Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Yeeeaaah Baby!

DH just signed us up with DSL. We are marching into the 21st century! I can actually watch all the weird YouTube things people put on their blogs now!

Maybe I'll even learn how to do it on my own blog!

WOOHOO!!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Fear and Blame--Part 1

Fear and Blame like to spend time together. They make a good couple. Fear opens the door, Blame walks in. Fear washes the dishes, and Blame dries and puts them away. Fear leaves the toilet seat up, and Blame yells at him for it.

The first time I cried about my diagnosis wasn't when I heard about it. It wasn't after reading all the gory statistics. It wasn't even after knowing the awful treatments I was going to have to endure. The first time I cried was when my breast surgeon, in the midst of my office visit, leaned forward, looked me in the eye while gently touching my knee, and said,"You didn't do anything to cause this. It's not your fault that you have breast cancer."

My strong facade immediately crumbled and I was reduced to tears. She had hit a nerve. Without fully realizing it, I had been carrying around the slight suspicion that if I ate better, worked out more, and took more vitamins that I somehow could have avoided all this--that somehow I was getting what I deserved for eating too many chocolate chip cookies and having a daily soda.

It's a ludicrous idea, but it was still there, buried in what I thought was my relatively, well-adjusted brain.

I have come to view blame as a futile attempt to exert control over chaos. Attempting to find the reason something happens makes us feel as if there is something we could have done to prevent it, or something we might do in the future to prevent it from occurring again. Blame follows on the heels of discovered information, similar to cause and effect. Understanding cause and effect is a natural occurrence, and useful in everyday life. I place a kitchen towel on the burner before it's cooled off completely, and I learn that towels make a lot of smoke when they are on fire.

Cause and effect.

Yet, blame goes beyond cause and effect. Blame assumes a neglected responsibility or diligence. It places the burden upon you and your dirty, rotten, thoughtless ways...now go stand in a corner and don't come out until I say so.

Blame.

It releases those who wield it from the randomness of life, and gives them a target for their pent-up frustrations. It binds its recipient to shame and self-loathing. If you blame yourself, you're in an endless cycle of self-recrimination with yourself--good cop, bad cop constantly playing out in your head while you also sit across the interrogation table as the criminal. Psycho-therapy? Yes, please.

My oldest son, The Rationalist, is a very black and white child. There is a reason for everything in his universe. The immutable laws of nature have declared it to be so, so it must be so. It works out very well for him academically, but it really impairs his understanding of social interaction and the concept of Occam's razor :"All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best." The other day, he told me there was a ghost in his room. My curiosity piqued, I had to ask for an elaboration.

"Why do you think there's a ghost in your room?'

"Every time I come in here, my Battle Bot is on, but I didn't turn it on."

"Well...maybe you turned it on and just forgot."

"No....I didn't...it had to be a ghost!"

"Maybe your brother turned it on."

"No, he doesn't play in here."

"He was just playing in here an hour ago."

"Still....I know it wasn't him. It happens all the time."

pause

"Do you really think there is a ghost that comes into your room, turns on your Battle Bot, and then leaves?"

"Sure."

"But why would a ghost do that?"

"Just to make me mad."

I usually have to stop myself from laughing at these conversations because if he thinks I'm not taking him seriously, it infuriates him.

This conversation is a good illustration of the usefulness of blame. When directed outwards, it relieves us from the inexplicable things we don't understand, or are irritated by. It makes us feel like we have a handle on things, even if we are as off-base as my son with his mischievous ghostly encounter.

I'm not going to blame myself for what's happening. I'm not going to blame God for what's happening. Either position would supply me with a reason for what's happening, and make me feel as if there was some sort of control that I might wield over my life, but really it would be nothing more than an illusion which fulfills one purpose, while undercutting essential parts of myself.

more later.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Gmail Problems

A commenter, Vance H, offered me some advice earlier in the week when I was having problems getting into gmail; clear out the cookies and try it again. I did it and it worked, but now I keep having to do it over and over.

Earlier, someone came to my site through the search terms,"can' t access gmail." "Aha," I thought, "it must not be just me.""

Using Google brought me to their known issues page where I read this:

Some Internet Explorer 7 users are reporting the error message "Internet Explorer cannot open the Internet site http://mail.gmail.com/mail/. Operation aborted." If you're experiencing this problem, please use Mozilla Firefox or the older version of Gmail.
So, the answer is....."Oh well, use a different browser."

Uh...thanks Google.....that was really helpful. The problem is that Firefox isn't doing such a great job at accessing gmail either. It keeps loading and loading, and then shows the top line of my inbox, then kicks back out into the loading process again. It does this repeatedly without ever getting into the account.

As far as using the old version of gmail, I didn't even know there was an old version. I just have the home page saved in my favorites and it redirects it to wherever it wants. How do I keep the "old version" saved without it automatically redirecting to the "new version."

Any ideas out there?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Food Shortages?

We must have an underlying need to fear possible, impending catastrophe.

Remember Y2K? You couldn't pick up a paper, or hear a newscast, that didn't reference the unavoidable doom headed our way when computers would be unable to roll over to the new date. Civilization was going to come to a screeching halt as we plummeted into prehistoric times.

I clearly remember a conversation with a fellow church member who speculated about what to do when people showed up at his door, looking for food. Should he let them in, or defend his home, wife, and baby? Really. That's how concerned he was.

Now, between rising food and oil prices, it's happening all over again. Food riots in other parts of the world are making Americans fearful in the same way Y2K did. Stock up, we're told. We might need to be prepared for disaster.

While inflation is definitely rising, and prices are much more difficult to swallow--how did spaghetti sauce go from $1.89 a jar to $2.29 a jar in 3 months?--we need to put the brakes on this panic and take a deep breath.

Don't build room-sized pantries; don't buy a year's supply of rice; don't stockpile 3,000 cans of tuna fish.

It's going to be OK.

Repeat to yourself as needed.

Cooking Lessons

It's easy to forget how much time it took you to learn a skill that you perform as unconsciously as breathing; like tying your shoes, riding a bike, or skipping. Attempting to teach those skills can be difficult as you try to think through exactly how it is you do it. I had another one of those experiences this morning as I tried to teach the boys how to make pancakes.
I was in a purely supervisory position, trying to explain how to crack an egg without getting shells in the batter, how to use a spatula, how to know when it was time to flip the pancake. Much accumulated instruction goes into something so simple.
The boys did relatively well with the mixing and pouring of the batter. The real challenge lay in the flipping of the pancake. Too slow, and the pancake breaks or folds over on itself. Too fast and the pancake is not properly positioned and falls half off the pan, or onto the other pancake cooking on the griddle. We experienced these mishaps several times, but less and less as we went along.
So, I present the first pancakes cooked by The Rationalist and Intuitive Monkey:
They were great.
Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Kid Conversations #1,989,987

While tucking in The Rationalist, we began our goodnight prayers.
"Hey, let's pray for you and The Math Bowl that you're a part of tomorrow."

"Mom...we can't do that!" he said indignantly.

"Why not?"

"Well...that just wouldn't be fair. What if I was the only one who prayed about it? I'd win and that would be like cheating!"

Me, laughing hysterically. How can you argue with that?

*****
Conversation at the dinner table, amidst a petty, sibling argument:

Intuitive Monkey to The Rationalist,"Yes, you did say that!"

The Rationalist:"No, I didn't"

Me, applying reason and understanding to the argument: "Monkey, don't you ever forget things you've said?"

Monkey: "Yes, sometimes."

Me: "Don't you think that other people sometimes forget things too?"

Monkey: "How would I know? I'm not them."

That'll teach me to reason with them.

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Father di Carli...

Coincidence?

A Brazilian priest, attempting to set a flight record for traveling by bright, helium balloons, goes missing.

Bizarre, unexplainable lights appear and hover in Pheonix, leaving the FAA and the Air Force scratching their heads.

I'm just sayin', someone who knew a little Portugeuse might have been able to solve these mysteries.

Neverending Story

So, Hillary wins Pennsylvania, further prolonging the torturous campaign for the Democrat candidacy for November 2008.

John McCain can be seen in the background slowly rubbing his hands together in ecstatic glee,"Keep it up Dems...keep it up....Bwahahaha."

Kids Say The Darnedest Things.

My job, which consists of performing a bunraku-style puppet show for 4th graders about bullying and stereotyping, has led to some interesting moments with kids and how they perceive certain issues.

Here are some interesting answers to questions we pose to the kids during the closing of our shows.

"If a bully doesn't get help for their problem, and grows up to be an adult bully who fights and hurts people, what can happen to them?"--we're generally looking for, and usually get, "They'll go to jail."

These kids had different ideas.

"They will get a gun and go on a shooting rampage and kill everyone."

or

"They'll become a bad person and abuse their kids."

To further illustrate the consequences of anti-social behavior we ask,"What happens if that person is disrespectful and always putting people down at their job?"--looking for,"They'll get fired." (during rehearsal I would answer,"They'll get promoted to upper management." hehe)

Yesterday's answer:

"They'll get fired and lose their health insurance."

The earnestness of answers, such as these, is usually heartbreaking. The more specific the answer, the more likely the child has some sort of experience related to it. This becomes really evident when we are in the inner-city, and the kids start correcting each other about the difference between jail, and prison. They know the difference because they probably have a relative who has been through the legal system and is serving some time.

The little boy who made the remark about health insurance most assuredly has someone in his life with medical issues who really needs that insurance. That, or he is a young fan of Michael Moore.

In the midst of it all, I am struck by their innocence and openness.

After one performance, a boy, with a slight speech problem, asked me,"How do you know if someone is your friend? If someone is really nice to you when you're together, and then is really mean to you when you're both around other people, are they your friend?"

I tried my best to encourage him to let his friend know how the teasing hurt him, and see if that helped the problem. Sometimes people are unaware of the effect of their words on other people.

"What if he still does it?" he asked.

"Well, then, you might need to find some new friends. "

They lay themselves bare, unafraid, lacking self-consciousness. They only want to say what's on their minds, and maybe have a troubling question answered, without being encumbered by what those around them might think.

I wish that I could always do the same.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Fairy Tales and Fairy Breasts

***TMI Alert*** Male readers may want to look away, or risk being blinded by reading about such incomprehensible things as body image and women's issues. :-)

I've been hanging out over at youngsurvival a lot the past two weeks, lurking on the boards, asking a few questions, trying to get a feel for what other young women with breast cancer are dealing with. It has been a great resource for getting a handle on what might be in store for me in the next few months.

One of the boards has photos that women have sent in of their reconstructions after mastectomies. Many women have been very brave and sent in anonymous pictures, from the neck down, in an effort to give examples of good, bad, and in-between results for other women to look at, and realistically assess what reconstruction can, and cannot, do for them. Beyond the sheer voyeurism of looking at the photos, there was a thrill to see things as they really were, no special lighting or edited photo book from a plastic surgeon. The results varied. Some women had absolutely incredible results, others did not. Some results were lopsided, or not quite what the woman had hoped for.

A common theme was: "They look great when I'm wearing clothes. Not so much without clothes."

As I paged through photo after photo, I thought about myself and what I would ultimately choose. Would I really not choose reconstruction? I have shied away from the choice because it means reducing or reconstructing my healthy breast so they would "match"...you know, like they were a pair of book ends or something.

I don't want to do that, partly out of a sense of leaving well enough alone, and partly because I value my breast as part of my body, and as part of my sexuality and intimacy with my husband. Do I want to sacrifice that intimacy, and the part it plays in our love life, for a matching set of "foobs" which look good in a sweater, but are anatomically useless?

Immediately, a tale leaped into my mind of Sir Gawain, from King Arthur's court, and his ugly bride. He marries a Loathesome Lady for King Arthur because she has granted Arthur victory over a giant through her knowledge. Her only price is that Arthur must provide her a husband from among his knights.

Sir Gawain marries her but is disgusted by her age, appearance, and lowly background. She defends her deficiencies and then is transformed before Sir Gawain, revealing a beautiful lady. She tells him she is cursed with her ugliness, but remains beautiful for only half the day. She can be beautiful at night, with him, or beautiful during the day, in public. Which option would Sir Gawain choose?

Through her persuasion to consider her feelings, Sir Gawain relents and allows her to be beautiful for others. That breaks the spell and the Loathsome Lady becomes the Lovely Lady at all times. This being a fairy tale, happy endings are all around as Sir Gawain gets to bed a beauty, and not some ugly chick that repulses him, because really that's all women are good for in Arthurian legends; to be either horrible witches or beautiful, powerless maidens waiting to be rescued and married. I'm so happy for you Gawain.

and this has what to do with reconstruction?

Well, it is certainly not to imply that DH gets to make this choice for me....cause he doesn't....and has no desire to. Although, maybe if he did, my breasts would be magically transformed into enchanted fairy breasts that would be beautiful at all times, and have super-powers.

Instead, as the Loathsome Lady lurched through my thoughts, I saw myself as Sir Gawain. Would I choose to have a certain appearance before others, for my own sense of well-being, or choose to save something that is meaningful and serves only a purpose in the shared intimacy between myself and my husband?

Will I choose illusion, over what is? Form over function?

I'll let you know....especially if I get super-powers.

**disclaimer**
This is not a judgement of anyone who has made/or will make different choices than me in this area. It's only my thought process, jumbled as it is by obscure English Literature with a touch of feminist ideology.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bitter Gun Owners?

I don't own a gun. I'll probably never own a gun, unless I choose to go live in the mountain wilderness somewhere and need to protect myself from grizzlies and mountain lions.

I thought this article about happy gun-owners, in response to Obama's "bitter" comments was quite interesting, and not at all what I expected.

HT: Marginal Revolution.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Vance H. is too cool! He solved my gmail problem and should get an award for being a Good Samaritech!

Thanks!
Arrgh!

I can't get into my gmail accounts through Internet Explorer or Firefox. It keeps aborting my attempts. I feel so cut off. I could have 20 million dollars awarded to me by a Nigerian widow, and I can't even find out about it, let alone make use of the 39 offers for cheap Viagra that are surely waiting for me in my Spam folder.

What am I going to do?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Funniest Comeback Ever!

Heard at BHT in reference to a conversation involving problems between a husband and wife, caused by the husband's sudden surge towards fundamentalism.

The earnest question from a male poster:

"How should a couple who are split over cultural issues, one fundamentalist Baptist, the other contemporary evangelical PCA, conduct themselves. They are not comfortable in each other’s churches. It’s drums vs. hymns, NIV vs. KJV, extra modest clothing vs. more fashionable, more ecumenically generous vs. denunciations of the Pope and consigning all RCatholics to hell, not watching any TV vs. thinking American Idol is a family show. Husband has become fundamentalist Baptist and is seeking to lead his home. Prior to that he was more nominal member of PCA church, in fact, technically he still is. Wife has been very involved, consistently enthusiastic about her PCA church and participating even leading ministry.
What do you tell her and him?
"

The response from my new, favorite woman:

"I would tell him to crawl back into his hole. She sounds like she’s got the spiritual spine. Hope she’s got a lot of patience. Or, she could whack him with a heavy skillet. He’s disruptive and disrespectful if he thinks he gets to tell her what to do just because he’s fallen into a group that’s pumping up a phony sense of manhood and self righteousness."

I belly-laughed for about 5 minutes over this.

You go, Sharon.

Defending Dawkins?

While driving to work this morning, I was listening to a Christian radio station, which usually plays music with occasional DJ banter, or discussion. They had a producer of the movie, Expelled, on the air, and he was trying explain how the movie refutes Darwinism and shows the silliness of atheist Richard Dawkins for saying that life may have started on this planet by being seeded from intelligent life somewhere else in the universe, aka aliens.

Now, Richard Dawkins isn't getting any love from me. He's a complete blowhard when it comes to the discussion between Christians and atheists, with regards to the origin of life. That being said, I was still bothered by this 8 am DJ banter which was mocking and arrogant in its own right, and which was taking place among people who have neither read Dawkins, nor seen the movie Expelled.

Having read The God Delusion, I can confidently say that the super-smart, alien, designer theory discussed on the radio was not Dawkins first and only choice in defining the beginning point of life. Instead, his approach is more one of things are the way they are because that is the only way they could be in order to produce life. We are the lucky, random recipients of a perfectly aligned planet that was capable of providing just the right conditions for the development of life. To back up his argument he simply compares Earth to the billions of planets which inhabit the Universe and says it's simply a statistical given that at least a few planets could produce life among the millions and millions that can't. We just happened to have the winning lottery ticket.

So there. I defended Richard Dawkins from being caricatured by miscellaneous Christian DJs. It'll probably never happen again.

In the midst of all this, I was struck by how easily Christians can jump on a bandwagon without really knowing jack about what they're talking about. It's pretty sad. However, I don't think it's a phenomenon that occurs only in the Christian community. I read and hear the same thing from atheists who don't really know or understand much about Christianity, yet spout off arguments which aren't based in what they have studied, but what others have told them. No group is above taking up banners that a prominent member of the group has declared important. It happens.

I can't speak for atheists, not being one, but I can speak from a Christian perspective. If you haven't put any effort into understanding the opposition, haven't read anything they've written, haven't for a moment considered their point of view, then stay out of the conversation. You're in a far better position to simply cling to your faith as the reason for not accepting evolution then you are if you try to argue from a scientific knowledge base which you don't posses or fully understand. You can have your opinions. You can express your opinions. You should do both; just don't cloak it in scientific terms in an effort to get past the defense of the opposing team. It makes Christians seem arrogant, sneaky, and intellectually dishonest.

That's my little rant for the day.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ruining My Own Surprise

Just before my diagnosis, DH and I were thinking about buying a treadmill. We researched eleventy-jazillion of them, checking out all the different brands, specs and consumer ratings. I had decided which one I wanted, and was about to go forward with the purchase, when everything started happening with me and the breast cancer question.

We put off the decision until we knew what would be happening. Spending $1,000 on a decent treadmill didn't seem wise in the face of future medical bills. I was disappointed.

Now, faced with a mastectomy and chemo, I feel even more convicted about losing weight and getting in better shape. Chemo actually causes most people to put on weight, partly from being less active...what with all the throwing up and resting from fatigue...and partly because of the effects it has on the body. I don't need to add extra weight on top of what I already have, and I need to be as physically healthy as possible when all this starts.

So....the other night I say,"Honey, I know we decided not to to do the treadmill thing, but I think I might go ahead and get one anyway. I think it's important."

DH got very quiet,"You can't."

"Why not?"

"Because that's what I was going to do for Mother's Day!" he said smiling. "I had already decided it."

After a moment of shock, I gave him a big hug.

I knew there was some reason I kept that guy around here.

P.S...because I totally ruined my surprise, I get to have my treadmill sooner. No sense waiting an extra month.

Monday, April 14, 2008

When I found out about my need for a mastectomy, I asked the surgeon if I could wait until the middle to end of May before having it done. I had several reasons for this.

1. I am the only one who can do my job. My boss can fill in here and there, but not every day until the end of the school year. If I suddenly disappeared she would have to cancel weeks of shows.

2. We need the income from my job. Although my job is only part-time, it helps stabilize our income. Without it we barely make ends meet. It's doable, but very difficult.

3. We need the income from my job. Yeah, I know it's the same reason, but it's a totally different reason. Our annual out-of-pocket maximum for insurance is $3,500. Once we reach that, insurance pays for everything. That wouldn't have been so bad if it weren't for the timing of everything. We had just reached the maximum, but our insurance year runs from 3/31 to 4/1. We just started a new year and have to pay that $3,500 again before the insurance covers everything.

4. The Rationalist's birthday is in May. I wanted to be able to celebrate his birthday without being in the hospital or recovering from surgery for several weeks.

5. School will be almost over. By the time I start chemo, it will be in the middle of the summer. I'll be able to send the boys to Grandma's for days at a time if I'm really sick from everything. I won't have to worry about getting them to and from school, making sure their homework is done, making dinner for them.

6. I just needed time to process everything.

The reasons are very rational, responsible, and efficient...kind of like me most of the time. The only problem is that it has given me too much time. Some days I live in blissful denial about everything. Life goes along at its normal pace, and the word cancer seems like some sort of silly joke told in bad taste.

At other times, I am reminded of what lurks in the future. Seeing a sales ad for a particular style of bra that I love, but is very expensive, brought the thought into my mind that "I should get to that sale before it's over," only to remember that, after May19th, I won't be able to wear it. Any bra I wear after that won't be bought in a department store. Moments like that floor me all over again with the knowledge that there is something very wrong in my body no matter how normal I feel.

I have had too much time to research. I know what is in store for me. I want to know, yet at the same time knowledge is a burden I carry. I know that breast cancer likes to reoccur. I know that being young with it is bad. I know that the treatment for it can be worse than the disease. I know that I might go into permanent, early menopause because of the chemo and hormonal treatment.

I know too much for my own good.

I appreciate the time I have to get used to the idea of what's coming, but sometimes it seems to let the dread build up inside of me. It leaves me too much time to have conversations with well-meaning family and friends. I have to explain one more time to my mother that my breast can't be saved. I have to listen to one more,"I'm sure everything will be fine." That, in particular drives me crazy, because although I hope and believe it to be true, it seems so dismissive of what's coming.

And that's when reality sets in. I am going to permanently lose a part of my body. The body that's left is going to be battered by chemicals. Even if everything works great, it will be difficult. There's no way around it.

The saying is "idle hands are the devils' workshop". I think it should be idle minds.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

More Church Shopping

For the last two weeks we have a visited a small...well, maybe smaller is the right word...United Methodist church, and have actually enjoyed it in comparison to other churches we have recently visited. It's not perfect; the music could use some fine-tuning, the slide projector person needs to pay closer attention to what's happening, and the congregation is not exceptionally exuberant in their singing, but in some ways that only adds to the church's charm. It's a real church filled with real people.

One of the things that DH and I appreciated was having the kids with us in the service. An issue that we have spent much time discussing is the splitting up of families during the church hour. For two years our kids have been separated from us from beginning to end. While that approach is appropriate for young children, school-age children are fully capable of participating in the church service. We have wanted a place where our children could see us, and other families, worshipping together, to understand that the church is a community of people of all ages, united in a single purpose.

After worship, the kids were called up for a 5-minute "children's sermon" and then went off to children's church, freed from listening to the sermon. Today was interesting because the church served communion, an important part of worship for me. In the past, we have not allowed our children to partake, saving it until such a time that we were sure they understood the seriousness and meaning of it. That has been our personal decision, not one based on a particular theological/denominational stance. All that was thrown out the window this morning when the children returned with their leaders to take communion with the rest of the church. The boys were happily in line with their comrades, marching toward the altar. Conflicted, I looked at DH. He shrugged and said not to worry about it. Part of me was a little disappointed because I would have liked to have known beforehand that this would be the morning of their first communion, but part of me was also glad that the church thought enough of the ritual to involve the children and workers in the other building.

DH and I have been generally pleased with the church and will definitely visit again. Although DH grew up in a United Methodist church, I am not overly familiar with its background or deeper theological beliefs. However, considering that I have never been a part of a church in which I was in 100% agreement on every issue, I'm not sure how much difference that will make to me....unless, of course, we have to get bar-code tattoos, or drink special Kool-Aid. That might throw me off my game.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Poor Dog


My poor dog has been throwing up every day for the past week. She seems fine, plays fetch, runs around with the kids; and yet, at inconsistent times, she drinks a bunch of water and then proceeds to lose everything she ate hours before.

Today she visited the vet for her annual check-up where she usually embarrasses me with her hyper antics in the waiting room; the howling at the dogs in the back of the building, the whining and scrambling to get near any dog within 10 feet, the pulling on the leash. sigh. The vet prescribed her some special dog food and some medication to settle her stomach, but seems uncertain about what's wrong with her. I'm hoping it helps because I'm tired of scrubbing the carpet and cleaning up the yard.
DH thinks she's suffering from a poor body image and trying to fit in with the other "cuter" dogs by developing an eating disorder, yet another victim of distorted messages of beauty. My theory is that she's tired of her food and protesting with a hunger strike, waiting for me to hand-feed her bits of bread with peanut butter on it, like I did yesterday when she couldn't keep any "normal" food down.
The PB sandwich never made its way back up.

Car-ban Legends

Head over to MythBusters to see how much you know about weird, car-related trivia.

Good News

I've been waiting for two weeks to get the results back from my Oncotype DX test. It's a genetic test that measures your risk for distant recurrence of breast cancer over the course of your life on a scale of 1-100. Low scores are good, high scores are bad.

Mine was 14. YAY!!! That puts me in the low risk group and implies that the cancer is not highly aggressive or fast-growing.

The other purpose of the test is to help oncologists choose between chemotherapy combined with hormonal treatment, or hormonal treatment alone. A low score indicates that there will be little to no benefit to using chemotherapy.

How this score will be used by my doctors, I am unsure of. It seems that my oncologist still wants to do chemo based solely on my young age. Being younger with breast cancer correlates with a worse prognosis because breast cancer usually shows up in women in their 50's and 60's. Contracting it earlier seems to indicate that the cancer may be more aggressive.

What I am discovering is that treatment for early stage breast cancer is largely an art and not a science, and much depends upon the prevailing opinions of the doctors involved, opinions which can sometimes be subjective or merely best guesses. I'm still reading everything I can to help me make informed decisions, and ask pertinent questions, though it is a little bothersome to not have any clear answers in my particular case.

Anyway....Yay for 14!!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Playing to the Audience??

Uh...can someone explain to me why the American Idol contestants are singing Shout to the Lord?

Simon better watch out for some lightning bolts. Last time I checked he usually denigrated the faith of most of the contestants.

Go figure.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

This week is Spring Break, so we've been hanging out at DH's parents' place. It's a community especially built for people over the age of 50 with strict limits about how long younger people can stay. We travel with ID cards identifying who we are and the resident with whom we are staying.

On the upside, the kids love using the pool and playing bocce ball and shuffleboard with us. We also get to cruise around the community in a golf cart, even passing through special golf cart tunnels that lead to the local grocery store. It's a well-conceived design.

I kid my mother-in-law with statements that the community is really a cult; it requires financial backing, strict adherence to certain rules, and controls who can come and go, and what businesses you are allowed to use to renovate your house. Anything you could need has already been sorted out for you.

To retirees, I am sure having things planned out beforehand is a great comfort. Fewer decisions need to be made, everything is within golf-cart distance and the neighborhoods are well-kept.

Still...my inner rebel chafes at such things.

"What do you mean I can't paint my house fuchsia if I want to??"

It's probably just me.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Intelligence, Snobbery, and Just Being Yourself

Assistant Village Idiot stopped by and left a comment on my post about my uber-geek children. I know he meant no harm and was offering advice, no doubt based on his own fatherly experiences, on cautioning against too much focus on kids being "smart". So, this is not a rebuttal based on overreaction to his words of caution, but is more my reflection on what being labeled smart or gifted means to kids, parents, and society in general.

As a child, I did very well in school. Well, let me put that another way; I did well when I wanted to. I was blessed with the ability to remember things very easily. I could read a book and retain what I read. I could learn a fact and have it easily accessible at a moment's notice. I could ace a test without studying. It wasn't that I tried very hard to be smart, I just was smart.

Actually, there were many times when I didn't try to do anything. In third grade I got a report card that consisted mostly of C's. In sixth grade I was kicked off of the safety patrol squad because of my reading scores. In High School I received a D in Health of all things. You see, it wasn't my intelligence, or lack of it, which was the problem, it was the latent procrastination that I believe was intertwined into my DNA, and the knowledge that I didn't need to do homework--though my teachers seemed to greatly disagree with my stance. Oh, and did I mention that I have a deadly case of being able to look at the big picture and decide that I don't care about A, B, and C in the long run; ergo....why waste my time and energy?

I have many regrets about that. I still maintained a decent GPA in high school, about 3.5, but it wasn't really representative of what I could have done if I had cared more and actually put much effort into my studies. I already understood, at that point, what Professor John Stackhouse has written in his post, You Are Your GPA, this past week. I knew that my worth was not measured by my grades and academic success, or failure.

Yet, I do wish I had done better, not to be recognized as being intelligent, because I was a legend in my own mind on that account, but because I feel that I unknowingly missed some great opportunities along the way. Part of that is simply due to the home circumstances in which I grew up. I was on my own. My parents had little to say to me about my grades or prospects. I did well, in general, so as long as they weren't getting calls from the school about me, then they were happy.

Unfortunately for my brother, who was not as able to navigate school very well, there was an unceasing amount of frustration and criticism aimed at him. It was horrible. I am three years younger than him, and we were just kids, but I remember feeling bad when I won a Spelling Bee, or an essay contest. I cringed that he would feel badly that I was doing well and that he would fall into an even more unfavorable comparison to me. It wasn't my fault that I did well, and he didn't, but I still empathized with him. Of course, I don't think that stopped me from throwing it in his face when we were viciously fighting. Sympathy only goes so far for an elementary school kid.

My father's side of the family was horrible about this particular form of criticism toward my brother. My grandfather, a mean, old tyrant, was especially notorious for giving my brother a hard time about his grades. He was without pity. Why no one ever stopped him, or told him to go @#%! himself I have no idea. Perhaps they had all been worn down by him for too many years to intervene on my brother's behalf. The criticism, coupled with the unending praise for myself and two of my cousins who also excelled in academics, was overwhelming for my brother, though he didn't always talk much about it. When he was older, he told me of an incident during his college years in which my aunt backhandedly complimented him by saying, "You turned out a lot better than we had expected." Nice.

Nowadays, my brother is a school principal. He taught 6th grade for 2 or 3 years, got his Masters degree, and has been a principal for about 6 years. It wouldn't surprise me if he was eventually a school district administrator.

On the flip side, while talking my mom the other day, we had a coversation that went something like this:

"You kids all turned out pretty well, even if I didn't know what you would all be like. M..loves being a big shot principal, A...is doing well with his family and work, T..has finally found something he cares about and is doing well in....and you....well I thought you would have been in France all these years......awkward pause.....I guess everyone was a surprise."

"um....OK....Mom, I chose to be where I am."

"Yes, I know....I just thought you would have done something else...." her voice drops off.

"Something else than being a wife and mother."

"Well....I didn't mean it that way."

But, of course, she did. How could I have used my collective genius powers to stay home and raise kids? How could I have sacrificed my IQ on the altar of caregiving? Knowing that my mother has no comprehension for the reasons I do what I do, I let it go and shook my head.

Now, as I raise my kids, I have to make choices about how to encourage them and keep them based in reality at the same time. At no point do I want to raise children who are supremely arrogant and overly proud about their intelligence. At the same time, I want them to do what they love and have a talent for. If they were great at music, I would find a way to provide them with music lessons. If they were great at sports, I would be on the sidelines at every event. I have no desire to force them to be anything, whether it's being a great painter or mastering chess. I don't want them to have to feel bad about being smart, and wind up throwing a Spelling Bee competition just because they felt guilty for always winning--not that I know anyone who would have done that. ;-)

Being labeled "smart" is a double-edged sword. If you enjoy it too much, people say you're a snob. If you don't seem smart enough, you're put down and mocked. It's the worst form of trying to make sure no one is "better" than anyone else or "thinks they're too good" for us, yet smacking around those who are on the lower side of average.

I think of my brother who didn't please my dad's side of the family in his younger days, and now has exceeded their expectations, only to have my mother claim that he likes being a "big shot" principal too much...in the same breath in which she expresses disappointment in the fact that I haven't done anything with my life. The message?--stay average like us--don't veer in either direction from where we are.

Intelligence can be used as a form of snobbery, but no more so than being a great athlete, or coming from a pedigreed background. I will not communicate to my children that being smart is the be-all, end-all of existence. Most of my parenting moments do not revolve around education, but around how they should behave towards each other, and society at large, in a kind and open way. I am still learning the ropes on that one myself, so I don't expect perfection from them in this area, but it is far more important to me than their math scores.

We don't call doctors, teachers, scientists, or chemists snobs because they are smart. We wouldn't hesitate to seek out expert advice in our medical care, or turn down a professor's class because they know too much. Why then should I temper my children's pursuit of learning and the enjoyment they get out of it? They will surely meet failure from time to time. They will encounter people who know more than they do. I hope that when that happens my kids won't label them as snobs because they know more, but will learn from those "smarter" people.

All in all, I think the message that it's good to be successful at something, so long as you're not too successful, is a bad one meant to be more soothing to others rather than having the best interest of the individual at hand in mind.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Brainiacs

Warning: This post contains copious amounts of mommy-blogging, maternal pride.

DH and I have continued to be successful at raising the next generation of brainy geeks. Our kids really never had a chance to be anything else...poor souls.

The Rationalist has been selected to participate in a Math Bowl for the second grade. He and four other children were tested and chosen out of the entire second grade to represent their school against a few others by the end of April. He stayed an extra hour after school yesterday to practice with his team. He is very excited about it, and sees it as the first step in getting on a game show in real life, something that would totally rock his world. Go Math!

Intuitive Monkey was sent for gifted testing last week by his kindergarten teacher. In a surprising move, the counselor actually tested him the next day. This was surprising because it took two years of teachers hounding the counselor to test The Rationalist. Time after time they had been put off by him until he probably got sick of hearing from them and did it.

What's funny is that Intuitive Monkey actually scored two points higher than The Rationalist, a secret that The Rationalist must never discover. His competitive spirit would overtake him. He relishes that he knows so much more than his brother and usually seizes any opportunity he can to correct Monkey. Upsetting his psyche in this area would probably cause his universe to implode.

The whole thing reminds me of that Frasier episode where Niles and Frasier try to discover who scored higher on an old, unlabeled, IQ test from their childhood.

Hilarity and Hi-jinks ensue.

It brings me great pleasure that our kids like school and seem to thrive in a learning environment. I am even happier that they are just as content to wrestle around the living room, or dig in the dirt in our back yard.

Although they sometimes drive me crazy, I love watching the continuing evolution of their personhood.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

What's Up With Me

The last few days have been a little overwhelming for me. Circulating in my mind is the constant hum of my diagnosis, floating in the periphery of every thought and task before me. I can't say that I am never thinking about it. It's always there, coming up for air at the most inopportune moments.

This weekend we told our families about my need for a mastectomy and chemo. Retelling the story over and over again drained both of us. Each session was followed by dozens of questions and opinions about me, my breast, and I(that kind of sounds like a catchy, feminist, book title--Me, My Breast, and I).

I have consumed volumes of information about breast cancer, pathology, staging, treatment, and theories about treatment--both online and in book format. The best overall resource by far has been Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book, not an imaginative title, but a very thorough, readable book that I think any woman with breast cancer should buy. It goes beyond the basic introduction to breast cancer and really explains things in great detail, without requiring a pathology background. It was written for people just like me who want to know more than a brief synopsis of the disease and desire to be educated as much as possible about the statistics of treatment, survival, tumor type, and how breast cancer can behave in the body. I love it. Several questions I had a difficult time finding answers to online were laid out nicely in the book. Great!




Emotionally, I think I am beginning to turn a corner. It's been difficult to shake myself out of the disappointment and shock that I have felt during the last week. Describing everything to our family really ground me down as I tried to walk a tightrope between my own fears and trying to alieve the fears of my parents. Always the adult in the relationship, I had to reassure them that I was going to be OK, and that losing my breast was worth living longer.

Those conversations were interesting. I was very surprised that both my mother and father, separately because they're divorced, seemed so focused on the loss of my breast, rather than the state of the cancer in my body. They seemed very interested in the reconstruction process and the need for me to have it. Really weird.

What's ironic is that I have come to the completely opposite conclusion about my mastectomy and whether or not I will try to have breast reconstruction surgery. Right now I am leaning heavily towards no reconstruction. Being somewhat well-endowed, the process would require not only multiple surgeries for the reconstructed breast, but would also mean surgery for the other side to make it "match". That, combined with the many complications that can arise from either implants, or using muscle and tissue from another area of my body, has made me think that I might be happier getting through this process and returning to a body that is completely healthy, free of foreign objects, and just happens to be missing one breast.

After all, what's the point of reconstruction? While it will make me seem whole to other people while I am dressed, I cannot labor under the assumption that it will look beautiful, or even "normal" while undressed. Even the most talented plastic surgeon won't be able to hide the multiple scars. The new "breast" will have no feeling in it. It will literally be a mound of flesh, or saline, that makes getting dressed easier. I might completely change my mind about this, but right now this is what I'm thinking.

Here's a site that shows the process of reconstruction. I think there's a reason the photos are in black and white. It's a little graphic, but accurate.

As an aside, while looking into breast prosthesis, I accidentally was directed to a site for cross-dressers selling breasts for men with titles like"big sisters". I laughed for about five minutes on that one. It was almost as funny as the time my husband and I were looking into buying a treadmill and accidentally typed in the wrong web address for Dick's Sporting Goods, which is http://www.dickssportinggoods.com/ and not d!cks.com.

funny times....funny times.