Life, Illuminated

[1]It was one of those major events in history when everyone remembers what they were doing when it happened. The OJ Simpson verdict – sixth grade computer class. September 11 – high school senior lounge. Remembering “where you were” is a good conversation topic and this time, my story was a little less mundane. In August 2003, during the biggest power outage in North American history, I was in the recovery room at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich. Two hours before, an eight-ten pound tumor, along with one of my ovaries, was removed and 23 staples lined the seven-inch incision below my bellybutton.
While everyone else in the Northeast and Midwest was worried about how they were going to fill their cars with gas, I was worried about whether or not the cancer had spread and waiting for results that could change the rest of my life…
I remember painting houses that summer and constantly needing to go to the bathroom. My friends would tell me I “peed more than their grandmas” but I didn’t think anything of it. I was on a workout plan and trying to eat healthy, it was strange that I couldn’t stop gaining weight. I always felt bloated no matter what I ate. Although I wasn’t sexually active, I hadn’t had my period in four months. I wasn’t worried; that had happened before during high school swim season. It had to be because of the constant activity, working out and painting all day. These were the warning signs I should have seen, the warning signs I completely ignored.
***
[pull]August 4, 2003. Looking forward to my sophomore year at MSU, I went to the gynecologist expecting a prescription for a simple pill, maybe birth control, to help regulate my periods. I came out with an immediate appointment for an ultrasound and the diagnosis that they had “found something” in my pelvic region.
August 6, 2003. Staring up at the ceiling during my ultrasound, there was a photo of a waterfall. After drinking 64-ounces of water in preparation for the test, I wondered who the genius was that put that picture up. It was like someone making water sounds when you really had to go to the bathroom. Then again, the agonizing waterfall photo was easier to look at than the picture on the computer screen. It showed the inside of my pelvic region and consisted of a large red blob practically taking up the whole screen.
August 7, 2003. Measurements of “the mass:” 10 cm by 20 cm by 15 cm. Diagnosis: stage 1A micro-invasive mucinous tumor of the ovary. Translation: A tumor on my ovaries, possibly cancerous.
It wasn’t until I measured it out on a piece of paper that the reality of the situation hit me. A mini football-sized tumor was growing inside me. When I thought of cancer I thought of death. And I was 19 years old.
I thought about how two days before, I was worried whether the boys in my new apartment were going to be cute. Now I was worried about living to see another year. Things like this weren’t supposed to happen to people like me. I was a healthy, active and responsible college student. (Well, healthy and active, at least.) Cancer was a statistic, something we learned about in health class and had to memorize for the test. My life was just beginning; I wasn’t supposed to be a statistic.
[2]August 11, 2003. My surgeon, Dr. Sheldon Weiner, laid out the plan for the surgery I had to have immediately. “Exploratory laparotomy with removal of ovarian tumor. Possible removal of tube and possible hysterectomy, bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, and staging surgery for malignancy.” The medical words I didn’t understand helped cover up the reality of what could happen in two short days. IF the tumor was cancerous and IF it had spread to my uterus, the entire thing would have to be removed. In other words, maternal suicide. The surgery was a series of IFs, all being answered by pathologists and doctors, while I was unconscious on the operating table with no say in my own future. While these thoughts were running through my head, I looked over at my mom to see her crying in her hands. I put my arm around her, comforting the only person I knew more scared than me.
August 14th, 2003. 7:15am Arriving at Beaumont Hospital in my favorite MSU t-shirt, I couldn’t help but feel hungry. An entire 24 hours of no food and too many laxatives had successfully cleaned out my system. After saying my temporary goodbyes to my parents, I was escorted into the anesthesia room where I was told I would be receiving something that would feel like “two tequila shots and a martini.” Finally, something I understood! After being “drunk” for about 25 seconds, I blacked out…so to say.
***
The problem with cancer is that it literally can strike anyone. A person can smoke a pack of cigarettes a day and live to old age, while another loses a battle with lung cancer and the closest thing to a cigarette he’s ever come to is a second-hand cloud in the bar.
Eat healthy, wear sunscreen, stay away from cigarettes and alcohol and aspartame and carrots and this and that…cancer has left our society on our toes everything and anything we do. Unfortunately, religiously wearing SPF 30 at the beach doesn’t quite prevent a 10-pound ovarian tumor. I wanted to get at why. Why did this happen to me so young and why did it happen at all?
“That’s really the big kicker, why does ovarian cancer occur and why does one person get a full blown malignancy versus a borderline tumor? Nobody knows the answer to that. There are no risk factors known for borderline ovarian tumors,” said Dr. Douglas Pugmire, a gynecological oncologist in Lansing.
After having an intense medical terms-filled discussion about the difference between “full blown malignancy” and “borderline tumors” (my cancer culprit), I was finally more clear about my situation and about the disease in general. Basically, it comes down to if the tumor becomes invasive in the tissue, what kinds of cells are present and the discrepancy over whether “low malignant potential” actually meant cancer. In the technical sense, whether or not I actually had cancer, didn’t really matter. I was carrying an extremely large, possibly cancerous, tumor that had needed to come out. Fast.
August 14, 2006. 12:00 p.m. They told us the surgery would last one and a half to three hours if everything went well. My mom said she broke down right around the three hour mark and had to pull my dad, a cancer survivor himself, into the hallway. As the minutes ticked by, my parents and family waited.
[3]August 14, 2006. 1:00 p.m. Waking up out of surgery was like a dream. I remember a young boy screaming and three nurses telling jokes to lighten the mood in the recovery room. Dr. Weiner came in and told me the four-hour surgery went well. He had made a small seven-inch incision below my belly button and had taken out the low malignant potential tumor. With those findings, they had to explore lymph nodes around the area and the results would be ready in three to five days. However, Dr. Weiner said that if it had spread, the survival rate was excellent. They had taken out the one engulfed ovary, but my uterus and other ovary were intact, enabling me to still have children one day. I laughed at another corny nurse joke (must have been the drugs), and thought about how I could handle “low malignant potential” and sacrifice one almond-sized organ. There were plenty of patients out there whose cancer had long surpassed a diagnosis of “low.” My future was more reassuring in that I would not have to sacrifice motherhood, something I had thought about since playing house as a freckle-faced five-year-old girl.
August 14, 2006. Around 4:00 p.m. The power goes out on the entire East Coast and in parts of the Midwest, including Beaumont Hospital. After ruling out a terrorist attack, they tell us they have to reserve the electricity generators for only the necessities. “Necessities” apparently don’t include air conditioning on the 95-degree day, television, running water, toilets and visitors. I looked around at my bare hospital room, the blank television screen, my seven-inch stapled scar and my 80-year-old Chatty Cathy roommate. So many opportunities for complaints and all I could think about was how great it was to be alive.
***
I’ve always told friends and family that cancer is different when it happens to you. Watching loved ones battle this disease is like your car sliding on ice. All you can really do is hold on and wait for the car to stop. About two years before the tumor was discovered, I watched my dad fight and win a battle against stage IV melanoma skin cancer. Watching a man who has been the rock of our family become one of cancer’s vulnerable slaves is a feeling of total helplessness and loss of control. When it invades your own body, it’s different. I didn’t feel helpless or a loss of control because it was my own body and my own battle. There was nothing I could really do to prevent the mass from growing but there were things I could control.
“[A cancer patient] didn’t make that choice,” Pugmire said. “But the choice they can make is whether they are going to accept it and try to learn something from it. And those patients do very well.”
Well. That is what Dr. Weiner told my parents, that the surgery had gone “well.” A successful surgery probably has more to do with circumstances than attitude, but being positive was probably at least a little easier on the attending nurses. My mom said as my friends were leaving my house the day before surgery, I told them I would see them tomorrow. The positive outlook may have helped but their support is what pulled me through.
[4]Pugmire said he sees that in his patients. “We can measure things like your morbidity as related to a cancer…how much disease you have, your stage of your cancer, how much surgery you’ve had, the length of that surgery…all the things we can measure are pretty equal amongst patients,” he said. “This is my opinion and I have nothing to back this up, but it seems to me that those patients who have the best family support systems do the very best.”
Never in my life have I had a bigger outpouring of cards, flowers, candy and presents. The tangible things that brought a smile to my face. But the hope and love behind every card, every baked good and every pajama top, immeasurable as those may be, got me through the days when I felt scared, alone and in the dark.
April 26, 2006. 7:30 p.m. (two and a half years after surgery, present day). I walk into my first MSU Student Cancer Support Network meeting to get some perspective in order to write this story. I expected to listen to others and observe some of my fellow students who have had cancer in their lives. Not long into the meeting, I am telling my own story to these strangers who oddly don’t feel like strangers after the last half-hour. In that room, I feel a bond. Unlike those on the outside of cancer who can sympathize but never really know what it’s like, these “strangers” know and they understand. As the memories of that August come back to me, tears collect in my eyes. I am not sad, but grateful for what I have learned, how I have changed, and the support of people that comes from places I never knew existed.
My friends have often joked that I should one day write a book entitled “A Series of Unfortunate Events: An Autobiography by Erin Robinson.” August, 2003 would be it’s own chapter, complete with descriptions of the eight to ten pound tumor, the days spent in a powerless hospital, the pain that the drugs couldn’t take away, missing the first month of my sophomore year of college…etc, etc.
Then again, unfortunate things happen everyday to everyone. Sometimes, it’s a bad grade on a test and sometimes it’s more serious, like cancer. But, that’s life. Sometimes it’s not as easy as saying “I should have studied harder” because saying “I shouldn’t have gotten that low malignant potential tumor” isn’t an always an option. It’s more about finding a detour when the unfortunate events block the road. Detours can lead us away from what is comfortable, but they also lead us back to where we need to go in the end.
When the doctor called with the test results and told me that the micro-invasive cells had been contained in the tumor, I couldn’t help but think that meant I could go back to school sooner. The inconvenience and time lost on a detour help us to appreciate the usual way and the things we drive by so often that they sometimes go unnoticed.
Not too long ago, my life took a detour. It was bumpy and on that day in August, I was even in the dark, much like the rest of the Northeast. Cancer, like darkness, is uncertainty; the fear of not knowing what might happen and wondering what lies ahead. It’s something no one wishes to have to deal with because it sets us back and sends us on a detour. But, for those of us who are lucky, the lights eventually do come back on and we are eventually led back.
And despite the devastation it can bring, after cancer I can truly see why life is so precious. I appreciate the things and the people in life more than before, when everything was normal; those things that make our lives run smoothly and the people that make it all worthwhile.

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Nerve-Racking

[1]Sitting in Espresso Royale, marketing and advertising senior, Jen Torrey, picks and scratches at the surface of her bright green laptop with her acrylic French-manicured nails. She then moves on to the table, scraping and brushing off the crumbs from her mutilated muffin.
“See! She’s doing it right now!” her friend, business senior, Kate Runyon exclaims from across the table.
Torrey was never aware of her “table mopping” habit until Runyon pointed it out. “She only does it when she’s talking or telling a story,” said Runyon.
A habit, according to the dictionary, is a recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition. Something like Torrey’s table wiping routine can be classified as a nervous habit, which is something that can make one look nervous and doesn’t seem to serve any purpose.
A self-proclaimed “fidgiter,” Torrey also says she has bitten her nails for as long as she can remember. Her hairstylist mom is always on her case about it and Torrey said she tried giving up nail biting as a New Year’s resolution, but after six weeks and an especially nerve racking test, she found her nails back to their original short and uneven state. She decided to get fake nails put on because they are plastic, which makes them harder to bite.
Bounce, tap, bite, chew, twirl, crack. Nervous habits can include all of these nail-biting, leg-bouncing, face-picking, knuckle-cracking, hair-twirling and fidgeting activities you may see every day in your 10:20. Students at MSU seem to engage in these habits quite often. Just today in my English class of 25 people, I counted four people bouncing a leg, two chewing on pens, eight doodling and one twirling her hair. And that was only when I wasn’t paying attention to the thrilling discussion of the day.
“Most people probably do one of those kinds of things,” said Lisa Tang, a clinical psychology doctoral student. “It’s usually not a conscious decision to choose one over the other.”
Picture yourself sitting in class. It’s not one of your favorites, or even one of your top 10, and most of your classmates seem to take notes more often in drool than pen. You look down and notice that your leg seems to be detached from your body, bouncing in a silent rhythmic pattern. Your favorite pen is unrecognizable under the bite marks that disguise the tip. The very few notes that you have taken are surrounded by your name written in all shapes and sizes with stars and 3-D boxes in between the letters. And your knuckle-cracking is louder than the cracking of the microphone attached to the professor’s shirt.
Zaje Harrell, professor of psychology, says that some of these sorts of habits can cause a soothing feeling in people, as a way to regulate their anxiety. “We do know that in terms of human behavior in general, people do things to make themselves feel more relaxed and some of those habits are a part of regulating stimulation and anxiety,” said Harrell.
Back to English class. The kid next to me has now bounced his knee for the entire duration of the presentation—40 solid minutes of the same vigorous motion right in my peripheral view. I know it’s not making me relaxed. So how can it possibly be relaxing for him?
Tang said that some of these nervous habits in college classes could be more from boredom than anxiety. She says that she grades class assignments all the time that are cluttered with doodling and drawings but usually these sorts of habits aren’t seen as much in “adults.” “I used to doodle in class but now I don’t as much,” said Tang. “Usually, we self-select ourselves into situations where we won’t be as bored as we get older.”
The half-pot of coffee a day and continuous Redbull many students ingest probably doesn’t help with the “can’t-sit-still” mentality that my English class seems to have. Tang said that people suffering from anxiety are also usually told to cut back on caffeine or nicotine because these ingredients tend to exacerbate the problem. Minor cases of college life anxiety can also be revealed in the fidgety, Table Wiper Torrey personality.
“People can do a variety of things that change the way that they are experiencing the world in terms of their neurological and their subjective psychological functioning,” said Harrell. “It can be something like biting your nails or a person straightening the fringe on a rug before they walk into a room. These are different behaviors that create the same internal response of a person feeling a sense of relief and their body feeling more relaxed when they are done or when they are engaging in certain behaviors.”
[2]Each person’s body is different and certain emotions may lead to different behaviors. Advertising sophomore Kristen Turner said that not only does she crack her knuckles, back and neck, but she also continuously checks to make sure her car is locked and her room always has to be clean. Oh yeah, and she also gave up biting her nails for Lent.
“Hopefully, I will stop biting them for good after Lent. But then again, I give it up every year,” Turner said with a laugh.
The habit itself can turn into something automatic, unconscious and almost like an addiction. Torrey said she isn’t even aware that she’s biting her nails until she looks down and they are all gone. My own friends even made up a drinking game one night where everyone drank every time I touched my hair. They were drunk in 15 minutes.
So Torrey wipes off crumbs excessively and the batteries on the automatic key lock for Turner’s car die every week; minor behaviors that don’t really do more than annoy their friends. When does a nervous habit go too far?
A recent 2005 movie called Thumbsucker tells the story of a 17–year-old boy who deals with his senior year troubles through one of these soothing habits. No, he doesn’t chew his pens, tap his foot or crack his knuckles. He sucks his thumb. Seeing a grown boy participate in an activity usually reserved for the part of the population still in diapers looks pathetic and abnormal.
Dr. James Claiborn, author of The Habit Change Workbook says that ideas of what is socially acceptable in terms of habits are somewhat arbitrary. “To some extent, behaviors associated with less mature individuals are seen as less acceptable based on the discrepancy between the developmental level of the individual and what is seen as developmentally appropriate.” He said in the case of thumb sucking, the action of sucking is important for infants in order to get nourishment. “This may lead to sucking thumbs partly because they are available and it may in some way be soothing. The self soothing effect is usually central to maintaining the behavior.” Turner said she sucked her thumb when she was a child but stopped around first grade because it became embarrassing. “It’s kind of related to sucking on a bottle,” she said about the experience.
In Thumbsucker, as a way to cure the high school boy’s habit, he is hypnotized and later diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Tang said that one of the problems in today’s society is that people have a tendency to over-diagnose themselves. She said just because a child may have a fidgeting problem, doesn’t automatically mean that he or she has ADHD. “When you feel the problem is out of control and harming you or other people, then it’s more important to stop it,” said Tang.
[3]In disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder or trichotillomania (a disorder where a person pulls out his or her hair resulting in noticeable hair loss), obsessive and uncontrollable actions and thoughts take over a person’s mind. In this case, the person should seek professional help.
We all have quirks. Remember when you were little and you used to hold your breath in front of a cemetery? How about kissing the roof of your car when you went through a yellow light? Many of us learn superstitions like these from someone else. The same can be true of nervous habits. Turner said she most often cracks her back when she sees someone else doing it. And her dad picks at his nails, possibly one of the reasons both she and her brother are nail-biters. Tang said it could also be a matter of personality or some other characteristic like gender. “Men are less likely to twirl their hair,” she said. “This comes largely from social rules.”
Problem is, if my friends continue to play the “drink every time Erin touches her hair” game and if Turner breaks Lent, we could have some very intoxicated seniors and one broken promise to God. Our little insignificant habits may annoy ourselves or those around us. Torrey said she notices foot-tapping often in class and it really bothers her. And I don’t think I retained any information during my colleague’s 40-minute knee-bouncing marathon.
“The ‘purpose’ of behaviors is best understood in terms of what reinforces a behavior. If we understand this then we can make changes,” said Claiborn. Harrell agrees and says you have to be aware of the cues in the environment that trigger the behavior. “If you know that every time your child has to go to school, they start sucking their thumb or biting their nails, then you can try to address alternative behaviors when they experience those emotions,” she said. “Or be mindful of the fact that you are doing the activity and try to change; come up with a strategy to change it.”
The strategies that Torrey and Turner are using seem to be helping them with their nail-biting woes. Turner says she can actually see the whites of her nails and Torrey says that instead of biting her fake nails, she just puts them close to her mouth, one step closer to leaving them alone all together. As for their other habits, Torrey may never stop wiping tables and Turner may lock her car 10 times before she believes it’s actually locked, but the bus boy at Espresso Royale will have less to clean and Turner’s car won’t ever be stolen. So maybe it’s okay to have a couple quirks. After all, our individual differences are what make us unique.
Now, if I could just get that kid to stop bouncing his knee…

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Headed South

They are my favorite three words. They used to be a joke with a hint of truth and now they are just the plain truth. The “fat jeans” I bought a year ago were beginning to get a little tight. After one particular weekend splurge of beer, pizza and Chinese food, I turn to my college roommate and utter my three words: “Diet starts tomorrow.”
[book]Drastic measures need to be taken. I only have so many pairs of sweatpants and double-chin pictures of me are becoming more frequent. “Eat Healthy” just doesn’t cut it anymore; I need a plan, and fast. Diane, my roommate, also a senior, feels the same way. It’s one thing to be fat on campus, but the world outside the graduate door wants thin, thin, thin. We brainstorm ideas until deciding on one of the more reasonable recent fads. She goes out that day, spends $14.95 on the shiny blue book and we vow to start tomorrow. We are both unhappy with our bodies and it’s now time to give ourselves a life of skinny supermodel happiness. The life we are promised is by Dr. Arthur Agatston, author and creator of The South Beach Diet.
It’s no secret that many Americans are overweight and in a constant struggle to lose it, otherwise the words “low-carb” and “Weight Watcher points” would have done nothing for their multi-millionaire creators. But how does it play out in our own world, in the heartland of a Big Ten campus founded to grow food and where generations later, well-rounded students eat a diet consisting of fast food and beer? So, naturally, I decided to focus my research on MSU, home of the Spartans, the “Green and White” and the freshman dorm cafeteria.
Scanning my younger sister’s ID card (we look a lot alike), I snuck into the Case Hall cafeteria one Saturday for the first time since my days as a wide-eyed freshman. Since I had already eaten lunch, I made myself a soft-serve root-beer float, something I’d like to think we invented three years ago when much of our social time was consumed in the dorm café. I sat down with a sophomore, Colleen Myles. Wearing baggy sweatpants, a t-shirt and sporting smeared eye makeup from the night before, she looked like every other student in the café. Tired and hungry, her tray was full with tacos, a slice of pizza, and some juice.
Myles’s favorite café foods include omelets, pineapple, turkey stew and Italian grinders and says although she was healthy in high school, she’s not really anymore. “I would say that the café is 10 percent healthy and 90 percent fattening.”
The café does offer the healthier choices like fresh fruit, a salad bar, and cooked vegetables, but on this particular day, the “Mexican corn” vegetable medley seemed to be coming in second to the other vegetable option: tater tots. With temptation meeting them at every turn, it’s difficult for many students like Myles to eat a balanced meal and keep the pounds off. Is the “freshman 15” a myth or a reality for these hungry co-eds?
For me, the weight came my sophomore year. And it wasn’t 15, it was 20…ok, 22. I started working at a specialty bread place where free bread, bagels and pastries winked at me all day. I studied abroad in Australia for a summer, a country with no light beer and Chinese take-out on every corner. And then I began eating late nights after drinking… and the next day when I was hung-over…whatever I wanted…
[erin]“I was at Taco Bell at 2 a.m. last night and the line was 10 minutes long. I’ve never been in there late at night when there wasn’t a huge line,” reports Myles. Her friends live right next to Taco Bell and they go there a lot after a night of drinking. “Last night I had a soft taco, a cheesy gordita crunch and a chili cheese burrito.”
These long lines, packed with mostly inebriated college students ordering huge amounts of unhealthy foods, are common here at MSU. Taco Bell even has a security guard to keep the food mobs under control. Pizza, Mexican, Chinese: all varieties of restaurants down the main strip in East Lansing off Grand River Avenue. Most are open until early morning, delivering and serving student cravings after their night at the bars or house parties. How much of a caloric fat intake is that for Myles and her friends?
According to the Taco Bell nutritional guide, her three items totaled 870 calories and 38 grams of fat. On a 2,000-calorie diet, that’s 43.5 percent of daily calories, 58.5 percent of daily fat grams. Of course that doesn’t include the five (or so) Bud Lights Myles says she usually drinks on a weekend night. At 110 calories a pop, we have a grand total of 1,420 calories for a typical weekend gorge; 71 percent of one day’s recommended consumption. And that’s just for Taco Bell and beer.
It was time for me to turn away from these staples of college diets, the culprits behind the “freshman 15.” It was now my time to turn back the clock and start losing. I picked up the shiny blue South Beach Diet book, took a deep breath and began reading.
Within the first two pages, Agaston says the dieter will lose 8 to 13 pounds in the first two weeks. Thirteen pounds! That’s how much I had gained while studying abroad, the trip that cost me $10,000 and my waistline. Oh but there was a catch.
In order to do this, I would have to sacrifice everything that had basically been my diet for the past three years of college for 14 days; Phase 1. No bread, sugar or alcohol. It had to be an impossible mission for the average college student like myself. With my apartment situated comfortably above Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches and next to Taco Bell and Cottage Inn Pizza, getting food had always been so easy. It was a five-minute walk to just about any bar in town, not quite enough distance to burn the calories I consumed inside. I was about to become that loser who brought her celery and nuts to dinner because there was nothing on the menu she could eat. The loser who couldn’t go out for ice cream. And that loser who asked for water at the bar. South Beach Diet was underway and I was determined to be the loser who could stop worrying about her “fat pants” and concentrate instead on living life.
[jimmy]I continued reading. Three balanced meals a day, plenty of cheese and nuts, dessert is a necessity… No problem there… “For the next 14 days you won’t be having any bread, rice, potatoes, pasta or baked goods. No fruit, even… No candy, cake, cookies, ice cream or sugar for two weeks either. No beer or alcohol of any kind.” There it was, the catch. In order to do this, I would have to sacrifice everything that had basically been my diet for the past three years of college. No bread meant no sandwiches. No rice meant no burritos. No potatoes meant no French fries. No pasta meant no Easy Mac. No ice cream meant NO ICE CREAM. No sugar meant only sugar substitute. And no beer or alcohol meant no bar/partying/college. It had to be an impossible mission for the average college student like myself. I was going to starve and be sober on this diet!
The South Beach Diet is broken up into three phases. Phase one (the hell I just described), lasts two weeks and is considered the “strict phase.” Agatston says in his book that the reason for this strict phase is to eliminate cravings and you will have “corrected the way your body reacts to the very foods that made you overweight.” After 14 days of saying no to carbs and sugar completely, you are allowed to slowly begin adding them back for Phase 2. In Phase 2, you have to pick and choose what indulgences you want to have in moderation. Then, during Phase 3, you can “forget about the South Beach Diet” because after saying no to temptation for this long, the diet seems less like a diet and more like a lifestyle. So now the question is, does it work?
Day one of the diet. Diane and I decided we needed to go to the grocery store and basically start from scratch. The South Beach Diet in hand, we strolled through the aisles, grabbing various kinds of cheese, vegetables, chicken and olive oil. As we checked every item against the list in the back of the book, I glanced around at the local grocery store at my fellow shoppers. The store was littered with college kids stocking up on personal pizzas, frozen French fries and ice cream, their carts screaming BAD CARBS! GOOD TASTE!
After an hour in the store, it was time to check out and get a price on a diet that seemed both perishable and expensive, the epitome of everything a college student avoids at the grocery store. $56.08. Although this was approximately the amount I typically spent at the grocery store, this time I had fewer items that I knew would spoil quicker. Some of the South Beach recipes include fish like Mahi-Mahi and Orange Roughy, rather expensive when compared to frozen fish sticks or canned tuna. According to an article in Forbes magazine, a person on the South Beach Diet spends an average of $78.61 a week on food compared to a non-dieter’s $54.44. That’s a difference of $1,256.84 a year, almost enough for liposuction.
The next day, despite staying up late the night before to do homework, I woke up a little early to whip up some eggs for breakfast. The South Beach Diet requires a lot of preparing; there is nothing other than string cheese that is on-the-go. Later that day, after eating turkey meat rolled with cheese and lettuce for lunch, I decided to try my hand at a little chicken stir-fry for dinner. I made a mess chopping vegetables, couldn’t figure out the defrost button on the microwave and hot oil from the pan splattered on my face. Oh, yeah, and the fire alarm went off when I forgot to turn off the stove. As I opened all the windows in the apartment and the smoke slowly began to disappear, I thought maybe I missed the warning on the book that said, “If you suck at cooking, do not attempt this diet.”
Since I started the diet on a Monday, the rest of the week was much the same. The real challenge of a dry and deprived weekend arrived. I was determined that this diet would not hinder my social status; I know plenty of people who don’t drink. By plenty, I mean two. The problem with my group of friends is that they like to drink…a lot. Since my non-drinker friends were busy for the night (figures, they ditch me when I really need them), I decided to head out and have a good time sans alcohol. First, my roommates and I went to a friend’s house. After graciously saying “no thanks” to the red beer cup, the interrogation began.
“Why aren’t you drinking?”
“Why are you being a baby?”
[flippy]Calmly, I explained my mission. In my mind, I pictured my fellow partiers to pat me on the back exclaiming, “Good for you, that must take a lot of willpower! You’re amazing!” Unfortunately, my dreamland-mind was brought back to the reality of house-party-college-life when I was hit with an orange slice from the Jungle-Juice concoction. For the rest of the party, I was referred to as “the South Beach Pussy,” and I actually poured myself a cup of the pungent drink so that it looked like I was drinking and the harassment would stop.
After another hour, my friends were liquored-up and we decided to head to the bar. I was relieved because the last place I wanted to be sober was a dirty college guy’s house whose bathroom hadn’t been cleaned since his mom arrived on moving day and whose hamburger patty from the week before was still encrusted on a plate in the kitchen. Strolling up to the bartender at The Post, I was greeted with a smile. They were always pretty friendly there and it was never too crowded, a nice atmosphere for the casual drinker (or non-drinker). The smile on the bartender’s face slowly faded when I asked if I could have just a Diet Coke. As I began searching for my wad of bills, he waved his hand and said, “don’t worry about it” while setting down my alcohol-free soda. Forget buying pop at the store, just go to the bar and it’s free! My biggest worry now was a caffeine overdose, so I nursed my Diet Coke for an hour until I decided I was far too tired and far too sober to deal with the bar scene and it was time to head home. On the short walk, I glanced in the Taco Bell windows at the line already forming at 12:30 a.m. and felt relieved that I had at least saved myself 1,420 calories that night.
In Phase 2, a South Beach person can begin to reintroduce wine but you can forget about beer. For a college student, the problem is that wine is more expensive than beer (except the embarrassingly cheap-boxed Franzia), and when was the last time a college kid played any sort of drinking game with wine? Beer pong is called BEER pong for a reason. One night during Phase 1, I was forced to sit out while everyone played the drinking game “Flippy Cup” because they said playing with water would be unfair. God forbid there should be any unfairness in a serious round of “Flippy Cup.”
The shiny blue cover of The South Beach Diet is probably what makes so many people buy the book in the first place. “The Delicious, Doctor-Designed, Foolproof Plan for Fast and Healthy Weight Loss.” Sounds golden, the solution to obesity and my fat-jeans blues. First, I wouldn’t call it Delicious. A Delicious Diet would consist of ice cream and Snickers bars. Yes, it’s Doctor-Designed, Dr. Arthur Agatston is a cardiologist and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Miami School of Medicine. It’s Fast if you lose the 13 pounds in the first two weeks like the claim, and it is rather Healthy once you get past Phase 1 and add back the “good carbs.” I’ll be honest; I did lose about seven pounds in the first two weeks. If you stick to it, you will lose the weight so in a sense it is Foolproof. Being Foolproof doesn’t necessarily mean it works. Almost all diets are foolproof… if you stick to exactly what the diet says.
[south]After Phase 2, you are supposedly allowed to eat anything as long as portions are limited and you eat only the “good carbs” like whole grains, fruits, cereal and pasta. Agatston says in his book that people begin to fail when they get bored and begin returning to bad old habits like beer and cookies.
Agatston is, of course, referring to me. Phase 1 wasn’t too bad, I made some sacrifices but they felt good. The problem was, after two straight weeks of eggs for breakfast, turkey roll-ups for lunch and chicken and vegetables for dinner, I was bored. On the 14th day, all I wanted was a huge ice cream cone and a cold beer.
“I can’t see myself ever being on this diet for a long period of time,” Diane says. “South Beach is difficult to do. I mean I have never tried another diet, but I just think in general I don’t have very much willpower.” Diane says she does think it is a good, healthy diet and it made her more conscious of the things she was eating. It just wasn’t right for her. And it wasn’t quite right for me either.
Although I had finished Phase 1 and even lost about seven pounds, I realized that my senior year of college was probably not the right time in my life to do the South Beach diet. I am victim of the “freshman 15” and I’m probably not the minority. Pretty soon, in the real world, I probably won’t be playing “Flippy Cup” three times a week and Taco Bell will probably be more than a 15-second jog from my apartment. Without keg stands and pizza binges, in time my “fat jeans” may magically loosen up. Until then, I’m going to take advantage of the town, and enjoy the best four years of my life. Maybe one day after college I will head back South, but for now, I kind of like it here in East Lansing.

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A Friendly Debate

Editor’s note: The name Jackie Barnett was generated randomly, as he person originally interviewed requested their name be taken off the site. Please direct any questions toward tbgletters@gmail.com.

It seems that whenever I tell my mom I am going somewhere with one of my guy friends, I get the same response. Her eyebrows arch and she gets this sly little grin on her face. By now, I know this face. It’s the one she offers as if to ask, “Oh yeah, and is this a date?” Before she even says anything I am already responding in my annoyed leave-me-alone voice. “Don’t worry, Mom, he’s just a friend.”
Just a friend. Three little words with plenty of meanings. Are we talking buddy-buddy, seriously just a friend? A friend with benefits? A friend who could, in the future, be a possible mate? An ex who was a victim of the famous “I just want to be friends” line? A sick-he’s-practically-my-brother kind of friend? As I run out the door this time with my “friend,” my mom is left to ponder all the different types of “friends” I may have.
And it’s a classic debate: is it possible to have platonic friendships? A true platonic relationship is one in which both persons have no romantic feelings and both wish for the friendship to stay in its current position. Comedian Chris Rock once made a comment about a man’s view on platonic friends: “Men don’t have platonic friends. We just have women we haven’t had sex with yet.” Thanks, Chris. Really mature. After hearing this somewhat shocking observation of the male mind, I decided to find out what some of the male MSU population thought.
First I went to familiar territory – my very own platonic guy friends, the sick-he’s-practically-my-brother types. Between video games, seniors Chris Roebuck and Greg Milewicz let me in on their idea of platonic female friends.
Milewicz: “It’s not possible to be good friends with a girl.”
Me: “Why’s that?”
Milewicz: “We don’t have any of the same interests except Laguna.” (Yes, Greg is talking about Laguna Beach, the reality show about high school kids living in Orange County, California.)
Me: “What can’t you talk to girls about?”
Milewicz: “Fart jokes.”
Roebuck: “Guy stuff.”
OK, so maybe some of that discussion was a joke, but Roebuck said he doesn’t really treat his female friends any differently than his male friends (except he says he wouldn’t go to a NASCAR race with the girls). He said the reason many guys may not have good girl friends is because some girls whine, complain and gossip too much. But he also believed not all girls are like that, and that’s what he likes in his female friends.
Other guys are more weary. “Having girls as friends is a bad idea,” said business sophomore Kurt Faust. “The closer you get, the more attractive they become…unless they are really ugly.” Faust has a girlfriend and said he doesn’t really have platonic female friends anymore because of it. He has seen these problems with his friends too and doesn’t think it’s a good idea on both sides because feelings tend to develop. “Guys should be friends with guys – dating is separate,” said Faust.
Jealousy issues are often common in platonic friendships when one or both have a significant other. Georgia Rockwell, interior design sophomore, said the only time she had a problem having male friends was when she had a boyfriend. “He was jealous and insecure,” she said. “Whenever I went to parties without him, he would get mad.”
Of course, there could be some psychology behind this. “Males really are more suspicious of their female partner being in a friendship relationship with another male,” said DeColius Johnson, a counseling psychologist at the MSU Counseling Center. “It’s a socialization type thing; guys are only after one thing. If I believe that about myself and if I believe that about my friends and about other guys, then I become suspicious even if there’s no basis for that suspicion.” He said platonic relationships are an issue of trust and intentions. I asked him if it was truly possible to have these sorts of relationships without romantic feelings.
“Yes! (long pause) Well… yes with an asterisk,” he said. “It really gets back to the games people play with respect to love, primarily between males and females. I think romantic attraction complicates the situation; it makes everything a little more suspicious. Do I really like you as my best friend? Or would I like it to be more, if I wasn’t frightened by the prospect of losing the friendship?”
Jackie Barnett, on the other hand, has a boyfriend of almost two years and says he doesn’t have a problem with her being surrounded by testosterone, which comes along with sharing many mutual friends as a couple. The anthropology senior said her boyfriend is not a big fan of the guys who she dated in the past, but it has never caused problems in their relationship. She said her boyfriend knows there is no sexual attraction with her other guy friends so the friendship works.
When you’re in a romantic relationship, sometimes opposite-sex friends start to dwindle, such as in Faust’s case. It might sound selfish, but you don’t really need that person when you have a girlfriend or boyfriend. Additionally, there are standards of society and certain images conjured up when you say you’re going out with “just a friend,” and reactions like my mother’s are common.
Roebuck disagrees. He says he gets annoyed when his friends start disowning friends just because they are dating someone. “I don’t do that,” he said. “It’s important to maintain friendships because that’s what actually lasts. You shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
So if platonic relationships are OK, when do they cross over into romantic relationships? It’s acceptable to drink and hang out with the opposite sex on the weekends, fine if you want to talk about that stupid thing your friend did, all right to partner up for a game of beer pong. But what about casual lunch on a Tuesday? Chatting for hours on the phone? One-on-one shopping for your sister’s birthday? Sorry, that’s for couples only.
It’s a natural assumption. If a guy and girl are out to dinner, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Boyfriend/ girlfriend. And if they’re not in that category, well…expect questions. Not just from your parents, but friends as well. The fact is, it looks like a date.
If this is true, I would be “dating” more than one of my guy friends. And although people will assume things, times have changed, and more than ever, platonic relationships do exist – and I’m not talking the “friends with benefits” kind. Sometimes “it” just doesn’t exist between two people.
Sophomores Katie Popovich and Nicolai Mansoori sit in the hall of Haslett Arms apartments, flirting and joking with each other. “When we first met, there was an attraction there,” said Popovich. “But once we got to know each other, we realized we were interested in different types of people.” The pair agreed they are over their attraction and they are comfortable their relationship will never go past a certain point. They seem to have this imaginary boundary established where the flirtation stops. Mansoori, who has a girlfriend, said he values Popovich’s opinion and the “girl point of view” because she has a good personality and good morals, which is ultimately what he says he is looking for. “She keeps me in check,” he said.
Mansoori even has a Facebook group named after his flirtatious ways but Popovich said although he flirts, she knows behind the flirtation she has someone who will support her no matter what. She said she values his honesty in their friendship and since the two have many mutual friends, Mansoori tells her the truth about certain guys. “He’s one of the first people I would tell about a new guy in my life,” she said.
“Yeah, you get really shy around those guys!” Mansoori chimed in.
Certainly some people are more likely to have these platonic friends. It all depends on personality and what they look for in someone who is just a friend. “I like that guys are not as emotional or dramatic,” said Rockwell. “I talk to them about more fun stuff like partying and I don’t feel judged by guys.”
Barnett agrees with Rockwell, and since middle school, has been “one of the guys.” “I’ve always been friends with guys,” she said. “I was never really close with that many girls. I don’t like drama or confrontation and guys aren’t like that. If they get in a fight, they are cool with each other 10 minutes later.” Barnett also said the fact that she can be around her guy friends with wet hair and sweats and not care is probably one of the reasons she is friends with so many of them. “Some girls, when they are around guys, automatically get flirty and try to make sure they look good. I’m not trying to impress anyone when I’m around my friends,” she said.
What about platonic friendships that form after a breakup? Roebuck says it depends on the situation but thinks it is possible to be friends with an ex. Rockwell says she remains friends with her ex-boyfriends because they have things in common, but she has moved on and no longer feels an attraction toward them.
When there is no sexual tension or romantic attraction, it does seem possible to have platonic friends. Despite the When Harry Met Sally myth that it just doesn’t happen, in real life it can. It may not be the rule but it’s a big exception to it. The most important thing is to make sure you and the other person are on the same page. Make it known you are “just friends” and it never has to be an issue. “You actually get to experience how the opposite sex thinks and feels and reacts to things,” said Johnson. “It’s sort of like having an ‘inside view.'”
That insight into the opposite sex may help future romantic relationships develop. Finally, as you walk out the door, you can turn to your suspicious mom and say, “Yeah Mom, it’s a date!”

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In-gym-idation

It’s that time again. You lace up your Nikes, fill your water bottle and grab your iPod. As a college student, it’s become a normal part of your day. Those pizza and beer binges every weekend have helped you to pack on the pounds and your punishment in disguise is making time for that daily, weekly or possibly sesquicentennial trip to the gym.[pull]
There are plenty of students around here who actually looove the gym. It’s a chance to relieve the stresses of never-ending exams and pesky CAPA homework. For others, going to a clammy room filled with strange, foreign machines and some of your smelliest classmates is worse than an all-nighter at the library. Even further, there are the people who have a real fear of the gym. One look at the perfectly chiseled guys pumping hundreds of pounds of weights and the tiny sweat-free girls with not an ounce of fat under their spandex is enough to make anyone go running…away. These buff bodies are one of the reasons students and Americans in general are avoiding the gym, and their fears can be summed up in two words: gym intimidation.
It’s a vicious cycle, a Catch-22. You’re out of shape so you want to work out. You don’t want to work out next to Body Builder Bob and Cardio-Queen Cathy so you don’t join the gym. Then, you just get fatter. There’s got to be a way to work out in peace, to overcome the fear. But what is it?
Some don’t feel right working out with people they know; it can be distracting and stressful. There’s no time for a social hour with half of your sorority or fraternity. They want to work out and get out. Ashley Barazsu, a communications senior, is one of those people. She was a member at Powerhouse on Grand River in East Lansing but didn’t like it because she felt uncomfortable working out in front of people she knew. She said she rarely went and when she did, it was during the hours that the gym wasn’t crowded. “I felt like I was being watched and judged at Powerhouse,” Barazsu said. “I was too scared to use the machines because of the huge guys working out on them.”
Barazsu decided to join a different gym this year so she wouldn’t have a severe anxiety attack every time her friends would ask her to work out at Powerhouse. She joined Fit Zone, a smaller gym in Okemos on Jolly Road that is designed for women only.
Gyms like Fit Zone are joining the Curves phenomenon of women-only workout facilities. The Curves workout is designed around a 30-minute circuit and has reached over 9,000 locations worldwide in 10 years. Barazsu said she likes the atmosphere of Fit Zone and since most of the women are older, she feels less intimidated and more comfortable using any machine she wants. “It was to the point where I just had to join another gym,” Barazsu said. “Now, it’s not so much of a chore for me to go to the gym. It’s just a natural part of the day.”
Barazsu now goes to the gym three to four times a week and stays for an hour—just enough time for her to sweat out some cardio on the elliptical machine or treadmill without fear of looking “gross” in front of people (read: guys) she knows.
“Women can get very intimidated by a man. Running in front of a man or working out in front of a man is intimidating because you feel like you have to look good all the time,” said Kristen Clark, manager at Fit Zone. Clark said her facility is different from Curves in that it offers everything a co-ed gym has including cardio and weight machines. She said some of their machines are designed to fit a woman’s body and the classes they offer are mostly along the lines of yoga and Pilates. Clark said many women like Fit Zone because they can feel comfortable in a more sexually neutral atmosphere and they don’t feel pressure to show off for anyone. “This gym is so popular because we don’t expect you to look like a model when you walk in the door. Here, you are just an average person, you’re just a regular person,” Clark said.
[kc1]An alternative method of overcoming fear is do the opposite of what Ashley Barazsu did: bring a friend along. Make a schedule with your roommate of good times to go together and you won’t feel so embarrassed when you can’t quite figure out how to use a machine. Plus when you have someone to work out with, you have a spotter on the machines and someone to talk with and make your workout just fly by.
If you like working out with students your own age, Michigan State has recently updated their IM West facilities to include a brand new gym equipped with weight machines on the lower level and cardio-based machines up above. English Freshman Katie Cross says that most of the time there are more girls on the second level most of the time and guys stick to “beefing up” on the weight machines below. Katie works out at IM West by herself and although the gym is very bright, she doesn’t seem to care much about her fellow Spartans. “I don’t watch anyone when I’m working out so I’m sure they aren’t watching me,” Katie said.
Psychology junior Joey Paulisin just recently joined IM West because they offered a discounted semester membership. “I wanted to play IM soccer, but the boys team was full. So instead of dressing up like a girl to play, I joined the gym,” Paulisin said. He said he likes to look like he’s doing something productive around all the people he said, “are just trying to make themselves look bigger.” He also likes the variety of the facility and said the desk people are nice. “I’m on my way to being a complete yuppie. Pretty soon I’ll have an apartment and a golden retriever,” Paulisin joked.[jp]
Ok, so what if you already belong to a gym? That 2-year membership contract is practically signed with your own blood. One option for those of you who don’t like large groups of people and long waits on each machine is to consider that the gym isn’t always crowded. Many gyms are busiest between the hours of 4-7 p.m., when many people are out of school and work. Cross says she usually makes it to IM West between 6- 8 p.m. and says it’s extremely crowded at that time. “I went at noon the other day and there was no one here.”
Early mornings in East Lansing can mean very small numbers of dedicated gym-goers. At this time it’s cooler and less crowded. My friends think I’m crazy, but I actually like getting up at 7:45 a.m. so I can be at the gym with a small number of lunatics like myself. Plus, an early session gets the workout out of the way and kick-starts the day; an adrenaline rush equal to a Starbucks latte that will leave you feeling refreshed and awake for those 10:20 classes. Of course, the hardest part of my workout is getting out of bed, ugh….
As for figuring out how to use the machines? Jason Block, director of personal training at the Michigan Athletic Club in East Lansing, emphasizes the importance of personal trainers; they are the most educated and are there to help. “Generally, if we can get members to feel comfortable in using the club, they will exercise more frequently,” Block said. That way, you don’t look like an ass when you just can’t quite figure out the bench press. Mix up your workout. Cardio workouts can include the stationary bike, the treadmill, the elliptical machine and if you’re really brave; the stair-climber. Along with that, to build muscle definition, it’s important to lift weights or do some sort of strength training. Most people focus on different sections of the body on different days. Let’s face it, running on the treadmill for 30 minutes every day can get boring, even if you’ve already loaded the newest Mariah Carey song on your iPod. Run outside, join an IM sport, go rollerblading, check out the indoor IM pools. Fitness can come in all forms and should never be boring.
[pull2]Most of all, have confidence in yourself! The best way to overcome gym intimidation is to try not worry, and give yourself credit for being there. “The reality is that in every gym there are people of every shape and size and at differing levels of ‘fitness,’” Block said. “Perceptions are often reality for people, but we really try to encourage them to just take baby steps…we really talk a lot about the trends of our nation regarding obesity and its ramifications. Everybody wants to feel good, and as we continue to educate people that they can accomplish this through good nutrition and exercise…our culture can change.”
Instead of being scared of those you love to hate, use them as an inspiration. Glenn Sterner, a graduate student studying student affairs goes to Gold’s Gym in the Hannah Plaza every day, seven days a week—now how’s that for dedication? The gym has become part of his everyday routine and he usually goes in the late afternoon or early evening. His workouts consist of a four-day rotation of chest, arms, back and shoulder lifting. He also runs one to three and half miles per day as well as a bike or elliptical workout. Add that all together and you have a whopping two-hour workout. Sterner is not training for anything but said, “I developed this mindset of why I go there: for me, to make sure I am healthy, and to make strides in my muscular structure.”
Sterner said he doesn’t care about others at the gym because he is there for himself, and that’s all that matters. And for those of you who think these gym gurus are perfect? Let’s just say they can do embarrassing things too. Just ask Sterner. “I definitely fell on the treadmill because of a cramp, and my knee got stuck under the belt as I flew to the ground.”
So this goes out to you, Glenn Sterner, and all you other beautiful buff bodies out there — good for you. You look good and you’re keeping at it, probably the hardest part of any fitness plan. As for the rest of you, use these tips to get over your fear of getting in shape. And once you’re in shape, you can work on the next goal of eliminating your real enemy – the weekend pizza and beer binge.

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When All Else Fails

Walking into the building, she felt uncomfortable. She had heard about it from one of her older friends, but didn’t know much about it. This was her backup, a second chance to put a stop to something she wasn’t prepared to handle.
This was her “plan B.”[1]
“Sarah,” who wishes to remain anonymous, never thought she would be one of the people in Planned Parenthood that day. The room was filled with college-age kids like herself, some there for a routine checkup, others who were in the same position as she was, and probably wondering if they were doing the right thing.
“I felt stupid that I was doing it,” said Sarah, thinking back on that day a year and a half ago. “That if I had been smart in the first place I wouldn’t even have to have been there.”
Sarah’s “plan B” is casually referred to as the “morning-after pill,” a form of emergency contraceptive. “Morning after” references the time component of the drug: it must be taken within 72 hours of engaging in unprotected sex. Plan B is a progestin-only emergency contraceptive that was approved in 1999 by the Food and Drug Administration and can range in cost from free to $34. It is administered in two pills that can be taken separately 12 hours apart or, with new dosages, at the same time.
Sarah never had any second thoughts about taking Plan B but there is a debate currently focused on an FDA delay in making the drug available over the counter, despite a recommendation by an FDA-appointed committee.
Joy Whitten, public affairs development specialist for Planned Parenthood of Mid-Michigan, said the delay doesn’t make sense. She said it was not based on science but “pure politics.”
“Certain groups want to control access to health care and they are the loud voice right now,” said Whitten.
One such voice is Emily Casari, social relations junior and vice president of MSU Students for Life. “If [Plan B] actually does its job, by preventing the already formed embryo from implanting itself, then that is considered a chemical abortion because it’s stopping a life,” said Casari. Although her organization takes no stance on contraceptives, Casari said Plan B is in the middle because only sometimes does it cause these “chemical abortions.”
Abortion? Sarah said she never thought of it as abortion. Plan B claims to be only an emergency contraceptive.
Whitten said Planned Parenthood takes the position of the FDA: emergency contraceptives are not abortion. She said taking the drug will not interrupt or terminate a pregnancy. According to the FDA, Plan B can work in three ways to prevent pregnancy. It can stop the release of an egg from the ovary; prevent the union of the egg and sperm or, if the egg has been fertilized, it may prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the womb. The issue some have is with the third way Plan B can work, preventing implantation.
There are two different views out there as to when a woman is actually pregnant. The fertilization viewpoint argues human life is formed when an egg and a sperm unite, whereas the implantation viewpoint sees a human life as being formed when the fertilized egg attaches itself to the wall of a woman’s uterus. According to most pro-life groups, a fertilized egg is the beginning of a human being and to prevent implantation is, in a sense, a chemical abortion. Casari said at the time of fertilization, everything needed to form a human is present and the only thing the embryo needs is nutrients and time.
“Implantation is just the movement of the embryo from floating around in the uterus to the wall,” Casari said.
Education sophomore Mallory Milczarski agrees. “I feel in a less subtle way this is an abortion because there is the chance that there could have been a baby,” said Milczarski. “By taking that pill, no matter how early on, like the next morning, is still wrong in my opinion.”
Whitten said it’s all based on an individual’s values as to when life begins. Brenna Flannery, public relations consultant for the MSU Womyn’s Council, agrees with Whitten and said her group is open to all women of all political affiliations and views on life. “It all depends on what you believe,” said Flannery. ”I personally don’t believe that implantation is when a human life begins. That should be left up to each individual.” Flannery considers herself pro-choice but says the Womyn’s Council has members who don’t support abortion.
Sitting in the Planned Parenthood waiting room, surrounded by students who could possibly be in her position, Sarah said she definitely did not think of Plan B as an abortion. “It’s the last effort of a contraceptive,” she said.
That wasn’t Sarah’s first visit to Planned Parenthood. She went there two years ago to get birth control pills when she became sexually active with her boyfriend, but had since stopped using birth control. Sarah said when going in for Plan B, she was given instructions, asked if she had any questions and was handed the prescription. Sarah said she does not agree with the drug becoming over-the-counter because people may become careless with it.
“The harder it is for people to get, the more they are going to take precaution,” said Sarah. “Especially younger kids. They can be young and stupid and this would just make it worse.” Whitten wants to see it go over-the-counter because of a woman’s right to have access to the health care she needs. In the case of Plan B, she said women need access to the drug quickly because of the 72-hour time frame.
Sarah admitted this was a problem for her since she was out of town when she had unprotected sex and it wasn’t easy to get to Planned Parenthood in time.
Flannery also thinks making Plan B over-the-counter would make it more accessible. “It would give women another option if the condom broke or if they were raped,” said Flannery.
Whitten also said studies have shown that Plan B is safe to take more than once based on current research, and no long-term problems have been found. According to a 2004 editorial by Jeffrey M. Drazen, M.D., in the New England Journal of Medicine, the data currently available on the subject said Plan B is safe and effective when available without a contraceptive. Drazen also wrote the availability of Plan B does not result in a change in the usual behavior or contraceptive practices of the women who may use it.
The recommendation by the members of the Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee and the Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health was turned down by the FDA for two reasons dealing with the lack of data representing young adolescents and their safety in using the drug. It has since been postponed indefinitely.
The two sides probably will never come to an agreement as to when life begins. Despite this, Plan B is still available by prescription through Planned Parenthood and at Olin Health Center for MSU students. Whitten said Planned Parenthood sees a lot of students because at Olin they are required to see a clinician and the pill cost is higher.
Women should be warned there are possible side effects including nausea, vomiting, breast tenderness, irregular bleeding, dizziness and headaches. Sarah says it threw her menstrual cycle off and she didn’t get her period for a month.
Sarah has taken Plan B twice in the past, but said she does not want to put herself in that position again in the future. She said she will continue to recommend it to friends who have unprotected sex, though. “I would do everything in my power to never come to that situation again, but if it came down to me being pregnant before I was ready, I would have to take it,” said Sarah.
Milczarski said she has never personally had any friends who have taken emergency contraceptive but they are aware of her views on the subject. “If one of my friends were thinking about taking it, I might try and talk them out of it but if they told me they had already taken it, I wouldn’t look down on them because it is ultimately their own choice.”
As of now, when Plan A (condoms, birth control pills, abstinence) fails, Plan B is available only by prescription. And its availability continues to rest in the hands of the FDA.

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Forget the Red Bull

It’s 10 p.m., the night before that big final, and let’s face it: you haven’t cracked the book since you tripped over it on your floor in early January. Your head is falling to your shoulder, your eyelids are drooping and your immunity to caffeinated drinks isn’t helping you stay alert.
Many MSU students are joining the ranks of collegians nationwide resorting to something else to keep them on track during that late-night study session – the prescription drug Adderall, which some students have began referring to as the “study drug.”
[night] Adderall, an amphetamine and stimulant, is mostly prescribed for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a condition in which a person displays a short attention span and becomes easily distracted.
Meredith, a business sophomore who would like her last name sealed, said she took Adderall for the first time when she had skipped class a lot and was very unprepared for her upcoming accounting exam. “My friend told me about Adderall and offered me one,” Meredith said. “I was desperate because I knew I was going to have to pull an all-nighter. I took it and it kept me focused all night and made me super awake.”
Since then, she said she takes it before most of her exams because it makes her not want to give up and go to bed until she knows everything and can cram it all in.
However, some students aren’t fazed by the drug or its side effects and continue to use it as a means to stay awake and study. Adam Hughes, an advertising junior, said Adderall did not affect him and thinks people who claim it helps them study are feeling the placebo effects of merely believing it’s working. “It’s a mentality that people have when they take it,” Hughes said. “Is it chemicals in the brain? I don’t know. They hear about people who like it, and it makes them think it will be beneficial for them, too.”
[awake] Hughes took Adderall three times because he heard so many people talking about how it aids concentration and studying. He said the first time he took it, he was light-headed for a couple minutes but that’s about it. “It definitely did not improve my grade,” Hughes said.
Adderall is the brand name for amphetamine-dextroamphetamine and it comes in two forms, a regular blue pill and an extended release pill called Adderall XR. It can be taken in doses of 5, 10, 20 and 30 milligrams, depending on the seriousness of an individual’s ADHD. Most non-prescribed students use the regular form of Adderall because it has an immediate and more dramatic effect.
But as with most drugs, there are side effects.
Susan Conway, a pharmacist for Henry Ford Medical Center in West Bloomfield, said there has been recent concern the loss in appetite from taking Adderall is causing growth problems in children. For those who are abusing the drug, Conway said long-term effects can include psychological dependence, social disability and cardiovascular problems.
This seemed true for Meredith because she said she has experienced an increased heart rate and sweating while on Adderall, and said upon taking a pill, she has gone an entire day without eating, causing her body to feel weak. She also said sometimes she is unable to sleep while the drug is still in her system. She said she doesn’t feel it’s dangerous, though, if she takes it only for exams.
[pills] Jessica, a business freshman who would also like her last name removed, has been prescribed Adderall for the past seven years for her ADHD. She said she takes the extended release form in the morning and then takes the regular form later in the day to help her study. She said she has given it to her friends four or five times in the past, although she doesn’t like to.
“I don’t like to give it out because I don’t want to get in trouble,” Jessica said. “My psychiatrist said he would cut off my prescription if he found out I was giving it out.”
Jessica said on her last visit to her psychiatrist before she went to college, she got a warning from him not to give it out to her friends. Her doctor said people will want it and may even try to steal it, and she should keep it locked in her room.
“He never said anything about that in high school, just college,” Jessica said.
“I didn’t even know what it was until last semester,” Meredith said. “Now I hear everyone talking about it.”
Conway warns that drugs affect everyone differently and Jessica said her doctor warned her different types of people require different amounts. “If something bad happens to one of my friends, I’m the one to blame,” Jessica said.
[cut] Conway said Adderall is in a class of drugs requiring a written prescription every time it is filled. She said this is for control purposes so patients cannot go to another pharmacy and get a refill.
But is this enough control on a drug so many students seem to want and are willing to pay for? Jessica said she knows people who sell their full prescription to make money on the in-demand drug.
“They basically sacrifice themselves and their own health to make some extra cash,” Jessica said.
Some people debate that non-prescribed users of Adderall have an unfair advantage over those that need it for ADHD. For instance, Meredith said she asked her dealer if it helps him focus like it does her. He said it doesn’t, but said he didn’t care because he was making a lot of money off it.
Jessica said she doesn’t see it as an unfair advantage either. “If you find something that helps you study like that, use it, why not?”
As for Hughes, he said he doesn’t plan on taking Adderall again.
With finals fast approaching, many late-night library dwellers will be turning to something to keep them awake and focused, but is this the best plan of attack?
Zach Hambrick, professor of psychology, said although he hadn’t really heard much about Adderall being taken for non-prescribed purposes, he said he wouldn’t suggest staying up all night to study for an exam. “In reality, people do [cram],” Hambrick said. “But I don’t suggest cramming as a strategy to study because it’s not effective as long-term retention information.”
Leigh Anne White, assistant director of psychiatric services for Olin Health Center, said cramming won’t help students and studies have shown students who get eight to eight and a half hours of sleep the night before an exam typically do better than those who get only five hours. She advises students to study in advance. “Be sure to prioritize your studying,” White said. “Study for 45 minutes and then take a 10-minute break.”
Since it’s an amphetamine, Hambrick said he knows Adderall is addictive and there are serious side effects. He suggests just drinking a cup of coffee instead.
White said coffee will only make it harder for someone to sleep and also highly discourages the use of drugs to help students study. She said there really isn’t a legitimate way to stay awake and still get enough sleep to prepare for an exam.
So when the 2 o’clock hour approaches and your Red Bull wears off, reach for an espresso- or better yet the pillow- not for your friend’s prescription bottle.

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