Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday, April 19, 2009

More Max pics...

Time for an update...

Only problem is... I am so crazy busy trying to keep everyone in the family that's teetering on the tightrope of insanity from falling off, that I have no time for blogging lately. So, for now, I shall muse briefly about how the "Alpha Dog" pet parent role is not all that different from the mom role... "I'm all verklempt; discuss..." The main difference is that, with a puppy, you're not having to raise him keeping in mind that he'll be having to think for himself someday... With that, I will leave you with pics of the new testosterone bullet in the family... Max.  What *was* I thinking?...

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Gift

In at 1 am from my hour long run. It's almost mystical to me how clearing running can be for the mind. I think the only reason more people don't do it is because no one stands to make any money from it, so they don't push it. Like prescriptions (and crack...) Anyway, I'm thinking: my life is so different in the past few years than I ever would have expected.   I was busy raising my babies, and deferring to my husband, who was on a track to get a PhD.  I could never really figure out what to do with my life.  It was never a matter of working hard. I had a strong work ethic.  And I had decent jobs-- just never a career.  I knew I could be anything that I wanted--and that seemed to make the decision of what even harder.  I just couldn’t figure out what to do... and the moves involved with such an advanced degree for my spouse made getting any momentum that much more difficult.  How did I get to where I am--separated, with a solid career, and enrolling in graduate school-- and how could he be so off track?  What was the pivotal point? 
I’ve thought about it before, but for some reason, the answer come to me clearer today...


It is 2001. And I am pregnant to a pretty significant degree. Working out at the Y. I notice a really big shoulder when I look in the mirror lifting some weights-- but really only when I turn my shoulder a certain way. Weird, I think, but that's really all. It's the shoulder I'd injured many years ago at work. Probably just some different muscles taking over where others aren't doing their best, I surmise. No big deal. Not really that painful, just the arthritis I’d gotten used to that resulted from a previous injury...  I probably should have this looked at.


The next time I go to the doctor, I mention it...  Nothing big, I say, just curious. And since I do have insurance for the moment, I figure I should check it out. They managed to fit me in for an x-ray late that afternoon.   I’m covered from neck to knees-- with double vests around my pronounced belly. Should I be concerned I wonder... Probably just the medical community covering their asses as so often happens these days. The vests make me think of when I pick up four-year-old Garrett:  they, too, are much heavier than they appear.  Relieved to get that weight off my already heavy enough body, I head home.   Not long after I arrive, I get a call from my doctor that he definitely wants to see more.  It’s clear that there is a capsule--a tumor-- there.  X-rays are just not advanced enough to give us the answers we need.  An MRI is scheduled for first thing in the morning.  My policy of not being scared until it was clear and unavoidable was beginning to be challenged:  I knew MRIs took weeks--if not longer to schedule.   Getting right in was most likely not a good sign... I have lots of questions.  I am advised that the radiologist will answer any I might have.


And he does.  When I get there, I ask the most obvious question: how safe is this for my baby?  He agrees it is not optimal to do am MRI, but neither is what is going on in my body-- without answers.  The bottom line is that I am 32 weeks or so, and he would give an MRI to a baby that was already born at that stage.  So, padded with so many things to keep my shoulder still that they had to hold everything tight to my body--like you would items in an overflowing closet as you try to close it-- I slide into the tube. I notice I can feel my nose all but touch it.  My breath bounced back at me so quickly... I had no idea what to expect.  I thought it would take about as long as an x-ray.  They did section by section; it lasted an hour and a half.  The noise was unbelievable-- even with earplugs.  The banging resembled an uneven load in a washing machine--only I was in it!  I imagined this is how some sort of nuclear reactor sounded... I began to get a little panicky. They had asked if I am claustrophobic.  I had told them no.  But I wonder to myself if they really get that there is a difference between an elevator or closet and this machine--I mean really!  I decide I must hang in.  Otherwise, no answers.  At least there is a microphone so they can hear me.  The baby needed me to step up.  They ask me to breathe normally.  I am straight with them: they are going to have to talk me though this, tell me everything as it happens.



It’s about 7:00 that evening, and we’re coming in from playing outside with the kids. We always start dinner late this time of year.  It’s beautiful outside at this time of day, with the huge tree in front of our university commons apartment providing enough shade to play a game of kickball in the grass.   The other parents move back and forth from their identically tiny apartments making dinner as well.  Joe cooks while I answer the phone.  It’s my doctor.  I know he follows appropriate and conventional structure of conversation, but I find myself abruptly jettisoned past our initial words to phrases like "...don't want to alarm you..." and "not sure what else it could be..." and "certainly looks and grows like cancer..." What else could it be, I ask? “Well, it could be benign.” “Duh,” I think to myself: that’s the definition of “not cancer.”  I ask, trying to identify if I missed something, which is entirely possible, “but you say it has none of the characteristics of being benign...” I get a simple “That's true." He tells me he’s made an appointment for me to go first thing in the morning to get a needle biopsy. They know I'm coming. They've been briefed. So Joe and I show up bright and early on our 14th anniversary. We see people without limbs. I think to myself, if it's cancer they can cut my arm off now... right now, and I'll take my chances... We spend the whole day. They can't find anything conclusive. Does it hurt, the oncologist asks. Sure, sometimes. I deal... Everyone knows I have a high threshold for pain. He is not encouraged. "How long have you had this lump in your arm pit?" Lump? Did he just say that word? I never knew there was one. My heart leaps straight for my throat. I think of the scene from Terms of Endearment, when the doctor tells the lead character she has a lump... The doctor comes in the room routinely, asking odd questions like do I have any birthmarks. I say yes, one. Then he says, not 6? No, Joe and I both agree. Back to the drawing board. We find out later he'd spent most of the day calling colleagues, and researching hundreds of cases... The one thing he didn't do was make false promises or patronize me. He just empathized, said he couldn't imagine how we must feel. The 5 or 6 times doctors' attempts to get tissue from the needle sticks were futile. I go home without any answers, except to know that I will have to have a surgical biopsy as soon as the baby (Henry...) is past the point of danger if delivered--3-4 weeks away. The one thing I do know is this: Whatever this was had spread through my muscle and bone and joint (benign tumors stop at borders; cancer doesn't care...) and runs from my neck to the middle of my upper arm. No cutting out will eliminate this fully. I do okay the first week. Nothing I can do, can't control the world, need to make dinner and read books and give baths and get on with the business of life... Can't rush things... And the second week was manageable. Distracting, but tolerable. Then one night, it hits me. I know Jane is old enough to remember me if I die, and know how much I love her. And any baby wouldn't know me from Adam... He'd be okay. But Garrett: that's a whole different story. And at that moment I realized how helpless I was and how immensely overwhelming the situation was... I broke down to nothing. Great, I think. I have spent so long trying to figure out what to do in this life, and now it won't matter anyway; Ill never get the chance. 
Of course I am here now; I survived. The doctor didn't tell me then, but they'd figured the chance of my *not* having cancer was about 2%. The surgery to find out what it was had more staff in attendance than I'd ever seen before or since. Nurses for the baby, and for me. Surgeons, oncologists, pathologists, surgical techs, etc. And as the anesthesia wears off, they shake me and tell me it's going to be fine, just something awful, but not deadly. 
The baby is fine.


And I'm thinking about it on my run tonight. Between the sweat, the slight rain, and occasional sprinkler I charge through, it was easy to hide the flooding of my eyes. Blue on black, I think. Maybe I allow them to come to my clearer mind because I am exhausted and offer little resistance to these thoughts descending on me. Or because my anniversary has just passed. Or that Henry has a birthday approaching at the end of the month. Or that I’ve applied to graduate school.  But I finally realize: that was the turning point. The point that it all became (if even subconsciously) transparent.  Is that possible? Something akin to “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone;” I had to make a choice.  But I was afraid I’d make the wrong one. When I realized that, as my parents used to say, I had to do something even if it was wrong, I worked at taking charge of me life.  It beat never making any decisions.  Only in hindsight, I realize, that that was probably when I knew I must move forward from that moment.   Because we have no right to expect --with this unpredictable world we live in-- that there will be a subsequent moment.  The intersection between fear and action was “the point” at which I gained focus. And maybe that's where Joe lost his. Maybe he never got his stride again. Maybe by that time his world, having been collided into by this traumatic event, lost all its momentum... Only he can say. But our lives are worthless if we cannot construct meaning from events like these... And what I have determined is that that very event was a gift.  The universe presented it to me.  Didn't come with a bow, for sure. And I certainly didn’t recognize it at that moment. But it was a gift nonetheless. And one for which I am very grateful. 



Wednesday, September 17, 2008

One Step closer to The Island (linked)

Australia issues first license to clone human embryos

By Michael Perry

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The Australian government has issued its first license allowing scientists to create cloned human embryos to try and obtain embryonic stem cells.

The in vitro-fertilization firm Sydney IVF was granted the license and reportedly has access to 7,200 human eggs for its research.

If the firm is successful it would be a world first, the Australian government's National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), which granted the license, said on Wednesday.

Scientists in other countries have made stem cells they believe are similar to embryonic cells using a variety of techniques, but none have been able to extract embryonic stem cells from cloned human embryos.

An Australian ban on the research, known as therapeutic cloning or somatic cell nuclear transfer, was lifted in December 2006 after a rare conscience vote in the national parliament.

But the use of excess IVF embryos and the creation and use of other embryos in research is restricted by law through national legislation. Human cloning for reproductive purposes is banned.

Chair of the NHMRC's licensing committee, Dr John Findlay, said Sydney IVF's research would be closely monitored.

"They have been given a license to do therapeutic cloning," Findlay told Reuters, adding the scientists are not licensed to reach the fetal stage.

"They can go to the stage called blastocyst. They must stop at that point," he said. The blastocyst is a very early-stage embryo not yet implanted into the womb.

Findlay said scientists will try and create stem cells from patients who have abnormalities or create stem cell lines which will be compatible with patients which have given the cells.

Initially, any stem cells extracted would be used to test new drugs to fight diseases such as muscular dystrophy and Huntington's disease, and later therapeutic cloning would be used to produce body tissue matched to patients.

The director of Australians for Ethical Stem Cell Research, David van Gend, criticized the issuing of the license, saying new technology meant cloning was no longer necessary.

"We have regulations in Australia such that the abuses of cloning wouldn't happen here, we will not get live birth cloning," he told local radio.

"We won't get cloning right through to the fetal stage in order to use them for organ transplants, but if we teach the world how to clone you can be quite sure it will be used in less rigorous jurisdictions."

Somatic cell nuclear transfer is a technique in which DNA from the nucleus of an unfertilized egg is removed and replaced with the nucleus of an adult cell such as a skin cell.

The technique can be used to create cloned embryos in order to derive embryonic stem cells for therapeutic purposes, but can also be used for reproductive cloning.

There are several types of stem cells. Embryonic stem cells, made from days-old embryos, are considered the most powerful because they can give rise to all the cell types in the body.

Sydney IVF said only eggs that were unusable for IVF because they were immature or had not been fertilized properly, and which donors had given consent for, would be used in the research.

The firm said it will use three different types of cells, embryonic stem cells, cumulus cells attached to the collected eggs, and skin cells, to produce the cloned embryos.

Sydney IVF was the first, in 2004, to extract stem cells from Australian IVF embryos, and has since extracted and grown 10 more colonies of embryonic stem cells this way.

(Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

Monday, September 15, 2008

"Will Rogers of Weapons" or Cross One off the Freedom List

No set of photos of the gun range would be complete without this one...
Originally uploaded by Expiring Mind

Monday, September 15, 2008

Well, as Queen would say: Another one Bites the Dust! I crossed off another item on the "Freedom List" (so coined by a couple of friends to replace the ill-fitting "bucket list" of things I want to do now that I am not mentally dragged down by unattainable goals...) I passed up an opportunity to go to Dallas so I could make sure to go to the range and test out lots of different firearms. I got to shoot a GLOCK (that's how it's trademarked... all caps --for the guys, I'm sure...), a 45, revolvers, a Smith and Wesson 9 mm semi automatic, a couple of different shotguns, and more I can't even remember... I had a blast (so to speak ;) It was 7 hours and the most beautiful day in recent memory. And I have the sunburn to prove it! The group that sponsored the event were really nice people I met through a deputy at my job. They focused on safety and education and I really learned a lot. One of the guys asked what I liked shooting the best. I said I really wasn't sure, since I didn't shoot any of them that I didn't like (and I kind of expected that I would...) He hollered to one of the other guys, "Hey, we got Will Rogers over here! She hasn't met a gun she didn't like."

It got me to thinking... and you know I like to think. I had been at a stand still for years waiting for the means to an end to get to the end, already!! I went back to school, and started getting on with my life. The shooting range was just one of many things--some small (like getting a pedicure), some major (like going back to school) -- that I decided I would do if I weren't "waiting" for my life to begin again. There is something inherent about having your life a little bit "on hold" when you have kids. You have to limit or rearrange some things until you are in a situation that is more conducive to those things. Learning more about guns was something I had always wanted to do "someday" when ex got out of school and made good money at a "real job." Well, you know, I realized "someday" wasn't coming... so I had to adjust my life and start making up for lost time-- about a decade's worth. Now my friends and I are all just debating whether it is a mid-life crisis I'm having or... what it is. Originally I figured it was all the same anyway. i.e. If it looks like a dusk and sounds like a duck... But I like these philosophical debates, so allow me to inspect...

The Medical Dictionary defines it as:

A period of personal emotional turmoil and coping challenges that some people encounter when they reach middle age, accompanied by a desire for change in their lives, brought on by fears and anxieties about growing older.

Psychology Today has interesting takes:

The first bit looks tempting as an explanation, but I really don't have too many fears about getting older per se. Just getting older and never having gotten on with the business of life. The second one has some fairly clear parameters, that I don't think are met. For instance, it is not my life I used to enjoy that I no longer do. More, it never was a great situation, but I felt there was a point to it, so I supported the "agenda" for lack of a better word. No doubt I had fun, loved meeting new people, and participated fully in life. Had a pretty good time navigating the world and loved being at home to raise my kids as well as fit in time for a life of my own. I always had a good spirit, and enjoyed life for the most part, infusing it with my own inimitable, if not crass, sense of humor. ("Who I gotta blow around here to get... (fill in the blank). Remind me to tell you sometime how true that really was in Mississippi... I wouldn't be the person I am today without the the life I have experienced. And I like the person I am today...

So, I guess it was a cool place to be since it was "on the way" to where I wanted to be... But since I'm clearly not going where I originally wanted to be, I need to make a more abrupt change... Thus, I would say this is not a MLC. But, wait, does that mean one may still be coming?! YIKES! I hope not...

Losing it over eggs...

Originally uploaded by Expiring Mind

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Losing it over Eggs...

*Warning* This is really a short *story* lol. If you are looking for a short and peppy blog, move along... this is not the blog you are looking for...

It's Wednesday night; I'm on lunch from working at the school. To the bank to deposit and then on the Wal Mart, since I'd promised Henry cereal he wanted. I get to the checkout behind a couple and their 3 kids. The mom seems stressed and trying to keep her kids "in line." Really, they are fine--just being kids. Their purchase is separated into 3 groups: their regular food, and 2 separate WIC purchases. All the while the father is loading bags into the cart and talking to the mom. The mom is (in my opinion) hypersensitive about their behavior and just wanting to make the transaction smooth--which, for those of us who have ever had to use WIC know, it is not. You have to get just exactly what the voucher lists, in exactly the right ounce measurements, for exactly the right brands (and believe me--it changes from store to store, because you are required to purchase the store brands...) At the store, if another brand is on sale that week, you have to get it. For the longest time, you had to chose which one of you (if you actually have one of those strange two-parent households...) had to get the items for months on end, and that is the person who signed the left side of the vouchers--like a traveler's check--and then signed the right side at the store. You couldn't just choose which person to get it each time based on convenience. And if the manufacturer decides to throw in an additional 10% free, all bets are off... move to another type of cereal because that one is not going to fly under the WIC Radar; wrong number of ounces. Picture the Jedi mind trick: "This is not the cereal you are looking for..." Furthermore, if you want to use more than one voucher, you have to split them into separate orders, and the cashier rings them separately. Anyway, it seems like a lot of detail on this point, but that is the point--details. Imagine going to the store with kids in tow and trying to sort out this type of minutia. You still experience the normal frustrations of parenting, plus the stress of being financially strapped. Add to that the sighs, jeers, and nasty comments from the people waiting in line with their own problems, a sense of instant gratification the culture has encouraged and supported, and a sense of superiority, and you can see how this type of venture could be tense-- especially for people who want to better themselves, and not cause others undue delays.

So, back to our couple... The cashier, nicely, to his credit, says something about there not being eggs listed on the voucher (though they are in the sorted WIC pile.) The dad says to the mom lightheartedly, "Guess you're seeing things, huh?" "I guess so, " she says. They glace quickly at each other, and she indicates for the cashier to leave the eggs. I know that look. I have been a participant in that very exchange. (Makes you feel really good, too...not.) I am immediately transported back in time to the many health department windows--with inexperienced staff who are neither compassionate nor particularly efficient... "Next?" they call out with a voice stripped of feeling for the past several years. Some simply bored with their work, but some petty and spiteful, noting that you are 11 minutes late and the sign says if you are 10, you need to reschedule... Have they never had a blowout diaper just as they were about to leave the house? I remember the long waits--reminding myself that beggars can't be choosers--for the well child check ups required to get the vouchers at all...the time the worker--in her apparently infinite wisdom decided to prick Janey's finger for the hemoglobin count and then expect a crying child to willingly participate in an eye exam. The wait was hours, with "no food allowed." Days filled with some not very proud moments as a parent--one ending in a parking lot of a Kroger with me standing outside the car with a kicking, screaming child her car seat. It was the safest choice at the time...

The cashier finishes their transaction. I turn to the lady and ask, "Can I just buy you those eggs?" She says, "Oh, that's ok." I say, "No, really. You will never know how many times I have been in your spot. I'd like to." She looked at me, and in her eyes I saw her try to *merge* the concepts of the world she navigates with the unconditionally kind act of a stranger. She expressed a simple but sincere "thank you." I asked the cashier to ring up the eggs before my items, and he agreeably handed them to the lady. I felt fine as I was walking out the door, but as I approached the car, I started to tear up. I wiped them away because I couldn't understand why... It really wasn't a big thing at all. I was not sad. And I've never been prone to tears of happiness. Then I just allowed it to come over me. I started sobbing as I closed the car door and turned the key. Thoughts of all the years of poverty and all the ramifications and consequences of each of the decisions we made to "invest" in his school (ostensibly for a greater good...) came rushing into my head. It sounds like I was out of control. But actually, I think the opposite is true. I made the conscious effort to experience the pain. And in terms of grief, with the Kubler-Ross model, I'm at the end: acceptance.

Were the tears in the "acceptance of things I cannot change" category? Was it the acknowledgement of the senseless, pointless, needless suffering we had been through? Suffering is fine. It is necessary. It is unavoidable. It is strengthening. But needless suffering was a different story. I intuitively know I have to forgive. I don't want to. But I need to. Maybe not this minute, or even today. But I will. The mind is willing; the heart will have to follow when it is ready.