Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Maturing Web Artist

About ten years ago I web-met (is that a verb?) A young children’s writer and artist, Valerie. We were both nominees for awards in EPIC (Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition) http://www.epicorg.com

Valerie has social skills that I lack.  It would never have occurred to me to write her. She was obviously friends with many other EPIC members and she was obviously young.  In my experience young writers who have fans don’t socialize with geezers.

But since she wrote to me, I wrote back.  During these 10 years, Valerie has married, become the mother of two girls, moved to Alaska and now Texas.  And her art style has changed.  When we met, she described her art as “ugly.”  But she willingly donated digital downloads to a charity I support.  Read A Good Story, Do a Good Deed http://www.simegen.com/simecenter/

Her art style has gone through several transitions. Most recently, she created a zazzle account under the name AbundanceLoveTrip.   Her art used to be representational.  Now it is abstract.

Her life questions used to be simple – will I meet someone I want to marry? Will I find work that I love?  Now she is part of the general soap opera.  She has taken care of her husband in illness and helped her children with their learning difficulties.  These growth experiences show in her new art.

I have seen her perspectives change from thinking she was a grown-up in her early 20's to knowing that we’re never grown-ups but have to play the part, now that she’s in her 30's.

Web-meeting someone by intermittent correspondence is often more indepth than working with them daily.  We don’t have to be on good behavior when we write emails. I find this kind of friendship works.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

An Argument in an Old Marriage

My husband, the alien, likes to carry things for me.  It’s a hold-over from the way males used to be raised. And I admit, if it’s something heavy, I appreciate the help.

But he doesn’t only carry heavy things.

Recently, we were on vacation. Our hotel had a swimming pool.  As we prepared to swim, I wanted to put my room key somewhere safe – not just wrapped in a towel. So, I put my room key and  towel and goggles into my swim bag.  Unfortunately, a bag is officially “something to carry.” We also carried our laundry sacks because we were going to the hotel laundry after our swim. On the way to the pool, we both had our hands full.  My husband is okay with me carrying something if his hands are full, too.

We swam.  The pool used a new form of sanitation – the water was salty.  Afterwards we soaked for a while in the whirlpool, but I didn’t like it.  The whirlpool reeked of chlorine.  We got out. We dried off. We went to the laundry room.  I put down my swim bag (now with damp towel, goggles and room key card) so I’d have two hands free to load up the washing machine. My husband was no longer holding a laundry bag. I still had my towel bag. 

That’s when it happened.  My husband grabbed my swim bag.  

Normally, this is no big deal.  I’m with him. He has a room key card. We’re not going to be locked out. But he was busy reading the instructions on the dryer. And the skin on my feet began to feel like it was going to crack open.  I don’t know if it was the salt, the chlorine, or the combination.  All I knew was that I needed to wash my feet with regular water and get hand lotion on them. FAST!

“Please give me my swim bag.”

He kept on reading the dryer instructions. Probably my request made no sense to him. We weren’t going back to the pool. He didn’t know my room key was in the bag. He didn’t know I wanted to go to the room.  He was being a helpful male, holding my bag.  And my feet were becoming more painful by the nano-second.

“Please I need my swim bag.”

He kept on reading the dryer instructions.

“My key card is under the towel in the bag. I need the key card. You can have the bag back. Please let me get the key card.”  My feet felt like they were on fire.

Finally he turned to me.  “Why?”

“I need to get to the room to put hand lotion on my feet.”

“My feet hurt! Please hurry! Please give me my key card.”

My husband thinks walking is hurrying.  “I have a key card.”

He held it out. I reached for it.  I didn’t care whose key card I used. I had to get that hand lotion on my feet before they cracked open and all my blood poured out.

“I’m hurrying.”  My husband began to saunter towards our room.

I’m not supposed to run with my artificial hip. But I ran.

To his credit, my husband almost kept up with me.  

Then he put his key card in the slot upside down.  It didn’t work.  He pulled it out and put it back again, still upside down.

“Let me try.”

He tried a few more times. My feet burned.

“You’ve got it upside down.”

He turned it over.  It still didn’t work.  A few more tries and the door was unlocked.  I pushed past him to the bathroom.

“Why are you angry?”  He looked at me totally puzzled.

As the hand lotion soothed into my feet, I couldn’t believe we were having this conversation. 

“You took my swim bag.  It had my key. I needed my key to get in the room to get the hand lotion because my feet hurt. You wouldn’t give me my bag. You wouldn’t give me a key. You had to be in charge and I was in pain.”

“I like to help you.”

“It wasn’t helping to take my bag.”

“Okay, I’ll never carry anything for you again.”

“You’ve promised that before.”

If he’d grabbed my bag on one our first dates, I’d have stopped seeing him. And I’d have missed out on a lot of good experiences.

But after more than 45 years, this is just one of the arguments we have over and over.  I just bought one of those key pockets that goes on shoes.  He has never taken my shoes.  Maybe this time I’ve got the problem solved.

Friday, May 18, 2012

I Have no Nipple and I Must Squirt

When I was nursing, my breasts were often full of milk.  When my husband, the alien, said something off-the-wall in the privacy of our home, I would squirt him.  I also appreciated the comfort of nursing.  

After the mastectomy my breasts again filled with fluid.  I knew it wasn’t milk.  Not only did I not have a recent childbirth, all my milk ducts were gone.  There are only two other bodily fluids that can be in breasts: blood and lymph.  Blood tends to discolor the skin and it clots.  My skin was blue from the dye to detect the sentinel lymph nodes, during the lumpectomy the week before.  It’s a blue that might look good on a blouse  – not a bruise blue with green and yellow borders. 

The only other fluid I figured it could be was lymph.  Lymph has its own circulation system that carries proteins, white blood cells, and fluids that move between cells. It’s a major part of the immune system.  But since 8 of my lymph nodes had been removed, part of that system had been damaged and the excess lymph was pooling where my breast used to be.  

The day after my mastectomy (this is an out-patient surgery unless you want reconstruction) a woman called from the hospital to ask how I was doing.  I told her about the lymph building up in my breast area.  She asked, “How do you know it’s lymph?”  I had no desired to give this woman a course in biology. I wanted to know what to do about it and I wanted her off the phone.  So, I said, “I don’t know that it’s lymph.  For all I know it’s soup.”

That seemed to pacify her.  She told me to wrap an elastic bandage around my chest when I’m not in the shower, and to show it to my surgeon at my one-week checkup.

The pressure built and built – like a breast that needs to nurse.  By the time I saw my surgeon, my missing breast was a big as my remaining breast. It filled the cup on my bra.  My surgeon took one look at it and got out a huge syringe with a thick needle. I freaked. She made no comment – just jabbed the thing into me below the incision line.  All I felt was a little pressure.  No pain. 
“Did it go numb?”
“Of course it’s numb.”
Then I remembered – my shoulder is still numb in areas affected by the collar bone repair and my thigh is still numb near the hip replacement scar.  While my self-image is that I’m one of the healthiest people on the planet, my insurance company would tell a different story.

I watched. The surgeon kept poking that syringe into me, filling it up and draining it.  “Why are you watching?” asked the surgeon.  “Why not?” I asked.  “Men don’t look,” said my surgeon. “They always look away.”  I looked away.  When she finally finished, she’d removed at least a cup of fluid.  

The same thing happened the next week. Another cup.  

The third week it was down to half-a-cup.

Even if I can’t feel it, I don’t like needles going in instead of fluid squirting out.

I went for my vacation.  About 2 weeks into it, my breast was huge again.  I wasn’t sure I could make it 3 weeks.  Then the fluid started to thicken and my former breast began to shrink.

I had expected to be flat where my breast was removed.  Now it’s sticking out about an inch from my chest and the edges of it feel like scar tissue.  I guess it’s time to go get fitted for a mastectomy bra. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Relay for Life--a Healing Experience, Part Two

I am Jean Lorrah, writing a guest post on the Geezer-Chick blog.

A few days ago I told you about my first experience with Relay for Life, experiencing it as a healing circle even when I didn't know anyone. Last week, though, I helped to introduce someone to Relay and to the Breast Cancer Support Group, and saw the healing take place anew.

I live in a neighborhood of single women, most widowed or divorced, some never married. One of my friends--I'll call her Elle--is legally blind, so I frequently drive her places, including sometimes to visit her friends.She and her other friends are deep into crafts, quilting, and all sorts of needlework, something I have no talent for and no interest in other than in obtaining the occasional beautiful finished product. A couple of times I drove her to visit a woman I'll call Pia, a recent widow who was withdrawing into her shell and her home.

Then, to make matters worse, Pia was diagnosed with colon cancer. At least she carried through with surgery and chemotherapy, but it gave her an even better excuse to retreat to her armchair and TV set. I didn't see her frequently, but any time I did she was sad and unwilling to do anything that might change her mood.

Elle comes with me to Relay every year because she was one of my caregivers when I had uterine cancer. This year she asked if we could invite Pia. I said sure, expecting exactly what happened: Pia didn't think she wanted to go, she probably wouldn't feel up to it, she didn't think it was for her. Elle kept after her, though--and to both our surprise, on Relay night Pia decided to go. She told me she didn't think she should go because she didn't know yet if she would be a survivor.

I explained that she became a survivor with her diagnosis. The point of surviving is to do it, day by day, and survivors support one another. So we got Pia registered, she put on her Survivor t-shirt, and we went over to the "campsite" of my Relay Team, The 8th Wonders. Our team is made up completely of breast cancer survivors, all members of our local Breast Cancer Support Group. The name, The 8th Wonders, comes from the fact that one in eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime.

The team welcomed Pia with open arms, and she was amazed to discover that she already knew several of them. Then we took her to "Look Good, Feel Better," where a couple of makeup experts did a beautiful job of makeup on her. The neat thing about people called upon for Relay is that they know things like how to make a woman in her 70's look like a bright, natural, rested version of herself. By the time they were finished, Pia was smiling--and I realized it was the first time I had ever seen her smile!

We rejoined the 8th Wonders for the medal ceremony, the victory lap, and the family and caregivers lap. When the regular laps began, I had the first half-hour for our team, so I left Elle and Pia at the campsite, talking and laughing with the other members of the team and their families. Pia was quickly learning that Relay is not at all a sad experience. People of all ages, from babes in arms to very senior citizens, walk, dance, eat, and socialize. A member of every team is on the track at all times, while kids of all ages play games in the infield, and many of the teams sell hamburgers, barbecue, cupcakes, and old-fashioned beans and cornbread.

By the time I got back from my time on the track, Pia had been invited to join the support group. She was laughing and talking and coming right out of the shell she had been in since I first met her. By the way, although we are technically the Breast Cancer Support Group, because there are no local support groups for any other kind of cancer, we welcome anyone with cancer who needs us.

Pia's exuberance lasted all the way home. And Elle tells me it has continued since. Pia finishes her chemotherapy next week, after which tests will determine what further treatment she needs. The following week is the next support group meeting, and she has already arranged to go with one of her quilting friends who is part of the group.

So there it is again, the healing power of Relay for Life. It's a wonderful experience, and I encourage you to go to your local Relay and see it for yourself. You may be surprised to discover how many survivors you know: neighbors, teachers, members of your church, your clubs--we are everywhere. Chances are there is a cancer survivor in your family--so take him or her along. You both will have a better time than you ever expected--even a healing one.

If you would like to support Relay for Life and don't have a team of your own, you are welcome to support my team. Find my Relay Page here.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Relay for Life--a Healing Experience, Part One

I am Jean Lorrah, writing a guest post on the Geezer-Chick blog.

You have undoubtedly read about Geezer-Chick's recent experience with breast cancer. I had breast cancer eleven years ago, and uterine cancer five years ago--but I'm fine now and proceeding with my life.

Last Friday night was our local Relay for Life. I relay every year, because it is an incredibly healing experience.

I've been on a relay team for nine years now, but ten years ago, about three weeks short of a year after my own diagnosis, I went hesitantly to my first relay. Like most survivors, I didn't actually realize that I was one (survivorship begins at diagnosis). Still, I registered, purchased a luminarium in memory of my aunt who died of breast cancer in 1972 (having survived 20 years of recurrences through experimental treatments), donned the survivor t-shirt they gave me, and wandered around watching kids playing in the stadium infield and looking at all the sites run by the relay teams, selling food and trinkets and taking donations. That was the first surprise: everyone was having a good time--it was not the solemn occasion everyone expects the first time.

I picked up a flyer about a local breast cancer support group at the "campsite" of a group of exuberant women in pink t-shirts. I still wasn't quite sure what I was doing there or if I would ever attend again, but I joined the other survivors on the benches in the infield, and went forward to claim a medal when my name was called. It was heartening to see hundreds of survivors just from our county, and hear how long it was since their diagnoses: two years, five years, twenty years, even forty years! Cancer is no longer a death sentence.

The second surprise came next. After the medal ceremony came the survivor lap: all of us marched around the stadium track to the strains of "I Will Survive" and the cheers of onlookers. Suddenly I was in the midst of a healing circle. I can't really explain it. I am not religious and hardly even spiritual, but on a few occasions in my life I have felt something beyond the ordinary--and this was one of those occasions. I felt lifted, I felt connected, and I felt cured.

I stayed for the luminarium ceremony, the only solemn part of the relay, when the liminaria are lit, the lights are dimmed, and the names of those who have lost their battle with cancer are read out loud, while the names of those still surviving appear on a large screen--far outnumbering those being memorialized. After watching people walking the track, dancing, playing in the infield again, I left, still glad I had come.

When I later learned that the women in pink, who were having such a good time, were all breast cancer survivors representing the support group, I went to one of their meetings, joined up, and the rest is history.

That's my personal relay healing story, from ten years ago. Next time I will post the story of a woman who went to her first relay last Friday.

If you would like to support Relay for Life and don't have a team of your own, you are welcome to support my team. Find my Relay Page here.