Category Archives: Health

Cancer and community

By Jeffrey Betcher

Maybe there should be a more uplifting title to this article, not just because it might be gentler on you, dear reader, but also because there is so much about “cancer and community” that is positive.

It’s a strange way to start a sentence, but…  The good thing about dying is how it can make a person feel more alive than ever, a phenomenon that can extend to the family, friends and community of the person dying.  Most of my relationships are healthier as a result, just as the hole my death will leave in my community has clarified.

When you’re sick, it’s hard to remember this:

Death isn’t just about the dying. It’s also about those left behind.  I’ll be pissed at myself enough to come back for a do-over if my friends and neighbors are shocked to learn of my death. Ideally, I will have included them in my journey so that whatever beauty there might be in my passing will help balance the grief.

In past updates about my own illness and how it relates to the community of place I love so much, I’ve talked about how those living in traditionally under-served communities like Bayview can be at higher risk for all sorts of diseases than those living in more affluent places.  That’s something communities can help address, primarily through education and advocacy.  More

I’ve also talked about how my neighbors have helped me in ways that only neighbors can, and how being part of a local community improves my odds. Wherever you live, when it comes to being sick, the closest support is next door if not in the house with you.  Clearly, being part of a community comes with benefits for the sick person.  More

We’ve lost two more neighbors to cancer here on my block of Bayview in just the past couple of months. One of them a relatively young long-term resident, something that may speak to the incidence of cancer rates here.  The community response as I’ve observed it speaks to the value of social networks to getting through tough times. While it may be impossible to understand loss suffered by others, folks in Bayview seem to understand that acknowledging it and reminding those in grief that they are not alone makes a difference.

Connecting with the people and physical environment where we live takes some effort. But I believe it’s important. A sense of community contributes to a better life for even the healthiest neighbors. And when a community member dies, the community context helps make sense of the loss.

I’ve come to think that a person with a life-threatening illness or injury has a unique role to play in their community that goes beyond being the receiver of help from neighbors.  Active awareness of death, something we will all grapple with one day, can be depressing. But it can also make each day more valuable.  Every word and act can be more compassionate, intentional and responsible.

Trust me on this: get a terminal diagnosis, expect to change in practical ways. No one could blame you if you lowered the blinds, powered-down your phone and burrowed under the covers. On the other hand, you could find yourself picking up litter in the SuperSave parking lot, waving at the person across the street who you had been angry at for some reason you can’t quite recall, seeing beauty in precisely those things that had made your life less beautiful the day before your diagnosis….

Folks have told me that by witnessing my journey (and by my willingness to share it) they are living life more fully and dealing with their fears more successfully. It seems that I am contributing to my community in a new way these days: by living with death, openly. Sometimes, building community is as easy as breathing.

Get a recent update on Jeffrey’s health and cancer treatment, and a whole lot more, by going to CaringBridge.org and searching on his name.

Jeffrey’s cancer and community journey

Mango Baby-eating panda by Rhonda Winter
Mango Baby-eating panda by Rhonda Winter

Jeffrey Betcher

The further from home my cancer journey takes me, the more I land right back at the gardens in Bayview.

While visiting Lex in Florida last week, I tried to sketch a panda which turned out no better than if a panda itself had done it.  When I returned home, a letter from Rhonda Winter, Latona Garden co-founder and now German resident, was in my mailbox.  It was exactly what I had pictured in my meditations about a mythical animal keen to eat a mango sized tumor stuck up my butt.

(Visit www.caringbridge/jeffreybetcher for gory (gorier) details. Point is, this daily sort of community synchronicity happens all the time.  It’s like dependable magic.

The connections between my unwieldy journey with cancer and the place I live, people I live near and others who have come through my life by way of the gardens emerge every day.

The experience so many have, that Bayview Hunters Point’s environmental and social history have bequeathed chronic and sometimes terminal health problems, has roots in reality. At the same time, I hope the internal strength of the social and cultural fabric here serves to make us healthier: a sort of karmic balance between adversity and folks coming together because life is just easier and more joyful that way.

In my reading about cancer and treatment, I’ve stumbled on serious studies and anecdotal evidence that social connections, like those that form around positive activities, can prevent disease and dramatically help those dealing with it.

Just across the Bay, in Alameda, a study by Peggy Reynolds and George Kaplan makes a case that people with the fewest social ties were three times more likely to die over a nine-year period than those who reported the most social ties. I’m not sure what that means about my getting this cancer, but it sure makes me value my neighbors as I deal with it.

And it makes me happy to share a bit of promising news with you, my neighbor near or far.  After a September diagnosis of a Stage IV “incurable” cancer, I’ve just met with researchers at UCSF Mission Bay who are conducting a clinical trial that simply didn’t exist that short time ago.  I’m not in the study yet, and there’s no guarantee (in life or cancer), but it’s hopeful.

For those of you who don’t know, Mission Bay is just up 3rd Street from where I live at Quesada Gardens, and includes a premiere cancer hospital that opened just in time to serve little ole me.  I’m privileged, and I’m grateful to be part of a caring community that is beautifully unavoidable.

Where’s the Duc Loi Pantry?

Whatever happened to the Duc Loi Pantry that was to go into the old Fresh and Easy Market space on 3rd Street? A central issue seems to be Duc Loi’s intent to purchase an alcohol license.

HEAL Zone/SEFA offers this background:

“Duc Loi Pantry is expecting to open a market in the former Fresh and Easy site (5900 Third St) sometime in spring of 2016. As part of the operations, the owner, Mr. Howard Ngo, has applied to purchase a Type 21 license, allowing for sale of beer, wine and spirits. Fresh and Easy had a license to sell only beer and wine.”

As hungry as Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood is for a new food market, adding more booze to the landscape is a concern for many community members.

See lots more about the rocky road to food security focused on 5900 3rd Street

The public is encouraged to provide comment in advance of a hearing at the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee in the coming weeks (possibly on April 14th or May 12th).

Send comments to Lt. David Falzon, Alcohol License Unit: david.falzon@sfgov.org; The Clerk of the Board: Board.of.Supervisors@sfgov.org; Supervisor Cohen: Malia.cohen@sfgov.org; Chief of Police Suhr: Greg.suhr@sfgov.org

Thanksgiving and cancer in Bayview

Jeffrey Betcher

Almost immediately after sending out word at the bottom of the last Bayview Footprints’ edition that I had received a challenging diagnosis, I heard from sympathetic neighbors facing similar struggles. Other neighbors offered to help with rides, dropped off bread and treats, ordered healing juices, delivered the biggest “Get Well” card I’ve seen, and … well … it just keeps coming. Color me truly grateful this Thanksgiving.

Biggest “Get Well” care EVER! Photo: Patti Tuori

Equally moving to me has been the fact that so many Quesada Gardens leaders have (re)committed to the work that we have done together, alongside hundreds of other contributors since 2003, ensuring grassroots community building will remain a force in the rapidly-changing Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood.

The last edition of Bayview Footprints Local News ended with a question mark about the newsletter’s future. It’s beautiful to me that just a month later, in our inboxes, is yet another free community-created issue of Footprints. I give thanks to Liz, Wei Ming, Beth, Craig, Shane, Linda, Hydra, Eric, Joel and Mary, John and … well … my Bayview neighbors!

The new voices and workers behind Bayview Footprints will need help.

I hope you’ll send Liz content from time to time: a photograph about life in the neighborhood, or a bit of text she can use along with your name. Not a press release or PDF event flyer, but something that will give readers a glimpse at the special place and its people we call “Bayview” that they can’t get elsewhere.

Please ask your neighbors to sign up for Bayview Footprints online. Although we reach thousands of readers, about 10% of Bayview’s population, that leaves a lot of folks out when it comes to all the good stuff in the neighborhood.

Contact our leaders: Shane about volunteering in the gardens, Joel and Mary about helping out at Bridgeview, Craig about contributing to social media, and Wei Ming about general organizing. And since I’m not shy about these things: our online costs alone are about $100 a month and we’re all volunteers. Got a couple bucks?

I expect to be contributing Footprints’ content between trips to UCSF’s Cancer Center. For now, here’s an update about cancer in my corner of Bayview: 1) Thanksgiving is more meaningful than ever, 2) Chemo starts on Monday (Yup, I have a ride), and 3) LOTS OF NEIGHBORS HAVE CANCER!

About that last bit, the high incidence of cancer in the neighborhood often seems like our really-badly-kept dirty not-so-little secret. Word got out around the time the old power plant was demolished and the Shipyard cleanup really got underway as links between the environment and health were explored. (Reminder to neighborhood women, especially black women: get that mammogram done. Guys, colonoscopies are not the end of the world.)

A professional should do the math, but when I told a friend in the public health field that I counted eight people on just my side of the Quesada Gardens’ block who have had cancer in recent years, she said that it sounded like “a cluster.” People like Judith, Tom, Tony, Na’im who have passed, and others like Linda and me living with the disease.

I am in a relatively low-risk category, yet the cancer I have is late-stage and aggressive. For you, prevention and early detection may be lifesavers. Eat well. Be physically active. Know the signs of cancer, and see a doctor if you spot those symptoms.

As a community, we have work left to do. Neighbors will be needing neighbors, and Bayview will become a healthy and socially-just place to live only if we insist on it.

I’m an open (digital) book. If you can stomach more wild theories and details about my cancer and treatment journey, see the online journal on CaringBridge [dot] org. Fair warning: you’ll be exposed to butt zombies, a mango baby and a belly butthole. Be strong, or be 12 years old.

I usually host Thanksgiving at my place. This year I didn’t know if I’d be up to it or if friends would want to come to a dinner that might be emotional. But you can’t cancel life, not with my friends around. As it turned out, the mood was light, and familiar faces and foods around the table reminded me that, if I’m healthy another half a day or half a century, I’m blessed.

Be well, neighbors, and ponder some numbers:

In the mid-1990s, a health department study found that 41 percent of black women with breast cancer were under age 50. For the City at large, the rate was 22 percent of women in that age group. High rates of cervical cancer were found, too!

An often quoted but aging study showed that “residents of San Francisco’s Bayview/Hunters Point neighborhood have a life expectancy on average 14 years less than their counterparts on Russian Hill.” Is life expectancy longer now?

Quesada Avenue extension may carve up open space

Jim Ansbro on Bayview Hill 6-16-2015
Local denizen, Jim Ansbro, at the Palou-Phelps Mini Park just below Quesada Hill where a street extension could eliminate a community-serving natural asset. Photo: Footprints

The steep, craggy hill that interrupts Quesada Avenue just west of the Quesada Gardens is the subject of debate.  While most of the hill’s land is public, at some point in history the City drew a “ghost” or “paper” street extending Quesada Avenue through the hill as access for four parcels of private land.

It seems that a private investor took a gamble that the City would build the street and install utilities.  RL&C Investment LLC purchased lots that are currently landlocked behind existing homes on the crest.  The owner wants to build two 3-story houses.

It’s unfortunate, either for the owner or the neighborhood depending on how all this turns out, that the hill is the best source for Bayview’s native plants.  Literacy for Environmental Justice propagates those plants for habitat restoration along the waterfront.

When you stand on the hill and think about its value to the natural environment, and then think about how rapidly the open space we all need to stay healthy and sane is dwindling, it’s disheartening to imagine bulldozers carving it all up.

– Jeffrey Betcher

New research about “toxic stress”

Catherine Osborne provides this Community Research Assessment Summary

Center for Youth Wellness (CYW) is a health organization located on Third Street whose mission is to improve the health of children and adolescents exposed to “toxic stress” from Adverse Childhood Experiences. These experiences, or ACEs as they are called, are strong and relentless experiences of trauma or stress that can damage the growing brains and bodies of children and adolescents.

Center for Youth Wellness seeks to improve children’s health from ACEs by using research, clinical services, and policy in order to better understand impacts of toxic stress, develop effective treatment strategies, and advocate for awareness and solutions to the issue.

These three areas are all grounded in strong community engagement and participation in the work. The research department at CYW is new and still developing. In order to build a research program that is community-based and community-engaged, CYW has created a Community Research Board to advise and participate with the organization in conducting studies. Also, this summer a student intern at the Center conducted a Community Research Assessment in order to gather ideas, perceptions, and experiences of research from community members and residents in Bayview Hunters Point, Visitacion Valley and Potrero Hill. The goals of the assessment were to

  • Provide community voice about research to CYW
  • Inform the design of the CYW research program so that research is conducted effectively, responsibly and according to community values and priorities
  • Identify community members who are interested in working with research program in formal roles, such as Community Research Board members, organizational partners or outreach workers.

For the assessment, the student intern, Catherine Harrison, spoke with 29 adult individuals in individual, pair or focus group interviews. Participants were adults age 18 years and older who either work or live in Bayview, Hunters Point, Potrero Hill and Visitacion Valley. Interviews focused on:

  • Understanding experiences of research and/or health research in the community
  • Understanding barriers and facilitators for research involving children and in particular, biospecimen research, such as taking samples of hair, saliva, blood for measuring stress levels in the body.
  • Understanding ACEs and toxic stress through a community lens

Key findings from the analysis and interpretation of the interviews included:

  • Individuals and neighborhoods have experienced a lot of research involvement, either in medical studies or surveys and assessments for social programs or city development projects. There is a perception of being “over-studied,” particularly due to feelings that no action or results come back to the community from the various studies. Participants also believe that research is valuable and important for making change when there is follow-up action on results.
  • Sharing research results and/or having actionable outputs from research involvement is important, even if it takes time. Participants want to know the benefit of their research involvement.
  • Regarding research with children, seeing a direct benefit of the research for the child participating is important. Participants do not want to involve their children in research from which they or other low-income children in the community will not benefit.
  • Participants gave numerous ideas and suggestions for how researchers can ensure that participants have a thorough understanding of the research project and recruit them for participation.
  • Participants shared their priority concerns and ideas for health research related to adversity and child development.
  • Participants described higher levels of stress as “the norm” in their communities; that healing and prevention need to start with infants and pre-natal women because of this.

Although the assessment project is finished, the CYW team have been sharing and discussing the results with participants, the CYW Community Research Board and, soon, the CYW Community Advisory Committee. These conversations are leading to ideas and recommendations about how CYW can best perform research with, for and in the community. If you would like to be part of ongoing research work or conversations, please email me.

Note: October 2014 the CYW hosted the family of Henrietta Lacks at the Southeast Community Facility for an evening of conversation about the experience or her cells, called HeLa cells, being used in medical research for over 50 years.  More

CYW website    »

Reggie’s “Unfried Rice” gets rave reviews

Reggie RawbookThe dishes that Reggie Bass served up at the Quesada Gardens last Saturday were real crowd-pleasers.  His Unfried Rice was especially impressive.

Reggie said that for a dish to be considered raw, it should not be cooked at any temperature above 115 degrees.  That would kill the food’s natural enzymes that your body needs to absorb it.

Reggie uses bulghur, also known as kush, in his Unfried Rice.  You wouldn’t know it, but the bulghur wasn’t cooked at all.  It was soaked in cold water!

The most important ingredient?  According to Reggie, it’s the same for any of his creations: “a joyful attitude.”

With Reggie’s permission, Footprints brings you the recipe for this unique and delicious dish.

Reggie Bass recipe 1-17-2015 001

Reggie Bass turns death notice into joyful life

Reggie Bass with book
Reggie Bass holds his book appropriately titled: “Reggie’s Rawbook.” Photo: Footprints

“I should have died many times,” Reggie Bass told Footprints while serving up healthy eats at Quesada Gardens last Saturday.

Reggie explained how he once struggled with alcohol, lived through violence in his community, and then found himself facing a dire medical condition.

In 1991, after years of working seven days a week and eating fast food, Reggie collapsed in his apartment. He was in a hospital bed when he emerged from what he found out had been a diabetic coma.

“A doctor came in to tell me that how I was feeling right then was as good as I was ever going to feel … for the rest of my life.”

Reggie did feel pretty low for a time.  So low, in fact, that he tried to take his own life.  Then he met another man who was facing the same challenges and who told him the doctor had been wrong.

Reggie listened and then began an extraordinary journey to becoming the slim, energetic man who brought life to last Saturday’s gardening pop-up event where he shared his story with whomever would listen.  In his book, “Reggie’s Rawbook,” he shares the details of that journey, makes a case for the health benefits of eating raw food, and offers up recipes to help others on the path to wellness.

Garden resources pop-up under Quesada Gardens’ palms

Last Saturday, under blue skies and date palm fronds at the Quesada Gardens, urban garden enthusiasts came together to learn from one another, pull a few weeds on Quesada Avenue, try some of Reggie Bass’ healthy food, taste locally-made jams from the Quesada Gardens General Store, and pick up mulch, soil and compost for their own gardens.

Girls2000 quick break at Quesada Gardens
Young gardeners from Girls 2000 take a well-deserved break. Photo: Footprints
Reggie Bass with book
Reggie Bass “cooked” up raw food and shared his dramatic story. Photo: Footprints
Wei Ming and Mei Ling at General Store
Wei Ming Dariotis and Mei Ling Hui sort out name confusion while Mei Ling leads a jam tasting with jams from the Quesada Gardens General Store. Photo: Footprints
Quesada Gardeners Hussain Abdulhaqq and John Davila work with Girls 2000 gardeners as Brandi Mack helps point the way.  Photo: Footprints
Quesada Gardeners Hussain Abdulhaqq and John Davila work with Girls 2000 gardeners as Brandi Mack helps point the way. Photo: Footprints
Young local Zack helps Girls 2000 gardeners.  Photo: Footprints
Young local Zack helps Girls 2000 gardeners. Photo: Footprints
Tracy Zhu helps a gardener "fill up" with top-quality compost, mulch and soil.  Photo: Footprints
Tracy Zhu helps a gardener “fill up” with top-quality compost, mulch and soil. Photo: Footprints

Leader transitions leave roots intact

Youth Leadership Institute3 7-2011
A Youth Leadership Institute visit to Quesada Gardens in 2011. Photo: Footprints

Patricia Barahona at Youth Leadership Institute tells us that Avni Desai will transition to Mission Economic Development Agency after two years leading YLI’s Tobacco Policy Campaign and food justice work. I’m glad to know Avni isn’t going far. She’s been a friend of Footprints, including publishing her awesome health promotion campaign right here.

Jasmine Vassar has shared with her community that she is moving on from the HEAL ZONE Food Guardian Project. “Before I started this project,” she wrote, “I was on track to teach nutrition and yoga to the benefit of the community.” She is now teaching yoga to both currently and formerly incarcerated adolescent women while continuing with her public health graduate studies at SF State.

Jasmine started with the Department of Public Health, in 2011, “with the intention of changing Bayview,” she said. “I had no idea how much I would be changed in the process.”

Andrea Tacdol writes, “I will not be going too far and will continue to live and work in the Bayview.”  She is moving her work, but not her neighborhood roots or commitment to the HEAL Zone where she has been the program coordinator.

“I know that the remaining dedicated staff members with the support of our strong advisory committee are going to continue to move forward this important work of making healthier choices easier choices in this community.”