Amazing Sacrifices For Those We Love

I didn’t write this, looks like it’s from People Magazine but wow!

After eight-year-old Gabriel Marshall underwent surgery to remove a tumor in his brain, the large scar left in its place “made him feel like a monster,” Gabriel’s dad, Josh, tells PEOPLE.

“He was very embarrassed about the scar – he wouldn’t even leave the house without something covering his head.”

“He said that he felt like everybody was staring at him and it made him feel like a monster, which broke my heart because to me he’s the most beautiful thing,” says Josh, 28.

Dad Gets Scar Tattoo to Match His Son's Brain Cancer Surgery Scar: 'I Wanted to Take Away Some of the Stares'| Cancer, Health, Bodywatch

Josh and Gabriel Marshall

Josh wanted to make his son feel better about the procedure, especially once Gabriel’s tumor – an anaplastic astrocytoma that had metastasized to his spine – was showing no signs of regrowth. So Josh decided to get a tattoo to match Gabriel’s scar.

“I asked him if it would be okay if I went and got his scar tattooed on my head if that would make him feel better, and he agreed that yes it would,” Josh says. “[I wanted] to take away some of the stares or attention from him.”

“He was very excited when I came home and showed him that I’d gotten it done. He said, ‘Wow that looks so realistic.’ ”

With his dad by his side, Gabriel learned to appreciate his scar.

“He’s now very proud of his scar because he knows that that it means that he was tougher than [the tumor] that tried to hurt him,” Josh says. “He calls it his battle scar.”

It’s been 15 months since Gabriel’s tumor was removed but doctors are monitoring him closely before officially saying he’s in remission.

“There is still some tumor in there, but his last sets of scans have shown that there is no new tumor growth,” Josh says. “The tumors are stable, so right now he’s just on watch with MRIs every 6 to 12 weeks.”

And on June 13, Josh, Gabriel and their matching scars made the news after Josh entered the annual Best Bald Dad contest, put on by St. Baldrick’s, a childhood cancer charity.


Scary

“You have to be strong,” the woman in the waiting room at the oncology radiology facility said. “My husband has lymphoma everywhere in its final stages and we are cheerful and optimistic. It’s what you have to do to be with cancer.” Her husband will probably die. He is completely hunched over by what I suppose is osteoporosis in addition to the lymphoma his lovely wife told me has taken over his entire body.

That first day we went for Steve’s radiation treatment, I noticed a bell on the counter with a ribbon tied to it. On the ribbon it said I made it the whole way! I was so new to this idea of my youngish husband having to go through radiation that I didn’t quite get what that was. Then, when Steve was in treatment, someone walked out, picked up the bell and rang it. Everyone in the waiting room applauded and some jumped up to hug the person who had just completed the grueling months long, daily treatment of radiation. I suddenly got it and of course, was one of the jump-up huggers. But I was also in tears.

A couple weeks ago was Steve’s last radiation treatment for a mild recurrence of prostate cancer. MILD? Can you really even say that if its cancer? You really can’t. It’s cancer. In his case even though his numbers are low and very encouraging, you get only one shot at radiation. One. You can’t do it again because radiation causes cancer. What? We are trying to solve cancer with a cancer-causing agent? Yep. OMG.

On Steve’s last day I was in the waiting room, waiting. My husband is a very subtle and humble person. He is not a person who has a need to bring attention to himself so I wasn’t expecting him to ring a little funny bell. I just assumed he would want to get out of there and put it all behind him while we wait and wait for results of radiation.   He walked out, made eye contact with me, picked up that bell and rang it loudly with a huge smile on his face. I burst into quiet tears; I try not to be a spectacle either. People applauded, jumped up to hug him and it was a demonstration of how beautiful people can be when we realize we are all in the same damn boat. Cancer levels the playing field.

 

 



Pacemaker

 

“I tried to get through your text without crying but it didn’t work,” George’s daughter Melissa texted me.

Pickle ball has changed my life. After back surgery for a herniated disk, my husband was worried I’d not be able to play tennis again and he found this new sport for me. Pickle ball is played in a gym on a badminton size court with a whiffle ball and a paddle and it’s a game of mixed doubles. Men and women of all shapes, sizes and ages all play together. It is a fast, aggressive game combining tennis with badminton and some people say Ping-Pong. I don’t see the Ping-Pong part of it. It’s an incredible work out but also an amazingly fun and addictive sport. I now play between 5 and 6 days a week for between 2 to 3 hours. It’s like my job, that and speaking about Gorillas and Chimps at the Dallas zoo 2 days a week. Lucky me. My recovery from the surgery was so excellent, I could easily play tennis, but I have no desire! My new love is Pickle ball.

I have met so many people and I have many very close friends in Texas as a result of Pickle ball. I am in awe at the support and camaraderie this PB community provides.

Not long ago, several of our Dallas police officers were shot and killed in a race relation issue. The next day at Pickle ball, one of the players called us all together and asked that we bow our heads in a minute of silence for the men who died. You could have heard a pin drop in that gym. It was powerful.

A couple months later right before we began play, a woman asked us to gather as she had a sad announcement. One of our dear Pickle ball friends Sarah, we were told, just lost her 48-year old daughter a day or two before. Again, we gathered, bowed our heads in silence and surely a lot of prayer for one of our own. Then the coach, Dave, went to get a bereavement card, which we all signed and he sent it. Sarah is not back yet but our community is there for her when she is.

Recently, one of our wonderful friends, George found out his heart rate was way too low. George is very athletic and otherwise a very healthy 72 year old, but his doctor was insistent on a pacemaker. He was going back and forth, stressing out about the decision because he felt so good and was playing Pickle ball several days a week aggressively. He was finally convinced it was what he needed to do.

George had the surgery to install the pacemaker on a Monday morning. Most everyone in our Pickle ball community knew. Shockingly, on Tuesday afternoon George sauntered in to the gym. He didn’t have his paddle with him and he didn’t intend on playing but he felt great and wanted to see us. Here is what I texted his daughter later, of whom I am very fond even though I don’t know her well.

Hi Melissa!  I wish you could have seen the scene when your father walked into the gym today.  The only word I can think of, and I don’t think I have ever used this word before, is “Fellowship”.  Several women jumped up to embrace him.  Our coach then went over to give him a hug and handshake and brought him a cushioned chair so he wouldn’t have to sit on the hard bleachers.  Then as games ended, men began walking up putting their hands on his shoulder or shaking his hand asking about his procedure and how he was doing.  He was the prince of the ball and everyone was quietly rejoicing in how well things went and how fabulous he looked.  Then a much older man than George took the padded seat and your father, of course, didn’t say a word and sat on the hard bleachers. He’s a special man and I know losing his wife was devastating as it was for you losing your mother.  But as a family, you have each other, and now know you can take comfort in that your father is a beloved member of a huge Fellowship of Pickle ball people.  Love, Andie

Here is Melissa’s response:

I tried to get through your text without crying but it didn’t work. What a wonderful thing to read. Thank you. Thank you again and the Fellowship of PB’s for caring about him so much. I’m so glad you’ve all gotten to know the awesome man I’m lucky to call “Dad”.

I’m kinda starting to like Texas….


Let Me Save Your Life

“C’mon little guy,” I said under my breath, “let me save your life…”

I love animals and I know it sounds weird but I also care about bugs, worms and lizards. I simply can’t stand it when there is any kind of critter in my house who I know will die a slow painful death if they stay in my house. They will either die from starvation, lack of water or exhaustion from frantically trying to get out of the house as some insects do. Lizards are a little more low-key than that, but boy, are they fast when you try to capture them. (Little do they know, however, of my in-depth experience from when I was 12 or 13!) All these guys need to be outside to survive and I suppose they get in my house by either flying in when the door is open or riding in on our dogs.

I cannot focus on anything else when one of them is in my house trying desperately to get out knowing it will be dead if I don’t do something about it. I know what you are thinking, How in the world does she even know these things are in her house?! How does she hear them or see them? The answer is my house is very quiet unless the dogs are going nuts about something and also very uncluttered so I probably see and hear things people with noisy, cluttered houses and closets don’t see and hear. I even save flies, I don’t think most people care about flies and I get that.

I have created a sophisticated tool kit for capturing small creatures I find in my house. Here it is:

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It is a half of a manila folder and a green drinking cup that has the Masters Golf Tournament logo on it. I have no idea where this cup came from because while my husband and I both enjoy golf, neither of us has ever been to the Masters. Just ask my husband; I will sometimes spend upwards of half an hour trying to save bugs, lizards and worms with my tool kit. (Well, worms don’t take that long….hehe.)

Today as I was getting ready for Pickle Ball, I was in my closet and some movement on the hardwood floor caught my eye. I didn’t have my glasses on and I’m pretty much blind without them so I ran out to get them, put them on, entered the closet just in time to see the most adorable, tiny, baby lizard run for cover. This guy was beige colored with brown dots all over him. He had the cutest face I’ve ever seen all full of the brown dots. He was no more than 3 inches long. I ran for the pantry where I keep my sophisticated tool kit and set to work. I’ll tell you, I know lizards but this one was savvy. I was throwing my hung clothes out of the closet onto the floor, I moved my Elfa organizing shelves out of there and was trying desperately to get this little sweetie pie in my green cup and out to the back yard.

No luck. The lizard was out smarting me. I was begging with him but to no avail. I was heartbroken. Finally, I had to leave for Pickle Ball and arrived half hour late.

I forgot all about it. When I got home 3 hours later sweaty and happy from the sport I adore, I took my dogs out back and sat on a chair while they pooped and peed. I suddenly remembered the adorable little lizard and my heart sunk. Maybe he’ll be slower now because he is hungry and thirsty. God, if he’s still even in there and if I can even find him, no chance, I thought.

I retrieved my tool kit and determinedly headed for the closet. The clothes were still on the floor and the Elfa shelving was still out. I knew the chances of finding this lizard were slim but OMG, there he was! Tucked into a corner and yes, a little slower than he had been earlier in the day. I chased him around a little and said a prayer and begged him quietly to let me save his life. The challenge with the sophisticated tool kit is that once you’ve got the critter trapped in it, for instance you’ve got a butterfly trapped against a wall with the cup, is that when you shimmy the manila folder against the wall to secure the capture that you don’t break a fragile wing or leg or whatever. Ya know?

Anyway, this adorable lizard made what could have been in the wild his fatal mistake but in this situation saved his life. He was tired and hungry and thirsty so for whatever reason he thought his best bet was to climb up the wall in a corner. I am SO grateful to the Master’s organization that their green cups are so cheaply made that I was able to literately bend it to the degree that was like a corner! What’s that called you smart people? A 45 degree angle? A 90 degree angle? I used to know all this crap but I just don’t care anymore. I care about saving lives.

Little guy fell into my cup and I covered it with the manila part of my sophisticated tool and brought it outside. I set the little guy free in my back yard on the dirt under the foliage where he so wants and needs to be.  I saw his tiny head move from side to side. I can only imagine what his lizard joy must have been.


Poo Poo

I’m a person who has memories from a very young age.  It’s kind of surprising from a psychological standpoint because my childhood was pretty traumatic.  I remember once being in my mother’s arms and hearing her tell my father that his raised voice ‘made the baby cry.’

When I was a very young child, anything I didn’t like I referred to as “poo poo.”  My mom never corrected me likely because she was happy I wasn’t saying crap or shit like she did.  I think she thought poo poo was harmless.

Then we got a new babysitter.  She was ancient in my eyes.  Probably at least 39.  She looked old!  I mean, when I was 3 my mom was 24.  Even at 3 I did not like this woman.  Our dog Heidi was allowed under the kitchen table when we ate our meals and the four of us little girls would swing our bare feet over her fur.  She loved it.  She also loved the crumbs and other goodies that would drop from the table during our meals.  This lady hated Heidi and would not let her under the table and if I remember correctly, I think she kicked her once.  I was livid, but I was only 3 and the old bitch was 39.  What could I do?

One day I called something I hated poo poo.  She grabbed me by my wrists and said that if I ever said that again God was going to do something very, very bad to me immediately.  (Great caregiving  ….eh?)  (Yes, “eh,” my grandmother was Canadian.)  I did not for a second believe her but I had to prove it to myself.  When she let go of my wrists I turned toward my bedroom and walked away.  “Yes, have a good cry about it,” she called after me.

Uh, no.  That’s not what I did.  I went as deeply into a cluttered and disorganized (beyond belief) closet in the pitch black, made myself comfortable on a pile of clothes on the floor and whispered, “poo poo.”  And then I waited.  Nothing bad happened.  I emerged from the closet and I waited all afternoon and nothing bad happened.

I never trusted that woman to begin with but now I knew she was a liar.

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Great Apes

I don’t usually write fiction but I dabble in it from time to time.  Here’s something I wrote a while back.

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I’m in fifth grade but I really should only be in fourth. Mom started me early and then I skipped a semester in second grade because I was way ahead of everybody else in math and reading. It was hard because all of the sudden I was in a class with other kids I didn’t know and all my friends weren’t there.

I do love to read. Mom says I’m amazing because I learned at two. She says that as soon as I could see the words on a page I could understand them, as if I was “remembering” how to read instead of learning how. Now they say I read at a tenth grade level but I don’t think that’s true because all I like to read about is Great Apes. Chimps mostly but also Gorillas and Orangutans. I don’t think Mom likes it. She always tries to get me to read her books; books for grown-ups, grown-up’s stories, science books and doctor books. She went to work this morning before I woke up and she left me a book called, “The Old Man And The Sea.” Her note said to read it and we’d talk about it together when she got home tonight. I tried to read it because I want to talk with her but it’s boring and I don’t really understand it. She’s not home yet anyway and it’s almost my bedtime. Sometimes I wish she would read about Great Apes. I think she would love it if she tried it. I asked her if she could read one Chimpanzee book instead of her science books and then we could talk together about it but she says she doesn’t have time.

My Mom’s a surgeon and says she works hard so we can have nice things. We live in a house that is really too big for a Mom, a kid and a baby-sitter. There are so many dark, quiet rooms in our house that no one ever sleeps in. No one even goes in to some of them except the maid to clean. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I had twelve brothers and sisters sleeping and playing in all these bedrooms. I think our house would be better like that.

Mom says I’d be a great doctor because I’m so smart and she’s saving her money for my medical school. She bought me a video about the inside of bodies. We watched it and it was really gross. We talked about it for a little while but I don’t think it was a very good talk for my Mom. She seemed kind-of nervous and I don’t think I said anything she liked. I really wanted a video called “The Wild Kingdom.” I wish she bought that one because I think we would have had a better talk then. That’s OK because I can read my books instead of watching videos.

I don’t know my Dad. I asked her about him for the first time and she told me not to worry about him because he is not good enough for us anyway. I can’t help it; I think about him all the time. I hope he isn’t alone or lonely. I think he might be good enough for me. I wonder what he looks like and what he reads about. I wonder if he ever thinks about me. If I had a little girl who I did not live with, I would call her on the phone, at least. I would call my Dad but I think Mom would get mad if I asked her for the number. When I grow up, I am going to visit him.

Mother chimpanzees take good care of baby chimpanzees. They hold them and carry them everywhere they go. Mommy and baby chimps hug, kiss and snuggle and the Mom picks the bugs off the baby. When the baby gets a little older, she picks the bugs off the Mommy. It’s really cute and it’s for good grooming but also a way they show love. Mommy chimps spend the day teaching the baby things and they sleep very close together and keep each other warm. The Daddy chimp is always somewhere near-by and protects the Mommy and baby.

Sometimes, after school, when the baby-sitter is sleeping, I pretend I’m a baby chimp.

 

 


I Hate Facebook

I was on Facebook once for about a minute.  I know everyone loves it but I hated it.  Someone told me it is a way to stay connected to the outer world.  What’s an outer world? The twilight zone?  All I saw were peoples photos and comments about seeing a new hot movie, shopping at a new mall or just returning from a trip to the Bahama’s.  Hardly outer worlds.  I saw strange greetings to peoples loved ones on birthdays and anniversaries which in my humble opinion is private stuff.  I tired of pictures of kids winning soccer matches, people running marathons and new babies.  Do you really care about all this with more than a few people?  And if you did care why not meet for coffee or talk on the phone?

I said all this to someone younger than me.

“Nooooo!” she said, “you are missing the point!”

“Really?” I replied, “which point…..outer worlds?”

“It’s a really good way of keeping in touch with….” her voice trailed off.

“People you don’t want to stay in touch with?” I asked.

She blushed.

I rest my case.

 


Human Silverbacks

“There are a lot of alpha personalities in the room!” he said.

A normal gorilla troop in the wild consists of a silverback male, several females (called a Harem, sorry gals) and all of their offspring. The silverback calls the shots. He dictates when to feed, when to nest, when to move on, etc. He also breaks up bickering between his females and patrols his territory for his family’s safety. It’s a stressful job and silverbacks are notorious for heart disease. But he is, without a doubt, the boss.

I know our DNA is 98.5 percent the same as gorillas. But we are human and I have noticed in racquet sports if women and men are playing together, certain men revert to gorilla behavior.

I am an amateur expert on the Western Lowland Gorilla and the Chimpanzee and I work as a Gorilla and Chimp Ambassador at the Dallas zoo speaking to zoo guests about their behaviors and personalities. We are desperately trying to save these animals from extinction.  I know each individual chimp and gorilla intimately and I love every one of them with my heart and soul.

Eight months ago I switched from years of tennis to a game called pickle ball. It originally was for slightly older to very old people but young people are swooping in because it is so much fun (addicting actually) and such great exercise. It is very fast, can be played very aggressively and it’s a mix of women and men of all ages.

The behavior that concerns me in pickle ball is certain men thinking they are in charge like a Silverback!  They force unsolicited advice onto women, try to dominate how the rotation works, try to monopolize courts for themselves and other men, and sometimes even try cruel tactics to get the weaker women off the courts by slamming them with balls on an overhead smash, often 0n very old women. Let me be clear, most of the men do not fall into this category, many I would describe as officers and gentlemen, but something like 15% act like they can call the shots.

Breaking News: I am an assertive person.

Assertiveness is my nature and the school I attended of very hard knocks ( In addition to getting my degree in biz mgt at a U, so as to not sell myself short) has reinforced it. I try very hard to be self-aware enough to not let it slip over into obnoxiousness. But I am definitely not going to be a door-mat to anyone. I am also a very good pickle ball player. I have told many, many men in the last eight months that I do not want or need their coaching. I have had male partners tell me where to stand, when to come to the net, how to serve, etc. all of which I completely ignore. I withhold eye contact with those guys and freeze ‘em out. I pretend I’m playing alone. They can go to hell. The game will be over soon and I’ll have a different partner who is not so insecure or whatever the problem with this one is.

When summer arrives our pickle ball venues become inundated with children at summer day camps and the availability of gym time is at a premium. Translation: there are not as many places and times to play so the ones where we can get very, very crowded. This is when we have to figure out systems for rotations for use of pickle ball courts.

Recently three men and I were having a discussion about how that rotation should work. Seems everyone has a different opinion. I play at so many different venues (and most people don’t) so I’ve learned several different ways to do the rotation and I participated in the conversation wholeheartedly. The younger men are used to strong women in these kinds of situations, of course, but apparently the older ones are not.

After that dialogue we came to an agreement on some rotation systems to experiment with. Half an hour later I was sitting on the bleachers next to a 78 year old man who had been part of the rotation discussion.

“There are a lot of alpha personalities in the room,” he said.

“Yes there are,” I agreed, “maybe because this is a competitive sport.”

He leaned into me. “There are a lot of FEMALE alpha personalities in here,” he said.

“Yes,” I said, “and I know I’m one of them if that is what you are trying to say .”

“Well,” he said, “some men don’t like to argue with women.”

I’m positive my jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. To me this implied there are “people” and there are “women”.  I was flabbergasted.

I turned my head slowly and looked him in the eyes.

“That is too damn bad,” I said quietly.

He has treated me like a queen every time I’ve see him since that day.

 

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Beautiful Stunted Growth

“Let them die.” the animal activist groups said about 17 elephants who were slowly starving to death in Swaziland, Africa because of drought and lack of food. “That is the natural thing to do,” they said.

I am so glad the Dallas zoo and two other zoos here in the South (This isn’t the South! Texan’s would exclaim, this is Texas!!) did not agree and had what it took to cut through red tape (It’s illegal to take animals out of the wild and put them in captivity unless it is an extreme circumstance which this was) and bring these magnificent elephants to new homes where they could get the sustenance they need to survive and thrive.

Our five Swaziland elephants are small because they have been malnourished their entire lives. Jenny, a Dallas zoo elephant resident for years weighs 10,000 pounds. In contrast, the only male elephant we got from Africa weighs a mere 3,600 pounds. His name is Tendaji and when he arrived at our zoo he stayed awake for 48 hours eating and drinking.  Our four females from Swaziland are also seriously underweight.

Now we are in the midst of the complicated process of “introducing” our new elephants to the ones we’ve had for years. In the animal world you don’t just throw a bunch of new animals together. With high intelligence and intricate social systems, it can take months to slowly let each elephant get to know one another and track how the personalities mesh or don’t. It’s a huge job for the elephant keepers.

One night, not long after the new elephants arrived in Dallas, our elephant keepers noticed some recognizable sounds from one of the females. They had no idea. Then, like a kiss from the universe or thanks from the planet, beautiful Mlilo, surprisingly gave birth to a boy calf. He’s underweight at 150 pounds from his mother’s malnutrition but she is producing all the milk he needs because she is so well fed at the zoo. This makes the introductions that much more complex and the keepers are busy baby proofing the barns and the habitat (we haven’t had a baby elephant for something like 40 years) but what an amazing blessing! Here they are:

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