Monday, October 22, 2012

RIP, Russell Means: A Great Loss to the American Indian Community

This morning, Native American activist Russell Means died of esophageal cancer at his ranch in Porcupine, South Dakota. He was 72. Russell is survived by his fifth wife, Pearl, and ten children. My prayers are with his family & friends.

Russell Charles Means was born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on November 10, 1939, a member of the Oglala Sioux Nation. He was baptized Oyate Wacinyapin (Works For the People).

When Russell was a toddler, his family moved to San Francisco to escape the crippling poverty of Pine Ridge. Russell described his childhood as "harsh." His father was an alcoholic, and Russell's teen years were marked by difficulties in school, with drugs and occasionally with the law.

The turning point for his life came in 1968, when he joined AIM (the American Indian Movement). He thrived and quickly became a prominent member, becoming well-known in the era of the Civil Rights Movement. Russell became estranged from AIM in the early 90's.

Throughout his life, Russell was politically active at Pine Ridge, working at both the state and national level. He also worked extensively with the international Indigenous population, most notably helping groups in Central & South American gain recognition of their rights from the United Nations.

Russell was, by all accounts, a tireless advocate for Native Americans. His work was extensive, but he is probably best known for the famous Wounded Knee uprising. On February 27, 1973, around 200 Oglala Sioux and AIM members seized & occupied the symbolically-important town of Wounded Knee, which is located on Pine Ridge, in an effort to impeach then-Tribal Chief Richard Wilson. Wilson was accused of widespread fraud, corruption and abuse of his opponents. The uprising also protested the US government's failure to uphold its treaties with American Indian peoples. Wounded Knee was occupied for 71 days; shootings between the occupiers and FBI resulted in the deaths of 1 agent and 2 Native Americans, as well as the disappearance of civil rights activist Ray Robinson and extensive damage to homes in the area. The uprising attracted the attention of media and inspired Natives throughout the country. In 1974, Russell Means and AIM co-founder Dennis Banks were charged in connection with the uprising; the charges were later thrown out by the judge on the grounds of governmental misconduct.

In addition to his many years of steadfast activism, Russell was a well-known actor who appeared in such movies as "The Last of the Mohicans," "Thomas & the Magic Railroad" and "Natural Born Killers." He served as the voice of Chief Powhatan in Disney's "Pocahontas" and "Pocahontas II: Journey To a New World." On the small screen, he could be seen in roles on a number of programs including "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Walker, Texas Ranger" and "Into the West." His final two roles will be seen in 2013, in the film "Winnetou: The Beginning" and a as-yet-unnamed project by Christian Camarago.

Russell Means also released a CD of music called "Electric Warrior" on the indie label SOAR. The CD includes the song "Wounded Knee Set Us Free."

Russell twice ran for national office. He unsuccessfully ran for the Libertarian presidential nomination in 1988 and briefly served as Larry Flynt's vice presidential choice in an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination in 1984. Russell considered himself a Libertarian and supported independent Ralph Nader in his 2004 and 2008 presidential bids. In January 2012, he announced his support of Ron Paul.

Russell's autobiography, "Where White Men Fear To Tread," was published in 1996. In it, he famously said: "Indian people are dying of sympathy. What we want is respect." That statement, in this blogger's opinion, quite succinctly describes Russell's views to a tee.

Like all of us, Russell was not a perfect man. There were controversies surrounding him in the 1970's (which mainstream media has made quite an issue of today but this blogger will not.) He struggled with alcoholism, rocky marriages, a suicide attempt and his famous temper. At the 40th anniversary celebration of the Wounded Knee uprising, he responded to an unfavorable question by snapping, "You people who want to continue to put AIM in this certain pocket of illegality, I can't stand you people. I wish I was a little bit healthier and a little bit younger, because I would do more than talk."

Russell told the AP in 2011 that before AIM, there was no national or international advocate for Indigenous Americans. Many were ashamed of their ancestry. Insulting and demeaning mascots/team names were commonplace. "All that has changed," he said.

Yet he knew the work was not done, and never shied away from the opportunity to further that work: for us to be self-determined, proud of where we come from and confident of where we're going.

In his book, Russell said, "I expose myself as a weak, misguided, misdirected, dysfunctional human bring I used to be." This was typical of Russell, who prided himself on his blunt honesty and take-no-prisoners personality. No one was exempt from that blunt honesty, even (some would say especially) himself. I have found myself aspiring to that attitude in my own life, and I know I have, in some part, a debt to him for it.

How many of us today are proud of who we are, unafraid to face our needs and shortcomings, willing to fight for our future and against those who seek to oppress us...because of the work of those like Dennis Banks and Russell Means?

I count myself among them. It is an honor and a privilege.

Rest in peace and walk with the ancestors in the warm embrace of the Creator, Russell. You are gone, but you will not be forgotten. Aho!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Surgery, Here I Come

I met with my surgeon a few days ago...and the hysterectomy is a go. I should hear from the scheduler this week, and I'll go under the knife (so to speak) in late November/early December.

And great news...it's laproscopic, not abdominal! I am so very relieved.

Now, I wait....

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Bring On the Menopause

On Tuesday, I see my surgeon. The reason?

I'm getting a hysterectomy.

I'm fully aware that this particular surgery is often done...well, unnecessarily.

That's not the case for me.

I have two reasons for getting it done. The first is that ever since my youngest, Eden, was born...I've had nothing but trouble with my periods. I am now routinely having two periods a month. I am having very heavy bleeding, migraines and awful bloating that is aggravating my neurogenic bladder issues (more on that later). I can never predict when a period will begin, so I end up wearing pads almost all the time. The migraines get so bad, all I can do is lay down in the dark with a cold compress on my head, waiting for it to end. To make matters worse, I am getting ovarian cysts almost every month. These cysts are painful and have led me, more times than I can count, to sleeping sitting up in a recliner in my living room. I don't particularly enjoy this: it's uncomfortable, and frankly I miss sleeping next to my husband.

This is no way to live.

But even with all that, it's reason number two that keeps me up at night, that makes me want to get this surgery.

It's my family's history with cancer.

It's quite extensive, so I'll only list a few examples. My paternal grandmother died of uterine cancer at 49. My maternal grandmother had a hysterectomy at 46 and beat ovarian cancer.

And my mother died of breast cancer two days after her 44th birthday. She was diagnosed at age 39.

I am 38.

Given these two factors, I'm convinced this is the right thing to do. I had a second and third opinion, and this surgeon will be opinion number four. I doubt it will be any different than the first three.

I admit to being fed up with my menstrual problems. And I admit to feeling like a ticking time bomb for reproductive cancers. I don't want any more children (I had a tubal ligation in 2003), and I don't want to risk any more miscarriages (I don't want to get into that, but suffice it to say, it's happened to me and I don't want it to happen again).

My gynecologist, whom I will call Dr. Violet (after the Peanuts character with the naturally curly hair), is absolutely fantastic. She will be present at my surgery, but referred me to this new surgeon for a very good reason.

This new surgeon is an expert in a relatively new field, that which recognizes that women often have urinary issues related to childbirth. It is possible that this surgeon could, while giving me the hysterectomy, also do a surgery to help relieve me of some of my MS and childbirth-related urinary problems. I'm trying not to get my hopes up, in case I turn out not to be a candidate, but the idea quite strongly appeals to me.

Urinary issues are quite common in MS patients. It's one of those topics I haven't shared a lot about, purely out of embarrassment. What woman in her 20's & 30's wants to admit to having urinary problems?

For me, the main issues are frequency, urgency and leakage. The first is the worst, and was one of my earliest MS symptoms. After I gave birth to my daughter Wren, I had expected the constant need-to-pee to die down, just as it had after my son Phoenix was born. But it didn't. A year later, I began to complain of it to doctors. "It's like I'm still nine months pregnant," I explained. I was having trouble at work, as I was forever rushing to the bathroom. I also couldn't get a real, full night's sleep. On good nights, I woke up to pee four or five times. On bad nights, it was two or three times an hour.

16 years later, and I still haven't had a full night's sleep. I miss it...greatly.

Sometimes, I would urinate so frequently my bladder felt "bruised" and hurt. UTI's and kidney stones became frequent occurrences. Cranberry juice went from something I drank rarely with vodka to something I drank regularly, sans vodka. In fact, drinking alcohol at all became a "special occasion only" treat, as more likely than not it would exacerbate the problems.

The very worst of it happened when I was pregnant with Eden. It got so bad, I had to have surgery while pregnant to place a stent in my kidney. I was hospitalized frequently due to that issue, and the severe hyperemesis (super-bad morning sickness). As anyone who's had surgery while pregnant can tell you, it is a VERY stressful and frightening experience.

And getting the stent removed, a few weeks after birth? One of the single most painful things that has EVER happened to me. Yikes!

So I have a lot invested in this possibility. I want very much for the surgeon to say: yes, we can do this; yes, it will work. But again...I'm trying not to get my hopes up.

Years ago, I was evaluated for a surgery that had the potential to cure my trigeminal neuralgia. I was thrilled (and blogged about it here). I assumed I was a candidate, and began to envision a TN-free life. I was so very excited.

And then the bad news...I was not a candidate. The surgery was not for me.

I was beyond disappointed. I was deeply depressed, and even had my anti-depressants adjusted. It never occurred to me that I would be turned away. I very literally mourned that TN-free dream. It was a bitter lesson learned.

So, I'm focusing on the positives of the hysterectomy: no more bad, frequent, irregular periods. No more terrible cramps, insane bloating & migraines. And most importantly, my cancer risk will plummet.

And if the urinary aspect works out, great.

That's not to say that this surgery doesn't have its downsides. It is a serious surgery, more serious than I have ever had before. It will require several days in the hospital...likely more than the norm because of the high risk of infection that comes along with MS, an autoimmune disorder. It will be a long recovery: at least six weeks of total bedrest. I don't tend to deal well with that, as it bores me to fucking tears. The surgery (and the recovery) will be painful. I will be taking painkillers that I don't tend to enjoy because of the side effects (nausea, constipation, feeling like a damned zombie).

And then there's menopause.

I imagine going through menopause at 38 is going to come with its own obstacles. Do I take HRT? Will hot flashes affect my all-too-heat-reactive multiple sclerosis? Will it affect my sexuality, and if so, how do I handle that?

Fortunately, I'm not going at this alone. I've found a fantastic resource, the Hyster Sisters website & support group. It's been amazing, and the information there has made me feel so much more at ease with all aspects of my hysterectomy. I recommend it highly.

Well, I shall shuffle on to sleep now. Updates to follow, so stay tuned, ZPT readers...