11 May 2007

Things I've Learned Since I Started My Weblog

I'm very verbose.
I think I'm fascinating and don't understand why everyone else doesn't.
It's wonderful to know people from all over the world.
Virtally all of these people are kind and generous with their hearts.
I like writing again after I stopped being so critical.
I think everything is complex. Oh wait. I knew that before.
I really love the word "just" and have to be vigilant not to use it in every sentence.
I've forgotten how to spell.
My work life is a lot easier to bear when I get to view my co-workers as entertaining.
I'm afraid that someone I know will see what I've been writing. I might lose my job.
I love the freedom to write about anything I wish without the fear that someone I know is reading along.

10 May 2007

Old Friends Out Of Control

When Hubby and I first met, he had a roommate-Old Friend Lewis-- who had grown up in the same hometown. They roomed together when both moved here to go to University. OFL began seeing Old Friend Barbara, who had actually dated Hubby shortly before she got involved with OFL. We all socialized together frequently in the town we're living in now and also in Hubby's home town, generally as part of a group of couples Hubby had known since high school. They essentially became my friends, too.

OFB had a hard time getting OFL to commit to marriage; it was a time when men resisted marriage and, since living together had recently become an option culturally, they argued that there really was no difference between the two. Many women came to see it differently. After about 5 years of pressure being applied and threats being issued, OFL and OFB finally married. Hubby was OFL's best man.

They had two children, a boy and a girl, spaced several years apart. OFL got a job at a rock concert promotion company and worked there until he became too expensive (and probably too old for cutting edge image the company likes to project) and they forced him into early retirement. He continues to do freelance work with them, but hasn't been able to expand his customer base. OLB was a stay at home mom until the kids got old enough for her to get a job, when she became a teacher at her daughter's high school.

Ours and theirs looked like marriages that were heading into the home stretch. Other friends married and divorced, some of them several times in an attempt to get it right. Though we ultimately ended up living in different cities, from all appearances, things were going well with the OF family.

We received Christmas family update letters, detailing the years' triumphs. Daughter graduated and went on to college in a different city. (Son is still in high school.) As recently as three years ago, Daughter decided to move back to her family's hometown because she missed them.

Things took a turn for the worse when Daughter started dating a young man who was seriously tattooed and pierced. OFB hated the guy immediately. It's one of those things they warn you about. Sooner or later, you will have children who will drive you crazy in the same ways you drove your parents crazy when you were young. You have to believe that at least some of the attraction to the young man is based on the fact that mom hates him. OFB has been estranged from her daughter for about a year.

OFB heard rumors that the Boyfriend had been abusive to some former girlfriends. Naturally, OFB had some concerns about the safety of her daughter. This is where OFB's behavior became increasingly bizarre and troubling. (OFL does not think Daughter has been or currently is abused. He's in regular contact with them.) I gather Daughter and Boyfriend are now living together.

OFB created a fake online identity on MySpace so that she could surreptitiously monitor what Boyfriend's friends were saying about him. Needless to say, she was found out and that definitely didn't improve her relationship with Daughter.

About the same time, OFB began drinking and engaging in highly sexual chats online with a man who claims to be 21. OFB has not divulged her real age. Of course, he may not have, either. I understand that's one of the advantages to essentially anonymous interactions. I don't get that, because if you're going to meet the person at some point, it's guaranteed that your chat partner will immediately see that you're 53 instead of 21, you actually weigh much more than you've fessed up to, you have no hair...the list goes on and on.

OFL found these sexually charged chat logs. Ironically, he found them because of the spyware OFB had insisted that they get to spy on Daughter when she was still living in her parents' home. He also awakened a couple of times in the middle of the night to overhear OFB having sexual conversations with someone on the phone. Troubling. Very troubling.

According to OFB, she's started drinking and talking while they have sex (a new development). (Which I'd really, really prefer not to know.) She was forced to resign from her job not long ago because she was inappropriately discussing her Daughter with her teenage students. One young man offered to "take (the Boyfriend) out." OFB made some joke of it and moved on. The young man in question didn't do well in her class and OFB eventually gave him a bad grade. He went directly to the principal's office and alleged that she had, in fact, asked him to proceed with the taking out plan.

The school presented OFB with two choices. She could contest the allegations, with the certainty that it would all become public at some point. Or she could submit her resignation and everyone would part amicably. She chose option 2.

The past couple of years, while she was teaching full time, she started working on her Master's Degree in Counseling. I do not know what kind of counseling, but even if it's just a matter of helping young students decide what to do with themselves after graduation, I don't think OFB is in any condition to be offering advice. OFL says that she believes she can get some kind of "emergency certification" that would allow her to start her career immediately. That's critical in light of the fact that she is the primary wage earner. Everything depends on her.

Needless to say, this has been quite a heavy burden and her stress level must have been (and still be) crushing. She's probably perimenopausal, with all of the attendant hormonal fluctuations. I think it's a little like going through puberty. The body is changing in ways that seem unpredictable and that includes thought processes and emotional variability. You never know who you're going to wake up with every morning. Could be the "old" you or it could be hormonally insane you.

Culturally, we tend to not value older women. We're a youth oriented society and losing one's attractiveness can be crushing to some women. It's definitely hard to get used to. OFB is exactly the kind of woman who, having been known for her prettiness, is apt to have a very hard time with this phase of life.

So there are many reasons why things have continued to go downhill. She didn't come home all night several nights ago. And she's started cutting herself. I don't think I ever heard of an adult starting that behavior; I'm familiar with it happening with teenagers. Again, very troubling.

OFB has issued an ultimatum to OFL. He has got to make some substantial changes in the marriage or she'll pursue a divorce in two years. That's when their son will graduate from high school. OFL, of course, has absolutely no idea what changes she has in mind. That could be just a guy thing--with all of the couples we know who've divorced in recent years, the men have always been dumbfounded. They have no idea what they could have been doing that was wrong and, even when told by the wife, still don't know.

The irony here, of course, is that the tables have turned. OFB insisted they marry and now OFB is fairly certain she wishes to un-marry. OFL does not remember the years when he resisted the idea and has told Hubby that he's always planned to spend his life with one woman. He's very shy and uncomfortable around women, which made the whole dating scene precarious for him. He spent his school years in a Jesuit high school and never had much of a chance to develop friendships with women. I think it says something that he cites this reason for his distress regarding potential divorce.

OFL is regularly on the phone with Hubby. He just wants someone to listen. Hubby is quite willing to do so, but I think it makes him a little anxious. I notice that when he's been talking with OFL, his general behavior improves and he makes a special effort to be a good husband. He even talks about how much he likes his job.

It makes me a little uncomfortable that I'm profiting ( how ever briefly) from my old friends' marital problems. I'm genuinely saddened that things have come to this crisis. Saddened for their children, her husband and her. I can not imagine what's going on in her head that is causing such extremely self-destructive behavior.

This is the story I've been meaning to tell you for some time now. Every time Hubby talks with OFL, there's more bad news. I'm certain there will be more posts about our old friends; nothing seems likely to stop this downward spiral. This is where I generally point out that this is a complex problem. It is, though. Just like most everything else in life.

Do What's In Front Of You: Remembrance Of Loss

I started writing a post about lost abilities, but the universe (or the cyber-universe, at least) took it away. As I was writing, it disappeared. I take it as a sign that, though I may examine it briefly, I should not pursue this topic at length. All things have a reason.

Maybe breast cancer has taken far more from me than I ever imagined it could. Today, I realize that's the very definition of spirituality for me. We lose everything, eventually. No matter what. No matter how many vitamins we take, how many trips to the gym, the body will deteriorate and, eventually, die. Intellect will fade and personality will alter. That's how it goes.

I just have to remember that, accept it and, ultimately, I must embrace it. That which I believe myself to be is just an illusion. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. The one I truly am will not be touched by deterioration of any kind.

Chemo clarified the things I am not: not hair, not intellect, not memory, not physical health, not my emotions. These are merely things that I've stepped into, only to leave them behind when the time comes. It's a liberating and mournful clarity.

Today I remember and I see the task stretching out into the distance. Celebrate. I'm here to learn this lesson. Remain open to suffering and dissolution. Greet them as friends. Just like all friends, they can be problematic at times and hard to love.

Along the way, smaller realizations lead me to the greatest one. At every moment, I can choose to search for the lesson that invites me. Seeing the truth is strenuous work and sometimes I'm not up to the challenge. That's why I'm reminded, from time to time, in many ways, that life slips away.

There's a great Zen precept "Do what is in front of you."

That which is in front of me today is a remembrance of loss.

09 May 2007

The Permanence of Breast Cancer

I type things and then erase them. Over and over. The bad day began last night. I got weepy earlier in the day and now it appears there's no point in trying to remain upbeat. I had some fun this morning, writing about Crazy Land. Then a friend asked my opinion about Phil Spector. That's currently one of my favorite topics.

I told my mom it would be okay to bring over my book, Living With Breast Cancer. She took it away during the time I was undergoing treatment because every time I started to read parts of the book, I would become terrified of what was going to happen next.

All clear, I thought. Treatment is over, so I thought I might get some useful info about what my radiation oncology nurse called "reclaiming my life." Instead, what I found was confirmation that some of the bothersome things I've been experiencing may be treatment-related. And permanent.

I read that chemotherapy used for breast cancer (and maybe other types) can change the structure of the brain and how it functions. Or doesn't. Antidepressants can exacerbate the bad effects. As can steroids used in treatment and Tamoxifen used post-treatment.

They may affect memory, spatial-visual abilities, verbal (especially written) skills. There may be permanent alterations in concentration and attention span. I've experienced a lot of these. I chalked it up to depression, hormones, and/or age. Any (or all) of those things may actually be part (or all) of the problems. Or not.

It's yet more potential for the possibility that breast cancer has taken away all of the qualities by which I've defined myself. The ability to write well and think sharply would be great losses. They have always been self-defining. I'm not sure I can recognize whether verbal skills have deteriorated. Certainly cognitive functioning has changed and not for the better. I'm kind of stupid now and I have absolutely no memory at all. Maybe permanently.

One of my co-workers has a daughter who's participating in an American Cancer Society event which will culminate in an all-night walk by cancer survivors. Luminarias will light the way. It brings tears to my eyes as I type these words.

I've developed an abrasion underneath the new girl where some scar tissue has formed. There is a patch of irritated skin on the scar that runs across my lower stomach. It's hard for me to tell what's going on, from day to day, with my incision sites. Sometimes things hurt for no apparent reason. Even in places where I'm numb to the touch. I note it and move on. What else can I do?

I've had pain for a couple of days now in those places, so I asked Hubby to look in case something was actually wrong. Obviously, something was. So. Back to the vesty bra and underwear that comes up to my waist.

I'm not sure why this seems overwhelming to me today. I gave it my best shot to buck up and was doing fine, it seemed, for a while. I have extensive experience with bucking up. Not today, I guess.

Puppies and 'Hos in Crazy Land

Have you ever noticed that, when I talk about something going on in my work life, I always have a huge amount of background information to cover first? I guess that's what defines this place as "Crazy Land." Okay, I'm going in now. Hang on.

Just as I was going to start taking my handful of medications that keep me sane, able to breathe and breast cancer free, Crazy Employee made an impromptu appearance. (Yes, of course she knocked.) The latest office outrage is the new crop of puppies we've discovered next door. Crazy wanted to get a better look at them.

One of my office windows overlooks the backyard of a woman whose life is a constant source of speculation here amongst the denizens of Crazy Land. She's had three pregnancies in at least the past ten years. We know there were others because she has a son and daughter who don't live with her, but are old enough to have their own dogs. I'll get to that eventually.

Every time she's gotten pregnant, the state (we think) has taken the infants away immediately. We never see them, so they're going somewhere. One day she's as big as a house and, the next time we see her, she's baby-less and back to her old skinny self. Compared to this, of course, the puppy thing isn't even a blip on the Outrage Radar screen. Guess what? You guessed it. Pregnant again.

Most of my co-workers believe Lillian is a crack head. Some of them believe she's a prostitute. There's some basis in reality for the latter belief, because she told one of our painters she's "a ho." Scared the shit out of the painter. He was in her backyard at the time, refinishing that side of our privacy fence. We could never get him to go back and finish the job.

Before we go any further, I need to tell you that Lillian actually worked for us for about three months several years ago. (I bet you're not one tiny bit surprised about that, are you?) I could tell you about that and maybe I will, but not today. As Loathsome would say, must maintain focus.

I'm not so sure about the crack head thing. I think it's just as likely that she could be mentally retarded and/or suffering from a serious psychiatric illness. Clearly, Loathsome needs to go have a wardrobe consultation with her so she can lead a more productive (and perhaps celibate) life.

My co-workers think everyone who lives around here is a crack head or cooking crack or selling it. I don't think so. There's not enough traffic around here to warrant that conclusion. Any crack-related activities in this neighborhood are more likely to be occurring at the day rate motel across the street from us. That's probably where most of the good prostitutes are, too. There's something a little low-rent about servicing patrons out of a house that has no electricity and maybe even no running water. I mean, as a customer, wouldn't you at least want to know those amenities were available if you needed them?

I noticed several weeks ago that Lillian was looking like a woman hoping for labor to start soon. I was once again outraged by her poor family planning skills. Yesterday, Crazy Employee pointed out to me that there are now three puppies in Lillian's back yard. She saw them from the window of the bathroom right next door to my office. This is also Lillian's third round of puppies. She's pregnant and she has puppies. She's never managed to do one of those activities well and now she's doing both at the same time.

We know at least one set of puppies came from her son's female dog. Maybe another litter came from the daughter, but we're not sure. Dogs come and go in her backyard. There's one black adult dog who's been there forever. Several other adult dogs have rotated in and out. They all need better care than Lillian is prepared to give. I'm sorely tempted every single day to go liberate the black dog and any others living in that doggy purgatory.

Crazy Employee and I have, indeed, removed puppies, taken them to the vet and sent them on their way to more nurturing environments. I have scaled the chain link fence a couple of times before to make sure Lillian's dog(s) have food and accessible water. It always flips out my co-workers, who are sure I'm going to get shot in the process. They all gather at one of the other windows offering a better vantage point from which to watch me hit the ground, should gun play ensue. It would be just the kind of thing that would happen to me. Local newspaper headline: Breast Cancer Survivor Shot While Scaling Fence To Rescue Puppies From 'Hohouse.

Luckily, Child Protective Services is rescuing the infants. Things would get a lot more complex for me if they didn't. That is definitely a thing I could get shot for attempting. I am going to take the puppies, though. The other litters we've rescued have been afflicted with a number of ailments related to neglect. So I don't want to hear anybody telling me that I should respect her rights as the owner.

One more thing. I wonder if the fleas over there will be content with gorging themselves on puppies and refuse to cross into our patio area? I may need to pose that question to everyone in Crazy Land innumerable times a day until I get my point across. Or until I feel vindicated. Whichever comes first.

08 May 2007

Put Them All In A Room And See Who Comes Out Alive

I spent the better part of the morning catching up on my friends' blogs, updating links and trying to alphabetize the links. Obsessive. Anal retentive. It's your call. I gave up. I'll have to be obsessive later. It's so tiring, you know.

Everyone in Crazy Land is having group lunch today to celebrate Receptionist getting her Master's degree. We have smart people here. One or two at the very least. I'm one of them, of course. Let's not forget that. Smart, however, does not preclude crazy.

I'm not attending said luncheon because I have to go home and check on the Phil Spector trial. Coming back for the cake, though. Although I shouldn't eat any. Also, I'm missing out on the office interaction, which is really too bad. It's great when you can round up all the nuts, put them in one room and see who comes out alive.

Neither Owner nor Loathsome are going to be there. Loathsome is still banned from the office until further notice. I'd have to forgo Phil if he and Owner were going to be lunching with everyone else. Too good to miss. Also a perfect opportunity to demand money from co-workers for making Owner stop talking about any or all of the following:

*we're all going to be jobless in a month

*he has a tumor somewhere and is going to die pretty soon

*he may have a heart attack (as he eats the worst food in the world--heavy on the cake, please)

*there appears to be some kind of insect in some of the food, usually the cake

*heaping praise on The Useless One, which pisses off absolutely everyone (It's really a way of torturing everyone on the list at once. Owner is clearly a strategic thinker.)

* or picking out one of the people on the current Torture List and just giving them shit the entire lunch

He's backed off the tumor thing since I inconveniently turned up with the real thing. (Although I didn't actually have a tumor, per se.) The heart attack comments have been unabated, though.

No one else in Crazy Land will make him stop spoiling their lunches. Of course, that might be because they all realize that attempting to make him stop will only make it worse and it can only move them up a notch or two on the Torture List. I'm never included in that list, primarily because I refuse to let anyone know what makes me angry. Especially not Owner or Money Man. Never let them know if something rattles your cage. It's just an invitation.

Owner has never put me on the Torture list. Instead, he's saddled me with the world's most dysfunctional employees. Or it could be that I've been at the top of his Torture list for years and he keeps forgetting to mention that's why I've been plagued for years with these particular co-workers.

Owner likes to tell me about why he doesn't like them, though. Sometimes I go to his office and have a seat simply to hear whose name has moved up to the top of the list that week. And why they have that special honor. Loathsome's had a long run. That doesn't mean that Owner doesn't have others on the list. He does. It includes virtually everyone.

Owner enjoys my presence. There's something to be said for being relentlessly pleasant. Aside from the recent shunning, I haven't had a disagreement with anyone for years. Being the only person in the office who refuses to pass along rumors or reasons why someone is unhappy with someone else, I hear everything. People will tell me stuff they won't tell their own mothers.

Knowledge is indeed power, my friends. I think sometimes people forget exactly how much I know, though. It contributes to a false sense of security people have when they're with me.

Post luncheon update. Everyone survived and appeared to be exiting the conference room in high spirits. Of course it could be because everyone had cake. I have to confess I had cake, too. I had it in the privacy of my own office, though.

Once again I've failed to do any more than mention The Useless One. I've known him for so long that it will be a task equal to that of writing War and Peace. Not elegant in this instance, but highly time consuming. There's always tomorrow.

07 May 2007

Ted Koppel and Living With Cancer

I just wrote a lengthy post about Ted Koppel's documentary, "Living With Cancer," that was on the Discovery channel last night. (The post went flying out to Internet Purgatory.) The documentary will be aired again tonight at 8:00 Eastern time. If you have a friend or family member who has cancer, this program can be very helpful.

Leroy Sievers is Ted Koppel's best friend. He is dying of colon cancer that metastasized to several parts of his body. He is in Stage 4. That diagnosis almost inevitably ends in death. Elizabeth Edwards (who participated in the town hall meeting shown after the documentary) has Stage 4 breast cancer. No matter where the cancer travels, it will always be colon cancer or breast cancer. Just in a different location.

I can't imagine suffering through the treatments only to postpone death. We're all going to die, but some of us have medical proof that we're going to die sooner rather than later. There will be an end to Christmas lights, an end to friendships, to all of those daily things we tend to take for granted.

Since about halfway through chemotherapy, I've been almost certain that I would not choose to go through it again. Even if it meant dying. Of course, when I was first diagnosed, I thought I would refuse chemo and radiation. In retrospect that was profoundly naive. So maybe I would do another round of chemo, another round of radiation. I guess that's just one of those things you don't know until you get there.

All of the people at the town hall meeting were either currently being treated or had been treated for cancer. Without exception, everyone could see some positive things about having cancer. It certainly changes your perspective and clarifies priorities. It measures the level of inner strength you possess. I have attained heretofore unknown amounts of suffering. I care less now about how my hair is looking every day than to celebrate having any hair.

Cancer changes everything. It robbed me of all of the things I thought defined me. I'm trying to get some of them back. Some of them were inaccurate measures of who I am and needed to be left behind. Some of them are things that frustrate me, make me angry and cause me great sadness. Nonetheless, I'm still here. That's a lot. I know that I will live every day until I die and I will learn to love whoever replaces the person I used to be. No matter how hard that may be.