Shirley Cross, RDH, BS
A few months ago, I met Jane Weiner via the Internet. I read an article in RDH about her experiences of getting a dental hygiene license in Florida. I could relate to Jane because of my experiences in trying to obtain a license in Alaska. It took me one long year to get a temporary license, to re-take a local anesthesia course at the University of Alaska in Anchorage, and to retake the clinical and written/slide exams through the Western Regional Examining Board. The article caught my eye because it told of Jane`s own struggles in taking the Florida boards. Jane took a new road in her life, which now includes giving courses for dental hygienists who need to brush up on their dental hygiene courses and test-taking skills.
I felt like Jane would understand my predicament, and she would be able to advise me. We became instant friends and began corresponding on a regular basis via the internet. What Jane didn`t realize when she first got to know me was that I have persevered through many trials in my life. My motto at this juncture was, "If at first you don`t succeed, try again."
She encouraged me to share the rest of my story with RDH readers, and I will show how it relates to our wonderful profession.
When my husband, Rick Cross, was transferred to Anchorage from Houston in June 1997, we were excited about this change of scenery for our family. Rick works for an oil company, and his desire to work in Alaska stems from a 1992 visit to Anchorage. There are so many beautiful places to visit, as well as opportunities to hunt, fish, ski, and learn about a culture we knew nothing about. Rick asked me to consider a move to Anchorage. Since I am not a cold weather person, this move, though exciting, was a gift of love to my husband. The move was a monumental one for our family. We knew not a soul in Alaska. Our 12 year old daughter, Kayli, and Rick`s mom, Geraldine Cross, made the cross-country move to Anchorage with us.
We have made it through our first winter, so we know we can make it through the second one. The cold, snow-filled, and often dreary days have been quite an adjustment for all of us. The excitement of moving to Alaska, buying a home, and settling in for our three to five year commitment was met with the same perseverance that God has given me throughout my entire life.
It seems that some of us are destined to travel on more difficult roads in our lives. These journeys can include many trials, even at an early age. I have vivid memories of being abused, beaten, and sexually molested at around age four. I was fathered outside the home by my mother`s lover. My step-father, a preacher, was responsible for much of the abuse and taught his son, my older half-brother, to abuse me too.
My mother abandoned us on many occasions and left us to fend for ourselves for food, so we were hungry much of the time. She suffered from bouts of manic depression and even tried to commit suicide. I once asked her for a drink of water, and she took a glass, poured in some lye, and then filled the glass with water and handed it to me to drink. My aunt has confirmed this story, since she was present and grabbed the glass before I was able to take a drink. My mother even burned me with her cigarettes when I asked her to hold me. Representatives from the department of human services in Oklahoma took me and my half-brother out of the home to be placed for adoption. My younger half-sister, 21/2 years old, and a little baby girl, who was my only full-sibling, were later placed for adoption, too.
I am still amazed by what happened then, since it should have been a happy ending. I lived in a couple of foster homes after being taken from my mother`s home. I was finally adopted into a family which included a banker as a father, a housewife mom, and my 9-year-old sister, who had been adopted by this prominent family as a baby. I was six years old when they adopted me. My adopted father, aware of my previous history living with abuse, began molesting me. My adopted mother allowed the abuse to continue for years.
When I graduated from high school, I fell in love with the first man who showed any interest in me - and all for the wrong reasons. I did not have good examples of how to love or to be loved. So the cycle of abuse continued in my life. And I didn`t know how to stop it. I was a child and, in my mind, I thought that adults were supposed to take care of children, not hurt them. I kept asking myself, "What have I done wrong?"
I later realized that I hadn`t done anything wrong. I was abused by those who were supposed to care for me. Why had I been allowed to travel this particular road?
My story continues on from here. During my first marriage, I did manage to get a bachelor of science degree in dental hygiene from the Caruth School of Dental Hygiene, which is located at the Baylor University Dental School in Dallas. The profession gave me some stability and the opportunity to meet many people. For that, I am thankful.
My first husband was in dental school at the same time I went through dental hygiene school. Everyone thought it was an "ideal" marriage. I had no pattern or examples to follow in my early years and certainly had no idea how to respond to love. I had two children, a daughter and a son. The marriage lasted for 10 years and ended in divorce. I remarried and divorced again. I really did not know how to respond to love. Both of those marriages were doomed to fail.
I was headed down a new road in my life, which was filled with wrong choices. I even tried to self-destruct. This was the worst and most depressing time in my life. Nearly all my friends had left me, and my children had chosen to live with their father.
A lot of people would have just given up. But I was destined to persevere in all these trials. I could clearly see that most of those failures in my life were my own fault. God had other plans for me. He placed a wonderful friend in my life, and her determination got me to go to church with her. It was through those special Sundays in that small church that I heard God`s message. I became a believer and learned to give my failures over to Him. He placed many loving and caring women around me to help show me how to be a loving mother, wife, and friend. He has given me a wonderful husband, daughter, and a precious mother-in-law who lives in an apartment below our home in Anchorage. My older son, Daren, and his wife, Shawnna, have also given me a two-year-old granddaughter, Darrian Lynn and are expecting another one next April. Devine, a three-year-old native Alaskan blessed our lives as a foster daughter for six months.
The memories of those early years of abuse, neglect, poverty, and hunger have begun to fade. I have shared my story with many people, and it is a story of hope. I have learned to persevere and to never give up, because there will be better days ahead. I am so grateful that God gave me the ability to persevere in all things. It is only by His Grace that I can now look back on my life and smile at the roads that I have been allowed to travel.
My story also has a happier side, too, especially as it relates to those early years of my life. Last March, I found my full-sister, Wrenette. This was accomplished via the Internet and a team of private investigators. (Because our family was transferred to Anchorage, my husband has taught me how to e-mail and how to use the Internet. There`s a lot of spare time in the winter to learn new skills here in Alaska.) Wrenette and I were reunited in Tulsa, Okla., on April 19 after 45 years of separation. I spent 10 days revisiting my past life in the little town of Ardmore, Okla., where Wrenette and I were born. I was able to find some closure to the previous abuse for the first time in my life. Wrenette and I even went to our respective home towns where we were raised. We each saw where the other one lived and attended high school. It was a dream come true for both of us. Both of us had almost given up in our searches for each other.
We both prefer to not be called "victims." I consider my life to be a triumphant one, rather than a tragic one. I have found that the key to a peaceful and happy life is forgiveness. I have been able to forgive the abusers who were supposed to love and care for me. I have the ability to stop the cycle of abuse, so that it does not continue on to future generations.
I began this story by talking about obtaining my Alaska dental hygiene license. I hope you can appreciate my perserverance when trials come around. I`ve learned to jump over the hurdles one at a time.
But I do feel that many people in my life saw the "signs" of abuse but did not report it to the authorities. If only one person had taken the time to report this abuse, I might have been spared some of the agony and pain in my life. I am happy to share my story, because I think it clearly depicts how abuse can greatly affect a person`s life. I feel that we, as health-care professionals, have an obligation to report suspected child abuse and neglect to the proper authorities. In Alaska, it is a state law that we report child abuse or neglect.
Through the Alaska State Dental Hygienists` Association, I took a course last year called P.A.N.D.A. (Prevent Abuse and Neglect through Dental Awareness). This program was designed to increase the role of dental office personnel in recognizing and reporting instances of abuse or neglect. Such instances may be indicated by injuries, behavior, or statements that suggest abuse, as well as "dental neglect." It is imperative that we report any possible results we might see of child abuse or neglect.
The ADA News has reported that P.A.N.D.A. seems to be achieving its goals. In 1994, 33 percent of dentists indicated that they had made an initial diagnosis of child abuse, compared to 19 percent in 1993. Statewide coalitions are forming across the country to support continuing education programs that train dentists, hygienists, and other dental professionals to identify and properly report cases of child abuse and neglect among their patients.
For more information on this program, contact Dr. Lynn Mouden, founder of the P.A.N.D.A. program, at (314) 751-6247.
Why did I write this article? Because, as dental hygienists, we are asked to take many courses for our continuing education credits. I wonder how many of us realize just how invaluable many of these courses are, especially if they result in helping someone who is a victim of child abuse or neglect. In Florida, a dental hygienist must take a one hour "domestic violence" course. Many people think that this is a foolish course to have to take. Do you think there might be another Shirley Cross out there - another child who is being abused or neglected?
Hypothesize with me for a minute. If the dental hygienist treating Shirley Cross had been trained to spot domestic violence and abuse - either in private practice or in the school that she attended - perhaps the abuse would have stopped sooner than when she finally left the home in which she grew up. The dental hygienist would have been able to detect the emotional and/or physical damage, reporting it to the proper authorities. This girl`s life might have been ever so different and probably easier for her.
So fellow hygienists out there, please take those courses seriously. Our place in society is an important one, and let`s not forget this.
Shirley Cross, RDH, BS, graduated from the Caruth School of Dental Hygiene in Dallas in 1969. She has been in private practice in Norman and Oklahoma City, Okla., for 22 years and in Houston for six years. She served as a court-appointed special-advocate for children of child abuse and neglect for three years in Oklahoma and for five years in Fort Bend County in Texas. She won the Advocate of the Year Award in 1994. She is currently a CASA volunteer here in Anchorage. She and her husband have been foster parents to a 3-year-old native Alaskan child for the past six months. Her e-mail address is [email protected]. Jane Weiner, RDH, was featured in the May 1998 issue, where her review courses for the national and Florida board exams were discussed. Unfortunately, RDH did not provide information on how readers could contact Ms. Weiner. They can call her at (954) 722-6759 or e-mail her at [email protected]. Weiner is also a continuing education instructor at the Nova Southeast College of Dental Medicine, and she had been trained by the Broward County Mental Health Department`s "I Am Thumbbody" program.
Wintering in Alaska
The Cross family prepares for their second winter in Alaska. In the photo at right, the family members are, from left, Kayli, "Whiskers," Rick, Shirley, Devine, and Gerri. The red dress in the picture frame was given to Shirley by her adopted mother. She had saved it from the day Shirley moved in and is the only keepsake from her early childhood.