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.

 

 


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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Where Am I?

Have you heard about Texas weather? When we told people we were moving here they said, “Well, clearly you aren’t moving for the weather, so why are you moving?!” It’s 8:30 pm, I have a sinus infection, Steve is on a plane hoping to get into Dallas/Fort Worth tonight from a biz trip. It is thundering, lightening and what I cannot reconcile is that it’s 92 degrees and HAILING! How is that even possible? How can it hail when it’s 92 degrees! Could it be 32 degrees High in the sky when it’s 92 down here?? (Notice I unconsciously capitalized high as if something supernatural is going on.)

I can hear the hail smashing against the the skylight in my kitchen. This is also tornado weather, something brand new to me. Tornados are a “warm weather event” I’ve been taught. Lovely. So I stay awake with my sinus infection, two dogs freaking out about thunder, my husband on a plane circling around, still trying to get my arms around what the hell is Texas….


The Wizard of Oz

One of the less than lovely things about Texas is tornedos. Apparently we don’t get as many as places like Oklahoma and Kansas but we do get them. Take the day after Christmas for example. 11 people in the Dallas area died in tornedos and a house 15 miles from ours was demolished. I’ve learned that when people die in tornedos it’s usually either a traffic related incident caused by the tornedo or they are hit with flying debris. So, If you are out and about, you have to quickly figure out a way to get out of the car and somehow take cover.

I’ve only been in Texas just over two years and the only other places I’ve lived are California and Arizona. In California we worried about earthquakes, landslides, houses sliding down hillsides and wildfires. In Arizona we obsessed over rattlesnakes, scorpions and a particularly threatening cactus called “Jumping Cholla”.

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The cholla (pronounced choy-a) is perhaps the most feared and hated cacti in the southwest desert. If you brush up against one, you will know why. The plant has pads that separate easily from the main stem. The spines easily attach to your clothing, your skin and your shoes. Since the plant is covered with spines, it’s difficult to grab and dislodge the pad that has found a new home with you. Why are they so difficult to remove? Unlike other varieties of cacti with solid spines, cholla’s actually have hollow spines. Because they are hollow they can easily attach to whatever they touch with their needle like sharpness. If there is moisture, such as with skin, the tips actually curve once they have made contact, locking their spines in place just underneath the skins top layer. OUCH! But, I digress….

When the tornedo sirens blared the other night, my husband and I and our two golden retrievers hunkered down in the inner most room of the house, which is my husband’s closet. If you have followed my blog for some length of time, you might recall that I have that closet well stocked for an event such as this one.

Here are the contents of our shelter in Steve’s closet:

  • water for humans and water/water bowl for dogs
  • snacks for humans and treats/chew sticks for dogs
  • a battery powered American Red Cross emergency weather radio
  • a battery powered, super mini flashlight
  • a battery powered lantern
  • two battery powered personal spray bottle/fan contraptions in case it gets really hot
  • back up batteries for all that battery operated crap
  • a blanket
  • a little nightgown for me in case it gets really hot
  • reading glasses in case I have to run in there without mine
  • 2 bottles of wine, a wine opener and doggie Xanax
  • a deck of cards for gin rummy in case Steve or Tim are in there with me and paper/pencil to keep score since we’ll be drinking all that wine and would no way remember the score

I’m not kidding. All that junk is beautifully organized in Steve’s closet.

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So, while Steve was fumbling with the tornedo radio, I was texting my sister in California. My sister Lisa always has and always will live in California. We were born there and she is a beach girl.

The tornedo radio is saying we are in a life threatening situation and to take cover immediately, I texted. So we are in the safest place in the house, a closet, with the dogs.

That must be freaky, she responded, are you scared?

I am kind of scared, I went on, the radio just said the tornedo touched down about 15 miles from our house.

Ooooh, she replied, I didn’t realize they touched down.

I chuckled to myself. Just like me two years ago, she knows nothing about tornedos. I think she was thinking of hurricanes.

Think “twister”, Lisa, I texted back, like The Wizard of Oz. 

Oh! she exclaimed, Is Toto with you?

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New Years Eve Surgery in Texas

Dallas, like Scottsdale, has a very competitive healthcare industry. I’m not sure if it’s because there are a lot of sick people, a lot of old people, or a lot of people who are hypochondriacs. The industrial landscape is peppered with numerous hospitals, free-standing emergency rooms, urgent care facilities and wellness centers. Advertisements grace the expressway billboards promising everything from new eyesight, 100 pound weight loss, digestive relief after all these years, recovery from breast cancer, a new you by taking testosterone, and more. They kind-a downplay the Ebola thing around here. Word on the street is they didn’t handle it all that well but finally figured it out when it was too late. I think there should be billboards that say Wait!! Sorry about that last thing! We get it now! Give Dallas another chance! Bring your Ebola to us!!”

In the days leading up to surgery, everything in my mind was categorized as before surgery and after surgery. Like a flight across the ocean, I’m never convinced there really will be an after an oceanic flight. But, each day I would find myself surrendering a little more to that mini break from life and complete loss of control, which is general anesthesia.

On the morning of my surgery I felt resigned and task oriented. I also felt hydrated because I drank almost 90 ounces of water the day before so I would not have the dreadfulness of being thirsty on a morning I could drink nothing. I put on full make-up and fixed my hair. Some sense of control I suppose. As we entered the hospital at 8:00 am on New Year’s Eve, it was very quiet. Four “concierges” with little to do huddled around an entry desk chatting. They looked at my husband and me and one lovely woman said, “Good morning! How can we help you?”

“My name is Andrea Thompson and I’m here to celebrate the New Year by having umbilical hernia surgery!” I exclaimed.

They all burst into laughter and one adorable man high fived me. I loved seeing his black hand meet my white one. “That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard at this desk!” His eyes twinkled.

I quickly found out I was the one and only person having surgery at the hospital that day so the ratio of service providers to patient was about 15 to 1. The first was a very young woman with jet black hair underneath, magenta hair on top. It’s hard for me to imagine why anyone thinks that’s attractive. She told me she was going to take my vitals.

Now, this was a problem because I have White Coat Syndrome. It’s not because I’m scared of doctors, it’s because I’m scared of what they might tell me about my health. However, it’s now evolved to I’m scared someone is going to say I’m going to take your blood pressure. My blood pressure elevates because I’m scared my blood pressure is going to elevate. When I go see Dr. Christy, I take my own blood pressure at home for 5 days in a row and document it for her and it’s always fine.

“Yes, it’s elevated,” the gal deadpanned and didn’t even blink, “177/98.”

“WHAT?” I nearly shrieked, “It’s never been that high even in the presence of the whitest of coats!! Will I be having a stroke here soon?”

“Let’s try the other arm,” she said casually as I was sweating over the fact that I knew no surgeon would proceed with a procedure with blood pressure that high. “126/81,” she said under her breath, “we’re good.”

“What?” I said, “how did it plummet in 10 seconds?!”

“You probably relaxed,” she said as she put the BP equipment away.

“Relaxed?” I exclaimed, “after being told my blood pressure was 177/98?”

She had no idea what to say to me so she motioned me to get on the scale. God, I thought, with the way things are going here I’ll probably weigh 260 pounds! No wonder I have a hernia! I did not weigh 260, I weighed my normal, acceptable, BMI happy weight of (X + 10). The 10 is my opinion no matter what BMI says.

Next, a clumsy woman attempted several times without success to insert my IV. Suffice it to say it took several stabs in several parts of my arm and hand to finally get it right and I have the bruises to prove it.

After several gadgets, devices, liquids and soft goods were adhered to, hung on or injected into my body by several of these 15 people, I met my surgery nurse. Augustine was tall and buff with a curly head of black hair and had a little trouble with eye contact. Based on his slight accent I guessed he was Jamaican. His demeanor was staid and serious and he did not smile once as he explained my procedure and answered my questions. He was clearly thorough, knowledgeable and competent and I had complete confidence in him. I asked him to keep and eye on the flow to my IV and explained the trouble the gal had getting it in. He promised he would.

I rested a minute and in lumbered my anesthesiologist. I can’t remember her name but she was plump, earthy and clearly marched to the beat of her very own drummer. She had a bohemian looking scarf on that covered her entire head and hair; and she had hair so it wasn’t a chemo deal. Maybe she chose this over a hair net in surgery? Her dangling earrings sparkled in the bright lights. She was a talker and was telling me things about anesthesiology I really didn’t need to know. It reminded me of when a refrigerator repair man comes and wants to teach me how a refrigerator works. I don’t care! Just fix the damn thing, man, and move on. Anyway, her comments were dry and unedited and I like that kind of person as long as there is no anger or hostility behind it and with her there wasn’t.

“No lifting, pushing or pulling for two weeks after surgery,” she said, “so that means Steve will be doing the vacuuming, mopping and laundry.” She got his attention and he looked up from his device and we all laughed.

Suddenly the energetic, confident and ready to roll Dr. Komen bounded in the room. “Ready for your surgery?” she asked excitedly.

“Yes, I am.” I said. “And, it’s good to see you, Dr. Komen.” I’d only met her a week before and I love when surgeons are so cheerful and positive. That attitude might affect outcomes.

“Dr. Komen,” I whispered so just she and Steve could hear, “I’m loving this! Both doctors are women and the nurse is a man!”

“Yes,” she said smiling, “It’s fun….there IS still a stigma about that, isn’t there?”

She talked about what was going to happen during surgery, after surgery and during recovery. She gave me some verbal instructions about what to do and not do when I got home. Steve was listening.

“It’s a good idea to get up and walk around the first couple days after surgery,” she said. “Wear some Shapewear or Spanx for the first week or so when you are up and about.”

“Do you have any of that stuff?” Steve blurted out. He’s a quiet guy and that was the first time I heard him talk in an hour.

“Are you kidding me?” I asked astonished as I turned my head and looked at Steve, “I probably have 10 pairs of Spanx!”

At that, the staid and serious Augustine slumped over, dropped his head and laughed hysterically. Steve looked sheepish. Dr. Komen didn’t even break a grin, she just kinda stared at me; surely she owns 10 pairs of Spanx, too and didn’t understand what the hoopla was about. Augustine was still laughing.

A sedative was dripping into my IV and I was becoming very relaxed. Steve kissed me hard. The bed started to roll with Augustine, still smiling, in the lead. Someone was steering from behind but I didn’t know who and it didn’t matter. I was in good hands. We entered the bright, white operating room and the people there greeted me quietly. I smiled at them through bleary eyes. Then the mask came over my nose and mouth.

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Ya-Ya

Texan’s feet must hurt. Maybe it’s the boots. There is a little foot massage place on every block just like dry cleaners. I guess it’s one way I fit in around here. My feet have always hurt. I recently discovered my new favorite foot place. It’s called Ya-Ya. I have no idea what that means. My Chinese reflexology guy who speaks no English whatsoever is named Mike. Probably not really, though.

One day I was at Ya-Ya and I was laying comfortably on my chaise lounge with a washcloth over my eyes listening to the calming sound of trickling water from a charming fountain and some eastern meditation music while Mike did his magic on my feet. The woman next to me was in paradise with her own foot person. Suddenly a young gal burst in the door, yakking deafeningly on her cell phone, told the person on the other end to hang on while she announced urgently that she had an appointment at 3:30 pm and as she was getting comfortable on her chaise lounge, took up where she left off in her boisterous conversation.

I have a hard time with how utterly rude people can be with cell phones but this was preposterous. Ya-Ya is a dark, quiet, serene environment where patrons go to have a reprieve from the stresses of life. This woman was almost shouting.

I instantly sprang from a horizontal position to a vertical one and said with force, “Excuse me!! This is completely unacceptable!!”

All the Chinese reflexologists giggled nervously and dropped their eyes. The lady next to me gave me a thumbs up.

“Oh! I have to go, Roxanne. I’ll call you later,” the loud mouth said as she hung up the phone. “Uh, oh, sorry, uh, sorry….”

“Thank you,” I said. And I lay back down. (lay? layed? laid? lie? David Goldberg, help me!)

As we were paying, the woman who had been next to me thanked me for my boldness. I told her ten years ago I might have seethed quietly with my anger but as I’ve gotten older when I know in my heart it’s dead wrong, I don’t hesitate. Now, in retrospect that sounds strong AND courageous! (See my last post!)


I Have An Attic?

I was so busy preparing for our move from Scottsdale and my husband Steve was swamped in his new position with Prime Lending in Dallas that we had to buy a house and buy it quickly. I flew out to join him here and we did it in one day. The realtor had only a few houses lined up to show us after I nixed anything over 5000 square feet. Steve wanted a new build and it’s hard to find one smaller than that in the neighborhoods we liked. So, we have a brand new, gorgeous 4800 square foot house and it’s considered modest by Dallas’ standards. The media room is so big my mom said we should put in an ice skating rink. Then later when she heard through the grapevine I really wanted an elephant she said, “Perfect! They have room for it!”

The move was beyond stressful, nervous breakdown kind of stressful. The culture shock was beyond belief and I found myself completely disoriented. Steve was working long hours and traveling so I was mostly alone dealing with dogs sick as dogs, me sick as dogs, me with 18 mosquito bites and allergies so bad I was positive I had lung cancer. Then there were the projects I was overseeing; building a pool, installing landscaping, removing a rotted out 60 foot Red Oak tree from our front yard and grinding out the roots (I decided to save money and did that one myself), planning interior design and getting the technology in the house orchestrated which, as everyone knows, is rocket science these days.

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There I am taking that pesky, rotten tree down.

Anyway, one day this guy was here; I can’t remember what he was doing but it had something to do with paint.
“Where is the leftover paint?” he asked me.
“There isn’t any,” I said. “They didn’t leave extra paint, extra tiles, nothing!”
“That would be very unusual,” he said.
“I know,” I said, “I’ve owned a lot of houses and there’s always extra paint and tile. But I’ve been all through the garage and there is nothing there!”
“It wouldn’t be in the garage”, he said, “It would be in the attic.”
“I don’t have an attic,” I said.
“Yes you do,” he said, “All newer homes have attics.”
“No they don’t!” I demanded. “I’ve had several newer homes over the years and none of them have ever had attics!”

You’d think after living in the house for over two weeks I would have noticed a pull cord hanging a quarter of the way down between the ceiling and the floor from a trap door in the upstairs hallway. But I didn’t.

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