Winning cancer battle: The Garcias start holiday season with gratitude

A day before Thanksgiving 2016, Claudia Garcia learned there was a cancerous tumor threatening to take her away from her family. The 42-year-old mother of two worked as a pediatric nurse. She didn’t want her anguish to ruin the holiday season, so she kept the life-changing diagnosis a secret. 

Her 11-year-old son Ryan said he suspected something was wrong. He noticed his parents were whispering and looked worried. After the holiday season, his parents told him they needed to talk to him and his teenage sister. He was sitting on the couch. His feet were barely touching the ground.

When they told him mom was sick, he said he felt like there was “an explosion.” It was destructive like the ones he sees in his LEGO Ninjago video game. But he looked at his teenage sister, and at his parents, and they were all calm. He didn’t cry. 

“It was very scary,” Ryan said. 

This holiday season, the Pinecrest Preparatory Academy student said he was grateful. After surgery and chemotherapy, his mom was smiling a bit more. Her hair was growing. He saw his father’s strength in action when he kept up with all of his mom’s duties — except for cooking. He said he was grateful his family and neighbors helped with that. 

His sister, Isabella, said her mom is the first person she goes to when she has a problem, so dealing with her breast cancer diagnosis was scary. The doctors at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center were doing their best to save her life with chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy.

“Claudia received intensity modulated radiation therapy,” Dr. Anesa Ahamad, her radiation oncologist, said about a treatment that can form precise shapes to beam a high dose of radiation to a specific area. 

When Garcia postponed her 2015 mammogram, she said, she was juggling working at the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital and family. After a 2016 mammogram and a biopsy, she learned a tumor in her breast was feeding on estrogen and progesterone hormones. The cancer cells had reached the lymphatic system, but not organs. 

“I was so busy and I didn’t think it could happen in my 40s, and despite everything I know from working in the medical field, I thought that was for women in their 50s,” Garcia said. “I have the best doctors and I am so thankful. I started to meditate with an app, and dealing with breast cancer has renewed both our faith in science and God.” 

Dr. Joyce Slingerland, the director of Sylvester’s Braman Family Breast Cancer Institute, said once Garcia completed chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, she started hormonal therapy.

Garcia is among the thousands of patients who are participating in the PALLAS clinical trial, which Singerland says is testing the benefit of “a new targeted therapy along with standard endocrine therapy to prevent cancer recurrence.”

Ryan and Isabella aren’t following the details of their mom’s treatment. They are doing their best to stay focused on school, but coping with not knowing can be challenging. While playing volleyball and baking were both enjoyable distractions, Isabella said her mom told her she needed to rely on God more. 

There was so much the Garcia family couldn’t control this year. Isabella said going to St. Louis Catholic Church in Pinecrest to be with her uncles, aunts and cousins was comforting. She now prays regularly. This Thanksgiving, she said, she was also grateful for the support of her friends. 

“Being able to talk to someone, that made it easier to deal with the tragedy,” the 15-year-old student said.  

Ryan and Isabella said their dad really stepped up his game this year. Claudia Garcia agrees. They said Sergio Garcia, 44, didn’t let anything slip through the cracks at their home in Kendale Lakes. 

“Cancer isn’t easy. You need your family, your community, and you need to take care of yourself so you can be there for your family,” the busy father said. “I started a walking club in the neighborhood. I have learned to take deep breaths. The holiday season is the best time of the year and last year, I didn’t understand why this was happening to us. ” 

In between her chemotherapy and her surgery, the family celebrated Ryan’s First Holy Communion and Isabella completed her sacrament of Confirmation. The busy father said he learned from a family friend whose wife was diagnosed with leukemia that it was important to stay active. He is now passing along what he learned to a cousin whose wife was recently diagnosed with cancer. 

Teen wanted for South Florida homicide arrested at airport

Authorities say an 18-year-old man wanted in a recent killing in South Florida was arrested while trying to board a flight from Fort Lauderdale to Ohio.

The U.S. Marshals South Florida Regional Task Force took Sinceer Priest, of West Palm Beach, into custody at the security checkpoint at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Wednesday night.

The Sun-Sentinel reports Priest is the second person arrested in the killing of 20-year-old Desean Zachary Menelas of Boynton Beach. Officials say Menelas was negotiating with two buyers by texting on his cellphone about the location for a drug deal.

Priest was booked into the Palm Beach County Jail on first degree murder charges and is being held without bond. Jail records don’t indicate whether he has an attorney.

Federal judge strikes down Texas abortion ban

A federal judge has struck down Texas’ ban on a common second-trimester abortion procedure.

On Wednesday, US District Judge Lee Yeakel overturned Texas Senate Bill 8 — which was passed earlier this year and banned doctors from performing dilation and evacuation abortions.

“That a woman may make the decision to have an abortion before a fetus may survive outside her womb is solely and exclusively the woman’s decision. The power to make this decision is her right,” Yeakel wrote.

In a D&E abortion, a doctor dilates the patient’s cervix before dismembering and removing the fetus. Senate Bill 8 banned doctors from performing such abortions unless they first stopped a fetus’ heart using another method.

A number of abortion providers and women’s health groups, including Planned Parenthood and Whole Woman’s Health, challenged the law. Banning the procedure — the most common type of abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy — means women must seek riskier alternatives, they argued.

“The court concludes that requiring a woman to undergo an unwanted, risky, invasive, and experimental procedure in exchange for exercising her right to choose an abortion, substantially burdens that right,” Yeakel wrote in Wednesday’s decision.

Texas lawmakers passed Senate Bill 8 in the spring, and Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law in June. It was due to go into effect in September, but Yeakel temporarily blocked Texas from enforcement while the law was being challenged in court.

Abortion rights activists fiercely opposed the law — and staged some dramatic protests against it. In March, when lawmakers were considering the bill, women showed up in the Texas Senate in white bonnets and blood-red cloaks, the uniform from Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale.” In the book, a new ultra-religious American government forces fertile women to carry leaders’ children (and to wear the conservative outfit).

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Wednesday he will immediately appeal Yeakel’s decision.

“We will defend Senate Bill 8 all the way to the US Supreme Court, if necessary,” Paxton said in a statement. “During a five-day trial this month in district court, we created a record unlike any other in exposing the horrors of dismemberment abortions. No just society should tolerate the tearing of living human beings to pieces.”

If the case makes it to the Supreme Court, it wouldn’t be the first Texas abortion law to do so. Last year, the high court threw out a Texas abortion access law, which required abortion clinics to have surgical facilities.

‘Deranking’ RT and Sputnik: From an Open Internet, Back to the Dark Ages

By Jonathan Cook Can anyone still doubt that access to a relatively free and open internet is rapidly coming to an end in the west? In China and other autocratic regimes, leaders have simply bent the internet to their will, censoring content that threatens their rule. But in the “democratic” west, it is being done […]

Why Cyntoia Brown is all over social media

This week, the case of a woman named Cyntoia Brown went viral on social media, even though she has already been in jail for more than ten years.

Brown is serving a life sentence for the murder of a Nashville man in 2004. According to Brown, after a childhood marked by abuse and drugs, she was raped and forced into prostitution by a pimp, and ended up killing one of her clients out of self defense when she was just 16 years old. Despite her youth, she was tried as an adult and given a life sentence.

The details of her crime and trial — including the fact that the man who had paid for sex with her was 43 years old, have started circulating again, catching the attention of A-list celebrities and spawning the viral hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown. However, even before the renewed interest, her trial inspired a documentary and was a factor in a major change in how the state of Tennessee deals with child prostitution cases.

How a years-old case ignited new interest

Though it’s unclear why, specifically, Brown’s story came back into the spotlight, a text post describing Brown’s history and trial appeared to pick up serious steam when it was shared by singer Rihanna on Instagram.

“Imagine at the age of 16 being sex-trafficked by a pimp named “cut-throat.” After days of being repeatedly drugged and raped by different men you were purchased by a 43 year old child predator who took you to his home to use you for sex. You end up finding enough courage to fight back and shoot and kill him,” the post reads.

“Your (sic) arrested as (sic) result tried and convicted as an adult and sentenced to life in prison,” it continues. “This is the story of Cyntoia Brown. She will be eligible for parole when she is 69 years old.”

“Something his horribly wrong when the system enables these rapists and the victim is thrown away for life,” Rihanna wrote in her Instagram caption.

The same post was later shared by Kim Kardashian, Cara Delevigne, and other celebrities, journalists and activists, who questioned why an underage girl involved in prostitution was given such a harsh sentence.

The reemergence of her story has inspired several petitions asking for a retrial in the case.

The story behind the posts

According to years of local media reports, a 2011 documentary about her case and court documents detailing Brown’s own testimony and that of a juvenile psychiatrist, Brown suffered from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, grew up in an abusive home and had run away from her adoptive parents’ house prior to becoming involved in prostitution in Nashville.

“She was staying with different people and using drugs and alcohol,” a 2014 petition for appeal reads. She then met a 24-year-old named “Cut Throat” who, according to the petition, eventually began physically and sexually abusing her and forced her into prostitution.

On August 7, 2004, Brown testified she was solicited for sex by 43-year-old Johnny Mitchell Allan, who picked her up near a Sonic parking lot and drove her back to his house. There, she testified, she saw a gun cabinet in Allan’s room. She said she resisted his advances until he appeared to reach under the bed. Brown said she thought he was “gonna get a gun or is gonna do something to me.” She then said she took a gun out of her purse and shot Allan.

During her trial, the prosecution argued that the motive for the killing was not self-defense, as Brown claimed, but rather robbery, since Brown took Allan’s wallet after she shot him. She was tried as an adult and convicted of first degree murder, first degree felony murder and aggravated robbery. The convictions carried concurrent life sentences and eight additional years.

Brown’s life sentence caught criticism in Tennessee, and in 2012, a US Supreme Court ruling offered her advocates new hope. The Supreme Court decision banned life without parole for juveniles, stating it was unconstitutional. However, Brown’s conviction does carry the possibility of parole — when Brown is 69 years old. Still, her advocates are hoping the change, and continued interest in her story, will inspire a change in Tennessee law.

Loss of the night: Global light pollution rising rapidly

Artificial lighting at night is contributing to an alarming increase in light pollution, both in amount and in brightness, affecting places all over the world, a new study has found.

Some regions have showed a steady increase in light pollution aligned with economic development, but more developed nations that were thought to be “going dark” by switching to energy-saving LEDs showed no apparent decline in their rates of light pollution.

Globally, there has been a push toward more energy- and cost-efficient light sources, such as LEDs, but this has directly contributed to an alarming increase in light pollution, the researchers believe.

Using the first calibrated satellite radiometer for night lights, which can detect radiance, a team of scientists found a 2.2% increase in the Earth’s outdoor artificial lighting each year between 2012 and 2016.

“I was very surprised by the result of the study, particularly in wealthy well-lit countries like the US,” said Christopher Kyba of the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, lead author of the study.

“When we switch from a sodium lamp to a white LED, what we observe is a decrease in the total amount of light that the satellite can see. But what we saw instead for the US was basically a constant amount of light; new lights were added in other places,” he said.

In many other developed countries that are already very bright, the team saw an increase in the total amount of light, despite the fact that many cities appear to be “going dark” by switching to LEDs, Kyba added.

As with the US, some of the world’s brightest countries like Spain, Italy and the Netherlands showed stability in levels of outdoor light over this time frame.

The study also noted a consistent growth in lighting in South America, Africa and Asia, with a few exceptions in regions like Yemen and Syria, which showed a decrease due to escalating conflict and warfare.

The risks from light pollution

The study concluded that a steady increase in the use of energy-efficient lights that are cheap and readily available will result in even more light pollution and a reduction of natural day-night light cycles in areas that still experience them.

Light pollution poses a threat to 30% of vertebrates and more than 60% of invertebrates that are nocturnal, including plants, microorganisms and, most alarmingly, human health, the researchers add.

White LED light has been linked to disruptions in sleep patterns, and the glare is found to affect eyesight.

Last year, the American Medical Association issued an official policy statement about LED street lighting, recommending a radiance and color temperature level less harmful to health.

In August, a Harvard study found an increased risk of breast cancer in women living in neighborhoods with higher outdoor lighting. This was linked to increased brightness at nighttime, as the body expects light during daytime and darkness at night.

The health of birds is also at risk. A study published last month found that high-intensity light in urban areas can alter their behavior in terms of migration, foraging and vocal communication. The impact was especially adverse in nocturnal migrating birds that were used to orienting in darkness and were failing to do so due to light pollution.

Another landmark study published last year found that 83% of the world’s population and more than 99% of the US and European populations were affected by light pollution and could not see the stars at night.

Gareth Jones, professor of biological sciences at the University of Bristol, who was not part of the new study, said it is “an important paper because it uses new and carefully calibrated methods for quantifying light pollution over a wide range of wavelengths at high spatial resolution. The study confirms that light pollution continues to increase and is of global relevance.”

“Although there are benefits in terms of greater energy efficiency associated with changes to new lighting technologies such as LEDs, nevertheless light pollution and its associated risks to human health and biodiversity continue to increase,” Jones added.

The Rebound Effect: How much is too much light?

The arguments for the transition to LEDs include cost-saving and reductions in energy consumption, but this has led to increased demand and greater use of outdoor lighting.

Large cities like Milan appeared to have a decrease in radiance around the city center but an increase in rural areas, which the scientists attributed to the replacement of older lamps with LEDs.

“From energy economics, there’s a phenomenon called The Rebound Effect,” Kyba said: If we have an energy-efficient car, for example, we allow ourselves to live farther from work and thus end up driving more. Though there’s a limit to the amount of time one spends driving, with LED lights, there seems to be no saturation point.

The improved energy efficiency has therefore led to more LED lighting being installed in households and outdoors, Kyba said.

He also highlighted an issue with the way people are using LEDs, which offer features like dimmers that are going unused.

“What is currently happening is that we take take the old lamps out, keep the masts standing and get the new lamp on,” he said. “So we’re not using these amazing ways of using LEDs.”

He also offered a practical solution to reduce the light being emitted in cities.

“In city centers, we need to completely rethink the way we light by putting people at the center and not cars, which have their own lights,” Kyba said. “We shouldn’t have streetlights anymore. We should have lighting for pedestrians and for the people riding bikes.”