My Final Post of 2013

December 31, 2013

Every year I share New Year’s Resolutions that don’t even last a month before being forgotten. Most of the time they don’t even last two weeks.

This year I’m going to finally break that cycle. No, I’m not going to actually follow through on my resolutions. Rather, I’m going to list up front things I won’t stick with.

1. I will not take any measures to improve my cardio-vascular system nor will I lessen the width of my gut.

2. I will not write daily for 365 days. I won’t even write daily for seven. My money’s riding on my next post being sometime in April.

3. I’ll go ahead and remember to give all my Facebook friends Happy Birthdays but I’ll slack off sometime before the Summer arrives and really lose track when December rolls around.

4. I’m going to continue to sweat the small stuff. Because all that small stuff builds up.

I’d list more, but history has proven I can’t stick with even one let alone an entire list.

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To Be Upright and Moving

December 17, 2013

The night of October 4, 2007, I posted a blog on MySpace and BlogSpot. Lisa Moore, beloved character of Tom Batiuk’s comic strip Funky Winkerbean, had lost her battle with breast cancer. While this story arc was playing out my own wife Tamara was finishing up a year-long ordeal of chemo, more chemo, surgery, radiation, pills, needles, biopsies, blood, nausea and fear. At the time we were looking forward to when we could celebrate the one-year anniversary of her successful treatment being completed. Better yet, we looked ahead to the day five years would pass, indicating that her cancer was once and for all gone and that Tammy had beaten it.

She didn’t get that first year. It came back in her spine meaning that while Tammy can continue to be treated she’ll never be cured unless a scientific breakthrough happens in time. That said, in a couple days Tammy is going to hit a five-year mark after all. Five years since we went to our appointed doctor visit to get scan results and her Oncologist gave her the bad news over the Goddamn phone from the other side of town.

Five years of the same treatment working longer than it normally does. Five years where the cancer lesions regressed to where it’s currently NED [No Evidence of Disease]. Five years of blessing that followed what’s often considered a death sentence.

***

Breast cancer took one of my friends yesterday. Took her from her husband and four children. Took her from all her friends and family. Took her well before her time. I only knew Sarah for a little under two years but it seemed I knew her forever. Another friend accurately described her as “awesome, a rare mix of strong will and consistently good temper.”

I went to see Sarah last week. She smiled when I came into her home and reached her hand up to mine. She was tired and weak. Her sentences were rarely finished, and her voice was so low I missed most of what she was trying to say. I wanted to avoid asking Sarah to repeat herself. She asked how Tammy’s health was. She asked that twice from her hospice bed.

But her grip on my hand was strong, stronger than everything else about her indicated, and she did not let go for the 45 minutes I was there. When I had to leave she pulled me towards her in what was our last hug. I said I’d come back in a couple days and she smiled at that. But the couple days got delayed and finally never happened.

As I drove home that night I noticed I forgot to bring them their Christmas card. It was still on my front seat. I suspected that despite every intention this would be the last time I saw her. I only knew that experience one other time, a 98-year-old Great-Great-Aunt unconscious in ICU, but I wasn’t close to her, hadn’t spent many Sunday afternoons with a cup of coffee discussing kids and fundraisers and families and vacations and plans.

***

As far as having incurable Stage IV cancer goes my wife’s doing great. On the cancer front at least. Her current cancer stats are the best they can be, in fact better than can often be expected in her circumstance. She’s doing well considering the situation. Sarah’s family don’t get to have that. And I know others who didn’t get to have it either, yet I know others still who not only have it but have it even better than Tammy and I. The randomness of who gets it and how any treatment will go doesn’t make sense.

One high school friend, Matt, just celebrated 25 years of kicking cancer’s ass back when we were kids. Another, Amy, died two months into chemo when she was only 22. Selena, who had been a guest in our home, didn’t last many more months after her visit. While Scott’s mom beat cancer the first time, then when it cruelly came back on the five-year anniversary beat it again.

I have no choice but to know that someday a new treatment for Tammy will be necessary. Do we get another five years before then? Or better yet, fifteen so that when new women get diagnosed they can be told “I know someone in your place who’s been going strong for twenty years.”

***

My Funky Winkerbean post is inaccessible in it’s original locations. MySpace blogs have been excised that website while my old RDOS blog has been retired and set to private. Rather than link to a dead or blocked address I’m pasting it here for those interested.

Originally posted October 4, 2007

We knew this day was coming, in the last couple weeks we knew specifically it would be today.

Lisa Moore, one of the central characters for Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean series, succumbed to breast cancer this morning. She had beaten it the first time around in ’99 after having a mastectomy and going through treatment. Since that time she became a mom and lawyer, and then right after the five years that cancer patients have to wait to see if they’re clear it came back, more invasive than before. She stopped treatment when she realized it was only postponing the inevitable.

In a way I understand why some people are upset with Batiuk, I couldn’t help read each day’s strip without worrying that someday this would be me and Tammy. There’s only a two year approximate age difference between her and Lisa’s character when she was first diagnosed.

When the first news reports came out about the direction Batiuk was taking the story I started logging into the Seattle P-I each day to read it, having only been a casual reader until then. Without any initial investment in the characters I got drawn into it, to the point where I wanted Batiuk to come up with a miracle cure or for Les to wake up from a nightmare. At the same time I knew he couldn’t do that and ultimately I agree.

There are many who disagree, their reasons are various. Those who take it hard because they’ve been through it, either as a current patient, a survivor or a family member, I can at least understand. But there are other objections which I don’t have much patience for.

The first is Comics should be funny, or There’s too much hurt and depression in this world, I need some place I can escape from it.

First of all, comics were originally used as political or social commentary. Often hard-hitting, biting, sometimes offensive, and always with the punches never pulled. If you need somewhere to escape first of all don’t pick up a paper. There’s a war going on. Teenagers crash cars. Taxes are rising. And if you’ll look in the obits people are dying, sometimes of cancer.

But kids shouldn’t be seeing this, they’ll be grown up soon, let them stay innocent.

Bullshit. Just because Danny Thomas is gone doesn’t mean kids don’t get cancer anymore. Kids with cancer, or any disease even when it’s not communicable are often teased or ostracized by peers, some out of meanness but most out of ignorance. Their ignorance concerning Cancer, or HIV, or Cystic Fibrosis might not be so prevalent if adults didn’t try to shelter them (an impossible task)

What if a pre-teen, long since accustomed to being modest, notices a lump on their body and doesn’t know to ask their parents to have a doctor check it out?

Which brings up another objection. That’s an inappropriate subject matter. The illustrations were obscene and not necessary. Kids shouldn’t be seeing this.

Actually one of the first things a kid should ever see in their life is a breast literally shoved in their face. It’s as much your fault as the media’s that breasts are reduced to sexual objects, so much so that the United States goes into a panic and forgets that the White House is full of criminals when Janet Jackson pops out.

It’s this idea that breasts are evil and something shameful that is helping to kill 43,000 women every year. People are already avoiding the subject of cancer but when the titillating breasts are included they really go into denial. She has cancer? Don’t talk about it. It’s in her breast? Don’t talk about it. She needs a mastectomy? Don’t talk about it and don’t think her capable of sexuality or in need of sensuality. She’s losing her hair? Don’t talk, don’t stare, don’t even make eye contact for conversation. It came back, she’s going to die? Run away. Look back after she’s gone and tell yourself you did everything for her during her final months.

A lot of people in denial will say that we’ve come a long way in cancer treatments. They are absolutely correct. But that does not mean it’s a walk in the park. You don’t have a line of smiling patients taking generic medication without side affects going on their merry way and being cured by the end of the week. There’s nausea and queasiness. Shots, blood and surgeries. Amputations. Fatigue, intense bone pain. Susceptibility to sunlight, lowered immune systems. There’s constant dosages of poison, with added chemicals designed to counter the toxicity enough not to kill you. There’s hair loss, even if you’re a woman who doesn’t want to be bald. There’s liver damage, irreparable heart damage.

Sometimes there’s the frustration that the treatment isn’t working, and sometimes there’s the indelible knowledge that nothing can be done and these are your final weeks.

Sometimes your family and friends can’t understand what you’re going through. Sometimes even the doctors and nurses refuse to believe it’s as bad as you’re saying. It becomes impossible to balance work and doctor appointments without one eroding the other away. Medical bills, Insurance hassles, Less hours and less income, Savings depleted, Planned future destroyed. Even when you beat it.

When people don’t understand that it becomes easier for Congress to redirect their funds to something more fun like Iraq. When people don’t understand then they’re less likely to donate a buck when stores are handing out pink ribbons for Cancer Awareness Month. If it takes the death of a popular fictional character in a widely-read comic strip to slap that understanding into their heads then so be it.

I actually first saw the strip last night: it was the photo with a newspaper article that went online early. Right before I had gotten on the computer I peeked in on Tammy, thinking she was still awake. She had already crashed, her book closed on the bed in front of her. She was lying on her side faced away from me. Just like the final panel that I would soon be seeing. Her hair, which is coming along nicely, is still only somewhat longer than Lisa’s was.

Just because there’s no doubt she’s beating it, just because her treatments have come along as scheduled with few road bumps to speak of, just because she didn’t lose her hair during the second batch of chemo, just because she didn’t need a mastectomy, doesn’t mean that this whole ordeal has been nothing at all for her. Or for me. Both of us do a great job going on with our lives, not making every breathing moment something cancer-related, but we don’t ignore it either. We can’t. Recurrence isn’t impossible.

And if it does come back I wouldn’t want people complaining that she’s ruining their pleasant sheltered morning.

The fresh-crowned hero fell without firing a shot.

July 12, 2013

Ten years ago today was a Saturday. I was looking forward to going to a birthday party at a friend’s house out on a lake.

I had just moved back to Olympia after being laid off from a job in Bellevue. I was once again facing the world of WorkSource, applications, temp jobs, and worst of all that question that’s always asked at times like those – “How’s the job hunt going?”, “Anything new with the job hunt?”

What do people expect to hear? “Oh, I’ve been working for months now, I just never told you.”, “Well, I’m still unemployed as you know, thanks for reminding me I’m failing at this.”

But I digress. It was a Saturday morning. I wasn’t looking forward to the activity of job hunting but I was looking forward to seeing a bunch of friends. Many of them I hadn’t seen in over a year. That morning I IM’d the birthday girl Mindy asking if there was anything specific she needed me to bring. She asked if I’d mind giving this girl named Tammy a ride.

Tammy and I were vaguely familiar with each other. We both posted on a former Oly-based message board where most memorably I was none too nice in countering a topical point she had made. I wasn’t sure she’d be wanting a ride from me of all people, but Mindy called her and everything was arranged.

The exact time I knocked on her door hasn’t been preserved in the annals of history. Tammy answered and my first thought was “Wow! But this is Olympia, she’s either gay or already has a boyfriend. He’s probably attending college out of state. She’s out of my league.”

He worshipped this new angel with furtive eye, till he saw that she had discovered him; then he pretended he did not know she was present, and began to “show off” in all sorts of absurd boyish ways, in order to win her admiration. – Tom Sawyer

Twenty minutes later we were at the gathering out at Offut Lake. Thirty minutes later I had already tried four different kinds of beer and wine coolers. Yeah, my liver was a lot younger in those days. It was just in time for Mindy’s husband and one of my future best men Brooks to lead a group of us over to see the lake. One or two were already in the water, and for some reason it seemed like a good idea at the time to tear my shirt off and dive in as well.

I can’t swim, and at my soberest can barely float, so I didn’t do too much diving. I played around for half an hour when some of the crowd began returning to the house. I climbed out, reached for my shirt and glasses…glasses?…my heart stopped as I reached towards my face and felt nothing but skin turning ashen grey.

A $300 pair of bendable, unbreakable glasses. No health insurance. No savings. 20/15 vision in one eye, 20/10 in the other – assuming I hadn’t degenerated further since the last exam. And all the sharpness of detail in the visual world gone. I uttered something about fudge –

Only I didn’t say “Fudge.” I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the “F-dash-dash-dash” word! – Ralphie Parker

– and went back into the water. It felt like I was in there for an hour, up to my neck, unable to see under the surface, feeling with my toes through the mud and the silt. All fruitless. I need to remember this the next time it’s necessary for me to sober up immediately.

I gave up. I was a bit worried about driving but otherwise considered it nothing more than a major annoyance that couldn’t be dealt with right then so might as well continue the party. And continue it did. Late into the night. Tammy and I hadn’t done much hanging out or talking but she remembers me looking in a doorway and smiling at her.

After many hours of food and drink and conversation and a fire out in the yard it was after midnight and time to leave. I told Tammy I could see the road just fine but I was depending on her to read the speed limit signs for me. We made it to her apartment without crashing, running over anything or being pulled over. She had two flights of steps she needed to climb, I told her I’d wait until she was inside. Tammy waved to let me know the door was unlocked and she was safe inside. I headed home and that ended the first day of what’s been the favorite decade of my life.

She halted a moment on the steps and then moved toward the door. Tom heaved a great sigh as she put her foot on the threshold. But his face lit up, right away, for she tossed a pansy over the fence a moment before she disappeared.

Barometric Pressure

June 26, 2013

I am Pro-Life. I believe abortion kills the beating heart of a sentient human. But I sometimes appear to be Pro-Choice because I know there’s a difference between contraception and abortion.

And because I believe your right to medical privacy trumps my opinion. Including the right of a teenager’s privacy against her parents.

And because I understand that abortion is barely 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services – that everything else is reproductive health/education (including healthy pregnancies), cancer screening, HIV screening, etc. – which services are otherwise lacking in many places.

And because I don’t think the police need to investigate every miscarriage or period. That a pad in the waste basket isn’t forensic evidence.

And because when I hear a teen is pregnant I don’t automatically think she ruined his life.

And because my first thought of an unmarried pregnant woman isn’t slut.

And because I don’t need a medical degree to see the stupidity of those who believe “the body has ways of shutting it down” – and don’t need to be a doctor, nurse, police officer or prosecutor to know what a Rape Kit’s for.

And because I agree the lawmakers and activists screaming most loudly against Roe vs. Wade don’t give a shit about the starving, the working poor, the disabled, the sick – that they are most likely to support (and celebrate) executions, the death of foreigners, the denial of immigrants.

And because I know the mythical fertile promiscuous woman who uses abortion as birth control is as fictional as the Cadillac driving welfare queen with crates of lobsters bought with her SNAP card.

And because The Bible – a book in which I’ve often found hope, wisdom, encouragement, truth, even commands – has never been used once by me in backing up my belief.

And because I feel laws eroding or eliminating the current rights will backfire.

And because I refuse to say I have the answer anymore when it comes to ectopic and molar pregnancies.

And because I could have been put in a real life “what if” situation.

And because if I were a Texan I’d vote for Wendy Davis over Rick Perry even if a big ol’ Pro-Life 2nd Amendment gun were pointed at my crotch.

And for believing in equal rights for all be it gender, race, creed or orientation. And for other reasons not germane to the subject, but which people often think are homogenized such as because I believe in unconditional gay rights, or don’t care if English is no longer the dominant language, or don’t care if whites are the new minority, or don’t care if my boss is a woman, and other thoughts of that same side of the spectrum.

I believe the child is alive even before birth. I believe that the choice to terminate is the wrong choice. But I do not believe in firebombs, snipers, investigators, prosecutors, transvaginal wands. I do not believe in intimidation.

I do not believe in forcing a minor to first get the permission of her hebephiliac father or her mother who’s in denial with eyes wide open.

I do not support pharmacists who use religion to avoid their job. I do not support politicians, leaders or clergy who spread bullshit science.

I know people who were born prematurely, at an age where they could’ve been killed anyway had they not jumped the gun and passed through the ring of fire up to their neck. I see the joy of people who have been blessed with children and know what it’s like to accept, not like but accept, that it won’t be for me.

So I believe what I believe. But I know, beyond belief, that if those working hard to overturn Roe vs. Wade focused instead on creating jobs, providing affordable healthcare and affordable childcare, gave school and daycare teachers a respectable income for the hours they put in, gave equal pay for equal work, focused on eliminating the attitude that allows rape culture to flourish – and, finding that those on the left would actually work with them to achieve these goals – then I believe that the number of times a woman finds herself having to consider that choice would drop. It wouldn’t disappear entirely, I don’t think that can happen. As soon as one’s sure they know the Absolutes, something new and complex enters.

For Myspace WAS a Boojum you see.

June 12, 2013

Everytime Facebook changes its look people flip out. I’ve done my share of it. Yet despite all the changes we were always left with our pictures, connections, apps, games and notes (blogs) intact.

Recently Myspace completely overhauled their site. They’ve allowed the transfer of photos, connections and music playlists, but not the blogs. The current eruption of angry users in their message boards is focusing on the loss of blogs (and games, which players spend money on.)

The answer we’re getting from Myspace is that the blogs won’t be transferred and that they cannot be accessed. They haven’t flat out said they’re deleted, but if not then why are they hanging onto them? Especially without allowing us to see them.

I realize with a free service there’s no guarantee. It’s still a shitty thing to do. People have lost years worth of content. If they’ve never printed, or cross-posted elsewhere, it’s lost and cannot be recreated. The stolen backpack that contained all your research and notes. The long, painstakingly thought out blog that froze when you hit the “post” button and disappeared. The manuscript thrown in the fireplace.

People wrote about their experiences in vivid detail – they can remember the subject, but the details lose something as the years go by. Emails are gone – emails from the dead, the thoughts and words of your loved ones and now one of the few things you could hold onto in memory of them suddenly and silently vanished away.

I was lucky in that most of my writing that I’m most proud of gets cross-posted. I don’t care so much about old survey questions and quizzes. Still, so much is out there on BlogSpot, Facebook Notes, LiveJournal – even Satanosphere (if it still exists) although all that I ever wanted to save from there has long since been cross-posted – and any one of those sites could go away for any reason. Or an administrator could arbitrarily decide to delete my account. And I would have no recourse since I pay nothing for all of that.

What this means is that if I want to have some insurance I won’t lose anything I’ve contributed online in the last fifteen years I just need to print it all. So much for the electronic online world being green, environmental, and a space saver.