How a hospice worker helped this family through their tough time.
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When Christine Powers was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1995, she took it in stride.

No one would have blamed her if she had complained, but that wasn't her way.

Christine in New York City. All photos via Gerry Powers, used with permission.


It was the same thing when Christine was diagnosed with malignant skin cancer in 2000.

Even when the cancer reappeared later, seven years after being cancer-free, she kept her composure. That time, the cancer had spread to her brain. After multiple operations and a multi-year battle, it was clear the cancer was terminal, so her family opted to get Christine hospice care.

For anyone not familiar with it, the term "hospice" can seem like it carries some mysterious and scary connotations, but it actually refers to a type of medical and emotional care for people in the last stages of a terminal illness. It helps them and their families manage the end of life with as much compassion as possible by focusing on the quality of life instead of continuing often painful treatments to prolong it.

Samantha Lee is one of the hospice aids who helped care for Christine in her last years. 

"Christine was the youngest patient I ever had," Samantha says. "I was in love with that family so much."

The Powers family.

Hospice nurses and aides try to ensure a patient isn't in pain and help them — as much as possible — live their final days with dignity.

When Samantha helped take care of Christine, she came to the house five days a week, four hours at a time. She would cook, wash clothes, run errands, talk with Christine, and then work with her to try to keep her energy and mood up. She helped her do some exercises, and she encouraged her to do one major project a day to keep her spirits up.

"Our home aides knew Christine really, really well," Gerry Powers, Christine's husband, fondly recalls.

Gerry and Christine Powers.

And they were with her until the end, making her as comfortable as possible and the family as cared for as possible.

"You can be intellectually prepared for a loss, if someone in your life is declining," Gerry says. "But I don't think you’re ever really emotionally prepared when it happens. That’s the thing."

Samantha says people's eyes get big when she tells them she's a hospice worker, caring for patients at the end of their lives.

"They'll say, 'Oh, you’re a hospice aide? Wow, must be hard. Why do you like that?'" she mimics over the phone.

But you can tell by her voice just how much she loves her job. She says she's grateful that she can be there to help the patients and their loved ones through this difficult time.

"[This job] changed me around," she says. "It made me more soft on the inside, more compassionate and humbled."

One thing Samantha has learned from her work is the importance of having conversations about death and dying early on.

It's not an easy thing to do, but talking openly about death can bring some comfort to the end of life.

Especially in Western countries, talking about death is kind of taboo and invokes anxiety and fear in many of us. But if a loved one dies without ever having shared their end-of-life wishes, it can add extra stress and confusion during crisis mode.

"You have one family member that feels that this is not the way to live, that [the loved one] should go," says Samantha. "Then you have the other family member that wants to hold on."

She says that if people start conversations about what they want when they get to the end, then it shouldn't be a problem when the time actually comes. Family members will know exactly what they need to do and be able to spend more time focusing on their loved one and taking care of themselves.

Gerry and Christine.

Samantha says that her work as a hospice worker has also given her a new perspective on life and death.

"I look at life much different," she says.

"It really doesn't make sense to be so angry and have a lot of hatred in your heart because nobody knows when their time is up."

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."