Not Down Or Out

It could be worse. I might not be laughing.

I Can Hear You Now

One of the several lingering effects of chemotherapy appears to be tinnitus. Tinnitus is that ringing or buzzing in the ears that some suffer for various reasons. My tinnitus began back when I was in treatment for uterine cancer at the end of 2011 or beginning of 2012.

I did not have the benefit of a huge medical team as I went through treatment. I did not have medical insurance and relied on the county’s medical services. I remain so very grateful for the county’s care that I will state up front that tinnitus has seemed a small matter by comparison with cancer.

No one has ever explained to me what causes my tinnitus or how I might treat it. Ever since the enactment of what people call Obamacare, I have had insurance I pay for without receipt of subsidies. I pay for a gold plan because I know how expensive life-saving care is. But I seldom have used my bought-and-paid-for insurance because, after I pay the high premiums and the deductibles and co-pays, medical care remains very expensive. I have had a more expensive safety net, not an affordable source of ongoing healthcare.

So I have worked on acquiring my substitute for qualified healthcare. I read online sites and try to reason my way through conflicting, incomplete, sometimes advertiser-generated, and often anecdotal information. It has suggested that chemotherapy may have damaged the hairs in my ears that assist with hearing. That damage may have caused or contributed to causing my tinnitus. Do not take my word for it. It is a theory.

I take a Biotin supplement that includes Silica and Collagen. I know. Some will say supplements are unnecessary if your diet is nutritionally adequate. Overweight people often have nutritional excesses. There is no way to judge the purity and efficacy of supplements across the marketplace. What I know is that the hair on my head, my eyebrows, my eyelashes, even the unwelcome hairs on my chin, are all thriving. Just this week someone who has not seen me in years was asking what was with the hair. It is brown, shows very little silver for one who is 58, is thicker than ever, and it is wavy. Once again, I am relying on “sign reasoning” instead of double blind tests conducted by scientists.

Still my ears ring. Sometimes it is a din. Sometimes it is a buzz. I never work or relax in a silent place. Because the “sound” is distracting, I often play a radio, turn on the TV, or run a fan to mask it in part. Nevertheless, it is never absent.

A couple of weeks ago my mom and I traveled east by car from Chicago to visit family. We picked a day in which each of the states through which we passed experienced rain. I’m not talking about wet road conditions. I was thinking Ghostbusters (1984) rain. From its script:

Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

For most of the four to five hours it took to cross Ohio we had trouble seeing the taillights of the cars and trucks ahead of us. It goes without saying that there was road work. The big rigs traveling on the other side of the road were in what turned into a channel formed by cement walls on either side. The water collected. As they drove past our car they sent up waves of water that slapped the windshield. Mom and I flinched each time that happened.

Road conditions improved in Pennsylvania, but the weather did not. I kept going. We did not stop for lunch because neither one of us could handle the mad dash from the car to the service stop buildings.

I turned on the car’s radio from time to time, but we never did find a station with weather reports. I would let the radio roam through the few available stations and then shut the radio off. My mom was silent except for the occasional breath caught in fear and released with a sigh when the rain eased a bit in its ferocity or a truck moved a safe distance or the windshield wipers cleared our view for a moment. I was very conscious of my tinnitus during that long drive.

While we pressed on through Pennsylvania, I located a station that was broadcasting the daily rosary. Sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Bellevue Council #1400, someone led us through a rosary addressing the Sorrowful Mysteries. I left it on and we prayed along with the priest and the others present at the recording of the event.

Shortly after the rosary ended I shut the radio off. The rain slowed down. And the tinnitus stopped.

I started to cry because it was so quiet. I cannot explain how peaceful it felt to have the noise stop. I seldom complain about it. It’s not cancer, is it? I have handled many more scary situations. It is not painful. It is not employment discrimination. It is not isolating. It is part of the soundtrack of a busy life. There are a million other things that occupy my mind on most days. I cope with it. It bothers me most at the end of the day. I lie in bed and try to clear my mind. That is when it seems most loud. Sometimes I turn on a “sound machine” that plays crashing waves or a babbling brook or rain. But that is not silence. Most nights I turn on a fan and an air cleaner. But that is not silence.

I say my prayers of gratefulness for family and friends, health and hope, talents and opportunities. I fall asleep focusing on what I have and not what I need. I am blessed, not burdened in my earthly life. I still have the little scraps of paper on which I listed my blessings and my angels on October 6, 2011, when I could not sleep on the night before my hysterectomy. I know what they say.

I pray for the people I know and some I don’t. I pray every night for the souls of the departed. I spend a lot of nights focused on the special intentions of my mom, sister, brother, and their families. I pray for friends and students who face challenges, whether large or small. I pray every night for Mike Terrill and his family and so many other brave and kind people I have met here on WordPress during my cancer treatment and recovery. Somehow those prayers make my mind quiet even if I can still hear that ringing in my ears. But let’s be honest about my prayers–I’ve been doing most of the talking.

That’s why the trip through Pennsylvania was different. This was silence. I kept wiping my eyes because it was so wonder-full.

I did some more reading online and found some reports of tinnitus reduced or abated following fast descents. Maybe the mountainous roads of Pennsylvania helped. But, in the same way I put stock in my supplements, I am putting some stock in the possibility that prayer has found for me another way to silence the din.

The tinnitus has come back. In the week after it stopped, it faded in and out. It did not stop completely during the trip home, even though we passed through Pennsylvania’s mountains on a cloudy and dry day. It continues without change today.

My mom gave me a rosary recently. This past week the old friend who commented on my changed hairdo gave me a rosary she bought for me long ago in Medjugorje, the site of many unconfirmed miracles.

I pray, but I am not one who often says the rosary. I think that might be changing.

I am sending a check today to the Knights of Columbus of Bellevue, Pa. so that they can continue broadcasting the daily rosary. And, Lord, I am listening. Whether or not prayer will stop tinnitus, I cannot say. I can still hear the tinnitus, but I think I can hear something that will help me cope with it now, too. Lord, I think I can hear You now.

Th Th That’s All Folks !!

I know. I have been silent for some time now and not because I am sick. I have had personal reasons for my silence. I apologize if you have felt hurt by my silence. However, I have continued to follow Mike’s and Anna’s blogs and want you to know how sad I am that Mike’s health has taken this turn. He is my friend now, despite the fact that we have never met. And I am grieving deeply even while I celebrate all he has done with his life. Thanks for lending your prayers or respect or support to Mike and his family as they continue to handle this tough situation with transparency, unflinching honesty, and hope that others may benefit.

Bad Taste in My Mouth

Thanks to free-graphics.com

Thanks to free-graphics.com

The saga of my termination by DePaul College of Law for having uterine cancer is about to come to an anticipated and unwelcome resolution. I spoke today with a representative of the EEOC who informed me that he is recommending that the EEOC close its file on my case and issue what is called a right to sue letter. I will have 90 days to hire an attorney to litigate the matter at my expense.

My summary of the report is necessarily brief because of the blog format, and that I must wait to receive the right to sue letter to see the actual conclusions before I may request a copy of the file under the Freedom of Information Act to learn more. This is my understanding of the EEOC investigation’s conclusions at this time:

1. My termination was not a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to current thinking, it was reasonable for the law school to terminate me after a positive test for cancer on Tuesday and before my Friday surgery because the university had a reasonable need to make sure I only missed one Friday class and I could not assure them sufficiently that I would in fact return Monday before my Friday surgery took place. I could ask to be accommodated for missing one Friday class, but apparently not for the weekend to see if I was able to return the following Friday.

It apparently does not matter that I was able to work the following week and every week thereafter. What matters is that no one could know before my surgery what would happen after it.

I guess the moral of the story with cancer is not to tell if you become sick. Had I given no information that my condition was cancer then the university would not have been so alarmed as to terminate me for having cancer.

Let’s recall what the person who terminated me put in writing:

Dear Cheryl: I was so alarmed to hear from Martha that you had to have surgery last week, but so pleased to hear from her that you are already on the road to convalescence! Please take care of yourself and don’t overdo it in an effort to achieve normalcy too quickly. You have been through a lot—both physically and emotionally—and you can’t expect to bounce back with no set-backs.
I understand that you are eager to return to your class this semester, and I know that your students would be delighted to finish out the semester with you; many of them have expressed concern about your health and enthusiastic appreciation for your instruction. I need to let you know, though, that after fully consulting with the Dean of Faculty, I felt compelled to make the decision to reassign your students to other LARC III sections. I sincerely hope that you recover from the surgery immediately, but it has been my experience that people in this situation always have slower come-backs than they anticipate. I had no way to hedge against the risk that you might return to teaching this week and then right away, or a few weeks later, find yourself simply unable to continue. My first responsibility is to the students’ learning and the smooth functioning of the LARC department, so I made the decision that increases the chances of maximizing both. I am sorry if my decision disappoints you, and I hope that you are able to understand the situation from my perspective.
We have every hope and expectation that you will be fully healed and able to teach in the Spring semester, and we will welcome you back in January with pleasure. If we can do anything for you in between now and then, please let me or Martha know. You have my every wish for your quick return to health and the fullness of life.

That letter doesn’t say I was terminated on the day of my surgery because I might not be able to work the next week. It says people with cancer always suffer setbacks and I might return and later prove unable to continue. If you cannot expect a law school to say what it means, then when should words put in writing matter, if ever?

2. Failure to pay the remainder of my contract for November to December 2011 until the following August in 2012 was just a “glitch.” The dean of the law school promised to pay me the remainder of my contract and then paid one last check and stopped. I was not paid until all my contracts for the academic year were completed, I determined the shortfall, and figured out which part of the university failed to pay me. But this was just a “glitch.”

And the reason it was a glitch and not intentional is that the university made a glitch in my favor in fall 2012 when it notified me that it would not offer me the class I taught every year for seven years but would pay me to teach a different class for the same money that semester.

In spring of 2013 it cut the pay for that replacement class in half. It now claims that the letter that offered me higher pay for fall 2012 was a glitch in my favor and the letter that cut the pay in half again for spring of 2013 was part of a preexisting plan.

If that does not make sense to you, then we are in agreement. The explanation does not rule out intention to punish me for making a complaint to the EEOC. I made more money before I had cancer than I made after the university received formal notice of my complaint to the EEOC.

The EEOC may take the position that the two “glitches” cancel out an argument of intent to deprive me of pay in 2011. I guess the lesson here is to not employ self-help. Had I not asked for payment before filing a complaint with the EEOC, not told the university I was filing, and waited to see if the fall 2012 glitch in my favor actually occurred, then it might not have occurred and it would have been difficult to show any glitches occurred. I would then–possibly–be able to show intent to deprive me of pay.

The fact that I was uninsured and needed my income to pay medical bills and that the delay from November 2011 to August 2012 caused me financial hardship is irrelevant. Money paid eight to nine months after it was due was paid soon enough to rule out discrimination.

The fact that I was declared unreliable and deprived of the opportunity to work is of minor significance to anyone but me. It appears that people paid to stay home miss nothing because the opportunity to work is not itself a right. Have you ever worked really hard for less money than you deserved to be paid and been proud of your work? Well, then you may understand why being deprived of my work when I was dealing with a cancer was painful to me, whether or not I was eventually paid to stay away.

3. No retaliatory intent or actions. The university revealed to the EEOC a preexisting plan (not shared with me even as of this date) to cut adjuncts to one course per calendar or academic year–which ostensibly explains why I was cut down to one class per semester after my diagnosis. I am not convinced this was the preexisting plan, but will have to see the file to learn more.

Additionally, while some witnesses overheard and reported statements that may have indicated some negative feelings toward me by the supervisor who terminated me and disparagement of my reputation to others at the university, that was “he said/she said” testimony and not sufficient for the EEOC to pursue further.

I wait now for the official letter to confirm my understanding of the findings. And I have a bad taste in my mouth. Sometimes what people do to you after you are diagnosed with cancer feels hard to bear, too.

But all of us who have faced such a diagnosis learn we are stronger than we thought. Cancer has tested me in many ways and I wake up every day since my diagnosis dealing with things that I never imagined would happen. Disappointment in the behavior of some people and institutions that surround me sometimes seems to go with the territory.

What will see me through this situation is the strength drawn from the other people and institutions that are there to lend an ear, a shoulder, a hand or a smile during the dark, dark days that have followed my cancer diagnosis. I appreciate everyone who has kept my faith in the goodness of people alive during the last two years. Thanks to you, I will never be down or out.

Humbling Experiences

Another Waiting Room

Another Waiting Room

My relationship with my gynecological P.A. is a work in progress. She very much wanted me to see a general practitioner in a clinic setting. So she put me into some waiting list for an appointment at a clinic in Logan Circle. The first time I came up for an appointment the notice came about a day before the appointment. I was unable to make it because I had to work. When I was last at the hospital to see my oncologist the resident checked and informed me I was scheduled for today. So I had a month’s notice.

I will confess that I was reluctant to go. I’m feeling pressure from the P.A. to take blood pressure medicine. My blood pressure has gone up and down. It was at its highest within minutes of learning I had cancer. I shed no tears–not even one for several months–but the stress was affecting my blood pressure for a couple of days. Within three days my blood pressure was back to normal and stayed that way until sometime in the last year. Back in about February it was 180/96. That was the day I had my second post-hysterectomy internal exam. I was over-the-top nervous about the exam. About a week before that appointment it was only 161/111. In May I started getting a swollen ankle and leg and felt the blood pressure climb. My oncologist doubled the dose of the water pill I take. That seems to help the edema and the blood pressure. I have my own cuff at home and take it periodically and my blood pressure was back in the 140/86 range. In August, my blood pressure was 151/92. Dr. H felt it was not a problem, particularly because I have lost weight since February and continue to do so. I am resolved not to start another drug unless I first research it. Once you start some of these drugs it is hard to get off of them and they all seem to cause more side-effects. I am tired of dealing with side-effects!

The other reason I was not keen to go is the hernia. Dr. H wants it fixed. I really cannot contemplate checking into the hospital for surgery after my December 2011 admission to hell there. I am well aware of the risks of exposure to infection in hospitals, and that place did not maintain cleanliness. I thought I might die in that place. I’m not going back there as an inpatient until it is the last option on the table.

October 1 is when the health insurance exchanges open in the U.S. I have not even been able to get a quote for health insurance since my diagnosis with cancer. This will be a new opportunity for me to obtain health insurance on my own. I have no idea what I can afford, but I pray I can afford some new options.

I went for the clinic appointment despite my misgivings. I arrived early. It took forever to find street parking. I entered and went through the same type of processing as at the hospital. Get up. Answer questions. Be seated. Get up. Answer questions. Be seated. It is like the childhood game Simon Says.

I brought work. Lots of work. And I waited. At one point my vitals were taken. My weight was down. The clinic is part of the same county hospital system as my hospital, but the nurse had to ask me about my allergies to medicines because my records were not available or she did not access them. It was so disappointing to know that once I saw a doctor we would need to go through so much medical history.

My blood pressure was 190/110! I had been waiting for some time amidst other patients. I have to admit it was uncomfortable. Small children crying. Wendy Williams (big news today–absolutely nothing), Bethenny Frankel (big news today–some people have friends who make them fat by cooking for them), Fox News (big news today–Sen. Ted Cruz read a Dr. Seuss bedtime story in his 21+ hour diatribe against the Affordable Care Act), and some other talk show that drove me up the wall as angry people yelled at each other.

All voices today at the clinic were heavily accented. I did not recognize my own name when it was called, and I speak some Spanish. My ex-husband could speak Spanish. I’ve heard my name spoken with that accent. At one point, I heard my name and got up and went over to the reception area only to find no one looking for me. All three receptionists were taking on phones. So I said to myself, “Now I’m hearing voices.”

As soon as I sat down, the receptionist called me again. She said, “Sorry, I forgot I called you.” I was not the only person having trouble focusing.

I should be used to this. But I am no longer sick. Just pained after surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

The nurse asked if I felt okay, and I did. No headache. No stress other than the situation. I had plenty of work to do, deadlines approaching, and twenty things I’d rather be doing. Even unpacking sounded great.

Two hours after my scheduled appointment I was out of work to do. I was sitting next to a man with a bad cold in the waiting room. I was tired. I was unbelievably sad that there were so many people for whom this was the best option for care. I told the receptionist I needed to leave. I had work to do.

The receptionist called a nurse who put me in a room. Then I heard my future doctor (Dr. S) ask someone to prep the woman in the next room for a procedure, and he went in there. I waited another fifteen minutes before I left without seeing the doctor. It did not matter if he would be free in five more minutes or in fifty. I was as twitchy as I ever get and needed to get out of there.

This is nothing new. This is medicine for people without health insurance. I think by now I should be philosophical and copacetic. But I am tired and stressed and I wonder how anyone with a job ever gets medical help in the system. From the time I left home in the morning until I got out of the clinic I had spent more than four hours without meeting the doctor, and I fell behind in my work.

I am grateful to have this as an option, but I am praying that the Affordable Care Act means I can afford insurance and schedule an appointment instead of being ordered to appear on a day when I need to be at work. I am praying that one day soon I will be able to speak to a doctor about my concerns for more than five minutes.

I have felt bad all afternoon for leaving, but I am now one-half day behind in my work and have non-negotiable deadlines to meet on Friday. This semester I have 25% more students in one class and am paid 40% less than I would have been if law schools could help their graduates find jobs in the current job market or if full-time pay was a little lower than it now is.

At the rate I’m going, tomorrow for me will be like a blister on the back of your heel when you’re wearing new shoes and it is still morning.

Some days I have to remind myself that I am just underpaid and not down and out. I may be feeling humbled by my circumstances, but I still have my sense of humor. That’s the real reason why I’m Not Down or Out.

What breast cancer awareness should mean:

October is the month when society focuses the public’s attention on the cause of breast cancer research. I’m going to use the next month to share postings by some of the courageous people I have met online who are responding to diagnoses of breast cancer.

I used to accept the PINK breast cancer culture: pink ribbons on yogurt containers and everything else. If you read the breast cancer blogs as I now do, you get an education on how deceptive some of the breast cancer charities and activities can be. The pink ribbons on products may have nothing to do with charitable activity. Moreover, some advertisers put pink ribbons on products that offend breast cancer patients. For example, naked starlets with pink bows endorse the cause when they really advertise their own careers. Last year someone had bare-breasted women jump out of planes and called it a breast cancer fundraiser. Outrageous! Breast cancer is not something you can wrap with a pink ribbon. Moreover, the word these days is that we’re curing cancer. No. We are disfiguring people to remove precancerous conditions that might never become cancer and calling people cured. We’re encouraging women who have no signs of cancer to undergo mastectomies and calling that prevention. Thirty percent of people who do have breast cancer will not be cured. They will develop cancer that spreads and compromises the length and quality of their remaining lifetimes. We spend very little of the enormous amount raised by breast cancer charities on those with metastatic cancer. Yet 30% of those with breast cancer will have metastasis.

Read more about this in this posting. Give generously to the cause of finding effective treatment and cures of cancer, but give wisely. Allocate your efforts to charities that have their priorities on what matters, not on what is pink. Try http://www.METAvivor.org/Donate.html. Save lives through research that focuses on the lives of people with metastasized breast cancer!

The Anniversary

My two-year uterine cancer anniversary is 21 days away, so Mike’s 5-year anniversary after being diagnosed with brain cancer sounds like cause for major celebration. My eyes are wet with unshed tears at the thought of all he’s been through just since I found his blog. I am very mindful of al the cancer statistics that apply to me, especially those relating to secondary cancers and returns of cancer. When I think about it I imagine that I–the person who has never had the slightest interest in sports–has been handed the ball in the last 60 seconds of a hometown football game. I’m at the 56 yard line (because I’m 56) and I need to run or we’ll lose everything we worked on all “season.” The pressure on you when the clock is running down has to be incredible. When I imagine this I get tired. So I go online and read the blogs of the men and women who are my heroes. The survivors who know better than I do how tough it is to run down the field and the clock making memories. And then I pass the ball to this guy–Mike–and he just keeps carrying the team. Stand up and cheer with me. Yeah, Mike! Yeah, Mike! Okay, now I’m crying. Sorry for the typos–my eyes were filled with unshed tears!

Fire Drill

Photocredit: depositphotos.com

Photocredit: depositphotos.com

At about 9:37 am yesterday the fire alarm went off in my building. I was already in my ninth floor classroom preparing for my 10 am class. I had to power down my laptop and stow it because I once carried it down six flights and knew that I could not do that again. I tucked in a corner where I hoped it would not be noticed if someone came looking to steal it. Theft and a fire drill in the same day would be too much a bummer.

We have property crime here. We are steps away from public transit. People walk out of the school talking on their brand new smartphones or studying the oh so remarkable tablets I think I should try next. Someone knocks them down and steals their technology like people used to steal wallets and purses. Who carries much money anymore? We have cards for buying more things and we can disable them pretty swiftly (if someone else has a phone to lend us).

Because it was Friday and early the building was not as filled with people as it is at other times of the week. When I entered the stairwell I still did not know if this was a drill or a fire. I did not have to merge into a stream of young people that would move like floodwaters. I was able to grip the handrail with my best hand and walk down one step at a time. I felt the vestiges of the last few years’ physical suffering in every footfall and the painful connection to the handrail.

Darn this whole cancer experience! I am not a fit person, but I can still recall what it felt like to bounce my way down stairs. In fact, during my last fire drill I made it ten flights and I had the cancer still inside me. I performed much better than I did yesterday.

Someone who observed my labored escape said something to a maintenance person who climbed to the fourth floor and told me I could stop. It was only a drill. I still had to walk down another flight because there was no entry to the fourth floor from that stairwell. The door was itself “alarmed.”

Moments later the drill ended and I could take the elevator back up to the ninth floor and begin my class. However, last night I was feeling the effects of the six floor descent. My hands haven’t stopped tingling from neuropathy. My knees were clicking and grinding like bent gears. I took some Advil and went to bed at about 2 pm and stayed there until later in the day when I could hear my cell phone in the next room playing that awful AT&T ringtone set at five instead of vibrate–another false alarm because the voicemail from my mom said, “Don’t bother calling back. I’m seeing you tomorrow.”

Photocredit: wunderground.com

Rainfall in Boulder, CO. Photocredit: wunderground.com

I watched TV. The news was filled with stories of people for whom yesterday was not a drill. There were clips from Colorado’s raging floods. I have never been in a flood. But a great-aunt of mine survived one when she was a young woman. She and her husband were caught in their bedroom as they dressed. The brother who came to warn them had taken their baby to safety. The couple climbed up on bedroom furniture and stood on their tiptoes in cold, black, raging waters for an entire night. The water rose to their necks and, after part of their home broke off and was carried away, their dead farm animals floated in and around them.

My grandpa’s sister survived and lived a little while, but not very long. A year or two later she died of what we would call PTSD. There are things we can survive that we can never quite get over.

photocredit: abcnews.go.com.

photocredit: abcnews.go.com.

On last night’s news there was devastation to be faced at the New Jersey boardwalk that burned on Thursday so soon after it was rebuilt in the last ten months following what the newsman called Super Storm Sandy.

This past week one of my students suffered a fire that swept through part of his apartment building. He has had to look for a home. His belongings were destroyed or damaged. He has to start over just as he starts his second year of law school.

I was a new general manager at a small luxury hotel when someone set his hotel room on fire. I can remember walking down the street from DuPont Circle when my beeper went off, I heard sirens, and arrived in front of my hotel in time to see someone from my staff fling the smoldering mattress from a balcony. It landed on the street with its weird, black and red maw of still sizzling bedding smack in the center.

I had no way of knowing whether that was the worst of it, but I can recall running up the stairs toward the fire. My first thought was that I had a staff that was up there tossing items still burning. I wanted to reassure them that they should get out. I needed to be there with them if I could not convince them to leave. There are horrors that we can face with others–because of others. Disasters are times when strangers help strangers, too. Sometimes escape is not possible unless you first do what you can to help others.

The truth is that I reached the floor and found thick black smoke confined to one short corridor and the fire “out” once the mattress went flying. My adrenaline levels started to drop and my hands trembled as I wondered what I would have done if I had faced flames instead of the somewhat giddy coworkers who greeted me and wanted me to look at how smoke alone had done its worst. The memory always leaves me wondering how those first responders manage to do what they do again and again.

It was only a few months later that my husband and I evacuated our basement apartment in the middle of the night because of a fire in a top floor unit of a neighbor’s attached home. The fire was extinguished with water and the soot-stained walls showed afterward where the water carried the smoke. On that occasion, I was out on the pavement watching, not running back inside to see if I could help.

Photocredit: egyptindependent.com

Photocredit: egyptindependent.com

The news from Syria came with a clip of writhing citizens and white-wrapped corpses. Is this still news to anyone? My guess is that decades from now someone will still be denying that a nation’s leader gassed his citizens in much the same way that some still deny the atrocities committed in countless prior incidents–some of them so immense as to constitute attempts at genocide.

And last night’s news was filled with stories of death. Shootings, accidents, and other tragedies happen every day–decimating families and communities. It is mere days since we marked another anniversary of the terrorists’ attack in NYC on 9/11. Life sometimes forces us to contemplate death on a scale that defies comprehension.

All I had to contend with yesterday was a drill. Sometimes we have to face the real deal. I put on some clothes and went back to unpacking. I’m good.

Worst Case Scenarios

Two Rooms to Go

Two Rooms to Go

I manage fear by imagining the worst case scenario and convincing myself that I can “handle” it. Once I have done this, I do not think about it any further. I am very stubborn about this. If I find myself worrying over the “what ifs,” I get up and enter into an activity and focus on the activity. My tactic has not been working as well as it usually does. I am not happy about this.

Lately I have been as worried about the side-effects of cancer treatment as the return of cancer. All of the packing, move, and unpacking have coincided with the end of summer term and start of fall term at school. There never was a summer vacation. SO many projects are waiting for me and I cannot give them my full attention until I unpack at least one more room. I am down to having made some progress on four rooms. My living room and storage room are a shambles (see photograph taken minutes ago). Ordinarily I would take my mind away from obsessing about my health by working on a project. I used to write a novel every summer (I have several in my desk drawers). I researched my family tree back to the 1400’s one summer. This year my activity has proven inadequate to take my mind off of what ails me because my primary activity has been making things worse.

My ears are ringing. TV would distract me from that, but my TV is piles of boxes away from where I sit. My hands are alive with neuropathy. The left hand tingles the most. I took almost all of my six chemotherapy doses in that hand. My joints rarely bothered me before treatment. Now my knees hurt. When I say they hurt I mean that I sometimes have to use a cane to climb the back stairs. I rock back and forth before getting up from a low chair. It has not been this bad since the last weeks of chemotherapy and radiation. I have what appears to be arthritis in the joint at the base of my left thumb. It has me grabbing things gingerly–always contemplating the possibility I will drop something. Aargh! My doctors want me to get my hernia fixed. It feels like it is a little bigger when I measure it with my eyes or hand. I have to lift with my knees. Oh wait. They are already iffy.  I’ve considered the worst case scenario (that things will go downhill) and now want to move on to activity, but the only activity available is more unpacking, which keeps getting me focused on my health concerns.

I'm so dizzy, my head is spinning. Photocredit: clker.com

I’m so dizzy, my head is spinning. Photocredit: clker.com

 

I work for awhile but then have to stop. There isn’t a comfy chair in the place right now. I climb up into my bed and lie down. Sometimes I take a nap, but it is tough to sleep. Right now my landlord Zen is scraping the wood frame around my big front window. The noise is intermittent but deafening. This started Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. and continued until after 11 p.m. It resumed Saturday night at 11 p.m. and went on until 2 a.m. I could go out and complain, but I am SO tired of conflict. I have considered the worst case scenario and have resolved to hold off a little longer before pursuing it–an argument that could mean I will have to move at the end of my 1 year lease. How long can it take to scrape that big picture window? Surely this is the last day his toil will interfere with mine. When the noise got so loud I could not continue work on this blog I went back to unpacking.

Currently my home is filled with waiting “activity.” There are boxes upon boxes still waiting to be opened, organized, and re-stored. It has become a mindless activity. Yesterday I assembled ten power strips not already employed somewhere in my apartment. Of course, there are three rooms without a single power strip plugged in so they may yet find usefulness. Are power strips like cats and bunnies? Do they reproduce every season regardless of need?

I love office supplies. My dad and I used to enjoy going to office supply shops together. I must miss him even more than I acknowledge. I have a four-drawer vertical file cabinet half-filled with office supplies and there are boxes I have not yet opened. Everything is now moving into space with other like items, but I find myself wondering, what if I cannot recall in what storage bin I assembled all my highlighters? Will I go back to the Staples store and buy even one more? The concern that I will has prompted some worst case scenarios of its own.

I found some items I have no recollection of purchasing, too. Last night I collected several containers of tools and hardware supplies. I can never find a screwdriver when I need one. Somewhere in the storage room I cannot even enter yet, there are two tool boxes. I needed a screwdriver last night and started opening and shutting boxes in search for one. I discovered I have power tools! I thought I had one electric screwdriver, but my brother Danny gave me one as well. Is that too many for a single woman to own? Can I host an evening at my home and invite others to use the tools with me so that all may be happily employed at the same time? Maybe I should choose between them and give one away? Should I keep the one I bought because it has many great features? Or should I keep the one Danny gave me? Because there is something really sweet about my brother imagining there is anything material in the world of which I am in need.

He and his wife Lisa rode their new motorcycle to my home last Sunday. Danny installed my two air conditioning units in windows for me. I was afraid to lift them as I already need to be getting my hernia fixed soon. Lisa stood in awe of the piles and told me she thought I could get a million dollars if I sold all of it. I dismissed the idea at first, but if I sold them for $1 apiece . . . . What might be the worst case scenario for that concern? How many paperclips can I get with $1 million?

Just in time, Zen is taking a break. I think I’ll try resting. Maybe I can manage a short nap before I succumb to the urge to drive to the nearest Staples store for paperclips!

Photocredit:abcteach.com

Photocredit:abcteach.com

Drive-By Shooting at the Mickey D’s

This is a work of fiction. People and events in this story have no relation to actual people and events. Any similarities are coincidental.

When my mom told me she was present for a drive-by shooting at the “Mickey D’s” I did not believe it. She lives in a lazy suburb of Chicago with all the excitement of a nap in a hammock. Then she told me she was out with Doris and Sy.

My mom met Doris and Sy on the first day of kindergarten. They have been friends for about seventy years. In that time they formed a four-way friendship with my dad, married, all moved out to Rolling Meadows, Illinois, raised their families, emptied their nests, and buried my dad. My mom has been very lonely since my dad died. The woman does not have a hobby (other than watching crime shows on cable TV) and is one of those “people who need people.” It has not made her one of the luckiest people in the world.

Widows are like bachelors. It sounds like fun to live free and carefree, but married friends do not know what to make of life’s loose ends. One of my mom’s friends confronted her in the parking lot after church on Sunday and asked why she was dressed so “slutty” for mass. “Are you trying to tempt Father John to stray from his vows with your open-collared blouse and your high-heeled shoes?” Mom, who was on her way to her job at the bridal department at the mall looked down at her clothing and could not imagine how anyone could find her slutty. No one could see her breasts. Her shirt was buttoned high enough to conceal any hint of a cleavage. Her skirt fell to the middle of her calf and was pleated, not pencil slim.

It did not do her reputation any good that she looked up from her Pay Less black pumps and smiled. “Sylvia, that is the nicest thing anyone has said to me since my husband died. Here I was feeling frumpy and you’ve gone and made me feel as fast as I was back in high school.” Then she patted Sylvia’s arm and headed for work.

It was tough to get an invitation to dinner parties without a date. There were women who thought their husbands appreciated Mom’s trim figure a little more than they could tolerate. Mom considered asking one of the widowers in town to accompany her for an event, but confided in me that most of them were “icky.”

“My friend Betty has been a widow for twenty years,” she told me. “She went to the movies with a man she met at the senior center. He scratched his arms until Betty thought she would go crazy!”

“I don’t get,” I said. “Maybe he had an allergy.”

My mom shook her head. “So close to the popcorn? No woman wants a strange man’s dust all over her popcorn.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Dust. Is that some kind of date rape drug?”

My mom looked shocked. “Date rape? What is that?”

Once I explained the concept, my mother was happy to avoid dating.

Doris and Sy never bothered with any of others’ preoccupations. They knew my mom well and loved her too well to abandon her because she was a pretty widow. The three have spent a fair amount of time together since my dad’s death.

What does preoccupy Doris and Sy is their health. They are hypochondriacs. I ran into them one day at the local Walgreens. They were sitting in two of the chairs near the pharmacy, holding hands, looking like lovebirds while in their seventies. It wasn’t all about the love they have shared for the last fifty years. It was the happy glow that surrounds them when they are about to be medicated.

When they are not picking up prescriptions, Doris and Sy are making, attending, or coming from doctor appointments. They have enjoyed their health insurance benefits and are making sure there is no money left for Medicare when the rest of us retire. All this health care has kept that marriage intact.

For many years they took turns having surgeries and treatments. She had a hysterectomy. He had a gall bladder removed. She had a “trick knee” replaced. He had exploratory surgery for a mysterious back pain. It got to the point where they saw her doctor on Monday and his on Tuesday, her specialist on Wednesday, his on Thursday, and so on.

The illnesses have not always been far-fetched. Doris’s ovarian cancer is in remission now. Sy’s Alzheimer’s is not. She looks a little shaky when I see her now. She sometimes needs her walker to get around. The radiation and chemotherapy have done a number on already “tricky” joints. Sy appears to be the same guy I have known all my life, but he has days and moods and some of us have been called in at times to search for him, like the winter night he walked out of a rehab facility in his pajamas and slippers because no one would make him a sandwich at ten at night when he woke with a hankering for one.

Doris still lets Sy drive the car sometimes. I guess the doctor has forgotten to ask for his driver’s license because he showed it to me when I last saw him. If they are staying in town and Doris is along to keep him on course, he drives her to the grocery store and they remember what it was like before she had to take over the checking account and the taxes and figuring out how the Medicare prescription drug donut hole works. That’s what it means to love someone in sickness and health in your seventies and beyond. You sometimes have to risk your own good health to help the other’s.

Luckily for Doris, Sy, and their passengers, they drive a big Cadillac. If they hit anything driving twenty to thirty-five miles per hour, that car will protect them. The rest of us need to be a little more concerned.

My mom was in the backseat of the Cadillac when shots rang out. The three were coming from a senior center event and decided to pick up some burgers and fries at the Mickey D’s drive-thru window on their way back to my mom’s house.

The senior center invites the local police to make a presentation on safety on the third Tuesday of every month. You have no idea how much crime there is in sleepy suburbs like theirs. Solicitors ring your doorbell and offer to give a free quote for gutter replacement. While you take them on a tour of the property, a confederate will enter through your unlocked doors and make off with the family silver. Over on Wilson Street, just two blocks from my mom’s home, that poor darling Mrs. Jones with the yellow Toyota had to call 911 when Billy Jones, her twenty-something, unemployed son threatened to rough her up when he didn’t like her dinner menu. “Isn’t that something?” my mom asked me. “You put food on the table and let your adult kids live with you for free and they don’t like the menu and get rowdy about it? Why didn’t the boy call up a friend and get himself invited there for dinner? That’s what happened when I was a kid.”

On a few occasions there have been some serious crimes. Folks are still talking about Mr. and Mrs. Leonetti, owners of the pizza parlor right next to the funeral parlor. Everyone gathers at Leonetti’s after a wake so everyone knows those two are hotter than Tabasco sauce on a Ritz cracker. One night Mrs. L was managing alone with two teenage kids while her husband was supposed to be in New York City for his father’s funeral. Mrs. L called the Motel 6 to see how the ceremony had gone and the phone was answered by none other than Angela, a waitress who had called in sick for the last few days. Mrs. L knew what that meant.

When an embarrassed Angela handed the phone to Mr. L, the rest of the town knew what it meant, too. Mrs. L started screaming about her husband’s infidelity. “You fucka her, you fucka me. You fucka me, you fuck over our restaurant–all we built together all these years.”

She screamed so loud and cried so hard that some of the patrons started to get nervous that their pizzas were taking a little long to come out of the kitchen. Someone who did not appreciate the free floor show offered with dinner that night tried to interrupt the tirade and wrecked it for everyone else. Mrs. L looked at her rapt audience and yelled, “He fucka her, he fucka me. All the rest of you get out of my fuckin’ restaurant!” That’s right. She threw them out. Some people left without paying their bills. Some left without getting their dinners. Some of the seniors had questions the police could not answer during the senior center info session, but everyone enjoyed hearing about the whole thing all over again. None of them admitted to swearing, but hearing others repeat Mrs. L’s incendiary language was more enervating than a Niacin flush.

For the record, Mr. and Mrs. L kissed and made up, but Angela is now working over at the Sunnyside Up breakfast bar. Lowell and Mr. Clean (as the locals call the owners) appear to share a bond that even Angela cannot tear asunder.

Fresh from an entertaining information session, Doris, Sy, and my mom were on the look out for criminal activity as they drove into the Mickey D’s parking lot. They were preparing to exit the parking lot when shots rang out.

Everyone in Doris and Sy’s car fell over onto their seats–at least as far as their seatbelts would allow. Sy recovered first. “Has anyone been hit?” he asked.

“No,” Doris declared. “But keep your heads down,” she admonished the rest of them.

“Are you okay in the backseat?” Sy asked my mom.

“Yes. But that was close,” my mom said. “I can still smell the gunfire.” They all could.

“The windows were open,” Doris said. “Maybe it was what they call a through and through!”

They were still pondering what to do next when the police pulled into the parking lot in response to others’ 911 calls. The local police are just as excited by small crime as the seniors. It’s so rare that anyone has to rest a hand on a handgun that all of the town’s squad cars ended up in the parking lot to see what happened. Half the cars had been on the way from the senior center to Mickey D’s anyway. It was on the way back to the station and it was lunch time.

At this point in the story, I was stumped. There is no serious crime in my home town. I live in Chicago. We have drive-by shootings here in Chicago. They can happen just about any place, but they are often gang-related. There’s only one elementary, middle, and high school in our town. You have to wait for the Pace bus and make a couple of transfers to reach a neighboring town and carry on a little hometown football rivalry. “It wasn’t a drive-by shooting,” I said.

“Oh, I think it was,” my mom declared in the voice that used to make me think that even my dad couldn’t spare me one of her punishments.

“Convince me. Tell me what happened next.”

My mom raised her eyebrow. “One theory is that we got caught in the crossfire in some gang matter. The car windows were open and the bullet may have passed in one side of the car and out the other without hitting anyone.”

I folded my arms and waited.

“The police don’t want to admit that this can happen in our town. They think that Billy Jones may have bumped the Cadillac with Mrs. Jones’s Toyota and driven off before anyone got a good look at him.”

“Is there a dent on the Cadillac?” I asked.

My mom shook her head. “No. Folks are already saying that’s enough to get Billy off if the fuzz tries to pin this on him.”

I blinked at the new lingo and wondered how long it would be before there would be a Law and Order: Small Town Crime show for the Baby Boomers like me to follow. We’re getting to be seniors these days. “They can put that show on every cable station in the country and you still cannot get enough of it,” my mom likes to say. She likes Chris Meloni a lot since she saw him in some shower scene and asked me what you call that vee at the bottom of the screen. I have no answers for questions like this.

“Did anyone see the yellow Toyota?” I asked. You cannot come from that town and not know the yellow Toyota. It was not a professional paint job. Someone did it after Mr. Jones drove the previously white car into the ditch on Route 14 on an icy night in December and someone else filled in the dents with a gray patching compound that Mrs. Jones found depressing.

My mom shook her head. “No one is willing to say anything to the fuzz. Everyone knows that squealing in the neighborhood can bring on retaliation.”

I started to laugh. “You smelled gunfire, right?” I asked.

Mom nodded.

“Did you feel the impact?” I asked.

“I felt nothing,” my mom said, “but it got close enough for Doris and Sy to stop in to see Dr. Joe this afternoon. He prescribed some Valium for them. Do you think I might need some of that to get to sleep tonight? I swear, I’m all jazzed up.”

“Mom, when a car gets hit by another, sometimes the airbags deploy. Did the airbags deploy?”

My mom blinked a few times, but she was silent.

“There’s a little gunpowder in an airbag,” I explained. “You might have smelled something like what we used to smell when we fired a cap gun as kids. The gunpowder causes the airbag to pop open when the car is hit.”

No response.

I rested my case.

But my mom is no slouch. You don’t watch cable TV all day and study The Herald’s police blotter every day without wondering what it would be like to be at the center of the most interesting crime story since the police were called to Leonetti’s to investigate some cancelled pizza orders. The fact that everyone got out alive meant that you could repeat the story as many times as you liked without seeming morbid or weird.

“That’s another theory,” she finally said. “And one we can discuss at the senior center crime briefing next month.”

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

Checking In

Back at the hospital

This morning I went for my six-month exam. Other than fatigue from having survived a swift move, I have been feeling well. In late February/early March. the daily, serious pains associated with radiation cystitis abruptly stopped. In June I determined that the other side-effects of cystitis–distress and incontinence–were well behind me. I stopped taking the Oxybutynin that had been prescribed for me. My bladder and bowel seem to have healed from the effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

I have had several “clean” pelvic exams and tests for cancer cells. My last scan was June of 2012. It showed no signs of cancer. In October it will be twenty-four months since my hysterectomy. In December it will be twenty-four months since treatment ended. I was thinking there would be a scan and blood tests, but there were no tests today.

My oncology team wants me to undergo surgery to correct a pre-hysterectomy hernia. The surgeon who originally diagnosed my cancer was going to repair it as part of my hysterectomy, but he ended up having someone else perform the surgery. That doctor did not touch the hernia. But it was in the way of his reaching my lymph nodes. As a result, no lymph nodes were tested–which explains why my chemotherapy and radiation treatments were “adjuvant.” They addressed risks unknown. I learned that the scans also can be confounded by the hernia, and that my radiation was more extensive because of the state of my “habilis.”

Everything looks good right now, but, if cancer were to return, everyone would feel better if things got “tidied up.” There’s no question but that I would like to get this addressed as well–EXCEPT–I do not have health insurance, I do not have the money to pay for this surgery, I am about to start school and cannot imagine undergoing surgery during “school time,” and the very thought of checking in to the hospital after my December 2011 experience there is out of the question unless it would save my life.

I am returning this week to teaching at the law school that terminated me the day of my hysterectomy. The law school is facing declining enrollments and has decided to cut the compensation paid to adjuncts, like myself, by 40%. At the same time, it has increased class size by 25%. The school has conducted its own internal investigation of my case and has cleared everyone involved of any breaches of university policies.

I suppose that means that the school would support my termination a second time if I underwent surgery–even if my surgeon said, “You can return to work next week.” That’s what the surgeon said last time.

The EEOC is examining my case now. I would like to wait for the results of that investigation before chancing fate on the subject of job security. As if an adjunct has any job security.

The Affordable Care Act will go into effect this fall. I would like to wait to see whether I can afford insurance when the new exchanges open in my state. I might have new options for treatment at a hospital that does not scare me.

The doctors think the charity that covered so much of my post-surgical care would agree to pay for this surgery if I appealed to it. That will take some time.

The doctors want me to go now for a mammogram. My cancer was estrogen-related. Some breast cancers are estrogen-related. So, I’ll do that. My maternal aunt died after more than a decade of dealing with breast cancer, so I will have the test.

My weight had dropped somewhat. My blood pressure was much better. I’m only taking a water pill for that. The doctors put off until my next check-up an ultrasound of my legs that might rule out varicose veins as the reason for my sometimes swollen right leg. No one else reacted when I mentioned the possibility of lymphoedema–which means nothing. I know that it could be the reason for my swelling from reading the excellent blog http://lymphnodetransplant.wordpress.com/. Check it out if you have unexplained swelling after surgery or other treatment that might have affected your lymph nodes’ ability to function.

I am seeing a GP in late September. I see the P.A. for another gynecological check-up in October. I can investigate my insurance/charity/surgical options between now and my next oncology appointment in February 2014.

I am feeling relieved to have gotten through this check-up, but my definition of “relief” has changed from “phew” to a sort of uneasy reduction of the alarm level from orange to yellow.

Photocredit: ripsaw-defence.co.uk

Photocredit: ripsaw-defence.co.uk

A lot can happen in six months. And I have some checking to do before checking in again with my oncology team.

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