Not once, but twice, Maru Fava has faced a diagnosis of
She looks fabulous, full of energy and has a healthy, vital, radiant glow to her. It’s hard to believe that five years ago (March 20th was her 5-year survivor date!), she was told that she had terminal liver cancer. After talking to her, you can see that not only has her body has returned to good health, she has also maintained the aura of peace, hope and spiritual growth that she found during her illness.
Maru’s journey with cancer began when her best friend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Maru helped her friend through diagnosis and treatment, accompanying her to chemotherapy appointments at Johns Hopkin’s Hospital. The experience gave her an introduction to the world of oncology and education in treatment protocols.
When her friend successfully finished her course of
chemotherapy, Maru and other girlfriends took her on a trip to celebrate her
remission. But she cut her trip short by a day because she had a long-standing
appointment back home to have a mammogram. Even though she did not suspect
anything was wrong, she wanted to keep the appointment. It’s a good thing she
did, because unbelievably, at the same time her friend went into remission,
Maru found out she had breast cancer.
After successful treatment, Maru had developed a good relationship with her breast surgeon. So when she didn’t feel well and had pain in her ribcage, she called him, concerned. A trip to St. Joseph’s ER and a CT scan revealed bad news – two large masses in her liver. The original diagnosis was Cholangiocarcinoma , a highly fatal cancer of the bile duct. And then more bad news – because of her recent mastectomy and breast cancer diagnosis, she was not eligible for a liver transplant, her only good option for treatment.
As her prognosis went from bad to worse, Maru decided to defy the terminal cancer diagnosis, become her own advocate and explore ways to complement traditional advice and treatment. Her friend had missed rounds of chemotherapy because of low white blood cell counts, so Maru knew that she needed to help her mind and body be as healthy as possible. While researching ways to raise her white blood cell count, Maru found Mistletoe Therapy and the Believe Big organization.
Conventional + Complementary treatments fight together
Believe Big is a non-profit organization that bridges the gap between conventional and complementary treatments for cancer. Conventional treatment includes chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation, surgery, immunotherapy and targeted therapy. Complementary therapy includes nutrition, supplements, acupuncture, Mistletoe Therapy, and spiritual and mental wellness. The goal of complementary therapy is to lower chronic inflammation, to stimulate the body’s natural immune system, and to remove toxins and free radicals from the body, using diet and supplementation.
Believe Big encouraged Maru to get a second opinion, and her husband pressed her oncologist to have the pathology redone. Finally, some good news – she was rediagnosed with Epithelioid hemangioendothelioma, EHE, a cancer that grows from the cells that make up the blood vessels and can occur in the liver. It is rare and not much is known about it, but it has a much better prognosis.
Along with traditional treatment, Maru decided to try mistletoe injections. Mistletoe Therapy, an intravenous therapy using European mistletoe extract, is thought to “stimulate bone marrow activity alongside conventional treatments to offset the side effects of chemotherapy/radiation such as nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite.” It is widely used in Germany and Switzerland, and now starting a Phase I clinical trial in the US at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Maru does not see Mistletoe Therapy as a cure for cancer, but rather as a tool to strengthen her body, stimulate her immune system, and build armies of white cells to help her fight.
conquering the fear that paralyzes
Believe Big’s other mission is to provide spiritual guidance to patients and their families. They are not about promising a cure, but rather about supporting patients wherever they are in the moment and giving them hope and peace. On their website, Believe Big shares a prayer, “I Will Have No Fear” to combat the paralyzing “fear that keeps the body from switching to a rest and repair mode.”
The Believe Big community gave Maru hope and support when she needed it. Exercise, family support, faith, good doctors and a healthy diet are also important to her. Her best advice is to find great doctors, listen to your body when you know something is wrong, and be your own tireless advocate.
speaking out for believe big
To pay it forward, she has become a spokesperson for Believe Big. If you know someone who needs support, there are resources and recommendations on Believe Big’s website.
Shawn Nocher and Kelly Gill met each other 30 years ago, as mothers of young children with their whole lives ahead of them. They couldn’t have known then that years later, their bond would become “mothers of addicted children” and that they would form an organization, Love in the Trenches, to help other parents whose children are suffering from the disease of addiction, either in active addiction or in recovery, or who have died from drug use.
For several years, Shawn and Kelly were each other’s lifeline as their sons moved through addiction and recovery at different times. Kelly’s son was in recovery, while Shawn’s son was somewhere out west, actively using. In one of the ironic, unpredictable twists of addiction, at the same time that Shawn’s son moved into a recovery phase that he has maintained, Kelly’s son relapsed and tragically died of an overdose.
Their stories are only partly about their sons. Loving children who suffer from the disease of addiction also affects the entire dynamic of the family. Parents are often not in the same place emotionally and can’t agree on the next steps. The siblings are often angry and confused and feel isolated when all the family’s energy is focused on one child. Families crumble under the weight of addiction. They isolate themselves from extended family and friends and the family keeps secrets.
Love in the trenches
Aware that other parents were trying to connect with each other for information and help, Shawn and Kelly joined forces and created Love in the Trenches as a supportive community for parents. Love in the Trenches helps parents erase the shame of addiction. Many parents come into the LITT community feeling like a parenting failure on their part is the reason their child is suffering – some wrong turn or wrong decision made the problem worse. Through LITT, they come to accept that they did not cause it, cannot control it, and they can love their child and hate the addict.
Drug abuse is a complex set of behaviors. It’s impossible to predict who will suffer from this disease. A group of teens can grow up together, in similar environments, experimenting with the same risky behaviors – 70% of high school seniors drink alcohol, 50% have tried illegal drugs. Most young people who experiment with drugs and alcohol will mature, begin to make good decisions, and become successful functioning adults, but a few will go on to become addicted to drugs and alcohol. The desire for drugs takes over the addicted brain and rational thought processes are compromised. An addict eventually comes to believe—however irrational it might seem to us—that the drugs are keeping them alive, and they can no longer control their moods or the things they do to maintain a high. Friendships and family relationships fall by the wayside, and a normal life becomes impossible. Parents and families have to find their own way to love their child, to be supportive when it is appropriate, but to protect themselves. It takes a community of support like Love in the Trenches to be able to do that. Kelly and Shawn are quick to point out that they don’t have a magic panacea for addiction, but they do know that addiction flourishes in isolation. With support, parents learn to “put on their own oxygen masks first in order to support their child in the best possible way.”
Change a step in the dance, change the dance
LITT runs a bi-monthly speaker series featuring various authorities in the field of addiction, as well as training in the administration of Naloxone to reverse overdose. LITT also supports like-minded programs that work to assist families in recovery and help in their mission to erase the shame of addiction.
Normally, Love in the Trenches holds in-person Support Group and Grief Group Meetings using their experience to offer coping skills, networking opportunities, recovery resources, and active support. However, during this time of social distancing, the groups are meeting on Zoom. Their website, www.loveinthetrenches.org, has information on meetings and lots of resources for parents. Shawn and Kelly are available to talk to you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Dara Bunjon suggested a fishing trip, WDP set the date, chartered the boat and set it into action. An eclectic mix of women signed up and all arrived at the pier feeling excited, maybe a little nervous, but proud they made themselves a priority for a few hours. Some women wanted to meet new friends, or try something new. Some wanted to actually fish and some just wanted a day on the water. Whatever it was, we all showed up with food to share, sipped mimosas and coffee, fished, and left with bags full of freshly caught and filleted rockfish. We started the trip with a silly game of two lies and a truth to “break the ice” as we motored to our fishing spot. We got halfway through the game and the conversations just flowed. Throughout the day friendships were made, common topics shared (divorce, raising kids, growing a small business) and laughs were had by all. It was so cool to have women, whether they were seasoned fishing women, to one woman who was actually allergic to fish and one woman afraid to touch them. As far as fishing days go, it was perfect and Captain Dean and his crew made it so easy! Although the day centered around fishing, it was so much more!
Baltimore. Bawlamer – because you know, hon, we have that funny accent. Smalltimore – because everyone is connected by just one degree of separation. Whether we’ve been here for generations or came to call this city home in another way, we Bawlamereans love our city. We love our blue crabs and Natty Boh, our O’s and Ravens, our world-renowned Johns Hopkins, the miles of marble steps, the harbor, Hampden’s quirkiness, John Waters, our diverse ethnicity and all the neighborhoods that reflect it. We have a love/hate relationship with The Wire. Everyone laughs at the saying, “The best thing about living in Baltimore is that if I don’t know what I’m doing, someone else always does” because it’s so true. We are a big, small town.
Unfortunately, it’s also a city of the haves and the have nots. Safe, affluent neighborhoods, great schools, cultural and social opportunities, and good jobs are abundant for some. But for others, it’s a city of substandard schools, blocks full of vacant homes and other homes unfit to live in, a drug crisis in full bloom and claiming lives, a lack of jobs and opportunities, limited access to healthcare, homelessness, and relentlessly escalating violence, and a generation of youth that has seen too much that kids should never see, and doesn’t have hope that life can be good to them.
When we heard about the documentary, Charm City, we partnered with the Womens’ Leadership Institute of Baltimore at Notre Dame of Maryland University to bring it to the Women’s Daily Post group. The movie depicts both the hopelessness and desperation of people trying to live a life surrounded by problems and violence, and the courage and determination of those who work tirelessly at the grass-roots level to make a difference. We wanted to show the film, and then have a panel discussion with the founders of some of the grass-roots organizations, in the hopes that people would be inspired to help them or another organization. In the words of Alex Long, “Whatever you do, just do it a little more – give a little more of your time, your money – and it will make a difference.”
Julie E. Gabrielli shared her thoughts about the movie with us:
The press kit for the film “Charm City” describes a “candid portrait of citizens, police, community advocates, and government officials on the frontlines during three years of unparalleled, escalating violence in Baltimore. The film highlights the positive actions undertaken by groups and individuals, optimistically offering humanity as common ground.”
The story that filmmaker Marilyn Nass tells is heartbreaking, hard, and hopeful. It is full of so much love. The love of Clayton Guyton (Mr. C.) to mentor his neighbors in the Rose Street community. The love of Alex Long for his work in disrupting violence. The love of veteran police Captain Monique Brown for her family and her work. The love of Officer Eric Wilson, two years on the force, for the kids in the neighborhoods he patrols. The love of Councilman Brandon Scott for the role that innovative public policy can play in making lives and communities better.
Several of the key people in the film observe that our city is under an epidemic of violence. They are completely aware of the multiple, interlocking, and long-standing reasons for this: poverty, systemic racism, rampant unemployment and the distrust and hopelessness that flow from the daily grind of unrelenting trauma. At one point in the film, when the yearly murder tally stood at 150 or so, Alex Long makes an indisputable point. If white people were being killed at this rate, you can believe there would be an outcry. Instead, we have statistics like this: in 2016, Baltimore’s Homicide detectives closed 38% of their cases.
Think about that: 38%. What if your loved one was in the other 62% that went unsolved? And yet this is nearly routine for a sizable portion of our community. Add to that, the police department is shorthanded and regularly requires mandatory overtime. Not only do 12-hour shifts exhaust police officers, the overtime is nearly bankrupting the city. And the department has nothing to show for it, in the way of reducing violence.
With all this policing, it’s no wonder so many, including Alex Long, say they are living in a police state.
The essence of Baltimore comes through with love and admiration, as well as unadorned honesty. There are many touching scenes and some that are even amusing. People do some goofy things sometimes. We need that break in tone as we watch how dangerous and thankless the job of policing is. I found myself wondering at one point: why would anyone voluntarily sign up for this? In a nearly Shakespearean twist, we see that even the peacekeeper Alex Long cannot protect his own loved ones from the scourge of violence.
Councilman Scott impressed me as an idealist who takes bold action. He’s the youngest person ever elected to City Council and is first seen in the film running hill repeats in a field early on a summer morning. He takes a call on a downhill segment and finishes it saying, “I’ve got another hill to run.” Indeed he does. Many more hills.
Scott’s insight is that the violence is a symptom of a multi-strand system that is failing his constituents and many other good people of our city. He says, “Violence is a public health issue and it is not for the police alone to solve.” We get a peek inside as he convenes a transformational conversation between youth and police in his neighborhood. To watch seasoned cops opening up to teenagers is both moving and energizing. You just know Councilman Scott is on the right track here. We need more like him in our city.
I saved the program handout because it lists many of the wonderful organizations that are doing their part to be of service. They are listed below. Please look them up and connect with the ones that call to you. The screening was well-attended by Women’s Daily Post members and folks from the Institute of Notre Dame community. WJZ’s Denise Koch opened the discussion afterwards by observing that she’s now seen the film twice. The first time, she felt nearly insurmountable grief and despair. (I was at that moment wishing I’d brought more than one tissue.) After this second time, though, she felt hopeful. She noticed more about the resolve and resilience of the community leaders. And their commitment to making a difference, to caring for their vulnerable neighbors, from kids to elders, and to stemming the epidemic of violence that hangs over us all. Let’s follow their lead and do what we can to help.
Join the Fight Against Hunger and Violence in Baltimore
We hope that the Charm City screening motivates you to become more involved with grass-roots organizations in Baltimore City. All could use your time, talent and treasure.
In 2014, Lynne Kahn founded a nonprofit called Baltimore Hunger Project with the mission of eliminating weekend childhood hunger in the Baltimore metropolitan area. Although public schools in the city of Baltimore and Baltimore County do a magnificent job of providing breakfasts and lunches for their students from Monday through Friday, on the weekends, some children still won’t have enough to eat. They face the prospect of three days of hunger, growling stomachs and hardly the energy to play. It’s no wonder these youngsters find it difficult to focus and achieve in school. It’s no wonder they face unhealthy and uncertain futures. Over 200,000 children in Maryland suffer from what the U.S. Department of Agriculture has termed “food insecurity — the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” Baltimore Hunger Project addresses children’s food insecurity by discreetly tucking a weekend’s worth of food into backpacks on Fridays. In this way, they ensure that otherwise hungry children are nourished and ready for school on Mondays. Baltimore Hunger Project, a 100% volunteer-run organization, currently supports 465 children in 17 local schools every Friday, with a wait list of over 1,200 students. Our goal is to support 600 children for the upcoming school year.
JUFJ advances economic, racial, and social justice in the Baltimore-Washington region by educating and mobilizing local Jewish communities to advance issue-based campaigns for real, immediate, and concrete improvements in people’s lives. This year, JUFJ is focusing on juvenile justice and supporting two bills in the Maryland legislature: limiting solitary confinement of juveniles, and a bill requesting research on juvenile justice. They are opposing a mandatory minimum bill because it doubles down on the mass incarceration policies that are so destructive to communities of color.
Safe Streets is an evidence-based violence prevention and interruption program that works to reduce shootings and homicides in high violence areas, operated by Catholic Charities in collaboration with the Baltimore City Department of Health.
The ultimate goal of Baltimore Ceasefire 365 is for everyone in the city to commit to zero murders. They are starting by calling for ceasefire weekends. In doing the outreach for ceasefire weekends, residents are helping each other get the resources they need in their lives, having conversations with each other about how to handle conflict differently, and making commitments to one another to be non-violent in thoughts, words, and deeds, for AT LEAST the ceasefire weekend.
The Center is dedicated to reducing gun-related injuries and deaths through the application of strong research methods and public health principles. Its faculty have pioneered innovative strategies for reducing gun violence, and achieved a national reputation for high-quality policy-relevant research.
As the Open Society Foundations’ U.S. Program’s only field office, OSA-Baltimore focuses on the root causes of three intertwined problems in our city and state: drug addiction, an over-reliance on incarceration, and obstacles that impede youth in succeeding inside and outside of the classroom. We also support a growing corps of social entrepreneurs committed to underserved populations in Baltimore.
The Kids Safe Zone, a drop-in center in Sandtown-Winchester for at-risk children ages 5-17 years old, offers recreation that includes flat screen TVs, Xbox gaming systems, board games, organized sports teams, a computer lab, mentoring programs, peer led support groups, licensed counseling, field trips, a study lab and homework assistance.
Rose Street Community Center
Rose Street Community Center and RSCC Youth Shelter is a faith based organization that helps with transitional housing and homeless and at risk youth.
Named in memory of Ashley Long, Ashley’s Garden is a community-based and driven kickboxing program in East Baltimore. Run by Alex Long, the program targets youth who have suffered violence and trauma, offering constructive and healthy alternatives to help young people cope with the everyday struggles that plague their community.
Dr. Koay helped developed free weekend classes for children, focusing on teaching virtues such as kindness, humility, love and equality. The classes are based on Koay’s practice of the Baha’i faith, which is grounded in the elimination of all prejudice in order to promote self-improvement and contribute to the advancement of society. She feels this is a vital and relevant lesson for Baltimore City, which is why she seeks children of all backgrounds to help them find common ground. The class meets Saturdays from 10-12 in East Baltimore. Email her for more information and to sign up.
Since our founding in 1999, CFUF has remained at the front-line of addressing some of our city’s most pressing issues, including poverty, unemployment, father-absence and family disintegration. We maintain an unwavering focus on addressing the key challenges of Baltimore’s urban families by working to connect fathers to their children, creating opportunities for economic and financial security through work, and providing access to other key interventions and supportive services.
Since 1995, Baltimore City Community Mediation (BCMC) has provided free mediation services and teaches conflict resolution skills in neighborhoods, families, schools, business, and all across Baltimore.
CLIA’s Leadership Development and Advocacy training programs equip Baltimore City youth with the skills necessary to lead effectively and advocate for positive change in their schools, neighborhoods and city. CLIA leads the Just Kids Campaign, a statewide advocacy campaign working to stop the automatic prosecution of youth as adults in Maryland.
YES Drop-In Center is Baltimore City’s first and only drop-in center for homeless youth. It is a safe space for youth who are homeless and between the ages of 14-25, to get basic needs met and establish supportive relationships with peer staff and allies that them make and sustain connections to long-term resources and opportunities. Founded and run by formerly homeless youth and their allies, YES works to end youth homelessness in Baltimore by (1) providing urgently-needed direct services to youth experiencing homelessness, (2) developing the leadership and employment readiness of youth who have experienced homelessness, and (3) engaging in system-level reform.
Thread engages underperforming high school students confronting significant barriers outside of the classroom by providing each one with a family of committed volunteers and increased access to community resources. We foster students’ academic advancement and personal growth into self-motivated