cooking, Covid-19, Family, Health, renovation, uncertainty

Is it OCD, ADD, or DT?

MONDAY: I was texting with a friend who asked, “How’s your Monday been?” and I thought to myself, I could respond with an upbeat “Pretty good” or “Ok” or “Good, you?” or just cut to the chase. I chose the latter: “The damn cat woke me up last night with his throwing up.”

Louie had a long walk earlier in the yard with the boys, walks more about munching grass than walking on it. He over-indulged again, his system expelling the remarkably intact blades at a most inconvenient 2:45 am hour. The horrible sound of a cat bellowing as his body expands and contracts instantly wakes me and no doubt my husband too, yet we both lay there just like we used to with nighttime baby cries, waiting it out to see who’s going to get up. I rose quickly hoping to avoid it underfoot, whispering the mantra in my mind, “Please don’t go on the rug, please don’t go on the rug.” Thankfully the cat found a spot in the hall on the heart pine floor in plain sight which I could clean up before someone walked on it or the dog took care of it, the more vulgar of the two possibilities. I climbed back into bed trying to convince my mind that I hadn’t just disrupted our peaceful sleep when Louie continued droning for some two hours until he either gave up or I slipped back into sleep and lost track. Can’t determine how many hours I got, but the sum total was crappy sleep, which sends one’s brain, what’s left of it, into hopeless places.

Now up, I tried doubling up on coffee thinking I could snap out of it and feel awake, but that either works well and you’re wired much of the day accomplishing loads or it has the opposite effect, like melatonin got stirred in. I got the latter. Scrolling social media didn’t help support any semblance of a new-day can-do cheerful mood. More articles shared about college openings and mask wearing. It’s worrisome. Like many others, my son’s college is not requiring masks worn in classrooms despite professors rallying together revolting, some 700 signing a letter. Will our governor budge and put in this mandate that will trickle down to the University System and the individual schools? How long is it going to take? Some states have moved their mask wearing needle from “optional” to “suggested.” I guess we should be happy for small victories, but how about we hop over the “suggested” stepping stone and just land on “required?” Seems with this pandemic we’re going to have to get there anyway, so why the snail’s pace which allows so much sickness to take hold and pushes hospitals beyond their limits?

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Sad stick.

All this together time and some days stupid stuff grates on my nerves. I went to butter my toast and there was this. Who does this? My mother never let us maul our butter. We had to cut individual pats, put them on our plates and then it was our choice how to apply it to things more complicated than toast, like corn for instance: horizontally rotate the cob with buttered knife overhead or spear the butter and apply it to a diagonally rotating cob, hoping each kernel gets some before it melts onto the plate. I wanted us to be that family that rolled our corn onto a brand spankin’ new stick of butter, the contented cob twirling like a pig reveling in mud, and then watch the stick soften and mold into a sway back. But we never did it that way which is why it’s now unsettling to find diagonal hurried jabs disfiguring what was a perfectly fine stick of butter.

And the eggs too. No one’s fault here, but on a day when I’ve gotten little sleep, the carton needs to be symmetrically organized or else I’m finding my brain resorts to arrive at a workable configuration, and when no possibility presents, a plan for that surplus egg.

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Ahhh, we’ve got balance.
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Which egg will be the extra?

 

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Sexy planks await.

It may seem like we’re standing still but things are moving. The long-awaited lumber delivery happened so our porch renovation is closer still. After weeks, make that months of delay, Carolina Lumber came through and it made me so happy I could sing! Not sure if it all actually came from Carolina, but I went there in my mind. Enormous structural beams wait for when the larger-than-what-was-earlier-expected crew arrives to hoist them into place. Maybe even as soon as tomorrow!

The porch is going to be another place to go, delivering all the benefits of outside – sights, sounds and smells – with all the comforts of inside – no mosquitos, roof overhead, adjacent to the kitchen and bath. Not to mention the talented architect on-site who’s beautifully drawn it all and will ensure it gets built to its glorious specifications. The pets also will be in heaven.

 

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Evan’s bench has a reclaimed wood top, leftovers from our renovated garden shed.

More lumber, new and reclaimed, put to good use. May I present the bench that Evan made (with Joe’s design help). Sturdy for plants or people, and as it now stands, perfectly positioned for social distancing on our porch too.

TUESDAY: Some good news! As I’d wished for yesterday, mask wearing will now be required on our state’s college campuses. Seems jumping to “required” didn’t take as long as I thought. A seemingly simple step which will afford far better outcomes for students and faculty returning to campus. While I’m at it, I wish for good news in November’s election. Just putting it out there.

IMG_9902These days at home together may be different than what we’re used to, but they offer the same cast of characters and rather predictable if not comical commentary. Take tonight for instance. Joe walks in the kitchen as NBC Nightly News is interviewing an adjacent state to the south’s governor, and all he can do is lean into the TV, get the gist of the story, utter “douche bag” and walk away. This is where we are.

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Not picking up.

At least twice a week timed late in the afternoon, I reach for the phone and nearly pick up until – whoa! – don’t touch that handset! Please DT, don’t call me.

WEDNESDAY: Ben is busy making garments and new patterns arrive, and I can hear the hum of the sewing machine churning out a jacket, a turtleneck for his girlfriend or in the case of today, pants. Evan has been helping Joe make railings for the new screened porch and both boys are learning more about woodworking, captivated by possibilities. They’ve each dealt with these strange times with grace and patience and resilience and despite not being able to stray too far from this home we’re quarantined inside, they’ve managed to fill their days rotating through simple pastimes – biking, frisbee, wiffle ball – or taking a drive to the mountains, just the two of them.

Joe returned yesterday from the store, as if just in from a hunt, hauling the kill stuffed in white Publix bags over his shoulder – pork ribs and ground beef (and ground turkey thrown in for my sake). Somehow, we managed to rearrange the fridge and freezer again to fit it all – a favorable problem in these times.

A simple burger normally eaten alone for dinner or with some chips or carrots now needs to be elevated – maybe baked beans on the side, green salad with veggies and homemade dressing, and what about for dessert? We are all relying on something to look forward to, each equally vested in turning these monochromatic evenings into something colorful, and food is the logical start. The days ramp up to dinnertime and you hope it’s all you hoped for and then you digest and clean up and begin sketching out the next sit down.

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Patterns and toes.

At least once a week there’s an Amazon Prime truck parked in front of our house. I run to the door wondering, have my vitamins arrived? Or maybe its that cord I lost and reordered for my external hard drive? Ben rushes to the door too, considering his own package, has my zipper come? He’s been sewing and ordering fabrics and now is waiting on an Etsy zipper to complete a jacket he’s begun. It’s as if Santa’s sleigh is out front and those few minutes he spends sorting out packages nearly kills us as we wait and wonder. Surely, we were good this year, good enough for one of these to be ours?

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Divine especially with salted butter and honey.

I’ve stayed busy baking, perfecting various favorites of mine, even taste testing on a few friends. Maybe this little hobby will grow, and I can start another little business. Obviously we must eat if we’re going to live, but if we can infuse the experience with memorable taste and texture and depth and light, I think we’ve accomplished something important. The days can be hard, but the meals don’t have to be. They offer chances to unwind and savor something satisfying. Might as well make them extraordinary. I’m working on it.

Today at least has gotten more interesting. As I sat on my bed to write, I noticed my vision increasingly strange, my lens now a watery veil, with bubbly visual noise in the corners. This being a pandemic coupled with my recent health “thing,” I was on the phone with my oncologist and eye doctor immediately. Seems I had an ocular migraine. They tell me they’re not cause for worry, yet their origins aren’t completely understood. I had one ten years ago during a particularly stressful event, details I won’t bore you with. So is it stress? Very likely the culprit. I know discord, tumult, or too much uncertainty make me uncomfortable. I was that girl when overhearing her parents argue who would make them kiss and make up. They used to make my siblings and me do that, so I figured why not them too? Besides, I hated hearing them argue. Ultimately, they’d oblige and offer up a disgruntled peck on the cheek at best, and I always stood my ground until they did. They would go on to divorce. Damn.

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Normally a nearby busy park in summer, this scene typifies life now.

Today we’ve got the perfect storm on our hands with all that’s going on in the world and in our own homes. Even though it changes by the hour, consistently the news hasn’t been good. I feel scared leaving my bubble, and so like others, I rarely do. I’ve heard friends announce before that they can’t watch the news, but I’ve been fine with it on all these many years. However these days I think it is finally getting to me and manifesting on a physical level, as with today’s migraine. I realize good nutrition, exercise and rest have absolutely got to remain in place but a little more fun needs to find its way in, too. On the peace-of-mind upside, as with colleges and universities, Atlanta will soon have a required mask mandate in place. That’s a start.

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Nice to sit next to someone for a change. Robert Frost with me in Agnes Scott’s fountain courtyard.

Despite its continued efforts, my brain can’t wrap itself around the layer upon layer of difficulties in our world that you can never fully unwrap. It almost seems shallow tackling insignificant household minutiae when there’s this enormous elephant in the room trying with all its might to get out, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do. Or a better analogy would be there’s a massive tornado, with a tail the likes of which you’ve never seen, and it’s coming to a neighborhood near you. Except when? Where? Have you battened down the hatches sufficiently? There is no perfect solution. Except there is that life-saving trifecta, our own part we each can and should do: Wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands.

Finally, I asked my family to sum up in three words what living together during this pandemic has been like, and our different perspectives are interesting:

Susan: Togetherness, nourishing, unpredictable

Evan: Uncertainty, boredom, projects

Ben: Free time, productivity, relaxation

Joe: Surreal, enjoyable, virtual

 

(Stealing from Garrison Keillor)… Be well and keep in touch.

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breast cancer, Encouragement, Health, hope

Cancer Close Out

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Joe with me and the cat resting after my surgery. No one focuses much on the partner of the patient, but it’s no picnic for them either. He’s been a rock.

I’ve completed treatment. The honeymoon is over. That warm swirl of homemade delivered soups, little notes and calls, and attentive doctors and nurses propping up pillows, encouraging me that I’m doing great is now behind me. Lumpectomy done. Check. Chemo over. Check. Radiation complete. Check. Now what?

I’ve had people ask me that same question. They look at me now as if I have some answers because, well, you know, I must be an expert on cancer. Wow I said it twice, did you notice? Once in the title and once in the text.  Maybe I’ve reached that stage of grief they call acceptance? I hate saying the word because I don’t feel like a member of that club and the word wreaks of death looming, so it must be  w h i s p e r e d  or typed in italics. My thinking has been since it was enough stress to have had it, must I now say the word too? I’ve found there are plenty of ways to circumvent saying it.

Have you been seeing all those commercials for cancer treatment on TV? Maybe you don’t notice them, but there’s a preponderance. A soft female voice delivers the message for things like Ibrance, that promises you can now live in the moment even if you have metastatic breast cancer. Thankfully I didn’t have that type; mine was isolated to one tumor in one breast. But still, these ads call out to you, stop you in your tracks, flood you back and you always remember. Then come the warnings, also whispered: Ibrance has been found to shrink tumors in over half of patients. Ibrance can cause low white counts and serious infections that can lead to death. Be in your moment. Ask your doctor about Ibrance.

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This combo – red peppers, white and sweet potatoes and red onions – which my sister got me started on is so easy and makes me happy. My body too.

I’m afraid I don’t have any insights into why this happened to me, though in many respects I’m not completely surprised it did. My stress had been escalating – the same crap, the familiar loop that runs round and round in our head that we can hyper focus on but know we shouldn’t  – and I’d been rather slack about healthy eating and drinking, and still without any meaningful sustained exercise regimen. The perfect storm where something had to give, and part of me is glad it did. You can’t sustain that kind of adrenaline indefinitely.

In all my fifty-six years, I’ve known just two people who’ve had this. One was a neighbor in an apartment complex I lived in in my early 20s and the other, a colleague of my husband’s. In the case of my neighbor, I don’t recall her specific situation, and only now do I realize that each person’s unique experience varies considerably. You can have cells that leave your breast and travel other places via your lymph nodes, bringing more unpredictability as to whether they can be wiped out, or you can have more destructive kinds, such as triple negative, a highly aggressive variety which can be hard to treat because its food source is so unclear. I don’t know the kind my neighbor had. I do know she was a smoker. Did that weigh in? There is no telling. I remember taking great pleasure when ordering her flowers after she got the all clear. I also remember her dying less than two years later.

I was heartbroken, of course, but dumbfounded too – didn’t they say she was cancer free? Evidently, it’s not that simple and clean cut. Perhaps hers seeped into her lymphatic system destroying other organs or was more aggressive from the get-go than doctors initially thought. I will never know, but I felt so let down, so gypped, having been so overjoyed, as she was, that it was finally over. It doesn’t feel good, this unusual, premature and unfortunate ending. Like being a bridesmaid in a wedding where the couple later divorces, but of course worse. The other woman who had “it” best I can tell has resumed a fully normal and healthy life, thankfully. I don’t know her well and so am not inclined to ask about her story. I’m not sure she even knows mine. The important take away is after all this, if you are thriving, then you are thriving.

You can’t sustain that kind of adrenaline indefinitely.

I don’t have a crystal ball for my own future, but at least I know more than I once did. That whispered term that I must type in italics, “metastatic breast cancer”, refers to cancer which started in your breast and later (typically within five years) pops up somewhere else – a game of Whac-A-Mole gone terribly wrong. After some women complete their treatment and go about ringing bells and running victory laps around infusion chairs, sometimes when they least expect it, it returns. When it does, I’m told it’s not as likely to show up in that same breast or even in the other one. The more typical scenario is it shows up elsewhere, such as in your liver or bones, which is called a “distant” recurrence, far from the initial source (breast). Unfortunately, even if yours was a low stage to begin with (mine was Stage 2), all distant recurrences appear as Stage 4 and are called metastatic because the cancer has metastasized, left the breast and spread to other organs. Many women die from this, yet some can live with it, but they must be all-the-more vigilant with extra therapies and medications and go forth with the real fear that they are never quite done. But are any of us who’ve had breast cancer? Can we ever lose the brand that’s stamped on us in our own minds and in others’?

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With a diagnosis like this come supplements. Lots of them. These beautiful and colorful Etsy zippered cases keep them organized.

When I first sat down with my Piedmont Hospital oncologist (hereafter, “Piedmont”) who had reviewed all my scans – mammograms, ultrasounds, bilateral MRI (both breasts), labs (bloodwork), pathology reports (analyzing the types of cancer cells I had) – he was very calm, like he’d done this a thousand times. Of course he had. He told my husband and me he was going to suggest a course of treatment and he used the analogy that the surgery I’d completed (the lumpectomy) was the cure and the follow on was the insurance. I wondered if everyone who sat before him got this same spiel, but it seemed as if this insurance parallel was one at which he’d just arrived, customized exclusively for me. He said it’s like he’s our insurance salesman, and he’s going to recommend the fullest coverage possible, which for me translated to four rounds of chemotherapy plus radiation. In addition to his cleanly scrawled regimen on the pad of paper between us, he scribbled percentages. If you’ve strayed by now, folks, come on back, as we’re talking survival here. I learned my odds are 80/20, an 80% chance this will not recur and a 20% chance it could. My eyes welled up hearing this because it sounded worse than I expected. I assumed since cancer hadn’t leaked into my lymph nodes we had a simple guaranteed solution on our hands: scoop it out with a lumpectomy, get your chemo and radiation and off you go, all done. An 80/20 scenario didn’t come with such guarantee. However since then, I’ve thought about it in a different way; I had to. When your weather report forecasts a 20% chance of rain, do you grab an umbrella? I know I don’t. I feel better now. Hope that helps you?

Did You Know? Lumpectomy + Radiation = Same Effectiveness as Masectomy 

So I rolled on and finished up chemo and after a month-long break when it was time for radiation to begin, I sat before a different doctor. Piedmont suggested we schedule radiation at Emory so it’s convenient (Emory is just a few miles from my home) since I’d be going 21 days, consecutive weekdays with weekends off. During our 45-minute wait to see the radiation oncologist to whom we’d been referred, my husband and I read all the literature given to us, including this doctor’s CV. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in biology, received her MD from Stanford University and completed her residency in radiation oncology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Whoa! Harvard AND magna cum laude (AND Stanford AND MD Anderson)? She will henceforward simply be referred to as “Harvard.” It turns out Harvard and two of her esteemed colleagues had already reviewed my case in detail, poring over labs, scans, pathology reports etc., before she landed on what she decided would be my best course of treatment: 21 rounds of radiation – 16 over the whole breast followed by five targeting the cavity where the tumor, henceforth “Coward” had been lurking.

Like a child playing mom against dad, I of course had to ask Harvard the question: “Piedmont tells me I have an 80/20 chance. Do you agree with this?” She thought for what was a briefer moment than I expected and said, hesitantly, “While I don’t want to overstep your Piedmont doctor… (can you see my enormous smile forming?), I think you have much better chances.” Me, eyes wide open leaning in closer, “How much better?” “Over 90%” (or less than 10% however your brain processes it), she replied. Incredulous, thrilled, giddy all at once, I thought to myself, seriously? I would ask again at a few other appointments, just in case Covid-19 distractions and her full patient load undermined her ability to clearly think and call it correctly, and each time I got the same fabulous grade.

Unrelated but perhaps related, I am a twin. My brother, Benjamin Redfield Woody, died just a few days after birth from hyaline membrane disease (a breathing disorder which today would have been treatable). I can’t report feeling any magic force within me connecting us. Of course, when I have bad days and feel like something’s missing, I laugh to myself because something is missing, my other half, my twin. Those twins who feel the same things yet live far apart in different states or read the other’s mind aren’t me, though with my twin not being here, it’s not exactly a controlled experiment. But how about in the case of an amputated limb? I hear some amputees still have the urge to scratch that leg they no longer have. I wouldn’t expect if any of my limbs were cut off, I’d have any ghost limb experiences; mine would simply be gone. Even when I was pregnant, I could never answer those commonly recurring questions: When is the baby coming and do you think it’s a boy or a girl?

I don’t think being pregnant or having a twin or getting cancer magically renders you capable of predicting outcomes, bestowing on you a mysterious celestial insight others didn’t get. For me, getting cancer was initially of course a big shock, but then it became just a lot more doctors appointments and uncertainty and days you don’t feel great. A lot more. I never felt as if I’m knocking on death’s door, but have wondered how big my tumor would be now had I not shut down its shenanigans. I don’t feel like a warrior with pink boxing gloves who has kicked cancer’s ass. I do feel I was a good patient, ever listening and thinking and acting without delay in my best interest. I don’t want to tell cancer fuck you, or join in a big pink march. I believe it’s now gone so there’s no tumor to cuss out anyway. Instead it feels quieter and gentler, just between my body and me. A malicious foreign thing grew inside me and I kept playing its game of hide and seek until I found it. I didn’t intend to start this game, but that’s where my mom gets some credit too.

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She’s watching over me still, helping me take good care. My mom, sweet Susan, also gave me her name.

As I’m inclined to do, I analyzed and over-analyzed this situation a lot (I won’t say analyzed it “to death” because this is of course what we’re trying to avoid, being cancer and all). I think it was a guardian angel or God or my mom (or maybe they’re all the same or decided to merge for this one mission?) who was nudging me that October afternoon to feel both sides. Because who does that three months after a “normal” mammogram? Assuming it was my mom, isn’t it interesting that my treatment was exactly 4 rounds of chemotherapy and 21 rounds of radiation, since her birthday is April 21 (4/21). Who other but a mom to push you out of the way when a train is about to hit you head on? Totally my mom’s doing.

All this said, I am inclined to go with Harvard. While Piedmont has been great and still is, how can you not opt for the better prognosis? I mean it’s Harvard talking, and you can be sure I’m listening.

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This is summer (or maybe year-round sunshine) in a can. And a tall one at that. Delicious and just 2% alcohol. Try it. You’ll like it.

These days when people see me and ask how I’m feeling, I know what they are probably thinking: Has the cancer come back? Do you think it will? Sorry to report folks, but hell if I know, your guess is as good as mine. Going forward, all I know is I’ll be eating better, exercising more, stressing less – things we all should be doing, but now me more than ever.

My tumor was labeled as 100% ER positive, which means estrogen was the only thing it consumed to stay in the game. If you sweep up every estrogen crumb and wipe down the cupboard evermore, presumably Coward’s got nothing to eat and therefore can’t find any reason to return. Piedmont has me on a daily estrogen blocker pill (Arimidex), to ensure there’s nothing to snack on should the malignant munchies strike. I’m told such fabulous things as dairy and red meat and alcohol, which my cancer loved, can elevate my estrogen levels, and getting lots of exercise will oxygenate my blood, which cancer hates. So I’ve dropped red meat and most dairy (except parmesan, you can stay) and alcohol is minimal and very occasional. Recently I’ve taken to Stiegl’s grapefruit Radlers, just 2% alcohol and super refreshing, and I am moving more, or at least on days I’m not, I’m thinking about it, which I didn’t before. I’m trying to do the granola-with-flax-and-chia-seeds-splashed-with-almond-milk thing for breakfast, but when you’ve got a Publix puffy-sugar-studded-cherry-filled-triangle pastry staring back at you that your kids threw in the grocery cart, you don’t always make good choices. I’ve cheated and splurged on sugar, eaten potato chips, had several exceedingly delicious bites of bacon, but realize each day is a reset and more often than not, I’m leaning into pretty good choices.

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Homemade granola: the better breakfast option

I’m to continue taking my estrogen blocker pill every morning for the next ten years. It’s a bonafide treatment and after chemo and radiation, this third treatment will be the charm. It’s tiny, yet powerful, the same size of the birth control pill I used to take and the Synthroid I do now. Aside from its intended job, Arimidex also might make my joints ache. However, all I can report two months in is my right hand ring finger feels a little swollen and stiff. No big deal. To its discredit, this pill does plunge you into a menopausal sweaty never-can-get-the-temperature-right mode. Throw summer heat on top of it all and let’s just say showers are my friend.

Every three months I’ll go back and see Piedmont and he will do labs to check for any abnormalities. He said at these quarterly appointments he will just talk with me and look me over. He doesn’t believe in scans – calls them old school – but I believe in him. He’s my insurance guy and I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss a premium payment.

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The recently planted fescue and I are competing for who’ll get the most coverage the soonest.
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You can’t even part it because there’s not much of a crown on top, but it’s coming in for sure.

The good news is my hair is returning. I feel like Navan Johnson in the movie, The Jerk, and in lieu of Steve Martin’s character screaming, “The new phone book’s here, the new phone book’s here!”, I’m screaming, “The new hair’s here, the new hair’s here!” thrilled at the new crop coming in, daily checking for more.

Like the fescue that’s managed to push its way through the packed and cracked Georgia red clay in our back yard, bulldozed from the renovation underway, my hair is definitely coming back. I don’t see any signs of a grey curly brillo pad emerging as some warned, but instead see just the same dirty blonde I’m-in-my-mid-50s hair from before. I’ve got somewhat of a mullet going right now with the formerly bald sides filling in where the chemo cold cap didn’t fit well. My longer hair, which hasn’t been cut since October, still hangs down straggly, the last four inches or so blonde from last summer’s foils. However, in a baseball cap, no one’s the wiser. Why should everyone know? It’s a heavy enough burden for me to carry, so why sling it on others’ backs? As for the hair, I’ll even it up at some point, but it’s so nice and feels warmer and is a delight to see and feel my former partly bald scalp filling in. I’m heartened by this physical sign that I am healing and my cells are happily busy at work churning out new good things instead of just fighting off tumors and weathering chemo.

I’d like to say this is my last post about all this, but assuming it doesn’t return, and I am wholeheartedly making this assumption, I suspect I’ll still talk about it some more. My surgery date was November 21, so after each November 21 that goes by I will breathe an increasingly bigger sigh of relief. After five years, the chances are far slimmer for a recurrence, and after ten, I will be “cured,” and Piedmont says I won’t need to see him anymore. This experience is now forever with me and a part of me. I hate that it showed up but love that it is gone. I love myself for pushing for answers, pushing through treatments and pushing for something better now that I’m on the other side. And if you’re still here after all these words, I love you for sticking with me. A big love fest all around. And just so we’re clear, Coward, you’re not invited.

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Atlanta, Racism

Warning: The images you are about to see are disturbing.

How many times does Lester Holt have to tell me this? Each and every night. Another black man was shot and killed, this time in my hometown last Friday night. His crimes were passing out in his car from drinking too much alcohol and holding up a Wendy’s drive-thru line, then resisting arrest and stealing a policeman’s taser, and running away with said taser and shooting over his shoulder with it at officers in pursuit. Whatever the color of your skin, it’s just not smart to steal a cop’s taser and attempt to flee the scene. Nor is using deadly force when pursuing a suspect whose back is to you and who has only a taser compared to your gun. Yet now, a black man is dead, shot in the back, twice. Once again, a community grieves with a black family, this one with three children, including a sweet 8-year-old girl I saw on tv standing next to her widowed mama, tears rolling down her cheek.

Social media is blowing up with opinions, personal accounts and proclamations. Black boxes are now profile pics, Black Lives Matter our cover photos, and we are sharing #Lovingday photos and stories too. Those galling All Lives Matter posts even crop up now and then, and today I even saw a White Lives Matter post. No likes there. Over these last few weeks I’ve considered replacing my profile picture with a black box, but technologically ignorant, I don’t know how. Besides, adding the graduating senior frame around my profile pic was its own feat, and I suppose selfishly I wanted to relish this milestone – my son’s high school graduation and my little bit of technology know-how a little longer. Meanwhile, the real question looms…  what am I learning or doing in real life to trample my own racism?

Should we first educate ourselves with white-approved black books and movies so we whites are better poised to voice an appreciation for the black struggle? Is this voice actually for blacks or are we trying to impress or maybe even convert our racist white brothers and sisters as we convert our own selves? Some are posting movies others have been watching – i.e., The Help – and criticizing their baseless choices, redirecting them to more suitable, on point films for these times. It was a white girl who penned this story turned movie who grew up in a family with “help”, and I believe she wanted to cast a light on the plight and fight of maids in the south in the 60s, a mere sliver of the shit pie so many blacks have had to feed on for far too long. Many, including one of the movie’s own actors, who expressed regret in taking part in this project because she felt it portrayed black struggles through an inauthentic white lens.

What am I learning or doing in real life to trample my own racism?

If one could only gain access to “the list”, the right movies or books could be the catalyst for immediate understanding and empathy, the anti-racist Cliffs Notes, bringing forth a genuine laser focused, potentially spiking and then petering out, finite effort. In addition to learning about black history, some whites are asking if they should now greet black people with their own white balled fist held high in solidarity with Black Power. From the responses I’ve seen, that greeting is reserved for black people and whites best go figure out something else.

I am not consuming black literature at an alarming rate; I’m not consuming it at all. I don’t know if many of the businesses I support are part or fully or not at all black-owned, yet I say to myself I’m in favor of supporting them. And truthfully, I am. Yet I remain ignorant in the many ways I can help. I suppose this makes me part of the problem. But I am beginning to ask questions and open my eyes. I am trying to start somewhere, not out of guilt but out of an intrinsic duty to bridge this gap I’ve felt and seen that’s been between us all this time. I want so much to say I’m sorry for all you are feeling, and I want to help carry the burden until it is no longer there, until there is real change, change that sticks. How and where and to whom can I say this?

True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. -Arthur Ashe

Seems we are all so afraid of what to say or not to say, and for good reason. It is astounding, shameful and egregious what is now happening, what we are all privy to that has been happening for years. Each of us has a response within us but have we perhaps become stuck in a damned if we do, damned if we don’t conundrum? Hello? How do you think blacks feel? Political correctness, social media and other influencers urge us to speak up, but we’d better do it the right way, or even worse, our noticeable silence will signal our complicity. We speak up, but do it wrong and get pounced on, so back into our shell we go. We go to a protest carrying thoughtfully made signs, bearing words we hope will make a difference, inspire someone, change black minds about us and white minds about blacks, convey that we understand, want to do better. But some are inclined to write this off as shallowness and remind us that signs alone aren’t enough (we already know they’re not). Those among us who truly understand blacks, these whites who are enlightening us, don’t need the crutch our sign affords us. They have been walking the walk with white balled fists held high for years, long before we decided to join the trend. Is it now a closed club we’re too late to join? Whites judging whites on supporting blacks. Surely this can’t be helping. How many black people for how many years have felt judgement weighing down on their own backs?

My potential is more than can be expressed within the bounds of my race or ethnic identity. -Arthur Ashe

While some of us are in the wings figuring it out, could it be we are missing the obvious opportunities before us? I realize our whiteness largely renders us unable to even begin to understand someone’s blackness. Is this even what blacks need from us right now, to get inside their skin and feel what they have been feeling for so long? Could it be simple civility they’re seeking, or could we achieve a deeper alliance even, such as understanding or friendship or both? Instead of figuring out how we should now greet blacks we pass on the street, how about for starters we just greet them, doing what is decent, the same you’d do if you passed a stranger? Wait, you are passing a stranger, only now their skin color – plus a heaping serving of our own white shame  – intimidates us, rendering us unable to do much of anything. Do we face them or for the sake of Covid-19, cross the street? Was that simply a healthy decision or was that uneasiness and cowardice that perhaps came across as racism?

I don’t know how to explain it, this kindness I am envisioning as two humans pass on the sidewalk, much as I can’t tell you exactly how it is one falls asleep. You lie there still and somewhere between, say, ten and forty minutes you close your eyes and voila! You’re asleep. Such it is with greetings. You make eye contact, smile or wave or say hello, all or a few of these and in no particular order. For purposes of the pandemic, let’s assume on these walks and in most any public places where we can closely encounter other people we all are wearing masks. Please tell me we all are, aren’t we? Realize you CAN smile behind your mask and someone WILL see it and feel it. It takes a bigger, more deliberate smile, but you can do it, and you don’t need permission to do it the “right” way. Also, you can still wave like you always have been able to, too. We all are in our own way scared. I’ve seen too many posts with queries along these lines. These people you’re wondering how to greet, or hug or avoid or love these days are still the same as you are, the same as they’ve always been, pandemic or no pandemic, protest or no protest: they are still HUMANS. We don’t need to enroll in a class to learn or relearn civility, kindness, fairness and friendliness, or develop some proper strain to which blacks best respond.

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. -Arthur Ashe

I know it is not enough to stick a sign in my yard or go to a protest or feel the same I can’t unsee this video horror we all do as we learn about yet another casualty of this trigger-happy society of which we’re all a part. But what can we do to do more? My instinct tells me I need to talk to black people – neighbors, friends, essential workers, for starts. Who better to learn from about what they need, what they are feeling and have felt? Yet is that frowned upon? Is it rude to go straight to the living and breathing source, the receiving end of such anguish, discrimination and exclusion and reach out from our place of white privilege to share, listen and hopefully learn and make things better for black people? Will this unchartered display of whites crossing boundaries to reach out to blacks appear as flagrant boldness or insincere back peddling? Is it better to remain in the wings with Renee’s or Oprah’s book club BLM pick in hand and glean what you can before determining you’ve consumed enough and are now eligible to step up and speak to your fellow black humans?

While I don’t necessarily want to go interviewing my black friends now, I do know I can and want to learn from them. I haven’t spoken to several in years what with changing work, family and geography now between us, and I’ll admit the self-consciousness I carry worries that I’ll look disingenuous if I reach out now.  Besides, even if I could understand, would I make a difference? Would black people help me help them? Would they welcome these questions and want to share their ideas for solutions? I want to help in the healing.

They say start with kind. I consider myself kind. So what and now what? Black people are still getting killed left and right, missing out on their God-given right to chances they deserve. What can I do about that? Is my trying to understand it helping at all? Do blacks want or need to vent to whites? What about poor, hungry or homeless whites, those who can’t hire blacks or support their businesses? What can those whites do? Can they make a difference? Absolutely. I believe we all can. Black lives matter and I think blacks need to not only hear us say they matter; they need to feel it too. It doesn’t have to be perfect or rehearsed or white- or black-vetted, but it does needs to be honest, understanding and come from the heart. There’s no time like the present.

 

Uncategorized

Begin Again

“If ever you feel discouraged, and you will at times, step away, take a deep breath, and begin again.” These are some of the words I wrote on my son’s graduation card. I don’t know if he’ll hang on to it or them, but I wanted to tell him anyway, maybe because I also needed this reminder? George Floyd can no longer take a deep breath and begin again, despite asking, begging, over and over, to reclaim his breath. And for those of us still here, simply breathing, something we take for granted, has gotten complicated on every level.

I’ve been listening to the news, watching social media and reading perspectives from well-known people and others too. The common takeaway is horrific and none of us can un-see what we saw in that video. And why should we? Haunting and deeply disturbing, that video and George Floyd’s precious life has sharpened our vision, caused us to look more closely at everything, our relationships with each other and the deep-seated labels, consciously and unconsciously, we assign to each other every single day.

Wear the Damn Mask / While grocery shopping, I noticed a sweet little boy, barely even three, wearing a mask like his parents. His had a cartoon pattern and tiny elastic bands which curved around his ears. With sobering headlines these days the likes of “Coronavirus may never go away, even with a vaccine,” I realized mask wearing will likely become normalized for him, something he grows up with in his daily wardrobe, as commonplace for his preventive health as an annual well check. I wonder, will his family reunion photos depict everyone in masks, with separate picnic blankets and distancing? I keep wanting to look back on this time, have it in our rearview mirror and in many ways return to how things were, but then I remember things will never be how they were and maybe they shouldn’t. Perhaps instead of fighting it, let’s work with it, highlight the best parts and lose the rest.

Change Your Behavior / In an interesting interview on NPR, science writer Sonia Shah, author of Pandemic and the more recent, The Next Great Migration, talks about the pandemic today. https://www.npr.org/2020/06/02/867691497/migration-isnt-crisis-it-s-the-solution-science-writer-says She says what we take out of this will depend on the stories we tell ourselves, which largely fall under the basic narrative that we have been invaded by something outside of us, and we have a sense of us being the passive victims. She observed the reaction to the pandemic for many has been that Covid has befallen us, as if we are objective observers and this plague raging in front of our noses simply happened to us, robbed us of control, and we are now left with the inconvenience of having to react. Yet its deep roots started to take hold long ago. Similarly, the response to systemic racism can be a passive or active one. We can either deny its very existence or change our behavior. It’s proven that social distancing works, and if you follow its guidelines, you will indeed flatten the curve. If a society wants to rid itself of systemic racism, it also must change its behavior. So simple, it seems. Shall we?

Food Is Love / I walked my dog downtown the other day, late in the afternoon when the sun is gentler and the dinner hour looms. Instead of the hum of bustling shops and restaurants, there was only a hot summer stillness under a gorgeous pandemic blue sky. I noticed the same men I often see, sitting on benches in front of the library, their belongings rolled up in tidy heaps near them and against the building. There was another man sitting alone in front of the Rec Center and our eyes locked. I always tighten the leash when I see people, because my German Shepherd/ Husky is big and for some, menacing, and the last thing I want to incite walking by is fear. On this 80-something-degree day, a lady dressed in a parka sat at a bus stop across from the Presbyterian church busy on a phone call, and several other men, one with his head down, dotted the lawn.

I couldn’t shake any of it once I got home and so I did what my instincts told me to do, what I’ve done several times before. The mini Kroger’s parking lot wasn’t too full and a nice smiling lady inside gave me one of the cleaned carts which I filled with deli turkey, ham, provolone cheese, soft wheat bread, fruit cups, bananas and baked chips. I bought paper lunch sacks and waters, too, and scored napkins and even a pack of toilet paper for our own cupboard. I sat in the car and assembled little meals. I brought a stick of butter, knife and cutting board from home and the butter softened in the car while I shopped. I buttered the bread, made the sandwiches and filled the bags full, with a napkin tucked inside each.

I returned and walked toward the two men and offered them a drink and snacks and we started talking. The older gentleman said what he’d really like is some ice cream, and we joked that I came up short. I asked him what kind and he said Haagen-Dazs cherry vanilla and coconut caramel. Then he rattled off more flavors and I said, laughing, “Stop!” We both knew neither of us was going to score a scoop no matter how many flavors we recited, but we laughed anyway at the futility of it all.

Next, I walked to the side of the church by the lawn. The man with his head down had gone, two others were still there. I gave them each a bag and we both told each other “God Bless You.” I never say that, but them saying it to me felt good, and so I said it back. Across the street on the square under the gazebo were two other young men. They were friendly and seemed glad to see snacks and water. They also said “God Bless You” and again I said it back. We agreed God should bless all of us. Around the corner propped up against the old courthouse was an older man, his belongings strewn against him and the building. He wrote things in a tiny spiral notepad and said he’d like some pocket change. I never carry money so instead brought him a water and a banana.

He asked me my name. I told him and got his. Kevin wanted to know my date of birth too and I simply told him “I’m an August baby” and he scrawled that information into his notebook. I asked him his birthday and he told me it’s June 8. Excited, I told him that’s also my sister’s birthday. He smiled showing his few teeth remaining and I said goodbye leaving him to jot in his notebook, the water and banana by his side.

Driving home I noticed an older man walking down Ponce de Leon who I had seen earlier near the library. It was hot and he looked hungry and tired and so I pulled over. Walking toward him I asked if he’d like something to drink. I never know how to broach the I’d like to give you some food and water topic. I don’t want to sound condescending or give someone something they don’t need or might be too proud to accept, so I typically just ask if they could use something to drink, knowing if they can, then I have the green light to hand over a bag full of other good things. He gladly took it and we wished each other well and I drove off.

For me, food is love. It would be childish and naive of me to presume I’ve solved anything. It doesn’t fix the deep seeded racist problems in our country and likely inside all of us, myself included. But it’s a way I’ve found of showing love and receiving it too. Each exchange with these people left me more hopeful, happier, and I can’t help but believe they felt the same way. We are all in this together and hungry for so much more than we now have.

Stop Judging Others; Start With Yourself / In Atlanta’s mayor’s moving speech the other day, among other things that resonated with me, she said, “You’re not going to out-concern me and out-care me.” https://www.fox5atlanta.com/video/689455 This reference to one upmanship gave me pause. In the wake of recent events, on social media I’ve noticed the rising need to outdo each other, as if to assuage our guilt from not doing enough? You’re doing nothing? You’re quiet? You’re probably a racist. You didn’t post a black box to social media on Tuesday, the horrors! Honestly I don’t know how. Yes, really. It was all I could do to add a City Schools of Decatur frame around my profile picture.

I wish I had some answers. So many wish the same. On a recent Instagram post, Ellen Degeneres, near tears, admitted she didn’t know what to say. (https://www.news.com.au/entertainment/celebrity-life/sad-and-angry-ellen-posts-emotional-video-message/news-story/1f6a2c4e2ac226e03a03f42af3f3c5fe)

What can we say or do now, should have said yesterday or could do tomorrow? I know I don’t have the solution to rid society of systemic racism, but we need things to happen. It’s a two-way street and while there is still far too much focus on our differences, at the end of the day, we are all the same. Isn’t that something to celebrate?

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” -Arthur Ashe

Family, Parenting

Mom !!

IMG_8486“You’d argue with the Lord,” my mother used to tell me. I was just like her and even though her words exclaimed to the contrary, I think she secretly liked my spunk. I was the outside reminder of who she was inside.

Meriam-Webster classifies a mother as a noun, adjective and a verb, but who are we kidding, mother is all verb. Mothers don’t sit still, they’re forever looking around, sizing up a room, a situation, the contents of the fridge, their checkbook, purse, that bottomless pouch that holds it all. Magicians, mothers reach inside their bag of tricks and always find the right thing for their own, and anyone else who needs something. If there isn’t Kleenex, they’ll offer up their sleeve, a deposit slip, something. They swoop in and help, because they can’t help themselves.

They drive us places – everywhere — and up a wall, too, and we return the favor in spades. They multitask, pepper us with questions, draw out the details, our emotions, our schedules, or hush us when they should, and even when they shouldn’t. They talk too much and complain and gush in the same breath about their children every chance they get. They remember things — our favorite foods, where we need to be and with whom, and nudge us to consider other approaches, others’ feelings, our own, too.

IMG_8139They feed us, schedule us, draw us a bath, or a picture when we’re sad, bring us out of our shell if we’re shy or a smile to our face when something is wrong. They’re mind readers, with eyes in the back of their head, and you can’t get away with much if a mom is near. They are a blessing and a curse, for their babies and teens, and you can’t deny their stronghold, nor can you forget it. They won’t let you.

They’re the safe ones you can go to when you’re in trouble, the ones who’ll instinctively turn their head whenever they hear “Mom!,” even if it’s another child calling their own. Mothers cover for each other and laugh a lot, and sometimes they whine or wine — or both. They hold strangers’ kids on airplanes and doors for strollers, and little hands in their own and release them when they’re grown. They are consolers and controllers, feeders and healers.

IMG_6427They’re the Energizer bunny, the Easter bunny, Santa and the Tooth Fairy. They sleep with one eye open keeping vigil when there are bad dreams, or earaches, fever, or broken bones. They listen to doctors’ instructions when you’re too sick to, and to teachers’ and coaches’ words you sometimes miss. They’re your number one fan and critic rolled into one, your lifelong advocate whose work is never done. And you never forget their face even long after they’re gone.

IMG_5779This day isn’t about mothers, it’s about mothering. Scores of people who never had children mother every day. They have pets, or plants or nieces or someone in their life who has fallen to pieces, and they show up and speak up. Like most holidays, Mother’s Day dredges up the good, the bad, the sad and everything in between. Hallmark would have you believe that on this day mothers will be wined and dined and showered with love and gratitude. The reality is your dog might pee on the rug again, your kids might argue even before you’ve had your morning coffee, which you likely poured yourself, and you might be missing your own mom terribly. Let’s face it, the Mother’s Day fairy tale might not waft into your house this year.

IMG_7536This fairy tale isn’t a single day sprinkled with gold dust. Far better, it’s all of the days, and they’re solid gold. They’re real and full of work and play, and diaper changes, and sweet glances and missed chances. The chatter you hear as you drive kids to sports practices, the quiet sunburned sandy car ride home after a day at the beach. Being asked if the trees you pass are a forest and how deep it is, and if those bad guys from 9/11 went to time out. Or wondering if the bees sting the flowers and why birds’ poop is white. It’s the constant questions and best answers you can muster. It’s waiting up after curfew wondering and worrying, and when they return, forgetting that they left the seat up or didn’t take out the trash. It’s cheering for them when they get into college and sending them off into the world. It’s everything in between. It’s hugging them tight and kissing them goodbye.

For all you moms and everyone else who mothers, I raise my thrice reheated cup of coffee to you, today and every day. What a difference you make!

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