September is Suicide Prevention and Leukemia & Lymphoma Awareness Month
National Health Observances are days, weeks or months focused on raising awareness and support about important health topics. In past months, I have written blogs about several topics, such as stroke, autism, concussion, and TBI. I identify with some of these observances on a personal level, such as stroke, concussion and brain injury. Others; such as autism, I am deeply involved with, as it became the topic of my doctoral research. September’s awareness topics: suicide, leukemia and lymphoma, are more personal.
Suicide prevention strikes a deep chord with me. I lost my father and mother-in-law, both of whom I loved dearly, to suicide. I have been an advocate for suicide prevention since early in my career. I have written blogs on suicide and suicide prevention. More recently, I wrote a blog about how suicide rates spike in the Spring. Every day, more than 130 people in the US die after overdosing on opioids according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIH). Unlike deaths caused by weather related events, these deaths are not reported on a daily basis. This is not to minimize the loss of life in the Bahamas after the recent hurricane. Rather, to emphasize that the number of drug related deaths is significantly greater than the tragedies we hear about in the news. Yet, these deaths are not talked about. Whether the basis of suicide is from depression, PTSD, concussion, TBI, psychosis or substance abuse, the overwhelming propionate cause of death in most situations is from an overdose of medication; more specifically as of late; an overdose of an opioid. Regardless of the method or cause, the aftermath for family and friends is profound. Too often feelings of shame and stigma prevent candid conversations about the subject. When my father took his own life, I was a young child. I was told never to tell anyone what had happened. I grew up carrying this family secret. Even before writing this blog, I checked in with my siblings. I wanted to make sure they were okay with me sharing this experience. Both were very supportive and encouraging. In fact, my sister told me as part of Suicide Prevention Month, she was going to an open forum to share our family story. As a result of our father’s suicide both my brother and I, independently, became Thanatologists, specializing in trauma, grief and bereavement. We couldn’t help our father then, but we want to do what we can now to help others.
Do you know the warning signs?
There aren’t always warning signs, unfortunately. However, below are some of the things to look out for to help you determine if a loved one is at risk for suicide.
- Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
- Looking for ways to kill themselves, such as online searches or purchasing a firearm
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or isolating themselves
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings.
We can all help prevent suicide. If you, or someone you know, shows any of these signs, especially if the behavior is new, increasing or seems related to a painful event or loss, please seek help. Call the Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for 24/7, free and confidential support.
Leukemia and Lymphoma
This month is also Blood Cancer Awareness month. This topic is another that hits close to home. In addition to myself, many of my family members including my mother, my maternal uncle, first cousin, and third cousin, have had some form of leukemia or lymphoma. Often we hear remarks likening us to a family member such as “you have your mother’s smile” or “you’re built like your uncle”. Rarely do you think that other characteristics and genes can be inherited, including those that cause cancer. In my case, generations of my family had a form of blood cancer. In fact, my first cousin, who was the same age as myself, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma over thirty years ago. At the time the method of treatment was radiation. In fact, he did not die as a result of the lymphoma, rather due to the effects of the radiation treatment. When I was first diagnosed, doctors told me I would only have six months to live if I didn’t undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatment. The first person I called upon learning my prognosis was my first cousin. Knowing exactly how I felt, he provided me with support, love and knowledge. We discussed best course of action. We also talked about how treatment would impact me given my history of multiple concussions (4 to be exact), along with brain surgery and a cerebral bleed. My next steps did not include chemotherapy or radiation. You can read more about my journey here.
Blood Cancer Information
- Blood cancers are the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the US
- Approximately every 3 minutes someone in the US is diagnosed with a blood cancer
- To learn more about blood cancers, including Leukemia and Lymphoma and/or how to help raise awareness go to: https://www.lls.org/
I strongly support and believe in promoting awareness about suicide prevention and finding a cure to leukemia and lymphoma. In the meantime, for those of you who have felt the loss as I have from both of these areas, I have devoted my life to help and support you. There is a Way®!