Archive | February, 2014

Boobs and Roses

20 Feb

I just had my annual mammogram &, thankfully, it was good again. My boobs have another one year extended warranty.

After having taken that unexpected & unplanned breast cancer journey, I always get antsy before my annual mammogram. Most of the people I know who’ve had the experience also have the shared anxiety. I think more than seeing it as a threat to our mortality, although there’s that, too, what it boils down to is we’ve simply been there – done that & just don’t want to do it again. Other people may not understand our “mammoxiety” but WE all do & easily sympathize with our sisters-in-battle when each of us has our annual turn at a mammogram. We also understand our shared relief when the mammogram is GOOD & even better, when it’s good AND over.

There’s a weird thing about breast cancer – when you’re first diagnosed a number of friends & acquaintances don’t know what to say to you. Some can’t even look you in the eye. This surprised & confused me until speaking with other survivors who had also had the experience. What we decided is that as newly diagnosed women, some friends & acquaintances look at us & realize, There but for the grace of God go I,” & it scares the hell out of them just like it used to scare us. They suddenly see their mortality reflected in us & it’s frightening as hell.

Another phenomenon that a number of us have experienced is having a friend who is there for us, very attentive & helpful throughout our treatment & recovery but who disappears or removes themselves from our lives once we are well. This is probably the most confusing situation of all & I remember, when this happened to me, wondering if I’d become less interesting or less friend-worthy without the cancer. I still don’t have an answer to that one but I suspect the answer lies with the helpful friend & not with me.

Helping during an extreme crisis, no matter who or what the crisis, fulfills some need within that friend that really hasn’t a thing to do with us. We’re simply there with cancer & become magnets for those friends who have a real & personal NEED to be “helpers & caregivers.” It may also have something to do with a personal morbid fascination with the fact that a friend has cancer & they don’t … sort of a juggling of odds… & the delusion that helping somehow will keep them from HAVING. In the end, though, the fact that they disappear is confusing & hurtful & makes their help far less appreciated. But it happens.

The best thing anyone can do for someone going through the breast cancer experience … or any critical time of their life is to treat them as you always have. Listen to them if they need to talk. Sit quietly with them & hold their hand if they need to cry. Talk to them about the cancer because they need someone they can be totally honest about their feelings with. That will be more appreciated than chicken soup, bed socks & items bearing the breast cancer logo, although those things can certainly brighten a day. Those are the friends that we hold close because they are the friends who continue to be our friends, never skipping a beat regardless of the tests of friendship with which they are faced… regardless of cancer.

Willy & I met Beth & her husband right before I was diagnosed in 2008. Both were very supportive while Willy & I were going through surgery, chemo & radiation. I say Willy & I because he shared the experience with me & was often the reason I was able to get through a particular day or another treatment. At the completion of my chemo Beth gave me a huge bouquet of long stemmed yellow roses, a hug & a whispered message that “women just need flowers.”

And so began a strong & wonderful friendship between Beth & me. Whenever there was something to celebrate or a crisis Beth gave me a rose or several roses. In her times of crisis, I sent her decadent food I knew she wouldn’t indulge in at any other time & sometimes flowers.

In 2012 Beth was diagnosed with breast cancer during her annual mammogram. On her follow-up MRI they found cancer in her other breast. She called & told me the news & asked, “How did you get through this?”  I told her we really have very few choices … something that occurred to me after my second chemo treatment. We can either ball up in a corner & cry or get up, fight & do the very best we can. Then I called Farm Basket & had them deliver to her at her home a huge gift basket filled with every kind of cake & cookie they had in the store.

I stayed very close to Beth during her bilateral mastectomy & her reconstruction & was there for her during her recovery, as she had been for me. I’d send her cookies & she’d send me roses for helping her on some particular day.

Last year while I was waiting to have my annual breast ultrasound that is always done the same day & immediately following my mammogram, someone sat down beside me in the waiting area & asked how it was going. It was Beth who had left work early to come & check on me. While she was there another woman who had just been diagnosed came into the waiting area crying. When they called me for my ultrasound, Beth told me she was going to stay a while with the woman who was alone & so very upset. She whispered to me, I’m just going to stay a little while with her & pay it forward.”

In late summer of 2012 Beth & I “paid it forward” together by helping & supporting a mutual friend through her battle with uterine cancer. Our own experiences have taught us the value of being there for friends going through personal cancer struggles… & staying there for them after recovery.

I believe Beth & I were pretty cool women BEFORE cancer, we would have been friends without it & continue to be in SPITE of it. BECAUSE of it we’ve both become even more aware of the true value of friendship.

Willy always goes with me now to get my annual mammograms because he knows that I want him there. I’ve told him that while he’s waiting in the waiting area close by I know he is there & that he is my “courage.”

Tuesday when Willy & I arrived at the Mammography Center & I was signing in, the receptionist asked, Are you Linda Smith?”  She said there had been a delivery for me & handed me one significant pink long stemmed rose wrapped in green florist paper. The card said, “All will be fine. Women just need flowers.”



Invasion of the Non-Profits

16 Feb

A number of years ago we started getting phone calls from a “heavy breather” just like that old cliché.  They were frequent & in the beginning I thought it was someone having an asthma attack calling because they knew I was a nurse & might be able to help them. That theory was debunked in no time when the heavy breathing escalated to foul language & some unattractive name calling that simply didn’t apply to anyone in our house. So we changed the number & had the new one non-listed & non-published. The heavy breather moved on to another victim or possibly the hospital, depending on what his original intent / diagnosis was.

For the longest time we enjoyed a peaceful coexistence with our land line phone. When it rang we knew it was someone we’d given the new number to or, on occasion, a wrong number. We were blissfully ignorant of what was to come.

With more & more frequency we’ve been getting solicitations on the phone for donations from non-profits. We put ourselves on the “National Don’t Call List.” We have an answering machine. We simply don’t answer when we see a number from out of the area or one that comes up on our caller ID as “UNAVAILABLE.”

It became so annoying that I did a little research & found out just what was going on.

We can put ourselves on the “National Don’t Call List” every day all day long, which will stop some annoying calls but will NOT stop non-profits from reaching us by phone. Non-profits are exempt from anything that prohibits our phone number from being called. I REALLY have a problem with that.

After a call several months ago that Willy answered, he checked on the non-profit that supposedly was soliciting donations for veterans welfare. The non-profit existed but there were numerous complaints against them. When they called back, he told them that. Almost as though he had put fire to their feet or at least their dialing fingers, their phone calls became more frequent even after Willy asked to be removed from their call list. They called Thursday AND Friday last week & Willy, a gentle man by nature, became firm & almost ugly about removing us from their call list. We’ll see how that works out for us.

I have a different approach. I tell the caller that we pay for an unlisted number because we want our PRIVACY, yet their call comes up on our caller ID as UNAVAILABLE … giving THEM the privacy WE’RE paying for. I’m not nice from the get-go & some have stopped calling, while others persist. Willy says I’m so ugly to them he almost feels sorry for them. I hate being ugly to anyone but I’m at the end of my rope as we get no less than 3 of these calls EVERY DAY.

Willy & I support many non-profits & make donations to specific ones each year although we can’t donate to EVERY one, but it would be nice if we could. But we definitely do NOT make any donations over the phone. We’ve seen too many commercials where older, trusting people get scammed out of their pensions just by thinking they’re helping someone in need. We’re practicing caution for our elder years.

As we have begun getting these calls as early as 8 a.m. & as late as 9:30 p.m. I’ve developed a system. When an UNAVAILABLE number, especially one from out of our area code comes up on our caller ID, I answer the phone in my best “machine voice” & say, “If your call comes up on our caller ID as UNAVAILABLE we will not answer the phone. Thank you.” I actually think that may be working a little because we seem to be getting a tad less unwanted calls. The down side is I did that recently shortly after ordering flowers for a favorite aunt for her birthday. The florist called me back with a question using an unfamiliar UNAVAILABLE number & I gave my best “answering machine” voice response &, as a result & the following confusion, they canceled my flower order. When I realized the number was actually familiar I called it back & straightened out the birthday flower mess. This should never have happened.

I told the non-profit guy who called last night at 9:15 p.m. that I am president of a non-profit (our science fiction club) & that we canvas for donations but we NEVER contact people in their homes during non-business hours. I told him non-profits are invading our privacy & to remove us from his call list. He not only agreed to do that but gave me a numerical code to use to block any further calls from them. He said it wouldn’t stop other non-profits but it would stop THEIRS.  We’ll see.

The thing is, we shouldn’t have to put up with these annoying calls when we’re trying to sleep or work from home or watch a favorite television show. If we pay extra on a monthly basis for an unpublished number, that number should not be available to ANYONE & should not be randomly called from a computer. Non-profits should NOT be exempt from this. I wish I had an answer to this dilemma because I know thousands of us would benefit from it.

Probably the most successful solution I’ve heard of was from a nurse friend who frequently is “on call” at the hospital & often sleeps during the day. When the phone rings & it’s a non-profit asking for her husband, she simply says, I’m sorry, he died last month.”  If they ask for her she says, I’m the housekeeper &, I’m sorry, she died last week.” Surprisingly, this seems to work for her.

It’s a shame & seems extreme, to say the least, to have to fake your own death to get the non-profits to stop calling your land line. Lots of people I know have had their land line phones removed from service & use their cell phones exclusively to get their privacy back. The phone companies should take notice … they are losing business because of non-profits & the sooner they realize that, something just might be done. For businesses, losing money is the match that ignites the rocket.

Exclusive cell phone use will work for our cell phone dependent friends for a while but I’m betting the non-profits will find them eventually & their cell phones will be sitting in the charger with a lot more frequency. We’re already getting advertisements on our cell phones…Sigh.

For now, if you call & get my real made up “machine message” that’s actually me faking it or a strange message related to our untimely demise, please … just send me an email.


Bread and Toilet Paper: How One Word Changes Everything

12 Feb

It’s coming!!! …the BIG snowstorm of the century, or at least our biggest in the past four years. Once again in anticipation, schools & businesses jumped the gun last night & started closing everything, only to find out from the next Weather-To-Go forecast that the arrival wouldn’t be a morning event but a late afternoon one.  Foiled again! Kids are missing another day of school & will be sitting in hot classrooms far into the summer. But it’s best to err on the side of caution.

The city has been tossing chemicals on the highways & bridges since we were supposed to get a light snow Saturday morning that never materialized … but the roads have been ready. They’ve even been using that new beet juice concoction that melts ice & snow.  So far, though, we haven’t been able to find out if “vegetable intervention” has been a worthy opponent for ice & snow because it simply hasn’t happened. But it’s coming & beets will get their chance to prove themselves worthy… or not.

Schools & highways notwithstanding, some of us have grown skeptical about snow. It’s not really the fault of our meteorologists that our faith has been shaken. They tell us what’s coming & it’s not their fault that, so far, the weather patterns have changed abruptly & cheated us out of the predicted weather event.

This time is probably the time we should abandon our skeptical mentality because I don’t think we’re going to dodge this bullet. All maps & predictions tell us its coming & it is coming BIG … headed straight at us.

Looking out my kitchen window I’ve noticed that the next street over is lined with cars that usually are stored & stationed in garages & driveways. Today my neighbors have moved their vehicles onto the street for an easier get-away & Willy, who works for the power company, packed a bag this morning & left telling me he didn’t know when he’d see me again. I’d like to think all these precautions are “overkill,” but they probably aren’t.

What surprised me earlier this week is that the grocery stores hadn’t been inundated with frenzy snow shoppers until Tuesday evening. I stopped by the store on my way home from a meeting on Monday morning & shelves were packed with bread, milk was stacked on top of other milk cartons, eggs were piled high in the cooler & toilet paper was an abundant commodity. These are usually the “great predictors” of snow events above & beyond what we hear on the Weather Channel. Not so on Monday morning. So while I was there, & having heard the forecast for later in the week, I stocked up on all those necessities.

I don’t understand why we assume that a big snowstorm is going to keep us locked up in the house until the spring thaw but it seems I share that mentality. While it was available, as I said, I stocked up. We now have an entire shelf full of eggs in the fridge, enough milk to sustain a hotel full of growing children who need tooth & bone strengthening, enough bread to make sandwiches & toast until 2017 & 58 rolls of double ply toilet paper.

By news time on Tuesday evening when Wednesday evening’s snow storm  became a looming probability (we’d shifted from a Watch to a Warning), the rest of the city had been nudged into action by the S-word & cleaned the shelves of most local grocery & convenience stores. In Bread & Toilet Paper Land it’s amazing how the SNOW word changes everything & converts seemingly normal people into hoarders.

It’s looking really snow-like outside & I believe that by the time this is posted & read by several people, the snow will be upon us. Probably it’s MY fault for moaning & complaining in a previous blog post about us being missed by all the snow this winter. I keep thinking about that old proverb, Be careful what you wish for. You might get it …”

I’d like to say that I’m writing this post purely from the standpoint of an observer who is amazed by the affect just hearing the word SNOW has on people. And I CAN say that with conviction until I walk into our sun room where 58 rolls of double ply toilet paper are stacked up on the sofa with no chance of finding an empty cabinet large enough to hold them.

SNOW … (bread & toilet paper): it’s amazing how one word changes everything.


Ancestors: Sam, John & Will. Part Two: John

11 Feb

I wish I’d had a chance to know my great grandfather, Reverend John N. Stallings, but he had been dead many years by the time I entered this world at noon on a cold New Year’s Eve.

I might have been born the first local baby to arrive in the New Year but on the way to the hospital, & being in full labor, my mom & dad stopped at Saleeby’s where he bought her two loaded foot long hotdogs, which she ate. As long as I knew her she swore those two hotdogs pushed me prematurely into the world 12 hours ahead of winning a ton of prizes reserved for the first baby born in the New Year.

Not only was my great grandfather dead by the time I greeted the world (no doubt belching onions & slaw) but his son, my grandfather was also dead & I never had the chance to meet either of them. I understand, however, that father & son were as different as night & day.

You can actually Google my great grandfather & find out a lot about him. There’s something sort of exciting about being able to do that, but then, he was a colorful character driven to excel in many venues & it’s no surprise that Google holds him successfully suspended in time during his era & his success.

I don’t know much about his years as a boy but I DO know that he went to law school while he was raising his family. He became an attorney & practiced law as his family grew & grew up. After getting them mostly raised he went back to school & became a Baptist minister.  His two career choices seem somewhat divergent but I suppose it shows his broad scope of interests & his general diversity, which isn’t a bad thing. But I do wonder if his careers ever overlapped & how. I don’t have time to speculate about that now but I’ll bet there were some interesting stories floating around in the family anecdote pool.

The son of a Baptist minister himself, I’m assuming his ministerial calling was as great as that of the law because he continued practicing both actively throughout most of his productive years & did some pretty amazing things.

At the close of the War Between the States, he organized a local police organization to help keep order and diminish the possibility of any repercussions that might arise from the freedom of the slaves. He was a member of the 1875 Constitutional Convention. He also taught school for many years at Warsaw, Magnolia, and at the Clinton Female Institute & founded several North Carolina churches.

During his busy life as lawyer, minister and teacher, he found time to establish The Clinton Caucasian, a newspaper which was later edited by the Honorable Marion Butler; journalist, politician & senator. He gave up the practice of law in 1886 and became President of Thomasville Female College in Thomasville, NC.

The church I remember almost from the womb was the Stallings Memorial Baptist Church in Salisbury, NC. Great Granddaddy John was actually the minister there as well as the founder. When I was a small child my grandmother … his daughter-in-law … was the matriarch of that old church; the “go to” person to get something done or from whom to find out a bit of history. She always had the current minister over after Sunday services for lunch because that was just what she did.

Today we are scattered &, as far as I know, I am the only surviving descendant.

On my last trip home to visit the church in 2006 we arrived unexpectedly after the Sunday service. The assistant pastor was in his office. Surprised, but pleased to meet us, he gave us a tour of the church & the new addition, of which he was terribly proud.

Stepping into the old part of the church & into the sanctuary took me back many years; the smell of the church, the stained glass windows with real “picture stories” that I remembered from childhood, the pews I sat in with my mom & grandmother. I remembered Vacation Bible School there & carrying the Christian Flag & where the doors led that are on either side of the alter. I remembered, as a child, being intrigued by the baptismal pool that was back lit; a large stained glass illuminated picture of Jesus at his baptism.

In the women’s bathroom there was a very small toilet … child size … that I loved when I was the perfect size to use it. The assistant pastor laughed when I asked him if it was still there & smiled at my reaction when he showed me that it was.

The church has a History Room now & the pastor couldn’t wait to show it to us. Walking through the door the first thing you see is a black & white photo of my great grandfather. It is one of three originals. I have one but don’t know where the third one is. When we walked in, Willy in true Willy fashion said, “Hey, I know that dude.”

The History Room is not only filled with items from years gone by … pictures & ancient collection plates, my great grandfather’s Bible … it is filled with my family history … photos of my grandmother, of my aunts & uncles, of my mom as a child, her parents together. In that room the power of the things I remember & the things I don’t is overwhelming.

In his private life my great grandfather was an artist. He gave some of his art work away but never sold any. I have one of his original charcoal sketches; a flop-eared dog wearing a scarf around his neck.

He also made furniture. I have a corner chair he made out of cane & it has the original upholstery. Additionally, I own a broach that had belonged to my great grandmother. On my next trip home I plan to donate the chair & the broach to the church’s History Room where they really should be & where they belong.  I can’t quite make myself part with the charcoal drawing of the flop-eared dog that is over 100 years old & still charms me … not yet.

I wonder how much my great grandfather, without ever meeting him, has shaped me. I remember a relative remarking once, “Linda gets her artistic talent from him.” I’d like to believe that that is so.

*         *          *

In my grandmother’s dining room, hanging on either side of the window were pictures of HER mother & father. I don’t remember her ever sharing much about either one of them but they looked sad, neither one smiling … & weary; both wearing black. What I remember most about those pictures in large round frames is that one or the other of them would fall off the wall with some frequency but would never be damaged & the ancient glass remained intact.

When the pictures would fall, my grandmother would solemnly & prophetically predict that someone was going to die. And someone always did.


The Groundhog that Ate Amherst County

2 Feb

I was just talking to two friends about Groundhog Day. We all agreed we weren’t exactly pleased with Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction earlier this morning. We’ve got Cabin Fever & weren’t really crazy about the outcome of Phil’s trip to “the outside,” resulting in six more weeks of winter. Barbara said, “What Happens in Punxsutawney Should STAY in Punxsutawney” & we all agreed.

Seems everybody is affected by The Groundhog on this second day of February. Our minister told us in church this morning that he saw HIS shadow, if anybody cared.

Barbara, a former Roanoker, said she remembered Virginia’s groundhogs being 300 pounds & about seven feet tall. She said Phil, at 12 pounds, could probably eat her cat if he liked her & Rae Rae said HER cat could take Phil in a heartbeat. I told them both that Virginia groundhogs are so big that I’ve seen them riding down the side of the road headed for the fresh vegetable section of the grocery store in a Hover Round.

And there’s more …. WSET TV’s Chief Meteorologist has a photo of The Groundhog holding a sign that says, I’m a rodent, not a meteorologist.”  And there’s an accompanying photo of Mr. Sublette holding a sign that says, “I’m a meteorologist, not a rodent.”

Would we enjoy this furry, fat creature as much had he told us warmer days were surely coming to relieve this stretch of single digit temperatures & that spring is just around the corner? I don’t think so. I think P. Phil gives us an emotional break from all that’s been bothering us since winter began & he is a cool focus for our complaints. He gives us a day of speculation, jokes & fun & we should EMBRACE THE HOG.

This is short because not only is it Groundhog Day … it’s Super Bowl Sunday. We’re spending the evening with friends & I’m on my way to make some of those Red Lobster cheese biscuits & a bunch of brownies to fatten us up & give P. Phil some competition in the hefty department; we’ll be eating all that & more at the Super Bowl Party.

I hate to stop writing but there’s only so much you can say about a rodent … albeit a fat one … who stuck his head out this morning, saw his shadow & will be personally responsibile for every bit of bad weather we have from now until the Fourth of July. If I had time, I’d tell you about the Groundhog that Ate Amherst County ……………..