Thursday, September 30, 2010

I am the Wunderkind

In which Our Heroine discloses her true Identity.

            There is a small segment of our society that somehow coexists alongside the highly athletic and health-concerned here in America.  I am of this segment.  We call ourselves the uncoordinated, the out of condition or out of shape.  Those of us so athletically unable are also unfortunately dubbed incompetent, inept, hopeless, unsuitable, and useless by Microsoft Word’s Thesaurus.  The opposite of the word athletic is unfortunately unfit.  Is there a societal critique implicit here?  (You would think the unfit brainiacs responsible for dictionary definitions would stand up for themselves a little more).  For those of us in the flabby, frail, weak, puny, and ailing category, I’d like to perhaps redefine our “hopelessness” a little.  You see, its not that I don’t want to be capable on the basketball court, or able to run long distances very fast and impressively.  I’ve just never been able to do it as well as nearly everyone else.  And I like to be successful at everything, so my resolve in these athletic instances sharply declines even in the heated and sweaty moments.  By the way, how do you all get past the icky sweat barrier?  Can’t figure that part out…
                So, to redefine: The un-athletic are uninspired physically, perhaps too rational and controlled in competitive situations.  (Please disregard unintended critiques here—unless you have wronged me personally in some athletic way) But really, forget the hyperbole.  Its mostly about this: many of us assume we should be able to do whatever the others can do, and feel disappointment when proven wrong, wrong, wrong.  The additional problem is that I have become jaded about this physical stuff over the years, suspicious of my friend’s attempts at making it “fun” for me.  Okay, just to be quite clear at least once, making contact with the ball using anything other than my face and nose is HARD for me. 
                The good news is that even this part of my former identity has been deconstructed in the last month.  Apparently, I am a physical therapy wunderkind.  My body is healing swiftly in all important ways.  I love thinking that I am a veritable physical genius for once.  Yeah, I’m going back to the basics at therapy, but I’m finally a success, so I’ll take it.  My therapist, Maria, has expressed surprise several times at the progress I’ve shown, especially when I admit to not having practiced much between sessions.   To the physically unable who read this blog, I even confess a heady enjoyment at times when I am throwing a ball, catching a stick, or screwing bolts on screws at a therapy session.  I understand now that being able to use my body better is FUN.  (More fun that having a dead limb dangling uselessly at my side, for sure).  Ah, such happy times—such bliss—when I find joy in the simple things in life. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Double Vision and Crossed Eyes

In which Our Lady of the Glasses gets an Exam

I am aging too quickly.  First, I get cancer, and then I have major surgery and spend my recovery next door to senile bed-alarmed patients.  Later, I lose the use of my left arm and have to relearn how to walk, sit, get up from bed, etc…  Then I lose my ability to legally drive (for a year at least).  Today, I learned that I need bifocals.  This is not due to my death-defying theatrics, but is a problem I had before all the commotion.   
I went to see a specialist, a neuro-opthomologist named Dr. Rosen.  He was a laid-back retro-looking and humorous man with a New Yorker accent.  He said that all the problems from the surgery seemed to have cleared up: my right eye is tracking normally, its peripheral vision is back, and its blurriness gone.  I’m sure that Dr. Rosen’s time is valuable and his fees expensive.  Good thing I went to see him.  Toward the end, he got out a couple of lenses and put them in front of my eyes as I read a magazine.  It was instantaneous, palpable relief.  My eyes often feel strained when I read, but no eye doctor before had broached the bifocal idea.  Apparently youth can be a barrier to some things. 
But the best part happened on the ride home.  I complained of getting old much too quickly to my husband.  Now, before diagnosis Jon often would joke that I am the “wife of his youth.” Today, he stated that if this was true, he might have to “put me away” a little earlier than he’d originally planned.  I asked him if we were so far removed from the seriousness of cancer that it was okay to dredge up this old joke again.  It is, and relieved laughter followed from both of us.  However, I still maintain that he should at least wait until his mid-life crisis before he starts looking for the wife of his old-age.  As one who already seems to fit the bill, I hope I qualify. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Alaska or Bust Continued

In which Our Heroine continues her Alaskan Epic

I am only half-way done with my Alaskan travelogue.  The drive was something, but settling into this strangely remote place was another thing entirely.  Jon settled right in with ease, but in the beginning I still felt prickly about being moved up here against, perhaps, not my wishes, but my finest and brightest dreams. I didn’t know anyone, had no real occupation, and knew nothing about this place. My sense of location was gone: north always seemed east, and where was my familiar Western history of cowboys, pioneers, and Route 66 when I needed it?  I had entered a history not my own, but of dog-sledding and gold-panning.  Also, I missed really good Mexican food.  Besides, winters were too long, and summers too short. I do not enjoy feelings of up-rootedness in the least. I am neither a world traveler or, alas, a salmon fisherman.  Oh, like most people, I imagine myself liking to see new places, but to be honest, hotel rooms always smell geriatric to me (like the solvents used to clean hospital rooms and old-folk’s homes) and I heartily dislike being treated like a tourist, even though I obviously am one at those times.  Well, now you know how small my travel-soul is.  Take it or leave it, or rather, take me or leave me.
At any rate, I found life here difficult.  I was only just willing to continue here for my husband’s happiness and because he really wanted his job with the Municipality to work out well.  I consoled myself with picturing a growing paycheck, a car that didn’t squeak heartily when you brushed against its rust-colored exterior, a lovely house with a backyard (and perhaps abstract art on the walls—the only visual evidence of my rebellion), and beautiful suburban children.  The American dream is not that bad of a dream, you know.  It’s just not usually the one you start out with back when you feel younger, hipper, and more adventurous.  
But Jon and I knew very clearly by now that this was the place for us.  We had prayed, and felt directed at every turn along the way. There was no going back.  This is why it was so hard when Jon was transferred out of his dream job and into a less dream-like job with the Municipality.  Alaska was no longer “the promised land.”  We questioned why we had come all this way only to fail (as we thought then).  Over the past two years, we’ve come up with some possible answers: maybe we were supposed to be here for family reasons, church callings, or even just to meet and be around certain people.  I’m feel the premonition that we won’t be here forever, even though I’m sure I’ll dig my heels in when its time to leave.  So the question at the time was, why here and why just now?  What was this all leading to? 
Well, I can with hindsight say this: I think nowhere else would we have had the incredible familial and community/church support that we found here. As evidence, I go to church on Sunday and I can’t get out of the building because of all my well-wishers. I even had the nurse from my OBGYN’s office call one day and say she’d heard the news at dinner the night before.  Also, where else would our insurance be so amazing?  Or the medical facilities, paid for by oil money. Also the very capable doctors, one of which is here apparently for the fishing?  Where else in the US is the economy still going so strongly?  Specifically, what about my brilliant neuro-surgeon, who is only here so he can spend more time with his family?  Where else could a small-town girl have gotten to know so many people all over the city?  Let this be a lesson to us all, when God tells you to go somewhere, then do it.  You’ll probably come out ahead in the end. And you just might end up calling the place home and loving it—but it might take 2 or 3 years if you have a sour traveling spirit. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Basking in the Sunshine

In which Our Sun-Lit Lady wishes She could dance the Charleston 

            There have been many times in at least the last year when I would find myself feeling a sense of slight frustration every time the sun was shining outside, and I was not shining inside.  It is difficult to see the perfection of a summery day and not have the energy or the momentum to thrive inside such a day.  One feels incomplete, and a bit of a failure each time.  Looking back, I see now that I had unfair expectations for myself, based on the assumption that everything was fine and dandy on the inside.  
            Today, the sun was glorious, and Eva had excess energy.  I did not have any extra energy. At first, I felt unequal to the small challenge of getting us both warmly dressed and then taking her outside to play.  But then I decided to do it with style. Preparations are a fun part of living too, are they not? I found my new winter headband that makes me feel like a very warm and energized flapper from the 20’s. (I imagine these flappers vigorously dancing the Charleston, and wish I could do so too). Dressed in this as well as my pajama pants, furry snow boots (no there is no snow here yet, but why be cold?), a winter coat, and my warmest wooly blanket, I towed Eva outside. 
The sun was lovely, and it knew I was there.  It made a direct strike for my pale Alaskan face, lit up the dangly orange leaves and the glittery dust motes as I played hide and seek with my Eva from a lawn chair. Even I have energy for this kind of a game.  I am reminded of a scene at the end of the movie Step-Mom when Susan Sarandan sits outside on a fall day smoking weed and passing her cancerous time, except I was sans drugs and bitterness. We ended up having a wonderful time, and for once I felt no frustration at my inabilities, but gladness to be doing what I could.  Only Eva felt frustration as she had trouble walking through our overgrown lawn and blown piles of birch twigs.  I muse to myself that its all about the expectations one has.  I gave myself a sick day, and as such knew when to stop, sit down, and let the sun do the shining.  In the end, it wasn’t so bad.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lives of Privilege and Ease

In which our Heroine recognizes within Herself the Ability to be an Escape Artist

I would not use the word ease to describe my experiences over the past month.  However, the privileged part seems to apply quite well.  If a person has to go through something very difficult, there is no better way to do it than to have the help and support of hundreds.  Hey, let’s face it.  It could have been much worse.  Also, in the past few days, I feel I’ve been the recipient of a free get out of jail card.  No chemo and radiation?  Boo-yah, a free ride through cancer-land, and hopefully for a good long time.  Jon was being humorous when he said Friday evening, “Well, there goes your support,” in response to my “I’m the girl that cried wolf,” blog.  I am happy to say that by all indications at church today, my support continues unhampered.  Thank you all.  And thanks to God for how very gentle this trial has been for this period.  Yes, it was shocking, and we were absolutely blindsided—but to have such moments of enlightenment and joy in the midst of this has been a great comfort. Also, I have never felt so loved in my life as I do currently.  My particular cancerous experiences are surely nicer than others must be—a  cancer of the privileged. 
There are experiences all throughout my life that consistently exhibit the privileged positions I’ve been in.   I will share my favorite.  As a background (not my favorite part of the story), my biological father left my family while I was but a babe in the womb.  My poor overwhelmed and pregnant mother and bereft brothers, aged 14, 13, and 8 were left to fend on their own, with no money in the bank account but some excellent food storage and a loving extended and ward family. 
When I was in high school, I asked my mom if my birth and infancy had been too terribly difficult to deal with at a time such as that.  She sucked her breath into her mouth in surprise and said something like, “Oh no, you were never a burden.  You gave us great joy in a very dark time.”  Then, to make me believe it, because teenagers never trust in their own magnificence, she told me how on the day she brought me home from the hospital, driving the car herself, that my oldest brother, Mike, stopped the car before it could pull into the driveway and got me, his newborn little sister out of the car and carried me to the house.  The (I’m sure) heavily embroidered tale continues that he would not let me out of his arms all day long. I cannot tell you how truthful this account really is.  I come from a family of resplendent story-tellers, who exaggerate much and to great effect.  Naturally, I have no memory of this day.  However, it had its desired effect: I have since felt so loved and even privileged, despite the desperate circumstances surrounding my family at the time of my birth. 
I have memories of each of my brothers playing with me, being very gentle, kind, patient, and funny.  As a small child, I learned ZZ Top songs at Mike and Bryce’s tutelage because I spent so much time near them.  And somehow my brother Todd still loves me despite my constant tattling and, shall I say it, glory-stealing.  He was once the youngest, you know. 
My whole life has been a pattern of good things and gentle parenting from those in charge of me.  This is one of the reasons why I was so shocked by the news that I had cancer.  Me?  Cancer?  Glug, glug, went my brain.  This is not the way things usually work.  I had developed my own patterns of doing things by the book and with obedience, and therefore was getting used to being dealt with easily and even systematically by parents and also by Heavenly Father.   The sudden turn of events last week tells me that I am still given a gentle hand.  Once more, Tara escapes hardship!  May I continue to do so.  What have I lost so far?  A little time with my left arm maybe, and a strip of nerves on the top of my head from where I was scalped.  What have I gained?  Gratitude for many things.  An appreciation for the small things in life.  An altered perspective.  I hope a kind of wisdom.  A chance to mature and grow in ways specific to me.  Better, deeper friendships.  Closer and more meaningful family ties.  A chance to share my story.  The equation comes out in my favor, doesn’t it?  Not bad. 
To wax very biblical: Isaiah 54: 7—“for a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee.”  Also, Psalms 40: 1-3—“I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.  He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.  And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.”

Saturday, September 25, 2010

My Cancer is More Creative than Yours

In which our Lady remembers that she once had Brain Surgery

I have just discovered that the word cancer is a much more dimensional word that previously thought.  I used to think it 2 dimensional—that it had a kind of flatness to it.  And then a few weeks ago I decided it 1 dimensional: a single line leading from one thing to another like a horribly inevitable chain reaction: warped cells>bad health>seizure>brain surgery>temporary loss of left side>chemo and radiation>for most, inevitable death.  The 2nd dimension would occasionally show itself in the humorous, life, or faith affirming moments, but it was mostly 1 dimensional there for awhile.  Now I find cancer to be perhaps 3 dimensional.  Apparently, you can have it, and still walk around like an (almost) normal person.   Also, its complicated enough to confuse the medical profession into calling it different names at different times.  Even though its really the same thing as before, it looked different at separate times.  Yes, complicated or multi-dimensional, but not necessarily manipulative or, even malicious, as I once thought. 
A dimension I learned about just today: I woke up feeling tired, more so than I’ve felt in at least a week or two.  (But I’m supposed to be suddenly better, aren’t I?) Friday was a busy day for me, both physically and emotionally.  After the good news that I don’t have to start chemo and radiation anytime soon (at least in the near future, or until my cancer decides to show its true face), I seemed to almost immediately make the assumption that I would be able to handle any physical stresses that my body used to take on a daily basis.  My bill of health seemed clean for a brief and tantalizing moment. (Think of the Greek Tantalus, always reaching for what he desires and being doomed to never actually touch it... an awful fate indeed.) I am actually walking away with a much tidier bill of health, but it has abruptly occurred to me today that I did after all only have brain surgery about a month ago.  What is it about a doctor’s pronouncement that makes the patient’s body believe so easily in a complete reversal?  Once again, cancer confounds me.  How creative my little parasitic star-shaped cells seem just now. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Girl who Cried Wolf

In which our Heroine Discovers the Importance of Pathology

I almost don’t know where to start.  My very reason for having this blog is gone (almost).  I am happy to report that my tumor being downgraded from a 3 to a 2 means all the difference in the world.  Experts at Johns Hopkins reviewed my pathology and have determined that things are much less serious than previously thought.   Treatment is hereby suspended.  That’s right.  No chemo, no radiation.  No nausea, no hair loss.  I will continue to get MRI’s every 3 to 4 months to check up on my friend the cancer.  A question we had was, will the tumor come back worse later if we do nothing about it now?  Answer:  well, that depends more on the biology of the cancer: It will do what it will do: its either a fake-out, or a seriously bad dude (this is all heavily paraphrased).  Meanwhile, I feel like the girl that cried wolf, but for only a month or so.  It turns out my cancer is the boyish kind rather than the wolfish type.  At Christmas, Jon and I will probably go see a neuro-oncologist specialist at the Huntsman Institute just to make sure of all this. (As much as you can ever be sure, anyway…)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

My Cozy, Yet Still Unknowable Tumor

In which our Heroine gets a Downgrade

I’ve just had some good news.  Dr. Blom (of the Whoville-like surprised eyes) has just informed me by phone that my tumor has been downgraded from a 3 to a 2.  Make no mistake, this is excellent news—the lower the number the better.  I am assuming that this happened because Dr. Delgalvis had my pathology report checked again.  Or maybe some expert across the country used his great expertise in my favor.  Dr. Blom indicated that my treatment may be significantly different now. I will know more tomorrow.  Aren’t waiting games fun?  How can something that can cozy up so closely to my brain still be so mysterious to me? But the real question is: Can tumors be (physically) prayed down in size or grade?  What do you think?  How does that work?  I await any and all responses with great anticipation.

Blueberries are the Best Fruit

In which our Lady of the Blueberries waxes Ironic

Did you know that of all fruits, the blueberry is probably the best one to represent my discovery and eventual healing from cancer?  Apparently, the blueberry not only induces greedy women to slip on rocks, hit their heads, and make life-saving discoveries, but also prevents cancer in laboratory mice.  Also, “the antioxidants called anthocyanins in wild blueberries prevent cancer from forming and stop them from proliferating. Published in the Journal of Food Science, the study tested the effects of blueberries on prostate and liver cancer cells. The lead scientist, Mary Ann Lila, Ph.D., reported that wild blueberres have had "cancer-fighting properties at all stages: initiation, promotion and proliferation. Wild blueberry compounds offer a multi-pronged attack against cancer." (  Excellent.  My saving grace, the blueberry.  I like playing with this idea, though to what end I know not.  After the accident, people would jokingly ask, “Were the blueberries worth it?”  My response was, “No way, go and buy them at Costco.”  I take that back.  Wild blueberries from Hatcher’s Pass are the best.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Better Living Through Chemicals

In which our Heroine gets confused, overdoses, and later when her head clears, contemplates the World of Pharmaceuticals

The phrase “better living through chemicals” is one meant to refer to the marvels of modern medicine.  In recent years it has begun to take on a slightly cynical tone, one that I will take full advantage of today.  I find it particularly apropos since today is officially the one-month anniversary of my brain surgery and I have had a number of pills/chemicals pumping through my veins every day since then. 
Yesterday morning, my husband brought home a newly-filled prescription for my seizure medicine.  I used to take two pills of this every morning, and another two at night.  As I opened the lid and tipped a couple out into my hand, I thought, “Oh my goodness, they’re even larger than they used to be.”  Did I think about this observation much?  No.  But I did pop them both in and swallow them quickly down.  Yeah, you guessed it.  The pills were double the milligrams of the last bottle.  Oops.  I now felt even more tired than usual.  Also, this medicine tends to make my brain shut down soon upon taking them. (It is a pity that I came up with my allegory of the Alcan idea yesterday, just when my head was swimming through sludge). Ah, well.  Such is my life these days. 
You know, I used to be the girl that took a total of one Ibuprofen for the worst headaches ever.  Ironically, the last week I have taken the largest dosages of this plus the largest of Tylenol every day.  On this anniversary day I am pleased to report that I’ve only taken a couple of each since midnight last night.  I only woke up once from a headache.  I can’t wait until I’m not tied to pills anymore.  I’m sure life will be better.  (A groundless hope? Nah.)  New goal: being pharmaceutically free again someday. 
Of course, this will have to wait until chemo is over.  How do I feel about putting chemicals in my system that kill off the quicker growing cells like that in the hair, nails, or stomach?  Queasy.  But I recognize the necessity of getting any and all traitor cells out of my body.  There is no home for them here, no room at the inn.  What I’m really dreading is any nausea I may have.  Pregnancy was miserable because of the nausea. Uggh. Down with nausea! It will be easier for me to pretend I don’t have deathly chemicals or evil cells in me if I don’t see any outward signs.  Have I mentioned yet that my new goal is to be pharmaceutically free again someday?  One more reason why: that will mean the cancer is gone.    
Truth to tell, I liked the idea of being pill-free before.  Last winter I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and loved it.  I spent hours lamenting the loss of heirloom vegetables and the extinction of countless indigenous grains and dreaming of green things and deep damp earth in the dead of a white and frozen winter.   This led me to start grinding my own wheat flour, which led me into an exploration of herbs and aromatherapy.  I even began eating the chickweed in my back yard.  The way I saw it, groceries in Alaska are expensive, so why not eat what I already had in abundance? I was going an alternate direction in the hopes of feeling healthier.  Perhaps I was sensing some truths about my current state of well-being.  I begin to see that there are dualities in my life: usually the plan I thought I had, verses the way its actually going to be.  So much for being a control freak.   Still, I feel a good goal cannot go amiss.  Goodbye pharmaceuticals, after the chemo is over.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Alaska or Bust: the Allegory of the Alcan

In which our Caffeinated Lady Drives to Alaska

In the late spring of 2007, my husband and I were living in Provo, Utah about to graduate, and wondering what of all things to do with our lives.  I was graduating with an MA in Art History and Curatorial Studies, and had a student job at the university museum that promised to turn into something permanent.  My husband was finishing a BA in Anthropology and Archaeology but had decided to go a different direction into the work force.  I was not excited about his career switch, but felt that supporting him was important.  But it would mean a move to another state for sure. 
He grew up in Anchorage, Alaska.  I knew early on in our relationship that he would love to go back there someday, but I had told him very clearly after we got engaged that I would never move there.  Ever.  It was too far away from family, friends, and shall I say it, was not a cultural center. Now, some of us in this world are the farmer type: please-don’t-make-me-leave-my-land, and some are wanderers.  I am the former type, and am also accustomed to getting my own way.  However, this was not the Lord’s plan for us. 
One Thursday night, my mom called and said, “I really don’t want to tell you this, but I feel like I should.  They are opening up positions in Anchorage that Jon could apply for.”  After hearing more about it, I took a deep breath.  I did not want to tell my husband either.  I was already feeling the familiar pressing feeling that the Spirit sometimes gives you when you’ve finally encountered the right idea.  Sometimes we wayward souls just need a good warning.  A few hours later, Jon came home.  I think I actually waited an hour or two before I told him.  There are times when a person just has to pretend not to know something like that to keep their sense of continuity with their current lives, I suppose.  As I finally opened my mouth, I saw a strange light in my husband’s eyes.  I had small feelings of hope and excitement, soon eclipsed by a feeling of sinking.  Before noon the next day, Jon’s application was in the mail.  I was stunned to discover how badly he wanted to move to Alaska.  He passed all the phone, etc, interviews with flying colors.  The summer passed quickly, and before I knew it we were packing our cars for what would be the longest trip of my life. It would be fifty hours of driving time on bad roads, and once we got there, no turning back.  
The trip itself is quite a story, an allegory even.  We each had our own vehicle stuffed to the brim to drive up.  I do remember that when we started it was late summer, and when we arrived, it was almost the end of autumn.  A whole season passed in six days as we drove along the “Alcan”.  There is a similarity here to the “summer of my life” turning into a kind of “fall of the cancer cells.” (not winter thoughwinter indicates death). At one point my car broke down, and spending much of our remaining money on the repair, spent the next couple nights sleeping in our separate cars on the side of the road.  It rained the whole time we were in Canada, and my windshield wipers refused to work until just after entering Anchorage.  Honestly, it’s like my car was in rebellion too.  Maybe I was sending it bad vibes through the steering wheel.  The last two days were awful for me.  I got carsick for the first time in my life. I used to be an extraordinarily hearty/healthy person.  I blame the carsickness on a combination of the twisty, washboard-like roads and a pack of Pepsi I’d bought to keep myself awake since sleeping in the car was…well, it wasn’t.  As one who rarely imbibes carbonation, let alone caffeine, I felt a strange kind of awareness or energy without actually feeling healthy or very awake.  This is somewhat akin to taking anti-seizure medicine: pure delirium.   

After three years in Anchorage, I can finally call it home.  The first year was rough.  The second a little better, though still a stretch.  During the third I finally felt a sense of settling in—like when you wiggle down into a good recliner.  We’ve had our struggles, but on the whole Alaska has been very good to us.  Even when going through the tough and twisty times.  We knew, and still know that we were and are supposed to be here.    

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Damnation of Tara (née Scott) Dahle

In which our rogue Heroine recounts Wickedness

I’d like to tell a tale of wickedness now.  This will contrast nicely with my comments yesterday on prayer.  I was always a solid A- student: pretty good, but just lazy enough to fail a little.  With this said, I always expected at least my A-.   It is a sad, sad story when an admittedly partial failure will get furious when not receiving her expected due, but this is the case.  I was taking an American Humanities at BYU and we had a regular assignment of a single-spaced one page paper due every Monday on a text or piece of artwork.  I had been receiving low B’s so far that semester on these assignments.  Let us just say that the anger was building into a mushroom cloud by about the half-way point when on one fatal day I received a solid C.  “This is ridiculous!” I thought loudly, and with a hard and mean tone in my head.  I knew it was time to do something different.  Disliking the beg-for-my-grade approach, I opted out of stalking down my professor in his office.  Besides, I liked him and didn’t want to unnecessarily antagonize him.  Which we all know by now, is something I could really do with style. 
Our assignment for the next week was on a book entitled, The Damnation of Theron Ware.  I found the book depressing and had no interest whatsoever at that point in agreeing with my professor’s assessment of it.  The issue question: “Was Theron Ware damned?  Support you conclusion either way…”  I remember feeling angry as I sat down in front of the computer.  Suddenly, I felt a terrible need to swear my way through the paper.  What better time to do it than now, I reasoned.  The excuse is in the title.  I began.  From the beginning, Theron Ware was damned.  It felt strong to start out that way, and not because of the swear-word.  Here begins one of my most important moments in learning how to write. Anyway, I continued to use the word d— in every form possible and as many times as I could throughout the course of the paper.  The solid A I received the next week let me know I was onto something good in my writing approach.  I finally understood what a thesis really was.  So much for being right. 
So sorry about how I seem to need to recount wickedness periodically.  None for next time though.  Instead, stay tuned for some Alaskana.  I will recount the touching though somewhat delirious saga of my move to Anchorage and some of its painful and wonderful aftereffects. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Power of a Good Prayer

In which our Heroine recounts Tidings of great joy

I would like to talk about the power of a good prayer.  So many of you are praying for me, that I thought I should first, thank you whole-heartedly, and second, tell about things from my end.  But first I will segue into a little experience I had a year or two ago.  I had a friend who happened to have a child that often gave her grief.  I cannot tell you the hours of patient work she put into this kid’s wellness.  One day she called me and it was plain that things had been going badly that day between her and her little angel.  It sounded like her heart was breaking, and I listened to her and murmured supporting comments as any good friend should.  After I hung up, I had the strongest feeling that I should pray for her.  Still standing by the phone, I dutifully did so.  After five minutes, I was sick of standing and felt like I’d said all the important things.  However, I’d read a talk on prayer by Elder Bednar recently, and knew I could do better.  So I continued.  It was looooooonnng.  But I looked deep at my friend’s situation and prayed from every angle I knew, and then threw in some extra stuff for her as it came to mind. 
At a certain point, I finally felt like the prayer was complete and closed.  The feeling afterward was one I will never forget.  The Spirit felt so strong, and there was a sense of ratification.  I knew my prayer had been heard, recorded in some great book somewhere, and that it would be answered.  My friend would receive her help, much beyond what I could do on the phone.  The forces of heaven had been marshaled o her behalf.  The best part, though, was the knowledge that Heavenly Father approved  of my offering. 
And so now I thank all of you out there for your offerings on my behalf.  It is interesting being on the end of what I know to be hundreds of prayers and meaningful fasts.  I can feel it on my end too, and I don’t mean just in my rapid healing or in the feeling of support and friendship and openness.  Or, even the excellent treats and dinners you all keep bringing to my door.  My brother told me recently that I have the Jewish community of Phoenix, many of whom live or work on his UPS route, praying for me too.  How charitable of them to pray for a complete stranger. The thing is, all I have to do at any given moment is open myself up in a quiet moment to the Holy Ghost and send the question out, “Am I receiving blessings right now because of prayer?”  And the answer is a resounding yes.  There is no doubt in my mind.  And I appreciate the prayers so much because they are not just for me but for my husband and child.  I thank you, each and every one of you.  And I hope for you to feel that divine sense of ratification in return.  It is truly one of the best things in life.  Although I must admit, this is pretty good from my end too.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Strange Case of the Rabid Beast and the Nuts

In which our swiftly aging Lady develops a Cantankerous Attitude.

You know those surveys people do in High-school and Jr. High for yearbooks? “Who will be the most successful in life, the richest, marry the earliest, have incredible reproductive tendencies, etc…?” Well, in college, we did one of these kinds of things in my ward.  Of all things, I won the “most likely to become a cantankerous old lady” award.  I was not pleased.  At all.  I believe I even told Mr. Thoughtless what I thought of his idea, thereby proving my cantankerous tendencies.  Since brain surgery, I have had multiple opportunities to expand upon this dubious talent. 
The time I am thinking of was a week and a half ago at the grocery store.  I had just finished physical therapy, and was tired and hungry.  I don’t know why I thought I could handle walking around Fred Meyer, but I attempted it.  I was still at the stage when I was listing a little to the side as I walked.  Maybe this is the reason a blonde teenage girl stopped dead in her tracks and stared at me open-mouthed near a plastic bag depository.  What was my response?  Why, to stare her down of course.  I knew I had been effective when her mother said to me in an unnaturally high-pitched voice, “Hello, how are you doing today?”  Was she scared and uncomfortable?  Yes.  Uncertain about my ability to understand plain English? Possibly.  I was quite headachy by that time, and it made me feel wicked.  So I walked uneavenly past them, ignoring all attempts at decent human interaction, peeled my plastic bag from the roller, and proceeded to get my nuts— almonds to be precise—from the bin.  Unfortunately my left hand was still in the feels-like-I’m-stuck-in-prehistoric-tar phase that week, so it took a really long time to do this, all the while with rude girl awestruck, and her mother sending out nervously anxious vibes like you couldn’t believe.  I mean, what am I, a rabid dog?   
But the stare was good.  It really could be turned into anti-terrorist weaponry by the military. I think such a stare comes when one has gazed across the void of mortality and come back alive.  Obviously, my approach to death-defying situations is “Boo!” The sad thing is that I’ve been the recipient of a similar gaze before.  When I was in Jr. High, my maternal grandmother, then dying slowly and painfully of ovarian cancer, came to live with us.  I know now that she was just bored and also hungry for life, but she would sit in her little grey rocking chair in the living room and just stare at me as I walked past.  There were two doorways.  No chance to sneak by, no matter how hard I tried.  I admit I never tried a gazelle or an army-crawl in these instances.  Instead it was slow-slow-slow until the moment of visual contact, and then it was the quickest scoot you ever did see across the wide opening.  Poor Grandma! I could have been so much better to her.  But I was scared of her slow death in my living room.  Her stare was awful, and she never even meant to be mean or wicked about it.  No, she never had a cantankerous bone in her whole body, not even at the end. 

Breaking Boundaries, Moon-walking Style

In which our excellent Lady contemplates Internet Noise

Every time I hit the Post button, I imagine the sound you often hear on spaceship or first-contact-with-alien movies.  You know, the one with the radio static, followed by a news reporter, and then baseball game commentary: “and so-and-so has the pitch…,” applause, followed inevitably by Armstrong’s voice, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  And in my head, my blogging words stream forth to add to the noise.  I can only hope with each click of the mouse on the Post button that my words will compete somehow with the din.  
There is so much out there to compete with! It was in a training meeting last April that Mary N. Cook of the Young Women’s General Presidency discussed the amount of time that the Young Women were spending online, especially Facebook.  And then she said that they were like a captive audience, and we should be trying to fill some of that online chatter with uplifting things.  It seemed to me to be a novel idea at the time.  I have wondered to myself why this is.  I mean, it’s not like its rocket-science (thank you, Armstrong).  Upon further reflection, I have concluded that it is actually a part of my BYU education to not mix religion with all secular things.  I was taught that there are boundaries with some subjects.  For instance, a good scholarly paper on the humanities should have the best sources in the field of humanities—never is it acceptable to throw in quotes from a general authority on the subject, because it is not their area of expertise and it is a random inclusion at best.  Its just not professional.  Also, if there is a nasty piece of artwork considered necessary for the artist or art historian to know to further their career, then you bet it will be included in class.  The professor may warn the student, and it will be taken with what could be considered a spiritual grain of salt.  But in the end, the boundary is drawn to the left, the art shown, and the religious view is left behind in favor of something else. 
I suppose we Mormons also have the cultural problem of not trying to wear our religion on our proverbial sleeves.  As far as the internet goes, I tried a few times to put something spiritual on Facebook and I felt very un-cool and awkward.  Kitchy, even.   It has been a great leap to even put this kind of thing on my blog.  But this is the story of my cancer (kind of a big deal), and I promised myself at the beginning to tell the whole truth, and that includes my churchy self.  I wasn’t sure how my reception would be to all of you if I did put it all in.  But to the contrary, I have gotten so many comments about the religious posts that I would characterize you all as hungry for the spiritual.  So, into the great din-filled universe, I send out my messages in the hopes of doing what I should do, and making a difference.    

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Paranoid Manifesto

In which our Lady completes Medical Questionnaires at the expense of Her Knowledge; or In which our Lady chooses the atom bomb over President Obama

You know all those clipboards with those annoying questions you have to answer when you go to the doctor’s office?  I have become adept at answering these.  Later, I also usually get a nurse taking my vitals and asking me more specific questions.  I used to pride myself on my excellent test-taking skills in school, but unfortunately (or rather fortunately) my case is unique enough that I can never seem to answer correctly.   I will admit that this stresses me out quite a bit.
Do you have headaches?” asks perky, young nurse No. 1
“No, never.
“Really?  Never?”
Finally one I can answer correctly:
“Have you ever had night-sweats?”
“Yes.” But then quickly, “I’ve always been a hot sleeper.”  Disappointment shows on perky face. 
Next try: “Any arthritis, pain in joints?” 
“Yes, knees and hips.”
Feeling more confident now in my answering abilities, I made the grave mistake once of offering up knowledge I thought might be pertinent.  “Does it matter that I grew up very near a nuclear facility?” Apparently not.  There has never been any affirmative research to indicate this.  All I’m thinking at this point is “Where are the Fox Moulders of the world wielding a good X-file to prove my point when I need them?  Or:
“Dr. Did you know that there was a scare when I was in high school that buried nuclear waste was leaching into the ground water?”  Nothing was ever confirmed…  This is the same ground water system that quenches the thirst of most Idahoans, Utahans, Californians, Nevadans, and Arizonans. 
“Did you know that government officials used to regularly take samples from surrounding dairies to test at the facility.”  When questioned further about this, my mother merely stated that people used to trust the government back then.
“Did you know it was the first nuclear facility in the country?”
“Did you know that I am one of the few teens in the country that grew up knowing the name of space-ship crafting company Lockheed-Martin?”
“Did you know that there are a surprising number of people from my home town with cancer, old and young?”
“Did you know that the second E in INEEL for “environmental” wasn’t added until the mid- to late- nineties.”  This is probably not even the name now, it changes so often according to political climate. 
“Will the FBI come and hunt me down, now that I’ve put this up on my blog?”  Maybe, maybe not.  If I suddenly disappear, you'll know what happened.  I’ll have to perfect my imaginary, but consummate gun skills, Matrix-like bullet dodging, and my superb army-crawl (or the gazelle?) once again. 
On a tangent, I love paranoia media.  Farenheit 451, the X-files, The Traveler Series by John Twelve Hawkes.  They’re just so fun to read because of their intelligence, and then ridiculously easy to make fun of.  Besides, everyone needs a good imaginary enemy to blame their psychosis on.  Let us rise up and choose an enemy! I hereby choose nuclear facilities everywhere, and their over-paid, and perhaps under-honest employees.  Some people choose President Bush/Obama, the end of the world, technology, or even religion.  And then they attempt to solve it by voting differently, and/or getting more food storage.  Some even build underground bunkers.  I choose the atom bomb.  And then I will prove myself a hypocrite by continuing to live “on the grid,” using every ounce of my health insurance, and by allowing radiation therapy to occur on the right side of my head.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Mystery of the Bicycle and the Bunnies

In which our Heroine tires of serious subjects and makes a stab at some humor about scared bunny-rabbits

I had the rare privilege to grow up on a farm in eastern Idaho.  The roads there were laid out in one mile blocks with large tracts of land in between. Occasionally yellow haystacks shaped and stacked like building blocks would inhabit a corner of a field here or there.  I lived in a brick house next door to my Aunt and Uncle, and my grandparents lived ¾ of a mile to the west on the family dairy, where my Uncle Stan worked every day.  He would drive that road many times a day, very slowly in his pick-up truck. 
All that space just begged to be explored by a lone girl with an old dirt bike.  What you must understand, however, is that I am by nature a quiet and private person (despite what this blog would suggest).  Back in grade school, I was also shy to the point of extreme awkwardness.  It took me a long time to realize what actions or words would lead to ridicule or even just confirmation of my oddities to other people. (As in this blog post).  Anyway, I would love to go bike-riding, but would hate to run into anyone on the road.  I was not there for the people, but for the rush of the wind on my skin or the smell of the green alfalfa in my nose.  I assure you there is no greener smell.  My memories of beautiful childhood sunsets are inseparably mingled with the smell of freshly hewn alfalfa and the spurt-spurt-spurt of the hay’s giant sprinkler systems.   If only I could catch the scent and shoot it over to you blog-style.  But I digress.  I would often see my Uncle turn onto the long and straight dirt road just as soon as I’d gotten onto it.  Once that happened, it was either a rush for my destination (can you hear the whirr-whirr-whirr of my pedals?) or what I will call the “scared bunny rabbit” approach.
“Scared bunny rabbit” involved me quickly pulling off the side of the road and ditching my bike in the gutter.   I would then leap onto the dirt berm through the weeds and into the alfalfa hay or grain field.  Once there, I faced a grim difficulty: one cannot just walk through the field in a normal way without leaving a tell-tale trail.  The plants will be trodden down.  Besides, no farmer wants their grain/hay ruined by careless steps.   So, it was a gazelle-like bound out into the middle of nowhere.  Now, fields look flat, but that is lie.  There are always lower patches.  I would inevitably gazelle into one and nearly kill myself as my hip joints locked under me.  If I fell, I would wisely choose that spot to lay low until my Uncle passed.  His slow drive always seemed to get faster during my flight.  That is, until I was lying on my stomach on the sun-cracked dirt, then it seemed that he drove with interminable slowness.  If I felt vulnerable, then I would attempt an army-crawl to a thicker patch of crop, but this is dangerous without a good gazelle under you. 
I wonder now what my Uncle thought about my bike sitting on the side of the road.  I am, of course, certain that he saw me gazelle, and knew right where I ended up in his field.  Once, he stopped and did not get going again.  I began to contemplate the likelihood of an army-crawl escape about a hundred yards away to the six foot fence around my back-yard.  The man sired eight children.  I clearly did not give him enough credit.  True story.  I did all this and more in my wayward youth.  By the way, no moral. 

The Grim Reaper of all Tumors

In which our Heroine takes a walk in the Fog and contemplates Mortality

The fog had rolled in on our street, and Jon, ever the romantic, suggested a walk outside just now, pointing out that a little work-out, such as it is, would be good for me.  I’m not very athletic at the best of times, so I feel comfortable with a short walk being my work-out.  Take that, Jillian.  And you too, Richard Simmons.  Etc…  I don’t really know any other health-nut/work-out-until-you-die gurus. 
There’s something about the fog that makes one reflect the serious things of life.  Perhaps it’s the way your glasses fog up so easily that you can’t actually see out of them.  My kind of brain cancer is the kind that doesn’t spread throughout the body much, but will often come back in the brain, but if it does will be much worse than before.  I am already at the 3rd out of 4 stages, so that only leaves the last and worst: called a glioblastoma.   I know I will beat this one, and go on to live a long and a good life: check.  But I feel like something horrible is going to stalk me my whole life afterward.  Jack the Ripper on a foggy street in Independence Park.  Terrifying, is it not?  Clearly, the struggle is not over when the chemo and the radiation end.   Well, one more lesson in leaving it up to God and getting on with things that I can control, I suppose…

An Exhausted Apology: Woe is Me!

In which our Lady says Sorry—and means It!

One of the most frustrating things about this illness is how tired I am.  I had been dealing with the exhaustion for a long time before diagnosis, but of course it is much worse now.   I admit that when I found out that I was to enter a new period of my life where everyone competed to take care of me, that I thought, “Maybe now I’ll get to do a few art projects.”  You would think having a permanent nurse-maid and nanny situation would allow a little for this.  However, it only took my first attempt at painting a picture as part of my new creative therapy plan to douse my creative flames.  I found I had just enough energy to paint in some blue sky and a green sward into my uninspired landscape.  When I told my brother Bryce this, he described it as being like another moment of grieving.  Exactly.  The reality of my exhaustion does cause me grief.  If I actually thought I was terminal, I’d be really mad.  Who wants to spend their remaining days feeling too tired to do anything?
So, I felt tired yesterday and did not post.  Sorry.  So much for my goal of at least one blog post a day.  I have enough to say, just not enough energy to do it with.  I doubt many of you can imagine what it is like to be so tired all the time.  It is NOT like just having a baby and the healing it takes afterward.  Right now, I have no special hormones running through my system giving me spurts of energy and health.  Childbirth is natural, cancer is not.  As it is, my blog seems to be my only creative outlet.  I console myself that this internet lifestyle is acceptable because someday I will use all this writing in my personal history.   (Wouldn’t you like to know more about my patriarchal blessing now?  But let’s face it the really interesting thing about patriarchal blessings is the secretive nature of the things.)

Oncologists and Un-romantic Dates

In which our Heroine Keeps you updated

I met with my chemo oncologist yesterday.  Dr. Delgalvis is a woman willing to admit that she doesn’t know everything, which I like.  I will meet with her again on Friday the 24th by which time she will have called the “big-wigs” to see what their advise is.  If my cancer was more on the terminal side, and if I was older, she would simply give me the usual strong dose.  Unfortunately, that could have some very bad side effects. For instance, I stressed to her yesterday that I would like to have more children someday, so could we not kill off my ovaries, etc…?  (Like my insurance would ever pay for me to put eggs in a bank).  Once we have her research, I can go ahead with radiation. 
On Monday the 27th I will do a radiation dry run.  This involves fitting a mesh mask over my face and getting strapped down.  Seeing in what ways I am claustrophobic and going through all the motions so I will know what to expect when they really do shoot a laser beam of radiation into my skull. I like my radiation oncologist so much that I’m actually willing to do this.  His name is Dr. Blom, and he has permanently surprised eyes.  This is one of my favorite things about him.  Well, now you know the dirty details.  Until the end of next week, I have a short respite/waiting period. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In Proportion: Some Spiritual Truths About Burning Brightly

In which our Heroine Comes up with some good questions and recounts her Zest for life

This post is dedicated to those who have taken the time to write me personal emails about my trials and their own struggles of similar nature.  Thank you. 

I think it was my early college years when I really seemed to get my spiritual life together.  Rapidly afterward I gained what I will describe as a super ability: it felt like I could burn so brightly, spiritually speaking.  I would feel it as I went out to socialize with my friends: the feeling that I could smile a real smile and light up the room I was in with it.  All because I had found a new confidence once I was on solid spiritual ground.  That solid footing allowed me a kind of self-assurance I had only dreamt of in high-school.   I changed from someone who felt nervous in all social situations, to one who could begin to navigate them feeling not just happy and at ease, but as if I could actually help other people to be happier individuals.  And I think upon discovering this that Heavenly Father actually gave me the tools to do so.  My understanding of social situations and my ability to read people and their needs went way up.  I began to learn that Heavenly Father can change our abilities and talents according to need.
I wrote a short poem, a verse really, documenting this feeling:

“Quick and healthy, vibrant living,
shined sedately into my soul.
It plunged downward
A vast tunnel, my insides glowed.”

I wrote this a year or two ago.  I just felt so happy and lit up inside.  Now I can see it was a bit ironic, considering how I probably was not fully healthy at the time, and also how within a few weeks I will be going through radiation and my insides really will glow a little, for a short time anyway.  After the surgery, and during a short time when I was re-establishing my faith, I felt I’d lost my ability to burn brightly.  (Though truthfully, it may not be possible to do this when on opiates.)  I wondered if I would ever be able to burn like that again.  I’m happy to say that I feel I can.  In fact, I feel that I can do it even better or more brightly now.  It is possible that I have learned a new universal truth: that when a covenant-keeping person loses a physical health, the Father will generously compensate by offering spiritual strength, even in proportion to that which was lost.  Would a loving Heavenly Father leave us one-armed (so to speak) in a trying situation that frankly requires two arms?  No. He is not a small or a mean God.  As far as the "in proportion" idea, I have no quotes from any general authorities to support this—it is just what I feel about my particular situation.  I invite you to do the research for me if you feel so inclined. 

At one point in my struggles, I was also wondering why my honoring my covenants and following the word of wisdom had not protected my physical health more.  Of course, wisdom dictates that trials still come, but I wondered how I would ever be able to sit in a Young Women class and learn about the Word of Wisdom without scoffing a little about its simplistic a+b=c equation.  Well, along with a few other truths which I plan to share along the way, the above-mentioned idea is key to answering my spiritual dilemma.