I realized that I haven’t blogged in a very long time. It’s not that there is nothing funny to write about. I’ve had difficulty writing anything because of things in my life during the last year. Keep smiling. I hope to be back in April with more stories for your amusement.
When I was growing up, we had an ironing pile. Once my mother went back to school and became a nurse, ironing was relegated to an as needed chore. We had a small loveseat in the kitchen next to the coat closet. The closet also housed the ironing board. The loveseat held the ironing pile. If I wanted to wear an item located in the ironing pile, I would have to find it, then iron it. I really appreciated the invention of permanent press clothes. I also learned that hanging or folding the clothes right away minimized the ironing.
People have differing opinions about ironing. I have heard of people who still iron their sheets. I don’t think I know anyone personally who irons sheets. While many people love the feel of freshly pressed clothing, most people do not put ironing as one of their top priorities. People who don’t want to iron can delegate pressing shirts to the cleaners.
My friend Cherie earned money in high school by taking in ironing. My friend Janet adjusted the ironing board so that she could iron while sitting. Her mom thought ironing while sitting was cheating although Janet did get points for creativity.
As a young married woman, I was astounded when my sweet frugal mother-in-law confessed that in the early 70s, she had donated her entire ironing pile to charity when they were moving to a new army post. At that time, I thought only about the expense of replacing the clothes. Now as a mom with four children of my own, I totally agree with her logic. Anything that was loved had probably been pulled from the pile and ironed. The stuff in the pile had been there long enough that most of the clothing was probably too small by the time of the move. I don’t have an ironing pile, but my clean laundry pile is nearly to the point where I seriously consider donating all the clean clothes that haven’t made it to someone’s dresser.
My biggest ironing embarrassment happened a few years ago. Most of my clothing doesn’t require ironing. I do have a couple of silk shirts that look better when ironed. So if I wanted to wear one of these beautiful shirts, I would haul out the ironing board (or declutter it if it was already standing), plug in the iron that I had used since my college days, set the iron to silk, and proceed to run the iron over the fabric. This had been going on for weeks? months? years? when I began to notice that the shirts didn’t look that much better when they were ironed, but I didn’t suspect anything wrong. Some time later I was sewing something. Of course, pressing the seams makes the finished garment look so much better. So I hauled out the ironing board, plugged in the iron, set it for cotton, and waited for it to get hot. And waited, and waited, and waited, and waited. That iron never got hot! How long had I been ironing my silk shirts with a dead iron?
What can you learn from my experience? Don’t expect the iron you use during college to be working 25-30 years later. If you use an iron mostly for ironing silks, you should periodically turn up the heat to see if the iron is actually working. And if your silk shirts still look a little wrinkly, your iron might be dead.
Let me start by saying that breast cancer, or any cancer, isn’t really a laughing matter. I understand that cancer is serious, and this is a lighthearted blog. However I want to share my story and sharing on this blog doesn’t seem too inappropriate.
Second disclaimer: I may not use the precise job title of different medical personnel that I encountered through this journey.
Third disclaimer: this is a long entry. It’s long, but I hope it isn’t boring.
Why share now? Well first, this is October, breast cancer awareness month. Everywhere I look I see pink ribbons and breast cancer awareness merchandise, and, second, it has been 5 years since my diagnosis.
In 2009, I went for my annual mammogram toward the end of summer. A couple of days later, I got a message on my answering machine asking me to schedule a follow-up procedure. I had gotten similar messages after other mammograms, and the problem was just calcifications or something similar. Because of my past experience, I wasn’t particularly worried. I also wasn’t particularly motivated to schedule more x-rays, so I ignored the message on the answering machine, and the next one, and the next one. I also looked at the letter they sent me and set it aside to deal with it later. I was too busy to bother because I was certain a repeat mammogram would be essentially a waste of time. Finally I got a signature-required registered letter. Arranging to get the registered letter was so much hassle that I called the number in the letter soon thereafter. The scheduler tried to preserve the sense of urgency without frightening me, but I could tell she was taking the whole thing more seriously than I was.
I went for the next appointment at the Breast Center knowing that there would be a more detailed scan of the suspicious area followed immediately by a biopsy if the radiologist thought it necessary. Sure enough, the radiologist felt that a biopsy was warranted. As I lay down, the technician used ultrasound to locate the mass. Then came the biopsy. The biopsy tool was about the length of a screwdriver or an ice pick and had a large hollow tube (smaller than a straw, bigger than a coffee stirrer). Using the ultrasound to guide her, she plunged the biopsy tool into my chest, scooped out some tissue, and left a tiny titanium marker. The marker is designed to eliminate multiple tests of the same spot. I think there was pain-relieving medicine involved, but I remember believing that the biopsy tool could be used as a torture device. There were several people in the room during the procedure, and the atmosphere was relaxed. Almost everyone assured me that it was probably nothing, just a cyst or something else that wasn’t a big deal. But just in case, I had to have another mammogram for the radiologist to compare with the original problematic one. Ok. This whole thing was getting old, now I had more waiting for the comparison.
Wouldn’t you know it? The marker chip was not at the site of the radiologist’s original concern. So now what? I needed a second biopsy. However there was another woman who had been scheduled for a biopsy that morning, and my procedure had run so long that she had already been waiting for over an hour past her appointment. The staff offered me the choice of getting the second biopsy over with and making the other patient wait or going to lunch while they did her biopsy and returning for my second. I decided to go get lunch and return for my second biopsy so that this other person wouldn’t have to wait yet another hour for her procedure. I wouldn’t want to make someone else spend any more time dreading it.
I didn’t actually want to return for the second biopsy because the first one was painful and now seemed like a total waste of time. I did find out later that the first biopsy was not cancer. However, my dear husband was with me, and he didn’t let me skip out on the second biopsy.
I don’t really remember anything about lunch other than I ate it with Scott. We returned for the dreaded second biopsy. This time I knew what to expect. I tried not to look at the tool as she plunged it a second time into my chest. I think I knew at that point what the results would be because the atmosphere in the procedure room was totally different than it had been during the first biopsy and one of the technicians looked at me as I was leaving and told me that she would pray for me.
All patients who go through the biopsy get the results in person. I scheduled my results appointment for the following Friday. Some time before my appointment, I called and scheduled it for a later time the same Friday.
During the originally scheduled time for getting my results, I got a phone call to confirm my appointment Monday with Dr. So-and-So. The caller was obviously expecting to get an answering machine, not a live person. She was flustered when I said I didn’t remember seeing that doctor before. She stammered out that she was just reminding me of my appointment on Monday afternoon. Finally, I asked her what Dr. So-and-So’s specialty was. Her answer, oncology, confirmed what I had suspected. I had prayed for accurate lab results. While I would have loved to have received negative results, I know that God had answered the accuracy request.
I headed off to my result reveal appointment knowing what I was going to hear. I was shown into a private room designed for comfort with spa like furnishings and soft lighting. Oh, and lots of boxes of tissues. I think the person breaking the news to me was surprised by the fact that I came to the appointment alone. She seemed a little worried by my calm demeanor. I know I had evaded the follow-up testing, but I was taking the diagnosis seriously. I explained that I wasn’t shocked by her news because I had already figured it out. She was distressed when I told her about the appointment confirmation call and promised that she would see nothing similar would happen again.
Why wasn’t I more distressed? First of all, I know that God is in control. My diagnosis wasn’t a surprise to God. Second, I had enough clues to know what to expect and I had already processed many of the expected emotions. Third, while the diagnosis was cancer, the cancer type was non-aggressive and the prognosis was good.
The following Monday I had my master cancer appointment. I went to one place and met the surgeon, the radiologist, and the oncologist assigned to my case. They explained that the type of cancer, DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ), was fairly slow growing and that I had some time to think about my the options. As a group, they recommended lumpectomy, followed by radiation, then chemotherapy if needed. I asked about doing nothing. Neither the doctors nor Scott seemed to think that doing nothing was a good idea. Scott is action oriented. “Let’s just get rid of it.” I was not 100% sure that I was making the right decision, but I agreed to the surgery and radiation.
When the surgery scheduler called me, she was apologetic that they couldn’t schedule the surgery for several weeks. I honestly didn’t care. I was in no hurry. If the cancer were slow growing, a few more days wouldn’t make that much difference. The first date she offered me was my daughter’s birthday. I refused and selected a date in the following week. The scheduler seemed surprised; apparently many patients want surgery as soon as possible.
If I had it to do over, would I make different choices? Possibly. After reading reports that autopsies often reveal undiagnosed tumors such as mine that were not the cause of death, I think I might have just had careful mammograms to track the tumor instead of having the lumpectomy. And now I’ve read articles that discuss the careful monitoring that I had considered and suggesting that the typical lumpectomy and radiation is over-treatment. I suppose there are trends in treatment just as there is in anything else.
I had the lumpectomy in November 2008. Every patient’s experience is different, but I would not wish my experience on anyone. I am grateful to the medical personnel that treated me. My bad experience is not because anyone did anything wrong.
The surgeon told me that she originally removed a certain amount of tissue. The lab results came back that there were clean margins, but she removed additional tissue anyway. Really? Why? If there were clean margins, what was the advantage to removing more tissue? The tumor was about the size of a pencil eraser. Most of it had actually been removed during the biopsy. The surgeon removed tissue larger than the size of a golf ball. Seems excessive to me.
Healing took longer than I had been told to expect. Because of the holidays and travel, I didn’t start radiation till January 2009. Radiation was horrible for me. It was very painful, and the pain was exhausting. When I asked my radiologist why he didn’t warn me about the intense pain, he apologized. According to the radiologist, pain is a very rare side effect, so rare that they don’t bother mentioning it to patients. Had I known how painful radiation would turn out to be, I can almost be certain I wouldn’t have chosen the recommended treatment.
Once the torture of radiation was finally over, I got to move to the next step, taking Tamoxifen. Even though my cancer was not estrogen related, taking Tamoxifen is supposed to reduce the chances of recurrence. I dislike being hot. Every time I would visit the oncologist, I would plan to tell him that I was going to quit. Every visit, he convinced me to stay on course. So I took the medicine and turned down the temperature. My daughters complain about having to wear jackets in the house during the summer time. My heating bill is ridiculously low. My hybrid Siamese-tabby cat got increasingly darker. Turns out that Siamese cats have temperature sensitive coloring, and Arwen’s coat darkened to the darkest it could go. My five years of medication are almost over. When I stop taking the medicine, my air conditioning bill will be more reasonable and my heating bill will be more like my neighbors. My daughters won’t have to dress so warmly in the house. New research that says ten years of Tamoxifen is even better than five years has no effect on me. I will stop in a couple of months. I will not go past five years. I will celebrate finishing that prescription.
Do I worry about recurrence? Actually no. I’m not bragging. The fact that I don’t worry doesn’t mean that I’m super spiritual. Perhaps I don’t worry because God doesn’t allow me to encounter that temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13).
That’s my story. Thanks for reading it.
Do I have any advice for other women? Maybe. I wish that since my cancer was not aggressive that someone would have suggested that I take a few weeks to research my options and make a more informed decision. No one was pressuring me to make a decision during the master appointment, but I guess I was pressuring myself. I think I would feel better about the whole thing if I had done more research before committing to surgery.
Robert Burns’ poem “To A Louse, On Seeing One on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church” ends with the theme “And would some Power the small gift give us/To see ourselves as others see us! (Translation from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_a_Louse)
I generally see myself as a kind and patient mother. But sometimes, I don’t think my girls see me the same way.
Let’s go back in time 11 years.
I had noticed an audition at the SC Children’s Theatre for Annie. Fiona loved Annie and knew all the songs, so it seemed like a good idea for her to try out. We went to the audition. A hundred or so other girls had the same idea. So many little girls auditioned for the 7 orphan roles that the director split the roles of the orphans and cast 12 regular orphans plus Annie. As we walked away from the auditions that night, I heard myself saying, “Fiona, I’ll be happy if you’re an orphan.” Taken out of context, that statement would be a little creepy.
My girls were excited about the play. We played the soundtrack almost constantly. All the girls had memorized all the songs and most of the dialog. Since I was surrounded by little girls, I especially liked Miss Hannigan’s solo “Little Girls.” My girls asked me to stop singing it, not because the words were scary, but they thought my singing was.
I was so excited for Fiona to be cast as an orphan! Then reality set in. I had no clue how demanding the rehearsal schedule would be. In retrospect, I’m glad that Fiona’s grades didn’t slip too horribly. And since this was our first time participating in a Children’s Theatre production, I hadn’t realized that parents were required to participate along with the child. Fiona, age 13, could not drive herself to rehearsals. From our house to the rehearsal space took 20 minutes. If I drove her there for a 2-hour rehearsal and returned home, I spent 40 minutes driving so that I could do things at the house for a little more than an hour. It made sense that I would put in some of my volunteer hours during those rehearsals. I worked in the costume room. Among other costumes, I made orphan dresses and Miss Hannigan’s robe.
If adding the play responsibilities had not caused enough stress, my husband Scott was spending almost every weekend doing things for the Army reserve as a result of the terror attacks the previous fall. Because of those reserve duties, I was solo parenting 4 girls almost every weekend. All of those things were stressful, but most stressful of all was I had not filed my income taxes!
October 15, the FINAL tax deadline, arrived. As we were driving in the car, I gently explained to my girls that I needed to file our taxes. Since filing taxes was very important and had to be finished that day, I needed the girls to start right to work on homework or read or otherwise occupy themselves while I completed the taxes. I thought I was doing a great job of patiently explaining the situation when Moira, then 3, shut me up with the sarcastic comment, “Ok, Miss Hannigan!”
She doesn’t remember the incident. I’ve wondered if she was just trying to get me to stop talking as in “I understand, Mom, you can stop talking now” or if she actually envisioned me as the mean Miss Hannigan from Annie.
Our household currently has 3 drivers under the age of 25. Inexperienced drivers and accidents seem to go together. My daughters have had a few accidents. The accidents range from breaking the back window to totaling the car. I am grateful to God that the injuries have mostly been minor. I was feeling a little superior about my driving when I was their age, but then I started thinking about my own inexperienced driving.
One memorable experience was the time my dad taught me to drive a car with a manual transmission one day and the next day sent me in that car to my grandparents’ house several hours away. Being new to a manual transmission was bad enough, but that car’s transmission had troubles. I was forced to drive most of the way in 2nd gear. When I was going through King’s Mountain, NC, I met another car full of teen guys. When they started honking and waving at me, I was so nervous about driving that car with the failing transmission that I assumed they were trying to tell me something was wrong with my car.
I’d like to forget the time when another driver turned left in front of me resulting in a crash more serious than most of my daughters’ accidents. So serious that my passenger spent several days in a coma. And I wouldn’t mind forgetting the time I was driving my dad’s truck when the truck hydroplaned and the truck spun and hit the guardrail. The truck was still drivable, but it had scrapes that added to its character.
Can an auto accident ever be funny? Maybe.
My aunt Diane’s house is on top of a hill. Her front yard slopes for a ways from the house, then there is a steep drop off to the road. The edge of her yard next to the driveway has a row of pine trees. Because her driveway is fairly steep, my dad always wanted me to put the car into 1st gear, even the cars with automatic transmissions.
One day my brother Bruce and I went to Diane and Ronnie’s house. I don’t remember why we were going there, but I do remember what happened once we arrived. I parked the car. My brother and I got out of the car and started walking towards Diane’s house.
Suddenly I heard Bruce laughing as if he had seen the funniest thing ever in his life. What was so funny to a little kid? It was the car, the car that was heading across the sloping yard toward the road. For a nanosecond, I thought about doing a movie style run to the car. I would catch up with the car, yank the door open, and apply the brakes. But the car picked up momentum and was obviously traveling faster than I could run. I envisioned the car landing vertically on the road below. I hoped it wouldn’t land on a passing car, but I could imagine it crumpled on the road below.
Then its course changed. The driverless car headed for the row of pine trees that stood at the edge of the yard above the steep driveway. Since the trees were right next to the driveway, they had less root support on the driveway side. We watched as the car rammed into one of the trees. When the car hit the tree, the momentum of the car pushed the tree over. The car shimmied down the tree and came to a stop straddling the tree. Now my aunt and uncle’s driveway was completely blocked by a pine tree across it. A fallen tree would have been an easy fix, but a tree with a car perched on it was a greater challenge. I’m sure if digital photography and the Internet had been around then, the picture of the tree and car would be on all the crazy accident sites.
So why did my car suddenly decide to roll away? Muscle memory. Whenever I parked that automatic, I would push the gear lever up 2 clicks, and the transmission would be in Park. However, because I had put the car into 1st gear when I went up the driveway even though dad wasn’t there to see it, 2 clicks put the car into Neutral. And I didn’t set the parking brake.
My uncle Ronnie and some of his pals cut the tree so they could get the car off the tree. The car wasn’t too much worse for the experience. We were able to drive it away later that evening. There was no hope to restore the tree. It became firewood.
Have you ever had an accident that is humorous in retrospect?
This past April, one of western North Carolina’s famous retirees died. My sister-in-law Becky and her coworkers were discussing their encounters with this retiree. One fellow teacher told this embarrassing story.
The teacher and a friend had gone out to a restaurant to celebrate the teacher’s birthday. While they were eating, the manager came over to the table and asked whether it was ok if another patron sang “Happy Birthday” instead of the wait staff. The teacher agreed. The patron, an older gentleman, sang well. The teacher thanked the singer, and the singer returned to his own table. The other person eating with the teacher asked, “Do you know who just sang “Happy Birthday” to you?” The teacher admitted that he didn’t recognize the singer. When he learned who the singer was, the teacher wanted to go speak to the singer and tell him how much the teacher enjoyed his music, but everything seemed too awkward.
Becky then told her coworkers that her story would top the other stories. Before Becky was a teacher, she had worked in a bank.
At the time this happened, she was a loan officer. One day she noticed a car at the drive through window, but the teller had stepped away for a moment. Becky wanted to be helpful. Since she didn’t have a customer at her desk, she went to the drive through and retrieved the papers from the drawer. The bank had a strict policy that the teller had to use the customer’s name three times during the course of the transaction. In fact, they had mystery shoppers to come to the bank to see if the teller used the customer’s name at least three times. If a teller failed to use the customer’s name at least three times, the bank would fine the teller’s paycheck. Becky didn’t recognize the customer, so she looked at his deposit slip for a clue.
Becky wasn’t sure of the name, but decided to pronounce both of the vowels in Shea, so her communication went something like this. “How are you Mr. SHE-uh? How can I help you today?”
I’d like to make a deposit.
“Ok. Mr. SHE-uh, I’ll take your deposit to one of the tellers and have her process your transaction.” That’s 2 times using his name.
Returning with the finished transaction, she gives the receipt to the customer and asked,”Is there anything else I can do for you Mr. SHE-uh?” (3 times) When he replied no, she added, “Have a nice afternoon, Mr. SHE-uh and your daughter too.”
Just as the customer’s car drove off, the drive through teller returned. She took one look at Becky and said. “You didn’t just call him Mr. SHE-uh! How could you make that mistake. Didn’t you read the name on his deposit slip? His whole name? That’s George Beverly Shea! And that is his wife, not his daughter.
Yes, Becky’s story about her encounter with George Beverly Shea was more embarrassing.
Internationally known singer, yet he did not take offense when folks didn’t recognize him or when they mangled the pronunciation of his name.