Sunday, September 11, 2016

Nine Eleven, revisited~

Those of us who lived through the 9/11 attacks...

the World Trade Center,
the Pentagon,
the plane crash in a Pennsylvania field, a sacrificial effort by citizens aboard to avoid the White House

...each have our own story to tell.

I was teaching a captive audience of fifth graders at Hanover Middle School when my classroom door cracked open and a colleague beckoned me to the hall.  In a whisper, she told me a plane had hit the World Trade Center Tower, then cautioned me not to tell the kids.

I walked back into the classroom, dazed, scared, confused, making an attempt to cover the churning emotions, the fear.

Knowing so little...

the first tower had not yet collapsed,
the second plane had not struck, was easy to imagine that this was an all out attack on the country, the beginning of a war on our continent.

In hindsight, it was.

I was with a group of teachers huddled in the library office, staring the dusty TV on its rolling cart, watching the scene unfold. We stood in horrified silence, hands to our mouths, watching the slow motion crumpling of the tower. The only words spoken were, “Oh my God!” Over and over...

 “Oh, my God!”

I was more than 200 miles from the scene. A four-hour drive, at least.  But my heart leapt that distance and I was right there.

We were ALL right there.

Despite the 15 intervening years, I can return to that day instantly; my mind has not forgotten the horror I watched from afar.  I shared the terror and the grief, although it was in no way the same as those who were there on the island...

covered in dust as they tried to flee with no way out but by sea,
choosing to leap to death, rather than burn,
hearing sirens, crashing buildings, screaming people,
seeing bloodied friends...and maybe worse, not seeing someone,

...or for those who lost a loved one. For them, I‘m sure the 15 years dissolve in an instant and memory is still so immediate that it sears their hearts daily.

They can never forget.
Nor can we.
How could we?

Other posts... Memorials

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Cancer is the asshole~

Today was the first time in a long, long time that I’ve called Bruce an asshole—and the first time since his cancer diagnosis.

How can you call some one with cancer an asshole?

After all, cancer patients don’t feel good--they’re dealing with a deadly disease, there are all sorts of worries, frustrations, and side effects and changes to their bodies, quality of life issues... and all the other little quirky symptoms that I only find out about about when Bruce tells his nurse.

I’m pretty patient and understanding by nature, and all the more so now when he vents the inevitable “cancer anger” a little (or a lot).

Today he got impatient and snippy, frustrated that we couldn’t merge our iCalendars—he hates when technology goes awry. Who doesn't? For him, it's one more thing out of his control.

He started to tell me what I’d done incorrectly in the attempt to merge, and kept cutting me off when I tried to show him what I did...which, by the way, was correct!

“You’re being an asshole,” I hissed. Not to his face, but I’m sure he heard me. I meant him to hear.

He didn’t react. He knew he’d overreacted. Later he apologized.

But still, it’s such a balancing act. In “normal times” a little healthy anger has always been part of our relationship. Isn’t that the way with many? It’s a spark that’s over as soon as it flares.

But cancer moves in, and when the shock and horror of the diagnosis wears off and you get back to daily living--enough to express anger, no matter how petty--it’s kind of feels weird.

Really, how can you call someone with cancer an asshole?

Because sometimes he just IS.

And sometimes I am, too.

And so goes the battle--with “cancer anger” tossed into the mix.

Anybody can become angry--that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way--that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.  ~Aristotle.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Leave my dream alone~


Why does the eye see a thing more clearly in dreams than the imagination when awake? ~Leonardo da Vinci

During lunch with friends, one offered me her bag of potato chips—she knows I’m addicted. I must have been in one of my rare and transitory healthy phases, because I said no.

“Then take them for Bruce,” she urged.

“No, he doesn’t eat them any more...” Then, because of the looks on their faces, I added “Oh, he stopped eating them before...” meaning before his cancer diagnosis.

They knew what I didn’t say; one told me she was sorry to hear; the other asked a couple questions... and all this prompted me to go into my “We’re fine, he’s fine, I’m fine” mode.

But I decided to share my owl dream, and how it had revealed to me that I was angry and feeling out of control--even though I’m fine, for all practical purposes!

I started in about seeing the owl, wanting to take photos, not having my camera...but Lin interrupted me with a question: “What kind of owl?”

Now I like details, too, and tend to interrupt to get them sometimes, so I told her: the head was a barn owl and the body was a snowy owl.

I resumed my dream-telling, but noticed that she looked sort of alarmed: she pinched her mouth shut as if she were holding back a river of piranhas, and her brow went all squiggly.

I got the feeling that dreaming about owls when one’s husband had just been diagnosed with cancer was... maybe not such a good thing.

As I continued the dream, Lin still looked tense. I touched her arm and said, “What? Is that bad? Dreaming about an owl?”

She sighed and shrugged and opened her mouth.

“Don’t TELL me! DON’T answer that.” I sounded a little deranged, but I subscribe to the head in the sand approach—what I don’t know can’t scare me.

She kept quiet for a while as I continued the dream—my frustration at not having my camera, the futile attempts to get a shot with my iPhone.

“DID you get a picture?“ she asked.

“I couldn’t,” I said. “Everybody got in my way and the sun was too bright.”

“Oh, well that’s good, then, GOOD that you couldn’t get a picture of the owl,” Lin said,” relaxing a little.

I felt both relieved and, well, to be honest, a little angry.

Really? I thought it was a dream, not a prophecy! It was my subconscious telling me that, while I thought I was okay, I’m frustrated, sad, and angry. I needed to realize that, and it took an owl to waken me to that truth. I LIKE owls. I once collected owl figurines.

Later, I looked up “owls in dreams” and saw why she was concerned. But I choose to think the owl was a conveyor of wisdom, rather than a harbinger of death, because I think the best interpretation of a dream comes from the dreamer.

And I haven't dreamed about owls since. 

For more stories on my  blog, click the title "Upstream and Down" and scroll down to see more of the cancer journey...

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Dreams Do Tell~

I had a dream last night that stuck with me all day. 

A friend and I were driving somewhere--she was a photo friend of mine—Lisa R—who moved away several years ago.

She was driving and when she slowed down to turn into wherever we were going—a zoo? I yelled, "Stop, because LOOK! There’s an owl!"  A barn owl with a snowy owl’s body—so normal in a dream. 
I was so excited, until I realized I didn’t have my camera... even though the sole purpose of our trip was picture taking.

We got out of the car, and I watched Lisa take pictures. I pulled out my iPhone to at least capture something, but people kept bumping into me and stepping in my way. And when I COULD see the owl clearly enough to snap a picture, the sun was like a fireball behind him and he was only a black shadow on my iPhone screen.

I cried a little in frustration, but stuffed the feeling down. I told Lisa I was so glad she had her camera and was able to get good pix.

But then I said, “Who am I kidding? I’m so mad!” And I let out a deep, long, angry bellow. A dam let loose and the flood waters roared. I felt better...

When I’m asked these days, since Bruce’s cancer diagnosis, how I’m doing, I always answer, “We're fine.”  It wasn’t until Bruce was diagnosed with cancer that I referred to myself as “we.” It just happened. I follow his lead. He tells me he’s fine. He’s not worried or anxious; he’s taking one day at a time. 

So I am too.

At least I THOUGHT I was until I had the dream. But the dream showed me how sad I am, and how frustrated at having no control. And that I’m just plain angry!

I have no other public face but “fine.” 

But my dream told me the truth.

Cancer is NOT fine!
"When someone has cancer, the whole family and everyone who loves them does too." ~ Terri Clark

Saturday, July 11, 2015

And so it begins~

I sit in the second floor waiting room at Dana Farber Cancer Institute while Bruce is taken to a room to pee in a cup and have some blood drawn.  He’d already peed in a jug for 24 hours and dropped that off to be analyzed for funky monoclonal plasma cells. They take his "vital signs"--height, weight, blood pressure.

He’s back soon and we get coffee and ride the crowded elevator to meet our nurse practitioner Mary, who will tell us what to expect of this journey into cancer land. Whenever anyone gets off the elevator, I check the floor chart to see what his or her cancer might be. Awful names! We get off at “hematological carcinomas.” Seventh floor.

The end result of today’s visit is Bruce’s first shot of Velcade and his first two oral chemo pills: Revlimid and Dexamethasone--the RVD chemo treatment that makes Multiple Myeloma quake—we hope.

“One pill makes you happy and one pill makes you small. One pill…something, something…” I can’t help singing this. I’m hoping B’s pills provide the 1,2,3 punch we’ve been told they will to knock down this cancer.

And at 1:15 B is seated in the infusion chair and his treatment begins—the first four-week cycle of a total of 15 cycles. 

I never wear much jewelry, some days none at all. But today while preparing for the first chemo visit to Dana Farber—Day 1-Cycle 1—I put on earrings that were my mother’s--the ones my daughter wore on her wedding day for “something borrowed”; an opal ring that was my grandmother’s; a birthstone ring that Bruce gave me, and a necklace that my son Dave gave me for Mother’s Day. I wouldn’t be alone. WE wouldn’t be alone.
And I brought this journal. Not sure whose it was. My father’s?

It was empty. Now it’s not.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Double Duty~


There are countless stories sitting in the upholstered chairs in Dana Farber Cancer Center's waiting rooms, feet resting on worn spots in the carpet, where so many other feet have rested in the past. Most stories will go untold.

But sometimes a person opens up and shares a little.

Bruce and I were seated diagonally behind a man who was waiting to be called for his blood draw. I noticed a little Chihuahua peering at me from beneath the man’s legs; he was drinking from a PETCO watering dish. When the man scooped him up, I realized there was a larger dog lying on the floor. 

So I sauntered by to get a cup of coffee. Actually, I didn't care about the coffee; it was the dogs I wanted to see.The man gave me a smile so I asked about the dogs, which, he said, are trained companion dogs.

He told me he was at one time a nurse, but he almost died on the job when he unexpectedly passed out and had to be intubated. What a way to find out you're allergic to latex! He’s also allergic to peanuts and other chemicals.

His big dog has been trained to detect signs of his master going into anaphylactic shock from exposure to these substances up to a minute before he might pass out. This gives him time to grab his Epi Pen and give himself a jab of Epinephrine. The tiny dog that stays snuggled in his jacket has been trained to flip out and sound a warning when he detects peanuts or latex. 

Sometimes when you already have it rough, cancer gets tossed into the mix. Why is that? And sometimes there is still plenty to smile about.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Dana Farber, Here We come!

Cancer is a stealthy opponent, wreaking damage before you suspect its presence.

The first inkling that Bruce might be facing “something” was last summer. I was headed to the beach with a friend, while he was headed to the doctors for his annual CT scan by his cardiologist, who regularly checks the size of his aortic aneurism.

We’d thought the aneurysm was a big deal when it was first discovered several years ago! It was!  But in effect, it was, if not life saving, the issue that got B into cancer treatment sooner than otherwise. For that, we thank the dreaded aneurysm.

When I got to the beach I decided to call B and see how his appointment went.

“The good news,” he tells me, “is that the aneurysm is stable; it hasn’t grown in size. But,” he tells me in what sounds like a nonchalant voice, “the scan shows a spot on my tenth rib.

So I matched his nonchalant tone, “Lots of times the spots turn out to be nothing—just shadows," I tell him.

I stayed at the beach, went swimming, jumped waves, and boogie boarded. I told myself that they ALWAYS find spots that turn out to be nothing but shadows.

B set up an appointment with his primary care doctor and we were left to wait and wonder…and worry. But not worry too much.

But then B notices that the cardiologist’s words on the paper documenting his aneurysm visit say “lesion.” Not “spot.” Lesion.  Lesion is scary sounding in a way that spot is not. Lesion is an ugly word.

So the Google search begins: bone lesions, lesions on the rib, spot on the rib, lesion on tenth rib… B is searching, I know. But he says nothing. And I do the same. 

None of the possibilities for bone lesions looks good. I wouldn’t know which one of the possible diagnoses might be the lesser of the gruesome evils outlined and explained. It’s pretty clear at this point that all roads lead to cancer. And none of them look good.

And sure enough, tests confirmed multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. Tom Brokaw's cancer ... incurable, but treatable.

Thus, the journey begins. The big C. There's no getting off this train.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Doctor Perfect~

Bruce has treatments at Dana Farber every Thursday. Between his blood draw and infusion, we take the elevator to the third floor cafeteria for a late lunch.

The fact that I spotted a doctor eating lunch was no big deal … except for one thing: he was striking! He was the absolute epitome of a “doctor,” the kind you see in TV ads—white coat, white hair, open, friendly expression, grandfatherly, a concerned expression while he reads information (about some patient awaiting a diagnosis, I imagined). And … he was reading on his lunch break, no less. Perfect doctor!

I nudged my husband. “Doesn’t that doctor look almost like a FAKE doctor?” I asked.

“What do you mean? He looks pretty real to me.” Bruce is very literal.

“He’s real, obviously, but he looks exactly like the stereotypical person an advertising agency would cast as a doctor. Don’t you think?”

Bruce agreed.

When we got up to toss our trash, I followed Bruce right past Doctor Perfect.

I was almost by him when I impulsively stopped and told him, “You know, you look like the kind of doctor who belongs in an advertisement.”

I explained what I meant, and he grinned and said, “Let me tell you a little story.”

So I stood and listened, trash in hand, while Bruce waited across the room by the trash barrel, shaking his head slightly in resignation.

Long story short, Doctor Welch’s wife is an attractive older woman (according to him) and she had been encouraged to model. He accompanied her to one shoot, and whoever was in charge asked, “Who is that man? We want him, too.”

So he consented to sign up, but being a doctor, he never found the time to go to a tryout (or whatever they’re called). But finally, he decided he’d make time for one shoot.

“I wanted to give it a try once,” he said.

When he went to the ad agency, they handed him a white coat and wanted him to portray (surprise!) a doctor. They had not realized he actually was a doctor, but the point is, he’s a doctor who looks exactly like we all want a doctor to look. And in this case, he got paid to look like one. Pretty cool!

He consented to an iPhone photo (which doesn’t do justice to his blue eyes), and when I asked his name, he said, “Bill Welch.” Pretty humble, too.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The chase is on: It's not always about the photos...

I’m not a bird photographer, although that doesn’t mean I don’t like to shoot good images of birds. I do! But when I get good shots, I attribute it to luck--being in the right place at the right time—rather than a natural birder’s patience.

Real bird photographers—and I know many--have far more patience than I was born with. They’re willing to stand and wait for a long time, often in the freezing wind and cold or scalding summer sun, in hopes of seeing a bird that has been known to make sporadic appearances.

I’ll go and check out the place a bird is known to be, always hopeful for a sighting, but if it’s not a lucky day, I’ll shift my focus to what ever else I can photograph. I just can’t seem to settle down and wait. Not sure why…but I just can’t. I want to keep moving.

Today, shortly after we’d arrived at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, Bruce and I learned that the snowy owl had been spotted napping in a tree. We’d never have noticed her had not all lenses and scopes been aimed in her direction. She was far off, out of good camera range. So we walked on, hoping for a closer look at the deer in the meadow. 

Snowy looks much closer through the camera lens.
We passed a group of photographers waiting for a barn owl to make an appearance, which he often (but not always) does later in the day.  We kept walking. Not that I don’t want to see a barn owl. Of course I do, but…he wasn’t there.

By the time we’d walked the trail loop and returned to headquarters, birders and photographers were rushing to a spot overlooking the meadow. So we followed. And sure enough, the barn owl had been sighted. 

 It swooped and caught a field mouse. This roused the snowy owl and a harrier hawk, both of which chased after the barn owl, hoping it would drop the mouse, I suppose. It didn’t. It was all over in less than a minute, and took place at such a distance that I wasn’t able to get any sharp images.  

Barn owl with mouse in talons, snowy springing into action, harrier hawk.

But wow! Who cares?

Sometimes it’s more about the experience—and thrill—of seeing animals in the wild, than the quality of the photos you get.

What a privilege to see nature in action! And how nice to have stumbled upon it at the right time—with no waiting!
When the barn owl disappeared, the snowy landed.
If one way be better than another, that you may be sure is nature's way. ~ Aristotle

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hunting for the hunters~

With so many snowy owls in the region this winter, birders and photographers have been particularly successful in spotting and shooting (photographically speaking!) these beautiful birds. The well-known locales where snowies have been sighted are big draws for hopeful viewers.

We’re hunters. We seek the thrill of seeing wild creatures close up. We want to experience their beauty and dignity. We bundle up, drag out our gear, and complain about the wind chill, all to witness the real hunters, whose survival depends upon their focus, their senses, their quickness—and freedom from distraction.

Snowies are not easy to spot. Protective coloration works like a charm, and despite being large, once they are patiently hunkered down, scanning for rodents, they can be all but impossible to detect. Even in motion they fly low and are well camouflaged.

Your best bet in spotting one is patience and a pair of binoculars … or watching for clusters of people. When someone spots a snowy, he stares into the distance, and whoever comes along asks, “What do you see?” 

And then they stand with the first guy until the next person comes along and asks, “What’s out there?” And she stays, and so on, until quite the group of owl paparazzi has formed.

Saturday, I was with my husband and was hoping he’d see an owl, which is much more exciting than just looking at the photos I come home with.  But the road to the location that had been successful for me a couple of weeks ago was closed. People reported seeing owls, but they were so far out in the marsh they were invisible to the naked eye.

It didn’t look hopeful. But the point is to enjoy what nature gives you on any given day. So I snapped a picture of wild turkeys on the roadside…because they were there and I had a camera. They foraged and paid us no mind.

 We watched a beautiful red-tail hawk ride wind currents, while scanning for prey. Later he sat, all handsome, on a branch while a crowd gathered beneath him.  He was oblivious to the gathering paparazzi; there’s no time for distractibility when your life depends upon a successful hunt.

We pulled into a turn-off where there was a small cluster of people. I stepped out of the car to see a people looking skyward. I swung my camera up with just enough time snap a few shots of what turned out to be a juvenile bald eagle before he took off for better hunting grounds. Did he notice us? If so we were not of interest.

We headed further north to a spot where people said a snowy had been hunting all day.  And sure enough, the snowy grapevine was correct. She was there…and so were the people.  Thankfully the owl was separated from the crowd by a drainage depression in the marsh, which prevented those who push the limits from getting too close to the bird, forcing it to move on.

If I had to hunt for survival, could I tune out the paparazzi?  I’m not sure. And that thought makes me all the more respectful of the wild creatures I observe. 

I wish everyone was.