Saturday, August 16, 2014

Chocolate and Vanilla

I used to call these Sweet Babies my chocolate & vanilla ice-cream cones. They are brothers in blood and love, sons of my body and my heart. They grew up in the same house for most of their lives. yet they were treated differently by others simply because one is "chocolate" and one is "vanilla".  As they grew up it became apparent that one was automatically treated with respect and openness, and the other, with suspicion and wariness. Yet they both have tattoos, and other marks of their generation; and they are both charming and bright.

My daughter, whom I met when she was 13, is also blonde and beautiful.  She and her husband are lucky enough to be burdened with many of  the "first world problems" working parents of three beautiful children often are.  Lack of time.  Finding babysitters.  Lack of money.  Stuff like that. 

We think of this country as "first world", but right now there are places, neighborhoods, right down the street from us, that are more dangerous than some of the places we call "third world".  It's embarrassing, frankly, to wonder what our neighbors across the planet must think of us.   

My father used to tell us how lucky we were, that we live in the greatest country in the world.  He was a member of the "greatest generation" and he believed in what he said.   My mother, who was an early twentieth century Southerner through and through, treated everyone with respect, even those whom she believed, mistakenly, were put on this planet to serve her.  That was hard to write. My mother did hold the beliefs of her time, but I also remember her expressing her disgust at the firehoses and dogs of the early 1960s.  Today there are neighborhoods all over this country where the actions of  the police make those firehoses and dogs look tame in comparison.

My heart breaks every time I hear of someone's human child being gunned down on the street.  That most of the time that child seems to be "chocolate" is loathsome; disgusting.  Murdered children are murdered children.  No matter the age of the child, he or she is someone's baby, and a parent mourns.

Let us try every day to remember that we are human brothers and sisters, if not in love, surely in the blood we share.  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Incredible Shrinking Brain Tumor

Last May I wrote these words, My sister is dying.  It was going to be a blog entry, but I put it away; I  didnt want to write it.  She had just told me she had about a year give or take a couple of months on either side.  Then she told me that she felt better and more relaxed than she had in months.

There had been several months of wondering what was wrong.  Why was she so tired?  Why was she stumbling?  Did she have a stroke?  Nope; apparently not.   A week in the hospital.  An MRI six weeks prior that showed a shadow.  But too soon to tell, so a second MRI was scheduled for a month hence.  Then the shadow was larger much larger. 

It appeared to be a brain tumor  resting right up against the brain stem on the inside.  So if you took a string and ran it in one ear and out the other, tumor would be right in the middle of that string.  A biopsy is sort of a last resort because, as the Dr. advised, the biopsy needle would have to go through several layers of brain to get to it.  And the risk of damage is pretty high.

She was listing to the right, stumbling frequently, and using a cane, its purpose to keep her moving in a straight line.  She was tired, so tired.  The doc prescribed a specific type of steroid designed to target inflammation in the brain.  After a few sleepless nights, it started to help!  At least the symptoms were abating.

One week later, she met with an Oncologist who talked about Radiation and Chemotherapy.

After this meeting, she took a drive down to Ann Arbor for a second opinion at the University of Michigan.  That doctor said, "yes, it looks like a Glioma.[FYI:  Google and The American Brain Tumor Association® says:  Glioma is a general term used to describe any tumor that arises from the supportive (gluey) tissue of the brain. This tissue, called glia, helps to keep the neurons in place and functioning well.]  BUT (sometimes BUT is a good word) it also could be Lymphoma, which would be better, more treatable.

Long story short:  Glioma: bad.  Lymphoma: good. 

There is a bit of cognitive dissonance in looking at a diagnosis of Lymphoma as good news.  Everything is relative.  There was also cognitive dissonance in listening to my sister cheerfully tell me that, after a little spell of weepiness shes feeling better than she has in a long time.

There followed batteries of tests designed to positively diagnose Lymphoma.  No need to go into details, some were not particularly fun, but for the most part she was able to take medically induced naps throughout.

She took a Medical Leave from work and started on her new project  preparing for cancer treatment.  Wig - Check!   Caretakers - Check!  Local source for anti nausea medication - Check!
Last Will & Testament - Check!  Medical & Durable Powers of Attorney - Check!

My sister knows how to get things done.  She knows how to delegate, how to lead.  That last thing on the list above, the health directive…  I would like to say that any of us over 50 should have on hand… really no matter what our age, should probably do.  Remember poor Terri Schiavo Sorry to digress, but its important.

Meanwhile, in my sisters world, the months went by.  A second MRI was done.  The Radiologist recommended another six-week wait to do a third MRI.  Huh?  Apparently the Steroid had done its job so well that the tumor had still not grown back to its original size.  It was too small to do the biopsy.

More weeks of waiting.  My sister was getting a little antsy; a little bored.  The symptoms were not really returning to the extent they had been, and she was getting a little frustrated having to be driven around.  I was visiting her for a two-week stint during which I expected to do some care taking.  I was a cook, a driver.  But, other than being a little tired, she was really feeling okay.  Not listing to one side, not bumping into things.  She fell a couple of times and had a little trouble getting up. But mostly it was waiting.  Who looks forward to chemotherapy?  But really, the sooner it starts the sooner its over, right? 

Then finally, the third MRI.  It was on a Friday in mid-July.  Monday she met with the Radiologist.  She was, we were, those of us who love her, nervous for the reading.  I was at work, with my phone on to receive the text of the results.  I was about to make airline reservations for another visit, this time to do some actual care taking, as the chemo would surely be in full swing by that time.  The text arrives.  You Do Not Need to Visit. do not make those reservations.  What?  Huh? 

I called back without listening to the voice-mail.  She said, calmly, “….  the tumor seems to have disappeared. completely.

She is driving again.  The hated cane is in its resting place, resting.  She is going back to work, starting Monday.

Life is full of mysteries.  There is currently no answer to what happened in my sisters brain.  I can tell you for sure that I am grateful for this mystery.  I have forgiven this tumor for its existence, and I am grateful for its disappearance.