Why to have your last straw before Mother Nature has hers

By Cee Cee Huffman 

A thirsty child opens his lunch box and rips the straw from his juice box. A barista calls a name, slides an iced coffee across the counter and places a straw on top. A young waiter reaches into their black canvas apron and tosses a handful of white, paper-wrapped plastic straws on the table.

Without a second thought, they rip off the wrappers and enjoy their drinks.

Every day, Americans use 500 million plastic straws, but few stop to think about what happens to their straws once their cups are empty.

“You take something and you throw it where? Away,” environmental artist Bryant Holsenbeck said. “We live in away. People think away is a magic place, and it’s not.”

If a straw makes it to the trash, it’s picked up and driven to a landfill. Unable to be recycled, it will spend the next several years slowly breaking down. If it gets lost along the way, it becomes part of the 7.5 percent of the total plastic in our environment.

Plastic straws are the fifth most common plastic product found in our oceans while plastic itself is the most common marine debris found in our oceans. This debris is made up of single-use plastics, or plastics that are only used once before being thrown away, like grocery bags, water bottles and straws.

“The straw is just that single object that so many of us have encountered all our lives,” filmmaker Linda Booker said. “So, we never really stop to think about it.”

Sometimes fish might encounter microplastics, or pieces of plastic products the size of a sesame seed and mistake it for dinner.  Though harmful to the fish, it could also be harmful to you if that fish ends up on your plate.

From Rye to Oil-Based Plastic

In the 1880s, Marvin Stone was drinking his mint julep through a natural rye grass straw when it began disintegrating. A manufacturer of paper cigarette holders, he fastened together his own paper straw by wrapping strips of paper around a pencil and gluing them together.

He patented his invention in 1888 and began producing it in 1890. In a matter of time, people everywhere were drinking from Stone’s paper straws.

Over 50 years later, corporations discovered oil-based plastic straws were cheaper to mass-produce. Plastic straw quickly became the new norm, and they weren’t going anywhere.

Linda Booker is the director and producer of “Straws,” a documentary that details the history of and danger that plastic straws pose to our environment.

Booker said she remembers the moment she started noticing that straws were everywhere.

“Sometimes they get used, a lot of times they don’t,” Booker said. “We just go about our day and these objects are going into our drinks sort of vicariously, whether we ask for them or not.”

The Turtle that Started a Movement

She said people started paying attention when marine biologist Christine Figgener posted a video of a turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nose online in Aug. 2015.

Figgener and her team wrestled with the turtle, holding its head still while they struggled to pull a deteriorating straw out of its nostril. The video received over 34 million views on YouTube,  and the turtle quickly became the poster child of the anti-straw movement.

However, Booker said that even after becoming aware of the problem, it’s still difficult to understand the scope.

Blair Bowden, a senior studying marine science at UNC-Chapel Hill, became more conscious of the straws she encountered when she took marine biology.

Bowden said she found the Stop Sucking campaign for a straw-less ocean and has been telling all of her friends and family about it since.

“Even though it’s not a cure-all for the environment, it’s a small step in the right direction,” Bowden said.

Booker said plastic straws are a relatable and simple way to tackle the bigger plastic problem. For now, she’s glad people are learning about it.

“It’s kind of like, shocking,” Booker said. “When you really think about exactly how prevalent it really is, and how many of them there are, and how they’re never going to go away. It can really be kind of scary.”

As scary as straws are, they’ve become difficult to avoid or live without while other similar single-use plastics are everywhere.

Scrapping the Straw

Having created art with recycled materials for decades,  Holsenbeck wanted to see if she could go a year without single-use plastics. She documented her journey in her book, “The Last Straw: A Continuing Quest for Life Without Disposable Plastic.”

“It’s made to use once and last forever,” Holsenbeck said. “That’s a bad equation, right?”

Holsenbeck said it was a challenge to find alternatives to her daily, plastic wrapped items, but now she knows where to find sustainable alternatives. Today, she has accepted some single-use plastics back into her life but avoids them when possible.

Reducing Your Plastic Use

Blair Pollock, solid waste manager for Orange County, said there are three simple things you can do to reduce your use plastics without completely cutting them out.

First, reusable water bottles.

Pollock said carrying a water bottle or canteen saves you the cost of buying bottled water while also being 47 percent more energy efficient.

“There’s savings to you immediately as an individual and there’s planetary savings,” Pollock said. “That’s probably the most obvious and best economically.”

Pollock said for the average shopper, carrying reusable shopping bags in your car is also an easy and effective way to avoid plastic. Lastly, of course, Pollock said to reject plastic straws.

If you find that you really need or miss your straw, try buying a reusable straw and carrying it with you. However, you likely won’t miss it since for many, drinking from straws is habitual but unnecessary said Pollock.

“Once you begin to change your habits, it just becomes embedded with you,” Pollock said.

Pollock said you have to be quick-on-the-draw to stop your barista or waiter from handing you a plastic straw.  Still, it’s one of the easiest things you can do to reduce the number of single-use plastics in your life.

Edited by Diane Adame

‘You can use the tree to create what you see’: Bonsai master cultivates art and imagination

By Laura Brummett

Harold Johnson, bonsai enthusiast and member of the North Carolina Bonsai Society, opens every class that he teaches with the same question.

“Who here has killed a bonsai tree before?” he said, maintaining his blank stare.

None of the seven moved at first, giving the room cautious glances to see who would react. A woman in her late 20s wearing hipster glasses and ballet flats was the first to take the bait, sheepishly lifting her arm.

Two more, a young dad in dirty Converse and a lively grandmother both raised their hands.

Johnson finally let his smile crack through the seriousness and added his hand to the count.

“I know I have,” he said.

Growing a love for bonsai

The first bonsai tree he bought was from an open-air market in Charleston, South Carolina, over 25 years ago.

Johnson and his wife each bought juniper bonsai trees. His tree quickly died of “natural causes,” but his wife’s tree is still alive and thriving.

Combined, they now have close to 40 trees at their home.

Three years ago, when the North Carolina Museum of Art announced its plans to highlight plants as an art form through the Art in Bloom Festival, Johnson jumped at the chance to have the N.C. Bonsai Society included.

The museum agreed, stipulating that the trees be placed outside so that the art inside wouldn’t be exposed to anything harmful.

Every year since, the Bonsai Society has displayed its best trees in one of the small, back gardens during the festival.

For the festival, floral arrangements are designed to mimic a painting or work of art in the museum’s collection. They sit proudly in front of their chosen artwork, matching its colors and shapes.

The bonsai, however, are a representation of their owner’s mind.

“Monet and Picasso just saw the world differently,” Johnson said. “You can use the tree to create what you see.”

Johnson’s favorite part of participating in the festival is watching children react to his work. When he asks them what they see when they look at the trees, he said they always come up with creative ideas.

“That’s something we lose as adults,” Johnson said. “That ability to look at art and use our imagination.”

The ‘Mr. Miyagi’ of North Carolina bonsai cultivation

Children weren’t the only ones transfixed by Johnson’s bonsai at the festival.

Rosa Cajahuaringa first saw the bonsai trees at the museum, where she works as the head of the housekeeping department. The trees instantly brought her back to watching “The Karate Kid,” the live version, in a Chinese store in New Jersey.

On the installation day, while the exhibit was being constructed, Cajahuaringa found Johnson and begged him to teach her how to grow a bonsai tree.

“I saw the exhibit, and I just wanted to take a class so badly,” she said. “They make me feel calm.”

She sat at the front of Johnson’s next class and listened intently for more than 3 hours.

Sitting next to her was Joyce Snapper, a festival attendee and bonsai enthusiast. She collects mosses, which are used to cover the base of bonsai trees, and grows them on rocks in her yard.

Snapper spent the entirety of Johnson’s class with a peaceful smile on her face. She thought the class was engaging and informational, despite the “brief time allotted.”

Afterward, she waited for Johnson to finish helping the last student. She wanted to marvel over the mosses he had growing around his personal trees.

The two bonded as they closely examined the tiny green spores.

Adding moss, Johnson said, is the finishing touch to a bonsai artist’s work.

Choosing the pot color, shape and size is the first step. Next comes cutting off branches and leaves.

Johnson instructed his class to use the “scientific term” of cutting off the “sticker-upper” and the “hangy-downy” branches.

Finally, the branches are wired to the tree trunk to form different visual effects. Johnson likes a harmonious arrangement of branches.

What’s left is a mix of harsh lines and rounded clusters of tiny leaves, creating a multitude of designs, each different from the last.

As he teaches the mixed crowd, he delivers a healthy dose of corny jokes, intertwined with intense information and facts.

He’s so eager to share his abundance of knowledge that his nametag starts creeping toward the middle of his collared shirt, hanging lopsided. With every enthusiastic movement, the tag gets closer to falling off.

He pays no mind to the nametag, nor to the soil that coats the floor. Every time he works on a student’s tree, the dirt pours out around him. Johnson walks right through it.

A resolute beauty

Just as it did at the festival, Johnson’s oldest bonsai tree stands stoically in front of his class.

Although his tree appears calm, it’s a work of Johnson’s pure and glowing passion for his art. The devotion shines through each minuscule, spiky leaf.

The old bonsai tree has now watched the masses stream through the exhibit for three years, and sat through countless hours of Johnson’s preaching.

And yet, its calmness remains.

Edited by Mitra Norowzi and Natasha Townsend

Conflicted: Leading tours while black in the Silent Sam era

By Karen Stahl


The pulse of helicopter blades chopping the air sliced through Jess Casimir’s ears.

Words zoomed around her brain in a flurry as she tried to chase just a few in pursuit of a coherent sentence.

The group around her exchanged confused glances and questioning eyes. Casimir took a deep breath.

“So I usually like to end with my ‘Why Carolina,’” she said on an exhale. “It is why I came to Carolina, why I choose to stay at Carolina and why I love Carolina.”

But her false confidence was no match for the deafening chants of the Silent Sam protestors around her.

Her palms started sweating. Her mind would not stop racing. Her braids hung limply in the humid August air.

Pressure is a feeling Casimir knows all too well.

As a black tour guide at UNC-Chapel Hill, junior Casimir still struggles with giving well-informed, honest tours about Silent Sam, the controversial Confederate monument that stood on McCorkle Place from 1913 to 2018.

“We have to talk about safety at Carolina,” she said. “As a person of color, I feel like you have an obligation to other people of color to be truthful about those situations.”

One of her most difficult tours took place in the middle of a Silent Sam protest.

But, as a daughter of Haitian immigrants, Casimir is no stranger to adversity.


Her mother makes Casimir’s favorite dish – “mori ak banann bouyi,” or salted codfish and boiled plantains – in the comforts of their cozy home near Lake Norman, where her father keeps the temperature at a steady 75 degrees. He grew up on an island and cannot handle colder climates.

Scattered around North Carolina and New York, Casimir’s family speaks Haitian Creole, the French-based official language of Haiti.

Casimir is a first-generation college student. And she is not alone at UNC-CH.

According to the Office of Undergraduate Retention, about 20% of undergraduate students at UNC-CH are first-generation college students, or students whose guardians do not have bachelor’s degrees.

A 2014 report from the office said 34% of first-generation students at UNC-CH are African-American.

But Casimir did not feel supported by her peers when applying to colleges, and she struggled to realize that there were others like her. Coming from a predominantly white community, she felt as though her experiences as a black woman were invalidated.

“I’m a particular type of black person,” she said with a chuckle.

As the youngest of four children, Casimir looked to her older siblings for support. After applying to countless schools and scholarships, she finally settled on UNC-CH because it was the most affordable option.

Her parents knew it was the right choice for her.

“We hear her sing the alma mater in the shower all the time,” said Patricia Elibert-Casimir, her mother. “Any excuse to talk about UNC.”

Though she was excited, being a black, first-generation college student in a class of 4,228 enrolled students – 71% of which were white – was daunting for Casimir.

“It has its challenges, like not feeling wanted at the university,” she said. “Everyone has networks, and you just kind of have to start from the ground up.”

The first night on campus after her parents left, Casimir cried silently in her room.  But she resolved to hit the bricks running.

She had no idea what she was in for.

Silent Sam. Minority safety. Being a black woman.

Her first tour, all Casimir could think about was facts.

“I was like, ‘I know they told me not to do that,’” she said. “It’s about your experience, but I was so nervous because that was all I kept doing.”

Casimir began as training as a tour guide in August 2017 and gave her first solo tour in January 2018.

Her training coincided with the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 11, 2017. She immediately began getting questions from parents on tours about Confederate monuments.

After a rally to take down Silent Sam later that month, the volume of questions surrounding the monument skyrocketed.

“It just became a thing that people assumed you were going to touch on, because how could you not?” Casimir said with a tired shrug.

The pressure never ceased.

Every tour had the same recurring themes: Silent Sam. Minority safety. Being a black woman.

Her palms still get sweaty thinking about it.

For nearly a year, Casimir teetered around the issue of Silent Sam, giving a university-tailored response only when a parent specifically asked about it.

“I know it took a toll on her,” said her friend Ashlin Elliott. “I think she managed the tours in a way that her opinion was not known to her groups, even when it was hard for her.”

Then the unthinkable happened.

When Silent Sam fell the night of Aug. 20, 2018, Casimir was lying in bed and scrolling through her phone.

She saw the video on Twitter and let out a shriek, though she was not entirely shocked.

Not after what had happened earlier that day.

The fall

Casimir approached the Old Well with her tour group following closely behind. Out of the corner of her right eye, she spotted the familiar Silent Sam crowd.

She braced herself for the questions.

But instead, she was met with the chants of protestors. News crews formed at a distance. Barricades surrounded the statue in layers, like rows of sharp teeth in the mouth of a shark.

She knew this was it.

It was the day before classes began, and Casimir watched the eager faces of prospective students in her tour melt into confusion. Most of the parents and their children were from out of state, and while Silent Sam had garnered national attention, not everybody was up to speed.

She crossed the street and walked around news crews with their trucks, stopping her group in front of the Old Well.

Her palms were sweaty as always, but this time her mind stopped racing. With slow control, she began her final speech.

“This is my ‘Why Carolina,’” she said. “It is why I came to Carolina, why I choose to stay Carolina and why I love Carolina.”

She talked about the different opinions on campus, student activism and selflessly provided her thoughts to the tour group, as her friend Kirsi Oldenburg described it.

Casimir felt like it was the end of the era of questions surrounding the monument. She knew that very soon the discussion would shift to moving forward. Even if she did not know the statue would fall that very night.

“I have to say, as a first-generation college student, I was really nervous about where I wanted to go,” she said to her tour. “Everybody experiences Carolina differently. It’s awesome to see different stories that people tell.”

The pulse of helicopter blades chopping the air sliced through Casimir’s ears.

But with a gentle look back at McCorkle Place, she gave a small smile.

Edited by Paige Colpo.

Hold them, pet them, cuddle them: 1870 Farm’s goat cuddles are for everyone

By Megan Cain

On this farm, you pop out of the womb ready to work. At 1 week old, you become the star of the show, and the show sells out almost every single time. You’d think it would be a lot of stress for these kids, but they take it all in stride.

Their mothers on the other hand? Not so much.

As Tiffany Breindel presses herself between the metal wiring that holds the makeshift pen together, Mocha, now 5 weeks old, bounds through tufts of grass toward her. Breindel scoops her small frame with ease, careful to support her inflated belly — she’s been munching under the sun all day. When Breindel carries Mocha out of the pen, Mocha’s mom shatters the tranquility of the crisp air with cries of disapproval.

“They’ve got to earn their keep, momma,” Breindel says over her shoulder in response.

And earn their keep they do. Mocha and five other baby goats, all younger than a year old, are the main subjects of today’s goat cuddling sessions.

It costs $10 per person to get up close and personal with these fuzz balls at 1870 Farm. From January through April, groups of up to ten can join the goats in a small pen for 30 minutes. Hold them, pet them, entice them to crawl on your back. How you spend your cuddle session is up to you.

The sessions started this past year on a pure whim. Breindel noticed the success of goat yoga, but she wanted goat interaction that was accessible for everybody.

“And you can’t really find your Zen if a goat does their business right next to your face,” Breindel says.

Unfortunately, Breindel hasn’t solved the “business” puzzle, but she prides herself on the wide range of people that participate in the cuddling sessions.

A breath of fresh air

Newly married couple Bethany and John Bradenton arrive first for today’s 4:30 p.m. session, both giddy with excitement for a break from their stale date night routine.

Music guides them past a sprawling oak tree that could tell a thousand stories to the entrance of a small white barn. Four chandeliers dangle from the ceiling, seemingly untouched by the dust that swirls through the barn, reminding Bethany of the decorations at her wedding.

1870 Farm used to host weddings, but now focuses mainly on children’s programming, like birthday parties and summer camps, with an emphasis on up-close animal interactions. Just two turns off U.S. Highway 15-501, a short drive down a road that seems to wind with the breeze and you’re transported back to a simpler time. The farm has come a long way since it was started in 1870, beginning as a commercial cattle farm. A couple from New York fell in love with its charm and turned it into an experience for town dwellers eager for a breath of fresh farm air.

The cuddle sessions help the baby goats cozy up to people and make them more comfortable in their jobs. 1870 Farm will usually host a few cuddle sessions per week, depending on demand.

Since it’s the only place in Chapel Hill to formally offer this sort of interaction, demand remains high no matter the weather.

Bethany’s dressed for the occasion, but John, as husbands do, seems to have forgotten. In gray slacks and a teal-and-blue-checkered button-down, he looks ready for Easter Sunday.

But when Breindel mentions that one of the goats likes to climb on people’s backs, John’s the first to drop to his knees.

It’s the oldest goat of the crew, Honey, ringing in at a solid 30 pounds — not including the cud in her belly from a full day of chomping in the sun — that takes the bait. She pokes at John’s shirt, unsure of its silky texture.

She toys with him. One hoof, then two. Back off. A back scratch. A few more pats. She’s enjoying this.

Bethany slides some hay onto John’s back, and it’s game over. Honey leaps onto John’s back, and Bethany’s right there to capture the photo.

Through his laughter, he jokes that Honey’s hooves give a better massage than his wife.

A unique experience

There’s no marketed benefit to goat cuddles; Breindel thinks everybody takes something different away from their time with the goats.

Alison Phellups brought her three kids to the farm as part of their spring break shenanigans.

Lizzie, the oldest, explains that her third favorite animal is now goats, right behind dolphins and giraffes, of course.

Her younger sister, Lucy, didn’t seem to take to the goats as easily. She attached herself to her mother’s leg like a barnacle, warily observing the creatures that stood as tall as her.

Mocha came first, brushing her velvety nose against the toddler’s shoulder. Lucy didn’t pull away. She opened her pursed lips and began to slowly smile. That smile evolved into a giggle, until eventually, she was squealing in delight following her new friend around the pen.

“Oh, we’ll definitely be back,” Phellups said. “You just can’t replicate this sort of experience for a child.”

Edited by Karyn Hladik-Brown

Old-time fiddler follows his passion across decades and oceans

By Mary Glen Hatcher

The foreign fiddler

In the thick humidity of June, at a small-town North Carolina park, a few hundred locals gathered to celebrate the music of their mountains.

As the intercom static cleared, a voice announced the next competitor in the 54th Annual Mount Airy Blue Grass and Old-Time Fiddlers Convention: a foreigner.

Shohei Tsutsumi from Osaka, Japan!

It was the 24-year-old’s first performance in America. He picked his favorite tune to play, a West Virginia reel called “Head of the Creek,” so his hands wouldn’t shake. Onstage, his mind raced.

He started thinking about his day: the generosity of strangers at the park who opened their campsites and coolers to him; the musicians who shared their songs and tunes; the Blue Ridge Mountains that called him away from home to join the chorus of Appalachia’s old-time music.

He picked up his fiddle, and paused.

The father-daughter duo that performed before him would go on to claim the convention’s grand prize.

But he’d already won.

Disney and Davy Crockett

Shohei Tsutsumi lived for the weekends he spent with his grandparents in Osaka, gathered around his grandad’s cassette player.

The compilation of Disney movie soundtracks was a family favorite. Tsutsumi would serenade his three sisters with whimsical songs from Snow White and Pinocchio, but one tune never left his mind: The Ballad of Davy Crockett.

“Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier!”

“I’m the only one from my family that really remembers that song, and can still remember the harmony and melody exactly how it goes,” Tsutsumi said, humming the cheerful refrain.

This was his first taste of a genre he’d spend the rest of his youth searching for, and the rest of his life trying to comprehend.

Playing it by ear

It was high school before Tsutsumi picked up an instrument. He wanted to learn piano when he was younger, like his sisters had, but his grandmother forbade it. It was a girl’s instrument, she said.

But he found his rhythm playing the guitar. Without formal lessons or instruction, he plunged into Japan’s rich musical subcultures: heavy metal, hard rock, Bosa Nova, Bollywood, and eventually, bluegrass and country.

He trained his ear to play by sound, replaying his favorite recordings until they echoed in his thoughts, and picked up a few other instruments — mandolin, fiddle, banjo and dulcimer — along the way.

“He’s such a quick study, musically, and learns how to play an instrument really, really quick,” Joe Thrift, an old-time musician from Surry County who played with Tsutsumi, said.

After settling into Japan’s bluegrass community, Tsutsumi felt like he’d finally found his niche. But his undergraduate program in Kyoto was coming to an end, and he needed to figure out his next steps. So, he did what he usually did when he needed space to think — he went to a jam session.

The beard behind the band

And there, he met Bosco.

With a handlebar moustache and a long, braided beard, Tsutsumi thought the fiddle player looked “very much like a foreigner,” in his native Kyoto because of the odd way he held his fiddle on his chest instead of under his chin.

In the late 1970s, Bosco Takaki traveled down South to learn deep-holler fiddle and banjo music from Appalachian legends Tommy Jarrell and the Hammond Family. He brought these lessons back to Japan, enchanting audiences with his eccentric fiddle playing.

For Tsutsumi, this introduction to old-time was eye-opening.

Bosco’s playing exposed an opportunity to sculpt his music obsession into more than a hobby. He became fascinated with the music’s roots, history and culture. He wanted to trace it, study it, master it.

“For the first time, I saw this contrast between old-time music and bluegrass, and it really took me,” Tsutsumi said. “I tried a lot of things, but it was this American folk music that took me. It grabbed me by my heart, actually.”

Bosco knew the feeling. His ensuing mentorship and friendship with Tsutsumi reminds him of falling in love with old-time traditions at the same age, 40 years ago.

A place for modern pilgrims 

Five years and two graduate programs later, Tsutsumi’s passion for old-time brought him to the foothills of North Carolina.

He’s the latest in a succession of musicians from around the world who, mesmerized by the music and traditions of Appalachia, have made a pilgrimage to this corner of the state to understand it.

After earning his Masters in Appalachian Studies from Appalachian State University in 2018 — the first non-American to do so in the program’s 45-year history — he moved with a friend to the quiet mountain town of West Jefferson and embedded himself in the old-time community.

He played at the community center’s Thursday night jam sessions, began taking a violin-making course under local old-time musician, Joe Thrift, and started teaching beginning banjo and fiddle at the local community college.

An outsider only on the outside

As one of the only Japanese people in the area, Tsutsumi said he’s lived a unique juxtaposition as a visible “outsider” researching and mastering an intimate part of the region’s culture.

“I’m in this place I’ve kind of dreamed of for a while, surrounded by people who are able to teach me about their local music and traditions, yet almost nobody who sees me on the street ever imagines that I am actually really good at playing music from this area, you know?” he said, laughing.

But, as his fellow musicians and the blue ribbons from local conventions will tell you, his talent speaks for itself. After a two-year hiatus from the dulcimer, Tsutsumi began practicing the instrument again for fun, and decided to enter a competition in Galax, Virginia to test his skills.

He walked away with first place after only a few days of practicing.

“I hope to go to the fiddler’s conventions to compete for personal growth,” he said “but also so I can get as many ribbons as I can before I go back to Japan.”

A link to the past 

Kilby Spencer, a fiddler with White Top Mountain Band who plays with Tsutsumi, noted that more than Tsutsumi’s meticulous style shines through when he performs.

“There’s a lot more to the music than just the notes,” Spencer said. “I think what makes him so special is he’s got a good grasp on and appreciation for the people behind the music.”

And that’s exactly what Tsutsumi wants his music to show.

As a self-proclaimed “ultra-traditionalist” in the old-time world, he strives to imitate the style of the legends he listened to and learned from — Tommy Jarrell, Kyle Creed and Fred Cockeram — so that their contributions are never forgotten.

So that others can find themselves in the music, just as he did.

“If someone mentions I sound like Tommy Jarrell, or I remind them of their grandpa or friend, that’s a huge compliment because they are not just listening to one person, not just to me, but many,” Tsutsumi said.

“If I can allow others to listen with their own memories and emotions, to go back to a time or place before, where I don’t belong to really, but I’m kind of part of…yeah, that would kind of be enough.”

Edited by Molly Sprecher





Local musician inspires listeners to think critically about the world

By Madeline Pennington

“Shoot it’s locked. I don’t have the keys to this place…yet,” Cassidy Goff said with a smirk as she tugged on the door to the independent record label, VibeHouse.

When she finally accepted the door wouldn’t budge, she headed down the street to a quaint coffee shop called Perennial. Surrounded by plants, Goff is in her element.

Goff, a UNC-Chapel Hill student and musician, uses the stage name Alo Ver when she performs. The name is a play on the Aloe Vera plant and the phrase “a lover.” She didn’t realize the latter meaning until she doodled the name on a piece of notebook paper on a whim.

Like much of her music career, Goff insists finding the double meaning for her stage name was fate.

She hopes her music sends messages of love and acceptance to her listeners. With songs typically incorporating nature imagery and philosophical musings, her music is a crash course on what it means to love every being on the earth.

The music isn’t just about what she can give to others, though that is a priority for Goff. She’s also learned the importance of independence from years of musical collaborations that didn’t work. Goff hopes to make her listeners think critically about the world, while she works to be less critical of herself.

Finding Her Sound

Growing up in small-town Davidson, North Carolina, Goff was surrounded by music from a young age. Her father had a college music career of his own, playing drums in a band called The Strugglers. He encouraged her to pursue music and gave her a banjo, her first instrument, at the age of 13.

The banjo attracted Goff because she loved the folk-band The Avett Brothers and cited them as one of her inspirations. As she explored her music more, she picked up guitar and piano along the way.

Before discovering Alo Ver, Goff formed a musical duo with her friend in high school. The two recorded and distributed a CD together.

However, she and her music partner parted ways before the end of high school. Her friend felt Goff was more serious about the project than she was. What was a hobby for most freshmen in high school was Goff’s passion.

When she began college at UNC-Chapel Hill, Goff again sought out music collaborators. She landed in the popular campus band, Web Threats. Still, she didn’t feel inspired by the jazz-influenced music.

She sang. She performed. But she waited for something more.

The day she found her footing as Alo Ver, she’d been walking home with her friend Ethan Taylor. The two had been working on more experimental tunes, and Goff was enjoying the electronic sound and collaborative process.

On their way home, Goff and Taylor threw around band names until Taylor threw out Alo Ver. It stuck.

But yet again, the partnership didn’t last. Taylor wanted to be a front man more than he wanted to produce Goff’s music, so the two split.

Though it was difficult at the time, Goff is grateful for the splits she has gone through. It has taught her how to rely on herself and trust her own creative voice.

Goff’s silky soprano tone lilts over layers of ambient noise to create a full-bodied soundscape. In her most popular single, “Planet Earth,” her voice soars through the bridge of the song in a melodic, bird-like caw.

She builds worlds with her music and wants people to access deeper questions through nature. It is as if she becomes a modern Thoreau, if he had been interested in avant-garde music, encouraging her listeners to find themselves away from the bustle of daily life.

Finding VibeHouse

Her mission was amplified when she joined the VibeHouse 405 team during her sophomore year of college. After splitting with Taylor, she was directed to VibeHouse by “a friend of a friend of a friend,” as she puts it.

It was at VibeHouse that Goff shifted from a solo student to an on-the-rise artist recording a full-length, professionally produced album.

She started at VibeHouse as an intern, helping out when needed and occasionally snagging studio time when she could. The owner of the recording studio, Kevin “Kaze” Thomas saw something special in Goff and gradually gave her more studio time.

Thomas mentored Goff in all things from music to spiritual guidance. Goff laughs calling him her “manager and guru.”

She can’t recall the moment when she became an official VibeHouse recording artist. Thomas just began calling himself her manager, helping her record her new singles. By the end of the summer of her junior year, she had a contract signed.

Practically unparalleled ambition combined with a natural empathy make Goff an unstoppable force. The cheers from the crowd of her 2018 album release concert ring in her ears as inspiration to work harder. More than that, her need to question things drives her to create.

What’s next?

So what’s next for Goff: A 20-year-old who casually reads philosophy books like “The Power of Now” in her free time and who buys clothes for herself and her performing alter ego?

To start, she’s adding a full band to the Alo Ver project. Though she’s enjoyed playing her songs with backtracking, she thinks a band could give her the same layered sound she has in her recordings live. Chapel Hill musicians Knox Engler, Tommy Vaughn and Patrick Lydon will add their instrumental talent to Goff’s singing. They plan to start rehearsals in late April.

She has a much larger stage on the books this summer. She’ll be joining rapper Rakeem Miles for a song during his set at the Firefly Music Festival in June. The Delaware-based festival is the East Coast’s largest music and camping festival with headliners that grow in acclaim each summer.

It is clear Goff’s hectic life won’t be slowing down any time soon. She fears losing motivation and settling for the traditional job market that she sees her peers applying to enter. Yet, she also can’t ever see herself giving up on her dreams.

She’s willing to trade it all for the ability to create music, and because of that drive, Goff is confident she’ll succeed. Mostly though, she views her pursuit of music as a spiritual journey and is excited to learn about all the universe can offer her.

Edited by Bailey Aldridge

Carolina Vibe dancer reminisces during “bittersweet” final show

By Jamey Cross

This was it.

Twelve years of practice. Twelve years of sweat and tears. Twelve years of passion.

Abby Britt’s 12 years of competition dance was coming to a close. She walked on stage and felt ready to dance with some of her closest friends for the last time. Trying to stop her emotions from overshadowing her performance, she took a calming breath.

Breathe in. Out. Dance.

Carolina Vibe, a contemporary dance group of about 30 young women at UNC-Chapel Hill, put on their spring showcase Saturday, March 30. The group worked on the number all year, perfecting and choreographing. It all came to life in Memorial Hall for hundreds of audience members.

Whispers filled the auditorium in the minutes before the lights lowered, signaling the recital was about to start.

Adorned in springtime dresses and collared shirts, friends, family members and dance fans came together for the performance. Store-bought flowers were sprinkled throughout the audience, ready to congratulate the dancers.

The support of friends

UNC-CH student Alexandra Smith rested a bundle of daisies in her lap. She was in the audience to support her friend and co-worker Hannah Snow.

Snow introduced Smith to Carolina Vibe, but Smith knew little about the group before meeting Snow at work. They work at the Target Starbucks on Franklin Street.

This was Smith’s first time attending one of the group’s showcases, and she was excited to see Snow dance. Snow is passionate about dance and uses it to work through her emotions and channel her creative energy, Smith said.

“She’s got such a bubbly, fun personality, so I’m really excited to see how that personality shows in her performance,” Smith said.

The curtain raised

Four silhouettes sat on stage. Alicia Keys’ “Fallin’” blared through the auditorium. The stage was dark, but their figures were backlit. They began to dance. 

The team took the stage for a sultry routine, wearing white button-down dress shirts and black undergarments.

Song after song, more dancers joined the performance. Applause and shouts separated each routine — jazz, ballet, hip-hop.

Kelly Davis, a Carolina Vibe alumna, served as the master of ceremonies. Carolina Vibe is an organization that brings students together through dance, she said. The group hosts monthly social events for members to connect.

“These young women are truly very exceptional, and the bond they share through dance is powerful,” Davis said. “But also the friendships and support along the way make this group just really outstanding.”

Brandon Britt, Abby Britt’s father, sat with his wife and daughter, ready for the show to begin.

“I’m always excited to see her dance,” he said.

The last performance

But this performance is different, and he had thought about that simple fact on the hour-long drive from their hometown, Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina. This would be Abby Britt’s last performance with the group she’d grown close with over her undergraduate career at UNC-CH.

“This showcase is a little more special since she’s a senior and this is kind of our last opportunity to see her dancing in a group,” Brandon Britt said.

Since she was 5 years old, Abby Britt danced competitively. She began dancing at a studio in her hometown. Through elementary and middle school, she took lessons, participating in recitals and some competition dances.

In high school, Abby Britt began taking dance seriously. She joined her high school dance team and found a larger studio. She danced competitively with both teams. When she came to UNC-CH in 2015, she knew she wanted to dance on campus so she could continue to grow as a dancer.

Carolina Vibe holds hour-long practices twice a week during the year. But as they get closer to a performance date, they add an hour to each practice. In four practices, the dancers learn an entire routine and move on to another. The group performed 21 routines at Saturday’s showcase.

After auditioning for a spot on the Carolina Vibe team four years ago, Abby Britt said there was one way to describe her final showcase: “It’s bittersweet.”

For the final group dance, the six graduating seniors took the stage one last time.

Dancers express their different styles

Abby Britt said the group’s president, Hailey Blair, had the idea to have each of the seniors perform a solo in the group dance. Each of the seniors performed her solo while her five teammates watched from the stage, arms intertwined.

“We all come from different dance backgrounds,” Abby Britt said. “And we wanted to show that and highlight that. We’re individuals, but we have all come together in this collective group.”

Abby Britt said the seniors had been on the Carolina Vibe team for at least three years, so they spent lots of time together. Getting to dance with them one final time was special to Abby Britt.

“We’re all just really proud of each other,” Abby Britt said

Abby Britt walked off the stage with her fellow dancers with nothing but pride in her heart. While her dance career was coming to an end, her connection with these women wouldn’t go anywhere.

“Dancers just have a unique bond that I can’t describe,” Abby Britt said. “We all just get each other, and that’s what’s kept me going.”

For four years, she’s grown as a dancer and woman with the support of her Carolina Vibe team. Abby Britt said that being able to share her passion for dance with others has been a blessing.

“As much as we are a team, we’re a family, too,” she said. “I’m very lucky to have been able to be a part of that.”

Edited by Victoria Young and Erica Johnson

‘Everything just began to click’: Finding a community in film, college and life

By Martha Bennett

Jacob Wishnek paused briefly in front of his computer to take a swig from his cappuccino. Readjusting his chair to get closer to the screen, he studied a scene from his latest short film, “College Kid,” in one of Swain Hall’s editing labs at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“There!” he blurted out, pointing to the screen. “Do you see that? Oh man, I love that.”

In this scene, the main character, Alex, walks through a parking lot while he listens to “Birds Don’t Sing” by the hypnotic-pop band, TV Girl. Syncopated to each cut, the beat of the song dictates every edit, going from shots of Alex’s feet to close-ups of his face.

Snapping his fingers and bobbing his beanie-wearing head, Wishnek smiled.

“This might be one of the things I’m most excited about,” he said. “I just wanna be sure I can get it right.”

He knows, though, as much as his friends do, that he won’t feel like he got it right.

“He’s always on the move, on the go, pushing forward,” cinematographer and friend Michael Sparks said. “He discounts nearly everything he does, which means he doesn’t always take pride or gain confidence from his achievements.”

A dedicated planner and perfectionist, Wishnek’s work ethic has been shaped by crowded sets where he couldn’t hear himself speak, 48-hour deadlines that made him vomit from getting no sleep and pages of rough drafts that would never make it to a read through.

“Perfection is not possible,” actor and friend Calliope George said. “But it is exciting to work alongside someone who shoots for the moon.”

Wishnek’s had a lot of practice shooting for the moon.

At just 22, Wishnek has been involved in over 60 film projects. From sci-fi fantasies to comedies, he’s developed a desire for telling stories and finding different ways to tell them.

But his passion didn’t begin with a typical movie experience. He has Alex Kim, and what might be the worst song of all time, to thank.

The ‘film guy’

Wishnek was 13-years-old when he opened his front door in Charlotte, N.C. to see Kim, his neighbor, knocking.

“Hey, have you seen Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’?” Kim asked.

A high school student wanting some help, Kim proposed a parody project to Wishnek as an opportunity to get some laughs around school.

“We called it ‘Pi Day’ because March 14, or 3.14159 day,” Wishnek said. “And it kind of became viral.”

Using their parents’ camcorders, Wishnek helped Kim film an off-color music video that generated over 15,000 views on YouTube. The recognition was flattering, but Wishnek noticed something: The video sucked.

Wobbly frames, harsh lighting and odd angles all made Wishnek curious.

“That became my pastime,” he said. “Just researching how to make films. Whether that was with finding new equipment or just learning how to actually shoot things properly to up the production quality.”

There were other learning moments, too. A summer spent at the UNC School of the Arts gave him one of his most important ones.

“Moonrise Kingdom,” a 2012 film by Wes Anderson, was on a laundry list of movies to study for the summer. Known for his stylized form of filmmaking, “Moonrise” checks all the boxes for a typical Anderson film. A consistent color scheme, quirky humor and spanning landscapes paint a charming picture for anyone who sees it.

“I watched it and I was like, ‘Oh, film is art; that’s what this is,’” Wishnek said. “Everything just began to click.”

It wasn’t about cracking jokes — at least most of the time.

It was about finding beauty.

Whether visually on camera or emotionally through script, that’s what made a film engaging. That’s what made them worth making.

So Wishnek began to chase that beauty.

He became the “film guy” at school. Working from project to project, Wishnek always wanted to be busy, whether he was writing, directing or producing. Voted “Most Likely to Win an Oscar” his senior year and accepted into New York University’s prestigious dual business-film degree program, he felt he had paved a road to success.

But New York never happened. It could never happen.

With an annual tuition of over $75,000 and little financial aid, NYU was thrown out of the picture for the son of a network engineer and a business banker. He had to dream smaller, so he looked to the only in-state school he applied to.

“At first I was just trying to put this happy face on about UNC,” Wishnek said. “But deep down I just told myself I knew I would transfer.”

‘It’s okay to need a little more time and exploration, and we should normalize that’

Wishnek had found people with similar interests —even co-founded a student organization for filmmakers — but there was a disconnect. He lacked a community, and Ellie Teller was the person to see he needed one.

A year older and an acquaintance from high school, Teller found Wishnek in one of her classes her sophomore year. She saw a nice kid who always had a nervous smirk on his face, but he seemed lost. He reminded Teller of who she was a year ago.

“When I first came to UNC I had an older brother that was a senior, and spending time with him helped me engage with different communities at UNC,” Teller said. “I wanted to provide similar spaces for him to get out of his comfort zone and start enjoying UNC for all it had to offer.”

She took him to parties, introduced him to the media production major and even gave him his first beer. He may not have been in a big city, or enrolled in a flashy film school, but he began to realize he could belong somewhere. He could belong here.

“Our perceptions of college are that when you get there, everything will fall into place, but I don’t think that’s immediately true for many people,” Teller said. “It’s okay to need a little more time and exploration, and we should normalize that.”

This is what makes “College Kid” so personal for Wishnek to make — it’s about him.

A project four years in the making, the semi-autobiographical film traces Wishnek’s personal growth each year of college. Using musical and color motifs, the film mirrors what UNC-CH and filmmaking have taught him.

“In order to find happiness and fulfillment in your college experience, (in) life in general, you need to find and take part in your community,” Wishnek said.

“And that means putting in the work — doing something — to get there. The film industry is collaborative, not competitive. It’s the community of it all that makes a film thrive, and I think in life you have to find the same thing.”

As he scrolled through the last scene of “College Kid” on his screen, Wishnek spotted an error.

A scene between Alex and his friend Nathan, they’re sitting on a roof, looking at the night sky.

“See there?” Wishnek said, pointing to the screen. “You can see the boom pole’s shadow against the house.”

Embarrassed, he gritted his teeth as he watched the rest of the scene unfold.

“I just feel, in this moment, this sense of meaning,” Alex said to Nathan. “Nothing in particular. No one idea more significant than the other. Just…significance. And it’s a lot.”

Wishnek’s smile began to reappear.

Edited by: Madeleine Fraley 

UNC DiPhi carries on history of debate, one argument at a time

By Chapel Fowler

Sam Gee sat on the top floor of New West on Monday night, typing furiously as he scoured Google for a punchline.

At the podium in front of him, Luke De Mott was halfway down a rabbit hole already. During the formal debate portion of this Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies (DiPhi) meeting, designated senators met to argue in favor of or against that night’s topic at hand: were J.K. Rowling’s recent retroactive changes to her “Harry Potter” series illegitimate?

Once the floor was open, De Mott launched into a sarcastic rant. The senior Phi senator started off with a friendly jab, telling his rival Di senators they “don’t control fiction.” There’s no objective truth to imaginary worlds, he said, and no incorrect interpretations of art. It’s all up to the reader.

Gee’s typing stopped. He’d found his counterpoint. The sophomore Di senator shot his hand up from his third-row desk. Quoting the famous line from “Hamlet,” he said: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

“So,” Gee said, “is it possible that Hamlet is set on Mars?”

“Well,” De Mott said, “Maybe Mars has a Denmark.”

And with that, the chambers of UNC’s oldest student organization erupted in laughter.

History of the society 

For 224 years, DiPhi has offered  students a platform for robust debate with competition and friendship on the side. In 2019, the society is a bit more modern than in decades prior, with a well-designed website, active social media pages and senators reading speeches off laptops. But the rich history, many procedures and the fundamental goals of DiPhi remain the same.

“I think a bunch of students having a bunch of opinions and wanting to share them on their own accord is a really cool thing,” said Katrina Smith, a senior and joint senate president this semester. “I don’t think there are many spaces like that, where students come here for fun to do this.”

DiPhi, established in 1795, has been involved in all kinds of UNC history. Most notably, the societies’ use of diploma ribbons — light blue for Dis, white for Phis — helped inspire UNC’s now-famous school colors. The societies, which merged into a joint senate in 1959, also operated as the student government for over a century. DiPhi helped shape the UNC Honor System and the Yackety Yack yearbook, among other campus institutions.

But if you take a trip to Room 310 in New West, the history of DiPhi and its participating students truly come to life.

The space itself is regal, with cream-colored walls, blue trim and four massive golden chandeliers. All of the furniture is wooden, save for a chair made of literal cow hide and cow horns. Portraits of famous DiPhi alumni and honorary members hang wherever they can fit.

“It’s so cool,” said Peyton Furtado, a junior and Phi’s president. “To just study in some of these chambers and realize that people like Thomas Wolfe, Joseph Caldwell, James K. Polk have all been in these rooms and have been doing basically the same thing we’re doing.”

The debate comes alive

Each meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. On this night, Jack Watson took the podium after a roll call. As the critic, he alerts speakers when their time is up by ringing a silver bell and critiques his fellow senators’ performances after debate ends.

DiPhi debates start with a resolution, or an opinionated statement. Senators then argue in favor of or against it. This particular night’s resolution revolved around Rowling, who recently tried to add extra information to the “Harry Potter” canon to mixed results. Watson smirked as he introduced the topic.

“First, she said Dumbledore was gay, and I said nothing, because sexuality is a spectrum and I can buy that,” he said. “Then, she said, ‘I never said Hermione wasn’t black,’ and I said, ‘That’s kind of a weird way to say that, but OK.’ And then, she said that wizards used to poop on the floor, and I could say nothing, because it was my fault for retweeting her for so long.”

The debate took off from there. Senators against Rowling’s decision offered strong arguments: that art can’t retroactively be changed, that Rowling should create new diverse art instead.

Those arguing for Rowling advocated just as intensely. One interesting point  brought up the question: Whether publication is the true cut-off point for a book, or is it just an artificial boundary placed on the author? All through the debate, senators snapped their fingers when they agreed with something, and they hissed loudly when they didn’t.

Among the structure and carefully curated arguments, though, there’s plenty of humor. Gee created his own obscene revision and joked that Dobby the elf had “a 10-inch rod.” Sophomore Mo Van de Sompel decided to push back on the idea that all interpretations of art are valid with an off-the-wall hypothetical.

“I choose to believe that The Very Hungry Caterpillar is not a white supremacist,” Van de Sompel said. “But if the author, Eric Carle, comes out tomorrow and says the caterpillar is a neo-Nazi, do I have to accept that?”

The fun continued into DiPhi’s other main staple — PPMAs, or papers, petitions, memorials and addresses. During this “signature free speech forum,” anyone can rant on whatever they want for up to five minutes. On this night, many chose comedy.

Senior Kristen Roehrig recounted the panic attack she had in a Washington, D.C., bathroom (“This will be a good story for an interview someday”). Watson, the critic, talked about how he discovered his inverted nipple (“Lefty goes in; righty goes out”). One senator told the story of a piece of cheese thrown so perfectly it landed inside someone’s pocket; another broke down the phenomenon of orange plastic Garfield telephones washing up on France’s beaches.

“We have lightheartedness in the serious,” sophomore Christina Barta said. “We also have seriousness in the lighthearted.”

The Rowling debate wasn’t exactly political. But political debates are frequent. Last month, six senators presented their argument for the best 2020 presidential candidate. In February, DiPhi hosted the second UNC student body president debate. Other topics that were tackled this semester included the two-child policy, how familiar Americans should be with the Bible and if wars have been beneficial to mankind.

There’s usually a quota — one science debate, one policy debate, one literary debate and so on — but Smith said DiPhi’s been more flexible this semester. Thanks to a wide array of majors and interests in the society, the balance between serious debates and more lighthearted ones “just ends up happening.”

Monday night’s meeting didn’t adjourn until past midnight, but, to no surprise, another DiPhi tradition held true. Senators made the short walk from campus to Linda’s Bar & Grill on Franklin Street for baskets of cheese fries.

They’ll be back at it again next week with a fresh topic: whether or not homeschooling should be abolished. They’ll be debating, like they have been for 225 years.

In the words of the DiPhi Facebook page: “The conversations don’t ever have to stop.”

Edited by Caroline Metzler and Nick Thompson

The fight of a lifetime: a woman’s story about surviving cancer

By Molly Smith

Cindy Dewey stood up with the sunrise, pulled a blonde wig over her scalp, hid any signs of discomfort with a dab of makeup and drove to work.

She felt her face flush when colleagues examined her more than usual before she gave a presentation; their gaze darted from the bags under her eyes to the sweat glistening on her forehead.

“You look a little tired. Are you feeling OK?” one asked.

 “I’m totally fine,” she said with a smile. 

Her feet could barely fit in her shoes that day. She was swollen from head to toe. 

The night before, she made ice packs with Ziploc bags to soothe a skin rash, took steroids prescribed to relieve the itching and used what strength she had to Google how much Benadryl was safe to ingest.

The swelling crept up to her neck and slowly began to suffocate her. She laid awake in bed, staring at the paint on her walls and wondering if that was the last time she’d get to look at them. 

Dewey was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer in 2017 at UNC Hospitals. She stopped after three rounds of chemotherapy because of a severe allergic reaction. She believes her symptoms were overlooked, her diagnosis was oversimplified and her cancer overtreated.

Diagnosis: ignored

It started with an ordinary visit to the doctor. As many cancer stories go, Dewey didn’t suspect anything was wrong. She exercised every day. She watched what she ate. And like most 52-year-old women, she dreaded mammograms. 

A few women in her life had been affected by breast cancer, but none in her immediate family, she would tell the nurse after the screening. Then came the waiting. 

Waiting as women came and went with their results. 

Waiting and realizing that she was in the cancer area, spotting bald heads. 

Waiting and worrying and watching the clock.

“It’s probably nothing,” a nurse finally said, “but there’s a small growth.”

Moments later, she was looking up at a slew of women standing over her, holding her trembling hand through the biopsy that revealed she had cancer. It was treatable, it was early and the tumor was the size of a pencil eraser.

But in the space of a day, that little nothing became something that affected her whole life. Before long, something turned into everything that she agonized over for the next year.

Two weeks later, Dewey had surgery to remove the tumor and see if the cancer spread – it hadn’t. Her oncologists were convinced she wouldn’t need chemotherapy. Maybe a few weeks of radiation at most, they assured her.

Her two children celebrated in the bright consultation room. They thought the battle had begun and ended all in a month. They watched the surgeon promise a quick recovery with light in their eyes as they slowly removed their armor. 

Then, Dewey was asked to take the test. The Oncotype DX test is for patients just like her, with early stage, low-risk cancer. It uses genes to assess how likely the cancer is to return.

“Wouldn’t you want to have all the information available?” Oncologist Carey Anders urged. 

Her results read “33” in bold, black digits. Scores 31 and up signal a high probability of recurrence, and lower than 18 is safe. Suddenly, her life was in danger again.

“They were telling me I would die if I didn’t do the treatment,” Dewey said. “It was like night and day.” 

Dr. Hyman Muss, another breast cancer oncologist at UNC, said that when the value of chemotherapy is great, oncologists try to talk patients into it. But it’s always a mutually agreeable decision.

Dewey agreed to four chemotherapy sessions. 

The next time she visited the hospital, the nurse prodding her arm for an IV didn’t believe she was allergic to the adhesive tape. She broke out in hives. At a later visit, doctors ignored her after she insisted the anti-nausea medication gave her a blinding headache. It was the main side effect of the drug.

As her energy drained, she laid down in the waiting room before one of her last visits.

“Must be nice to rest,” a nurse said as she passed by.

“Must be nice to not have cancer,” Dewey thought.

She developed a self-titled syndrome she called “bitch cry,” the phenomenon of getting assertive when not listened to, then falling into a depressive, guilty state.

“I ended up with this continuous knot in my throat because I didn’t want to have to be that way,” she said. “I wanted them to take care of me.”

After Dewey’s allergic reaction, Dr. Anders warned against stopping chemotherapy before the sessions were over. Allergists would later tell Dewey that it was threatening her life. 

If she could go back in time, she wouldn’t agree to the treatment.

The bumpy road to recovery

Dr. Muss is confident that the cancer hospital has a “more is worse” approach to chemotherapy. He said that treatment is a balance of the benefits and risks.

“I’ve been doing this for 45 years,” Muss said, “and we’ve learned so much about who doesn’t benefit from chemo.”

Its purpose is to kill any cancer cells that may have spread, he said. But there’s no test to know the exact possibility of a relapse.

“We don’t know that chemo actually reduces the chance of cancer coming back,” Dewey said. “We’re loading chemicals into people’s bodies thinking that’s what’s doing it.”

Bari Sholomon had a similar diagnosis: stage one, didn’t spread, aggressive tumor determined by the test, chemotherapy.

Dewey knew Sholomon as her daughter’s former high school counselor. Then, as a fellow cancer survivor. Then, a workout buddy.

The two participated in Get Real and Heel at UNC – an exercise-based strength program for early-stage breast cancer patients who finished chemotherapy. Physical therapists train the survivors to rebuild their stamina and use exercise as a healing tool, both mentally and physically.

“I stayed with them for three or four years after I stopped chemo,” Sholomon said. “I got my strength back that way.”

Dr. Claudio Battaglini co-founded the program in 2004 after studying the connection between exercise and quality of life in cancer patients. Breast cancer survivors who exercise regularly are 40 to 50 percent less likely to redevelop the disease. 

“They really feel that their lives have been stolen from them, so we help them regain a sense of empowerment,” Battaglini said.

Dewey won the battle for her life, thanks to Get Real and Heel and therapy. She still doesn’t know what went wrong in her treatment plan. Maybe it was just protocol. Maybe it was ego. Maybe it was overprotection.

“Regardless, I should’ve given myself permission to trust my instincts and use my voice,” she said. “I gave away my power. But now I’m stronger.”


Edited by Johnny Sobczack and Spencer Carney