EIGHT YEARS AND STILL IN REMISSION (YAY) – Marilyn Armstrong

Eight years ago today I had a bilateral mastectomy for cancer. I had malignant tumors in both breasts. Two different kinds of cancer. Which, I was told, is extremely rare. One in a million.

I’m always that one in a million.

The much better news was that both tumors were small and non-aggressive, as cancer goes. I also had the wits to find the best cancer doctor in Boston and the only plastic surgeon who was sure she could manage to create breasts for me. I’d had five (six?) previous abdominal surgeries, so there wasn’t any undamaged skin for her to work with … so she literally salvaged the skin from my breasts and reused it over the implants.

Recently – Photo: Garry Armstrong

I had four surgeons working on me at the same time because there were two breasts to be removed, followed by two “new ones” to be implanted. I was a total mess when I came out of surgery … but I had breasts. I didn’t have to go through the horrible stage where suddenly, you’re a woman with no breasts. I remember how much my mother hated losing first one, then the other breast. How they made her feel “unwomanly.”

It’s a surgery that changes you.

Mind you I had been told conclusively by at least three previous plastic surgeons that it was impossible. It couldn’t be done. That was when a friend (a doctor type friend) stepped in and introduced me to the good surgeons. The head honcho and her lead plastic surgeon. So I got them and their top assistants because they didn’t want to extend the surgery any longer than necessary and this way, they could work on both sides of me at the same time.

And that’s what they did.

That surgery changed me in a lot of ways I haven’t even begun to address despite the eight years that have passed. The heart surgery — a mere three years later — didn’t change me as much as losing both breasts.

It’s hard to explain how important breasts are to a woman. It doesn’t make any logical sense. Unless you are nursing — and I was way past the nursing phase of my life — they are secondary sexual characteristics. Yet from early on, one’s breasts define femininity. Size, shape, all of that stuff. The fake ones look more or less normal under clothing … but they don’t feel real.

Also, I have no nipples. I could have gotten pretend nipples, but it would have involved more surgery and more weeks of recovery. I realized fake nipples weren’t going to make me feel more female. They would feel as fake as the implanted breasts.

Make no mistake: I’m glad to have the fake breasts. I can look in the mirror and see a woman even though she has significant replacement parts.

I have to wonder about women who have breast surgery for “cosmetic” purposes. This is serious surgery. To do it voluntarily?

So, eight years later, I’m alive. My body changed enormously after that surgery. I went from being extremely thin to quite plump, probably because of the drugs they kept giving me to suppress production of estrogen. The drugs made me terribly sick and eventually, the oncologist suggested I stop taking them, that they were making me miserable and I had no quality of life left. I asked what percentage of difference not taking the drugs would make … and he said “less than 10%.”

I stopped taking them.

I still wonder if those drugs had something to do with how my heart disintegrated immediately thereafter. I can’t prove it, but still … those were some powerful drugs.

Climb every mountain – Photo: Ben Taylor

Meanwhile, it is eight years and there’s no sign of anything (new) wrong. It doesn’t mean I can’t get cancer somewhere else, mind you. It just takes one random floating cell to take root somewhere, but so far, so good.

Where cancer is concerned, that’s as good as any of us can ever say. You are never cured … just remitted. For now.

HEARING, IMPLANTS — AND WHAT’S THAT SOUND? – Marilyn Armstrong

A couple of days ago, Garry had his one-month follow-up for his cochlear implant.

It’s hard to believe it’s just one month since the gear went on his head for the first time and it’s also hard to believe how much change there has been in his ability to hear in just one month.

I wish I had numbers of the actual percentage of change for each type of sound. Some of them were really shockingly good. My favorite was his ability to understand a complete phrase — something with context rather than a single word without context which went from zero — nothing — to 76%. That was the gigantic jump. It gave me goosebumps.

Individual words — no context — was closer to 50% (from zero). The hard one — the one which is always going to be a problem — was hearing what someone said when there is background noise, the kind you hear in a restaurant where a lot of people are talking. That was up to 20% from zero. I’m not sure if that will ever “top the charts” since as we get older — and by this I mean a collective “we” — our ability to hear one voice above many other sounds will diminish.

I won’t go to a restaurant where they constantly play music. I never liked it even when I was younger because it made conversation difficult. Since “going out to dinner” is one of the most common ways people get to know each other, why make it so much harder to hear the other person speaking? And this was when I had normal (if not slightly better than normal) hearing.

These days, I don’t hear as well as I did a few years back. I sometimes miss the beep from kitchen timers, and when the three dogs are barking, I can’t hear anything. I dislike noisy restaurants and live music when I’m out to eat will make me run from the room with my hands over my ears.

I suspect the music (especially loud music) played in restaurants is more to keep the staff moving than for the benefit of customers. I’m here to point out that it drives customers away.

I have a weird feeling that eventually, Garry with all his electronic gear in place will hear better than me.

Won’t that be an interesting turn of events!

Meanwhile, Garry can — in a quiet room — have a pretty normal conversation with a small group of people. How he will do at a party or in a large group? Or anyplace with nonstop background noise and music? Probably not so well. Otherwise, though, he can hear. The rain on the roof. The rush of a waterfall in the distance. The buzz of the washer and dryer in the basement and he can tell the difference between the washer (loud) and the dryer (soft).

He can hear the lyrics to songs assuming the lyrics are audible. He can watch TV with regular sound, not headphones — and is discovering that just because you are paid a lot to be a sportscaster doesn’t mean you don’t mumble.

It’s good news all the way around. He is doing as well as expected in most areas and better than most in several. Listening is more like work for Garry than for me. He has to try harder to catch the sounds, but the more he works at it, the better he gets.

But please, don’t everybody talk at once!

IS THE U.S. CAPABLE OF BEING A LEGITIMATE NATION? – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Heart


Yesterday was some kind of turning point for me. My heart broke. Because the same shit that I went through as a young woman is still happening and now we are going to sit one of these shitbags on the Supreme Court.

Shame on us, shame on our political system and its keepers.

I’ll vote. I’ll write. But I think I’m losing hope, heart and any kind of faith that we are capable of running a nation.

TEENAGE SEXUAL ASSAULT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Judge Brett Kavanaugh has been nominated to the Supreme Court and has been accused of attempted rape as a seventeen year old. This has precipitated a national debate over acceptable teenage behavior.

Bett Kavanaugh and Donald Trump

Kavanaugh’s enablers have several, typical defenses for him. He was a hormone filled boy and boys will be boys – so he’s not responsible for his behavior. He was a teenager and we all know they have no judgment and can’t be held responsible for what they do. Or the favorite – he was blind drunk so of course, he can’t be responsible for his behavior.

Excessive alcohol at teenage parties

What are we telling our teenagers? We tell the boys “you have a free pass until legal adulthood.” To the girls, we say “avoid teenage boys unless you want to be raped and have no recourse, legal, or social protection.”

Aren’t we supposed to be training teenagers to be responsible adults? I understand their brains are not fully developed, their impulses are not under full control. Their judgment is still a work in progress.

Regardless, we still should be teaching them and holding them to society’s standards, like decency and respect for others. They may fail to achieve these standards all the time, but the standards still have to be there, as goals to strive for.

We have generations of twenty-somethings still living with parents, not making a living wage, and socially isolated. Maybe that’s, in part, because we don’t ask them to grow up while they are teenagers. Maybe they absorb the message that they’re not responsible for their behavior, their achievements, or their lives. When that message is internalized, it’s hard to flick a switch and suddenly have kids who are motivated, moral, and goal-oriented adults.

This is a bigger problem than sexual misconduct in teenage boys. In addition to absolving boys of responsibility for egregious and unacceptable behavior, it teaches them toxic attitudes to women that often follow them throughout their lives. They are taught to dehumanize and disrespect women.

If a boy wants sex, he can just do what Trump does – grab them by the pussy! If she doesn’t kick him in the nuts, he can do what he wants with her body. If she complains afterward, he can just say she asked for it, she wanted it, or she’s lying and it never happened. Take your pick.

Boys are seeing that this bullshit works. Women who say “NO” are either not being heard, or not being believed. Girls are seeing they are powerless – victims of a male-oriented sexual culture. These are not the attitudes we want in our young adults.

Why should we tolerate them in our teenagers?

High school is difficult enough for girls without having to worry about being a victim of sexual assault. The odds are too many high school girls will experience some form of sexual harassment. Most girls will never report it because they know they will be attacked and pilloried if they do.

So we are fostering a sense of entitlement in boys and an acceptance of victimhood and powerlessness in girls. These are really bad lessons to be teaching our kids. We are also creating a nationwide “us-against-them” situation between men and women.

How we handle high school sexual misconduct can have huge ramifications throughout our culture. Maybe this spotlight on the issue can give us a chance to recalibrate our attitudes. Maybe it will motivate us to train our teenagers to become responsible adults and citizens.

DOOMED – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt: ATM Germs


We are doomed.

Yesterday — or was it the day before? — we got our super flu shots. These are hyped up uber-potent shots they give to us older folks because we are more likely to get sick than younger people. Also, we are more likely to die from the flu because we have other issues — asthma, blood pressure, and heart problems. Sinus problems. Stomach problems. Fibromyalgia. MS. Cancer.

In fact, I don’t know why we don’t just die and give the world a break. Sheesh.

Discovering that in addition to the usual distributors of disease — other people, especially very young people — we can now worry about everything we touch including the ATM machine.

Don’t forget your flu shot …

Really? As if the handles on the shopping cart and whatever my granddaughter has on her clothing isn’t bad enough, now I have to stress over ATM machines? Not that I actually use the ATM machine. I won’t make a deposit without going to an actual person in the bank. I want a paper receipt.

Call me crazy, but once, a long time ago in a bank since absorbed by some larger bank — probably by now it’s all Bank of America — they lost a deposit I put through in an envelope that included an official deposit slip.

It got straightened out but left me with a firm belief for any deposit made by check or cash I want a written, signed piece of paper from a person.

We are doomed. No matter how hard we try, something will get us.

We don’t go out much. When we do, we usually get sick. It’s like the slow cars that pull out in front of us while we are driving. I’m sure these cars are told when to appear by drones from the super-slow drivers’ department. Meanwhile, somewhere in the air, there’s a germ-laden drone.


“Look! It’s the Armstrongs! Prepare to disperse germs!”

Mostly, Garry and I have been exhausted. All the time. For me, this typically means fibromyalgia. Garry had surgery in July and I have a feeling that this might have triggered the same thing for him. Women are more typically fibromyalgia victims, but men are not excluded.

Then again, maybe we aren’t sick at all. Maybe we just aren’t getting enough sleep. The weather has been like hot soup with interludes of rain.  Duke is shedding like a small furry hurricane. Our sinuses and eyes don’t like the ragweed and Garry is getting used to carrying around a lot of electronics inside his head.

So maybe it’s all allergies and getting even older.

When we went for our flu shots, they always ask if you think you might be sick. At our age, that’s not an easy question to answer. Maybe we are fine or as fine as we ever are. But, maybe we aren’t fine.

Am I exhausted from all the running around to doctors and hospitals or because I’m coming down with something? Am I recovering from the major house cleaning last week? Or am I worn out because our dogs are faster, friskier, and more impassioned about balls that squeak than I could ever be?

Don’t you wish you could get that enthusiastic about a big green tennis ball that squeaks? Don’t you wish you could bite something hard enough to make it squeak?

FRAGILE HANDS – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Fragile


UPDATE!

I was going to try and write, but with the brace, I can’t. I keep trying but get more wrong keys than right. Sorry! Crepuscule will have to wait.

Note: Solved the problem. Removed the brace. The hand really HURTS.


Funny how this works. Just yesterday I was offering advice on pain in hands and wrists from essentially overusing of these critical muscles and nerve bundles.

Our hands are what make it possible to do the small, precise work involved in most of the activities we pursue. Music, typing, knitting, sewing, cooking, pottery. Unlike the long muscles in our legs and arms and even our hearts, our hands (and feet) consider of hundreds of very small, intricately connected muscles that are absolutely essential to complete the ordinary tasks of life.

Typing this, for example.

Last night, my right hand and wrist went into OH MY GOD THAT REALLY HURTS mode. This is not the first time by any means. I’ve been pounding piano keys, typewriters and computers since I was a very small (like four years old) child. I painted, drew. I chop food and I carved wood. I quite literally don’t know what I would do without my hands.

I’ve also been working on a computer since the early 1980s. Constantly. For work and for play. Until very recently, I still had my piano, but I could only play it for maybe five minutes until the pain was so intense I had to stop. I finally sold my piano because it was just sitting there getting dusty. I had to admit my days of playing were finished.

You notice how rarely you see people my age who are concert (classical) pianists? This is because we all develop arthritis in our hands. My piano teacher had it and her older sister could no longer play. Arthur Rubenstein played anyway, but eventually, the pain got to be too much.

When I sold the piano, it was an admission my days of making music were over. For good. Add that to the endless hours on a computer keyboard and my hands are a mess. I have pretty extensive arthritis in both hands and carpal tunnel issues in both wrists. In theory, I could the carpal tunnel fixed, but I’m not really up for surgery these days. Also, that wouldn’t take care of arthritis which is the bigger problem.

Usually, one hand hurts more than the other, for no special reason. Whichever hurts more gets the ice. When I was trying to practice the piano, I had ten minutes of practice followed by half an hour of icing on both hands.

I was like a pitcher who doesn’t want to give up baseball, but my curveball isn’t cutting it and the fastball will never happen again.

Garry asked me what he could do for me.

I said nothing, but there was something I could do for myself. I turned off the computer and put it on the shelf. That’s what I can do. I can give my hands some time off and with a little luck, after a few days or a week, they will be better.

I’ll try to write when I can, but I’m not going to comment on everything and I can’t write a lot. I shouldn’t be doing this, but I don’t know what else to do. Not writing seems too weird.

Take care of your hands. They are fragile. If you push them too hard, they won’t work. No kidding.

Hands are fragile, even if you aren’t old!

ONCE UPON A TIME … – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Erratic

Once upon a time, I was a total wacko. That is not an exaggeration. In my late teens, I was nuts. Big time.

Fortunately, by the time I hit my twenties, I had settled a lot of my hash. If I wasn’t exactly “normal,” I was no longer completely loony tunes. As the years have rolled on, I have become more “normal” and less crazy until these days, I’m about as normal as I will ever be. So far, so good which is really the story of my life.

I am not particularly erratic. I am, if anything, a bit inclined towards doing being extra careful. I write with great courage, but I walk with utmost care.

I don’t know if this is how life goes for others who started out pretty wild and weird. I have gone through periods of serious depression and with some good psychiatric talk therapy, found ways to climb out of them. I also learned to control a lot of the mind muck that used to turn me into a mental tar pit.

One shrink pointed out to me that depression wasn’t just a feeling. It was a reaction to life, that it could become habitual. You are depressed because you are always depressed and that is how you see yourself, understand yourself.

And from that point, because he hit a nerve with that observation, I began to be happier. I stopped looking for the dark places and started hearing joyful music.

It probably helped that I was madly in love with Garry.

No, you can’t have him. He’s mine.