Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I'll See You In September

(The following post was entered in a 9-11 writing challenge. For more information about the challenge, please visit http://cathysplacetoblog.blogspot.com/ --If I had time, I'd figure out how to link that the right way--forgive me! Speaking of time, I'm not sure if I'll have any to write or post a blog in the coming week, and from the experience of having the same surgery exactly twenty years ago--almost to the day--I'm not sure how long it'll be until I can sit at my computer for the extended amount of time that it takes me to write my stories! So this post should tide me over for a while. Please do not feel the need to vote for me--I enter these contests merely to challenge myself. Thank you all again for your prayers and good wishes.)

September 11, 2001 will be ingrained in everyone’s memory forever—people throughout the world felt its effects and sensed the horror of this tragic event. However, I doubt that any two people were personally affected the same way, even if their tales are amazingly similar. Every soul carries the burden of 9/11 in a different manner, because as humans, we are all so amazingly different.

The weather was beautiful on that day. It was one of those crisp, wonderful, late-summer days that made a person so thankful to be alive. However, here on Long Island, we have many days like that in September. For the last six years, I have caught myself saying, “The weather was just like this on 9/11.” Who would’ve thought that something as simple as a dry, cloudless day would bring up memories of that tragedy?

I am reminded every day of the heartbreak of several neighbors as I drive past their houses; homes that are now vacant of husbands and fathers who were fallen heroes or sitting ducks at Cantor Fitzgerald. Where there used to be a wonderful skyline view of Manhattan on our drive to the beach, the empty space to the left of the Empire State building renders the picture incomplete. There has not been one occasion that I have crossed over a bridge or under a tunnel that I have not though about terrorism; the signs on the toll booths stating, “If you see something, say something” just confirm my fears even more. For six years, I have felt that my area is nothing more than a giant bull’s eye. No matter how I try to go about my daily business, something as insignificant as a plane flying too low overhead will cause my mind to revert back to the events of 9/11.

In my quest to eliminate my anxieties and not walk around in a constant state of fear, I realized that I needed to try to educate myself on the different cultures involved in that fateful day. Although it is hard for most of us to refrain from herding all members of a certain religion or culture into the same mental corral, I have tried to understand that all people are different, no matter where they come from or what they call themselves. It is extremely hard to live a peaceful life in my area if one is prejudiced in any way; this island is filled with people from every different race, creed, and culture you can imagine. It is unfair to blame all Muslims for the radicals who were involved and continue to be involved in their quest to destroy our country, just as I would be offended as a Christian to be associated with radical Christians who kill and maim other humans when they bomb abortion clinics. I know there are many, many people who disagree with me. But the reality is we only see what’s shown to us on television, or what we read in the newspapers. Unless we seek to educate ourselves, many of us will continue to live with constant feelings of hatred and anger, perhaps even going so far as to hurt or kill someone who doesn’t deserve it. I am not “romanticizing the enemy”—I know the enemy exists. I am merely saying that we are not hearing the voices of the thousands of Middle Eastern people who want peace just as much as we do. We’re only hearing about the ones who don’t.

I do still fear further terrorism; no matter how I can empathize with innocent people, the reality is that the radicals are still on their mission to bring us to an end. I worry about how I will get my family off the island in the event that a bridge or a tunnel is destroyed. I worry about whether or not I should store water and canned goods in my basement. I worry that my youngest will not finish high school in time for us to finally move off of this island before some other tragedy happens. The damage has already been done to our kids. They have already witnessed their friends losing parents in the towers. They have grown up in a time where they have known nothing else but the real and palpable threat of terrorism. Its existence is ingrained in them; they will never have an age of innocence, and the sadness is that they don’t even realize it’s missing.

I long for a simpler time, a time that was a reality in my life. A time before I had to imagine escape routes and hiding places. I realize a time like that does not exist anymore. The best I can do is put my fears into God’s hands, and live each day to the fullest.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

"Reproductive Reflections", or "An Ode to my Organs"

(Male readers, you are being forewarned…some very graphic, intimate female topics will be disclosed in this post…view at your own discretion…)

After volleying back and forth between the need for my surgery and my doctor’s own impending hernia operation, we finally settled on September 6th to be the day that I start a life of freedom from the bondage of my menstrual cycle and leave behind the years of blood-soaked car seats, second-trimester sized bloating, and my stock in Playtex, Kotex, Stay-Free, and Always. I should feel liberated in some way, shouldn’t I?

Truth be told, I am very melancholy over this whole experience. Although my menses has sometimes been very wicked to me throughout the 33 years of our oppressive relationship, my female organs have been the vessels of miracles, from egg to human being. They’ve worked hard for me, perhaps too hard, and are now suffering as a result. They are being strangled and leeched upon by foreign objects, and I feel their painful cries for help—literally. As with an old dog who is full of tumors and whose every step is achingly slow, I am put in the position of sending my organs to their eternal rest—and it seems strange, almost immoral in a way. I feel as if I should have my doctor put them aside and let me see them to give them one last good-bye—and to say, “thank you for all you’ve done.” To bless them before they’re sent off to their disposal, a process that I have no knowledge of and shudder to think about.

If you think I have lost my mind, join the club. When I shared this desire with my 17-year old daughter, she told me I was weird and that she wishes she could never have her period again (I told her, “God forbid.”). My husband had no words—just a stare and a very wide mouth. Well, maybe it isn’t the “norm.” Perhaps I can say my farewells in my own silent, retrospective way before I go into surgery. I’m sure this would make everyone else more comfortable with my mental state; although I’m sure that my doctor has heard stranger requests than that.

I realized the other day (during my period, of course) that this would be the last time I would ever have to deal with cramps, bullet-shaped cotton products, and multiple frustrated visits to the bathroom at work. Was I sad? Well, yes, in a way. Although we haven’t always been the closest of companions, this “friend” has visited me monthly for most of my life. To me, it represents youth and vitality, femininity and fertility. If that factor is removed out of my life’s equation, I am left to feel—in a word—old. Or am I?

In the most preferred circumstances concerning my surgery, one ovary will be left in my body. The reason for this is so I don’t experience “instant menopause”, and become a victim of osteoporosis before I’m fifty. This also means that I will still be waging my monthly war against that all-time favorite adversary of everyone’s—female and male—PMS. In some way, that has to keep me feeling young. However, the bout of PMS I just experienced earlier this month was so severe, I ended up cutting off all of my hair. Nine inches of hair—nine. For some reason, I thought this would look “cute.” It would be easier; no more hour-long hair drying and straightening sessions. But the person staring back at me in the mirror isn’t “sassy” and “sexy”—she just seems old. It has gotten good response from those whose opinions I value the most—my husband and relatives, my good friends—but I know some acquaintances are wondering, “Why?” My cousin actually came right out and asked me. The truth is I don’t know why. Maybe I did it because I always wanted to feel what it was like to have hair this short. Maybe I did it because I thought it would be easier. Or maybe I did it just to feel alive. To take a wild chance, to know that I could be brave. In reality, I may never know. All I am certain of at this point is that I look much, much better with hair than without.

The “Eleven Year Glitch” factor seems to be coming into play again. Here I am, 44 years of age, and I’m once again experiencing a life-changing event in an eleventh year of my life. Strange, isn’t it? Perhaps this time, the change really will be for the better. I spent years with severe fatigue, bloating, and pain—I’m now hoping to come out of this feeling refreshed and renewed, and ready to take on the world. I know the void inside of me will only be making room for more hope, more energy, and most of all, more spirit. My life has only just begun.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Thank You

I have not been able to think straight for five days. No matter what I was involved in at the moment, no matter how cheerful I might have been--that sneaky, little, black cloud of despair would start drizzling on me until I found myself in the middle of a downpour of hopelessness, resignation, and defeat. If I hadn't said it before, I was really, really scared. Twenty-two years ago, my mom succumed to ovarian cancer--and now I might be facing the same fate as her, only fifteen years earlier than when she received her diagnosis.

The internet is no help. I tried in vain to stay away from any websites that dealt with the downside of ovarian cancer, but did find myself on one about survivors. It was actually an advertisement for Cancer Centers of America. One woman had unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms for months before an acquaintance filled her in on the silent symptoms of ovarian cancer. Her doctor suggested a CA-125 test, which she received promptly. Her results revealed a number of around 1,125. When she asked him what was considered normal, he stated "Zero to 35." Needless to say, she was startled, and very, very frightened.

She was alright because of Cancer Centers of America, according to her videotaped message--which quite honestly, seemed a little contrived to me. My doctor had already told me the "normal" range, but that if the results came out around 300, he would operate immediately. The numbers obsessed my every thought this weekend. What if it was 50? What if it was 100? What's a "normal" tumor marker number for a fibroid (which can cause the numbers to be high)? I found myself planning my demise, unable to be certain if I was going to be up for the fight of my life. Oh well, I thought, my kids know I love them. They'll be affected, but they'll be alright--they have so many people around them who would give them support and who would love them. But God, all I could think of was, "...But not as much as I do." I want to be around to see my great-grandchildren.

Then I remembered...my God is bigger than my problems. He's certainly bigger than some cancer cells. So I gave my troubles up to him, gave a request for my desired outcome, and then acknowledged that it ultimately would be his will, not mine, that would prevail. I chose to believe that he wanted the best for me, like any parent would for their child. Every time I started to feel gloomy, I repeated these thoughts, or prayers, in my head. I also took comfort in knowing that my family, friends, and blogging buddies were praying for me...the support was unbelievable.

I called the doctor's office early this morning looking for my lab results. They said that they were not in the morning batch, and that I should call back at noon to give them a chance to come in the afternoon batch. I called back at 11:58am, and got the answering machine: "Your call is important to us...." Yeah, yeah. Blah, blah.

"...Listen, I know no one wants to call back the person waiting for CA-125 results, but the 'not knowing' is absolutely killing me. I can't think of anything else, and I'd appreciate it if someone could just let me know if you've even gotten the results back yet. Thank you so much."

Ten minutes went by; no phone call. Two hours went by; no phone call. I finally called back at 5:00, and the receptionist told me that the lab girls were gone for the day. "But I left a message...a really desperate message! Now I'm worried! Maybe they didn't call back because it's really bad!!" The receptionist, hearing my concern and fear and understanding it, calmly asked which doctor I saw, and then put me on hold. When she came back, she told me that they would call me back as soon as the doctor was done with his patients. Wow. Was that supposed to be reassuring?

I started to cook to take my mind off of everything. At about 6:30pm, my cell phone rang. The caller ID said it was my doctor's office. It was the point of no return...my future, my destiny in this life, was residing on the other end of that phone line. I picked up the phone and meekly said "Hello."

"Hi, Lisa? This is Dr. B's office! I'm just calling to tell you that your test results were in the normal range!"

"...My test results?? For the CA-125??"

"Yes, they're in the normal range!"

"...They are?? Are you sure??"

(laughing) "Yes, it's right in front of me."

"...Um...do you have a number?"

"Yes...it was a five."

"...A FIVE?!? Are you sure?!? The CA-125 test?!?"

(laughing again) "Yes, it was a five. Now you can enjoy the rest of your day!"

I broke down in tears, thanked her, hung up, and dropped to my knees. I immediately thanked God, and continued to do so over and over again until my son walked in and asked if I was feeling alright.

So this goes out to you, my dear, sweet, wonderful, blogging buddies....THANK YOU. Thank you for your support, your encouragement, and most important, your blessings and prayers. Someone up there heard you, and I will be forever grateful for your thoughtfulness.

...You'll never know how much. God bless each and every one of you.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

What Do We Deserve?

I would like to think that a lot of us wish well for our fellow human beings. That our general instinct would incline us to feel happiness when someone succeeds at something that they worked hard for and stayed honest about. That we would genuinely wish our fellow man good luck as they set off on a new venture that they’ve dreamed of for a lifetime. That we would be proud of a child who just got a dream job at the ripe, old age of 20.

The last scenario describes a situation involving my stepson. Let me state for the record: he is a gem. He has never given me or my husband an ounce of trouble. He’s responsible, respectful, and he has big dreams for his future. Any parent would be proud.

And proud we are. We do wish him the best and we do wish him success. However, something that he did—and moreover, something that he said—made me feel…how can I say it? Inadequate. Incompetent. Deficient, ineffective, imperfect—any one of these lacking words would fit. Sprinkle a small amount of resentment in for good measure. What was it that caused my soul to deflate just a little? He went out and bought himself a brand-new car. A nice car. And I’m proud…I really am. But he didn’t even start his new job yet…he hasn’t even started his training. I asked him if he was sure that he could handle the payments. He assured me that he worked it all out, and he should have absolutely no problem. And then he came up with a philosophy that is generally age-appropriate for him, but worrisome all the less: He said that he deserved it.

Now, in my lifetime, I have seen some pathetic, nasty people make gains and strides over others more “deserving” in areas of business, home and car purchases. On the other side of the coin, I have seen honest, hard-working individuals—most of whom would be considered to be people who “deserved” the best—end up with family issues, health concerns, and failed businesses. When my son said that he “deserved” to have that car, I immediately thought of myself and his father: two hard-working, sacrificing individuals ourselves who have tried and succeeded to blend a family and create a loving household. Yet we are driving second-hand cars. As a matter of fact, we are living in a house that’s many square feet too small. We struggle financially to stay afloat and to keep a roof over our kids’ heads. Don’t we “deserve” something nice? Is my son being arrogant, or is he merely just trying to justify why he made such a large purchase before he even knew if he was going to like his new job? Or is this the sad state of today’s youth: they honestly believe that they only “deserve” the best of everything, just for merely existing?

Quite honestly, he was working very hard at a company that his family members owned prior to attaining this new job. He learned the business, put his whole heart into it, and made the company a lot of money. However, all of his efforts weren’t really compensated. As a matter of fact, there were times he may have felt taken advantage of just because he was part of the family. So in the grand scheme of things—or at least in his own mind—he felt that he had really devoted himself to his work in the last two years, and if his higher-ups weren’t going to acknowledge him, he at least could acknowledge himself. He made the break from the family and set it in stone by buying the car—now he has to make this new job work. And he will, because that's the kind of kid he is.

Today I went to discuss surgery for an ovarian cyst with my doctor, a wonderful soul who I know for many, many years. As I sat down in his office and we began our discussion, the seriousness of my condition was becoming apparent. What I merely thought was a menstrual cyst gone wild seemed to be a major cause of concern for my doctor. He stated that he wanted an oncologist in the operating room with him and that after they removed my ovary (my ovary?), they would immediately biopsy it to see if there was any cancer (wait…you mean ovarian cancer?). If it was benign, everything was all good and they’d close me up. If not, they would have to remove both ovaries, fallopian tubes, my uterus, my cervix, peritoneal tissue, lymph nodes, and something called an omentum that I didn’t even know existed. And that would be that.

…Is this what I “deserve”? Where is my new car? Heck, where is my 5,000 square foot house in the mountains, full of servants to wait on me hand and foot??

Amazingly, I don’t feel resentful. I feel challenged. And I do know I “deserve” better…but maybe the art of going through a rough time with grace and strength and coming out on top makes all the physical, “deserved” things more appreciated.

…Or maybe we come to realize that they just don’t really matter at all.