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North Carolina women’s health

02NCwomenshealthMost of us, both men and women, take a deep breath every time we go for a medical checkup. Will our tests be within normal ranges? Will we have strange lumps and bumps? Will we weigh too much or too little? Will our lives be turned upside down by some unexpected diagnosis this very day?

Women’s health and wellness are not more important than those of men, but they are different. For women and those who love us, there is good news and bad news.

The 2019 Status of Women in North Carolina: Health and Wellness report released last month finds that we are healthier in some areas than we were earlier in the decade. Mortality rates for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancers of the breast, uterine, cervix and ovaries have gone down — as have several sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Our teen pregnancy rate has dropped almost 7% since 2013. These declining rates are positive news, of course, but our rates are still generally higher than the national average, including the births of low-weight babies.

Generally speaking, North Carolina women rank in the middle or bottom indicators of national health and wellness, and our diabetes rates remain among the highest in the nation. In addition, North Carolina women continue to report domestic violence and sexual assaults, with 35% experiencing some form of physical aggression by an intimate partner and nearly 20% having been raped.

Perhaps most worrisome of all is that the gains made over the last decade are not shared by all. Black women have higher rates of heart disease than do white and Hispanic women, as well as higher rates of HIV/AIDS. Ditto for breast cancer. Disparities among races and ethnicities clearly exist, and do disparities based on geography and socio-economic status. Women in rural areas clearly have less access to high-quality medical services, an issue that is becoming more acute as medical professionals flock to urban areas and rural hospitals close.

A drive along almost any rural road may be lovely and evoke nostalgia, but try counting health care facilities, which will be scarcer than proverbial hen’s teeth. A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report puts Cumberland County’s patient to primary care physician ratio at 1,350:1; Robeson’s at 2,490:1; and Hoke County’s at an astounding 7,520:1.

The report details some policy recommendations, including Medicaid expansion. This topic has turned into a political football in the North Carolina General Assembly with Democrats demanding it and Republicans holding onto their long-standing and loud, “No!” Also being kicked around are proposals for paid family leave and paid medical leave, which would help women in low-wage jobs unlikely to provide such benefits. Also on the list are broader access to reproductive health care and decreasing violence against women.

This is challenging news for sunny summertime, but we all have women in our lives who are near and dear and without whom our lives would not be the same. The health and wellness status report sums up the importance of women’s health and wellness this way. “Good health, access to health services and the ability to live in a safe environment are critical to the economic security and overall wellbeing of North Carolina women.

“While poor health can negatively affect employment opportunities, educational attainment and financial security, good health allows women to meet their economic and educational goals and flourish in the other areas of their lives.”

It is clear that North Carolina is both on the right track and still has many miles to go.

Preparing the next generation

12generationThere is little we can do to prepare for some of life's best moments, yet everything we've ever done has prepared us for each one.

Graduation season has come and gone here in North Carolina. Emotions run the gamut as young men and women everywhere experience that final trip through the doors of their schools as students. Most will reflect fondly on the days they spent preparing to launch into the world. They'll begin writing their own stories. And like every generation before them, both friendships and rivalries they swore would last forever will begin to fade as others grow. Of one thing they can be certain: relationships with fellow students, educators and even their families will all change in some way as they continue their journey through life.

Of all the things that could possibly cause me anxiety, concern for future generations is somewhere near the top of the list. This is partly because of their expectations and partly because of the condition of the world we're leaving them. Not the physical world, but the condition of mankind in general. Somewhere along the line, we seem to have taught young people in America that winning is more important than character. The very people who we need to be able to look up to are failing and falling around us. And we are too quick to condemn and step around them to notice and avoid the brokenness that led them there in the first place.

So, can we change the course? Can we raise up a generation of leaders with the intestinal fortitude to right the many wrongs we've left them to deal with? As a person of faith, I believe we can, and it's really a matter of moral integrity stemming from deep convictions and an acknowledgment of a creator to whom we're all accountable. Yes, God. Many will disagree and stop reading right here, so if you're still with me, maybe we agree — if only a little.

Our real problems begin at home. There's a growing indifference to patterns of behavior that erode families, from what we allow to enter through the television screen to our relationships with our children's friends and their families. Everyone knows the phrase “it takes a village," but when the village steps in with advice, it's too often taken as a personal affront. And someone stomps away only to return with a posse willing to prove how wrong the offender is and how the mob can destroy them and their way of thinking.

What we've reaped so far is an unhappier, less fulfilled and definitely angrier world. We can do so much better. By modeling love, respect, kindness and accountability to our children, we can begin to right this ship. A short trip through the red letters in the Bible will yield a wealth of wisdom we can use to prepare our children for what lies ahead. And when we begin to embrace and adopt those words in our own lives, we will see a change for the better in the mirror as well.

From one concerned driver to everyone else

03drivingNot quite a year ago, as summer reigned across North Carolina, my beloved Station Wagon No. 7 — my home away from home, my filing system, my repository for everything I did not know where else to put — suddenly lost her air conditioning. I tried to tough it out until fall arrived, but the heat got me. When the verdict came that the A/C would cost almost half my beloved’s trade-in value, I bit the bullet and came away with Station Wagon No. 8. I felt terrible leaving my elderly 2010 model sweetheart in the dealer’s lot,tears I hoped no one saw.

Cars came a long way during the 20-teens. And my new one, an updated version of precious No. 7, has some fine features new to me, including a handy backup camera, a Bluetooth connection for audio books, lights that flash if another car is coming up beside mine, a selfdriving system that nudges me back into my lane should I stray into another, loud beeps if another vehicle or a person is close by, and automatic emergency braking. I am accustomed to these convenient features now, but my first reaction was, who knew? Highway safety experts say new technologies are making American roads and highways safer regardless of our national angst about “driverless cars.” Technology, it seems, can save us from some of our human frailties.

Technology is likely one of the reasons traffic crash fatalities fell by nearly 700 souls between 2016-18, although the U.S. Department of Transportation has not speculated on that.

Other aspects of our roadway safety are not so positive.

No matter how Americans might joke among ourselves about wild driving styles in other countries, particularly emerging nations, ours are the most dangerous roads in the industrialized world. Our fatality rate is nearly double those of Canada and Australia, even of Germany with its world-famous high-speed autobahns. Some of other nations’ declining fatality numbers have followed national highway safety campaigns, something the U.S has not undertaken recently. As David Leonhardt of The New York Times pointed out earlier this month, vehicle fatalities kill almost as many people in the U.S. as gun violence, although they receive far less public attention.

So, what’s our problem? It’s likely several issues.

We speed. The Governors Highway Safety Association recently issued a report subtitled “Rethinking a Forgotten Traffic Safety Challenge,” which asserts that nearly one-third of our traffic fatalities are caused by excessive speed. It cites “widespread public acceptance of speeding and lack of risk perception” among American drivers. A cruise along I-95 or I-40 confirms this public acceptance within seconds.

We talk tough on impaired driving, but we are not walking the walk. As a nation in love with our vehicles, we slap many impaired drivers on the wrist and send them back onto our roadways. Most communities, including ours, have lawyers who specialize in this area and have handsome incomes to prove it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that someone dies every 51 minutes in an alcoholrelated crash. Prepare to hear more about legal moves to lower the legal blood alcohol limit from 0.08 to 0.05. That alone could save some of the 10,000 people who die in alcohol-related crashes every year in our nation.

“Distracted driving” is a term often used to describe texting and other technology use while driving, but it actually means everything we do in our cars that is not driving — eating, drinking, tuning the radio, looking at back seat passengers — the list is individual and endless. Americans are in our vehicles so much that we seem to forget that we should not do in them everything we do when we are out of them. Our driver’s ed teacher’s advice still holds — two hands on the wheel and eyes straight ahead.

Nervously but hopefully yours from behind the wheel of Station Wagon No. 8,

Margaret

FTCC offers great education at an affordable cost

11FTCCI was asked to do a presentation last winter, and while doing my research, I stumbled across information that floored me. According to Forbes magazine, student loan debt in this country is second only to mortgage debt. Forty-four million people in the U.S. owe $1.56 trillion in student loan debt.

Of the 44 million who owe student loan debt, 11% of them cannot pay their student loans; they are in default. This example reminds me of taking out a car loan for a car you cannot drive. There is something seriously wrong with this situation. So, what do we as a nation do?

If these 4 million students who cannot pay their loans had begun their educational journeys at a community college, not only would their loans be significantly less in debt, chances are they could also pay on smaller loans with money earned from the jobs obtained after graduation. Earning a two-year degree in a trade skill such as welding or auto body repair not only ensures employment, it is more affordable. The same applies to a two-year degree in nursing or criminal justice.

If a four-year degree is the goal, students can begin their education at a two-year college and transfer to a four-year college. This can save them up to $20,000 or more a year in debt, depending on the four-year university. This is great news.

Fayetteville Technical Community College is currently registering students for the fall 2019 term, with classes beginning Aug. 19. Visit www.faytechcc.edu and click on the “Get Started” link at the home page. The link goes directly to the admissions page. Here, after you've completed the Residency Determination System process, you'll be directed to the free College Foundation of North Carolina application. Once the application is complete, FTCC sends an email to the email address used in the application. FTCC also sends a hard-copy letter to the physical address used by the student when completing the CFNC application.

Once the FTCC application is complete, the student should visit www.FAFSA.gov. The FAFSA services at this website are free. Students should be careful to ensure that the location is www. FAFSA.gov to avoid any charges; if there is a charge, then it is the wrong website. Apply for the academic year 2019/2020. Be prepared with tax documents. Most students who live at home will use their parents’ income information, but extenuating circumstances may result in needing different information.

In this high-tech world, FTCC recognizes face-to-face assistance is still important, and its staff are proud to offer the personal touch. FTCC offers over 280 degrees, diplomas and certificates. FTCC career and guidance counselors can help narrow a student's choices by providing a one-on-one career assessment for them. Once students have a pathway, FTCC will help them along the way. Assistance is available for steps like completing the FTCC application, financial aid and transcript evaluation processes, along with much more.

Call 910-678-8473 or visit FTCC at the Fayetteville Campus in the Tony Rand Student Center, the Spring Lake Campus, or the Ft. Bragg Training & Education Center.

On the good ship USS Glutton

04BearsHi buckaroos! It’s time for my annual “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” essay. Remember when you had to write these reports? This yearly assault on the standards of world literature began several millennia ago under the tutelage of my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Charlie Delgrande. Mrs. Delgrande, wherever you are, this column is for you.

I had somehow managed to live for many decades without ever going on a cruise. My wife and I, being uncertain of how much time we might have left to undertake a voyage into excess, decided to hop a boat to Alaska with a couple of college friends. I had always heard everyone liked Alaskan cruises. Turns out, once again, I am not everyone.

The trip started with a bang when my wife Lani, imitating Thor, inadvertently, she claims, dropped a hammer on me from the top of the stairs while I was saying goodbye to the dogs. The hammer narrowly missed my bulbous head and the dogs, only causing a minor but bloody flesh wound on my elbow. After expressing a colorful string of Anglo-Saxonisms that I didn’t realize I knew, calm returned in the form of a Band-Aid.

It turns out people of a certain demographic tend to populate cruises. Like your columnist, most cruisers appeared to have been born during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. Getting a bit long in the tooth, but not yet ready for sitting in the lobby of a nursing home. Cruisers tend to be very friendly and outgoing. They are not about to go gently into that good night.

Off to the wilds of Alaska. We did a week on land before a week at sea. Alaska is pretty big. It has a lot of mountains covered with trees, snow and tourist buses. Inexplicably, Skagway and Juneau have more jewelry stores than you can shake a stick at.

Allow me to explain what one does on a cruise in Alaska — eat with 2,000 of your closest friends. Every day is a Thanksgiving-level eating opportunity. Think of a church dinner catered by an expensive restaurant. Wall-to-wall food in the buffet line. Assigned seating for supper where your silverware is replaced every time you use a fork.

In addition to eating constantly, you wash your hands obsessively under the supervision of a hand-washing safety patrol monitor stationed at the entrance to the buffet. The monitor chants, “Washy, washy” at the tourists herding in for the next feeding.

The hand washing is to ward off the Norovirus cooties that are known to lurk on cruise ships. You then go in to grab your food with tongs that 2,000 other people had previously handled. One hopes the Washy Washy Guy was successful in shaming everyone into washing their hands.

When not eating, one goes on tightly structured and highly expensive land expeditions to see natural wonders and wild things like whales, mountain goats, bears, sea lions and eagles. In the cruise brochures, these critters are shown being right next to you. It ain’t necessarily so.

In the actual expeditions, the guide tells you the white dots on the mountain are Dall goats, the tiny blob flying overhead is a bald eagle, and that dark bump in the water 200 yards away is the back of a humpback whale. We have a plethora of pictures of white dots, tiny blobs and dark watery lines, which for $5 I will refrain from showing you.

The ship features numerous lounges in which one can purchase expensive adult beverages complete with an 18% gratuity with every drink. One night, we drifted lonely as a cloud into a Mahogany-paneled lounge that resembled Las Vegas’ idea of a British gentleman’s club. There was a live band with a pretty girl singer who could belt out the hits along with her male co singer. Until you have heard a Filipino singer croon “West Virginia, take me home, country roads,” you cannot say you have truly lived. One lady of a certain age, who may have had a bit too much to drink, vigorously and entertainingly danced the night away.

So what have we learned today? Once again very little. Would I go on a cruise again? Nope. Should you go? Sure. Pay no attention to me. Ride the high seas to adventure.

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