Tuesday, June 26, 2018

TV Tuesday: For the People

One of the new shows that my husband and I enjoyed this spring was For the People, a new legal drama. I was particularly interested to see it since two Hollywood writers I follow, Liz Craft and Sarah Fain, had worked on the show's pilot (I enjoy their podcast Happier in Hollywood). Think of For the People as Grey's Anatomy for the legal profession (with good reason - it's another Shonda Rhimes show) - new lawyers learning how to do their jobs, facing off against each other, and hooking up together outside of court. We enjoyed season 1 and are looking forward to season 2.

The show takes place in the Southern District of New York Federal Court, apparently a big deal known as "The Mother Court." The cast is mostly broken up into two teams. Hope Davis stars as Jill Carlan, head of the Public Defenders' office, with her team of newbie lawyers including Jay, played by Wesam Keesh, and besties Allison and Sandra, played by Jasmine Savoy Brown and Britt Robertson, respectively. On the opposing side is Roger Gunn, played by Ben Shenkman, heading up the Prosecutor's office and overseeing new prosecuting attorneys, including the smart but arrogant Leonard, played by Rege-Jean Page; prickly and brilliant Kate Littejohn, played by Susannah Flood; and Allison's boyfriend Seth, played by Ben Rappaport. It sounds confusing with so many actors, but you quickly get to know them, just like the new raft of interns at the start of a Grey's Anatomy season. Vondis Curtis-Hall is excellent as Judge Byrne, and Rahvaunia also adds a spark as Court Clerk Theresa. Each episode focuses in on one case, from both the perspectives of the defense and the prosecution, plus new insights into the backgrounds and personal lives of the lawyers themselves.

We enjoyed the first season very much. We quickly got to know the characters and soon became invested in them. The acting and writing is all top-notch, and the cases themselves often touch on ripped-from-the-headlines issues, usually showing the shades of gray in what might seem like a straightforward case from the outside, like the kid being tried as a terrorist who basically got caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time by some bad people. The combination of the court cases and the personal lives of the lawyers and others involved in the legal system makes for some compelling TV, as it has in other legal dramas. We'll definitely be watching season 2.

There are 10 episodes in season 1 of For the People. All ten are still available for free On Demand if you subscribe to cable. Oddly, only episodes 1 and 7 - 10 are currently available for free on the ABC website (though you can unlock episode 6 with a cable subscription). You can watch episodes on Amazon streaming starting at $1.99 per episode or $14.99 for the whole season. I think the show might also be available on Hulu streaming (I'm not 100% sure since we don't get Hulu, but it looks like it).

Watch the Trailer:

Monday, June 25, 2018

Movie Monday: Every Day

For years, I have heard great things about David Levithan's YA novels, but I still haven't read one for myself. So, I was glad for the opportunity to see a movie adaptation of one of his recent books, Every Day. I enjoyed this unique but warm and sweet story.

To say that Every Day has an original plot is an understatement. Its main premise is that a young entity - nicknamed A for simplicity - has no body of its own but wakes up in a different teen body each morning, moving from one host body to another every 24 hours. On the first day that we are introduced to A, he wakes up in the body of Justin, played by Justice Smith, a wealthy star high school athlete who is dating a sweet girl named Rhiannon, played by Angourie Rice. Rhi notices that something is different about Justin on that day, but she likes it - he is kinder and more attentive, and the two of them enjoy a "perfect day" together. Except that the next day, Justin doesn't remember much about that day, while a new girl in school named Amy (who is A's next person to inhabit), seems weirdly attuned to Rhi. Each day, in his/her new body, A seeks out Rhi and eventually explains to her what is happening. Of course, she doesn't believe it at first (who would?), but after A comes to see her in the guise of several very different teens on consecutive days and shows Rhi how much he/she knows about her, Rhi finally believes. From then on, it becomes a very unusual kind of love story because the two of them did fall in love that very first day when A inhabited Justin's body, but how can this possibly end happily? Can they continue this way forever, with A in a different body each day?

It's a strange story, but I enjoyed the movie, just accepting its premise and going along for the ride. It's a sweet, if very unusual, love story, and the ending is satisfying, even though it obviously couldn't be a perfect happy ending for all. One minor thing bothered me a bit. Although the movie's creators did a good job of putting A into a diverse group of bodies each day of different races and genders, including a bit of gender fluidity and even one overweight teen, they were all mid- to upper-class kids who lived comfortable, often even pampered, lives with lovely homes, kind parents, and their own cars. Why didn't A ever wake up in the body of a homeless kid or a teen responsible for his younger siblings because his dad was in jail and his mom was an addict? I was a bit annoyed at the lack of diversity in terms of class and wealth. But, overall, that is a minor quibble. For the most part, this was a light, fun movie with plenty of warmth and even some insights about what's important in life and what life is all about. I enjoyed it. And now, I would really like to read the novel it was based on - and other Levithan novels as well - to see how that compares to the movie.

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below - have you read the book? Seen the movie? Let me know what you thought.

Every Day is currently available for streaming on Amazon, starting at $4.99, or on DVD, as well as through other venues (but not on Netflix).


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Weekly Inspiration: Resilience and Chronic Illness

I struggled to come up with a topic for today's Weekly Inspiration post. I haven't written one in a while because our family has been struggling with some huge setbacks and massive unexpected problems - some health-related, though not all directly related to ME/CFS. The past two months have been one never-ending emergency for us, with things happening to our grown sons that have left us all reeling each time. This weekend, as things finally began to settle down (I hope!), it all got me thinking about how our life with chronic illness (16 years and counting now) has given us an amazing resiliency. We have been through SO much, so many times, that we know now when bad things happen that we WILL get through it.

Just a quick recap to bring you up-to-date since I haven't much time for the blog with all that's been going on lately. About a month ago, our 23-yr old son (with ME/CFS and three tick infections) found out less than a week before graduating from college with an engineering degree, after six long years of hard work, that one philosophy professor had failed him for missing too many classes this last semester. Long story short, my son DID graduate and is now taking a different philosophy class this summer to make up for that missing elective, but that week before graduation was very high stress and filled with uncertainty, anger, and panic. That same son has been struggling for the past few months with a downturn in his health (the reason for so many absences from class) that we can't explain and can't seem to influence (though perhaps this week we began to close in on some answers). He rallied himself to go to a huge outdoor music festival last weekend with some friends, and his phone was stolen.

While my husband and I were back here at home making calls to the cell phone provider and bank to fend off additional problems due to the stolen phone, our 20-year old son called from Italy, where he'd been enjoying a study abroad program with his college. He'd been assaulted in Rome - punched and kicked in the head - and had been to the ER and gotten 8 stitches in his temple. He was horribly shook up and upset. We spent the next week on the phone with him and with his doctors, the school, and the student travel agency. He'd had a concussion back in high school and was showing fairly severe signs of another one. He spent last week in his dorm room in Italy, with his eyes closed in bed in the dark, while his classmates enjoyed the exciting program they'd all come for. When it was clear he wasn't improving and needed to come home early, we made arrangements - at great cost - to bring him home. Our family spent this weekend all together again, here at home, healing, with our son constantly thanking us and saying how glad he was to be home! Fortunately, he is already showing signs of improvement, and we are hopeful that this concussion is not quite as bad as his last - we'll see his concussion specialist tomorrow.

Like I said, through all of this, it occurred to me that our last 16 years of living with chronic illness have created a resiliency in all of us that comes in handy in chaotic, stressful times like this. Some of what we've learned to do when bad things happen:
  • Take Time to Grieve - It's OK (and necessary) to acknowledge your feelings - hurt, anger, worry - and it's healthy to express them and band together to support each other. Sometimes, the grieving has to wait until you get through the crisis, but it's important to take time to cry and hug each other and let it all out.
  • Start Moving Forward  - I think this is the part that chronic illness has helped us the most with. We have been through SO many crises together as a family that the grief phase doesn't last very long - we quickly begin to look at what we need to do. With my older son's graduation last month, that meant meeting with the school's Disability office, talking to the appropriate dean, etc. Last week, it meant immediately contacting our concussion specialist (who actually sent our son a link to take a concussion test online in Italy so he could assess from afar how severe he was), contacting the school, contacting the travel agency...and when the time came, making arrangements to get him home as soon as possible. Moving forward means taking action, being proactive, and taking steps toward a solution.
  • Seek Support - In addition to my immediate family, I turned to an online Parents' support group I run on Facebook last week. My son's concussion was not actually an ME/CFS problem, but I knew they would understand what we were going through and how helpless I was feeling. They responded as they always do - with compassion and support - and I immediately felt much better just for sharing mu burden. I also got together with my two closest local friends last week, and talking to them was also hugely comforting.
  • One Day at a Time - when crises occur, it is so easy to get wrapped up in worst-case, what-if scenarios, but that only raises your stress level. It helps to just stay focused on the here and now - what can we do TODAY to move forward? In the case of my son's concussion, he also has a vacation on his grandparents' sailboat planned for two weeks from now. Instead of worrying about what happens if he's not well enough yet to go, we are just doing what we can NOW (seeing the specialist, following his recommendations, resting, etc.) and not worrying about what comes next. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. We hope he will feel better and be able to go, but if not, we know we can get through it.
I know that our years with chronic illness help us when emergencies occur now. I've seen others around us make themselves crazy with worry - they ask how we can be so calm. Practice. We've been through so many other things and survived and came out the other side - we will get through this, too.

Remember this the next time you are blindsided by an unforeseen urgency. Take a deep breath and just take things one day - one moment - at a time and move forward, bit by bit.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

TV Tuesday: American Gothic

Our oldest son moved in back home after graduation and hasn't been feeling well (he has the same immune disorder I do plus some tick infections), so he, his Dad, and I have been binge-watching some TV shows together. Our obsession the past two weeks was American Gothic, a family-based murder mystery with a dark sense of humor and a great cast that we all instantly loved!

The Hawthorne family is one of Boston's most prestigious power families. Dad Mitch, played by Jamey Sheridan, made his fortune with a cement company, and mom Madeleine, played by Virginia Madsen, rules the family with an iron fist. Oldest daughter Alison, played by Juliet Rylance, is a city councilwoman and is running for mayor. Younger sister Tessa is married to a detective named Brady and trying to get pregnant. However, the youngest brother in the family, Cam (played by Justin Chatwin of Shameless fame), has his share of troubles, including drug addiction, an erratic ex-wife, and a very strange kid named Jack. When Mitch has a heart attack, the whole clan gathers at the family mansion, and even oldest brother Garrett, played by Antony Starr, returns home after a mysterious 14-year absence. Meanwhile, a bridge collapse reveals an old clue in the broken cement to an unsolved serial killer case: the Silver Bell Killer. This killer terrified the city years ago, leaving a silver bell at each murder scene. In the first episode, a couple of the Hawthorne kids, back home for their dad's crisis, find a shoebox full of silver bells out in the shed. And then the fun begins!

Clearly, from the evidence found in that box, someone in or near the Hawthorne family had something to do with the Silver Bell Killer...but who? As each tense episode unfolds, viewers will suspect first one and then another Hawthorne family member - no one seems to be immune from this roulette wheel of suspicions. At the same time, of course, the police, including Brady - unaware of the mysterious shoebox in the shed - are also trying to unravel the years-old case and are closing in on the truth. In addition to plenty of suspense and all kinds of unexpected plot twists, this gripping show has a thread of dark humor in it that often made us laugh out loud, despite its serious themes of murder and deception. This show keeps you guessing right up until the very last episode and is completely addictive, making it perfect for binging!

Originally a CBS show, American Gothic is now available for streaming on Amazon Prime or by subscribing to CBS All-Access.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

ME/CFS Research Update - Spring 2018

I have fallen behind these past couple of months on the blog, due to too much going on at home with my family - travel, graduation (yay!), family visits, and my sons moving back home from college. For several weeks now, I've only managed blog posts on TV reviews and Weekly Inspiration (and not even every week for those). During that time, the number of open tabs on my browser has grown steadily because I keep seeing news of new research or treatments for ME/CFS and thinking, "I need to mention this on my blog." So, I am finally getting to some of that, so I can close of a few of those browser tabs and catch up a bit.

This is by no means a comprehensive summary of all ME/CFS research reported this spring - thankfully, that keeps growing and is too much for me to include all in one post - but I've included a few choice studies that have been released recently that might change things for ME/CFS patients and/or lead to important breakthroughs.

Stay Informed
First, some great resources for keeping up-to-date on what's happening in the ME/CFS research world - this is where I usually get my information:
Top Research News
So, some of the latest big updates from the ME/CFS research world include:
  • Scientists Discover Promising "Off-Switch" for Inflammatory Diseases - Although ME/CFS is not specifically mentioned in this article, this joint study by American, Irish, and British scientists is important for ME/CFS patients. It is now well-understood that ME/CFS is a disease characterized by high levels of inflammation which contribute to many of our symptoms. So, this new research that found a potential "off-switch," a biochemical made by the body called itaconate, could lead to an important treatment approach for us.
  • Infection Elicited Autoimmunity and ME/CFS: An Explanatory Model - This study conducted by a team of Swedish and Libyan scientists proposes a model to explain the process that initiates and sustains ME/CFS, based on other recent studies of the disease that have been reported. Their theory involves an infectious trigger and a cascade of immune dysfunction effects, leading to problems with endocrine dysfunction, energy production, orthostatic intolerance, and more. We need this kind of scientific study that pulls together the wide variety of research occurring in different fields to propose models that explain the disease as a whole - only by understanding its genesis and how it is sustained can we hope to figure out how to stop the process. 
  • Exercise Elevates Blood Signature Difference Between People With and Without ME/CFS - Top ME/CFS researcher and clinician Dr. Jose Montoya at Stanford University found that taking blood samples after exercise better allowed doctors to identify the ME/CFS patients versus sedentary controls. This is very important because we desperately need a solid way to diagnose ME/CFS, and while many studies have found abnormal identifiers in the blood of some patients, it is not always a reliable indicator in all patients. This work could lead to a combined exercise-blood testing approach to help diagnose ME/CFS (obviously this would not work in those so severely affected that they can't exercise at all, even for a test).
Lots of good news and continuing research into all aspects of ME/CFS! The rate of new discoveries and study reports just keeps increasing, as funding grows and more scientists get involved. These are trends we need!

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

TV Tuesday: Safe

Last week, my newly graduated son and I (who both have medical issues) were in rest & recovery mode after the long weekend with two graduation ceremonies, family visiting, and a big party on Monday. My husband was out of town on business, so the two of us needed to find a new show we could watch on our own (there are several the three of us watch together). We discovered Safe, a Netflix original thriller series and loved it so much that I called my husband in Michigan and told him he needed to watch it, too. After watching six episodes in two days, my son and I laughed and agreed this was the very definition of binge-watching!

Safe stars Michael C. Hall, of Dexter fame (another favorite show of ours), only with a British accent, which sounds really weird at first, but he pulls it off (I checked - he's originally from North Carolina). He plays Tom Delaney, the father of two daughters who recently lost his wife to cancer. The grieving family lives in a gated community in the UK, a place with extra security measures to make it "safe." When his 15-year old daughter, Jenny, played by Amy James-Kelly, doesn't come home one night, he's understandably worried, and as her disappearance continues over the next days, his concern turns to outright panic, as he tries to figure out where she went and what happened to her. The audience knows that Jenny went to a wild party the night before with her older (secret) boyfriend, Chris. When Chris shows up dead, Jenny's missing status takes on a whole new level of importance. Tom is aided in his search by Sophie (played by Amanda Abbington), a close friend - and maybe becoming something more - who is also a local police officer. In each episode, the mysteries pile up, with several more questions arising every time one is answered, and the audiences suspicions changing constantly.

As you can tell by the way my son and I gobbled up this fast-paced mystery/thriller (we finished all eight episodes in just three days!), it is gripping, suspenseful, and completely immersive. Its twists and turns kept us guessing right until the last episode (and my son almost always figures these kinds of things out early). We were completely addicted for those three days and couldn't wait to watch more each evening. My husband couldn't keep up with us, with his commitments on the business trip in the evenings, but he also finished the series after he got home. The TV series was created by Harlan Coben, the famous thriller author, though I don't see a book by the same name, so I think this may have been created directly for TV rather than adapted from a novel. In any case, its thriller-writer roots shine through.

Safe is a Netflix original, so it is available exclusively on Netflix, with a single 8-episode season - you can easily finish it in a week! And you will want to.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Weekly Inspiration: ME/CFS Patients & Awareness Day

As I mentioned last week, I haven't been here on the blog this past month much, due to a crazy schedule and a huge milestone: my son's college graduation last week (he's the one with ME/CFS plus 3 tick infections). I have been working this week to catch up on everything, so this post is a little late, but I didn't want to skip it entirely.

Today's Weekly Inspiration is focused on YOU, ME/CFS patients all over the world who made this year's ME/CFS Awareness Day (and month) the biggest and best ever! Some summaries (and ideas for next year!):

#MEAction again spearheaded the #MillionsMissing campaign, which just keeps growing. Patients and their friends and families and supporters gathered in over 100 countries (!) around the world for over 300 separate actions, focused on bringing attention to ME/CFS and how its sufferers are missing out on their lives. You can read more about the 2018 campaign here, and you can read a detailed summary and see some amazing photos of the worldwide protests here, including online actions. Check out those photos - it is truly remarkable to see patients and their loved ones mobilizing all over the world!

Another organization, Solve ME/CFS, made an impact with a different kind of approach - ME/CFS Advocacy Day (May 15) on Capitol Hill here in the US, visiting offices of members of Congress and talking to them and their staff about ME/CFS and the urgent need for funding. This year, the group of patients, loved ones, Solve ME/CFS staff, and advocates met with 122 Congressional offices! That's a big leap forward from last year. You can read the summary and watch a short video about Advocacy Day here. Note that the video is not 100% accurate, in that it says that 2017 was the first time something like this occurred - Solve ME/CFS's precurser, The CFIDS Association, also hosted Lobby Days each year during ME/CFS Awareness Week. It's great to see this very valuable event occurring again. My husband, sons, and I participated in a Lobby Day with the CFIDS Association many years ago, and it was an incredible experience. If you or your loved ones can go next year, I highly recommend you do. You can also do what I did this year and participate from home by sending messages to your Congressional representatives.

Also note that you don't have to wait until May 2019 to help raise awareness of ME/CFS! The #MEAction website has a Take Action page all year-round that lists actions you can take TODAY to make a difference, usually from your own home - petitions to sign, letters to send, surveys to participate in, and more.

Congratulations to ME/CFS patients all over the world who participated in 2018 Awareness Day/Month activities, whether in person or online - you are making a difference! And today, YOU are my inspiration.