January Is National Stalking Awareness Month: Amanda’s Story

man-stalking-womanIt was just after 7 o’clock in the evening during July in Arizona. Translation? The triple-digit heat had barely dipped into the 90s. So why did I feel a chill creeping along my arms? I rubbed them for warmth, but couldn’t shake the queasy prickling sensation. I debated whether fetching my mail at the end of my street was really worth it.

This had become my life. Even the simplest tasks were riddled with fear. Every time my phone alerted me of a text, my heart raced. Every time my dogs barked, I jumped.


I needed to make sure my family would not be a story in the news or a plotline for a Lifetime movie.


A few months prior, I had gotten texts from a random number; these escalated to lewd comments. I downloaded an app to block the number. Then the emails started. I blocked them and every subsequent account this faceless shadow created to reach out to me. Next thing I knew, I was getting anonymous gifts and small PayPal transfers. I ignored them. Twice, my back door was open. Had I just forgotten to close it? When I found a slain chicken strewn across my front lawn, I tried to justify that one must have escaped a nearby farm and been victim to a coyote or other common predator. Then, not even a week later, another one appeared. This shadow wanted me to know that his gift was not just a coincidence.

I had dutifully called the police when I suspected break-ins and had informed them of the obsessive behavior. It wasn’t the first time in my life I was told by authorities, “Well, we can’t do anything unless they hurt you.”

When I came home from an extended weekend away for my job, I was welcomed by a dismembered and headless Barbie doll … on my bed. While disturbing on its own, it was a clear reference to an episode of Dexter I had just watched two days prior. I had been alone and at someone else’s home and had only told my best friend back home in Missouri about the episode. Somehow, someone knew.

That was the moment I came to terms with a very grim fact. I had a stalker. Continue reading

Teen Talk: Gardasil, a Shot of Prevention

pink vaccine cartoonOne of my least-favorite medical memories must have happened when I was 5 years old, give or take. All I remember is that I was very small, surrounded on all sides by my mom, my pediatrician, and a nurse, and shrinking into a corner as the nurse came at me with a needle. I was squirming and protesting and cringing, but she grabbed my arm and pierced it with a syringe, quick as lightning. Before I could howl in protest, it was over.


Arm yourself against genital warts with Gardasil!


But here’s the thing: It hurt. A lot. And for days afterward, I went about my business feeling as if I had been punched in the arm. When I complained to my mom about how sore I was, she said that my muscles were completely tensed up, and shots hurt more when your muscles are tense. That fact only compounded my annoyance — why had that mean old nurse pricked me at the height of my freakout? If someone had just explained it to me, maybe I could have calmed down enough to relax my muscles and minimize the pain.

That incident made a mark on me, and once I hit adulthood I saw no reason to continue inviting the painful sting of immunization if I didn’t have to. It wasn’t until vaccine-preventable diseases like pertussis and measles started making a comeback that I had to admit to myself that avoiding immunization wasn’t anything to be proud of, and I started getting all my booster shots and yearly influenza vaccinations. Continue reading

Sex Ed Isn’t Scary, But the Lack of Sex Ed Is!

The following guest post comes to us via Kate Thomas, community sexuality educator for Planned Parenthood Arizona. Kate has her master’s degree in public health from the University of Arizona and a passion for ensuring that people of all ages have access to the information, resources, and support they need to be sexually healthy.

screamEarlier this month, I gave a presentation about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to a group of teens in Tucson, Arizona. This is a presentation I have given many, many times. As a sexuality educator, I’ve heard almost every question and comment there is related to sex and sexuality, so I’m not normally affected by what I hear from students in a classroom. But at the end of this particular workshop, one student said, “Oh my god, I’m so scared. This is so scary. I don’t like this.” In fact, several of the teens in this particular group listened to the information I was sharing with shocked looks on their faces.

At Planned Parenthood Arizona, we do not use fear or scare tactics when we talk about sexual health. We believe that sexuality is a natural, lifelong aspect of being human, and our workshops teach about sexual health in ways that give medically accurate information, promote healthy behaviors (including abstinence), teach risk reduction, and encourage all individuals to take charge of their sexual health and well-being by getting annual reproductive health exams and routine STI testing.

So, when a workshop participant says, “This is so scary. I don’t like this,” it makes me reflect on what could have scared them so much in a presentation that is meant to be sex-positive. It didn’t take me long to realize what the issues were for this particular group. Continue reading

Gardasil and Mortality

womenVaccination is one of public health’s greatest achievements, but today’s sociopolitical climate promotes unfounded fears. In turn, this fear-mongering has led to outbreaks of otherwise rare infectious diseases, such as measles and whooping cough. Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines protect against two HPV strains that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers, which itself is the second-most common type of cancer in women worldwide. Immunization has the potential to eliminate these viral strains, which would save lives and reduce health care costs — but, unfortunately, vaccine horror stories are a dime a dozen on the Internet, and HPV vaccines like Gardasil are popular targets for vaccine opponents.


Of 57 million Gardasil doses given in the United States, 40 confirmed deaths have occurred in recipients. However, these deaths were not caused by vaccination.


There are many claims flying around that Gardasil causes serious side effects, including death. However, claims that Gardasil can lead to death aren’t supported by good evidence. Generally speaking, people who make these accusations obtain their information from a publicly accessible database called the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which collects claims of adverse events from anyone — including health care providers, patients, or family members.

What is an adverse event?

Most people don’t realize that the phrase “adverse event” cannot be used interchangeably with the term “side effect.” An adverse event is something that occurs after a vaccination — such as a headache, seizure, depression, or death. It could happen one second after being injected with a vaccine or more than a year afterward. It could be a coincidence, or it might be caused by vaccination. For example, if two weeks after receiving a flu shot I get a headache, I could legitimately claim it is an “adverse event,” even if my headache had nothing to do with the shot. An adverse event is only called a side effect if it is found to have been caused by vaccination.

What is VAERS?

Despite its occasional misrepresentation in print media, social media, and the blogosphere, VAERS is not a source of information about verified side effects — it is a database of adverse events that have been self-reported by the public. Anyone can submit a report to VAERS — heck, I could claim that the flu shot gave me telekinetic powers in addition to that headache, and it would be recorded in the database. That doesn’t mean that you should worry about coming down with a nasty case of telekinesis after getting a flu shot at the corner drug store. Continue reading