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photos: 
1) i liked the stacks of gowns and their blue hues
2) i became very skilled at fashioning my ill-fitting, all-exposing gown into a fitted, modest tunic wrap…thing
3) the bell you’re supposed to ring when you finish your radiation. after my 6 weeks of treatment, i instead chose to quietly slip out. i was never there. 

I got my own tattoos in January: just three small barely detectable dots to help line me up for radiation treatment. In November I was diagnosed with DCIS: Ductal Carcinoma In Situ—cancer light, stage zero cancer, pre-cancer. If you are going to get a breast cancer diagnosis, this is the one you want.

Such a strange time of life. At the same time I was diagnosed, my neighbor was diagnosed with throat cancer. I ran into a colleague at the Cancer Center one day: she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Whoa. So many people affected by cancer.

So grateful for my diagnosis, knowing how much worse it could have been. Throughout my treatment I saw so many women and men with no hair, met women with young children and people who had to travel so far for their radiation treatment. I met people who had been diagnosed years ago and people who thought they were done with treatment, but then more cancer was found.

The treatment for DCIS didn’t interrupt my life too much. I did not have to have big surgeries or chemotherapy. I took 10 days off from exercising after each of my small surgeries, but exercised throughout my radiation treatment and presented at a conference 3 days after my first surgery. (Probably not a good idea.) Working on campus near the hospital, I was able to walk 10 minutes to and from my radiation treatments. I liked the walk and getting out of the office mid –morning, except for the last couple of weeks when I was just tired and done.

Some things I learned along the way:

• One of the first questions people ask when you have a diagnosis is, how did you get it? That is the $500 billion dollar question isn’t it?It wasn’t smoking, obesity or alcohol abuse—all linked to cancer. It wasn’t having the breast cancer genes BRCA1 or BRCA2 in my genetic make-up (I now know after getting my genetic tests back).

But was it the millions of gallons of diet coke I have consumed? The secondhand smoke I was exposed to the first half decade of life before my parents stopped smoking? The fire retardants in carpeting, upholstery and pajamas? The processed foods I eat? My genetic make-up (researchers are still working to identify additional cancer genes)?

Or, as my scientist daughter puts it, was it the combination of environmental and genetic factors, entropy and random chance that one of my 37.2 trillion cells would become abnormal and acquire a large number of mutations necessary to forego all of the division checkpoint and cellular suicide mechanisms to be able to divide uncontrollably? No one knows.

• That’s something else I learned– our cells have many, many, many division checkpoints that check and fix errors and they have cellular suicide mechanisms to keep our cells from dividing uncontrollably! So amazing! Of course with 37.2 trillion cells, you can’t catch every error.

• I learned that I am not ready to give up my mammograms. There have been many articles in the past several years questioning the value of regular mammograms. (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/12/health/study-adds-new-doubts-about-value-of-mammograms.html?_r=0 ) The argument is that many of these cancers grow very slowly and we can wait to see if a pre-cancer, like mine, turns into something cancerous or not. Only when a palpable lump is felt would do they do something. I am someone who believes in scientific research, and the research in the article linked above says outcomes are the same. But I want more research. I think waiting to deal with something when I’m older and likely less active would just make recovery more difficult.

Some women with DCIS opt for full double mastectomies. This was shocking news to me when I was told this by my surgeon’s nurse practitioner. It really scared me and seemed like such overkill. I did not choose this option. I chose what my surgeon recommended, which was small and barely noticeable incision for both of my surgeries. However, the more I read, the more I understand why women choose full mastectomies. First, reconstructive surgery, as Angelina Jolie has confirmed, is quite advanced and the results are very good. Second, radiation can affect your heart and lungs. If you have a mastectomy, you don’t have to have radiation. My tumors were, fortunately, in my right side, not my heart side, so I did not have to worry about radiation affecting my heart. But I have no idea if my lungs were damaged by the radiation. (I just coughed. Is that a cold or radiation damage?) Third, you don’t have to do chemotherapy. Fourth, you don’t have to do a needle localization. If you don’t know what that is, I won’t tell you. It’s doable, but not for sissies. Fifth, once you get rid of all of the tissue, you don’t have to wonder about additional cancer cells that left in your body, too small to detect YET. Sixth, you don’t have to take Tamoxifen— an estrogen modulator for hormone receptive tumors. Sometimes I wonder if I should have gone this route…probably not.

Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book is a great resource for anyone with a breast cancer diagnosis. My boss gave me a copy. So helpful! If you know of anyone who gets a breast cancer diagnosis, give her this book if she doesn’t already have it.

Radiation is not a one or two time thing. Mine was 5 days a week for 6 weeks. The treatment included lying on a table and having a radiation beamed aimed at my breast for 15 seconds from one angle and then 15 seconds from another. I didn’t feel anything. Afterward, I changed out of my gown and walked back to work.

Life goes on. DCIS is a little weird because it’s not like capital letters CANCER. You’re not donning the boxing gloves to kick cancer’s ass. It’s more like, a month ago I was going to radiation, today I’m filing the paperwork one files when they find out someone else is using their social security number. (True.) There is something that seems similar between the two undertakings– just go through the prescribed steps until you’re on the other side. But you know you will get to the other side, without any ass-kicking.

Moving forward and grateful for this life. Time to get back to figuring out my life as an empty nester!

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photos:
1) our new dog, vincent
2) my son turned 17 in july and is now about five weeks away from graduating
3) i would spend all summer at lake michigan if i could
4) the lego movie on the score boards of the michigan stadium last august, everything is awesome
5) september birthday dinner for my husband at zingermans
6) easter island head, one of the many snow sculptures i encountered on my walks with vincent this winter
7) i sat down to breakfast and encountered this one morning. these are the mundane moments i don’t want to forget

I was listening to a Selected Shorts podcast yesterday and the host said something like, “life is made up of a series of moments.”

That resonated with me as, in an effort to come up with something to post about, I had just forced myself to sit down and compile a list of things that have happened in my life since I last posted, over six months ago.

It feels like it was just a few weeks ago. Like nothing of note has happened, between then and now: Same day over and over again.

But, using my phone camera roll and my calendar for prompts, I easily came up with a list of more than 20 “moments” that included the seemingly mundane, like dying my own hair for the first time, to the transformative (and heartbreaking), my mother-in-law dying.

It was a reminder to stop now and then and reflect on my moments, whose sum equals my life.

I wonder what moments make up your life. A new recipe? A new love? A loss? I wish I knew.

I hope the positive moments always out number all others.

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photos:
1) my disfiguring goggles– a redundancy
2) athletes parade at dawn to the ferry that will take them to alcatraz
3) alcatraz, the sign says: warning persons procuring or concealing escape of prisoners are subject to prosecution and imprisonment
4) they’re off, golden gate bridge in the background
5) that about sums it up!

Last November, as a big birthday loomed ahead of me in 2014, I thought it time to pick up the exercise routine and set a goal. I thought about the Y-tri at the gym: 15 minutes of swim, 15 minutes of bike (studio bike) and 15 minutes of run (on a treadmill).

I signed up for a seven-week Y-tri training class, but would not yet commit to the Y-tri. I was worried about the swim. I hadn’t done swim workouts in years— no, DECADES. And I hate getting in to a pool. I hate being on the deck when I’m wet. I hate being cold. And what I hate most of all? Putting on a swimsuit. Gah! It all made me feel a little ill to think about.

I remember our first swim class the instructor told us to swim a 200 yard warm-up ( eight lengths). Most of us in the class were struggling to finish 50 yards.

But I finished the tri class. And another one after that. And then the Y tri. And then a sprint length tri in June. This summer I have enjoyed many lake swims on sunny weekend mornings with a group of great women; lunchtime swims in the outdoor 50 meter public pool; and more workouts, including this morning, with new friends at the Y. Somewhere in there, I turned 50!

Last Sunday I was on a ferry at Alcatraz, watching my friend Ingrid jump into a 62 degree San Francisco bay with 400 other wet-suit clad athletes and about 25 without wet suits. She was participating in the Escape from the Rock duathlon, swimming 1.5 miles from Alcatraz to Aquatic Park, San Francisco and then running 7 miles. I was her support crew.

Months ago, when she first talked about doing this, it seemed to me like an impossible event and not one I would ever considering signing up for. But Ingrid made it look possible, and it’s something that I am now considering for next year.

It seemed serendipitous when we were poking around in a San Francisco bookstore after the race Ingrid found a book titled, “It Always Seems Impossible Until It’s Done.”

For her, finishing that grueling event, it was an incredibly appropriate sentiment. But for me, it was appropriate too.

back to blogging…

December 27, 2013

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snowback to blogging...

photos:
1) this is a vintage advent calendar from my husband’s youth. i am often alarmed at how much his family saves, think the show “hoarders”, but then they unearth gems like this…
2) …the windows of the advent calendar revealed pieces of the scene that was built day-by-day
3) a view from my office window just before heading home, so dark at 5pm now
4) i brought my geraniums indoors and love that I get blooms in the winter
5) a shadow of lace curtains above my mother-in-laws hospital bed, which is in their living room
6) walking in to work, our first real snow
7) the now empty advent calendar for my kids, they still love this.

A couple of weeks ago my daughter said, “Not to be critical mom, but it’s been a long time since you have blogged.”

In fact it’s been about two intense months. It did make me feel good that someone noticed.

So here I am, back. I hope.

What kept me from blogging?:

• Work has been intense with many weeknight and weekend activities, including one all day Saturday December 21 because I wanted to get it in before the term ended.

• I increased my time at the gym when I signed up for a seven-week, indoor, mini-triathalon class, just to have something to kick my arse. And it worked. I started swimming again. Which I love/hate…but mostly hate.

• I spent many hours sitting on our kitchen floor with a scraping tool trying to get all of the flooring glue and ancient vinyl flooring backing off of wooden flooring that was revealed when my husband ripped out several layers of vinyl flooring.

This project started in October when we ordered a new dishwasher that had the same measurements, on paper, as the old one, but in actuality was too tall for the space. So we were forced to start a long overdue flooring project to create space for the dishwasher. We thought we could gain the .25 inches we needed. We had no idea we would gain nearly an inch. No idea there were so many layers below the first one.

We also had to stop at one point and get it tested for asbestos. Which, thank goodness, it did not contain.

The scraping is now complete. Next is the sanding. Sigh. SOMEONE, hacked great gouges into the wood in several places when HE tried to use brawn to get the glue off. The floor will likely be so beat up that we will need to cover it with vinyl again.

This might not be all bad if we can find something like these Rose Des Vents vinyl flooring from the UK (manufactured in France). Doubtful I will be able to find anything so nice in the US.

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There were also holiday preparations, and teenage kids to feed and occasionally transport, but here I am with a (relatively) clean house, laundry folded and put away, and good food prepared. My husband is out at a basketball buddy reunion, my children are somewhere in the house being happy and I am here at the dining room table with a glass of red wine blogging again.

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<img src="https://floramargaret.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/092313venusflytrap.jpg&quot; class="size-full" alt="whats making me happy this week 09.22.13: JUDGE john hodgeman, aging and a sad song” />

photos:
1) the venus fly trap my nephew gave me last mother’s day…it sits in my office window in it’s plastic container not eating flies as there are no flies to be eaten. someone suggested i put a piece of banana in there to attract fruit flies. not sure about that…
2) working merch at the the ark last weekend…it was a slow night… respect to a band that puts out vinyl…
3) taking refuge from the pouring rain on the front porch of lexi’s toybox

Saturday night my husband and daughter and I were all crabby to each other, resulting in cancelled plans to see a late movie together and my husband driving off to hang out at Barnes and Noble on his own just to get away from us.

Our simple dishwasher replacement, which we have been waiting for the right financial time to replace, has turned out to be not so simple. The new dishwasher, with the exact same measurements as our old dishwasher, at least on paper, won’t fit under our old countertop. Sigh. Do we figure out a way to rig it, or do we do things right, tear out the entire floor (which appears to includes at least 2 layers of subflooring sandwiched between 2 layers of linoleum…nice) and start all over again? At what expense? And who has the time?!

My son was up until 1am studying for an AP Chemistry test and my daughter up until 4am studying for an Organic Chemistry test…

Chemistry, Schmemistry. We are a mess.

But really, we’re okay, of course.

These are such little problems on the scale of world problems. Our kids don’t go hungry. We are just fine.

Here are some little things that help me to stay just fine during our more trying moments this week:

1.
the Judge John Hodgeman podcast. You know John Hodgeman…”I’m a PC…” He is silly, and a geek and extremely smart and funny and, it turns out, a very fair judge. I listen to his podcast while loading (and unloading and loading…) the dishwasher and giggle and giggle. My son has Hodgeman’s books, The Areas of My Expertise, and More Information Than You Require, but he has not listened to his podcast and it drives my son crazy when I refer to him as Judge John Hodgemen. My son insists, “It’s JUST John Hodgemen! You do not add “judge” in front of his name. He is not a real judge.” So of course I say JUDGE John Hodgeman all the time now. We call it “poking the bear” in our house. I feel like we should petition JUDGE Hodgeman for a ruling on this dispute.

2. The movie Austenland. The reviews were mediocre at best, but it appealed to my odd sense of humor. I, and truly the entire small crowd at the Michigan Theater, laughed out loud throughout. Bret (Brit?) Mckenzie from Flight of the Conchords is in it as is Jennifer Coolidge and Keri Russell. The ending was meh, and there was one part of unfinished business that I didn’t like, having to do with a seemingly repeat old man sex offender that they made a joke of…is this funny? But still, I would pay to see the movie again just for the 70 minutes of silliness prior to the ending. True Austen lovers, of which I am not, may like the ending; not quite predictable, but ultimately uber (grotesquely?) romantic.

3. Sometimes I look in the mirror and am reminded of that movie Freaky Friday where the (very young and adorable) Lindsay Lohan character wakes up and finds she has turned into her mother, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. Upon seeing herself in the mirror she cries, “”Oh! I’m old! I’m like the cryptkeeper! Ahhhh!”
But when I read this “Dear Polly” letter for advice, which was relinked to a blog I read (the Hairpin), it made me so glad to be old and aging and beyond all of this dating/boy/sex and what does it all mean nonsense and uncertainty. Oh the clarity and wisdom age brings to some areas of life…not all, but some.

4. A friend had a FB post about an upcoming concert for the band Devotchka. I forgot about this band…they did the soundtrack for the film “Little Miss Sunshine.” Loved the soundtrack and loved the film.
When you get home from work, turn up the volume and join me in a glass of wine and a dance around the kitchen while making dinner, because even if the research says it’s not possible, we can and do multitask:
Till the End of Time by Devotchka

5. Now turn your volume down. Saw Colin Hay here in AA a couple of weeks ago. Such a great show. He is quite a story teller …he told funny and sweet stories about his father who he referred to a “good daddy.” He later explained that he had been singing in show in Scotland when his father died in Australia, and he never got to say goodbye. If your heart is hurting a little now at that thought, just wait until you hear this song.…He didn’t sing this song during the concert and I had never heard it before my daughter found it this week and emailed it to me.
Dear Father by Colin Hay

All of that and so much more was keeping me just fine this past week…and here is Monday again.

Monday…groah…ah well, another week to watch vigilantly for the good stuff! Right?!
xox

interviewing anxiety

September 21, 2013

interviewing anxiety

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photos:
1) first fall leaves
2) low morning sun = long shadows
3) sun bathing student in front of angell hall
4) stunt planes above our house, prior to um vs. notre dame night game
5) no parking signs and construction on madison and fifth, so tired of this endless street project, also for those of you who live near the stadium and want to reserve a place on the street on game days…free no parking signs…madison and fifth people…

the only thing that the photos above have in common with this post, is that both are a glimpse into my life…

I sometimes see certain people in my family avoiding opportunities for fear of failure, or judgment. Oh how well I know that behavior…because, sadly, even at my age, it is often my own behavior. My recent words of support to these certain people include, “What have you got to lose? Worst case you get interview experience. If they offer it to you, you can decide then to turn it down if you don’t want it.”

Of course those words came back to haunt me, as words of wisdom will do.

I have written before about feeling antsy about life and my current job. It is a job many would be grateful for—almost complete autonomy, ridiculous flexibility, lots to do and lots of variety, and feeling like I’m making a difference…. But I’ve been doing it for nine years and sometimes, autonomy can be lonely and the work never finished. Sometimes I want to be part of a thoughtful team of people. I have also been concerned about my program losing funding…there has been a lot of change around these parts.

So I applied for two jobs and got called to interview for both.

This initially made me feel great, until I learned the first interview was going to be 7 vs. 1 for an hour, followed by a 1 vs. 1 with the program director for the next hour. I started to get really nervous. Even more nerve wracking, I found out that 3 of the 7 were people I know professionally, but marginally.

I am not a great interviewer, or at least not a confident interviewer. I have had 4 interviews in the past 15 years and I have been offered every one of the jobs, so I can’t be completely terrible. But I do think my experience and references weighed heavily in all of those cases.

So many negative thoughts went through my head: What if I screwed up? What if I embarrassed myself? They would all know I’m lame.

In the meantime, I was assured that the funding for my program of employment was secure, so I conveniently decided that I really didn’t want a new job. My current job was PERFECT. I would withdraw my application.

But my own words of encouragement started sparring with the negative thoughts, “What have you got to lose?” (my dignity) “Worst case you get interview experience.” (and lose my dignity) If they offer it to you, you can decide then to turn it down if you don’t want it.” (I already know I don’t want it so why lose my dignity?!)

I was very nervous on my walk across campus to my interview, still wondering the whole way, “Why am I putting myself through this?!” And there I was in at the end of a long table packed with people who took turns asking me questions. “What are some examples of reports you’ve written or presentation you’ve given?” “Why do you want this job.” “Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?” “How do you currently measure success in your programs?” and so on.

I felt pretty good when that interview finished and so the one-on-one interview with the director felt much more relaxed. When that was over I was walking on air back to my office. I felt elated to have it behind me and to have done so well.

Hours later, and then periodically throughout the week, while in my office, or driving, or making dinner, I would suddenly remember one of my interview answers and cringe. Really? I couldn’t remember one report I’d written? I write many every year.

I answered many questions pretty well, but others…Ah well, I am who I am. Imperfect. Best they know that before they hire me.

I had lunch with my mentor the next day and told him that I didn’t think I wanted the job. But now my reasons were founded. The interview raised some concerns for me, including a concern about too many chiefs and about management styles. I tried to come up with a salary figure that would tempt me to take the job, but I couldn’t. He told me that I’m spoiled, and also that it’s good to be in a position where I can be choosy. I agreed with both statements.

I had a phone interview for the second job the next day and it was incredibly easy in comparison. I was very confident. The job seemed great, one I would have loved, but the salary turned out to be very low; too low for me to take. I had to withdraw from the interview process.

At the end of the week I had a call from the first job, and I was feeling guilty about having to turn them down. I had sent a follow up interview email, as one does, further explaining my excitement for the position, when in reality I had little excitement, and now I was going to have to turn them down.

It turns out I didn’t have to turn them down, because they didn’t offer the job to me! At first I felt relieved, and then…slightly miffed. Haha. Spoiled indeed.

In short long, I feel great that I interviewed, and in particular for a job I didn’t want in the end. Practice is the only way I will get better. I have renewed love for my current job. Also, when I get antsy again (next month?), my resume is updated, my references are primed and I will definitely be more confident for the next interview.

In the past, external job offers have resulted in counter offers and raises for me. But for this position, I wasn’t ready to leave and let my boss know it. I think you can only use external offers as leverage for a raise, when you are really ready to take the outside offer.

It’s a mute point anyway, as I didn’t get the job offer. I know my boss wants me to stay, so maybe I can negotiate something else…classes? meetings with others in the country who are doing similar work as me…maybe I’ll work on this when I return from my week-long visit to my sister in Seattle….ah flexibility.

Another great outcome from this adventure is that I have more credibility with my loved ones when I tell them they have nothing to lose by interviewing, and I have much more compassion for the anxiety and self-doubt they experience as they approach seemingly scary opportunities.

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diy: pretty flower bracelets

When my daughter was home on break last week we had a long list of projects we wanted to try. These bracelets were one of the few we got to!

I saw this project on the Oh Joy! Blog and wanted to give it a try: {Valentine’s Day} Floral Friendship Bracelets…

We are so ready for spring and those flowers are so pretty!

We changed a few things:
1. We didn’t have the time (or the production team) to dip dye the ribbon (though I do like that effect).

2. Instead of using real flowers, we used artificial so the bracelets would last. Finding artificial flowers for this was not as easy as I had expected. I found some papery flowers in the scrapbooking section at Michaels, and we bought a bunch of coral flowers that were on a plastic stem. We pulled them off and pulled out the plastic stamen that attached them to the stem leaving just the fabric flower. I don’t think I would use the paper ones again. I had worn the yellow one (paper flowers) to work before I took the photos and they had been in and out of my coat sleeve a few times and look a little worse for the wear.

3. Instead of using hot glue, we hand stitched the flowers to the ribbon. Not pretty on the backside. This can be covered with another ribbon for those who have the time!

4. My daughter used a snap fastener on the back—which is much more practical than tying a bow. I think I will do that with mine, which I now depend on someone to tie on me (and the long ribbon ends are not great when you are using the ladies’…)

5. We singed the ends of the ribbon in a flame (grill lighter) to keep them from fraying (a tip my mom learned from Martha Stewart).

Once you have the supplies, these are quick and easy to make!