Was there a Peephole?

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

[CLICK HERE to buy Without a Prayer: The Death of Lucas Leonard and How One Church Became a Cult]

Was there a “peephole” in the Leonard bathroom? And did brothers Lucas, 19, and Christopher, 17, use it to watch family members take showers?

As the boys were being beaten by a gang of angry Word of Life Christian Church members on October 11 and 12, 2015, their sister Sarah Ferguson raised the question: “Do you know anything about a peephole in the bathroom?”

Chris said he did.

Sarah grilled him as to whether he’d used it to watch her children take baths. And that’s when the beating turned into an epic flogging, resulting in Luke’s death, and life-threatening injuries for Chris.

First off, there is no direct evidence that victim Luke Leonard ever peeked through a hole into his family bathroom. Information supports that on the night of the fatal beating, Luke did not make any statements regarding a peephole. During Sarah Ferguson’s trial for Luke’s murder, her youngest sister Grace testified that Luke had told her he’d watched Grace take a shower, but that she’d never caught him doing it. Unfortunately, Luke doesn’t get a voice.

Chris, who testified that he and Luke were “best friends,” also testified that he didn’t know whether Luke had ever looked through a bathroom peephole.

Additionally, though news reports state Chris admitted to using the peephole, he was never actually asked the question. This is the question that Sarah’s defense attorney, Rebecca Wittman, asked relative to the peephole: “Do you know whether you had used that?” Why is the phrasing of the question important? Because the Leonards are direct communicators. Certainly, Chris would know whether he’d used a peephole, and he answered affirmatively.

When asked who “made” the peephole, Chris said he didn’t know.

The word “peephole” implies a hole created for the purpose of peeking at something on the other side. There may have been a hole, but was it intentionally made?

The Leonard home was built in the early 1900s and had a lot of holes. As of today, there are no visible holes in the bathroom wall. However, on the wall between the bathroom and adjoining bedroom, there are two areas that have been patched.

Below is a picture of a hallway in the Leonard home. At the end (center, right), you’ll see two specks of light – circles. Peepholes? Nah. They’re holes in the wall that formed naturally. And they look directly into the walk-in closet that Luke claimed as his room. Did someone create the holes to watch Luke change his clothes? Doubtful. Could the bathroom wall have similarly eroded over time, causing holes? Likely.

And what does “using” a peephole mean to Chris? Read the book and you’ll learn how the Irwins massaged their followers’ minds into believing it was sin to accidentally catch a glimpse of an undressed individual. Having a dream that involved sexual contact meant being guilty of it. Allowing a child to sit on one’s lap made one a perpetrator of molestation. Little children were not allowed to so much as hold hands with their brother or sister.

So was there a natural defect in the old Leonard home that appeared as a circle, and Chris and Luke caught glimpses of someone on the other side, which was inevitable? Or, did Chris and Luke drill a hole in the wall so they could gawk at their parents and siblings in the shower?

I omitted from the book that Traci Irwin–who regularly accused men of lusting after her–had complained to someone that an adult male church member had created a peephole to peer at her while she took showers. (Sound familiar?) She’d stayed at that family’s home briefly. It was not the Leonard home. Traci was said to have confronted the woman of the house with the allegations against her husband, causing a big rift in their marital relationship.

There were just a handful of families in the church at this time. Within this very small congregation, there is an epidemic of people drilling peepholes into their bathrooms in order to watch family members take showers? I’m willing to hear arguments, but you’d have a lot of convincing to do.

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Hear Actual Sound of Leaders of Deadly Cult

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Pastor Tiffanie Irwin is serving twelve years in prison for her role in supervising a “counseling session” that turned deadly for Lucas Leonard, 19. The Word of Life Christian Church that she oversaw was in Chadwicks, NY, outside of Utica. The story is told in author Susan Ashline’s book Without a Prayer.

This sound clip is of Pastor Tiffanie “counseling” a different member of the church/cult.

 

In this audio clip, Word of Life cult loyalist Linda Morey is participating in a “counseling session” of a member of the church/cult. She was sentenced to five years in prison for her role in the beating death of Lucas Leonard. This clip includes two soundbites from the same counseling session, edited back-to-back.

 

Jerry Irwin founded of Word of Life cult in mid-1980. He died before his daughter led a counseling session that ended teenager Lucas Leonard’s life in 2015. Jerry repeatedly reinforced to followers that God showed him what they were thinking and doing behind his back, as you’ll hear in this audio clip from one of his “sermons” from 1996.

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

A Lowe’s Home Improvement Horror Story

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

My experience with Lowe’s Home Improvement stores was like Groundhog Day. Not in a Bill Murray PG comedy sort of way…

…but as in a SAW horror franchise, where you’re forced to murder your way out of the nightmare.

 

 

 

I’d signed a contract with Lowe’s for installation of a custom kitchen countertop and other items. The whole thing was a debacle from the start, when they told me that I couldn’t get the countertop I’d paid for, but I wouldn’t have to pay extra for the higher priced one, because they’d already overcharged me and didn’t tell me about it.

And it went downhill from there.

I registered my complaints about the local store by sending an old fashioned letter to corporate. That would be an outlet for my angst.

Instead, they punished me.

All I ever wanted was someone to talk to me about my concerns and pretend to listen. Merely the appearance of someone caring about this horrible experience would’ve placated me.

I mysteriously began receiving phone calls from “Lakyn” with Lowe’s Executive Support in North Carolina. She wouldn’t state the nature of her call, and every time I called back, I’d get her answering machine.

Lakyn eventually left a message stating she would be in charge of notifying me of my countertop production status. Who would be the person assigned to listen to my concerns?

No one.

I left a message for Lakyn telling her I did not want her contacting me about production status, because someone else had been doing that. I asked her to call and hear the concerns outlined in my letter, which included a request that someone go over my estimate to make sure other items were not “accidentally” inflated.

That phone call never came.

Neither did the countertop.

At the direction of the Lowe’s employee who’d written up the contract, I’d purchased items to match the custom countertop, including non returnable custom tinted paints. The kitchen would need to be painted prior to installation.

By the date the countertop was supposed to have arrived and already been installed, it was glaringly absent. So was communication from Lowe’s. Calls updating me on status had abruptly ceased. My messages to that person were never returned.

I’d call the local store, but they kept referring me to Lakyn at the 800 number, who was ever-unavailable, inaccessible, ineffective and – absent.

Where was my countertop?

I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. Who responded? Lakyn.

                                                                                                                                                  “I would be happy to follow up with you in regards to next steps.” Lakyn, Lowe’s Executive Support 

 

 

But Lakyn never would follow up, and it became clear she had no intention doing that.

She would not communicate with me about my project; yet, she was there at every turn, blocking every attempt I made to get help from someone who would inform me of my project. 
I couldn’t get away from her. It was like being stuck a house of mirrors, where everywhere you turn, you run into hundreds of the same image and can’t find your way out.

 

As a BBB resolution, I’d asked for Lowe’s to actually complete the project. Otherwise, they’d need to cut me loose so I could hire someone else to do it; but in that event, I said they would have to reimburse me for the non returnable custom materials I’d purchased at Lowe’s to match the countertop they never produced.

In response to the BBB complaint, Lakyn abruptly canceled the project – breached contract – leaving me in the lurch for hundreds of dollars.

The custom paint to match the custom countertop (that never arrived) was already on my walls.

Lowe’s even screwed me out of the non returnable $75 measure fee.

The BBB sent me a notice showing they’d marked my complaint “closed” and resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. As proof, they sent a letter from – guess who? – Lakyn. She’d falsely told them she’d resolved my complaint.

“On August 3, 2017, Lowe’s Executive Support contacted Susan Ashline and addressed their concern. Lowe’s considers this matter closed.” Lakyn, Lowe’s Executive Support

To try to recoup my financial losses, I filed a complaint with the North Carolina Attorney General’s office. Know who responded? You guessed it.

Lakyn sent the same lie – word for word – to the North Carolina Department of Justice.

“On August 3, 2017, Lowe’s Executive Support contacted Susan Ashline and addressed their concern. Lowe’s considers this matter closed.” Lakyn, Lowe’s Executive Support 

 

 

Having been had for hundreds of dollars, I thought I’d at least get satisfaction by blasting Lowe’s online. Their Twitter feed was directing complainants to a “rant or rave” feed, so I ranted. The Twitter page showed all complaints getting a response.

And someone responded to mine, too. Can you guess who?

“I was in receipt of your social media complaint, if you do have any questions or concerns about your installation, please feel free to contact me… ” Lakyn, Lowe’s Executive Support

Then, someone obliterated my rant from the page, never to be seen again.

Ultimately, I hired a local contractor, and it saved me about $1000. The lesson here: If you don’t use Lowe’s for home improvement projects, you’ll save a ton of money – and headaches.


UPDATE: I posted the link to this blog on the Lowe’s Rant or Rave feed and got this response.

“Your comments have been added to the notes for your existing case manager.”

Can anyone guess who that would be?

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

School Board Ignores Mom of Suicide Victim, 11

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

If a mother cries for the loss of her 11-year-old son, but there’s no one around to hear, does she make a sound?

The bigoted words of a Wayne Central School Board leader stung Fran Burns, a mom who lost her 11-year-old son, Luke, to suicide last fall. She mustered the courage to speak about it publicly, confronting Vice President Philip McTigue at a school board meeting on May 25.

She ended with, “I was glad to hear from kids in Luke’s class that Hearts for Heroes came and spoke to the kids about bullying and suicide; that the saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones’ is incorrect, and it should say, ‘sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can kill me.’ Mr. McTigue . . .your actions and words you displayed on social media have a lasting impression on our community as a whole; most significantly, our children. How can we lead by example when the vice president of the school board cannot do this?”

McTigue had come under fire for a Facebook post in which he verbally slays overweight women.

[McTigue was traveling in Nashville when he posted this.]

It led to a huge outcry in the community and calls for McTigue to step down. There was even a petition circulating to remove him. But the next board meeting was unusually quiet. There was no packed room, no uproar, no petition.

Just one woman spoke: Fran Burns.

And her words chill you, her grief disables you.

But no one – not one board member responded to Fran’s cries, except with silence. And then, several members went on to provide a laundry list of school-related events, as though to wipe Fran’s message right out of the room.

Nothing happened to McTigue. He’d opened the board meeting with an apology statement emphasizing his Facebook post was a joke.

After board meetings, he’ll go home, be with his family, continue on the school board and at least learn a lesson to keep abhorrent opinions to himself.

Fran will go to a house that is no longer a home, painfully absent her 6th grader, or maybe to the cemetery to talk to Luke’s tombstone, which would give the same reply as the board members.

And life goes on, and people will or won’t learn Fran’s lessons; and I don’t mean anti-bullying –  I mean empathy, compassion and respect.

It is not against the rules for a board member to acknowledge someone has spoken.

Fran, you deserve a response. I heard your message. I feel your pain. I want everyone else to hear and feel, too – and to learn.

Love, compassion and courage.

 

 

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Theft and a Confession

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Margo Georgiadis, CEO                                                                                                                               Mattel, Inc.                                                                                                                                                 333 Continental Boulevard
El Segundo, CA 90245-5012

Re: My Guilty Conscience

Ms. Georgiadis,

I stole this Mattel doll 40+ years ago from King’s department store in Plattsburgh, New York.

The store went out of business three decades ago, so I can’t return it there. I don’t want to return it at all, but my sister said I have to.

I swiped it from a package with a mom and dad doll with van and accessories. I just wanted the baby, because I was obsessed with tiny things. But after getting back to my grandma’s apartment, I got a harsh introduction to my guilty conscience and buried the doll in a box in my closet.

I was never able to look at it, let alone touch it. Oh, I thought of it often, but every time I thought about taking it out to play with it, I’d get within a foot of its cardboard grave before feeling dirty and evil and sick.

Then, last week, I was looking for something in my basement and came across the doll, face-down in a corner of a box, reflecting my shame.

I don’t want to give it back. I mean, I stole it because I wanted it. Right? It’s become part of my life. This tug-of-war has gone on in my head since 1973. I want the doll, yet I want it away from me.

Just one day after uncovering the pilfered doll in my basement, I scored a large baby doll at auction to resell and, to identify it, typed in the search terms “porcelain head baby doll bonnet yellow blue felt.” Up came a picture of the thumb-size Sunshine Family Mattel doll I’d stolen when I was barely out of triangle pants.

It was more than coincidence.

So here is the doll. If it means anything – I’m really sorry.

Wait.

I just got a text from my sister. She said it’s more a civil matter now, and that I don’t have to return the doll, just the 50-cents it was worth back then. [She feels complicit in the theft since she’s the one who walked me to the store that day.]

Please accept these two quarters (enclosed). That should cover settling the debt as well as my conscience.

Sincerely,

Susan Ashline

 

UPDATE:

March 29, 2017

Uh oh. I got a letter from Mattel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

They gave me my quarters….

 

 

 

 

 

… and a talking-to.

 

 

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Forgive Me, Mother Nature

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

[My sister told me about creepypasta, and I wanted to try my hand at one. It’s a very short work of paranormal or horror fiction. The concept came from my son; the writing from me. Disclaimer: This may suck.]

creepy-pasta

[by Susan Ashline]

As told by my 12-year-old son:

Last spring, we found a baby deer with spots in our yard. They told us the mother would come get her at night after looking for food all day. So we watched over her to make sure she was safe.

My mom has a picture of a whole crap ton of deer standing like mannequins on our property, staring at her, and their eyes are totally glowing. I love the red fox that run through our back yard, and the wild turkeys look funny when they cross the street like soldiers in formation. I’m even cool with the coyotes as long as they stay away from our rabbits.

We get snakes, too. There’s a mom snake that lives in our garden, and we always see a mass of baby snakes that look like a bowl of spaghetti every year around the time the birds come back.

The birds – the turkey hawks are the only ones I don’t like. They hover around our rabbits, plotting and waiting for an opportunity.

Across the street, they put up “for sale” signs by a company that builds houses. They build whole neighborhoods. And they were building one right across the street. But it wasn’t their place to build. It made me angry.

I couldn’t stand to hear the machines. They sounded like big machines, loud. Every time I heard them, I wished horrible things; things I wouldn’t tell anyone. I just wanted them to go away. I wanted them to stop. Every time I heard them, it meant more trees were coming down; fewer places deer could hide and find food.

It used to be all woods. It belonged to nature.

I would sneak onto the property and hide in the bushes and watch the dozers and bucket trucks and trucks I couldn’t name. One was taking down trees; another was chewing them up and spitting them out. Every sound meant one more tree was gone.

It pissed me off. But really, it made me sad.

My mom made me a Halloween costume. I wanted a ghillie suit, so she got some burlap and plastic leaves, and then sewed on the leaves, and we tied the ends. It fit kind of like a sack.

I kept it so I could sneak across the street and spy on the workers. I’d just sit and make like a bush.

I learned the names of the men working over there. I’d hear them call to each other, joking, like they didn’t care that they were destroying nature. Like it was theirs to take.

Vance was a big guy, but he wasn’t very old. He had red hair and a red beard, and his laugh was as big as he was; kind of like Santa Clause, but without the white hair, lot less chubby and a hundred years younger. I think he was in college. He kept talking about this girl he liked, named Phoebe, I think. It was hard to hear over the machines.

There were three guys: Vance, Seth and Campbell.

But, so, one day, I heard this guy, Seth, telling Vance that he would score big with Phoebe if he killed this buck and paid to have it mounted to give to her. He was acting like he’d be some big champion.

And then, I couldn’t believe my eyes when Seth pointed to a huge deer with these gigantic antlers. It was standing, watching them, and its eyes were glowing.

It wasn’t funny. I couldn’t believe they were even joking about killing it. I was so upset, I left.

I told my mom, and she told me to stop going over there. She didn’t want me to get in trouble for going on someone else’s property. She didn’t like what they were doing. She hated it as much as I did. But she didn’t want me to go any more.

I couldn’t stop myself.

I went over again. This time, Seth was shooting off his mouth about what a skilled hunter he is, supposedly. He was young, too, but I’m sure he wasn’t in college. He looked like a redneck. Hair went all around his face, but not like a normal beard. And his hair was cut really bad, like someone put a bowl on his head and cut around it; like it was his girlfriend’s first time with the scissors. But I don’t even think he would have a girlfriend, because he was ugly. And his teeth were brown and all messed up. And he always wore a baseball hat with camouflage on it, and shirts with patches.

Campbell was quiet. I think he was in charge. He was old. He probably had a whole family. He wore a hat, too, but underneath it, his hair stuck out, a lot of gray mixed in with a little black.

So, anyway, I was sitting on the ground in the ghillie suit, watching Seth and Vance eating lunch. Campbell was off somewhere. His truck was gone. That big buck came out of nowhere. I just saw it standing in front of them, like, half-way from me to them, maybe only as far away as our driveway is long. And they froze a minute and looked like they weren’t sure what to do. Then, all of sudden, Seth whispered something to Vance, both of them burst out laughing, and – Vance charged the deer!

I was really horrified. I wanted to run. I was afraid the deer would come my way and trample me, because no one could tell I wasn’t ground cover. I couldn’t catch my breath, I was so scared.

But the deer ran off just to the left of me, and Vance went after it.

He stopped; looked around. He stood there. The deer was gone. And Vance looked like he didn’t know which direction to go, so he kind of stumbled back into a tree and then rested against it.

I don’t know if I can tell this part. I want to cry. I should’ve listened to my mom. I shouldn’t have gone back there.

The tree – it… it came alive. I swear. The branches had no leaves, and like arms, I swear they wrapped around Vance – his whole body. It looked like a boa constrictor squeezing the life out of him. He face started to match the color of his hair.

I did feel bad for him, and scared. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel like he deserved it. I kind of wanted it to happen. And I’ll always feel bad for that, like somehow I made it happen in real life.

I was afraid to move, because I didn’t know if nature would attack me, too. So I sat. And I watched. And they didn’t make any noise – they never do – but I somehow just knew they were there, plotting and waiting for an opportunity. I looked up at the sky.

Vance couldn’t scream. He was being choked by the tree. I watched him prying at the branches with his big, strong arms, and then suddenly – he saw them, too. His eyes got huge. I could almost see blood in them. He stopped moving.

Just his eyes – that’s what I remember most. And then the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen: The turkey hawks came, one after another, flying into his face. They came back again and again, pecking him all over his body. There must’ve been 20 of them.

I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t breathe.

A brigade of red fox appeared and stood like an audience, doing nothing but watch the droppings of fresh pieces of flesh on the ground.

Seth showed up in the far corner of the lot, just walking casually. He had no idea what was going on. I wanted to holler to him to run away, but was too scared.

I heard a rustle – a loud one. And I saw Seth turn around. And then, I saw him running, with his head still turned backward.

A stampede of deer followed, their eyes glowing. The wind got so fierce I had to grab onto my costume at the sides and had all I could do to keep it over me. Piles of leaves whipped up, and they – they formed, like, baseballs, and the baseballs of leaves hit one after the other, pounding Seth in the head.

He fell to the ground. I saw him lie there on his stomach and, for a minute, the baseball leaves stopped. And the herd stopped behind him. He managed to wrench himself up on his elbows, and he looked like some dude who did too many push-ups in boot camp. But when he lifted his head, I saw that terror again – in the eyes. And then I looked where he was looking, and I saw them. The wild turkeys were lined up like an executioner squad.

I swear it’s true. And I wish I could get rid of that in my mind. I don’t want to say what came next.

No, they didn’t peck him like I thought they would. They walked to him, like, hopped, but very quickly, and they used their beaks to grab onto his shirt with patches. They dragged him. It was fast. They pulled him about . . . maybe the length of my neighbor’s ranch house into the swamp. But they didn’t just let him sink. Turtles crawled on top of him, and they pushed him down under the water. He fought it. I saw it. But there were a handful of turtles, then as many as a batch of cookies, and then I swear there were hundreds of turtles, like bees swarming a hive.

Campbell’s truck pulled in. He had a girl with him. She was about my age. His daughter, I guess. She was a little taller than me and had long, brown hair. I’d seen her around school, but didn’t really know her. I never talked to her. She was new.

I was so worried.

They started walking. I heard her telling her dad she needed to get some fall leaves for a project we’re doing at school. She took off from her dad and started coming my way. I had to do something.

“Hey!” I called, but didn’t yell. It was more like a loud whisper.

She didn’t hear me.

The coyotes never come out during daytime. But there they were, hiding in the trees right in front of her dad, who was pretty far away from us by now.

But she was right next to me.

I stood up, and she jumped back. I broke cover to show her my face, and then before she could say anything, I draped the costume over her head and crouched back down, pulling her with me.

Now, we were both under it. I knew she was about to scream, so I put both my hands over her mouth. It was the third look of wild eyes I’d see. But as she turned to look at me, us squatting on the ground under cover of homemade Halloween costume, she saw Vance. And she was quiet, but tears fell onto my hands. I released them.

Her head slumped down as if she felt helpless. It was because we saw her dad that moment. The coyotes – they – well, I don’t want to say what they did. But it was fast. It was fast, because as they gorged on him, tree branches shot down like lightning bolts, pinning each of his arms and legs. Snakes wrapped around his hands and feet, binding him to the ground. There were screams, but they lasted a lot shorter in real life than they do in my head.

The girl was not crying loudly, but whimpering. I was too shocked to make a sound.

And then, as we sat, whimpering and silent, shaking in fear, we heard a moan coming from Vance.

“What is he saying?” I whispered, but not to her. “What is he saying?” I repeated. I turned to her, and she was listening, too.

I heard it. It was clear this time.

“Forgive me, Mother Nature.”

The limbs released Vance. He slumped to the ground, but still alive.

The wind stopped. Something pulled at our cover. We were terrified. It pulled so fiercely, we tried to hang on, but couldn’t. The ghillie suit was dragged right off us. And there was the fourth pair of wide eyes I’d see that day. But they didn’t show fear. I knew those eyes. I knew that deer, but she was bigger. It was the fawn I’d protected in my yard so her mother could go find food.

Her mouth flicked down quickly at me, but I wasn’t afraid. She licked my arm.

 

 

 

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Meaning Behind the “Missed Call”

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

[by Susan Ashline]

See a “missed call” on your cell phone? It’s an unspoken message to call the person back.

It’s taken years to bring all of society on board, but I think we’re finally there. I might’ve been one of the last holdouts. It took me a while to fall in line, but now if I see a “missed call” notification, I know it’s my cue to return the call.

Let’s look at the evolution of this. Years ago, a friend (we’ll call her Jackie) would get agitated every time someone left a voice message. She’d complain about having to go into her voice mail to listen to a message telling her to call the person back, and then have to delete the message. That’s a lot of work, apparently.

My take was: If someone wanted me to call them back, they’d leave a message. If they didn’t leave a message, it meant they didn’t want me to call them back. I would call Jackie and leave a message, but then she’d give me a tongue lashing for leaving a message. Conversely, if I didn’t leave Jackie a message and she called me back, I would get irritated, because there was a reason I didn’t want her to return the call – I no longer needed to speak to her, or wouldn’t be available to take a call later.

Make sense? It did to me. But I think I was in the minority.

Time went on, and I, too, became frustrated at having to go in and delete voice mails telling me to call back. So now, if the person I call doesn’t answer the phone, I do nothing. It’s easier for me; easier for them. I know if they see the missed call, they’ll call back.

Do you leave voice messages? And which do you do when get a missed call: call back, or do nothing?

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Giving Breast Cancer Pink the Middle Finger

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Susan Rahn Stickit2Stage4 breast cancer

[by Susan Ashline]

In the thick of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, one woman living with the disease is engaged in hand-to-keyboard combat against the color pink.

I remember when Susan Rahn followed me on Twitter. As with all my new Twitter follows, I checked to make sure her account wasn’t spam, my only barrier to following back. It wasn’t.

But I didn’t want to follow her back.

Her cover photo was skeleton hands with the middle fingers sticking up, pink ribbons wrapped around the bones. Her Twitter handle: @Stickit2Stage4. Susan had metastatic breast cancer, which is cancer that has spread to other organs. And I saw death. My instinct was to distance myself. I wondered, briefly, how I would feel if I’d gotten to know her and she died. I didn’t want to risk feeling hurt. Twitter suggests followers based on who you follow, and I anticipated an onslaught of follows from women who were waging a futile fight for their lives. I foresaw my breath squeezed out by a digital feed full of doom. And most of Susan’s tweets were about metastatic breast cancer. I thought – I have nothing to offer her.

Eventually – hesitatingly – I did follow her back.

Still, I ignored her.

In August, I found myself at the New York State Fair facing a wall of women captured in photo frames with pink matte board, smiling and lively. But most were no longer alive – they were dead. It was a breast cancer victim/survivor display that I stared at unflinchingly, reading the women’s profiles and silently wishing each back to life.

A week later, I saw Susan’s tweet: “Wearing a color does nothing. Try REAL actions. Make a meal, clean – that is support.”Susan Rahn Twiitter breast cancer awareness tweet

That made sense. I could do that. I knew how to clean.

I messaged Susan through Twitter, offering to clean. She replied – swiftly – with a rant against what she called “the pinkification” of breast cancer. “Who does that help?” she wrote. “So I tweet and call out the BS for what it is, in the hopes that I can maybe change the landscape of the public’s perception of breast cancer.” She ended with, “I deeply appreciate your offer. I promise to let you know if I do need help. I’m sure my time is coming.”

The corners of my mouth instantly mirrored the frown-face emoji that punctuated her last sentence.

I had been under the impression a portion of proceeds from sales of pink items went to breast cancer research, and I told her so.

She said that was a myth, “And if money does happen to go to research, less than 2% goes to fund research for metastatic breast cancer; the cancer that kills.” She wrote that 113 women die every day from breast cancer; a projected 40,450 men and women in the U.S. this year. “Those are the same numbers as the height of the AIDS epidemic, but no one puts any urgency on breast cancer research because they focus on awareness.”

I offered to write about Susan’s war on the pinkification of breast cancer. I could do that. I knew how to write.

No sooner did she accept my offer, that I got a message from Jeff Rahn, another of my Twitter followers: “As you probably picked up on, Susan is very passionate about the various ‘pink scams’ out there and is trying so hard to get actual research instead of awareness campaigns. We are all aware.”

She was his wife, he said, and a great mom and step-mom. And he thanked me for reaching out to her. “Just acknowledging a terminally ill person means more than you can imagine. So often they are forgotten.”

When I called Susan for the interview, I confessed my reluctance to follow her on Twitter. I wondered aloud whether my reaction to shut her out was not uncommon, and perhaps the reason her message, of the need for more emphasis on research, wasn’t reaching the general population.

“Which is why I’m so loud and obnoxious,” said Susan, acknowledging my reaction wasn’t a surprise.  Social media users labeled her angry and bitter, she said. “They think I’m angry and bitter because of my diagnosis. But ya know what? Anger and bitterness gets sh*t done.”

Susan said she feels awareness campaigns are partly to blame for the instinct to block out those who are terminal. “The message has been that breast cancer is a treatable and curable disease. If you catch it early, like if you catch a cold, you deal with the symptoms, treat it and go on with your life. But that’s not the case, because 6-10% of women – like me – get diagnosed with stage four from day one. And you don’t necessarily have to have any prior family history.”

Maybe I’d shut the door on Susan’s Twitter page because she represented what I feared – that she could be me.

Lingering rib pain led to Susan’s diagnosis of stage four breast cancer just months after getting a clean read from a routine mammogram. She was a newlywed, not quite a year into her second marriage. She had one son, her only biological child. Genetic testing turned up no markers for breast cancer. She was 43 years old.

She was told she had months to live. It was August 2013.

Susan continues to fight for her life – and the lives of others – by advocating for metastatic breast cancer research. She is the editor of a newly-formed digital magazine, The Underbelly: Illuminating Breast Cancer’s Darker Side (TheUnderbelly.org), which launched an October Twitter campaign (#WhyIsThisPink) to make the consumer aware that many merchants collecting money from selling pink items are simply lining their own pockets.

“It’s okay if something’s pink, as long as the money is going to the right place,” said Susan, who hopes The Underbelly will draw an audience well beyond Breast Cancer Awareness Month. “We want to bring the ugliness and the things that people don’t want to talk about into the light. It’s not all pink and fun, and it’s not a sorority. The narrative needs to change.”

Author’s note: I’ve since learned a lot about breast cancer pink. Susan’s opinion doesn’t stand alone – far from it. Voices can be heard all over the internet calling for an end to the “pink” campaign and a focus on dollars for research to find a cure. The pink campaign was successful in raising awareness. Now, it’s time to move it forward. #BreastCancerRealityCheck

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

What Does Your Front Porch Say About You?

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

[by Susan Ashline]

We walked door-to-door this week in what is known as a “bad part of town” in the city of Rochester. I’m familiar with the street name from my days as a news reporter. It was always on the scanner; shootings, stabbings, and miscellaneous crimes.

In spots, the patch of lawn separating each house could be measured in inches and not feet. We saw one garage that had a house number. We saw houses with broken steps and broken siding and peeling paint. There were broken windows, broken doors.

But there were fabulous porches; well-kept porches and elaborate porches. And there were amazing gardens in front of them that rivaled any you’d see at an admission-entry conservatory. There were porches adorned with flowering baskets more stunning than those at displayed at landscaping businesses. One garden showcased a marvelous variety of colorful flowers, weed-free rows, and an immaculate brick walk-way lined by solar lights.

And one porch had a neighbor on it asking the other neighbor if she could borrow the key to another neighbor’s house to check on it while they away, because she didn’t have the neighbor’s key with her. “It’s that kind of neighborhood,” she told me cheerfully, and smiled as she said it.

Porches had like-new bench swings and patio furniture. One had a hand-designed piece of art stuck into the ground at the base of the front steps; nothing more than twisted metal with blue glass bottles hanging from it, but it was attractive and unique. Most of the porches had new looking placards with painted flowers or sayings, or simply announcing “welcome.”

What does that say about a person?

Had I walked onto dirt-covered, unornamented porches with rotting, wooden furniture, it would’ve gone unregistered. But the porches . . . I noticed the porches.

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Little Girl in the Brown Coat

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

[by Susan Ashline]

I first noticed her flare-leg pants. They were out of style. And they were “high waters.” Was she poor? She was just a kid, maybe 11. And she had on a brown, winter coat, and her hands were in her coat pockets, and she never lifted her head as she walked the bases from home, to third, to second, and around. And around.

And her head was down.

The song on my mp3 player was a fast rhythm, much faster than the girl’s pace, the steps of someone thinking deeply.

As I rounded the outside of the baseball fields in the town park, cooling down from my run, I couldn’t stop watching her.

Was she sad? Lonely? Did she have friends? Was her sister playing softball the next field over? I was sure people were looking at me and wondering why I was looking at her. But if they were, I didn’t notice.

What was she thinking about?

I saw her. I mean – I saw me. A lifetime ago.

A woodpecker started over the music in my mp3 player, but neither song nor tree-tapping drowned out my memory flood. I was riding my skateboard to my friend, Tammy’s house. I was crossing the stinking leather mill pond while someone grabbed my arm from the other side of the water fall so I wouldn’t get swept into the reservoir of floating shopping carts. I was skipping the two blocks to my grandmother’s house, met at the screen door by the comforting smell of chain smoking, a hug from shaking arms and a sloppy kiss. I had my whole life ahead of me. I would never be her. It was a lifetime away.

I had on a shiny, pink pleather jacket with collar. And probably flare leg pants. They might’ve been too short. I’m sure I was out of style. I wasn’t poor.

I thought I was beautiful. I was so awkward. I had a huge honker and hair up to my ears, and people constantly mistook me for a boy.

I was walking the bases of an empty baseball diamond with my head down, but really I was on the starship Enterprise with Captain Kirk, and he’d risk his life to save mine. And it’s a good thing, because there was one disaster after another. He saved me, of course, because he cared so much about me. The crew always teleported me back to earth in time for dinner.

I long passed the girl in the brown coat, but kept turning back to look at her.

Because she was me.

Well, her legs were skinny and mine weren’t. I had these rock-sized calves, the stuff of football players. Yes, even as a little kid. But I, too, had deep conversations with myself at 11. About crushes; mainly Shaun Cassidy. About my parents and fights with my brother and sister. And I had dreams that I was going to be famous.

Did she see me, too? Was she wondering – deeply – if she would be like me when she was older? She was thinking that day would never come. It was a lifetime away.

As I got to my car, she’d changed her rotation – first base to second, to third, to home, her little kid sneakers in a drumbeat kicking up mud from the soaked fields onto socks exposed by her too-short pants.

She would never be me. It was a whole lifetime away.

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail