Pages turned in 2012

Despite being the year with the least books read, 2012 has been a great book year for me. I loved almost every book I read and I’m really hoping that this year will be just as amazing. Although I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs that I will post around five more books before the end of the year, I miserably failed to do so. :( I’ve been busy putting on different hats especially in the last quarter of 2012. The hands-on mommy hat and the homemaking hat took most of my time. Reading took a back seat toward the end of the year but the great thing about books is that they’re the most patient friends. They don’t complain when they get neglected. They understand when you need to prioritize other things. They don’t need to talk because they can read between the lines. More importantly, when you go back to them they welcome you with open arms and a great story at hand. :)

Having said that, allow me to introduce you to my awesome BFs (book friends) last year. :)

Top picks for 2012

Top picks for 2012!

I’ve read a total of 19 books last year but I think “1Q84″ and “Clash of Kings” should count for three books because they’re over a thousand pages! Haha! Long novels are challenging to read but they are usually the ones that take you to places you never thought possible. :)

More great books!!!

Great reads from amazing authors!

I have to mention that reading Andy Stanley’s “The Grace of God” is one of the best reading decisions I made last year. Learning about God’s grace in its purest and simplest form is very enlightening. You don’t have to believe in God to read this. Just knowing about how grace is shown and experienced will more than compensate the curiosity of any searching soul. :)

“When the Elephants Dance” is like a breath of fresh air. Reading a Filipino author after being so used to foreign authors made me appreciate our culture all the more. It inspired me to read more Filipino authors this year! It’s a different reading experience when you know exactly where the places are and what the local nuances mean. :)

I fell in love with John Green's books <3

I fell in love with John Green :)

John Green knows exactly how a teenager’s mind is wired. His books portray teen protagonists that mirror what almost every young adult experiences. I’m a young mom, eons away from my teenage years, but his books cross different ages and it speaks uniquely to anyone who picks up his books.

Can't get enough of Dystopian novels!

Dystopian novels are too good to resist! :)

I’m a dystopian addict. I love how authors can come up with different dystopian plots and how the books I’ve read last year took it a notch higher than the previous ones I’ve read. These are not “Hunger Games” wannabees, mind you. They are compelling, intriguing, and riveting in their own unique way. :)

Some light reads from bestselling authors :)

Some light reads from bestselling authors :)

Of course, my year wouldn’t be complete without reading the latest books from mainstream bestselling authors. I’m the kind of reader who needs a break from emotionally heavy books that made me hyper focused for days. Thus, I pick up a light read in between. Sophie Kinsella never fails to crack me up! Haha! I have to say that Mitch Albom did a good job with “The Time Keeper.” It’s a lot better than his recent books and it hits closer to home. :)

There you have it! My 2012 reading companions in a nutshell :) What does your list look like? :)

Keeping THE VOW

Vows are more than just lip service. These are commitments you made to your spouse that you should live out every single day. Kim and Krickitt Carpenter made the same vow—for better or for worse, till death do us part—not knowing that keeping it will be extremely difficult. I’ve read a lot of love stories but nothing came close to the unwavering commitment that this couple had for each other. This memoir is the story that inspired the movie “The Vow” starring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum.

The Love Story

A simple phone inquiry about baseball jackets was Kim’s first encounter with Krickitt. She was the bubbly telephone sales personnel of Jammin Sportswear. Kim, who was a baseball coach for Highland Cowboys, found himself fascinated by Krickitt’s refreshing friendliness. He felt that she was the most helpful person that customers could talk to every day. The usual business chit chats led to longer conversations, to exchanging of phone numbers at home, and to finally meeting each other.

In their getting-to-know process, Kim found out that Krickitt was a Christian. He wasn’t like her, though. Krickitt lived the Christian life—you could see it in her countenance and the way she related to people. They both knew Christ around the same time during their teen years but went off different paths along the way. Krickitt remained strong in her faith while Kim fully committed his life to Christ later on in his adult life. It’s amazing how she prayed for their relationship early on. One of her journal entry reads:

“Lord, I really need your wisdom and Spirit to guide me with Kimmer. Part of me wants to meet him—I think it would be fun. Part of me doesn’t because I don’t want to begin to have feelings for him if this is not of you. If it is, I pray you would show me that. I want to be led by you. I see so many ways on which we relate, but you must be the center.” (Krickitt wrote this before she decided to meet Kim in person.)

That first meeting led to more dates up until May of 1993 when Kim proposed marriage to Krickitt. They got married on September 18, 1993 and exchanged their vows before God, their family, and their friends. They went to Maui for their honeymoon and settled in Las Vegas, New Mexico when they returned. It was a fairy tale story, indeed.

The Accident

The newlyweds decided to celebrate their first Thanksgiving weekend at Krickitt’s parents in Phoenix. It was a long ride but an easy one, passing different interstate highways. During the long drive, Kim noticed that he was coming down with a cold. Krickitt then offered to drive so he could rest. He didn’t even argue because he really was not feeling well.  Around 6:30pm, their car was hit by a pick-up truck on the driver’s side, leaving a wreck that no one could possibly survive. Kim didn’t expect that his two-month marriage would end just like that.

Kim suffered terrible injuries—broken ribs, a broken nose, and lacerations that were too many to count. Krickitt fought a worse battle. She was comatose for almost four months and suffered severe head trauma. The trauma was so debilitating that she had to relearn basic movements such as brushing her teeth, dressing up, and even walking. This also resulted in short-term memory loss that meant all her memories two years prior to the accident were completely erased, including the time she met Kim up to their marriage. Krickitt had no idea who Kim was and when she was asked who her husband was she stated matter-of-factly that she was not married.

The Recovery and Restoration

Krickitt underwent therapy for a long time. Kim acted as her coach, pushing her during rehab sessions. He knew that Krickitt could do better because she was athletic by nature and a gymnast. This pushed her away because she hated how he was being so pushy about her improvement. For Kim, he was just doing his job as a coach, motivating his wife to full recovery. Conflicts intensified with Krickitt’s change in personality and inability to recognize Kim as her husband. Kim, on the other hand, felt broken to pieces each day with his wife’s wild mood swings and hurtful words.

These challenges didn’t stop them from working out their marriage. Krickitt knew that her faith in God was crucial to her recovery and so one day she started to journal again. In one of her entries she wrote:

“Dear Lord…I really want to be back with Kimmer and get our new life going again. I am relying on you to restore all of my feelings for our relationship…Thank you for sparing our lives in the accident, and I ask you would use us for your glory. Please strengthen our marriage and make it even stronger than it was in the beginning. Help us to grow closer together. We give you our trust and thanks…May I become the girl I was and the one you want me to be.”

Both of them went through counselling and sought guidance from their families. Kim fully surrendered to God his control over Krickitt and their marriage. He started to court Krickitt again and built new memories with her. They beat the odds and weathered the storm together. They refused to be part of the statistic that says the odds of divorce for a married person with debilitating head injury are 80-90%. Three years after the accident, Kim and Krickitt decided to get married for the second time. During the ceremony, Kim repeated the same vows he made to her in their first wedding. They went to Maui again for their honeymoon. Eleven years after the accident, they decided to have children.  And after 20 years of marriage, their relationship is stronger than ever. They may have made a lot of mistakes but they did one thing right—they kept their vows.

My Thoughts

Kim and Krickitt’s story just blew me away. Reading their painful and traumatizing journey in detail was heart wrenching. I learned so many things from them. As a married woman, I know that it’s not every day that you stare dreamily into your husband’s eyes. It’s not every day that you feel blissful in your marriage. And it’s okay. After all, loving someone is a decision. It’s a choice not based on my moods or feelings. I love what Krickitt said in the book,

“When I lost my memory, I lost my feelings for Kim. I had to re-discover what it was about Kim I had fallen in love with before. I can’t remember what it was like the first time, but I’m guessing that this time my love has grown in a different way—not that ‘fluffy’ romantic love, but more of a conscious choice. The fact was, I was married to this man. The feelings came later, and by God’s grace I’ve grown to love him again.”

I also appreciated the effort that Kim put into their marriage. When he stopped looking for the old Krickitt or expecting her to return that’s when things started to change for them. He decided to pursue and love the new Krickitt and build new memories with her. It’s tough to have your spouse and lose her at the same time. It’s one of the cruelest ironies I’ve heard of. This didn’t faze Kim Carpenter. He remained by her side regardless if she wanted him there or not. Krickitt stayed with him even if she didn’t know him nor felt any connection to him. With God being the center of their marriage, Kim and Krickitt held on to their vows more than life itself. As they continue inspiring people all over the world, I realized that stories like these should be a great reminder to all of us that marriage is worth fighting for and it always deserves a second chance. :)

 

One Woman’s Immortal Legacy

When I first saw “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” in the New York Times’ bestsellers list, two things came to mind. First, the title was too long and second, it’s very intriguing. What’s more interesting was that the book was categorized under the non-fiction list. So it’s actually talking about some “immortal” contribution this woman made to society. I never heard of Henrietta Lacks in any of my history classes nor had I ever Googled her name. So with much curiosity and a bit of scepticism combined, I decided to read Henrietta Lacks’ immortal life.

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Who is Henrietta Lacks?

Henrietta Lacks lived during the 1950’s in Baltimore, Maryland. She was a loving wife and a doting mother to five children. Apart from her family duties, she worked tirelessly as a tobacco farmer. She had walnut eyes and a pleasant face with a lovely smile. She loved music and she always painted her nails deep red. Her family and relatives described her as someone who took care of everyone. Aside from watching over her own children, she would also look after her cousins’ kids. She was fondly remembered as the aunt who always gave. She grew up with a Baptist background and was esteemed by the people in that community.

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At the age of 30, Henrietta was diagnosed with cervical cancer. At a time when medicine was at its early stages, the only treatment for cancer was radiation. Henrietta was treated at Johns Hopkins—the only hospital in Baltimore that treated black people. She underwent multiple radiation treatments that made her colored skin even blacker. Her cancer was very aggressive and spread rapidly which inevitably caused her death. When her body was opened for autopsy it was like someone filled her with huge pearls—big tumors literally covered all her organs. Her cousin Sadie said that despite her sickness Henrietta’s looks didn’t change. She still looked beautiful though her eyes showed that life was slowly being drawn out of her. The Lacks family grieved when she died but the world of science rejoiced in what she left behind.

The immortal cells

Before Henrietta died doctors took a sample of her cancer cells without her permission. Her cells were given to Dr. George Gey who was trying to grow cells in culture. All the cells previously cultured died until they got Henrietta’s. Not only did her cells live it also grew continuously. In fact, it still multiplies up to now! It was probably the first modern miracle that scientists ever witnessed. In fact, I think it should be called the first “living” miracle. This discovery was one of the major breakthroughs in the field of medicine. Gey called this the HeLa cells, combining the first two letter of Henrietta’s full name. Since it couldn’t die, scientists were able to monitor the different stages of cell development and administer tests on each stage. The HeLa cells were instrumental in the development of the Polio vaccine. It was even sent outer space to see how her cells would react in zero gravity. HeLa cells also contributed to the advancement of gene mapping, cloning, and vitro fertilization. Below is a photo of HeLa cells’ remarkable contribution to the field of science.

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What went wrong?

Henrietta’s family had no clue that a part of her was taken and being used by scientists all over the world. Consent forms were unheard of at that time. The HeLa cells were the first human biological specimen that were sold and bought. While the field of medicine was making leaps and bounds in their discoveries through the HeLa cell line, the Lacks family remained where they were—poor and unable to get a health insurance. They couldn’t even determine the exact location of Henrietta’s grave which remained unmarked for the longest time. Twenty-five years after Henrietta’s cells were taken from her, a pervasive contamination in cultured cells spread like wildfire. Apparently, HeLa cells can be transferred through hands and other airborne particles. For example, just when they thought they’ve grown prostate cells scientists discovered that they were taken over by HeLa cells. This prodded them to track Henrietta’s family to get their DNA so they can map her cells and distinguish it among the other cultured cells.

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This was the first time that Henrietta’s family learned about her immortal cells. The family agreed to be tested, thinking that they were being checked for cancer. They didn’t understand quite well all the complex DNA mapping that was being explained to them. Eventually, they discovered that HeLa cells were being bought and this infuriated Henrietta’s sons. They tried to get what was due them but failed in the process. Their efforts consumed the family in a debilitating way. This even caused her youngest daughter Deborah to breakdown, knowing that a part of her mom was alive somewhere and was being experimented on. Deborah was still an infant when Henrietta died. She was born four months before her mother was diagnosed with cancer. With the family placed in the middle of research hoopla, inquiries knocked on the Lacks’ doorstep which consequently traumatized the family.

More than just the cells

Author Rebecca Skloot first heard of HeLa cells in her biology class. However, the only information her teacher gave aside from Henrietta’s name was that she’s black. This roused the curiosity of Rebecca who later on took the road less travelled of finding the Lacks family to learn more about the woman behind the immortal cells. The Lacks family already had the notion that doctors and reporters were out to take advantage of them when Rebecca entered the picture. It took her a decade to win the trust of the Lacks family. She had to convince them of her sincere and pure intentions to tell the story of Henrietta as a woman, wife, and mother. It was about her brave albeit brief life. Rebecca wanted to give a face to the cells that ushered one scientific breakthrough after another. Her perseverance and integrity finally broke the walls that the Lacks family had built over the years.

Partnering with Deborah, Rebecca started her research on the remarkable woman that is Henrietta. Together they discovered who she was and for Deborah it made up for the many years of wondering what her mother was like. One doctor even gave a framed picture of Henrietta’s cells to Deborah and her family. It was dyed with different colors to show the different parts of her cell. This was a pivotal moment in the lives of Deborah and her brother Zakariyya who both yearned for their mother for the longest time.

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The author

As I was reading this book, my admiration for Rebecca Skloot grew more and more. Pursuing a story out of some random remark from your teacher took a lot of courage and tenacity. In the decade-long process of writing the book, Rebecca faced many hurdles. Gaining the trust of the Lacks’ family was one thing, keeping it was another. Her work with Deborah was like walking on a tight rope. She would sometimes bail out on her then call her again after so many days. She got married while writing the book and got divorced while still writing the book. None of these things stopped Rebecca from finishing what she started. She knew that this story was worth telling. She wrote with clarity and power. Her engaging narrative resulted in a powerful biography filled with poignant moments, ethical controversies, and disturbing revelations in the field of medicine.

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Aside from immortalizing the life of Henrietta, Rebecca also donates a portion of her book’s earnings to the Henrietta Lacks Foundation—a non-profit organization she also started. The foundation provides education and medical support to the immediate family of Henrietta. It also gives grants to families who have relatives that contributed to the field of science but didn’t receive any recognition. This book redeemed the life of Henrietta and her family. It gave them a new beginning. Memorial markers were placed in honor of Henrietta and the future of her grandchildren and great grandchildren was secured.

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Before Henrietta died Dr. Gey told her, “Your cells will make you immortal.” He added that it will save the lives of people. Henrietta smiled and told him that she was glad that her pain would be of good use to someone. Knowing that a part of her will live on forever for the benefit of others probably comforted Henrietta. This book took me through a roller coaster of emotions. It also stirred something in my heart—a sense of gratitude toward Henrietta and awe to the God who used her life to bring about immortal cells.

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