Saturday, August 2, 2008

Be the change you want to see in the world...Or something like that.

As a scientist/practitioner, I get to go to conferences all over the country, sometimes the world, to share my work and learn about other research. As much as these meetings are intellectually stimulating and good for my career (network, network, network!), they are more often than not, completely hilarious. Think: Psychologists gone wild. We get to make all of those corny therapist jokes and people actually get them! We can compete for who "gets" the other person first.

Well, I had the honor of presenting my research at a different kind of conference, a national summit focusing exclusively on Latino cancer issues--the first of it's kind. The summit was fantastic, both fun and inspiring. Since the aim of the meeting was to bridge science with the community, it wasn't just researchers trying to tear each other apart at the statistical seams. It had members of community organizations, geneticists, physicians, cancer survivors, folk healers, and reps from companies (like Livestrong) sponsoring the event. It was kind of like going to a conference with my Ecuadorian mom and a bunch of her wacky friends--along with some academic and social work types, wooden tribal jewelery and all. At the reception held on the first night, there was an open bar and a conga line! The best part: free food all day long! That's because, to Latinos (and many other non-American mainstream cultures), la comida is love. A good Latina host never, ever, let's her guests go hungry. Wine also flowed like water. Gracias, Latinas Contra Cancer.

So, I attended some fabulous workshops while sipping on white wine and discreetly chomping down empanadas. My favorite was the panel on complementary/alternative medicine and cancer. During the nutrition portion, which emphasized eating low fat and anti-inflammatory foods, I furiously wrote down all of the "dos and don'ts" while balancing my glass of wine on the notepad on my lap and holding onto half of the empanada, which dangled from my mouth. Real classy. My notes say: Vitamin D good, fried food bad, go on diet tomorrow! Just as I started to make a list of everything I ate that day, a habit I fall back on when feeling either a little out of control of things or a little "fluffy"--usually both, a women who looks like a Mexican version of Barbara Streisand floats up to the podium, bowing her head while holding her hands up,, palm-to-palm, in response to the applause. You would think she actually was Babs given the enthusiasm in the room. Dressed in gray, soft, flowing fabric, a wooden bead necklace, and simple Christ-like leather sandals, the woman went up to the microphone and said "Hermanas, hermanos...let's talk about healing. Not chemical healing of the West...but spiritual healing." Her voice was as smooth as the Lycra/cotton blend dress she was wearing. It felt like I was listening to an easy listening station my aunt used to torture me with on Sunday afternoons after our Mc Donald's lunch dates. She went on and on about getting back to our traditions, to the behaviors of our ancestors. She had Aztec ancestry, which I guess I could understand wanting to get in touch with. My ancestry is a little less sexy. Half of my people ate pasta and worked the Italian countryside, while my other people ate caldos (stews) with fried cheese and danced merengue...a lot. What was I supposed to do with that? As she discussed how surviving cancer isn't up to us, but to "you know who, mother earth and father sky, I had to quiet my inner voice which was screaming "ARE YOU KIDDING ME!". My face ached from the expressions of skepticism I displayed during her whole talk. She picked up on it, too, targeting me with her wack-a-doo theories, her eyes bulging with spirits or what-have-you. At the end of it all, she asked us to stay and participate in a healing circle. I opted out and got me and my spirit out of there for more free wine. Research shows wine is good for you. It does. I caught up with a woman I had become friendly with throughout the summit and asked her how the "healing" went. She said they just stood in a circle while Babs, the great, babbled something in strange tongues then made everyone hug each other. I'm glad I opted for the booze. To each their own.

Now, I'm back home...coming up with lots of ideas to save the world, or at the very least, make it a little less scary for someone out there. A PhDini's work is never done...

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