Thursday, May 30, 2013

Age is NOT Just a Number

I was sitting in the waiting room at my chiropractor’s office, commiserating with another geezer about how aging is a bad design.  It starts out fine. You get taller and stronger.  Then it starts going the other way.

The receptionist interrupted our conversation to say, “Age is just a number.”

I totally disagree.  So, I told her, “Age is cancer and hip replacements and broken teeth.”

She looked at me in disbelief.  “Have you had any of these things?”

I’ve discussed my hip replacement and mastectomy with her, so I thought she knew.  But, maybe she listens about as well as the neighborhood barber, who is just making conversation.  

I simply said, “Yes.”

She said she knew one other person who had a hip replacement.

My grandparents made very clear that aging was no fun. They were weaker and slower than my parents and my friends’ parents, who in turn had less energy than we children.  

Some things have happened to make aging more comfortable than it was for my grandparents.  When my grandfather broke a tooth, he had to have it pulled.  I was able to get an onlay and keep the tooth.  When my grandmother got a hip replacement, she spent the rest of her life sitting around playing cards. The new model hip replacement I got lets me climb stairs, do yoga, and ride my bike. 

But the treatment for breast cancer is still the same as it was when my aunt had it.  Mastectomy.  I had the modern option of reconstruction, but I didn’t want it.  I wanted a magic treatment that would simply make the cancer disappear. No knives involved.  (I did try lumpectomy, but that didn’t get it all, and what with the radiation required afterwards, I’m just as glad to have had the mastectomy.)

Even though I have a better hip replacement and better dental care than my grandparents, I’m still aging (read degenerating with age). Age is not just a number. Aging means changing how I live, adapting to arthritis and dealing with health problems that come with my body getting older.

And apparently, aging means having to do what my grandparents did and inform the young’uns that getting older requires care and patience, not just from us geezers, but also from friends and family.  They won’t believe it, but maybe I’ll try telling them that today’s young’un is tomorrow’s geezer. And I hope medical care improves, so their aging is more pleasant than mine. I doubt that age will ever be just a number.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Doing Research After the Trip

One of the lazy things I like to do is listen to storytellers, rather than do the research.  So, I listened to the story of how Heinrich Schliemann, a rich businessman, became an archeologist (a new profession) and discovered and dug up Troy. Our guide did make clear that Heinrich Schliemann was no angel.  He had promised to share the value of any riches uncovered with his crew, but the day he found some gold, he sent the crew home early (with pay) and dug up all the gold himself and never shared it.

But our guide did not tell us that Heinrich Schliemann didn’t really discover Troy at all.  I don’t know why, but I was suspicious, so I did the research on the web.  I keep remembering the hours  digging around in the library hunting for information. Research is no longer a lot of heavy lifting. It only took a few minutes to find that Frank Calvert, a British archeologist, was the true finder of Troy.  After the British Museum turned him down, Calvert went to Heinrich Schliemann for the money.  Calvert deserves the credit for discovering the true location of Troy.

The Troy of the Trojan Horse story was the 6th Troy.  There were 9 cities built in that location.  The location was finally abandoned when Turkey rose enough that Troy was no longer on the sea, and a new city with a port had to be built.  In our explorations of Troy we found sea shells, but oddly no potsherds.

The city is marked with a wooden horse, large enough for a small army to hide in.  But this horse has windows and a little room at the top.  I find those additions unlikely for a sneak attack.

Still, I enjoyed walking the remains of  this historical city, seeing walls that had been built and rebuilt with pieces of previous walls, and pedestals where statues had been (but are now in museums.) And I was very pleased with my artificial hip.  Several members of our tour group relied on canes.  I was able to climb stairs over a foot high, without banisters.  The wonders of modern medicine combined with a superb physical therapy program!  Most of what I want to do is only accessible with a healthy body. I’m so glad to live in a century where replacement parts make it possible. And I’m glad that research has become easier, too.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Learning Turkish

Before my husband, the alien, and I travel, we briefly study the language of the country we’ll visit.  By briefly, I mean we take the 16 lesson Pimsleur course.  I prefer Pimsleur because it is geared to tourist needs. Directions. Culture. Money. Time.

In Greece, for example, we learned how to ask “where is the toilet?” and we were told that in the country people might not know what we mean, so we should ask for “the place.”  Since we were driving ourselves around, we NEEDED to know this.

We’ve studied quite a few languages with the Pimsleur system. Turkish was the first set of CDs that I thought had useless information.  For example, when it taught how to ask for coffee or Ayran (a yogurt drink) at a restaurant, it explained that we would get one of two answers.  Coffee exists, or Coffee does not exist.  Why would a restaurant be out of coffee?  But frequently when my husband asked for coffee, he received Coffee yok (does not exist.) And my requests for Ayran also met with Ayran yok.

If the lessons had only included “Where is the toilet,” I’d have been totally pleased with them.  We also bought “Teach Yourself Turkish” which had the toilet question and phrases that came in handy like “Shame on you” which we used when people butt in line in front of us.

The phrase in the Pimsleur lessons that I thought was the most useless was “I am a Turk.”   I could not imagine any situation when I would want to say that.  We took a few days off from our tour group to explore on our own.  Aggressive salespeople approach tourists to offer directions and then try to steer them into their shops en route. 

Our tour guide told us never to follow anyone into a building. One of our group members told us he had no idea how he suddenly found himself on the 4th floor of a shop trying on a leather motorcycle jacket.  Since he didn’t own a motorbike, he wasn’t tempted.

When we were walking towards the underground cistern in Istanbul, salesperson came up to us and said, “You look like tourists.”  I started laughing, but my husband remembered the lesson.  He answered, “Turkum.”  (I am a Turk.)  The man left us alone.

Next time I start to think a phrase in a lesson will be unnecessary, I’ll be open to the possibilities.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Gift from Out of the Blue

This is a guest blog by Jean Lorrah

We love our pets, so we give them our hearts. And then they break those hearts by growing old and dying far too soon.

Over the years I have learned to adopt a young dog when my current dog shows signs of age. There are two benefits from this practice: the old dog seems to perk up from the presence of a young companion, and later, when the old dog inevitably crosses the rainbow bridge, the young dog is already part of the family and a comfort to me and the other pets.

My old dog, Kadi, is only 14, but the Humane Society helped me rescue her from an abusive situation when she was about a year old. I'm used to my dogs living to 16 or more, as I have been fortunate not to have one with health problems before. So I didn't think about adopting a younger dog until I suddenly realized that the poor girl is failing. Her reactions when I first got her showed that she had been hit on the head, and within a year or two she started having seizures. My vet put her on Phenobarbitol, and once we got the dosage right it has kept her seizure free ever since.

I will never know if Kadi's neurological problems would have occurred anyway, or if they came from abuse, but she has had a good life in spite of them. Now, though, she is growing weak, and I have come to the realization that I am going to lose her sooner than I expected. Therefore about a month ago I decided I needed to start looking for a young dog.

I'm not a breeder, nor do I plan to enter my animals in dog shows. Therefore all my pets are rescues. It's good to know I'm saving lives, and these animals, whether they are purebreds or mixed breeds, make wonderful pets. I urge anyone simply looking for a family pet to start at their local Humane Society rather than at a breeder's kennel. If you are looking for a specific type of dog, even the most surprising and exotic breeds often turn up there--as I was recently reminded to my delight.

I am a volunteer for the Humane Society, doing pet therapy with my cats, Dudley and Splotch, so I asked the director to start looking for a small dog for me. I have reached the age myself now at which I can no longer handle a large dog, not just for training (I've always been successful at teaching my pets good manners, but they don't generally come that way), but for manhandling an unconscious or seizing pet into the car for an emergency trip to the vet. So I asked her to be on the lookout for a small dog that wouldn't be more than 15 pounds as an adult.

I was amazed to be offered the little white dog you see at the top of the page: a purebred Maltese! Incredibly, someone abandoned her in an area of town where many small dogs are found abandoned. Where they are coming from is a mystery the Humane Society has not yet been able to solve. Still, they treated this little girl as lost, advertised her, but no one claimed her, so she went into the adoption pool just when I started looking for a new companion.

I didn't know much about the breed except that they are reputed to be very loyal and easy to train, but require a tremendous amount of grooming. So before meeting the dog I did some homework on Google, and found that they are also a very healthy breed, and that Maltese not used as show dogs (or kept by movie stars) are kept in what is called a "puppy cut" their whole lives.

The Maltese, it turns out, is one of the oldest breeds, and can be traced back 2800 years. The "little white dogs of Malta" were great favorites of the Greeks and especially the Romans, who called them "comfort dogs." Surprisingly, the breed survived the fall of the Roman Empire and the Dark Ages because they were traded all around the Mediterranean as currency!

So I just had to meet this little girl, and of course she immediately stole my heart. They were calling her Marnie, but I have renamed her Bianca because she is white, her heritage is Roman, and she is a little urchin who needs to be reminded that she is supposed to be an elegant lady!

This is how the poor little thing looked when she was found running free and trying to survive. The groomer was able to salvage some of the hair on her head, but her body hair was so badly matted that they had to shave it. That's why at the moment her head looks too big for her body--when her hair grows out to about an inch long all over she should look in proportion, and that's how I plan to keep her. If I have her professionally groomed every couple of months, she should stay cute as the proverbial button.

Bianca has already cheered Kadi up, reawakening her love of taking walks. She's good for me, too, because she needs a long walk every day in addition to the short one we take with Kadi. Dudley, my Zen cat, has already made friends, and Bianca is slowly working her wiles on Splotch, who at first resented her, and slapped her every time she came near him. Splotch is twice Bianca's size, but he can't make her back off. He has made Dobermans back off.

Bianca is a fiesty little thing--probably the reason she survived in the wild with the handicaps of her size (seven pounds) and that long coat. She is an accomplished thief, probably another survival trait, and has already claimed all the cats' toys as her own.

Bianca is also an escape artist. Because of her penchant for chewing up virtually anything (including one of the cat beds), I am crate training her to keep her safe and out of mischief when I'm out of the house. The third day I had her, I came home from errands to have her meet me at the door! When I put her back in her crate, she immediately demonstrated how she had figured out how to push the double latches up, and then shake the door till it opened for her! I now use the clip of her leash to hold the door shut. Bianca hasn't figured out how to open that yet.

As I write this, Bianca is snuggled up next to me, sound asleep, a little white cherub. But I know that as soon as I move she will be up and bouncing again, looking for new mischief. Therefore I plan to enroll her in the Humane Society Obedience Class in June, with an eye toward making her another therapy pet. I'm quite sure she will make a wonderful "comfort dog."

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Relay for Life

This is a guest blog by Jean Lorrah

In the town where I live, Relay for Life is tomorrow night at the stadium of the local university.

Relay for Life is a nationwide fundraising effort for the American Cancer Society. Businesses, clubs, organizations--all put together relay teams who raise money for cancer research, and then once a year (usually in May or June) meet to honor local survivors and remember those who have lost the fight with cancer. Survivors are given medals, and then they make the first lap around the track. On the second lap their caregivers join them, and after that the track is left to the relay teams. Every team keeps someone on the track throughout the night, while there is music, food, games, and celebration of life all around the stadium.

In the luminaria ceremony, people dedicate luminaria to friends and family who have either survived or succumbed to cancer, and each name is read out while the luminaria are the only lights available. When the ceremony opens, some of those lights are arranged to spell out HOPE, but by the time it is over they have been rearranged to spell out CURE. It is a lovely, moving ceremony, for practically everyone there will have dedicated luminaria to friends and relatives who have been through cancer. Relay is a celebration of life--don't go expecting something sad. Rather, it is uplifting and filled with hope.

If you've never been to a Relay for Life, watch for one in or near your town--they are just starting now. Ours is one of the first, because we rely on students from the university to make up many of the teams. They will soon go home for the summer.

My team, though, is unique in our relay: we are the 8th Wonders, every one of us a breast cancer survivor. Our name comes from the fact that one out of every eight women will have breast cancer in her lifetime. I myself have had two different kinds of cancer--breast and endometrial--and survived both. My survival, and that of all cancer survivors, is due to medical science.

The American Cancer Society is 100 years old this year. During that century, cancer survival has gone from one in three to two in three--pretty good, but we want to make it three in three! If you would like to contribute to the research leading to that goal, you can attend a Relay for Life--perhaps even join a relay team. But if that's not possible for you, you can donate online.

If you would like to support me and my team of survivors, go here:

Thank you for reading this. If you have not yet been touched by cancer, you will be. Someone among your friends and family will have it. There's even a good chance you will have it. Then you will be grateful for the treatments we now have that save most cancer patients to live long, healthy lives. The research that brought about those treatments came from donations, many of them through Relay for Life.