Dear President Obama,

FullSizeRenderI watched your address to the nation last night and I was thinking about how you said we need to find a cure for cancer. I have a few thoughts on that and they lead specifically to the FDA, because I believe all of the chemicals we’ve put into our homes and our environment are the real cause of cancers. I’m not a doctor or anything, though, or a scientist, I’m just a writer and a student and a housewife.

I don’t usually watch these things, but my father-in-law was in town and he does.

Let me back up and say you’re my most favorite president that we’ve ever had. When you were elected I thought I might run through the streets naked playing drums. (Okay, not naked because I’m actually a very shy, private person in-person, but I wished I had bought fireworks or run out into the streets banging pans or something.) When you were elected, some of my faith in the American political system was restored.

The reason I think you’re my most favorite president is because I’ve always thought the other guys were lying through their teeth. President Bush Jr., every time he talked I thought, He’s ten pounds of crap in a five pound bag. And then I took a journalism class where we studied propaganda, and we studied one of his addresses to the nation about that very thing. I always thought that war in Iraq was about oil, but I’m speaking above my pay grade. I know it’s probably a bit more complicated.

You, on the other hand, I always believed.

I read your books Dreams of My Father and The Audacity of Hope. So when people start talking smack about you around me, that’s the passive-aggressive question I always ask. Like this:

THEM: He’s a Terrorist.

ME: Did you read his books?

THEM: He isn’t an American citizen.

ME: Did you read his books?

THEM: He wants to turn this country into a _________.

ME: Did you read his books?

And you know the rest of the awful stuff that people say, the race stuff. I’m working on that, but lots of people fear the unknown, as far as I can tell.

As far as politics go, I feel like you’ve got it.

I liked what you said about us having to work together as Americans if we want to get anything done. Paul Ryan even clapped at that one. Hey, off the topic, how long do you think Ryan had to practice that arrogant, condescending look he had on his face for most of your speech? Did he have to take a class on how to look like an a-hole on TV? John Boehner did that too, a while back. Where do they learn that? Is there a seminar republican house speakers are required to attend before your talks where they practice eye-rolling and squinchy faces?

I also liked how you reminded us that welfare folks didn’t put the country in a financial crisis, but that the Wall Street folks did. I’m still kind of pissed that those CEO’s got huge bonuses and took big trips but that’s not what this is about.

Collectively, on behalf of the American people, I’m sorry for all of those gray hairs.

I wonder if you were able to quit smoking; that’s a tough one. I’ve got one of these E-cigarettes but I read recently that they’re not great for you either, go figure.

Which brings me back to the chemicals cause cancer thing. My dad died of lung cancer after smoking for fifty years. My mom told me that their generation didn’t know that cigarettes were bad for you. But he was already hooked, right, when the tobacco companies finally admitted that they knew that you would die from them; they’d been pumping cancer-causing chemicals in them for years.

So that got me thinking: what else causes cancer that we don’t know about? Based on science, it turns out, a lot of stuff we’re used to. The problem is, and this is my fault because I get tired of saying it and feeling like nobody believes me—I bet you get that—the problem is, people don’t know that the can lining in Campbell’s soup, for instance, is made of BPA, which causes cancer.

So effectively, when you crack open a can of tomato and heat it up on the stove, you’re possibly and potentially poisoning your children and your family. And not just soup. Lots of other stuff that we use every day because we think it’s safe. I’m from the Midwest; we put cream of mushroom in everything.

Anyway, since you and old Biden are going to start working on this cure for cancer business, I’m going to make a proposal: why don’t we make it illegal for corporations to put chemicals known to cause cancer in our food, drinks, water, cleaning products and environment? Like GMO’s…not labeling them? Thanks, Congress. Take a vacation now. Why don’t we look to the cause instead of the effect, you know, like Climate Change?

This December when it was sixty-five degrees in Ohio, I asked a lady at a retail counter what she thought of the weather and if she thought it was due to climate change. She sounded a little snarky when she said, “No, it’s just Ohio,” which I thought was crazy because it wasn’t like she just didn’t believe in it, but she was denying it as a personal and political statement. My friends in California are like, is it ever going to rain? The springs have dried up and we’re thirsty.

I run into the same kind of doubt about the soup cans.

According to Dr. Phillip J. Landrigan, who happens to be a Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, “Children are exposed to toxic and carcinogenic [cancer-causing] chemicals through many routes—the air they breathe, the water they drink, the foods they eat, the medications they consume, and the environments they inhabit, including their homes, day care center, schools and motor vehicles.”

It occurs to me as I’m reading this article from Dr. Landrigan, that you probably already know this stuff, that you just can’t do it all on your own and you’re waiting for we average Americans to catch up and read the paper. After all, this particular pdf is called “Childhood Cancer and the Environment, Testimony Before the President’s Cancer Panel” (2008). It must be tough being the leader of the free world. I don’t mean any disrespect, but better you than me. Would you let me know who I need to talk to in the FDA to support Dr. Landrigan’s research? I watched my dad go through chemo, and I’m not sure that using a cocktail of chemicals to treat an ailment caused by chemicals is a great idea.

While we’re talking, could we insist that sexual abusers of children get more than two to three years in prison? I’m a peaceful person, but I think castration is a reasonable consideration.

Well, I’d like to have a beer with you and Michelle sometime if you’re ever in Dayton. There are a few new breweries in town, probably thanks to your policies on small businesses, but I don’t know much about economics; I’m just a writer, a student, and a housewife. Maybe my husband could come? He’s nice. You’ll like him. Then we could all go dancing or something. Have your people call us.

I absolutely love your talks at the White House Correspondents’ Dinners. OMG, that bit about your bucket list almost made me pee my pants, and made my heart all warm and fuzzy.

I’m very proud of the work you’re doing in service of our country. Some of us don’t even know we should be grateful for you, but they’ll know in a few years as your work begins to bloom. And a wonderful job you’re doing. So, thank you.

Let me know if there’s anything I can do to make your job any easier. Otherwise, keep up the good work!

A high-five from Ohio,





What My Volleyball Coach Taught Me About Life: An Open Letter to Coach Lonnie Cain

Dear Lonnie,

            I saw an article today that you’re going back to coach volleyball at Covington. I’ve wanted to send you a thank you note for a while, and well, this seems like the best time. I’m going to do it publicly, if that’s okay with you—I’m afraid if I do get this all out in a card, I might not get around to finding a stamp. I bet you get that about me.

            So, I wanted to say thank you because what you taught me about volleyball, you really taught me about life. For those three years I worked with you on the court, you were more than just a coach teaching me how to handle a ball with a team, but you were a mentor teaching me how to handle myself in the world. Here’s what you taught me about volleyball and about life, in no particular order.

  • Show Up for Practice. Make it Fun.

            The first thing I learned from you is about practice. I don’t know if you knew that I always wanted to be a writer, but every morning now, I get up and practice. Some days I’m not in the mood, some days I have other things that seem way more important to do, but I get up and go to my desk anyway, and write. I practice. After a while, it stops feeling like work and it starts feeling like fun.

            I think of all of those days after school I ran around the gym chasing volleyballs with my friends and laughing, playing games, and I didn’t know then that you were teaching us a million things at once, but one of them that working hard at something you love should, can, and will be fun. You might even get good at it if you practice enough. If not, well, at least you enjoyed yourself. But the important part is, you have to show up.

  • Real Leaders are Kind

            I can remember and count on one hand the times you got mad at us, and showed it. For a group of giggly, immature, hyper, boy-crazy teenage girls, this is unbelievable. Thank you.

            However you did that, it taught me that it is possible–when you feel the steam coming out of your ears and your face bright red–to take a deep breath, and count to ten. Because even when you’re having a day where you’ll feel like you’re losing the game but trying your best and you’re about to explode from the inside out, you can still hold yourself together, call a time out, talk about a new strategy, have a drink of water, look to your friends for a little encouragement, give someone else a ‘you can do it’ and then get back in the game.

            The best way to teach someone else that is to model it.

            Thank you for doing that.

  • How to be Part of a Team

            When I was going to be a sophomore, you pulled me aside and asked me if I would move to varsity. You wanted me to set a five-one offense, which meant (to the civilians) I’d be playing with some girls older and more experienced, but I needed to lead them. You said this included (but was not limited to), taking responsibility for the team’s mess-ups, even if they weren’t my fault, and transferring the glory for the great plays, even if I’d set a perfect ball.

            A humble leader, you said, admits fault in a bad play and lifts up her teammate at every opportunity.

            I can’t tell you how valuable this has been in my life. This one skill set has allowed me to carry myself with integrity and earn respect of those around me; I continue to use it in my relationships and my career. Celebrating other people’s successes is one of my favorite things to do in my family and with my friends, and being at the bottom with someone, ready to lift them up when it’s time for them to get in stance again, is one of my most purposeful missions.

  • Aim for One Specific Thing

            So, I was your player who could serve 150 balls over the net (with a great spin-float) in practice. But when it came to a game, sometimes I’d get nervous about who was in the stands or everybody was looking at me (and then we got to those big college gyms where the ceilings were like 3000 feet tall), then I’d fumble and serve the ball right into the net.

            I don’t know how you discovered this, but eventually, you’d tell me to aim for a specific position on the other side of the net, by flashing me a number. And I could hit it every time. When I get out into the world on my own, I almost blew over with possibilities and how to act and what to do with so many choices. And I’ve found myself in some places with really tall ceilings.

            I’ve come to learn that if I aim at something specific I at least get the ball in play. I may have to set left instead of right, or a three ball instead of a two, depending on how the ball comes back over, but the focus on one important thing helps me steer the sails a little better on my journey. I picture you flashing a six for me, to serve a ball into the back court and then get ready for defense. I’m aiming for one thing at a time, and finding some success in that, even when I’m overwhelmed with interests, commitments, and to-do lists.

  • Believing in Someone Else is a Gift you Give

            I couldn’t begin in one letter (even a long one), one blog post, or one book to describe all of the things you taught me about volleyball and therefore about life. How a team member shows up when another one is feeling weak or in need. How if the ball’s on your court, it is indeed your responsibility—don’t let it drop in your space–but if you do, keep your head up and focus on the next one.

            But I think the most important thing you taught me about volleyball and about life is that sometimes all a person needs is someone to believe in them. That’s really what a team is, a group of people doing this thing together who trust each other’s skills and instincts, and who believe in each other.

            When I got out into the world on my own, I made some mistakes, and then I had some tribulations, and then I made some more mistakes, and then I made some more. But I remembered this article that my mom cut out for me one time called “The Balcony People.” I’m sorry I don’t know who wrote it. But it talked about how valuable it is to have people in the balcony cheering for you, or people in the bleachers, or even one person in the gym.

            Today I was thinking about that day on the court when you said, “Do you think you can do this?” Run a team full of upperclassman and be involved in every play? I likely shrugged my shoulders and thought, “I don’t know coach. I’ll try.” But here’s what you said: “I believe you can.”

Thanks for always believing in me.

            Really I just wanted to take a minute to thank you for sharing your time with me, your mentorship, for what you taught me about life, about volleyball, and for believing in me. When I think about you coaching, I think, what a gift you are to each and every one of the girls that you lead, not just for your knowledge of the game, but the way you teach it to them by example: show up, practice, have fun, be kind, manage ups and downs together, aim for something, and believe. It was a great life experience to be a part of your team.

Thanks, Coach.

Best of luck to you this and every season,

Whitney Bell  #11

A Covington Buccaneer

CHS Volleyball 1993-1997,

Cross County Conference & District Champs