Awesomely, I am cancer-free.  I’d call for a hallelujah but I’m not religious like that.  Oh come on, HALLELUJAH!

After hacking most of my arm off (no, not really) at the end of June and taking the sentinel lymph nodes to task for falling asleep on the job, I got a clean bill of health, well, at least as far as that no-good-piece-of-crap cancer is concerned.

The scar is nasty – pic at the bottom for you ewwwing pleasure – but I’m posting it as a service.  When they say “wide excision” and your general practice doc says “you’ll be a bit disfigured” and “your career, ha, as an arm model is out the door!” she’s actually NOT KIDDING.

So melanoma patients: I was a scaredy cat.  I read the survival rates online, got the shit scared out of me and ran for the hills.  I relied on my surgeon and dermatologist to provide the information about the cancer and methods of treatment.  That worked for me.  I DID try to research what a “wide excision of the arm” would look like with little luck.  I need more pictures people!  So it’s a public service to all you other searchers.  Look.

So, to recap, that mid-may diagnosis of melanoma turned out to be The Real McCoy but I am now cancer-free.  The follow-up for me is dermatologist visits every six months and the oncologist for chest x-rays and blood work once a year.  I can’t quite believe I’m a cancer patient, albeit the very best sort.  My last words on the topic?  You’re not too young to get it so get yourself to a skin-check.  It’s worth the 15 minutes of being stared at with a magnifying glass.  And some of you might enjoy that!



Posted: 15 July 2011 in the fantastic
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Today I taught a class of six Saudi women on a short exchange program to the university.  I had a glimpse of my old life, the one that remembers how to pronounce Riyadh, and though I missed it, I was delighted to be right where I was watching them peel back the edges of research.

We slipped into the stacks searching for a book on Princess Nora and when they found it their faces lit up.  They didn’t have the casual “that’s cool, whatever” attitude my regular groups of 18 years old have, which was a teensy reward in itself.  As I stood there, watching them search for books on the fly with shiny new ipads, I was struck at how far I was from every other place I’ve ever been.  From the six year old who swore she’d be an ambassador, from the college student who never used the library once in 4 years, from the foreign service officer who swore she’d never look back, from the grad student who was baffled that all of this information was online and yes, from the librarian who just wanted to spend the afternoon finishing her staff evaluations.

Today, I used an ipad to find a book on Princess Nora, watched a short video about her, found a biography and searched for a review about the book while I stood in the stacks, took a picture of a book I wanted to read later and cleared the holds from my account so I could check it out before I went upstairs.  My daughter has been born into a world of awesome.




Posted: 7 July 2011 in observations

You guys, we are doing so great.  According to every stress score/therapist/person with common sense everywhere, my wife and I should have crumpled under the weight of our own lives lately. No, not even crumpled, steamrolled by our life.  But you want to know if you’re also doing exceedingly well, right?  Well here you go: Misters Holmes and Rahe have a scale that will tell you just how dangerously you’ve been living.  I know, just look at that*.

Here’s how it works, you get a point for every major life event you encounter and as your points rise you are considered at greater risk for stress-induced illness.  I am in fine health for a person who has racked up 358 points – well into the highest bracket – for the year. And, since I’m a person who has 453 points for the last two years ( the time which some interpreters of the scale allot) I’m doing fucking awesome.  Let’s break it down:

I’ve earned points for:
Death of a close family member (Well, two but I only gave myself points for one.  I was being generous.)
Personal injury or illness (I suppose cancer and subsequent surgery gets full points here)
Change in health of family member (Check.  My mother’s mental illness has spiraled out of control but I didn’t count my sister’s regular calls as she copes with infertility, the arthritis suddenly crippling my father’s hands, my wife’s root canal and other dental work and my mother-in-law’s stroke and heart attack.  Don’t worry – I included that in “trouble with in-laws”)
Sexual difficulties (Let’s be honest, having a kid cramps your style but what they don’t tell you is how difficult it’s going to be to get back on the same page)
Change in financial state (All of our savings?  Funeral trips and major home repairs)
Trouble with in-laws (Mother-in-law’s health, sister-in-law’s criminal behavior both actually and in her relationship with my wife)
Change in social activities (Yep, having a baby makes this automatic)
Change in sleeping habits (See above)
Change in number of family reunions (See death, illness, dying, and so forth)
Change in eating habits (See baby)
Vacation (One week from day.  You wouldn’t think this causes stress, but believe me)
Christmas (Well, yes.)

Here are the things that didn’t get me points, just for the record (THANK GOODNESS) –Death of a spouse, Divorce, Marital separation, Imprisonment, Marriage, Dismissal from work, Marital reconciliation, Retirement, Business readjustment, Change to different line of work, Change in frequency of arguments, Foreclosure of mortgage or loan, Change in responsibilities at work, Child leaving home, Outstanding personal achievement, Spouse starts or stops work, Begin or end school, Change in living conditions, Trouble with boss, Change in working hours or conditions, Change in schools, Change in recreation, Change in church activities, Minor violation of law.

And I think we can get a hallelujah for all that.

And if we take in the last two years like some folks do, I “get” to claim these extras –Pregnancy (wife’s, check), Gain a new family member (RR, check), Death of a close friend (in the past year, two folks that have had a significant impact on my life), Major mortgage (gorgeous, if rotting, house), and Change in residence (see gorgeous and rotting house).

Amazingly, this doesn’t mean there haven’t been 500 points of average, non-stress causing happiness and success.  In fact, I’m pretty damn lucky.  However, at this point I’m wondering if I need to be a little LESS lucky.

*Frankly, I’m disappointed by the lack of a Foreign Service-modified scale, since every single last one of you is living hard and fast in the scale, but we’ll just assume you get extra points just for staying alive.

I’ve taken to saying holy cow! when what I really want to say is Fuck.

What I want to say is that I’ve been hurtling through this year, but that doesn’t quite fit.  I feel like I’m moving slowly, taking measured steps forward while huge barrels of icy water crash down around me.  What I want to say is that this has been an outstanding year.  But it isn’t really true either.  I’d count my blessings for you but you’d be bored – the list is so long.

On the other hand, since my daughter was born in June, I have watched my mother change from a person I recognized (no matter how I felt about that) to a woman who is a rather unpleasant stranger.  I’ve attributed this to the death of my maternal grandmother in November but really it could be something entirely mental health related.  My grandmother lived with my parents and the fall that precipitated her death was dramatic.  In the end, it wrung my mother dry.  We flew cross-country with our 6 month old in the winter for the memorial and that was the last time I saw any familiar part of my mother.  In April, my paternal grandmother died.  My parents handled this as they characteristically do; in an effort not to upset my sisters and I in any way, they downplayed her imminent death and eventual funeral.  Within 24 hours of hearing she had just days, I was on the opposite coast with my hand on her shoulder as she passed away.  I think there’s a lot I want to say about that.  I know that if I had told my parents I was going prior to rather than after my arrival, they would have discouraged me and been disappointed that I’d gone.  As it was, I felt disobedient for skulking around.  It was important.  That’s what I want to say.  Last week, I learned that the menacing looking black patch on my arm was melanoma and I’ll be heading in for a biopsy of my lymph nodes.  While I keep saying it’s nothing, the odds are unlikely, we caught it early enough, what I want to say is this sort of thing wouldn’t happen to me.  Cancer is just not what I see happening.  I’m pretty sure though, that saying that is a good way to get kicked in the teeth.

It’s a lot for one year.  Even if it’s a health scare and not a health crisis, it’s still two grandmothers (three if you throw in D’s Annabelle in early fall) and one mother short than when I started.  I catch myself trying not to hold still, moving forward steadily, hoping not to get drenched again.

A Real Page-turner

Posted: 10 May 2011 in observations
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I love love love this post by someone who does the same things I do.  Just yesterday, in fact, I walked home two and a half miles reading the whole way.  Although sometimes I have a proper book with pages and all, I find that the glare of the sun on the pages and the heft of the book make it so that reading while walking longer distances isn’t as comfortable.  A block?  No problem.  Any further makes my head hurt.  So yesterday, as I do often, I walked-read on a Kindle and angels sang a chorus the whole way home.

Walking while reading provides a certain amount of danger.  Negotiating curbs, rogue bicycles, malicious bees, traffic.  If you enjoy a little spice to your day, I suggest you try reading while walking from a flat area up a barely noticeable incline. A page-turner walk is even more fraught with peril than walking with a Kindle. Turning the page requires extra attention to the pavement and surroundings and a physical effort that could set you off kilter.  Any veering I’ve done while reading has been at the prodding of a paper page turned too quickly.

That said, reading while walking (in any format) means I’m missing out on what’s going on in the world around me.  Since I love seeing unusual cars (or people) pass, looking at balcony gardens or watching the bridge construction progress, I don’t read every day.  Walking is as much a meditation as it is time away from my child, my work, my life that I can devote to a few chapters of a particularly good read. Like Deborah Bryan says, it has to be a really good book to claim the cracks in my schedule.

Garden Bad

Posted: 29 April 2011 in observations

The dog spent a good part of the morning digging up my garden bed.  I’d string him up by his toenails if they weren’t so caked with dirt he’d slip right off.  D rescued the unearthed bean sprouts and put them back to bed.  Now, to see if that special little earthquake affected growing.  Bad dog!

Garden bed is successfully built – though not without some struggle.  The 4 x 4s couldn’t be found untreated (eventually found out of town), the friend with the plans wasn’t free (eventually bending time to be available), I was out of town (eventually coming home exhausted), the drill and saw weren’t strong enough (eventually convinced to function by brute strength), the rebar didn’t fit the hole (eventually tossed aside) and the daylight was fading (nothing we could do about that).  The dirt was delivered early and is more than we needed – much more.  It has been slowly sending rivulets of rich composted earth into our neighbor’s yard and our azaleas, neither of whom probably appreciate it.  The baby has an internal clock and despite our refusal to adhere to it, food is required and, after a time period long enough to  fidget but not long enough to accomplish anything, bedtime.

Even after the bed was built and stopped looking so awesome that I couldn’t bear to put the dirt into it, it mellowed until I had time for planting.  And here in Virginia, spring is ticking.  Seeds need to get into the ground, tomatoes need to get their legs.  It’s time.  Yet another week passed and we finally obtained plants and supplies.  ANOTHER week passed and we put them into the soil, once again tempting the tender boundaries of daylight and the baby’s patience.  But they’re in!  That bed is beautiful.

Marzano and Champion tomatoes, bells red and green and hot peppers, carrots, pole beans, cucumbers, shallots and zucchini.  If my gardening skills have matured sufficiently, we’re in for a bounty come July.  If they haven’t, well, I can manage a mean herb garden.  Speaking of herbs, we practically have an apothecary’s cabinet full.  It’s no doubt wrong to be this proud of anything that depends on sunshine and a rain barrel, but if you’ve got a headache, a rash, a cut or some intestinal distress we can handle it.

I say all that to say this, I think I’ve finally touched on my calling.  It wasn’t diplomacy, though I had a knack.  And it isn’t librarianship, though it’s excellent and enjoyable work.  It’s victory gardens and herbal medicine.  It’s feeding the family.   In some decades, it’s nourishing the land and the people on it, in others it’s cursing the neighbor’s cow.  My mother would tell you that she has always known this.  In fact, she often attributes her cautious distance from me to an other-worldness.  I don’t buy that, but sometimes I catch a glimmer of what she’s talking about.  Let’s face it, when’s the last time your colleague asked you if you were a witch?  And when’s the last time you needed to explain Wicca in order to distinguish it from yourself?  Bringing it back from the limits of what you’re willing to put up with, when’s the last time you looked at yourself and found you are entirely new?

Points for everyone.