ALS, JDRF & Rushdie

In 2006 I lived in a housing co-op in Isla Vista called Biko and shared a bedroom wall with Nu Driz, a master's student from Holland who was in Santa Barbara researching his thesis on Salman Rushdie. This is important. Nu cooked big house meals and fully committed to house party themes--and, if you were interested, would break down American literature for you, lickety-split. I had somehow been ignorant of Rushdie's exile until Nu sat me down and explained how entirely vital The Satanic Verses is and was and continues to be. This is all relevant.

I visited Nu and his husband Remy in their Leiden home a year after I graduated college, after spending the better half of a year in Spain. I was broke and took an overnight bus from Berlin to Amsterdam, spent a few hours at the Anne Frank House, scoured a few Dutch record shops, then hopped a train to Leiden, where Nu and Remy set me up in this gorgeous guest bedroom, which was (unsurprisingly) decked out in beautiful comforters and books, glorious books in various languages. I'll never forget how well I slept there, and how beautiful and kind they were, as were all their friends.

This week Nu posted his version of the ALS Challenge online. In lieu of dumping ice on his head, he took a note from Patrick Stewart and chilled some wine on ice, preferring instead to share an important fact: that eating fatty fish decreases the chance of acquiring ALS by 35%. To honor the fact, Nu shared a dinner of herring with Remy. He also took the opportunity to donate to another deserving charity, the Tuloy Foundation, a charity that helps street children. In his post, he suggested that I write something about another health cause--perhaps another foundation that needs attention.

I've written a lot about living with type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune condition that is diagnosed in roughly 30,000 Americans a year--JDRF estimates that 3 million Americans currently live with it. The United Health Group reports that type 1 diabetes accounts for $14.9 billion in healthcare costs in the U.S. each year. And that's assuming the people who need treatment are actually getting it. One of the first things you learn as an American with type 1 is that it is an expensive disease--and one currently lacking a cure.

In October, my family and I will be participating in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's Walk to Cure Diabetes for the thirteenth time. There have been years when I did not want to participate--not out of disrespect for the cause, or disloyalty to our supporters--but because fundraising walks can sometimes feel like an endless exercise, charging toward a goal we can envision but we can't yet touch. You start to wonder what impact it all actually has, and wish that curing a disease were as easy as snapping your fingers. Or, say, dumping a bucket of ice water on your head. When you test your blood sugar several times a day and take insulin every time you eat, it's impossible not to measure your life differently, at least on occasion.

But here's the thing: The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has made a tremendous impact already--if not in immediately finding a cure, in raising awareness, in letting the world know that hey, sometimes truly shitty things happen to truly wonderful people, and there are small things we can all do to, you know, make things better, if not now, then perhaps someday. The JDRF Walks have not yet cured diabetes--but if you've ever seen those little white shoes up at drugstores, or seen a flyer for diabetes camp, or witnessed a mass of families in white t-shirts flocking around the California Capitol on the first Sunday of October--you'll know that every step has the potential to shift cells. If not now, later.

So - in an effort to embrace Nu's challenge, I'm doing a few things:

  • My family and I are walking in the JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes in October. (You can join us or donate by going here and searching for TEAM MALIBU PUMPERS.)
  • I'm splitting my ALS donation in half--$50 to ALS and $50 to JDRF. Because, hey, we're both worthy.
  • Nu, I'm going to finally sit my ass down and read The Satanic Verses. Because you told me to 8 years ago, and it's still on my list.

When in doubt: eat herring, drink wine, and donate to the charity of your choice. Because life is short.