surface of cancer cells. By creating this bridge, the immune system cells are able to more clearly detect and fight cancer cells.

How cool is that?

Artist Nate Baranowski working under the Roosevelt underpass at the Museum Campus on 6.1.2019.

Watching Nate work, I felt hope.  Real hope for what this research represents and what Amgen Oncology may accomplish with their BiTE® technology.  You should stop by to see and learn for yourself.  On Sunday, June 2, another artist will set up in the plaza in front of the Shedd Aquarium creating their own unique vision of BiTE® technology between 1 and 5 PM.

Better yet, Amgen Oncology has coordinated with Donor’s Choose to donate $20K to fund science education in Chicago Public Schools’ classrooms!  Share this blog post to spread the word about Amgen Oncology’s BiTE® technology all while supporting Chicago’s school children.

Cancer research + supporting science education for kids = good things, and you know how I feel about Good Things.

When Going to School Causes Trauma: Guns, Drills, and Kids

The question was asked quietly from the back seat, “Mama, will a bad guy ever shoot me?”  It was from my 5 year old on the way home from school last week.  He is not a quiet child, so this question felt different.  His brother was sitting next to him and drives home from school are generally about Minecraft, Star Wars, or bickering about who gets to hold what toy.

I was taken aback, I wanted to provide comfort and reassurance, I was curious about what prompted such a question, but mostly, I was profoundly and viscerally struck by the reality that I could not, in good conscience, state factually that, no, a bad guy with a gun will never shoot you, honey.

I know what my son needed in that moment was reassurance, so reassurance was what I offered.  I kept the gut punch of reality to my adult self.  “Mama and Daddy work really hard to keep you safe, honey, away from bad guys with guns.  We live in a safe home in a safe neighborhood and don’t come in contact with guns.”

All of that is true, but the other truth is that an American’s chance of being shot and killed with a gun by assault are 1/315.  We know this through data collection and research, but that research is hard to come by.

In 1996, the Dickey Amendment, an NRA backed piece of legislation, forbade the Centers for Disease Control from funding or performing any research about gun violence in America.  That changed in March 2018, but the government still has not funded any major studies.

Outside resources and entities like Everytown for Gun Safety have tried to make a dent into the issue.  They report that in 2018, almost 2,900 American children and teens will killed by gun violence.  Another 15,600 were shot and injured by guns.  And a whopping three million kids witnessed an incident of gun violence.  Just in 2018.

Those numbers are staggering to me.  And when I see them and try to digest them, it starts to make sense why my pre-k 5 year old asked the question he asked.  That ish trickles down.

About an hour or so after we got home, I checked my email and saw in a chatty note from his school that the kids had been involved in a “safe room drill” earlier in the day.  In between news of summer camp schedules, spring break dates, and info about Mr. Smarty Pants performing his Big Balloon Show next week, was a brief description of approximately fifty 3-6 year olds being guided into a “safe area of the school, away from windows and view.”

And there it is.  Dots connected.

With the rise of mass and school shootings in America, educators and administrators across the country are scrambling to prepare their teachers and students should the worst happen — a bad guy with a gun, as my child calls it, pulling the trigger.

Photo taken by Sheila Quirke in Chicago, Illinois in February 2018, days after the Parkland shooting.

Connecting more dots, after I got my sons settled down with an after school snack, I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw this Tweet, detailing what teens are now experiencing as just part of day-to-day life in this new America:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I’m not gonna lie, it was all a bit much for me last Friday afternoon.  Click through the link to see an anonymous kid describe what happens these days at the local laser tag place, why kids no longer eat potato chips a certain way, and the new use school districts have found for staplers.

What that child who wrote about being a teen in an American high school today  described is trauma.  That child is traumatized.  We are raising a generation of children who experience trauma merely by going to school.  That shame is ours to own.

And it isn’t only students.  Last month it was reported that teachers in a Monticello, Indiana elementary school were traumatized and physically hurt after being fired on with plastic pellets by local sheriffs during an active shooter drill.  You can see that story here.  Yesterday, a friend posted that a local suburb in Chicago would be conducting an active shooter drill for first responders that would include a military grade tank.  The community of Plainfield was notified ahead of time.  “Do not be alarmed,” they were told.  You can see that story here.

Well I am alarmed.  I am furious and I am alarmed.

When did we decide that it was more important to be prepared for school shootings than it was to prevent them?  When did we decide that SWAT drills with military tanks rolling down our suburban streets were okay?  When did we decide that it was normal for kindergarteners (like my son) to walk through a metal detector security gate  every day and that was nothing to be concerned about?  When did we decide that bullet proof backpacks were something worth investing in?

None of this is normal, but it has become normalized.  We are numb to it now, this new America of mass shootings.  Bit by bit, the news of them hits us less hard.  The next one, and there will be a next one, will be just another in a long and growing list.

I cannot assure my son that a bad guy with a gun will never shoot him, but I can guarantee, I feel it in my mother bones, that the way to help these kids is not to traumatize them with preparedness drills.  The help our children need is a government and culture that stands up and says enough.  Enough.

Find the Good Where You Can, Even a Grocery Store Parking Lot

Asthma has really put a crimp in my schedule this week.  My little one’s minor cough morphed into an asthma event on Sunday and five days (and counting) of missed school.  He vacillates between being a sad little muffin and a jumping bunny on steroids, because, well, he is on steroids.

My capacity to leave the house has been quite limited.  Doctor visits, school obligations, and the grocery story have pretty much been my only “Get Out of Jail Free” cards since Monday morning.  Life becomes a bit simpler when you don’t really leave the house much.

I learned how to bake sourdough bread (and, lordy, am I going to write the hell out of the metaphors of learning how to bake bread) and did a lot of laundry (lather, rinse, make bed, vomit, lather, rinse, repeat).  My little one has been sleeping with me all week, the husband banished to the guest room, so I have been settling in by 8 or earlier every night.  Everything has slowed down.

There is a liberation to that, the slowing down.  Sometimes I feel like life is so busy and just a series of jumping from fire to fire, water buckets sloshing all the way.  Other times I feel like a pinball in a machine, not in any kind of control over my trajectory, just bouncing off of the hard metal objects around me.  DING!  DING!  DING!

It’s exhausting.

But still, despite the benefits of slowing down, like, say, warm sourdough smeared with butter, I have occasionally felt a wee bit, well, cooped up.  An energetic five year old can be a lot for this old broad to manage, but an energetic five year old on steroids who vomits when he can’t stop coughing is next level.

Twice I got out to the grocery store, which is not a lot for me, as I tend to shop for what we eat in the next day or two.  I go to the store while the kids are at school because dragging kids through mundane errands tends to cue their outrage.  It’s easier and more pleasant that way.  But there was no dragging a coughing, vomiting boy into a grocery store.  Nope.  So, there was not a lot of grocery store happening.

But on Tuesday morning at sunrise and Thursday evening at sunset, both times my husband was at home to take over kid duty, I ran out to the market to pick up a few groceries and some sanity.  And in those off hours, in those moments of the sun rising and setting, I looked up and saw two beautiful cloud filled skies.  And both times I was struck enough to pull out my camera phone and try to capture the beauty above me.

I don’t know if I was successful, as it’s hard to capture the beauty of a gorgeous skyscape on a camera phone, but I captured it well enough that as I was driving home yesterday, with the sky already changed and growing darker, I remembered the sunrise a couple of days earlier in a different grocery story parking lot I had also tried to capture.

Sunrise at the Mariano’s, 3.5.19
Sunset at the Jewel, 3.7.19

Seeing those two parking lot horizons reminded me of those days during my daughter’s cancer treatment when a solitary trip to the  store felt like winning the lottery.  The mundane is not a given.  The ordinary is extraordinary when you are living through sorrow and fear.

Asthma is not like cancer.  Thank goodness.  My son’s illness, while tense and scary at times, is pretty well managed through medicine and care that we have access to when needed.  Those are very good things and I feel lucky for them.

There was enough of a familiarity last night, the sunset behind me, the sense of liberation around me, that I remembered what cancer has taught me  — nothing is promised, nothing is forever, nothing is certain.  Grab what is good when you can.  Notice those sunsets and sunrises.  Look up.  Eat the bread, with the butter.  Take the picture.  Try to capture what you can.  Breathe it in, breathe it all in.