MEMORIZING NORMAL … WHAT WAS THAT?

It was another trip to the oncologist. About 3 months ago, I was checking out my fake breasts and found something that hadn’t been there before. Now, before everyone starts to worry, don’t. I felt it in the right breast — like a hard, flat piece of scar tissue. It was located directly below the scar line on that breast. I didn’t find anything like it on the left breast. I did a little check on the internet and discovered that yes, there is a kind of cancer that can feel like hardened scar tissue in an implanted breast. It is rare and usually what you are feel is exactly what it is: a hardened piece of scar tissue.

I thought about it for a few weeks. Finally, I decided to see my oncologist. I’m seven years past my original cancer. Anyone who has had cancer knows you are never “cured” of cancer. You can be in remittance for a lifetime, but it can come back. Anytime, anywhere in your body.

If you come from a cancer-prone family, you could get an entirely new type of cancer in some other organ. If I’ve learned nothing else, it’s that successfully dealing with one disease doesn’t stop you from getting another.

I’ve also learned to not trust how I feel. I always think I’m fine. This is probably a survival mechanism. I will probably die while being convinced I’m suffering a mild and temporary setback or maybe a weather-related allergy.

So, I wasn’t worried about this turn of events. I hadn’t been concerned about what turned out to be bi-lateral cancer. Back then, I was sure it was just a benign cyst. It turned out to be cancer in both breasts.

Essentially, my prior record on guessing what’s wrong with me (I was also sure my heart was fine) has proven 100% wrong, so I went to see Dr. Tahir in May. He agreed it’s probably nothing more than hardened scar tissue. If I want to be absolutely sure, we could run a CT scan.  I’ve gotten so much radiation over the years, I’m hesitant to allow more radiation. Also, the co-pay for a CT scan is $450 which I don’t have. So I declined. He suggested I come back in a couple of months and see if anything had changed.

This was that followup visit.

Waiting at the Dana-Farber

Nothing had changed as far as I could tell … or as far as he could tell. He did encourage me to call him if anything bothers me at all, no matter where or what. I know this is for my benefit because he doesn’t believe I will call unless I think I’m actually about to croak. Still, the urgency of his tone — CALL ME ABOUT ANYTHING ANYWHERE, ANYTIME — made me edgy.

Some of this is probably about money. For want of $450, am I putting my health at risk?

I’m fairly sure (probably, maybe, or at least I think so) that if I thought this was life-or-death, I’d get the scan and figure out how to pay for it later. But, it’s also possible I want to avoid more surgery — even if it is life or death. I’ve had far too much surgery. Far too many hospitalizations. Far too many close calls with death. It’s not that I want to die. I vastly prefer life to the alternative, but I’m tired of being sliced and diced. I’m tired of years of recovery and being told how great I’m going to feel … later. I’m still waiting to feel great.

Meanwhile, all the blood work came back normal. Normal, normal, normal with a slight elevation in liver enzymes,. But that was true last time, so maybe that’s the new normal. Blood pressure normal. Weight up a little. No one except me seems worried about it. The blood levels are a pretty good indicator that nothing major is going wrong. Something would show in all those tests … right?


Sometimes I feel like a potato being slowly grated.

Every year or two, doctors remove a piece of me. Sometimes a little piece — a couple of bad heart valves, for example. Sometimes a couple of breasts. Once, a piece of bone in my leg and they added two implanted breasts, two replacement valves and a pacemaker. I believe that makes me two new pieces above my initial out-of-the-factory model.

Approximately 75% of me works almost as well as the original bits. That’s what my memories tell me, but normal is so distant in mental time, I have to work from memorized tidbits of what “normal” felt like. Of course, the rebuilt me isn’t quite the same. The individual pieces look okay, though — if you don’t look too closely. And I keep my clothing on.

STRUCTURE – THE NEW DOOR

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Structure


The door was rotting and needed to be replaced. One week ago today, my son and his friend Dave, got the job done. It was a big job. Heavy door to remove, heavier door to replace. It’s not quite finished — still needs painting on all sides, but we will get to it as soon as we can. Meanwhile, this is structure!

The old door

THE NEW DOOR

I participate in WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge 2017

BLACKSTONE GORGE – PHOTOGRAPHS BY GARRY AND MARILYN ARMSTRONG

Photo: Garry Armstrong
Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

It’s nice to find a new place to shoot. Blackstone Gorge isn’t far away, but it’s a bit strange to locate. One of the many parks that is part of the Blackstone Valley Historic Corridor, it’s off Route 122, but down a small dirt road marked “private.” This probably means that Massachusetts and the town of Blackstone are not taking responsibility for its maintenance.

Photo: Marilyn Armstrong
Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

You could tell pretty quickly the road belongs to no one. Unpaved. Not even level gravel, but plain old-fashioned dirt. It’s full of ruts too, yet it leads to a lovely finished park with one of the river’s larger dams. There’s a modest parking lot with stone benches and walking trails. But you have to find it first.

Photo: Garry Armstrong
Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

We found it. Eventually.

Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

Now that we have found it, I’m pretty sure we can find it again, so it will join the list of places we shoot regularly. When the leaves changes, this little area will glow. A couple of weeks from now, the world will look entirely different.

Photo: Garry Armstrong
Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

ENAMORED AIN’T JUST LOVE

Enamored

to fill or inflame with love (usually used in the passive and followed by of or sometimes with): to be enamored of a certain lady; a brilliant woman with whom he became enamored. 2. to charm or captivate.


If I were talking about a person — a real, live one and not a screen-idol or a character in a book — I would never use “enamored” to describe the relationship. To me, enamored means “fascinated” or maybe “entranced” by something. Not necessarily someone, either.

I can easily be enamored by things, like a camera, a  lens, a fast car. Even by something I use in the kitchen and occasionally, by food preparation itself.

I can become enamored by a location. A river, a dam. The pond where the swans live or how the mist lays heavy on the beach as the sun rises. When I had a sports car (oh, too briefly!), I was totally smitten by its ability to accelerate from zero to whoopee in nanoseconds. It actually made my heart pound when it took off, almost in flight.

Of what am I currently enamored?

My new door, unpainted though it remains — so far. We had a friend in town all last week, and doctor appointments all this week. I’m just hoping the rain holds off for a while. I’m also enamored of the 3-inch latex topper I bought for our bed that takes our old mattress and makes it feel brand new.

And I’m most particularly enamored by the light of the sun as it changes from the dark yellow of August, to the amber of September and through November.

I am always enamored of Autumn!

ALMOST SEPTEMBER – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Photo: Garry Armstrong

The calendar is about to change. Again. Just a few months for this year. A few brief weeks of tee-shirt, shorts, and boat shoe weather. Walter Houston is singing in my head. Raspy and bittersweet.

It’s the beginning of baseball’s stretch drive. Our Boston Red Sox are in the mix for the post season. It’s high anxiety time if you’re a die-hard fan. Will the hitters cool off? Will the starters maintain their newly discovered success? Will the bull pen purge those relievers who are serial arsonists?

Pro football is also back. If you belong to Patriots’ Nation, you wonder how it will go this year, with Brady a year older. Time will have its way, even with the best of them.

Facebook is full of posts and pictures from parents crying as they send their kids off to school for the first time. There are no posts for drop-outs. We offer requiems for our fading summer flowers. It’s difficult to watch them as they slowly die.

The late night talk shows are packed with “stars” promoting their new series which sound like old series. I particularly object to reboots of old shows that weren’t particularly good back in their first run.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Political analysts are dizzy, trying to explain Orange Head’s bizarre and unprecedented presidency. If you want to really call it that.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Labor Day weekend will offer a brief time out for memories about summers past when we were younger and our world a bit more innocent. Think “Moon Glow” and “The Theme from Picnic.”  I’m William Holden dancing with Kim Novak. Snapshot memories of faded love affairs.

This is a brief respite.

Walter Houston is now singing louder in my head about those once lazy days dwindling down to hurricanes, raging fires, floods, mass shootings and Orange Head tirades blurring our collective sanity.

September Song.

These precious days I’ll spend with you…….

BLUE, BROWN, BLACK, BRICK – CEE’S FUN FOTO CHALLENGE

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Colors that start with “B”

Please note: In their continuing attempts to make it impossible for us to do simple things SIMPLY, WordPress has now made it impossible to put two pictures in a row without a large gap. So if you are trying to space your post as you always have, best of luck. Hasn’t worked out well for me.


THE BIZARRE TRIP TO EUROPE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

When I was in high school, my parents didn’t travel. A good friend, nick named ‘Cookie’, was going to Europe for three weeks over the summer with her family. She invited me to join them. I was 15 and thrilled.

The first week we were going to stay on our own in Surrey, England, outside of London, with friends of Cookie’s family. Then we would travel with parents to London, Paris, Geneva, Zurich and Vienna.

Me and the family in Surrey, England

As soon as we arrived in Surrey, Cookie pulled the rug out from under me. She told me she was jealous of me and hated me. She said she planned to make the trip as miserable for me as possible. This was like a kick in the gut to me. Where did this come from? And what was I supposed to do now, alone in a foreign country with a declared ‘enemy’?

Cookie tried to ingratiate herself with the family and exclude me. It didn’t work. The two kids, a son around 18 and a daughter around 21, liked me better and complained to me about Cookie. But I still felt the hostility and the tension. It was very uncomfortable and scary.

When we were traveling alone with her parents, Cookie tried to turn them against me. She tried to sabotage me at every turn. Again, it didn’t work. Her parents just got annoyed with her. She kept on trying though.

Me on the trip in Paris

I couldn’t even write home about my situation because I always shared a room with Cookie and she hovered over me. My letters home are all chatty and upbeat except for a few hurriedly sneaked sentences at the end of each letter. The postscripts were short cries of anguish and pleas for help.

I had never been exposed to this degree of negativity, competitiveness, and outright hostility. It was an unpleasant and weird and particularly difficult for a 15-year old. I must have been more mature than I realized to have survived but even enjoyed some of the trip. We saw beautiful places and did  cool things. I just tried to ignore Cookie as much as possible.

To add insult to injury, we came home on the ocean liner, Queen Mary. There were no activities for kids and it was mind-numbingly boring. On top of that, and having to deal with Cookie 24/7, the food was became inedible. They ruined eggs for breakfast! We lived off candy from the vending machines.

Photo I took in Geneva, Switzerland

I’m grateful this trip didn’t turn me against traveling. In fact, it whetted my appetite. If I enjoyed traveling under these circumstances, imagine what it would be like with a friend as my traveling companion!