12 October 2007

Crazy Employee and Memories of My Father.

Update 0n Crazy Employee. No, she did not get fired. She's still not a salaried employee, though. She told Information Superhighway (who, by the way, is a friend of mine) that she thought Superhighway is "mean" to her and "picks on her." Hello? Are you five? In her defense, the Superhighway is probably the most rational and fair person in Crazy Land.

Not only was she not fired, but she retained her vacation and sick leave time, despite missing more than her allotted days for the year. I've missed an enormous amount of time, too, so there's not much I can say about that except that it seems to me she's been rewarded in a sense for being psycho. Ah, Crazy Land.

Memories keep on coming. This morning, out of the blue, I remembered my father running away from home. His wife (two years older than I) had finally had enough of his abuse and escaped, leaving their daughter behind. My dad, whom had never admitted to me that, (a) they were married and (b) the child was his daughter, had to confess.

He called me into his bedroom. That, in itself, was a surprise. All big news, punishment, and a fair amount of the verbal abuse that he inflicted on me was meted out in the bathroom. His entire family had a thing about bathrooms (which I've mentioned in much earlier posts). The confession was delivered as he sat on his bed, getting ready to leave.

My father told me he had to hold onto his child and that he was going on the run. That meant, of course, back to his Mom who could be counted on to support all of her adult male children no matter what. (She had a major preference for boys.) Had he not been so self-absorbed, he might have noticed the rage and contempt on my face. I think my (appropriate) fear of him kept me from saying much. Besides, I was focused on how much I hated him at that moment. I not only hated him for the destruction all of this had wreaked on my life, but also the fact that he thought I was stupid enough not to know what was going on. They were sleeping in the same bed, for God's sake.

So off he went with child in tow. I was glad. I never wanted him to come back. My mom and I continued to live in the house for about a week until one night when his wife, her sister and brother showed up in the middle of the night. They broke into our house. It was the only moment in my life when I've felt capable of killing someone. If my dad's gun had been handy, I might still be in prison because I most surely would have killed this person whom I felt had ruined my life. I was only 18 at the time. As an adult, I'm very clear about who ruined my life and it was not she.

My mother and I left, went to the police station and were treated like scum. I suppose we must have seemed like it when we informed them that all of us were still living together: my dad, his wife and kid, my mom and me. We were told to go away.

When we returned home the next day, the contents of the house were all gone. My bedroom furniture, my books (my books!), all gone. I was devastated and enraged. Once again, my father's actions had stripped me of something else. Specifically, they had taken my intellectual identity, which was really the only identity I was allowed to develop and hold onto.

After that, they showed up at my high school for a couple of weeks, waiting for me to come out. They surrounded me and verbally assaulted me and threatened me with violence. I'm sure my dad knew about it, because he spoke with my mom regularly. Did he give a damn? Well, no.

I'm not up for recounting the rest of the story today...and it's mind-numbingly long. The memory spoke to why my father killed himself. He always solved his problems by running away from them. The only real difference was that last time, he decided to run away forever.

Breast Cancer: Dealing with Relationship Changes

Please check out WebMD for this article and others related to breast cancer. http://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/features/breast-cancers-relationship-toll?page=1

Breast Cancer's Relationship Toll

Any major illness can strain close relationships. But for women with breast cancer, it can be an especially difficult emotional challenge.
By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

For many women, the diagnosis of breast cancer represents not only a major physical battle, but also the ultimate emotional challenge -- one that affects every relationship in our life.

Indeed, from friendships to romance, from being a parent to being a daughter, the way you relate to everyone -- and the way they relate to you -- can be affected.

"I do think cancer has more impact on emotions and emotional relationships than other catastrophic diseases, because with cancer, death is often the first thing people flash on. There's an immediate shock and emotional impact that few other illnesses have," says Katherine Puckett, LCSW, national director of Mind-Body Medicine at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Chicago.

Moreover, Puckett says that the uncertainty of the disease itself enhances that impact. "It's the not knowing aspect of breast cancer that increases the emotionality in regard to all your relationships. It heightens anxiety, but it heightens and changes everything in your life," says Puckett.

But the changes, she says, don't have to be negative.

Indeed, for some women, breast cancer can be the catalyst that turns casual friendships into deep and meaningful bonds, that brings couples closer, that helps the family unit become stronger and more cohesive.

For others, however, it can be a lonely and isolating time -- a period of life when people we counted on most seem to all but disappear.

So what is it that determines how breast cancer will affect you and the people in your life? Experts say it’s often linked to a willingness to let others share your burden, something that doesn't come easy for many women.

"Women are the caregivers. We are used to taking care of everyone else, so it can be a huge emotional struggle to give up some of that control and let people in. Even with illness, women still want to handle everything on their own," says Gloria Nelson, LSCW, senior oncology social worker at the Montefiore/Einstein Cancer Center in New York City.

Moreover, experts say, many women view asking for help as a sign of weakness, so they won't allow even those who want to help to do so.

"They think that needing help means they have no willpower or strength. But in reality, being able to share your feelings and ask for help when you need it is a sign of strength that can strengthen the relationships in your life when you need them the most," says Mauricio Murillo, MD, an onco-psychiatrist and director of Supportive Services at the NYU Cancer Center in New York City.

So where -- and how -- do you begin to do that? The best way to start, say experts, is with honest, open communication with family and friends.

Breast Cancer and Your Family Relationships

Among the most important relationships in our lives are those we forge with our partners and especially our children. And whether they’re toddlers, grade school-aged, teens, or even young adults, experts say if you want to keep the family unit strong during this challenging time, it's essential that you confide in them from the very earliest stages of your disease.

"It doesn't work to keep this important a secret from your children. Kids are remarkable in that they pick up on everything going on in their parents’ life, and they almost always know when something is wrong," says Puckett.

Moreover, Murillo cautions that when kids do sense a problem but don't know what it is, they often blame themselves.

"They begin to feel guilty, as if they are causing the situation, and they pull away. So it's very important to talk to them honestly and openly right from the start," says Murillo.

While Nelson says very few parents use the word "cancer" in their explanation -- most, she says, refer to tumors or lesions, or sometimes just say “Mommy is sick” – what trumps the list of suggestions is assuring your children that you are doing everything possible to get well.

"You can't promise your kids that you're going to be alive and that everything is OK, but you can say you are working with the best doctors you could find and that everyone is going to do their very best to help you get better," says Puckett.

And what if your child asks, "Mommy, are you going to die?" Puckett says the answer is always "I hope not."

"Tell them you are doing everything you can to stay with them, and you'll let them know if anything changes. Building a sense of trust is key to building a strong, supportive family unit during this time," she says.

(How did your relationships change during or after cancer? Share your own coping tips on WebMD's Breast Cancer: Friend to Friend message board.)

Breast Cancer And Your Intimate Relationships

While crisis automatically bonds some partners in a unified front, sadly, that's not always the case. Indeed, experts say that when partners try to shield each other from the pain and worry of breast cancer, often they grow further apart -- and don't even understand why.

"This is an area that most patients have the most difficulty with -- not only the patients, but their partners -- and it occurs mainly because they are not sharing with each other, so neither knows how the other is thinking or feeling," says Murillo.

When you don't know what your partner is thinking, he says, you often assume the worst -- that they don't care, or that they don't want you. And the natural reaction is to withdraw.

"But often the real issue is that he doesn't bring things up for fear he'll make her feel worse. And she's not bringing things up because she doesn't want him to worry. So the communication stops at a time when they both really need to share these feelings," says Murillo.

But it's not just the emotional communications that can go awry. Very often the separation starts in the bedroom as breast cancer affects a couple's intimate life.

"Women connect their breasts with their sexuality and their femininity in a way that is not typical of any other cancer," says Nelson. As a result, she says, any type of breast cancer treatment has the potential to impact intimacy.

Indeed, Puckett tells WebMD, it can often leave a woman feeling that her sex life will never be the same, that her partner will be turned off, or that she herself won't ever feel like making love again. This in turn causes her to pull away from her partner at a time when sharing a physical connection can be life-affirming.

To help solve -- or prevent -- any of these problems, experts say keep the lines of communication open and be as real as possible about what you are feeling in all areas of your life.

"Any catastrophic illness, but cancer especially, forces people to look at and deal with many things they didn't pay attention to before. So take advantage of that and view it as an opportunity to make your relationship stronger," says Puckett.

She also advises talking to your doctor about any intimate problems on your mind. "Women sometimes wait for their doctor to bring it up, but doctors often don't say anything until the woman brings it up. So many miss out on the wealth of helpful medical and lifestyle information that can help with some of these problems. So don't be embarrassed or ashamed to ask about it," says Puckett.

Breast Cancer: Getting The Support You Need

While sometimes a little creative communication will be all you and your partner need to get back on track, Puckett says this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, she says, a partner is simply emotionally unable to provide you with the support you need, and no amount of communication is going to change that.

But instead of being hurt and disappointed, experts say to accept those limitations and appreciate that person for what they can give you, and then allow others into your life to fill the gaps.

"You have to be open to people. You can't expect to get everything you need from one person, even a spouse," says Nelson.

But while knowing you need help is one thing, asking for it can be quite another. What can make it easier, says Nelson, is to recognize the opportunity as a gift you give to others.

"As hard as it is for you to face your cancer, it's also hard for the people who love and care about you -- and allowing them to help you helps them to cope. So in a way, accepting their help is a little gift you give to them," says Nelson.

At the same time, Puckett says that it's also important to be as specific as possible about what you need.

"Many times people want to help but just don't know what to do," says Puckett. By being as specific as possible, she says, you'll make it easier for friends and family to give you the support you really need. Take some time to make a list of things you know you’ll need help with while you’re going through treatments, so when friends or family offer, you’re ready. For example, if you know you’ll be fatigued and sick after a chemotherapy session, ask a friend to bring over dinner or even take your kids out for a bite to eat while you rest.

Finally, experts say, don't be disappointed if not everyone in your life steps up to help, even when you ask. It doesn't mean they don't care.

"Everyone reacts to, and copes with, crisis in a different way. And very often, you don't find who can't handle things until the crisis occurs," says Puckett.

If this is the case, don't despair. Experts say the key is to recognize the role each person can play in your life. And if you need more help, don't be afraid to turn to a professional or a support group for the rest.

Says Puckett, "From counselors and social workers at your treatment center, to online communities, to chat rooms, to local support groups, to various cancer organizations, don't overlook the incredible communities of people who will open their hearts -- if you let them."

11 October 2007

The Definition of Crazy Land

By the time I got home yesterday, I was exhausted. The day began well. My concentration level was high, sustained and I made some significant progress in the database. Life was looking up. The only minor thorn in my side was a call from our Workers' Comp insurance company suggesting that we sue our client for an injury, which is absolutely insane, but that's another story.

Then I opened my intra-office email. There it was: The email from Crazy Employee who, at 5:05 Tuesday, completely lost what little sanity she possessed up to this point. It was addressed to her supervisor, the Information Superhighway, but copied to Owner, Mr. Moneybags and me. Great.

The email was a defiant manifesto that, had I been her supervisor, would have earned her an immediate dismissal. The issue? She's an hourly employee and she feels slighted that she's not salaried. I'll bet you can guess the real reason this is such a critical dispute. That's right, she tends to arrive around 9:30 or 10:00, takes two-hour lunches and wraps up her day around 3:00 or 4:00. Hell, I'm here more than she is and I'm only five weeks into recovery from surgery.

In Crazy Land, hourly employees are expected to keep track of the hours they work and turn them in to Payroll (i.e., Information Superhighway) every week. Crazy Employee's documented time didn't quite correspond with the hours she was actually here the past couple of weeks. As a matter of fact, they were off to the tune of half a day for several days. In responding to Crazy's request for payment for salaried status, Superhighway pointed out that the company had, in fact, paid her for more time than she deserved. Crazy's response (in part):

"I will not be scrutinized and held to standards that no one else is required to meet."

Doesn't that take your breath away? Let's not even address her assumption that she's held to a higher standard. Nonsense. If I were her supervisor, those first four words would have been met with an invitation to gather her things and find a job where she would not be scrutinized. I'd also suggest to her that her current hourly wage is more than she's worth and more than a similar job could command anywhere else in the city.

I waited for Owner, Moneybags and Superhighway to arrive, anticipating the fury the email was bound to unleash. Owner came in first and called me immediately. Damn damn damn. I went to his office and he told me to close the door. He asked if I'd read the email and wondered why Crazy had sent a copy to me.

"Beats the hell out of me," I told him.

We spent about 15 minutes discussing her outrageous statements. By that time, Moneybags had rolled in. Owner made me come along for the ride; we waited in Moneybags' office until he finished his morning pre-work routine. I will not bore you with the details. It went on and on and on and on. The absurd thing is, this is not my problem. Just because Crazy includes me in an email does not mean that I need to be involved any further. Nonetheless, I listened while they discussed options for dealing with her. That was another 45 minutes of my time. Weariness was setting in.

Then Crazy Employee finally sashayed into the building. I said hello and retired to my office refuge. She used the pretext of delivering something to me and, inevitably, asked if I'd read her email.

"Yes, I did. As a matter of fact, Owner wanted to know why you included me." Might as well cut to the chase.

She then attempted to manipulate me into taking her side by telling me how intelligent she thinks I am, how much I know about employment law and about how I am, in fact, the real stealth ruler of the Crazy Land domain. You can't manipulate me. I'm a pro. It was my father's modus operendi and, therefore, I can spot it before it turns the corner a mile away. What's more, I'm very clear about the nature of my own strengths and weaknesses. Flattery will not only get you nowhere, it might be a dangerous course of action. It was a serious error of judgment on her part, akin to complaining to Owner about the kitties. Crazy is not the most perceptive person in the world.

Again, I won't bore you with the hour-long, tear-filled conversation in which I clarified my role in the company and my official position on this whole brouhaha. Specifically, I'm not involved and don't wish to be involved in any way. I did cite some legal reasons why she's not an exempt employee (which would entitle her to salaried status). I tried to distract her by asking about her family and, when that didn't stop the water works, suggested that maybe she take the day off (today) and get in a little Crazy Employee personal fun time. Or maybe she should take the rest of the day (yesterday) off.

"I'm leaving," she said.

"Forever or just for today?" I was confused, because the tone of voice could have implied either of the two. She told me she meant just for the day. I excused myself on the pretext of visiting the restroom and noticed the Information Superhighway had arrived after completing a walk-through of her new house prior to closing.

By that time, Crazy had left the building. She did not tell anyone, she did not notify anyone via email. She just left. It was yet another idiotic thing to do and a further guarantee that nothing she demanded would be granted anytime soon.

I recounted the whole annoying conversation to her supervisors. That took another hour or so. Shortly after I got back to my office and settled in to work on the database, Owner dropped by for yet another recap of my close encounter of the Crazy Employee kind.

Then, mercifully, it was time for me to leave. I worked an 8-hour day (and I do mean "worked") without the benefit of lunch and yet I got virtually nothing accomplished. This is very definition of Crazy Land.

Crazy Employee Strikes Again

By the time I got home yesterday, I was exhausted. The day began well. My concentration level was high and I made some significant progress in the database. Then I opened my email. There it was: The email from Crazy Employee who, at 5:05 Tuesday, completely lost what little sanity she possessed up to this point. The email was addressed to her supervisor, the Information Superhighway, but copied to Owner, Mr. Moneybags and me. Great.

The email was a defiant manifesto that, frankly, had I been her supervisor, would have earned her an immediate dismissal. The issue? She's an hourly employee and she feels slighted that she's not salaried. I'll bet you can guess why this is such a critical dispute. That's right, she tends to arrive around 9:30 or 10:00, takes two-hour lunches and wraps up her day around 3:00 or 4:00. Hell, I'm here more than she is and I'm only five weeks into recovery from surgery.

10 October 2007

Looking for Breast Cancer Clinical Trials?

Go to "Clinical Trials by Cancer Site" at

Oh Damn. I Still Work in Crazy Land

There was a big brouhaha this morning ignited by an email Crazy Employee sent out to her supervisor (The Information Superhighway), with cc's to Owner, Mr. Moneybags and me. The fact that she included me in her Molotov cocktail resulted in me being deeply involved in the whole situation. The upshot? I'm exhausted.

I'd started a humorous recounting of the four-hour fiesta of fun, but I find I'm too worn down now. It's hard to find humor when you feel like you've been run over by a truck, then the truck has backed up and run over you again a couple of times. I hope to reclaim my zest for tomfoolery tomorrow.

09 October 2007

Alcohol and Breast Cancer

The following article is from The Society for Women's Health Research. Stop by the site for more information on a broad array of women's health issues, not just cancer.

Wine, women and... spirits, beer and breast cancer risk

Barcelona, Spain: One of the largest individual studies of the effects of alcohol on the risk of breast cancer has concluded that it makes no difference whether a woman drinks wine, beer or spirits (liquor). It is the alcohol itself (ethyl alcohol) and the quantity consumed that is likely to trigger the onset of cancer. The increased breast cancer risk from drinking three or more alcoholic drinks a day is similar to the increased breast cancer risk from smoking a packet of cigarettes or more a day

Speaking at a news briefing today (Thursday) at the European Cancer Conference (ECCO 14) in Barcelona, Dr Arthur Klatsky said: "Population studies have consistently linked drinking alcohol to an increased risk of female breast cancer, but there has been little data, most of it conflicting, about an independent role played by the choice of beverage type."

Dr Klatsky, adjunct investigator in the Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, Oakland, USA, and his colleagues studied the drinking habits of 70,033 multi-ethnic women who had supplied information during health examinations between 1978-1985. By 2004, 2,829 of these women had been diagnosed with breast cancer. In one analysis, the researchers compared the choice of drink amongst women who tended to favour one type of drink over another with women who had no clear preference. They also looked for any association between the frequency of drinking one type of alcoholic drink over another. Finally, they examined the role of total alcohol intake, comparing it with women who drank less than one alcoholic drink a day.

They found that there was no difference in the risk of developing breast cancer between wine, beer or spirits. Even when wine was divided into red and white, there was no difference. However, when they looked at the relationship between breast cancer risk and total alcohol intake, the researchers found that women who drank between one and two alcoholic drinks per day increased their risk of breast cancer by 10% compared with light drinkers who drank less than one drink a day; and the risk of breast cancer increased by 30% in women who drank more than three drinks a day.

When they looked at specific groups, stratified according to age or ethnicity, the results were similar.

Dr Klatsky said: "Statistical analyses limited to strata of wine preferrers, beer preferrers, spririts preferrers or non-preferrers each showed that heavier drinking, compared to light drinking, was related to breast cancer risk in each group. This strongly confirms the relation of ethyl alcohol per se to increased risk."

He continued: "A 30% increased risk is not trivial. To put it into context, it is not much different from the increased risk associated with women taking oestrogenic hormones. Incidentally, in this same study we have found that smoking a pack of cigarettes or more per day is related to a similar (30%) increased risk of breast cancer."

Although breast cancer incidence varies between populations and only a small proportion of women are heavy drinkers, Dr Klatsky said that a 30% increase in the relative risk of breast cancer from heavy drinking might translate into approximately an extra 5% of all women developing breast cancer as a result of their habit.

Other studies, including research from the same authors, have shown that red wine can protect against heart attacks, but Dr Klatsky said that different mechanisms were probably at work.

"We think that the heart protection benefit from red wine is real, but is probably derived mostly from alcohol-induced higher HDL (�good�) cholesterol, reduced blood clotting and reduced diabetes. None of these mechanisms are known to have anything to do with breast cancer. The coronary benefit from drinking red wine may also be related to favourable drinking patterns common among wine drinkers or to the favourable traits of wine drinkers, as evidenced by US and Danish studies."

Dr Klatsky said that all medical advice needed to be personalised to the individual. "The only general statement that could be made as a result of our findings is that it provides more evidence for why heavy drinkers should quit or cut down."

He concluded: "This has been fascinating research. Our group has been involved in studies of alcohol drinking and health for more than three decades, including in the area of heart disease. We are fortunate to have data available about a large, multi-ethnic population with a variety of drinking habits."

08 October 2007

Having Watched the River Flow

"You must love the crust of the earth on which you dwell more than the sweet crust of any bread or cake. You must be able to extract nutriment out of a sand-heap. You must have so good an appetite as this, else you will live in vain." ~ Henry David Thoreau

"The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?" ~ Kahlil Gibran

The three days away were absolutely blissful. The sound of the Guadalupe River, high and fast-moving these days, soothed my soul. Time away from Crazy Land and from the hurtful hands of medical professionals was a joyous reminder of how things could be.

Then, on Saturday, a major water main break left us without water until Sunday at 5:00 p.m. It's funny how attached you become to bathing regularly. Fortunately, my mom is generous with her shower.

Aside from that, we're rapidly approaching the ten year anniversary of my dad's suicide. He decided to check out nine days before my birthday. I've always wondered how he could have done that to me. Oh wait, silly me.

My father was a deeply disturbed man who spread misery of all kinds wherever he went. Physical, emotional, spiritual: It was all fair game for him. He saved a large measure of it for me. Nonetheless, he was my one and only father. I loved him, even though I didn't like him, and his suicide was devastating.

These days, memories come unbidden as I watch television or do the dishes or any of a thousand mundane acts. Sometimes, it's as simple as the word "Daddy" echoing in my head. The ironic thing about that is that I stopped referring to him by that name when I was very, very young. The horrors of my very own childhood concentration camp washed that name out of my vocabulary. I guess it's those tiny-child memories that take hold deep within our subconscious, springing up to surprise us when our guards are down. Shortly after his suicide, I remember sitting in the bathtub, with my head absolutely empty of thoughts, which were blasted away by the holocaust of his gun shot. "My daddy's gone." It felt unbearable. The silence that preceded and followed that thought stretched on like nuclear winter for what seemed an eternity.

Ten years later, I've come to terms with it, as much as one ever can. The reality of his self-murder, the anguish of not being able to penetrate his self-destructiveness and delusion have been tempered by time. I'm angry with him still. I pity him still. I still wish he had been capable of love. I still live with the wounds he inflicted on me, before his death and after. I'll continue to talk about his death as the month grinds on, because that's what I do, that's all that I can do.

Life seems to be an intricate maze in search of reconciliation between the child I was, the adult I thought I might become, the person I am and the one I'm becoming. I'm trying to recreate the inner narrative by which I define myself. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are critical to human beings; they are, in essence, that which denotes our individuality. I'm a composite of events, cataloged and assigned personal symbolic meaning, separate and apart from others' remembrance of the personality they once knew or their perception of me now.

We are all many things to many different people in this journey. Our brains hold our histories, keeping track of songs long-since forgotten, tiny moments that are unavailable to us in conscious memory. I struggle to meld together the things I remember all too clearly and the puzzle of what comes now, allowing those deep, hidden roots of memory to nourish me in silence and darkness.

It's not an altogether dark exploration, though. The Guadalupe River is high. There's a squirrel napping on a limb outside my window. The mystery of the cosmos takes my breath away.

Cancer Caregiver Research

The National Cancer Institute (NCI), a federal agency that is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the George Washington School of Public Health, would like to talk to women who are providing care for a family member or friend with cancer. We’d like to learn about your caregiving experience and how you have coped.

If you are:

*African American
*Between the ages of 31 and 80
*Currently providing care for someone over the age of 20 with cancer, OR you provided care for someone over the age of 20 with cancer at end-of-life within the last year

Please call us toll-free at:

(Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm EDT)

We will ask you some questions about yourself and your caregiving experience. Participating in this study involves a total of 15-20 minutes by phone. If they qualify, eligible participants may be asked to provide additional information about their caregiving experiences in a follow-up telephone interview that will last approximately 45-60 minutes.