16 years ago, when our daughter was 3 years old, everyone in the family had a cold. Zoey got it first and was too sick to go to daycare. The cold developed into a sinus infection for John and me, and an ear infection for Zoey. Zoey got better before John and me. We’d been trying to carry off our life responsibilities while we were feeling crummy. By the second or third week of this, we were cranky and bickering frequently. Zoey noticed and was curious.

Zoey: “Are you and Dad argoooooing?”
Me: “Yes, Dad and I have been arguing. I’m sorry.”
Zoey: “You shouldn’t argue. You should problem-solve!”

Some day I will write a book about rearing a child who outsmarts me right and left, but today is not that day. Problem-solving was a pretty good idea. Bickering really doesn’t lower stress, which was the main problem. We were sick, leaving us with inadequate energy resources for our normal life routines.

Recently, life has been piling on. My husband caught this horrible cold four weeks ago so I was picking up extra chores at home. Two weeks ago, I got the cold and it’s a particularly nasty and long-lasting one. I spent about a week on the couch and I am still recovering. I got all dressed for the March for Our Lives in Seattle and realized that I am just not up for it. My husband left and will be protesting for two. I’m disappointed because I really wanted to support the march. I am reminding myself that there are a lot of ways to support this national group of high school students working for gun safety including the monetary contributions that I have already made.

I have what will likely be a hard week coming up. My dad’s health problems have multiplied in unexpected ways. He was in the hospital for nearly a week while I was at the height of my cold. I couldn’t even call by phone for a few days because I had no voice. Thank goodness for email and texting. He has three medical appointments next week. I am going to two of them, scheduled back-to-back on Monday. We’ll learn some important test results as well as discuss a treatment plan. On Thursday, my oldest brother is accompanying my parents for a surgery consultation. On top of everything else, my poor dad has had gallstones and needs to have his gall bladder removed.

My husband has also been exhausted much of the time for the past year. About 2-3 years ago, I noticed that he was snoring heavily and that there were long gaps between breaths. I suggested that he get checked for sleep apnea. He agreed that it was a good idea but there were things that were higher priority for him at the time. As time has gone by, he has gotten increasingly impaired. He just found out that he has severe sleep apnea and he will get a CPAP machine in about a week. How bad has his sleep deprivation been? So bad that John is ecstatic with his diagnosis and eager to begin treatment. I think he will start feeling much better in about 6 weeks but it’s been a long slog.

I am doing as much problem-solving as I can to be able handle all of this. I’m prioritizing my activities and eliminating non-essentials. Unfortunately, that meant canceling a trip to Stanford University for a SCAD patient retreat. I am not eliminating all self-care, just the self-care that takes a great deal of time and energy. A trip to California meets those criteria. Getting a pedicure with leg and foot massage following an acupuncture treatment did not take up too much time and was restorative. Meeting my friend, Nancy, for an early dinner did not take up too much time and was very fun. I rarely get to spend time with my friends.

Yesterday, my life slowed down a bit after a busy work week. I am absorbing a lot. The hardest thing to absorb is acceptance that there are many important problems that I can’t solve. I can’t make my 85-year-old dad live forever. I can’t eliminate my 83-year-old mother’s caregiving responsibilities.

Life is a lot.

Part of being a testing psychologist is explaining results to worried parents. Parenting hits us at the tenderest parts of our heart. Recently, I was providing feedback on testing I had done with a bright 7-year-old with severe learning disabilities. There were parts of testing that were poignant, for example, the 7 minutes and 5 seconds it took her to read a 92-word-long story. She worked so hard only to make 75 errors. Imagine what this child’s school day must be like. Her parents were naturally eager to learn what they could do to support literacy development. They also had questions about how to boost their child’s self-esteem. Then I got a question I’d not previously heard in the 23+ years I have been giving this kind of feedback to parents. “How can we get her to believe that she can do anything?”

As an expert, I know that the speed of my response is important. Answering too quickly gives the impression (sometimes accurately) of not having listened. Answering too slowly gives the impression (sometimes accurately) of not know what I am talking about. In this case, I had a strong gut feeling about the answer but had not gotten my reasoning quite together. So I gave a response that gave me time to think and also framed my thoughts, “I’m not sure that is a healthy goal.”

I went on to recommend focusing on the present, namely, helping their daughter develop academic skills so that she would experience more success. Then I talked about the importance of self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses in success. I gave myself as an example. I’ve never thought I could do anything but I thought there was a lot I could do and that helped me be successful. It was a good enough response, I think, but my thinking was unfinished. I have been mulling this over.

The kids I see in my practice, by and large, have a great deal of difficulty being successful in school. They experience failure over and over. People often try to encourage them by saying, “You can do anything you want to!”  The implication is that each of us has all of the ingredients we need to fulfill infinite possibilities.

What does it mean if you can “do anything you want to do” and you still fail?

“You don’t care.”
“You are lazy.”
“You just need to try harder.”

Those are some of the top reasons that I hear from parents, teachers, and the students, themselves. It occurs to me that this is the same fallacy of the American Dream. We can all achieve economic success if we try hard enough. People who are not economically successful just are lazy, not trying, and don’t care.

These are also the punishing expectations for those of us who become physically ill. There’s a slightly different spin but it all boils down to, “your fault”.

“You didn’t eat right.”
“You didn’t exercise right.”
“You have a bad attitude.”

None of this is true. Effort, attitude, and motivation can make a difference in coping with adversity but they do not make ALL of the difference.

Believing in a just world can help us feel more comfortable and in greater control. But it is not reality and delusions can be destructive to those who are in need of the most understanding and acceptance.

We can do a lot of things, every one of us. That’s the reality and beauty of humanity. That encourages me. It works against the tyranny of perfectionism and the self-delusion of a “just world” view.

I can’t reach for things if my feet aren’t firmly planted on the ground.

Reality. Let’s do that.

 

When kids play baseball, they are often taught to “chatter” at the person at bat, a defensive strategy to unnerve the batter. When I played, I was a coordinated kid who tended to worry about the team.

Hey batter, batter, batter
Hey batter, no batter, batter
Hey batter, batter, batter…
Swing!

For me, it was indeed unnerving, especially the “swing” part. Chatter often took me out of the moment of the pitch, the ball, and my bat. Even without chatter, it was hard to inhibit the urge to swing at a ball that was headed toward me. But as any ball player knows, sometimes the best response looks like no response. If you can keep watching a bad pitch and keep from swinging, the pitch counts against the other team. If you keep getting bad pitches and manage to stay there at home base, looking ready to swing, but not swinging, you get a “walk”, which means a free trip to first base, by just watching carefully and not acting.

It snowed last night. I was watching local news and they were talking about the “treacherous” driving conditions in Seattle. This was a bit amusing because they also reported that there was only 1/3 of an inch of snow. Even in Seattle, a very hilly city that doesn’t get a lot of snow, this was more than a bit much. The local news loves to chatter about all kinds of exaggerated dangers.

I awoke this morning to a bit more snow than I expected. It was still just an inch but I started to worry. What if my 9:30 am patient’s parents were uncomfortable with snow driving? There are a lot of micro-climates where I live and they were coming from south King County, which typically gets a lot more snow. Then I checked my email. There was, indeed, a note from the patient’s mom, asking if the appointment was still happening.  Still in bed, I mustered my best professional voice, I called the mom. She said that she was comfortable driving to the appointment so we kept it as is.

I thought, “I’d better get up now so that I have time to get the snow off of the car.” I also had a number of other chores to do, one being an unexpected search for the wool sock I’ve been knitting. I noticed that I had forgotten to put away my knitting bag last night. “Oh no!” My cats have disrupted so many knitting projects in the past, that I’ve learned to keep my knitting bag put away in a storage bench that they are unable to open. My sock was missing without a trace! I scurried around looking for the sock, keeping my eye on the clock, and telling myself, “You don’t have time to look for the sock!”

My brain was chattering away and I was walking willy nilly from room to room looking for the sock and getting ready for work. At one point I got a glance out the window. I stopped and looked. I saw our 60-year-old Douglas Fir full of snow against a perfectly blue sky. I watched and experienced the moment of still, chatter-free beauty. I immediately relaxed and started breathing more deeply.

Sometimes we need to swing for the bleachers. Other times we just need to observe the moment and do nothing. In that moment I chose to be in it, absorbing the beauty around me.

Take your base.

Several years ago, I was back east. My dear friend, Cheryl’s, mother had died after a long illness, early-onset Alzheimer’s. Cheryl had been her mother, Daisy’s primary caregiver since she was a 25-year-old psychology intern. Fortunately, Cheryl lives in her childhood home in a wonderful neighborhood. When I visit her, neighbor’s come over to greet me because they know that I am one of Cheryl’s people. Nonetheless, it was incredibly difficult for her, a single woman finishing up graduate school and starting her career, to care for her mom. Cheryl has her own health challenges, which are exacerbated by stress, and required multiple surgeries during her mom’s life. After several years, Daisy entered a nursing home.  As her life neared its end, her best friend, Shirley, a retired nurse told Cheryl that her mom’s time was coming to a close. It is so hard to know exactly when someone is going to die and even harder to let someone go. Daisy had been a single parent to Cheryl and they were very close. She died before a priest could come out to perform last rites, Anointing of the Sick. The parish priest did come afterwards and performed the final Roman Catholic sacrament.

I arrived a few days later. A group of neighbors set up a repast of Trinidadian food that had been brought by caterers (Cheryl’s parents were both from Trinidad) while the rest of us attended the funeral. The officiant had been Daisy and Cheryl’s parish priest many years before and was now a cardinal and a family friend. The service was beautiful. One of Cheryl’s friends, a neighbor, sang. The cardinal also sang parts of the mass and he had a very nice voice. After mass was ended, we went to Cheryl and Daisy’s home for the repast and celebrated Daisy’s life.

I stayed on for a few days. I went to mass at Cheryl’s parish. The priest who had performed Daisy’s last rites presided over mass. The theme of his homily was “what are you waiting for?” To my horror, he used the story of being called to perform last rights on Daisy after she’d died. He went on and on. I left church humiliated and livid on behalf of my dear friend who had been nothing but a wonderful daughter not to mention the fact that he knew that she was not only a member of his parish, but one who had just lost her mother to a truly horrible disease. Both Cheryl and this priest had a story about what had transpired. They were very different stories. It is easy to call one of them right and one of them wrong. I know which one I would call wrong!

I have not written any entries in this blog for nearly a month. I have used the month thinking about the stories we tell that provide meaning to us in explaining our life experiences. Breast cancer survivors tell lots of meaningful stories. So do heart attack survivors, by the way. Not surprisingly, they are some of the very same stories about “kicking illnesses ass”, about “being given a second lease on life”, and even the perception of illness as a “gift”.  There are also the stories of “My life will never be the same” and “What’s going on? This is horrible!”. There are also national heart awareness days, including the recent “Wear Red Day” to raise awareness of cardiac disease in women, the number one cause of women.

I have been living in a particular breast cancer blogging community for nearly six years now. I find that I bristle at some of the narratives told by heart attack survivors. I have also not delved deeply into the cyber community for SCAD survivors. There is a lot of raw terror in that community. It makes sense. Most of the women are young, had a heart attack out of the blue, and they have cardiologists who don’t understand their condition. Those are the women who have a narrative of chaos and literal heartbreak. I don’t bristle at their stories. I just feel very sad for their suffering. It’s the catch phrases used by the women who by all appearances seem to be coping well. They are the ones who are more likely to use the phrases that are so controversial in the breast cancer world.

Yesterday, I thought back to perspectives of my friend and the priest around Daisy’s death. The priest’s actions were clearly “wrong” in that they were unskilled and did not demonstrate compassion for others. The stories they told were very different. I do think that Cheryl and the priest shared something very important. They were both dealing with suffering. How was the priest suffering, you ask? Admittedly, I don’t know his mind but I have some guesses, based on his job. Priests are on-call constantly. And they are on-call for decades. Not everyone is up to that every minute. I can see someone getting wrapped up in the stress of this and having a fit about an inconvenience. This does not excuse his behavior but it offers a possible explanation.

The stories we tell may either help or amplify our suffering. The helpful story I tell myself may be one that would cause suffering to someone else in a similar situation. This is why the “cancer is a gift” narrative doesn’t bother me the way it does some others. I can see that it may help some people. As long as people don’t explicitly tell me how I should view my own life experience, I am fine with it. What I have been struggling with is the backlash against these narratives. It is one thing to say, for example, “Cancer was not a gift for me” and quite another thing to say, “Cancer is a gift to no one.”  To me, that causes the same problem as the one that is trying to be solved, that is, prescriptive language that defines experience.

But really, what does it matter to me? And who am I to invalidate anyone’s personal characterization of illness, just based on the ideas? If you want to tell me that “cancer’s a gift”, that’s fine as long as you are not my husband or another close loved one. If you want to tell me “cancer’s never a gift.” That’s also fine. If you don’t like the word, “journey” or any other phrase or word that is currently popular, that’s fine. I define my own experience. And the narrative that I am putting together is dynamic and at times, very messy. I respect myself. I respect you.

As always, I wish you peace, joy, and to be free from suffering.

For the foreseeable future, I am done with tamoxifen! Yay! Starting tomorrow, I will not be taking it. Yay!

This marks the end of my planned breast cancer treatment, which began in May of 2012. I say “planned” because as you know, plans can change based on new information. Based on today’s information, I am done!

It’s not that tamoxifen was so bad but I did take it for 5 1/2 years and although I had few observable side effects, one wonders about what goes unobserved. Bigger than that, though, is the fact that now I am only being treated for one disease, SCAD, and not two. That seems significant. In a few months, if all continues to go well, I will be able to discontinue the beta blocker I take for my heart. It contributes to fatigue. I will be happy to be finished with it and just continue taking baby aspirin for the rest of my life.

I don’t know if any of you readers out there are new breast cancer patients but if you are, do know that milestones can be achieved. We don’t know the future but the possibilities are varied and some are sweet indeed.

Peace friends,

Elizabeth

When John and I were still dating, we took a trip together from Seattle to Roseburg, Oregon for his grandmother’s 80th birthday. It’s a pretty long drive. I took a look at the bald tires on John’s car and wondered aloud whether it would be a good idea to get some new tires before the trip.  He pooh-pooh’d me, “What do you mean? These tires are great! I’ve had them forever and they’d never gone flat.”

What transpired was my logical argument that tires wear out. They do not get better from experience. However, I was also a college student short on funds and I didn’t even own a car. So we set out for his grandmother’s in John’s Ford LTD II. I don’t know how many hours it was, but it was enough that we had passed all cities of any size, when we had the first flat tire. John put on a spare. I don’t remember quite how long the spare lasted but I do remember that we weren’t even near a dinky town. We had to hitch hike from a very nice woman who took us to the nearest town where John purchased a new tire. It must not have been too far because I remember walking back to the car along the side of the highway, while John initially rolled the tire beside him. Then he had an impulsive thought, one suited to his age (22) and ADHD. John decided to try to BOUNCE the tire. Fortunately, it DID NOT ROLL INTO THE HIGHWAY into traveling vehicles! By the time we got to his grandmother’s party, my adrenaline was low enough to have fun and be pleasant. Phew!

John says now that he did not really believe that his tires had gotten better with age. He just didn’t have money for tires. He was sure adamant at the time.

As you may know, my dad has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, which was long suspected. I talked to Mom and Dad today. The physical therapist has been working on the stairs to the house with my dad. Dad made it down the stairs again today. In more exciting news, he was able to walk (with his walker) down the driveway of the house toward the street. (It is a 500-foot-long driveway. He did not walk the whole way.)

Knowing that my dad’s home-based services will stop being covered by Medicare sometime soon, I have started talking to my mom about their paying privately so that he can continue to get support. My mom thinks this is a good idea. Today, I brought it up with my dad. “I don’t need it. I’ve been walking my whole life. I could have made it all of the way down the driveway today. I could have done this the whole time I’ve been back home. I know how to go down stairs. I’ve been doing it my whole life.”

My dad is making the same argument about his body as John made about those tires. I married my father. They are a couple of highly lovable hard heads.

I would get really frustrated but I’ve learned something during my dad’s hospitalization, stay at rehab, and during his transition back to home. He says a lot of things, especially at first. Dad initially said that he did not need a fancy walker. He changed his mind, I ordered it, and now he loves it. Dad initially said that he did not need a remote control lifting recliner. He changed his mind. I ordered one. Now he loves it. What he does is another thing altogether. He has worked hard on his therapy. He is making noticeable improvements.

I have been worried for quite awhile about how my parents would deal with the challenges of aging. They have actually adapted to the changes pretty well.

Phew!

 

 

I grew up in a family of eight, my mom, my dad, my five brothers, and me. When I was about 10 years-old, my dad, a sheet metal worker and as I mentioned previously, father of six, decided that he wanted to have a hobby. He’d quit duck hunting. Our impressively pedigreed German shorthaired pointer, Britt, had turned out to be rather limited in her pointing and retrieving skills. Well, actually, her problem was that she was not very specific. Instead of pointing a pheasant, she pointed at bees and slugs. Instead of retrieving ducks, she retrieved the neighbors’ (yes, plural) live chickens. Did I also mention that she didn’t follow commands very well? She quickly became our family pet and wonderful dog who lived until she was 15.

After some study, Dad decided that he wanted learn how to take and to develop photos. Given that he did not like black-and-white movies, it was not surprising when he announced that he would do color photography.

I spent many hours with my dad as he built his darkroom. I have vivid memories of helping by scraping the excess glue from the Formica counter tops that he placed over the cabinets that he built himself.

Film photography is developed in near dark. A dim “safe light” is used during film and photo development. For color photography, the safe light is particularly dim. After awhile, our eyes would adjust to the darkness and we could see enough to do the tasks at hand. Too much light and the photos would be lost, forever, in the case of developing the actual film. Too little light and we would have risked accidentally touching the film with our fingers or pouring chemicals all over the counter. Having just the right amount of light was critical.

My dad switched to digital photography many years ago. Digital photography is so easy when it comes to transferring the image to photographic paper or more frequently, to a computer screen. My dad’s illness has caused me to reflect on my childhood and the times I spent in the darkroom under the safe light.

An important aspect of keeping balance and peace is knowing how much light to put on different aspects of my experience. I don’t want to live a life of denial but I also don’t want to live under the harsh glare of international, national, and personal realities. And some light looks backward to the past, which cannot be changed or to the future, which has not yet been experienced.

A main message of mindfulness is to focus on the present. However, this is not an absolute. There is a degree to which reflection is helpful as is planning ahead. Light must be shined in those directions, as well. The suffering occurs when we get stuck or when we believe that the past absolutely defines the present or that the future can be absolutely predicted.

Light goes many directions. It is also important to consider how much we reveal to others about ourselves. Over the holidays, I have been gathering information about my dad’s health as well as my own. I have also provided some information to my 19 year-old daughter about the possible impact of my health problems on our financial future. (To make a long story short. She was home from college, acted like our money grows on trees, and she needed a dose of reality.)

I recently had some genetic testing done. I am still trying to comb through the results, but the testing uncovered some genetic markers for heart disease. I also had some fancy blood work done as well as health and fitness testing. I have a more nuanced view of my health. This has helped me refine my efforts to focus on what I can change to reduce my risk of a recurrence of heart attack. The recommendation to lose weight, that was a no-brainer. But I got estimates of my specific metabolic rate as well as how my body metabolizes fat and carbohydrates during exercise. I also learned that although my cardiovascular health is strong along a number of indices, when I get close to my maximum effort, I do not use as much oxygen as other women of my age. Actually, at that point, I am slightly better than the average 70-80 year-old. This is consistent with the difficulties I’ve had at high altitude over the last few years as well as the asthma I’ve long suspected that I have. It is high time to get that checked out. I have dramatically changed my diet and made slight revisions to my exercise plan.

The testing was expensive. My insurance ended up not covering the most expensive part of the assessment. The rest of it I knew up front that it would not be covered. I do feel like I have a better grasp on my potential reality. I don’t know how this picture is going to turn out but I think I got the light level just right.

 

When Zoey was younger, I used to take her on trips, just the two of us. When she was 10 years old, we bundled up for a February trip to Washington, DC and New York City to see the sights and to visit with my dear friend, Cheryl, who lives in DC., and acts as an unofficial godparent to Zoey. Cheryl is a psychologist for the National Institutes of Health and she had just gotten a new job within NIH. This was a cause for celebration.

As you may know, I love good food. I love to cook. I love to eat. I love to watch chefs cook. I love to read about fine cooking. New York City is the home of Eric Ripert’s La Bernadin, which is considered the best seafood restaurant in the U.S. Anthony Bourdain even wrote a chapter in one of his books about the man who butchers the fish there! I had made reservations for Cheryl, Zoey, and I to go out there. It was a celebration for Cheryl so the meal was on me.

La Bernadin has a prixe fixe (fixed price) menu. At the time, I think it was $99 a person, $99 for each person of any age. Zoey was and still is, an extremely picky eater. $99 is a lot to spend on any meal, especially one that doesn’t get eaten and is complained about. I was worried that I wasn’t going to get what I paid for and further, her behavior might be embarrassing. The day of our reservation, I casually offered, “Hey Zoey, the food at this restaurant is pretty fancy. If you’d rather, I can take you to McDonald’s beforehand and you can have dinner there.” She declined my invitation.

La Bernadin is a beautiful restaurant. For extra credit, the staff did not give me the evil eye for bringing a child there. We looked at the menu. There were options for each course. I saw that there was an entree option for some kind of simple pasta without meat. Yay! Something for Zoey! I pointed it out to her. “No Mom, I am getting the lobster.” When the waitperson arrived for drink orders, Zoey politely asked, “I have a question. What types of tea do you have?” The waitperson brought out a beautiful box filled with a grand assortment of teas. Zoey asked about the flavors of a number of them and made her decision. Every course of dinner was delicious. Zoey ate everything and did so, with appreciation. The lobster was her favorite. Cheryl, Zoey, and I had a lovely evening. I got more than my money’s worth.

This has been a different Christmas season. For one, I usually take off a whole week from work. I didn’t this year. I was concerned about money. As many of you know, being ill is costly. My heart issues have not been as costly as my cancer treatment was but I still lost a significant amount of work time. As a self-employed person, I don’t make money if I don’t work. My dad went to the hospital and to rehab. He has only been home for a week and is adjusting, with ups and downs, to being a physically disabled person. I have been going to all of his doctor’s appointments that I can, in addition to my own.

Putting up a Christmas tree seemed like too much this year. John’s mom was supposed to visit but that fell through. Zoey’s home from college but she really doesn’t notice stuff like Christmas trees. So I didn’t put one up. I’m cooking a simple but nice dinner tonight and tomorrow, we’ll have soup that I made yesterday. We’re going over to my parents’ house later in the day for a dessert potluck and gift exchange. I am not eating added sugar right now, due to my cardiologist’s recommendation of an anti-inflammatory diet, so I am bringing fruit and whatever is leftover from a Costco apple pie that I am serving tonight. (There should be plenty. Those things are enormous.)

I was feeling down a couple of weeks ago. Frankly, I was feeling ripped off. I love entertaining. I love my job. I find myself cutting back on these passions, in order to take care of myself. I think I do a pretty damned good job taking care of myself. And still, I get sick. And other people get sick, too! And I don’t get to have a Christmas tree! No fair!  After a day or two of letting myself have those thoughts and feelings, I felt better.

It is Christmas Eve. I am looking at the Christmas presents stacked in the corner of the living room. I see the Christmas stockings (all hand-made by me, by the way) and the nativity set. My shopping is done. I don’t have the rush and stress of holiday entertainment. I am just sitting and writing in the quiet of my home.

Merry Christmas, friends!

I couldn’t find a photo from the trip to NYC, but here is a photo of Zoey, Cheryl, John, and me from 2013, when Cheryl visited Seattle.

I have the best job. This morning, I was sitting across from a 6-year-old for 1 1/2 hours. I was doing some testing of his learning. He was adorable and the information I am gathering will be very helpful in keeping him happy and adorable. Right in the middle of testing, my landlord knocked on my office door. I didn’t answer it because the kid was RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE of doing a timed test. Rob came in, anyway, and apologized. He let me know that there was water in the lobby and that he was taking care of it. I masked my annoyance and he left. I continued with testing.

I knew about the water. I had seen it when I entered the building on the ground floor. There were also fire trucks in front of the building. I saw fire fighters talking to a contractor in the lobby. I gathered that the contractor, who is doing renovations on one of the condos in the building. had messed something up that needed fixing by the fire department. I asked one of the officers if it was okay to enter the building and he said it was so I tromped up a flight of stairs to the office. My landlord, Rob, came by shortly after I arrived and told me that the contractor had accidentally put a hole in the sprinkler pipe. Rob looked around our suite of offices and everything looked fine.

After testing was finished, I walked out into my waiting room. The large throw rug was gone as was one of the couches. There was an industrial grade humidifier running along with a bunch of fans. One of the ceiling tiles was wet and bulging. “Ah, I guess when Rob told me that there was water in the lobby, he meant the lobby of our suite,” I realized. Reid, the contractor, came in shortly after that, introduced himself, and let me know that he was responsible for the damage, including, buying a new couch if the one we had could not be dried out. The couch and area rug had been moved into a vacant office suite to be dried out.

Imagine that? There was a flood around the corner and people were taking care of it while I was able to complete my work for the morning. Then I just worked while the fans and humidifier were on. I got so much done that I’ll be able to take half of tomorrow off. I know that there will likely be things I have to do to resolve this issue. I have to say, though, that it is so nice to have this problem, if only just for today, taken care of. I don’t have to solve every problem. What a concept!

My landlord, Rob, came back to my office after I was done testing. He apologized again for interrupting my session. I said, “Well, now I know why you had to do it! I thought you were talking about the downstairs lobby.” He and I have a nice working relationship. Rob was so relieved that I was not furious about the damage. He noted, “You’re always so happy.” (I’m not, obviously, but I got his point.) “Rob, thank you for helping with this. The contractor looks like he is taking care of things. This is just inconvenience and my suffering about it doesn’t help anything and would just make people feel bad.”

When I feel like I am working on a team to solve a problem, it is so much easier for me. It’s so much better than going it alone or worse, getting stuck solving the problems that other people could solve themselves.

I spent yesterday finding a wheelchair for my dad. It was Saturday and the only medical supply place that was open is located about a 30 minute drive north of where I live. The owner asked my husband and I what width we wanted. I asked, “What are the pros and cons of each width?” She basically said that the wider one would allow him to set things next to him on the seat. He is traveling with a bit of medical equipment these days so I thought a wider seat might be better.  We drove back home. John needed to be dropped off to get some errands done. Then I drove the 30 minutes south to my parents house.

The wheelchair was slightly too wide to fit through the doorway from the kitchen to the rest of the house. It was 2:30 pm. The medical supply place closed at 4pm. I could get there in time if the traffic gods were with me. I loaded up the car and arrived at the store an hour later. The owner already had the smaller chair ready, because I had called her before I left. We made the exchange. Before I left the store, I called my husband to ask for his help. I knew that my dad would need help getting out of his lounge chair to sit in the wheelchair. Due to my SCAD induced heart attacks, I am not supposed to do heavy lifting. John agreed to come with me to help. So I drove home and picked him up. Then he drove us the rest of the way to Mom and Dad’s.

Dad was thrilled with the new wheelchair. One, he can now move himself around the house. Independence! He proclaimed it to be “the perfect wheelchair”. Although tired of driving, I was so happy to have made a meaningful positive change in his life just by driving around all day and getting stuff.

Right before Thanksgiving, Dad experienced an acute urological issue that landed him in the hospital. He was quickly stabilized but Physical Therapy services was concerned about his balance and general difficulties with mobility. Short-term rehab services were recommended and Dad finished a three-week-long stay last Thursday.

3-4 years ago, my dad was still camping and hiking with my mom. They are both nature lovers and active people. The first thing we noticed was that he started stooping over to walk. Then we noticed the shuffling. Over the years, he got weaker and weaker. His balance got terrible. Afraid that he had Parkinson’s Disease, he refused to follow-up on his primary care physician’s referral to a neurologist. We all talked to him. He refused. What started out as fear turned into habitual avoidance. Once he was admitted to the hospital, he became a very cooperative patient. For one, by stabilizing the acute issue, he was freed from excruciating pain. After that, what’s not to like about healthcare professionals? It didn’t hurt that they were very kind both at the hospital and at the rehab facility. The M.D. at the rehab facility diagnosed him with Parkinson’s Disease and put him on medication. He is showing slight but noticeable improvement on it. The diagnosis was really something the family has had to make big adjustments to because we knew something has been very wrong and we are happy for him to have treatment.

My parents are doing an amazing job adjusting to accepting help and relying more on other people. They are open to finding the right balance between independence and support. I am relieved. I was afraid that my dad was going to fall down the stairs before he got medical attention and that further, he would have been placed in assisted living, away from my mom, his beloved wife of 63 years. They are getting home-based services and my brothers and I have worked to make the main floor of the house accessible.

We are also trying to get our daughter into a smaller wheelchair or perhaps take up crutches. We are trying to help her be more independent, little by little, as she works her way from her teens to her 20’s. She just started living away at college. We are paying for nearly all of her expenses. She told me recently that she wanted to get a job. I told her that was fine but that also meant that this would mean a decrease in her financial support from us because it would mean that she is getting more independent. Let’s just say that’s not the way she sees it. There’s a big life lesson occurring. She is not suffering in silence. I am persona non grata. I may stay that way until the holiday break is over and she returns to Bellingham. Or perhaps not. In the meantime, she has been staying with friends. I’d be lying if I said this doesn’t hurt. It is difficult to work so hard on parenting and so often find myself wondering if I am going to be the next subject of a tell-all “my mother was the worst” autobiography. I also know that this is part of growing up, which has not been an easy process for my daughter.

As for me, I am also looking for the perfect wheelchair. It is the structure that allows me mobility and strength to fit through the outlines of my responsibilities. None of us are in this life alone, ever. We give and receive through our human connection.

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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