Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Memories

When I was a little girl, I didn't like turkey, so I ate peanut butter sandwiches and sang the Johnny Appleseed song with my extended family. I hated that song!

As an adolescent, I still didn't like turkey, but I remember listening to Alice's Restaurant with my family, the smell of mom's pies wafting through the house.

As a young woman, I learned to like turkey, but I worked most Thanksgivings in TV news, so would try to squeeze family before or after my shift.

Now I contribute a dish to our family potluck and offer a toast to the holiday, family and friends.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The artificial woman--pt 12 The Useless Uterus

The fact that Rainbow couldn't have children the way normal women do did not stop her from wanting to be a parent. She often wondered how she should bring up the subject of her infertility to boyfriends. Was it a first date conversation? No, perhaps not even a third date conversation. But she couldn't avoid telling her secret to the man who would become her husband.

Frankly she was surprised that anyone asked to marry her. Oh yes, she had boyfriends, but the low self-esteem cloud poured on Rainbow, which made her a handful just to date, let alone consider marrying. Reason? She could never get enough attention.

Plus, Rainbow thought that love was only for those who look good. Perhaps it was because of her failure to let go of the prank James and Scott played on her in high school. They had reinforced her notion that she was some kind of joke, an outcast, because of her appearance.

So she was suspicious when she was introduced to this giant who worked with her sister Lynn. When the giant called Rainbow for a date, she thought he was really trying to get to her sister. Rainbow and The Giant shared similar tastes in music and film. And The Giant was smart.

For three years they dated, two of them living together, when The Giant proposed. After three years of dating, it wasn't entirely unexpected. The timing of the proposal was awkward, during the 11 o'clock news. Afterward, Rainbow called her sister and her parents to share the news, waking them up.

About two years after Rainbow and The Giant got married, the subject of children came up. The Giant knew that Rainbow was a barren-ess, but he hadn't wanted children anyway at first. Seeing the joy that children had brought their friends changed their minds, though. They began to consider their options.

One option was Rainbow carrying The Giant's baby via a donor egg and in-vitro fertilization. Rainbow's doctor confirmed that she, in fact, had one, and that it was healthy enough to carry a baby. However, the cost would be about $8000 a try, plus Rainbow's family had concerns that her hypertension would result in a life-threatening pregnancy.

With the in-vitro idea put to bed, Rainbow and The Giant pursued adoption. Both of them had heard of open adoption, whereby birth parents choose the adoptive parents and maintain contact with each other after birth. The idea sounded good for the child, since he or she would have a way to contact his or her birth family, and good for the birth parents, because they would have some control over their child's future.

At the same time Rainbow and The Giant began adoption proceedings. Rainbow's sister was pregnant with her first(and only) baby. The news filled Rainbow with excitement and jealousy. Didn't nature intend all women to bear children, if they chose? The clouds of low-self esteem rained feelings of imperfection on Rainbow again, because she couldn't do something her sister could.

This was Rainbow's problem, though.

Finally, after two years of waiting, and about $12,000, Rainbow and the Giant became parents through open adoption. The road to becoming parents was a bumpy one, as they had to depend on an emotional young woman to give up her baby. Yes, her baby.

She almost didn't. She had approached other potential parents, but in the end Rainbow and the Giant were blessed with a son. At first Rainbow felt more like she was her son's babysitter than his mother. That changed the first time he threw up on her.

By this time, Rainbow was in her 30s, and had been on hormones a little more than half her life. One of the perks of the hormones was that just like a normal woman, she got a period, sometimes two every month. Those times she'd be blessed with multiple periods interfered with her work, what with having to to to the bathroom to "change".

She consulted doctors.

One did a pap smear, which was abnormal, because of the abnormal bleeding. Another doctor did an endometreal biopsy, which was sort of like having her uterus and sucked through a straw. A third doctor ordered an ultrasound, and depending on the result would follow up with a hysterectomy or ablation, a burning of the uterine wall. The ultrasound showed no cysts or otherwise suspicious growths, so ablation it was.

It was an outpatient procedure that took about two hours. The doctor came to Rainbow as she was waking up and told her, "Good news! We were able to burn the lining of your uterus with a hot balloon."

Say, that is good news, Rainbow thought.

To this day, Rainbow is thankful that her uterus is intact, but she doesn't have periods.

I'm not sick

When I went to the brain tumor support group last time, I stated that I consider myself sick, because my cancer is not gone. Even my doctor has told me that I'm not out of the woods.

Two things happened after I did this. First, a man next to me with the same kind of tumor as I said he was surprised that I consider myself sick, because I look "good". Second, another man who has a a grade 4 glioblastoma said that despite his surgeries, and his current treatment, he does NOT consider himself sick.

I was humbled by the second man, because every time I "go there"-- feeling upset about the deficits I do have, I need to remember to have a positive attitude, a can-do attitude, like he has.

So the facilitator of the discussion tells me to tell myself I'm not sick, except for my brain tumor of course.

What a relief.

I truly am confused, because it's strange having a life-threatening illness that isn't obvious. I don't look sick. I'm far from emaciated, and I have my hair. Therefore to the outside world, perhaps I'm not sick.

Still my deficits are real to me, whether they are tumor related or not, and whether or not they are obvious to anyone else.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sweet Home Alabama?

So, at this point there is about a 75 percent chance that we will be moving to Alabama, because my husband has a hot job lead there. The funny thing is, it's for an Oregon company. Anyway I'm a Pacific Northwest girl all the way, so if we do move, I will have to make some adjustments. In anticipation of these, I am making an Alabama List, a list of things I might want to learn, or do, before I go:

  1. Melt my Neil Young CDs, because a Southern Man don't need him 'round anyhow;
  2. Grow my Lynard Skynard collection, because they sing "Sweet Home Alabama";
  3. Ask for Coke, even if I want a Pepsi;
  4. Practice hurricane evacuation procedures;
  5. Lean to like iced tea;
  6. Learn to like grits instead of potatoes;
  7. Learn to screen in our porch if we have one wherever we live there;
  8. Try catfish;
  9. Teach my husband to like Gulf shrimp;
  10. Never say, "Hey you guys!"
  11. Wear nicer clothes;
  12. Get bigger hair;
  13. Go to church?
  14. Find a good cancer hospital;
  15. Learn to say, "I'll just die if I don't get that recipe."
I don't want to move. Oregon is home and my family is here. There is a part of me that hopes my husband does not get this job, but sometimes are choices are made for us.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Journey So Far

A writing sample from my writing group of cancer patients:

Rainbow was a feisty girl-opinionated, passionate and stubborn. When she was in First Grade, she played hooky from school, because she didn't like the vinyl jumper her mom dressed her in.

The school called and told her mother to pick her up. When Rainbow got home, she admitted she wasn't really sick. Her mom yelled, "Goddammit Rainbow! I'm going to send you back to school!"
She didn't follow-up on the threat.

This same obstinate behavior travelled with Rainbow into her 20s. It gave her the energy to work 60 hours a week at a very tense job in TV news. Back then, Rainbow could hear a million voices and respond to them all.

At 32 the lights began flickering out. Rainbow collapsed while going to retrieve a bottle for her baby son, and was never the same after that. The energy for working 60-hour work weeks, and fussing over clothes was GONE. No one thought they would miss her sassiness, but sassy beats being a zombie, which is what Rainbow felt like after this first seizure.

At age 39, the Big Bomb was dropped. Rainbow found out she had brain cancer.

"This explains a lot," she thought. "It explains why I'm so moody, and why I cant find my belly button, even with MapQuest."

"So when am I going to die?" she asked the doctor.

"I don't know," the doctor said. And even if he did know, he wasn't going to say, for fear of being wrong.

Rainbow had the moldy part of her brain removed, but couldn't walk or use her left side afterward. The obstinate Rainbow came back however, and learned to walk again, and flip her husband off, with her bad hand!

Now at 43, there are many things Rainbow can't do. She must riddle her house with post-it notes to remember. She cannot listen to a million voices and respond to them all. She does not feel good about herself, even though there is an excuse for her incompetence.

No one thought feisty Rainbow would turn into Tumor Girl.

"New Normal" are the words often used to describe how we must adapt after a life-changing event. Rainbow hates the "New Normal" and wants the old one back.

Small things are a struggle now. Making dinner seems to take all day. She needs to nap in the afternoon, and wonders how she will continue this journey.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Sister

My sister Marie was born November 7, 1964, meaning a few days ago, she turned 45. The main thing I want to say about my sister is that I have always looked up to her. Although jealousy is a poisonous emotion, I am jealous of her. There, I said it.

At the same time, I give my sister many thanks. Thanks for finding our estranged grandma. Thanks for helping me find the best doctor to remove my tumor. Thanks for letting me take her boyfriend to my prom. Thanks for letting me hang out with her friends. I could go on and on.

I wonder where she gets it--her intelligence and beauty. They usually don't go together. I literally can't think of anything she CAN'T do. And this is where the jealousy comes in, because I can think of many things I can't do. It's just a fact.

My favorite memory of my sister is of her making forts out of branches in our pasture, back when we lived in Hillsboro. We spent a lot of time in the pasture, riding the ponies, feeding the ponies, and going to the far ends our property to see what adventures lay outside of it.

She has always tried to protect me, but we are both stubborn, so I don't always follow her advice.

But I DO listen. Happy Birthday Month Marie!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

the artificial woman--pt. 11 The Sleazy Guy

So Rainbow completed college and earned a BA in Journalism. The Family, always looking out for her, warned her that she wouldn't make any money in this field, but Rainbow loved it and thought that eventually love would lead to making a living. Sister Lynn adopted Rainbow's post-graduate job search as a Project, helping her write the perfect resume, getting the perfect haircut, and shopping for the perfect clothes. Rainbow had nothing at all to do with her job search, except contacting a broadcast professional, for whom she interned, and shortly afterward was hired as a radio talk show producer, working at the same station as her former mentor.

The station didn't know what it wanted to do with itself. The hosts varied, from men who wore $500 suits and had trophy wives, to stage actors, to women who wanted to prove they could be just as disgusting as the men. It seemed the station wanted to be a shock radio station. Rainbow took her job as producer seriously, finding obscure stories in the news, and attempting to find the right people to come on air and talk about current events. Before her first day, she had made contact with the spokespersons for City Hall, the school district, the police bureau and the like. The host she was assigned to work for was impressed. She made friends with the wacky diverse group of people who put the shows on the air.

The first person she met was the Sleazy Guy. SG showed her around the building and introduced her to other co-workers. SG had the looks of a young Richard Nixon, and the voice of Jerry Lewis, the comedian. Her co-workers included JP, the new producer for the morning show, who had a wicked sense of humor, and a head full of brilliant ideas. The morning show host was a woman who was abrasive to her support staff, and looked and sounded like a witch. And then there was Gary, who had a desk next to JP. Gary produced the mid-morning show, hosted by a man who was on his fourth wife and chain smoked. Gary held up very well under this pressure, and would eventually become the staff Executive Producer.

The host Rainbow worked for liked her but not for very long. Mr Bill had the afternoon drive time slot. Rainbow erroneously thought it was her job to research topics for his show and book guests. She would listen and talk to the news staff about the stories they were reporting, and try to plan a show based on that day's news. Instead Mr. Bill would come in five minutes before his show, saying he had watched C-SPAN all morning, and he was going to talk about Social Security. He felt uncomfortable discussing topics that were of interest to a younger demographic. He always liked to brag that he didn't need a producer. Eventually he would get his wish.

Sometimes the Sleazy Guy would be working in the booth with Rainbow while Mr. Bill's show was on the air. Rainbow screened the calls so Mr. Bill would know who he was talking to, and what prompted the listener to call in. Sometimes the listener would wait the whole show on the telephone, not get on the air, and yell at Rainbow, not knowing she didn't control Mr. Bill.
During the three hours Mr. Bill was on the air, Sleazy Guy would comment on Rainbow's butt or the butt of the newswoman in the next booth, referring to her as "barnyard butt".

More than once, he said in his Jerry Lewis voice, "When are we going to have sex Yebdog?"
Once, he came up behind her and slapped her on her "barnyard butt" to which she responded, "Hi, Sleazy Guy!"

Another Sleazy Guy picked up Rainbow in front of everyone, including the boss, and kissed her. This one eventually got fired, at least in part, because of this behavior.

These advances offended Rainbow, but at the same time, she interpreted these as some sign that she was attractive, and not the pariah she was back when Scott and James were harassing her in high school.

Eventually everyone at the station got fired. POOF!

To find another job, Rainbow executed a similar approach to the one which helped her land her first one.Folks at the local CBS affiliate were desperate, and hired her as a desk assistant. This meant she did whatever she was told to do, which in the beginning meant making beat calls to local police and fire agencies, running the TelePrompTer for the anchors, or putting tapes in machines to record news feeds. Because television news happens even on weekends and holidays, she was promoted to associate producer/writer and sometime assignment desk editor at such times when no one else wanted to work weekends or holidays.

The first time she produced a newscast was Thanksgiving. It was baptism by fire, but the suits tried to make her feel good about it.

"We think you're great, so we're going to have you work on a holiday," they'd say.

"Congratulations on this new opportunity," they'd continue.

"Don't be panic stricken, you'll have help," they'd conclude.

Somehow at this new job, the Sleazy Guy reappeared, only transfigured and more powerful.

"Yebdog, I'm jealous of your boyfriends." She didn't have time for any. She was working over 60 hours a week.

"I love it when you stand on the chair." The Sleazy Guy was making reference to the fact Rainbow had to stand on a chair to scrawl the days assignments on a white board.

But again, this talk didn't matter. She took it as a backwards compliment, and believed it when she was told she was busting her butt working because her competence was appreciated.

She realized her assumption was false when she actually applied for a show she wanted to work on and was denied.

Just like any other setback, Rainbow took this personally, and had little confidence to move forward. Soon though she would take on the hardest job of her life--parenthood--something an artificial woman can't do effectively while working 60 hours a week, weekends and holidays.