Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Chronicles of Breast Cancer

Last month I was at the health center, getting my annual mammogram and bi-annual bone density
scan. As I put my cell phone in that little locker they provide for your stuff, I thought, "Snap a picture of yourself in this hospital gown and post it to Facebook as a reminder to other women to schedule their checkups."

As a rule, I believe selfies are best left to the young and self-involved, but this seemed like an opportunity for a Public Service Announcement. I've had fifteen or twenty mammograms over the years and they're always okay. So, contrary to my usual policy, I posted this picture of me in alternating hospital gowns (one forward, one back).

I got a lot of likes and loves and laughs on my Facebook post--and a handful of requests to let my friends know the outcome.

I figured, in a week or so, I'd post the results and be done with it. But three days later (a quick response on lab tests is never good), my doctor's office called to say, "Something looked a little hinky. You need to get another mammogram with more elaborate and expensive equipment."*

Facebook post #2 netted 70 well-wishes and requests to be kept in the loop.

So the next Monday I went to a different facility and had another picture with different equipment. The tech sent the pictures straight over to a radiologist, who said, "That lump is tiny (5mm), but the edges are irregular. We should poke it with a sharp instrument."*

Eight days later, I went back to get poked. (Full disclosure: This was done under the effects of a local anesthesia and didn't actually hurt.) I still wasn't concerned, because the Susan G. Komen site assured me that 80% of breast lump biopsies are benign.

Only this one wasn't.

A week later, I met with an oncology surgeon, who explained that my tumor is what's known as invasive, ductile breast cancer. It's in my milk glands (ductile), and it's traveled between milk glands (invasive). The good news was, it's also Clinical Stage One.

He offered me the choice of a lumpectomy followed by radiation treatments  or a double mastectomy sans radiation. Either choice has a recurrence rate of 6%. (That rises to 21% if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer.)

If I went with the mastectomy, I'd have to have a second, reconstructive surgery to reinflate my breasts. The vision of permanently perky breasts atop a 90-year-old chest creeps me out. I prefer my entire body to shrivel at the same pace.

Also, not crazy about a second surgery.

So, I'm having my lumpectomy on March 7. While I'm asleep, they'll also harvest a couple of lymph nodes and check them for cancer. If they're clear, I'm good to go (to radiation treatments five times a week for 5 to 8 weeks). If not, I'll undergo chemo before I can start radiation.

All prayers, good vibes, and well-wishes welcome.

*Possibly not an exact quote.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Detour Off the High Road

The other day on Facebook, a friend posted that, although he understands the Dems desire to get even with the Republicans for refusing to consider Merrick Garland for the open Supreme Court position when Obama was president, he thinks they should take the high road and give the American people a full roster of justices without attempting to slow things down.

Here's the problem I have with that:

1) Democrats have won 4 of the last 5 Presidential elections, but we've gotten to inaugurate our chosen candidate only twice.

2) Under Republican-controlled State houses, gerrymandering has reached a computer-modeled peak of effectiveness. Only about 15 of the 435 Congressional seats are competitive anymore.

Here's an example of what Republicans have done to ensure that as many Democratic votes as possible are herded into a single district in a kind of political apartheid. (North Carolina District 12)

Note: The same thing occurs on the blue side in states controlled by Democrats. In California, 1/3 of the state voted for Donald Trump, but only 1/4 of the representatives are Republican.

3) The impacts of this gerrymandering are not limited to national elections. At the state level, Dems can no longer afford to compete in races they have no chance of winning. One third of state legislative seats were uncontested across the United States in 2016. In Georgia, it was 80%.

The long-term impact of this is that Democrats are no longer growing a bench for future national elections. The United States is moving toward a single-party system.

4) The only races left that are remotely fair are the Senate races, but even there James Comey and Vladimir Putin teamed up to give the Republicans a 52-48 lead on the coattails of their preferred candidate.

5) Eighteen days into Donald Trump's first term, it's painfully apparent that the GOP plans to rubber-stamp any unqualified (DeVos, Carson), bigoted (Sessions) asshat (Mnuchin, Price, Perry) he proposes for his Cabinet. They're so occupied with staying out of range of Twitter rants and Tea Party primaries they're making no attempt to ensure balance or even competence in our government.

Only two Senators voted against the confirmation of Betsy DeVos--Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine. Turns out the only two Republicans in the Senate with any balls are women.

And now you're asking us to give up what little leverage we've got--the fillibuster--to actually have some kind of voice in our not-very-representative government?

If that's the high road, I think it's time to reconsider our route.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Women's March on Washington

(Graphic by Hayley Gilmore)

Over the years, as other Boomers inexorably moved to the right, determined to hang onto all the toys they've amassed over the years (bad news, kids, they won't fit in the box when it's time to leave), my political views haven't changed.

Despite that lifelong lean to the left, I've never joined a protest before. I was a speck young for Vietnam--it ended before any of my classmates could be drafted. Now, with the Trump Administration holding majorities in the House and the Senate and likely appointing the next two or three Supreme Court justices, it felt like it was time to stand up for my beliefs.

Here are a few impressions from the March:

1) Standing in a crowd of 1.2MM people (estimate provided by DC police) in a space planned for 220K is like getting a 5-hour vertical full body massage from strangers' knees and elbows.

2) I got to see one of my real-life heroes, Gloria Steinem, speak. The woman is 82 years old and she is as incredible and inspiring today as she ever was.

3) At some points, when it got especially claustrophobic, I would practice breathing and remind myself it was just for a few hours. I felt bad for the kids who were there. If it was hard for me, when my head was level with or above most of the people there, what was it like for them, who had no view of anything but people's coat buttons? Shudder.

4) The signs at the rally ranged from clever to heartfelt to scurrilous (the man can't help his tiny hands, stop picking on them). There seemed to be 6 general topics:
  • ·         Reproductive rights
  • ·         Climate change
  • ·         Gay rights
  • ·         Religious freedom
  • ·         Civil rights/Black Lives Matter
  •       Healthcare

5) I assumed there would be vendors along the route where I could get snacks and beverages, but there were none within blocks of where the stands and the Jumbotrons were set up. So from 5 a.m. till around 4 p.m., I had no food or water. Other people brought sandwiches and drinks. That didn't actually work in their favor because the porta-potty/protestor ratio was on the order of 1:10,000--and you had to work your way through a packed mass of humanity to reach the few there were. Later, there were more along the parade route, but most of them were padlocked.

6) I love that the demonstration was so inclusive. I love that people whose agendas are not necessarily in lockstep could draw support from others with divergent interests. And I'm painfully aware that the very diversity that makes my party interesting and colorful is what makes it so hard to reliably draw Dems to the polls.

Demonstrations and protests, no matter how heartfelt or well-attended, won't take back our government. If we want some say in how this country is run (and we're perilously close to having none), we need to show up on Election Day and vote in the same numbers and with the same enthusiasm we showed Saturday. 

And I'm going to do what I can to make that happen.

Friday, January 13, 2017

I Hate You, Sigmund Freud

Yesterday, I received a message from an old friend. He recently learned he has cancer and will be undergoing surgery on January 20th.

I sent back a message of support, saying, in part, "We've reached the point in life where the adventures we face lean less toward scary-exciting and more toward straight scary" and that my thoughts and good vibes would be with him.

I went on to share that on the day of his surgery, I will be having my own adventure. It will be the first time I've ever joined a public protest. Next weekend, I'm going to the Women's March on Washington. (With my daughter. And her wife. And their two kids. Enough said.)

I finished by saying, "I'll spare a thought for you as the Washington Monument comes into sight."

The instant after I hit the enter key, the signficance of that hit me.

I could have chosen the Lincoln Memorial. The Jefferson Monument. The Vietnam Veteran's Wall. But no, I had to go with the Washington Monument.

I came home and told Old Dog about it, who laughed until he wheezed and said, "And that's why I love you."

I live to amuse.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Extreme Makeover

This post is for my older sister, Carla, who adores home renovation. Our dad used to flip houses back in the 1960's, before that was a thing, so we were kind of brought up on it.

Old Dog and I just finished remodeling our downstairs bath in preparation for getting older.

We replaced the toilet with a new, taller, dual-flush model.

(Grab bars to be added later.)

The old vanity was pretty beaten-up. One of the mirrored doors on the medicine cabinet had worn out its hinge and kept falling out, so it had to be removed.

A year ago.

Maybe two.

Three tops.

But my favorite update is the shower. Prior to the remodel, we had what may well be the world's oldest hot tub. It was huge--so big our hot water tank didn't hold enough water to fill it--and made of that old, greenish fiberglass.

Removing that tub freed up enough space to create a huge shower, with a corner seat so you can sit down and shave your legs or scrub your feet.

Maybe getting older isn't so bad after all.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

To Sue or Not to Sue

A couple of weeks ago I was in a car accident. I'm fine, the car will be fine and the other driver is fine, although from the presence of her antifreeze on my bumper, I'm pretty sure her car was totaled. :-(

Brief summary of the crash: I was driving on a busy road that is currently down to a single westbound lane, due to construction. I stopped at a light. After it turned green and I drove on, my engine started to rev for reasons I still don't understand. Within an eighth of a mile the engine was roaring like a cyclone and the tachometer was registering 6000 rpm.  

I checked my rearview mirror. The closest car was maybe five car lengths behind me. I lifted my foot off the accelerator. The tach didn't drop, so I put on the brakes. And then the driver behind me slammed into my rear bumper. 

My little Subaru now has a severe under-bite and will be spending some quality time at the same shop that fixed her up after I drove her through the back wall of the garage

Told you that to tell you this: Two days later I started getting bombarded by calls from people offering to represent me in my pain and suffering lawsuit. Here are my issues with that:

1) I don't have any pain and suffering. I have a minor annoyance because I have to take my car into the body shop. And it's less annoyance than last time, because at least this time I don't feel like a total idiot.

2) Even if I had suffered an injury, I have health insurance and her car insurance would cover my deductible and co-pays.

3) Bottom line is, I don't believe in suing people for making mistakes. If there's ill intent, or you suffer so much damage it's going to cost you a lot of money, then maybe. Otherwise, forgive and move on. 

Life is too short to spend it trying to make a buck off someone else's bad judgment.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Fiction Friday: Plot with the Big Girls or Stay on the Porch

Last Thursday I fell off my front porch.


Onto the concrete sidewalk.

Our porch doesn't have any railings, but it does have lots of flower pots to gently herd the careless visitor away from the edge. Generally, that's enough.

So how did this happen?

Things were not going well in my writing world, major plot problems, so I decided to take a break and water my flowers.

But once the flowers were watered, no brilliant solutions had come to me. And then I noticed the spiderwebs on the porch ceiling were out of control again so I got the broom and started sweeping them off.

Only my head was still really wrapped up in the book and I was looking at the ceiling and not the floor and the next thing I knew, I took a step back to discover nothing under my foot but air.

So here's the thing. Our porch is 24" high, That doesn't sound like much, but if you add two feet of altitude when you're already toppling like a sequoia, it gives you time to think.

Thoughts like:


That was stupid.

This is really going to hurt.

And (fortunately) Wait, didn't my t'ai chi teacher say you could redirect some of the momentum of a fall by rolling into it?

She did, and it helped. (I think.) I didn't break anything. I didn't hit my head. My back and arms were bruised and scratched and I was shaken up, but otherwise okay.

At least I wasn't driving.


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