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My preventive mastectomy: Staying alive for my kids

By Allison Gilbert 

Allison Gilbert and her mother, Lynn, in 1995 on the day Gilbert got engaged. Her mother died two months later from ovarian cancer.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. Author Allison Gilbert shares why she chose to undergo a double mastectomy after testing positive for the breast cancer gene.

I’m not a helicopter parent and my children would tell you I don’t bake cupcakes for their birthday parties. But I’d readily cut off my breasts for them — and recently, I did.

Removing breast tissue uncompromised by cancer is relatively easy. It took the breast surgeon about two hours to slice through my chest and complete the double mastectomy seven weeks ago.

The time-consuming part was left to the plastic surgeon who created new breasts out of my own belly fat so I could avoid getting implants. Total operating time: 11.5 hours. And I don’t regret a second.

The decision to have surgery without having cancer wasn’t easy, but it seemed logical to me. My mother, aunt and grandmother have all died from breast or ovarian cancer, and I tested positive for the breast cancer gene.

Being BRCA positive means a woman’s chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer is substantially elevated.

“Patients with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations have 50%-85% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer and up to approximately 60% lifetime risk of ovarian cancer,” according to Karen Brown, director of the Cancer Genetic Counseling Program at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

Gilbert at age 5 or 6 with her mother on a ferryboat.

By comparison, the lifetime risk of breast cancer for the general population is 13% and 1.7% for ovarian cancer.

CNN iReport: Tested for the breast cancer gene?

At my gynecologist’s urging, I tackled the threat of ovarian cancer first. Because the disease is hard to detect and so often fatal, my ovaries were removed in 2007, a few years after my husband and I decided we were done having kids.

The most difficult part of the operation came in the months that followed: I was thrust into menopause at 37. Despite age-inappropriate night sweats and hot flashes, I was relieved to have the surgery behind me and wrote about it in my book, “Parentless Parents: How the Loss of Our Mothers and Fathers Impacts the Way We Raise Our Children.”

The emotional release was short-lived. Less than a year later, my mother’s sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and died within four months.

Aunt Ronnie’s death set me on a preventive mastectomy warpath. I had already been under high-risk surveillance for more than a decade — being examined annually by a leading breast specialist and alternating between mammograms, breast MRIs and sonograms every three months — but suddenly being on watch didn’t seem enough, and I began researching surgical options.

Gilbert, her husband, Mark, and their children, Jake and Lexi, at a birthday celebration.

Regardless of my family history and BRCA status, I still went back and forth on having a mastectomy. I vacillated between feeling smug and insane.

Over the years, I’d read too many stories like the one in the Wall Street Journal last week, on doctors who make fatal mistakes (up to 98,000 people die every year in the United States because of medical errors, according to the Institute of Medicine). I was anxious about choosing a bad surgeon and a bad hospital.

The stakes felt even higher after I decided to go an unconventional route to reconstruction. Implants generally offer a quicker surgery and recovery, but they’re also known to leak, shift out of place, and feel hard to the touch and uncomfortable.

I would also likely have to replace them every 10 years — not an unimportant consideration, since I’m 42.

Ultimately, on August 7, I underwent double mastectomy with DIEP (Deep Inferior Epigastric Perforator) flap reconstruction. The benefits would be that my new breasts would be permanent, made from my own skin and flesh, and I’d be getting rid of my childbearing belly fat in the process.

Gilbert and her husband, Mark, near their home in Westchester County, New York.

I had multiple consultations with surgeons who explained every reason not to have the procedure. They warned me that I’d be under anesthesia unnecessarily long and I’d be opening myself up to needless complications.

While every concern was valid, it wasn’t until I was six doctors into my investigation that I realized the likely reason why I was getting such push-back. The plastic surgeons I was consulting, despite their shining pedigrees and swanky offices, couldn’t perform a DIEP. The procedure requires highly skilled microsurgery and not every plastic surgeon, I learned, is a microsurgeon.

It also requires a great deal of stamina. The doctors I interviewed who perform DIEP flaps were generally younger and fitter than those who didn’t. On average, a double mastectomy with DIEP reconstruction takes 10-12 hours, while reconstruction using implants can take as little as three.

In total, I met with 10 surgeons before choosing my team, and while I am now thrilled with the outcome, all the years of research and worry took a toll on me.

The worst moment came one night when my husband and I were in bed. I began to cry uncontrollably and wished I could talk with my mother and aunt about which procedure to have, which doctor I should choose, and whether I should even have the surgery.

Gilbert's Aunt Ronnie and Gilbert's daughter, Lexi. Her aunt died from breast cancer in 2008, four months after the diagnosis.

Then a moment of bittersweet grace clarified what I needed to do. It struck me that the reason I couldn’t speak to my mother and aunt is exactly the reason I had to have the surgery.

Undergoing a prophylactic double mastectomy was a great decision for me. It’s clearly not a choice every woman would make, but I’m convinced without it I would have been one of the estimated 226,000 women the American Cancer Society says is diagnosed with invasive breast cancer every year.

I could have tried to eat my way to a cancer-free life, but even Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of the popular vegetables-are-key-to-health book “The China Study” admits diet may not be enough to protect BRCA patients from cancer.

Gilbert and her husband, Mark, at a basketball game.

“We need more research,” Campbell told me. “Conservatively, I’d say go ahead and have the surgery, and eat a plant-based diet after.”

I also could have waited for a vaccine, a pill or some other medical advance to come my way that would have made such a radical decision avoidable.

Perhaps MD Anderson Cancer Center’s newly announced war on cancer will produce positive results for patients who are susceptible to triple negative breast cancer, the type of aggressive disease likely to afflict BRCA1 patients and the kind my aunt most likely died from.

Gilbert's children, Jake and Lexi, in Tikal, Guatemala -- the last family vacation before Gilbert's surgery.

But every surgery substitute seemed locked in hope, not statistics. And as I’ve told my husband and children, I wasn’t willing to wait. I love them more than my chest.

My preventive mastectomy: Staying alive for my kids

Lil Wayne Mocks Mitt Romney In New Song

Nicki Minaj got the headlines for saying she’d be “voting for Mitt Romney,” but another track on Lil Wayne’s Dedication 4 ridicules the GOP candidate, too. “Nigga call me Mitch Romney!”

By Michael Hastings

Nicki Minaj made headlines when she sort of endorsed Mitt Romney in a remix of the hit song “Mercy” on Lil Wayne’s new album Dedication 4, released earlier this month.

But another song on the album — called “Cashed Out” — also mocks Romney, taking shots at the GOP candidates strategy of stashing his money in off-shore bank accounts in Bermuda, the Caymans, and Switzerland, to name a few.

The song begins:

As another election year upon us. This last four years has been good to me. A couple of dollars in a couple different bank acccounts. Some here, some off shore. Nigga call me Mitch Romney!

In recent days, questions have been raised about whether the hip-hop community still supports Obama. The answer appears to be: yes.

President Obama with Jay-Z and Beyonce at a recent New York fundraiser.

Lil Wayne Mocks Mitt Romney In New Song

All Music Blog News – All Music Blog News Read the latest breaking music news

Chad Johnson Refusing to Sign Divorce Papers?

*TMZ is reporting that Chad Johnson has no intention of divorcing his estranged wife Evelyn Lozada. According to sources close to the couple, he’s refusing to sign any of the divorce documents.

Lozada, star of VH1’s “Basketball Wives,” filed for divorce three days after Johnson allegedly head-butted her during an argument. The incident that led to his arrest and Evelyn receiving stitches.

Sources close to Chad tell TMZ that he won’t sign the docs or participate in any divorce proceedings because he doesn’t want to get a divorce. Chad, according to the sources, still believes he can win Evelyn back, as evidenced by the fact he recently tattooed her face on his leg.

But Chad’s plan isn’t exactly bulletproof  — under Florida law (where Evelyn filed the docs) the divorce can still be finalized with a judge’s approval.

Sources tell TMZ Evelyn is hellbent on making this divorce happen and nothing Chad does will get her back. According to sources, she’s ready to move on and rebuild her life.
Chad Johnson Refusing to Sign Divorce Papers? 

 

6 Other Types of Life Insurance Every Policyholder Should Know About

life insurance

Knowing about the basic types of insurance out there is a great start towards finding the perfect solution. Usually, an insurance agent will talk at length with any new customer to discover their particular needs so they can suggest a policy that makes the best fit.

There are a few other types of life insurance out there that provide specific solutions. In certain cases, it just makes sense to go with these prepackaged plans.

Here are 6 special-need types of life insurance everyone should know about before making an insurance decision.

1. Mortgage Life Insurance

One of the main concerns of insured people is what the loss of an income stream can mean for their family in the event of their passing. This is particularly true if they have costly bills to worry about, and for most that means the mortgage.

One unique form of insurance offered by life insurance companies, mortgage life insurance, can provide enough to pay off an entire mortgage in the case of the policyholder’s death.

The death benefit is paid directly to the beneficiaries and does not have to be used to pay off the mortgage.

Keep in mind that these policies are form of term insurance. It is not a permanent benefit.

2. Senior Life Insurance

If the policyholder is concerned about a beneficiary’s ability to handle a large cash payout directly after the occurrence of death, senior life insurance might be the answer. Instead of paying the entire death benefit at once, small amounts are released in the early years preceding the policyholder’s death. After a set period has passed, the entire amount is released.

3. Juvenile Life Insurance

For those who want to get their child off on the right foot with their insurance, juvenile life insurance policies are available. This is a way to build up cash value early in a child’s life while leveraging their low risk of death to access a low premium.

This provides a head start for the insured, building up a good deal of interest over those additional years.

4. Family Life Insurance

Losing anyone in the family can be financially devastating – not just the breadwinner. If the insured wants to cover the entire family, including the children, family insurance may be the answer.

This type of insurance is sold in units per person and allows for those who bring in the highest income stream to be insured for the most, reflecting the realities faced by the modern-day family.

5. Family Income Life Insurance

With family income life insurance policies, an income amount is agreed to be paid out for a certain number of years after the insured (usually the breadwinner) passes away, allowing the family time to prepare for a new standard of living.

6. Credit Life Insurance

Most people take on debt for a reason and accept the risks associated with that debt. But there’s one risk no one likes to create – the risk of leaving all debts behind for a grieving family.

Credit life insurance provides an answer. Like mortgage insurance, it pays off the balance of loans, whether they are car loans, education loans, or even credit cards.

Unlike mortgage insurance, however, credit life insurance is purchased through the financial institution orchestrating the loan in the first place. Payouts are made directly to the lender rather than the family of the deceased.

Do any of these life insurance types seem to be the perfect match for what you’re looking for in a policy? Get in touch with a seasoned professional today to discuss more or find out if there is something else you don’t know about.

6 Other Types of Life Insurance Every Policyholder Should Know About

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Pediatricians offer new support for circumcision

By 

The American Academy of Pediatrics Monday morning jumped into the controversial topic of circumcision, issuing a highly anticipated new report that offers more support for the procedure without fully recommending it for all boys.

The pediatricians say new research has shown more definitively that circumcision can help prevent future STDs. But, whether or not an infant should undergo the procedure, they say, is best made by informed parents.

The new statement, published online Monday in Pediatrics, is sure to exacerbate tensions between two factions that have emerged since the AAP last issued a more neutral report on the procedure in 1999 (reaffirmed in 2005).

The statement authors seemed to be fully aware of the atmosphere, since their conclusions walk a line between outright endorsing the procedure and staying on the sidelines.

It cites (and includes in an accompanying review of) new evidence that demonstrates the health benefits of infant circumcision. Still, the statement does not go so far as to recommend it.

A review of recent studies “indicates that preventive health benefits of elective circumcision of male newborns outweigh the risks of the procedure. Benefits include significant reductions in the risk of urinary tract infection in the first year of life and, subsequently, in the risk of heterosexual acquisition of HIV and the transmission of other sexually transmitted infections,” the statement says.

It also calls for the procedure to be covered by insurance.

It goes on to add, however, that the medical benefits are not great enough to outweigh some other personal family beliefs.

Susan Blank, the pediatrician who chaired the task force that produced the statement said in an accompanying commentary that, “ultimately, this is a decision that parents will have to make.”

The new statement will likely bolster those who have or plan to circumcise their male children, including many who consider it a religious prerogative.

It may also hearten many in the medical community who view circumcision as an important protective procedure. Just last week, a report published by Johns Hopkins researchers in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine say a decline in rates of circumcision in the United States could cost billions in avoidable health-care costs.

But it is sure to anger the growing ranks of activists, many of whom call themselves “intactivists,” who have become vocal in condemning circumcision, calling it a form of genital mutilation. Last year, an attempt to ban parents from circumcising their children in San Francisco received enough support to get on the ballot, but was withdrawn before it went to voters.

The divisive issue does not fit into any predetermined political framework. It often pits parents who might otherwise be on the same ideological team against one another.

Depending on the perspective, some say the decision to allow parents the choice to circumcise is a matter of religious freedom, others say it is a human rights issue, while still others say it is a personal family matter.

The cultural debate over circumcision became even more visible in recent months after a German regional court’s decision against a Muslim couple that ostensibly made it a crime to circumcise a child.

In Europe, circumcising boys tends to be less accepted, only about 10 percent of boys there undergo the procedure. In the United States, currently a bit more than half of boys are circumcised.

That’s a big drop from about 80 percent 20 years ago.

Experts say the drop is connected to cultural and religious shifts but may be even more attributable to finances. One of the points the Johns Hopkins researchers made in their report last week is that while the rates have fallen, so too has the likelihood of insurance covering the procedure.

 

Related Content:

Circumcision, the cut that divides

To cut or not to cut? Readers have feelings about circumcision

Pediatricians offer new support for circumcision

MAYOR BLOOMBERG TO BAN EMPLOYEE TERMINATIONS TO CONTROL VIOLENCE IN NYC!

by Cardigan 

Angry White Dude

After today’s shooting of a former co-worker in the Empire State Building by a disgruntled fired employee, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a new tactic to combat violence in his city. Bloomberg has long blamed violence on guns even though New York has a strict ban on gun ownership…except for liberal celebrities who own guns but call for gun bans. After the shootings today at the Empire State Building, which killed two people including the gunman, Bloomberg said:

“New York City, as you know, is the safest big city in the country and we are on pace to have a record low number of murders this year but we are not immune to the national problem of gun violence.

As you know, guns have a violent tendency to get up, leave their homes, and arbitrarily shoot people. This gun violence must stop. As such, we long ago banned gun ownership in New York City because of the violence perpetrated on innocent New Yorkers by these reprehensible, violent, unpredictable guns!

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MAYOR BLOOMBERG TO BAN EMPLOYEE TERMINATIONS TO CONTROL VIOLENCE IN NYC!

Has the world changed for working women?

by 4word

Ladies, meet Laura Rodriguez, a fellow 4word woman and reader of Work, Love, Pray. Laura is a recent graduate of the Yale School of Management, and she now works at Barclays’ Investment Banking Division, covering the Commercial Real Estate sector.

As you’ll read below, Laura notes similarities between her mother’s career and Diane’s, and she sat down with us this weekend to discuss the question: has the world changed for working women?

4word: How did you hear about 4word and Work, Love, Pray?

Laura: At Yale, I was one of the leaders of the Christian Fellowship, which had the privilege of hosting an annual conference, “Believers in Business,” for Christian MBA students and graduates across the nation. This year, Diane Paddison participated as a speaker and panelist, and I happened upon her bio on our website.

As a newly minted MBA working very much in a man’s world and struggling with my own questions of how to balance my faith, relationships and career, I was immediately intrigued by Diane’s mission. During some down time over the Christmas holiday, I picked up a copy of Work, Love, Pray and devoured it in one sitting. It was so refreshing to hear I wasn’t alone.

4word: You mentioned in your book recommendation that being a working mother is a “paradoxical path” that “can still feel lonely and misunderstood.” Can you tell us more about that?

Laura: I grew up with an ambitious working mother who I tremendously admire. She climbed a steep corporate ladder in the oil and gas industry and is now an executive at ExxonMobil.  She has traveled the world, opened new doors for herself and for us yet still kept faith and ethics as the ultimate priority.

However, the struggle was palpable in balancing the demands of a global corporate job and the desire to meet the needs of our family. It didn’t help much that we were based in Houston, where there was a significant judgment on women who didn’t stay home, at least in the well-to-do suburb I grew up in. As I have grown, I now see my mother’s bravery – in the use of spiritual gifts but particularly in her self-sacrifice to set boundaries in her career to support our family.

The problem is that our society still tends to view things in black and white. Anne-Marie Slaughter’s now-famous article in The Atlantic highlights this well, as does all the media coverage of the appointment of Marissa Mayer as CEO of Yahoo while 6 months pregnant. As a working mother, you may be able to have it all, but you just can’t win – at least when it comes to mass societal approval.

4word: How has your own experience as a career woman been similar to that of your own mother’s and/or Diane’s?

Laura: When I look at my mother and hear Diane’s story, it’s clear that the Lord’s hand laid a path for them that they probably wouldn’t have chosen on their own. My own journey has been very winding and one where I have had to immensely trust the Lord’s plan for my life.

When things get rocky or uncertain, I have been fortunate to have a strong sense of peace about where I am at the moment. I am also very fortunate to have a wonderfully supportive husband who inspires me every day in his brilliance, generosity and drive.

4word: And how has it been different? Have you noticed any societal/cultural changes that have helped working women?

Laura: What I find ironic is that in my experience in the workplace, being a woman is actually advantageous. For one, you stand out, and two, many companies recognize the importance of attracting and retaining women in creating a more balanced and successful business. This often gives women leverage to step up and ask for things that our mothers and grandmothers may not have had.

But the moment you step out of the office, not much has changed for working women in the constant emotional battle we fight with perception and reality. The opportunities available to women have increased hundred-fold, but the entrenchment of “sides” – at work versus at home – cripples women as a whole instead of empowering us to ask for more.

I think 4word is an important channel to address these issues and more importantly, build true community amongst Christian women of all perspectives.

Has the world changed for working women?

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Doctors target gun violence as a social disease

By MARILYNN MARCHION

In this Aug. 8, 2012 photo, Dr. Stephen W. Hargarten poses for a photo in a trauma room at Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin's emergency department in Milwaukee. Hargarten helped many of the victims of Sunday's shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. Photo: Jeffrey Phelps / AP

In this Aug. 8, 2012 photo, Dr. Stephen W. Hargarten poses for a photo in a trauma room at Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin’s emergency department in Milwaukee. Hargarten helped many of the victims of Sunday’s shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin.

Is a gun like a virus, a car, tobacco or alcohol? Yes say public health experts, who in the wake of recent mass shootings are calling for a fresh look at gun violence as a social disease.

What we need, they say, is a public health approach to the problem, like the highway safety measures, product changes and driving laws that slashed deaths from car crashes decades ago, even as the number of vehicles on the road rose.

One example: Guardrails are now curved to the ground instead of having sharp metal ends that stick out and pose a hazard in a crash.

“People used to spear themselves and we blamed the drivers for that,” said Dr. Garen Wintemute, an emergency medicine professor who directs the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis.

It wasn’t enough back then to curb deaths just by trying to make people better drivers, and it isn’t enough now to tackle gun violence by focusing solely on the people doing the shooting, he and other doctors say.

They want a science-based, pragmatic approach based on the reality of a society saturated with guns and seek better ways of preventing harm from them.

The need for a new approach crystallized last Sunday for one of the nation’s leading gun violence experts, Dr. Stephen Hargarten. He found himself treating victims of the Sikh temple shootings at the emergency department he heads in Milwaukee. Seven people were killed, including the gunman, and three were seriously injured.

It happened two weeks after the shooting that killed 12 people and injured 58 at a movie theater in Colorado, and two days before a man pleaded guilty to killing six people and wounding 13, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in Tucson, Ariz., last year.

“What I’m struggling with is, is this the new social norm? This is what we’re going to have to live with if we have more personal access to firearms,” said Hargarten, emergency medicine chief at Froedtert Hospital and director of the Injury Research Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “We have a public health issue to discuss. Do we wait for the next outbreak or is there something we can do to prevent it?”

About 260 million to 300 million firearms are owned by civilians in the United States; about one-third of American homes have one. Guns are used in two-thirds of homicides, according to the FBI. About 9 percent of all violent crimes involve a gun — roughly 338,000 cases each year.

Mass shootings don’t seem to be on the rise, but not all police agencies report details like the number of victims per shooting and reporting lags by more than a year, so recent trends are not known.

“The greater toll is not from these clusters but from endemic violence, the stuff that occurs every day and doesn’t make the headlines,” said Wintemute, the California researcher.

More than 73,000 emergency room visits in 2010 were for firearm-related injuries, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

At the same time, violent crime has been falling and the murder rate is less than half what it was two decades ago. And Gallup polls have shown support for stricter gun laws has been falling since 1990. Last year 55 percent of Americans said gun laws should remain the same or become more lenient.

Dr. David Satcher tried to make gun violence a public health issue when he became CDC director in 1993. Four years later, laws that allow the carrying of concealed weapons drew attention when two women were shot at an Indianapolis restaurant after a patron’s gun fell out of his pocket and accidentally fired. Ironically, the victims were health educators in town for an American Public Health Association convention.

That same year, Hargarten won a federal grant to establish the nation’s first Firearm Injury Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

“Unlike almost all other consumer products, there is no national product safety oversight of firearms,” he wrote in the Wisconsin Medical Journal.

That’s just one aspect of a public health approach. Other elements:

—”Host” factors: What makes someone more likely to shoot, or someone more likely to be a victim. One recent study found firearm owners were more likely than those with no firearms at home to binge drink or to drink and drive, and other research has tied alcohol and gun violence. That suggests that people with driving under the influence convictions should be barred from buying a gun, Wintemute said.

—Product features: Which firearms are most dangerous and why. Manufacturers could be pressured to fix design defects that let guns go off accidentally, and to add technology that allows only the owner of the gun to fire it (many police officers and others are shot with their own weapons). Bans on assault weapons and multiple magazines that allow rapid and repeat firing are other possible steps.

—”Environmental” risk factors: What conditions allow or contribute to shootings. Gun shops must do background checks and refuse to sell firearms to people convicted of felonies or domestic violence misdemeanors, but those convicted of other violent misdemeanors can buy whatever they want. The rules also don’t apply to private sales, which one study estimates as 40 percent of the market.

—Disease patterns, observing how a problem spreads. Gun ownership — a precursor to gun violence — can spread “much like an infectious disease circulates,” said Daniel Webster, a health policy expert and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore.

“There’s sort of a contagion phenomenon” after a shooting, where people feel they need to have a gun for protection or retaliation, he said.

That’s already evident in the wake of the Colorado movie-theater shootings. Last week, reports popped up around the nation of people bringing guns to “Batman” movies. Some of them said they did so for protection.

In this Aug. 8, 2012 photo, Dr. Stephen W. Hargarten poses for a photo at Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. Hargarten helped many of the victims of Sunday's shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. Photo: Jeffrey Phelps / AP
In this Aug. 8, 2012 photo, Dr. Stephen W. Hargarten poses for a photo at Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. Hargarten helped many of the victims of Sunday’s shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin.

Online:

Violence prevention research: http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/vprp

CDC injury prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/nvdrs/

Doctors target gun violence as a social disease  


Here’s What Happens To Google Employees When They Die

Google employee benefits last into the afterlife

It’s no surprise that the employee benefits of Google are among the best in the land—free haircuts,gourmet food, on-site doctors andhigh-tech “cleansing” toilets are among the most talked-about—but in a rare interview with Chief People Officer Laszlo Bock I discovered that the latest perk for Googlers extends into the afterlife.

“This might sound ridiculous,” Bock told me recently in a conversation on the ever-evolving benefits at Google, “But we’ve announced death benefits at Google.”  We were scheduled for a talk on Google’s widening age-gap (the oldest Googler is currently 83); I wanted to know how child- and healthcare benefits have evolved as the company has scaled.

Instead, Bock, who joined the company in 2006 after a stint with General Electric, blew me away by disclosing a never-before-made-public-perk:  Should a Googler pass away while under the employ of the 14-year old search giant, their surviving spouse or domestic partner will receive a check for 50% of their salary every year for the next decade. Even more surprising, a Google spokesperson confirms that there’s “no tenure requirement” for this benefit, meaning all 34 thousand Google employees qualify.

“One of the things we realized recently was that one of the harshest but most reliable facts of life is that at some point most of us will be confronted with the death of our partners,” Bock says. “And it’s a horrible, difficult time no matter what, and every time we went through this as a company we tried to find ways to help the surviving spouse of the Googler who’d passed away.” The case-by-case do-goodery was formally implemented in 2011. In addition to the 10-year pay package, surviving spouses will see all stocks vested immediately and any children will receive a $1,000 monthly payment from the company until they reach the age of 19 (or 23 if the child is a full-time student).

What makes the death benefit notable isn’t just its generosity—Google is, of course, far from cash-strapped—but rather that, unlike most employee perks on Google campuses that aim to increase happiness, creativity and productivity, providing death benefits is a no-win for the company. “Obviously there’s no benefit to Google,” Bock concedes. “But it’s important to the company to help our families through this horrific if inevitable life event.”

Google has been anticipating the major life events of their employees since day one. According to Bock,Sergey Brin got the ball rolling when the company had fewer than 100 employees, suggesting that the company could provide a nanny to each working mom or dad on staff. (“Obviously that’s an idea that’s been toned down,” Bock jokes). The company does have on-site child care but has raised its monthly fees significantly in recent years.

In maternity and paternity leave, however, Google benefits are at the head of the pack: according to a company spokesperson, new dads enjoy six weeks of paid leave while moms can take 18 weeks after the birth of a child. (Even better for the cash-strapped new parents: stocks will continue to vest on your leave).

But the link between maternity benefits and retaining employees is clear. According to a 2008 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 60 percent of men and women in the work force have kids under the age of 6, so anticipating their needs can mean keeping new parents on-board and, most importantly, engaged.

“When we think about [employee] needs at Google, we think less about how old you are that we do about your particular cluster of needs,” Bock says. “For someone who fits a certain profile—say, an aging parent to take care of, or kids or grandkids to support–whatever your cluster of needs are, we do our best to discern the best package of perks and programs to meet them.”

Google People experts use three methods to tap into the needs of employees: an annual survey called “Googlegeist” that measures the temperature of employees in every department and analyzes data to identify emerging trends, employee resource groups (read: clubs) where like-minded employees share ideas that are funneled up to HR (Bock says the most active are the “Grayglers,” the self-titled club for over-the-hill Googlers), and email aliases that run the gamut from financial advice to childcare options to café feedback.

Google gets a lot of press for its perks, Bock says, but he’s loathe to even use that word. “People say ‘you’re Google, of course you can offer these crazy things,’” but from where Bock sits, it’s not even about the money. “There is, of course, research that show employee benefit programs like ours can improve retention, and appear to improve performance on some level,” he says.

“But it turns out that the reason we’re doing these things for employees is not because it’s important to the business, but simply because it’s the right thing to do. When it comes down to it, it’s better to work for a company who cares about you than a company who doesn’t. And from a company standpoint, that makes it better to care than not to care.”

Here’s What Happens To Google Employees When They Die

Ebola virus kills 14 in Uganda

The deadly Ebola virus has killed 14 people in western Uganda this month, health officials have said.

The Ebola virus

The Ebola virus Photo: EPA

The diagnosis ends weeks of speculation about the cause of a strange disease that had many people fleeing their homes.

“Laboratory investigations done at the Uganda Virus Research Institute … have confirmed that the strange disease reported in Kibaale is indeed Ebola haemorrhagic fever,” the Ugandan government and WHO said in joint statement.

Kibaale is a district in Midwestern Uganda, where people in recent weeks have been troubled by a mysterious illness that seemed to have come from nowhere.

Health officials said that the 14 dead were among 20 reported with the disease. Two of the infected have been isolated for examination by researchers and health officials.

Officials urged Ugandans to be calm, saying a national emergency task force had been set up to stop the disease from spreading far and wide.

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There is no cure or vaccine for Ebola, and in Uganda, where in 2000 the disease killed 224 people and left hundreds more traumatised, it resurrects terrible memories.

Ebola, which manifests itself as a haemorrhagic fever, is highly infectious and kills quickly. It was first reported in 1976 in Congo and is named for the river where it was recognised, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A CDC fact sheet on Ebola says the disease is “characterised by fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, sore throat, and weakness, followed by diarrhoea, vomiting, and stomach pain. A rash, red eyes, hiccups and internal and external bleeding may be seen in some patients.”

Ebola virus kills 14 in Uganda

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