Archive for October, 2009

My mother found the lump in her breast the year before she turned forty.  She screwed up her courage and went to her OB/GYN the next day.  He, of course, sent her for a mammogram.  He told her he would call in a couple

Wilmington vacation 2008 161

Nineteen Years Later

of days and let her know the results.  When a week went by with no call, she couldn’t handle the strain of the wait any longer.  As a single mom of three kids, she had spent the week wondering how she would support us if she had cancer.  What would happen to her kids if she were to die?  She had imagined the long illness and her death.  She had imagined the last moments spent with her family.  She couldn’t wait a minute longer, so she called the office.  She asked for the results and was told that they only call if the results were positive so if she hadn’t received a call she was clear.  This was the answer she had hoped for and though she would look back on it and say she should have asked to speak to the doctor or a nurse to get a more definite answer, she accepted it.


In January of the following year, she first noticed the dimple in her left breast.  She said nothing to me until April.  During that time, it must have weighed on her.  After the scare of the year before, she had placed a card in the shower showing how to do the self exam.  The card had a list of things to look for.  Not just the dreaded lump, but changes in the breast as well, specifically changes such as dimples.  She knew it was a bad sign but couldn’t face it again.  When she did finally call me at college, she told me she was worried, but knew she couldn’t afford another mammogram.  We talked about putting aside twenty dollars a week until she could afford it.  But we both knew she wouldn’t.  She knew she in her heart it would come back positive.  And ignoring it was the best she could do.

In October, I heard that the clinic at the local hospital was offering free mammograms as part of National Breast Cancer Awareness month.  I called my mother and asked her to please go.  She waited until her birthday, October 30th, before finally getting up the nerve.  The doctor at the clinic called the next day.  Within the week they had confirmed cancer with a biopsy.  We had also been asked to pick up her last mammogram so they could compare the two and see how much it had grown in the past year.  To our horror there was a sealed envelope in the x-ray file addressed to her OB/GYN.  We opened it to find a report from the radiologist to the doctor stating that there was indeed a tumor in her breast and it had attached to the tissue around it making it a clear carcinoma.  The new doctor scheduled a mastectomy for the day before Thanksgiving.

During the mastectomy, they removed 17 lymph nodes.  Eight of the 17 were infected with cancer.  She was told to get her affairs in order.  She would not survive the year.

This weekend, nineteen years after that fateful mammogram, we are celebrating my mother’s 49th birthday.  She is a true miracle story.  She fought the cancer with everything that she had and she won.

My mother’s story has taught me a few things.  First, get a mammogram, but even more important, don’t just call the doctor for the report, pick up the radiologist’s report and read it.  Second, ignoring the problem will not make it go away.  And third, doctors don’t always have the answers.  When I am in doubt about a doctor’s instructions or prognosis, I ask questions, I express my doubts and I push for myself or my children.  I am my best advocate.  If I don’t ask the question or stand up for myself and my children who will?

For more information on self examination please visit – The American Cancer Society

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Everybody is on Facebook.  Teenagers use it to keep in touch with their friends on a daily basis.  But, the older Facebook users use it to go back.  The phrase use to be “you can never go back” but Facebook has changed that.  I have several groups of friends on Facebook right now but the two I visit most often are my girlfriends from college and my gang from middle school.

This second group is my going back group. I may have never realized that except that my brother in law was laughing at me for being back in touch with people from middle school.  “Why would you ever want to do that?”Middle School Friends Sometimes a remark like this will just roll on by without an answer, but not this time.  This time I thought about it.  Why would I want to be in touch with people I haven’t seen in almost twenty five years? It was an easy question to answer.  My middle school years were a defining time in my life.  Life was great.  I had friends.  A lot of friends and we had fun.

I moved to my middle school in fourth grade and it was not just my first year at the middle school.  It was the first year for the school itself.  The building was finished a month before we moved in.  Many of my friends had been going to school together since kindergarten, but something about the new school made them more accepting of the new girl from the city.  I was poor but so were most of them.  Over the next five years we mished and moshed until we had the right combination of friends in our group.  We were members of the school band, cheerleading squad and basketball team.  Suddenly we weren’t just little kids trying to find our spots.  We had found our places.

Our world was compact.  It existed between those walls.  The summer after eighth grade, I spent in fear of what would lie ahead for us.  What would become of us in high school?  What would be expected?  Already there were signs that friends would change.  Already there were friends experimenting with sex and drugs.  Already there were rumors in our small town of divorce and job loss.

The changes in my life came as a surprise.  My life outside of those middle school walls had always been in upheaval.  My friends saw my mother as a wonderful, cheerful person.  They saw her as the joking, laughing mom that they wished they had.  They saw her when she was in her upswings.  They missed the downswings.  They missed the depression and the angry fits complete with fly swatter beatings.  They were not aware of my dad who was too quiet to be noticed but was like a super hero in my life.  They didn’t know that he was the protector.  The person who took the brunt of my mom’s anger as long as he wasn’t at work.  This was my life outside of middle school.  It had been my life for thirteen years and I assumed it would be my life until I graduated from high school and could get out.

But, I was wrong.  Halfway through my freshman year of high school I began to hear rumors.  To notice how other adults looked at my mother.  I wondered whether our secret had finally gotten out, whether someone had finally connected the dots of my many accidents.  If someone had noticed some wrong in the cheerleader who could get through whole school days and basketball games without hurting herself could show up to school with a black eye caused by her now famous clumsiness.  I kept waiting for the shoe to drop.

When it finally did, I was surprised.  The sin was not that my mom was beating her child.  It was that she was having an affair.  I found this out the day my dad and his shot gun disappeared from our house.  The principal found me and explained what had happened.  They did find my dad and all was fine, but my family was changed forever.  My life was never the same after that day.

We left that year and I lost touch with all of those friends.  The friends who had let me live a normal life six hours a day, five days a week for five years.  After that I was always the girl who couldn’t explain who the man we were living with was without turning bright red in embarrassment.  I was the girl who moved to five different high schools in an effort to escape my mom’s sins.  I was the girl whose home life overshadowed everything else.

My middle school friends were the friends who had let me escape that. They know what became of me and my family because it was a small town, but what they remember is the girl who was happy – the girl who was silly and liked to have fun.  As an adult, that is the girl I am again, but it is nice to put the two pieces together – to welcome friends, who meant so much to me twenty five years ago, back into my life.

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With Both Feet

My three year old hates every food that is not pizza, hotdogs or chicken nuggets.  For a mom who loves to cook and has raised two other kids on gourmet foods, this is a nightmare.  No matter how many times I read him Green Eggs and Ham, he refuses to try new things.  It occurs to me though, that this tendency to not only avoid new things but declare a dislike to them must be innate to humans.

My Dad hates to fly.  He has never flown but he hates it.  I have a friend who hates crowds but has never stepped foot outside of his small town to find himself in a crowd.  I live twenty minutes outside of Washington, DC andcrowded-street have met people who have lived their whole life here without once stepping foot in DC.  In one way or the other we all limit ourselves this way.  A limitation I have put on myself?  Cruises.  I know I wouldn’t like a cruise.  I have a list a mile long why this is so.  Yet, I have never set foot on a cruise ship.

I will, once in a great while, get my son to agree to taste something new.  He will pick up the smallest amount of the suspicious food with his fork and touch it to the tip of his tongue shaking his head before it even reaches a taste bud, never giving the flavor a chance.

Grownups do this too. We dip our toes in an experience and form an opinion without giving it a chance instead of jumping in with both feet and immersing ourselves in the experience.  Instead of looking at the situation for what it might offer, we go in with our opinions set and color our experiences with that brush.

Blogger, Katie Leas, over at Tremendous Blondette just showed us all how it should be done.  Several months back she posted a bit about not liking to travel and being afraid to fly.  Recently, she posted a retraction.  Apparently, in the last few months, she has jumped in with both feet.  She has done enough travelling to feel like an expert. But what really came across in her post, especially in the photo captions, was the joy she has found in each new place.

Looking at each of these photos, I wondered how her life will change.  What will be different now that she has seen New York City for the first time, visited Las Vegas and a handful of other cities she had never visited?  Whether those cities changed her I can’t tell you, but I can tell you, from personal experience, that what changes is attitude.

When we jump in with both feet and experience something we thought we didn’t like or thought we would never do, suddenly, anything is possible.  Suddenly the world really is our oyster and we begin to wonder, what else we are missing?  We start looking for the next adventure.  The next new discovery.  Or in Zane’s case the next new and delicious food.

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To Text or Not to Text

As we prepared lunch this afternoon my husband asked whether he should make a sandwich for our fifteen year old son.Teen texting

“I don’t know, text him and ask ,” I said.

“Text him?  Where did he go?”

“He’s in his room upstairs.”

Such is life with the teenager.  I could yell up the stairs for ten minutes before my voice registered in his teenage brain but the slight vibration of his phone gets his attention every time.

My husband recently read an article in the Washington Post about parents who text their teenager as their only means of communications.  I didn’t read the story before he threw the paper out but his take on the subject was that texting as a parental means of communication is a bad thing.  I respectfully disagree.

Several years back a dear friend gave me a bit of advice about raising a teenage son.  She said it is a parent’s responsibility to find ways to relate to their child.  Pay attention when they go on about their video games or the latest argument with a friend on the soccer pitch. Ask them who they had lunch with at school each day.  Even go so far as to listen to their music.  I took this information to heart and have not regretted it for a moment.

The first step in my quest to relate more closely to my son was having him load my iPhone with his music.  I take my iPhone with me on my run and listen carefully to the same music he listens to.  To be sure that I am getting the same music, I borrow his on occasion.  Though Drowning Pool and Avenged Sevenfold may not have been my first choice for my run, I find that for the most part I do enjoy his taste in music.  But, when I don’t enjoy it, when I am offended by it, I tell him.  We talk about it and we discuss whether there is value in it or whether dumping it off of both our systems is in order.  Sometimes, when my argument is convincing, he does just dump it all together.  Sometimes, I find that he is right, it might not be my taste but he can remove it from my iPhone and keep it as part of his personal music library.  Even this small step of give and take has us speaking in a way we might not otherwise.

In addition to music, I decided to take a step toward understanding the sports that he enjoys. I have set up alerts to my phone to remind me when a game is going to start or when someone scores. If he comes home excited about his team winning, I can relate as I have watched the scores fly across my screen throughout the day.  My subscription to ESPN Magazine has us communicating in a completely different way as we fight over who gets the issue first.  Rick Reilly is a favorite for both of us and we could go on for hours with fodder from his latest article.

So, we do communicate in ways other than texting, but texting offers its own special form of communication.  He communicates with his best friends via text the same way I, as a teenager, communicated with mine by phone.  The fact that he will text me puts me a leg up on my mom.  There is no way I would have taken the time to chat with her by phone as a teen.  Facebook and Twitter have both opened new avenues as well.  We share information we may never have thought to share – stories from the news, fan pages for products we both like, even political views.  We discuss things we may have never discussed.

Years ago my sister-in-law told me that the best way to have a real conversation with a teenager is in the car or doing laundry.  If you aren’t sitting face to face, they will have an easier time opening up.  Texting and Facebook are much the same thing.  They give my son an opportunity to open up about things he might otherwise clam up about.  They give him a chance to think about what he is going to say before he says it.  And it works that way for me as well.  There have been several mornings when I have come downstairs to find a book or a lunch still sitting on the table after he has left for school and as I started a snide text message to remind him that this is an inconvenience for me, I realize how it is going to sound and change it to something lighter and less judgmental while still getting the point across.

If texting were our only way of communication I might be concerned but as it is an addition to the lines of communication we have created, I am not.  As it is a language that young people speak fluently, I am glad to be a part of it, to be let into the club and be part of his life in a way that was not available to my parents.  As a parent, it is my responsibility to relate to my son and to create ways in which he can relate to me.  If that is through texting then so be it.

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