Family Secrecy

The story of a young woman’s struggle with a past she is forbidden to share.

Imagine your parents hiding the fact that you were adopted, or that one of your parents is not related to you. Visualize them not telling you about a sibling who died at a young age. What would your parents do if you told other people about their secrets? Or are they your secrets to tell?

Six years ago a concerned doctor in Redding, California walked in an exam room decorated with children’s drawings, while a mom fidgeted nervously in her chair. Thirteen-year-old Caitlin Smith* listened as the doctor listed a series of tests to check for the tumor that had just developed in her brain. He kept saying, “Based on your history of tumors,” and she kept thinking, what history?

When the doctor left the room, her mom quickly explained that she had been born with a malignant brain tumor, and was in St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for two years when she was a baby. Caitlin’s first instinct wasn’t anger about being left in the dark- it was disbelief that something had ever been wrong with her. All she remembered was her mom kept repeating, “You didn’t go through this, we did, and there’s no point in dwelling in the past now.” Unlike many teens, Caitlin didn’t immediately rebel at being lied to for so many years, at least not yet.

Today, Caitlin is a sophomore in college. The second tumor they found was benign, but it continues to push on her optic nerve making her partially blind in one eye. Doctors thought it was too risky of a surgery to remove a benign tumor, but Caitlin still goes to regular scans and check ups. After years of secrecy, she acknowledges the importance of that early part of her life, and indirectly the fact that it should be her story to tell.

“I still don’t understand why they wanted to keep it a secret, but I do understand that I need to respect their wishes,” she says. “At the same time, even if I don’t remember it, it was still an important part of my life.”

No one in Caitlin’s hometown ever found out about her story, even her younger sister doesn’t know. While the secrecy makes her family seem very distant from each other, Caitlin insists they are usually very open about things. That is, until she entertained the idea of getting a tattoo. “My mom basically said they would not continue to pay for my college if I got a tattoo. She just doesn’t want me to get something I might regret.”

It was this same fear of upsetting her parents and being cut off that made Caitlin feel the need to respect her parent’s wishes and not tell anyone about her past with cancer. “They are supporting me right now, so I understand that I have to obey them,” she says. “They have said before that they were afraid I would rebel and disrespect their wishes when I came to college.” The threat of rebellion still haunts her parents, and their control of her life decisions could be seen as a manipulative tactic to make sure she doesn’t spill their secret- even if it’s hers to tell.

Caitlin’s current roommate, Allison Johnson*, found out about her past when they both joined the same sorority.

Allison understands why Caitlin didn’t want people in her hometown to find out about her story. “She was the conductor of the band in her high school and everyone knew her, and she didn’t want that to change what people thought of her or how they treated her,” Allison says.

Caitlin’s parents’ secrecy about her experience at St. Jude hasn’t stopped her from reaching out in other ways. She volunteered for several organizations in high school, and continues to do everything she can to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“I try to give back in other ways as a way of recognizing what happened to me. It’s mainly affected my outlook on people and how I connect with others,” says Caitlin.

After watching the eight-year-old girl she babysat pass away from bone cancer in her hometown, Caitlin says those experiences affected her more than her own experience and helped her understand how her parents must have felt. As she told the tragic story about the young girl she babysat, Caitlin’s bubbly demeanor remained the same.

“One of the qualities that my parents had that I’m glad I also have is the ability to just get over it, and that’s always been a personal thing for me not to dwell on things,” says Caitlin, proud of her positivity.

Allison, on the other hand, remains curious about the reasoning behind Caitlin’s parents’ need for ownership over the secret.

“I don’t understand why I can’t say anything about what I know to her parents, but I still won’t tell them I know,” Allison admits. “It’s a very interesting dynamic. I can tell that they are the sort of parents that aren’t friends with their kids, they are the parents.”

Caitlin reiterated that she grew up learning to not dwell in the past. “The way that I was raised is just to move on from things that happened in the past and just put a smile on and be thankful that it’s over now,” she says bluntly.

As one of the few people besides her parents that know about her history, Allison disagrees with Caitlin’s idea that acknowledging the past would just be a way of complaining. And also another way for her parents to reinforce her secrecy.

“She’s been conditioned to think that telling someone about this experience is like rolling out the pity parade, but I think her experience is something that should be dealt with emotionally,” she says.

Allison continues to support Caitlin by taking her to regular scans and check-ups for her benign tumor, but she thinks that Caitlin is too afraid to use her story to help others.

“If she wasn’t so worried about being pitied, I think her story could help her inspire others and increase outreach for St. Jude,” Allison says.

Whether she’s afraid of attention from others or disobeying her parents, Caitlin says she regrets telling other girls in her sorority about being a patient at St. Jude. The prolonged secrecy has taken a toll on Caitlin’s friendships, and could even result in rebellion and rejection from her family altogether.

She remains suppressed by her parents from talking about an important chapter from the beginning of her life, not just her parents’ life. The benign tumor in her brain continues to obscure her vision as a constant reminder of a past she should be able to share.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of both sources.

Skinny Obsession: Eating Disorders Plague Young Women

The residents of RainRock Treatment Center sit down for lunch at a homey dining table with a view overlooking the McKenzie River east of Eugene, Oregon. The young women, dressed in sweatpants and slippers, chatter around the table as bouts of laughter occasionally erupt. The chef and staff set down a personally-portioned chicken club sandwich with a bowl of fruit in front of each resident.

At first glance, the clients at RainRock appear normal and healthy. But for each of these women, everyday is a struggle with a destructive eating disorder that can ruin their self-esteem, tear apart families, and even lead to death.

“It’s a disease of secrecy and shame,” said Dr. Tara Holstein, Clinical Director of RainRock Treatment Center.

Surrounded by lush forest on the east edge of Springfield, RainRock treats residential and outpatient clients to help them overcome an eating disorder, primarily anorexia or bulimia, which affects mostly women in their early 20s. Anorexia nervosa is a condition where patients starve themselves to look skinny. Bulimia nervosa is when a person binges on food and makes them self throw up to lose weight. These young women constantly fight the need to purge or starve themselves to attain an impossibly thin model-like figure.

“We live at a time when we are constantly bombarded with unhealthy images,” said Assistant Director of Development Jessica Silye at the National Eating Disorders Association.

Anorexia and bulimia affect between 7 and 10 million American women, and one million men, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa. Close to half of the reported cases in women began between the ages of 16 and 20. The cost of treatment can reach more than $100,000 and only 50 percent of those affected report being cured of the disorder. Around 6 percent of serious cases of anorexia nervosa result in death due to malnutrition and starvation.

Some treatment centers mostly focus on the medical issues of a patient, said Holstein, and often overlook the mental and emotional needs of a client. “A lot of treatment facilities are so heavily medical and they don’t really treat the person, and there’s a lot that needs to be done on that level,” said Holstein.

At RainRock, one of the few residential treatment centers in Oregon, residents have meetings with psychologists, dieticians, and create peer support groups with the other residents. RainRock patients are served three meals and three snacks a day, and some follow a light exercise plan.

Clients at RainRock had significantly higher self-esteem ratings and showed less signs of starvation or purging after discharge, according to a 10-year follow up study by RainRock. The specialized treatment and high full-recovery rate means RainRock always has a long waiting list. Most clients end up staying for around 60 days.

High-profile celebrities have suffered from eating disorders and have helped make the public more aware of the condition. Actress Jane Fonda discussed her eating disorder in the late ‘70s, and singer Alanis Morissette had anorexia and bulimia during her teen years. Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston died in 2006 at age 21 from complications with prolonged anorexia.

“Models in stores would not be able to bear children if they were brought to life as they do not have enough body fat. This horrible standard makes it harder for those prone to [eating disorders] to avoid it,” said Silye.

A constant focus on dieting is another social factor that drives some women to sacrifice food and their health to look skinny. University of Oregon student Jerica Pitts remembers the pressure she felt as a teenager before overcoming bulimia in high school.

“Those women in the magazines create this illusion of what you need to look like rather than what you can actually become or should be,” said Pitts. “Earlier in high school you are still going through a bunch of changes and I just wanted to fit in and look like everybody else.”

Certain activities or influences can trigger an eating disorder as well. Pitts gained weight at age nine after she quit swimming to focus on dance. It was around that time when she recalled several comments her dance teachers made about her weight.

“My teacher said that if I wanted to do well in dance I would have to lose weight, so that’s when I became more aware of it. I didn’t care about the health part of it, I just wanted to look good,” she said.

Pitts binged on food and then purged on a daily basis throughout high school. She received outpatient treatment for her disorder after several hospital visits for dehydration and malnutrition. The self-esteem issues that drove her to such extremes still affect her today.

“Since then I haven’t had a consistent eating disorder, but I still make myself throw up sometimes,” Pitts said.

Enabling comments from close friends and family about appropriate weight can influence someone with an eating disorder. Before she decided to become a psychologist, Holstein developed an eating disorder in her early teen years into her 20s. After receiving compliments on her figure from family and friends, Holstein maintained a strict exercise and diet plan throughout her college years. Constant compliments on her weight and petite frame fueled her obsession with remaining impossibly thin.

“In our culture part of becoming a woman is like becoming a dieter, so many of my friends and teachers made no comment about my eating habits,” said Holstein, who looked healthy and alert.

Eating disorders often coincide with or cause other mental conditions like depression or an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

“I basically ate carrots for dinner, and it just kept going. It was mainly restriction and over-exercising. I never missed a workout,” she said.

Experts and women affected by eating disorders blame different mental conditions as causes of the disorder.

“Most people who have an eating disorder have other mental conditions as well. It’s not always clear which of those disorders came first, sometimes the disordered eating itself takes a toll on brain functioning and then causes more depression and anxiety,” Holstein said.

University of Oregon student Micaela Sicroff watched her older cousin deal with anorexia when she in high school.

“It was hard to watch her struggle with her eating disorder, but I didn’t really understand it at first. I just knew that she had body image issues and was very much a perfectionist,” said Sicroff. “She finally got help during her senior year of high school and she found that her disorder was deeply rooted with depression.”

Obesity issues have been a popular topic in the media in recent years. While this phenomenon has caused many young girls to be unnecessarily worried about their weight, others still maintain healthy lifestyles and self-esteem levels.

“I have been very fortunate that I have never felt the urge to partake in drastic measures to change my appearance,” said Sicroff.  “I love to eat and I love to exercise, and the older I get, the more I enjoy living a healthy life. I would never want to hurt my body.”

Many dieticians and doctors use the Body Mass Index scale to determine what weight range a healthy person should be in based on height. While one of the signs of anorexia is a BMI below 18, almost 60 million Americans have a BMI over 30, which is considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The concept of an obesity epidemic has sparked constant debate about eating habits in American culture.

“If we lived in a culture where people didn’t talk about weight so much or how much you should eat, people would just naturally eat according to hunger and stop according to fullness. They wouldn’t monitor their weight in the same way that society tells us to,” Holstein said.

The majority of eating disorder cases reported are anorexia and bulimia. But psychologists and professionals are researching new types of related disorders, such as obsessive exercising, that may go unnoticed by most doctors and caregivers.

Education and research on eating disorders is a continuous process, Holstein said. Treatment centers around the country are still grappling to understand the complex psychological and social factors that cause many young women to develop dangerous eating disorders.

“We just need more awareness and better education of medical professionals,” Holstein said.

For more info or help with an eating disorder visit the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders website.

Clueless in Ceramics

University of Oregon Craft Center instructor Renae Kowitz hunched over the potter’s wheel and set her hands on a two-pound ball of clay.

It takes a little scientific knowledge and numerous artistic steps to get from raw clay to a finished ceramic piece.

Kowitz shapes the bowl

Kowitz has been doing ceramics for more than 17 years and has worked at the craft center since 2004. She has created everything from a functional set of bowls to abstract artistic pieces.

Kowitz carefully measured two hunks of clay and wedged it on the table to get rid of problematic air bubbles. Air bubbles, she said, can cause a piece to explode in the kiln when the air in a piece is exposed to high temperatures.

She then grabbed a round wooden plate, called a bat, and secured it on the metal surface of the wheel. The bat keeps the clay stationary and protects her hands from chafing on the spinning metal wheel.

Kowitz put on her favorite clay-splattered apron, flipped a switch on the side of the wheel, set the pedal at a medium speed, and began working with the clay.

She kept her hands completely steady as the wheel started turning as she let the clay conform to the round shape of her hands.

“You are trying to get the clay into a really symmetrical shape on the wheel so that all sides are even and centered on the bat,” Kowitz said.

Watering the bowl with a sponge

It often takes hours to center the clay, she said. Many problems can arise throughout the throwing and firing processes. Sometimes a bat won’t stick to the wheel, a piece of clay won’t center because it has air bubbles, or the ceramics crack during firing in the kiln. It took less than five minutes for Kowitz to make two perfectly symmetrical bowls.

“I don’t assume everything I center is going to end up a finished piece,” she said. “Accepting imperfection is key.”

Kowitz determined if the clay was centered by looking at how it stayed in the center of the bat instead of wobbling around. Then she stuck a finger directly in the middle of the clay and pushed against the side to open up the piece. How much she opens the clay will decide whether or not she makes a cup, bowl or plate. Occasionally she took the sponge from a nearby water bucket and watered the clay to keep it malleable.

“The most advanced form to throw is a teapot or anything with a lid because you have to make a spout and handle before the clay dries, which requires more devotion to a single piece,” she said.

Kowitz stopped the wheel and slid the wire tool under the bowl. She used the wire to separate the clay piece from the wooden bat to move it to a wooden slab. Kowitz covered the clay bowl with plastic and let it slowly dry out for a few days to avoid cracks.

Kowitz loaded the bowl into the first kiln to be bisque fired, which removed all residual moisture from the piece before glazing. Then Kowitz dipped the bowl into her glaze of choice for the final firing where the glaze reacts with the high temperatures and creates different colors.

A few days later Kowitz unloaded the shiny new ceramics from the still-warm kiln, which held numerous bowls, mugs, vases, and plates. After moving the finished pieces into the studio, she set the vibrantly colored ceramics on designated shelves surrounded by walls of dusty unfinished work.

Blogging Rights: Will Legislation Catch Up?

courtesy of

Current law has yet to address the legal and ethical issues of personal online publications. Recently blogs have become an important source for opinion and upcoming news, but should bloggers have the same legal rights as trained journalist professionals?

Although blogs are usually thought of as an independent online publication, many large newspapers and magazines maintain online blogs as well. While it could be argued that blogs were originally used as a sort of online diary, it’s still a portal where an individual can write about anything they want and then broadcast it to millions of viewers with the click of a button.

The ability to remain anonymous with any online posting has created problems with libel and defamation cases. In the 2005 Doe v. Cahill case, a public official wanted to sue online alias “Proud Citizen” for defamation, but needed the person’s identity from Comcast in order to continue the case (Hudson). The Delaware Supreme Court eventually ruled that the plaintiff easily obtaining the defendant’s identity could have a chilling effect on the freedom of speech enjoyed on the Internet, and denied the plaintiff’s request (Hudson). The blogosphere seems to be divided on the issue of anonymity. A prominent non-profit group, the Media Bloggers Association, “does not accept bloggers as members anonymously or pseudonymously. We believe that bloggers should own their own words” (

Recently the Federal Trade Commission released blogger ethics guidelines, which were criticized by several groups including the Interactive Advertising Bureau (Morrissey). Some of the guidelines require a blogger to show whether or not they are benefiting from advertisements on their blog, and to disclose if a free product was given to the blogger to write a review (Morrissey). Groups like the IAB claim the guidelines regulate online speech more than other mediums, and that it regulates speech based on the medium rather than the content (Morrissey).

Based on a recent study published in the New Media and Society journal, bloggers seem to share an ethical code similar to the principles behind traditional reporting and established publications. Some of these values included accountability, seeking the truth, and attribution (New Media and Society). In 2008 approximately 113 million blogs were tracked to see how bloggers implemented ethical values in their personal and non-personal publications. Bloggers with both types of publications valued attribution the most, which adds to the reason why a popular blog usually has several interactive links and sources to back up observations.

The rise of the Internet has required the government to accommodate and update the law for new media forms in recent years. Several social and political issues still need to be addressed in order to better regulate online media, such as freedom of speech rights and journalist privileges for bloggers.  Although it often seems that no regulation could handle a limitless media, case law and communication law experts demonstrate that legislation is slowly catching up with an ever-changing form of media.

  • Doe v. Cahill, 879 U.S. 451 (2005)
  • Hudson, David L. Jr. “Blogs and the First Amendment.” Blogosphere and the Law.
  • Nexus, A Journal of Opinion, 2006.
  • Media Bloggers Association. New Rochelle, NY. 2009.
  • New Media and Society. “Doing the right thing online: A survey of bloggers’ ethical beliefs and practices.” Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. SAGE Publications. 2009. 9 March 2010.<;
  • Morrissey, Brian. “IAB Says FTC Blogger Rules Trample Constitution.” Oct. 2009. 9 March 2010.

Saturday Market Survives the Economy

Food and craft vendors at the Portland Saturday Market have high hopes this season after weathering the economic slump the last few years. Most vendors saw a general increase in sales early this season and continue to rely on business from tourists and locals who appreciate handcrafted goods.

On a recent Saturday, Margaret O’Donovan sat in her stall space surrounded by handmade tutus and skirts. It was her first day at the Portland Saturday Market and she anticipated a lot of business.

“I think most Oregonians really appreciate handmade items and will still be willing to pay for it,”  she said.

A major tourist attraction in Portland, the Saturday Market draws in buyers from a different crowd than the average shopper.

“Going to Saturday Market is more of a social thing, so I think that changes the selling dynamic rather than trying to sell at a mall,” O’Donovan said.

The market generates nearly $8 million annually and attracts around 750,00 visitors each year, according to its website.

Gene Nawrocki, who sells handcrafted leather goods, has had a stall at the market for the past two years. “Since the Saturday Market started back up this March things have gotten better than last year,” he said.

Some vendors continue to struggle compared to years past. Joanne Ross returned to the Portland Saturday Market for the first time in four years to sell her Timberline Designs merchandise. “It’s harder to sell now than it was when I was here four years ago,” she said.

“I haven’t changed things much and my prices are the same, but it costs more to make the same products,” Ross said.

With the economy still coming out of a recession, most vendors count on steady business from tourists, Ross said. “This is a great venue because tourists will usually buy more here.”

The market also draws in shoppers who appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship of the products sold there. Customers have the opportunity to discuss the product with the artist or vendor directly.

After her second year selling decorative gourds at the market, Casi Massingill said she had made it her lifelong goal to sell her creations there.

“I’m just glad to be here selling my stuff and Saturday Market is such a great place to do that, regardless of how slow it gets,” she said.