Nose Hairs and the Trimmer

29 May

My husband & I have reached the point in our lives where we have just about everything we need, which presents a problem at Christmas & birthdays. We don’t know what to give to each other. While gift cards are ideal – you can use them to get something you REALLY want or are great for a meal during an evening out in, say, March or April, they don’t offer the same holiday excitement you get opening a beautifully wrapped gift.

Several years ago my husband gave me a lovely little wrapped gift for Christmas that held all that holiday surprise (he wrapped it himself). I opened it to find a very small & delicate trimmer. In fact, the package said, “TRIMMER.” It also said, “Personal Trimmer,” which led my husband to assume it was an eyebrow trimmer & that’s what he told me. While the package did say, “TRIMMER,” the accompanying picture in the literature showed that delicate little cutting tool being used to trim nostril hair & said it was great as a “nose hair trimmer.” Because I didn’t have nostril hair falling onto my upper lip with wind blowing it around & causing me to lisp when speaking, I accepted it graciously as it had been given.

When I was a small child growing up in North Carolina I remember a barber shop that advertised, Shave, Haircut, Ear & Nose Hair Trimming. I remember a man sitting in front of us in church that had a huge crop of ear hair falling out of his ears onto the sides of his face &, although I don’t remember his face, I will never forget that mane of hair plummeting from each of his ears that fascinated me sitting behind him in church. I suppose he also had a bunch falling out of his nostrils but I don’t remember ever looking.  In my young mind I made up stories about that hair & kept myself occupied until the adult service had ended, sometimes dragging on after 12 noon.

That was one of those memories that suddenly surfaced while I was holding that little TRIMMER package in my hand & reading the accompanying literature.

When I put the gift away in a bathroom drawer, I thought a lot about superfluous hair, with a target on nose hair … primarily because there was a picture.

So what is nostril hair for anyway? I’m sure I’m not the only person who has ruminated over that question, so here is what I know. Physically, it not only catches some small stuff & debris & keeps it from entering our noses (small stuff we can’t even see); it also warms up the air that we breathe when we inhale. If you’ve ever noticed walking out to your car on that first VERY cold morning of  winter & suddenly you feel like your nose hairs are frozen, then you get an idea of what great nose & internal body warmers those little nostril hairs really are & you, like I, just might ask yourself if trimming those unsightly things back is a good idea. Well, now that I think about it, probably not in the dead of winter. If we allow them to do their job, they make not only a pretty great filter, they can be an excellent nostril muff.

I guess nose hair trimming can be overdone as with anything we do to excess & I wouldn’t recommend doing it to the extreme. There are some cases, however, where regular nose hair grooming is imperative … like if they’re dragging on your top lip & becoming incidental conversation starters at parties or if they are flapping in the breeze, making eating & coherent speech difficult or become a distraction when giving a very important verbal presentation.  If that is the case, have I got a tool for you!!!

If, however, extreme nostril hair is helpful in your life, like when you’re on a trip & accidentally leave your tooth brush at home, then maybe investing in a nose hair trimmer wouldn’t be your first purchase for the trip. However, I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest braiding them or adorning them with nose hair jewelry. That seems a bit extreme but in the quiet of your own home, well, what happens at home should STAY at home & that’s all I’m going to say about that.

After a while I DID use the TRIMMER to tame a wayward eyebrow or two & have continued to use it for that purpose. It works just fine.

I will warn you, though, while good nostril health is imperative to all around good health & they should stay aesthetically pleasing, you don’t want to go poking around in there so much. It can be frustrating & you can do some REAL damage with a nose hair trimmer. Not that I know from experience but I can just imagine the perils of placing a small, battery-operated cutting tool into those two holes in the front of your head & coming out on the worst end of that experiment.

In conclusion I just want to thank my husband for a Christmas gift that has kept my eyebrows perfectly groomed for the past several years & led me to an intellectually fascinating quest to learn everything there was to learn about Nostril Wellness.

And what about that old man in church when I was just a curious child who had all that oscillating hair emanating from each of his ears? Well, that was a long time ago & I’m sure he’s dead by now … taking with him his personal secret of that lengthy growth. On the other hand, even though I don’t remember his face, I DO remember him. I guess it’s even possible that I may be the ONLY person alive on this planet that does, so in a way, my husband’s unusual  Christmas gift was more than a way of finding a unique gift to give to someone who has everything. It has been a learning experience &, more important than that, it has made me remember a poor, old forgotten man who died long ago & would never have been remembered otherwise.

Nostril hairs … God love ‘em ……………..



Mother’s Day

10 May

At 84 she was frail & ravaged by end-stage COPD when she died due to a 40 year history of smoking. She quit when she was 68 but by then the worst of the damage was done, yet she lived 16 more years, as much by sheer determination as by good medical intervention. Towards the end of her life she described herself, not as frail, but as “fragile.”

After I went through a divorce, she promised not to go “anywhere” until I was settled. And she didn’t. She lived long enough to see me married to my husband, Willy & finally happy.

I loved my mother more than anything, ever. From the time I was old enough to pray with understanding, the main message in my prayers was for the safety of my mom & that I be allowed to have her in my life a while longer. Subconsciously, that was probably in part due to the sudden loss of my father when I was 6 to an unexpected coronary thrombosis. I harbored the fear that my remaining parent might be taken from me just as suddenly.

Throughout my life my mom was my teacher, my mentor, my best friend & my disciplinarian. She saw to it that I had everything I needed & a lot of what I really wanted, even if it meant working extra hours or long weekends at the phone company. Many of the lessons I learned from her were taught to me through her wonderful & unique sense of humor & the optimistic view she had of life, which she held onto even in the face of personal disappointment.

Growing up, my elementary school girl friends loved pajama parties at my house mainly because of my mom & my high school best friend, who couldn’t talk to her own mother, talked to mine.

My mom taught me compassion, understanding & love. She taught me respect, not only for people but all living things. She taught me to believe in myself, my judgement & my decisions but she also taught me humility & how to admit when I was wrong or had made a mistake. She taught me to understand finances, to be independent, how to manage my bank account & my emotions. She was there WITH me & always FOR me.

I believe most everyone’s mom was / is like that but to me my mother was unique in the universe & to this day, she continues to be.

Most of the critical medical problems I’ve had have been since my mother’s death. But, oh, how I wished she had been there with me when they reared their ugly heads. I especially missed her when I was diagnosed with breast cancer & went through nearly a year of chemotherapy & radiation. I believe she would have been proud of the way I handled all that & the life changes I’ve made as a result of it but mainly I wished for her closeness during those times because of her way of handling illness. She would tell me, “It’s going to be alright,” & I always believed her, even though I knew intellectually it wasn’t always going to be.

When she knew her time was limited she tried to tell me things she wanted me to know; from stories of her life she’d never shared with anyone but wanted to, to where important papers were. I couldn’t listen & she responded by gently asking me, “Do you think I’m going to live forever?” My response to her was a very defiant, “I’m counting on it.” And so she told my husband everything she wanted me to know & after her death, when he thought I could handle it, he told those things to me. I came to think of those times as Mama Moments & through his telling them to me from his heart where she’d placed them, it helped keep her alive a while longer when I really needed her to be.

When I feel lonely without my mom & the special feelings of warmth & security we feel when our moms hold us close, I remember her sense of humor & the wonderfully unexpected & humorous things she said. And I smile. Sometimes I burst into laughter & feel her at my side, reaching out to grab my hand while smiling into my eyes & into my heart.

One of the things I miss most, aside from conversations, afternoons shopping, lunches at our favorite restaurants, sharing exceptional books & going to spur-of-the-moment movie matinees is no longer being anyone’s “little girl.” No matter how old she & I were or got to be, I was always that to her & we both knew it & were wrapped in the warm cocoon of that knowledge & that special place we shared. It is a love that is shared only by mothers & daughters & I am forever blessed to have known that in my life & to have been in that special place.

The author, Mitch Albom wrote a novel several years ago called, For Just One More Day.  Its premise is a simple one & here is a description of the premise as it appears in the advertisement for the novel:

A beautiful, haunting novel about the family we love & the chances we miss.

   FOR ONE MORE DAY is the story of a mother & son, & the relationship that covers a lifetime & beyond. It explores the question, “What would you do if you could spend just one more day with a lost loved one?”

I bought the book because I was intrigued with the possibility & the premise set loose in me a huge desire to have just one more day with my mom. What would I tell her? What would she tell ME? How could I ever let her go again?

Mainly I would just like to hug her & feel the warmth of her …  that frail body…  & drown in the hugeness of her personality & her love for me … to be her “little girl” For Just One More Day.

I’d tell her, Happy Mother’s Day & thank her especially for being my Mom.



BLAND is a Four-Letter Word

24 Apr

I’ve thought about the word “bland” a lot. What I’ve decided is that it’s definitely a 4-letter word although not in the same context as the more obvious 4-letter curse words. You can say “bland” at the Sunday morning church service & not be removed by a deacon & you can shout it out in almost any public venue & not be removed by the bouncer … unless, of course, it’s a quiet setting where shouting is frowned upon. But “bland” still qualifies as being offensive, even if in a subtle or passive aggressive way.

Here’s what the dictionary says about “bland:”

Bland / bland / adjective – lacking strong features or characteristics & therefore uninteresting. Synonyms: uninteresting, dull, boring, tedious, monotonous, monochrome

So if we say someone has a bland personality that certainly qualifies as an insult (even if the person DOES, indeed, have a bland personality) &, to some, qualifies it as a 4-letter word, depending on how they perceive the depth of the insult. The same is true of saying someone has a “bland” wardrobe, sense of humor, lifestyle or is a “bland” conversationalist. Heaven forbid that we should live in a house with a “bland” exterior or have someone (other than ourselves) describe our marriage as “bland.”  Deliver me from spending time reading a “bland” novel or watching a movie with a rather “bland” plot.

So that’s how I decided “bland” is a 4-letter word. It is often more offensive than those other, real 4-letter words that get us kicked out of places or frowned upon as socially unacceptable when we use them.

“Bland,” I think, is also an onomatopoeia. It’s one of those words that sound like what it actually is. The word “bland” just sounds gray or muddy brown & lacks the excitement of words like “exhilaration.”

Now, a “bland” diet is something I’m way too familiar with.  I got too familiar with it for the 5 months I was on one while my doctors & I tried to figure out why I kept waking up in the morning sick with an upset stomach … from the stomach literally to the last silly millimeter of my colon.  The detective work led to a rotten gallbladder but that is secondary to the story. It was miserable & while I struggled through that, the diet of choice for me was “bland.”

 A “bland” diet will sustain life. However, if you’re one of those people who build social events & friendships around dinner out, then “bland” is definitely not going to be your cup of tea. Perhaps the most redeeming quality of a “bland” diet is something I remember from childhood & a friend’s mom who was a lousy cook. If anyone complained about the quality of her meals, she would simply respond, “It fills a hole.” And that’s exactly what a “bland” diet does; it fills you up while keeping you alive with absolutely no frills or fanfare.

So during those 5 months I ate the heck out of grits & rice & green beans, peas, oyster crackers, Jell-O & Animal Crackers. There is most likely a potato shortage in Idaho because of my almost daily consumption & I’m guessing the majority of chicken farms are saving money on mammary supports for their hens. I’ve consumed more chicken breasts than there are chickens & most are currently mastectomy survivors, thanks to my “bland” diet.

In the early stages I’d bake a potato at home & take it with me when dining in the home of friends. In late December we were invited to a restaurant with a number of friends to celebrate someone’s birthday. I wanted to go & told my husband I’d just order a baked potato.   Unfortunately, the dinner was at the ONLY restaurant on this PLANET that did NOT have baked potatoes on the menu &, although we were certain there were potatoes somewhere in the kitchen in that restaurant, they refused to bake one for me. So I sat with my Coke & watched my friends eat the most delicious meals. In addition to that particular restaurant, “bland” sucks.

Easing AWAY from a “bland” diet is challenging. You attempt to add new (old) foods to your diet a little bit at a time, hoping to be able to add them permanently BACK into your list of “CAN EAT” foods. There is nothing more exciting than being able to add a food to your list of those you can once again tolerate. Adding pork tenderloin to my diet & eventually Vanilla Wafers was a time of rejoicing & celebration, even though they were once such an accepted part of my diet. I will never take Vanilla Wafers for granted again.

What I’ve learned about “bland” is this:

  1. “Bland” is a 4-letter word & the things we associate with it can seem offensive, if not downright insulting by association.
  2. “Bland” is an onomatopoeia. It SOUNDS like it actually is … gray, muddy brown & lacking in most everything exhilarating.
  3. A “bland” diet will keep you alive. It will keep your stomach & your colon reasonably quiet & you will lose weight. Your cholesterol will take a nose dive & your medical doctor will be impressed, so at least it’s satisfying to someone.

What it WON’T do is bring you joy at dinnertime. It won’t titillate your taste buds & a certain restaurant in our area will not serve you a baked potato because they aren’t included on their rather spicy menu … whether they have them physically on the premises or not.

  1. I’d rather deal with a “bland” diet than nausea, vomiting & diarrhea but not for very long. Potatoes, chicken & Jell-O get “old” quickly & you start lusting after your husband’s roast beef sandwich & that pizza he brought home as a carry-out.
  2. Mealtime is a wonderful thing when you start adding foods to your meager “bland” diet & are able to tolerate them again.
  3. Life is still a beautiful thing, even when infused with a little “bland.
  4. Except for a “bland” diet when it’s necessary, you can always steer clear of those people with “bland” personalities, lousy choices in clothing, housing & spouses.

Sacrificing an Organ ….

21 Mar

I’m convinced, due to my own experience, that we don’t really appreciate food. We probably really enjoy a special meal when we’re out for an evening but even then I don’t think we REALLY appreciate food.

Food – the flavor, the satisfaction of the taste on our tongues, the different textures PLUS the time for social interaction with good friends around a wonderful meal are so important to our emotional well-being … just as sitting down to a rather normal evening meal after a difficult day at work is. When those things suddenly are missing in our lives we are impacted in a variety of ways; not the least of which is a tremendous sense of loss.

I’d been having digestive issues perhaps 1 to 3 times a year since way back in 2009 when I was having chemotherapy for breast cancer. At the time of the first several attacks I simply associated them with the chemo. When they continued the years following the end of that treatment, they were infrequent enough not to cause unusual concern.

For anywhere from 1 to 3 days I was incapacitated several times a year with nausea, vomiting & the associated inconveniences. I could never pinpoint an association to a specific food. When a couple of attacks interfered with something very special I had planned, I finally saw a gastroenterologist.

Diagnosed with acid reflux, I was subjected to all the “purple pills” in the available arsenal of medicines that were known to treat that illness. And I had a gastroscopy that revealed an esophageal condition called eosinophilic esophagitis; an esophageal reaction to an allergen, most likely food. Since I had no symptoms (swallowing difficulties), I wasn’t treated for that. But my attacks of nausea, vomiting & that other stuff persisted, still on a 1 to 3 attacks per year basis. In between attacks I ate what I wanted. It was weird.

Suddenly the last of November in 2016 everything changed. The attack episodes kicked up a notch & I began having an attack every-other-week through December. Now, December is a very important month to me as it probably is to most of us. The food is pretty spectacular at Christmas & throughout the holidays & my birthday is December 31. Not only did I miss most of that because I was AFRAID to eat after a while, I missed the entire winter season while trying to find a reason for the attacks & began a medical odyssey the likes of which I could never have imagined.

Because I woke up first thing in the morning with the attacks, I became afraid to go to sleep.  The GI guy had me sleeping almost sitting straight up because of the acid reflux thing & one of my medicines gives me insomnia. A good night’s sleep became an impossibility.  And I was afraid to eat anything that wasn’t on my increasingly brief list of tolerated foods. I was a psychological mess in addition to all the physical problems.

Our lives changed drastically.

Through January & February I had every kind of “scope” known to man & the medical community. If I had an unfilled orifice someone found a way to stick a scope in it. Everything was negative except for the eosinophilic esophagitis that was asymptomatic. It was frustrating.

I put myself on a very bland diet. Afraid to eat anything other than bland … meaning “good,” … I started losing weight. I figured a little weight loss was a good thing but by the time I made some definite decisions about what to do about the attacks,  I had lost 15 pounds, most of which I didn’t need to lose. My list of tolerable foods was short, my dessert was Jell-O only & my snacks consisted of oyster & Animal Crackers. All crackers & Jell-O & no real enjoyable snack foods made me a very dull girl. I was use to cookies.

To make a long story a little less long, nurse that I am, I started thinking my symptoms sounded a lot like gallbladder attacks so I asked my GI guy to please do a gallbladder ultrasound. He agreed & ordered it but said he didn’t think that was the problem. The results came back “abnormal.” While I didn’t have gallstones, I DID have “sludge.”

It became evident that if you don’t have gallstones the size of Cleveland, very few medical professionals take you seriously. BUT … I was an OR nurse for more than half my life & I KNOW “sludge” can make you very ill. So I pursued it.

Throughout January & February I saw no less than 5 doctors & had enough bloodwork to justify a zipper in a vein if there were such a thing. 3 agreed with me & believed my “sludgy” gallbladder was causing my suddenly very frequent & unpleasant attacks. One said he didn’t think it could possibly be the cause & the 5th. doctor became a fence sitter.

After being an OR nurse for so many years, the last thing I wanted to consider was surgery so I did everything within my power & what medical expertise I possessed to avoid a cholecystectomy (surgical gallbladder removal). The last physician I saw before making my decision was an allergist about the esophageal thing. He tested me for 70 food allergies, all of which were negative & said he believed my problem was digestive & not esophageal or due to an allergen.

So I made the decision to have the gallbladder surgery. Suddenly sacrificing an organ became a small thing in the grand scheme of getting my life back & enjoying food again.

Cascading events …………..

As so often happens, especially if you happen to be a nurse, I ran into a set of cascading events. As I was beginning to lose significant amounts of hair, was very cold & tired – most of which I attributed to the GI attacks, my medical doctor discovered my thyroid levels were extremely low & she began treating me for that; promising I would feel better soon. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time.

For months I had had my annual mammogram scheduled & that came just 3 days before my posted gallbladder surgery. Because of my previous breast cancer, the annual mammogram always fills me with anxiety … anxiety I didn’t need while preparing for surgery & dealing with significantly lower thyroid levels but I’m a tough old girl & made it through … stressed to the max but very glad the mammogram, at least, was negative.

The Dominoes continued to fall. Once those darned things get started, you just can’t stop them & I still had some unpleasant cascading events ahead. I could not have imagined ….

Surgery, thankfully, went without problems. When I was dressing to leave the hospital I realized I had a terrible sore throat so I asked the nurse to take a look. With flashlight in hand, she reported that my uvula (that little hang-down thing in the back of our throats) was red & very swollen. The injury was due to intubation prior to surgery. She spoke to the anesthesiologist about it & they sent me home sucking ice chips. The post-op discharge pain medicine seemed to decrease the throat pain as well.

Saturday morning, back home, after breakfast I noticed something in the back of my very sore throat … coughed it up & found out it was the tip of my uvula, so traumatized that it simply sloughed off. This would ONLY happen to a nurse … sigh.

I just realized there’s no way I can make this a short story so my apologies to those struggling along with me.

Day 2 post op …

After lunch, which was difficult because of the uvula discomfort, I attempted to “keep things moving” & did quite a lot of straining. This resulted in a colon bleed of fairly significant proportions. My doctor sent me to the ER on Sunday evening. After being examined & seeing 2 doctors I was admitted to the hospital.

It occurred to me that I am older … not as resilient … & that I didn’t really want to die. I had the gallbladder surgery in an honest attempt to be able to do nothing more than eat again. Mortality due to a colon bleed seemed anticlimactic, yet absolutely possible & my stress level went up to “arc weld.”

I was hospitalized for almost 3 full days, none of which I was fed anything but IVs because the looming possibility of surgery was always right there with me. I saw 4 doctors (one was my original surgeon, thankfully), 2 nurse practitioners who were wonderful & one surgeon “on call” who suggested I might have to have my colon removed as a last resort. I told the nurse in no uncertain terms that he would not TOUCH me.

I had blood work no less than 2 times a day & a full assortment of x-rays. If I don’t glow in the dark it’s a miracle.

My original surgeon … the voice of reason in that cataclysmic void … assured me that even though no one could find the source of the bleeding, it would resolve itself. I was counting on him knowing exactly what he was talking about. Around mid-day on Tuesday, that’s exactly what happened & I was discharged from the hospital … given a clear liquid diet & 5 more pounds lighter.

So now I’ve been home a week & the gallbladder surgery was 11 days ago. My husband took a week of vacation to stay home with me but he is back at work now. This week has not been without its difficulties but I believe we may have finally turned the corner sometime on Sunday night.

I’m better …

I’m still taking special care about my diet, mainly because of the colon bleed & not wanting to eat something that would kick off an episode of nausea & vomiting. Heaving is not on my dance card until my gallbladder has healed a bit longer.

Was it all worth sacrificing an organ? Yes … if everything works eventually & I can eat like a normal person again, it was.

As I’m slowly introducing different foods into my diet, I’m looking forward to the day when I can eat a full meal filled with diversity & shared with friends.  Someone gave me a case of Cadbury Crème Eggs, which is the light at the end of my tunnel & my goal for full recovery.

Gallbladder surgery is a simple thing these days. They use a scope through buttonhole incisions & most people are back at work in just a matter of days. But I DO caution you no matter what you’re undertaking medically or surgically if you happen to be a nurse. Dominoes & cascading events follow us around like flies on a pile of very ugly stuff. Do your research & make sure whatever course you’ve decided to follow, you are prepared for events that seldom happen to “normal” people. We usually survive because being a nurse has made us not only tough, but REALLY tough. Just be prepared … this can happen to you.

20 pounds slimmer as of Sunday, today I’ve finally gained a pound. My butt is gone & I miss those curves in my jeans & in the mirror. 6 months ago I couldn’t have imagined hoping to gain weight. In the grand scheme of things, I guess it’s all relative.


The Quiet Room

7 Mar

The room is lovely; serene & conducive to quiet speculation or whispered communication. The swirls in the mint green carpet complement the upholstery on the chairs, the hardwood sections of the floor & the paintings that adorn the walls. Even with the obvious hand of a decorator, it remains a nondescript room for waiting but adds some of the comforts of home like fresh coffee in a coffee maker, a small refrigerator stocked with canned drinks & little baskets filled with cheese crackers & various other cracker snacks.  A large flat screen TV hangs on the wall, its audio kept at a somewhat subdued level for those who are inclined to watch. Significantly, there is a box of tissues on the coffee table.

This morning there are 12 of us filling most of the seats. It is quiet & we don’t immediately speak; faces lost in thought; eyes seeing some far away image of a life well lived or a child waiting to be loved. Most of all there is sadness; not only in the eyes of those sitting & waiting, but it seems to hang on the well-appointed wallpaper, left there from years of women who have gone before us this morning & waiting to be brought to life by some memory or word that has been said there far too many times before.

We’re all wearing the same thing – our uniform; a long hospital gown made of the same fabric tied in the front….except for the elderly woman to my right who has tied her gown in the back in the usual way unable to understand that here we wear them differently. We tied them in the front for easy access & there’s something sad about that, too.

We’re all sharing space in this room together because of a similar condition. This is the Breast Imaging Center & it’s not the place most women go to get their annual mammograms.  On the contrary … this is where we go to get follow-up mammograms when the original one we got is somehow defective or irregular or abnormal. This is why we share the silence today & the hollow-eyed vacancy of a stare with tears & fear just rippling under the surface.

Some of us are here for the first time. Some of us are repeat attenders … we’ve gone down that breast cancer road & from that day forward we have come & will continue coming to this place for our annual mammograms because we are survivors hoping to continue to be just that – survivors. We are somehow forever different & we gather here annually to check & recheck our status, hoping for the best.

Because this is soon to be my 9th. year of survivorship, I break the palpable silence. This isn’t my first rodeo but I can look around the room & almost guess whose it is. Even more women have entered the room & taken a seat wearing our uniform. The eyes are a bit more frightened, a bit more haunted, a bit more filled with longing & sadness. I know what’s going on in the minds behind the eyes. I’ve been there… but today I say, “There couldn’t be any women in Lynchburg today because we’re all here.” There’s laughter & even gratitude in some of the faces … gratitude for hearing one of us speak & leading the way to conversation.

We all have such unique stories about how & why we’ve ended up here this morning together & some of us begin to share them … to break the ice … to reach out to our sisters because that is who these women & I have become. Sisters in the fight against breast cancer. One woman observes, “Women really have a lot to deal with” & we all agree….because we’re HERE.

In time some of us begin to tell our stories or ask to hear someone else’s. There’s comfort in numbers, whether sharing a similar experience or learning from listening to the telling of one by others.

Our circle, like our numbers is fluid. We begin with 12, then 15, then 9 as we are called individually to have our mammograms. Some are annual mammograms like me who are there because we are survivors & regular mammogram centers don’t process us anymore. Others are first-timers; there to follow-up on a suspicious mammogram with another mammogram & possibly an ultrasound that will change their lives forever.

I remember being at that stage & I say a prayer that today’s mammogram will be unchanged. I say additional prayers for my new found sisters who will receive life-changing news this afternoon, regardless whether it is positive or negative. Just crossing the threshold of this room today for the first-timers is a life changing experience. For those with bad news, that life changing news will catapult them into another realm where they will be tested as to strength & durability as they tentatively begin their journey down the breast cancer road. For those who are negative & have only experienced a scare, life at mammogram time will forever be tainted with more fear … fear of the “what ifs” & the unknown.

Today I am relieved that my annual mammogram is unchanged. I’ve been here so many times that the staff is more like friends than ‘staff & patient.’ I am hugged by one of the mammography doctors. She is my friend after these many years & she knows, like I know that she & I are sisters & part of that sisterhood of women threatened by breast cancer. As we hug we silently rejoice in the knowledge that today we are both free of that darkest of passengers.

My husband is waiting for me, his brow creased with worry until he sees me & I smile. He tells me how worried he’s been & he kisses me. He gives me a yellow dandelion he’s picked for me because he doesn’t have real flowers. I take it gratefully because it is a treasure & a symbol of the goodness of the day.

On the way out of the building a woman rushes up to me smiling. She & I sat side by side in the waiting room, sharing stories of our illness, which resulted in sharing stories of our courage with a sister who understands.

I tell her I am OK & she tells me she is, too. We hug as though we’ve known each other for ever, but that’s what sisters do. I introduce her to my husband & they shake hands. She is beaming.

We exchange names & promise to keep in touch through Facebook.

She leaves before we do & there’s a spring in her step … a good news spring & I wonder if I have that same step … but I’m sure I do.

This morning the size of my family has increased & that both makes me glad & saddens me. I’m glad to have shared a moment in time with a waiting room full of special woman but my heart aches for every one of us who has ever or will ever hear those words, “You have breast cancer.”

Before my new friend leaves, I tell her I hope all the women we shared the morning with are cancer free & she agrees, even though we both know that is unlikely. We HOPE because our family circle has increased & we want the best for all of them … our new sisters.

And so we HOPE ….


Background Music

27 Feb

Hollywood Indians are coming over the hill, blazing arrows precisely aimed & fired at the canvas covers of the wagons that are in a circle at the bottom of the ravine. Just in the nick of time the cavalry comes riding over that same hill & saves the day. The only thing better than flaming arrows, cowboys, Indians, a wagon train in distress & salvation just at the right time is the background music. What would that scene be without it?

We’ve grown up with background music. Movies & early television depended on it to set just the right mood … or tone … of a scene or film. We take it so for granted that, if asked, I’d bet 90% of us couldn’t describe the exact music that was playing during our most favorite episode of The Walking Dead. Well, maybe not The Walking Dead because that background music doesn’t change much, but most shows meld the music so well into the scene we hardly notice that it’s there. What we WOULD notice is if it weren’t. I can’t imagine background music simply not being there. It builds to a blaring crescendo at just the right moment, encouraging our pulse to race in anticipation of what will be at the end of that startling bit of music. We may not notice it, but subliminally we do & it helps push the plot along.

On the other hand, the National News at 6 & 11 has no background music at all but maybe it doesn’t need it. The News is frightening enough without background music scaring us to death along with the narrative.

Did you ever think about our lives & especially our personal drama being enhanced by background music? Would washing dishes & cleaning up the kitchen after a big holiday meal be more easily done with a little soothing background music? And just what type of music would be good for kitchen clean-up … or for bathroom cleaning, for that matter? Music that whips us into a cleaning frenzy or lulls us into methodically doing a really good cleaning job & making sure the porcelain sparkles under that toilet rim?

I’m wondering what type of background music should accompany me frantically searching for my car keys when I’m late for an important appointment, only to find the cat has coughed up a furball on the hardwood floors. The furball has to be cleaned up before I leave the house or it will discolor the hardwood. I imagine a frantic score with lots of drum rolls & maybe cymbals & if I happen to find my lost car keys under the furball yak, I wonder how the music would change.

Standing in the grocery store check-out line waiting for the woman in front of me to whip out, check & give to the clerk no less than 4000 coupons, half of which went out of date in December 2010, I can imagine that ominously audible background music. It includes drums sounding a heartbeat staccato that increases as my blood pressure rises right along with my heart rate. I believe the music would be distracting but it could possibly be a stress reducer by lowering my blood pressure while I’m trying to figure out what the song is & separate it from that annoying, overhead elevator music playing in the grocery store. My ears are exploding!

There definitely would be whole selections of pulse-pounding music to choose from. There would also be, out of necessity, soothing, soft, ‘waves breaking on the shore’ selections to use at our most vulnerable times.

I’d need music to get me through struggling into a pair of support pantyhose only to find a run in the heel after finally getting them situated in just the right position. THAT music should be racy until the heel run is discovered when it should, if it’s good background music worth its salt, slow down to a heartbeat-dropping lullaby that is listed in the “Stroke Prevention” category.

Dealing with children would call for one type of background music while dealing with teenage children would be something else entirely. The possibilities boggle the mind.

I’m betting that in our most intimate moments … off screen … seldom do any of us at the end of that interlude tell our spouse or partner, “Now that would have been 10 times better with a little background music” (we pick our battles ….)

The idea of background music just came to me out of the blue today. Maybe it came because of some subtle background music that was on TV as I was making up the bed or fixing lunch. Whatever got me thinking led me to try to consider what kind of music, playing subtly in the background of my life, would there be at different mundane, exciting, tedious & obviously fascinating moments as I tiptoe through a normal day.

Now I can’t stop thinking about it & trying to consider just what perfect background music would be the defining score for cleaning the litter box.

Since I’ve thought about it & shared it with you I am pleased that there will be several of us thinking about this for days on end & dealing with the accompanying “brain itch,” much like getting an old song stuck in your head whether you like it or not. There’s comfort in numbers.

I’m going to go to the kitchen now to decide what to fix for dinner. I’m sure, like a good phone app, there’s background music for that.

Thank you for reading & have a nice day (Who Let the Dogs Out? … )


In the Company of Astronauts

17 Feb

It was still early but already a small crowd was gathering in the gallery on Main Street. Lovely photographs on canvas adorned all 4 walls; pictures in vivid colors of a snow fence in a field in summer & a second of the same fence on a snowy winter day; a church steeple & many pictures taken from the vantage point of the space shuttle or the International Space Station.

A man stood by holding a picture of himself with 2 other people. One was a woman who had previously autographed the photo & the other was the man the gathering crowd was waiting to see & hear when the program began at 5:30. I assumed that the man with the photo was hoping to get the other side of the picture autographed before the evening ended.

We stood at the front of the crowd. We’d gotten there first & I wasn’t about to lose that front row seat … well, stand, since there was no seating at the event.

I’ve been a part of science fiction for many years; starting a local club 33 years ago that is still going strong & having been to conventions & conferences in numbers too great to remember over the years. My husband & I have even seen & met at least 2 astronauts but tonight was different & so was the astronaut we were about to see.

52-year-old NASA astronaut, Leland Melvin was showing a collection of his photography at the gallery & speaking about his life as part of Black History Month. It was an event that was quietly publicized, which led to fewer than 100 people attending, but that was good.  There was no push of the crowd to get closer so we were comfortable, even though standing, & the event took on a more personal feeling.

Melvin came into the gallery right on time. He was tall & smiling & seemed like someone we’d known for at least a decade.

He began by telling us about his life … growing up & some of the hardships he faced as a young black man. He told us about playing football for the local high school & his career as an athlete (he is the only person drafted into the National Football League to have flown in space). He showed us pictures, including the cover for his new book that will be released in May; Chasing Space. He charmed us with tales of how he became an astronaut & the many joys of that part of his life. He said he would volunteer in a heartbeat to be part of a Mars mission.

Melvin was serious & nostalgic & he was funny. The hour passed much too quickly.

I had an opportunity to tell him that our science fiction club, through an inordinate amount of fundraising, has sent 9 local middle school kids to Space Camp. This year we will be sending student number 10. He seemed very excited about that, as we are, & said Space Camp is a great beginning for young people who may eventually become the astronauts of tomorrow.

What sets Leland Melvin apart from all the other NASA astronauts that are & have been part of our nation’s space program is that Melvin was born & raised right here at home. He played football at our local high school & went to the same movie theaters, skating rinks & restaurants that we did. He isn’t just a visiting celebrity passing through town, showing his photography at a local gallery & speaking during Black History Month. He is home folks. He is US. And that’s what made this night at the gallery so very special.

After Melvin’s presentation ended, I did see the man with the picture approach Melvin & I saw him autograph it. The picture was of Melvin standing on the left side of the man & on the right side stood a woman who had already autographed the picture. She holds a very special place in our nation’s space history as a recruiter of minorities. Years ago she recruited Sally Ride.

For me it was especially exciting seeing the picture & seeing it to completion. I’d met that special woman on several occasions & understood how important it was to the man to have Leland Melvin complete the picture with his autograph added to that of Nichelle Nichols – Star Trek’s Lieutenant Uhura. It somehow made the evening more than special.  It made it MAGICAL.

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Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, dog  nichelle