I like to look on the bright side, but I have to admit that that has not been easy in the last two years, particularly in the health department. Now, I expect the worst when a medical professional says, “I don’t think it’s anything, but let’s check to be sure”. And I’ve been right up until now.
On my way to the dentist for my semi-annual teeth cleaning last week, I was expecting to be told that all my teeth had rotted and would have to be replaced by a full set of dentures. When the hygienist finished scraping and cleaning and announced that my teeth looked terrific, I was thrilled.
But I still worried about a suspicious spot on my chest that my dermatologist had biopsied a week earlier. Having had two basal cell carcinomas (skin cancers) removed last year when we were living in Washington, D.C., I wasn’t eager to go through that again.
It took me a while to summon up the courage to open her email announcing the results—a benign neurofibroma requiring no further treatment. I was ecstatic.
Jeremy visited us last weekend. Just Jeremy. We love being with his family, but when we are all together, we focus on our grandchildren. But to celebrate his father’s eighty-ninth birthday, he came alone.
The three of us went to Peter’s surgery follow-up appointment where Jeremy charmed the doctor and her nurse. He went to the grocery store with us. He photographed all the pictures of his kids on our shelves. He took his father for a haircut (pictured above). He solved a computer problem for me and gave us his insights on some challenges we are facing.
Two of his childhood friends came to see him, and we laughed together for an hour before they went out to dinner. And on a perfectly sunny (but a bit cold for him) Saturday afternoon, he and I walked in Boston’s newly developed Seaport area, the “in” place to be.
That evening, we had a terrific birthday dinner in a restaurant we hadn’t tried before, and then at 5:30 a.m.(!), I drove him to the airport. As always, when a child leaves, I was sad. And grateful.
When I began writing this blog in 2008, I rode my bike to work every day, and falling was of no concern. Yes, I had broken a hip in 2007, but that was because I was walking hand-in-hand with Peter when he tripped and pulled me down with him.
But what we worry about changes.
Although I’m not a habitual reader of obituaries, when I do look at them, I notice that many of the elderly die after complications of a fall. At the start of my radiation treatment, the nurses told me to avoid falling because they didn’t want anything to interfere with my daily treatments. Last week a good friend broke her knee-cap when she tripped just a few steps from her front door.
Jane Brody recently tackled (so-to-speak) this topic in her New York Times “Well” column.
My mother and her five siblings all married late in life. Mom was what used to be an “older” bride at twenty-seven. Her brother Milton married at thirty-six. Two of her siblings married for the first time in their fifties, and one never married although she lived to be a hundred. (Being single may explain her longevity.)
Remarkably, none of their marriages ended in divorce. I see that as an argument for marrying late. My parents were worried because I was still single as I was approaching thirty. I wish they could know that Peter and I are still going strong after more than fifty years together.
Thursday was the final day of my radiation treatment for breast cancer. Every weekday for the past four weeks I had walked through the revolving door of Mount Auburn Hospital, down the stairs, past the day-surgery registration area and into the radiation oncology department.
Like clockwork, I changed into a johnny, climbed onto a table, and held still while a huge white machine killed whatever cancer cells may have been left behind after my surgery (and a lot of good cells too). Fortunately, the good cells come back. And if I’m lucky, the bad cells won’t.
The people in the radiation oncology department were lovely. The people at the hospital’s main receptionist desk and in the day-surgery department started greeting me as a regular when I passed by. The buyer for the gift shop and I are now buddies.
On Wednesday night I baked three-dozen cookies for the radiation oncology team—the least I could do for their kindness. They gave me a graduation certificate suitable for framing. I said that I wished them well, but hoped I would never see them again. It’s not the first time they’ve heard that.
The wind in Cambridge was so strong on Monday that it kept me from walking home from the gym at my usual pace. It was so strong that a huge recycling bin, blown from the sidewalk sliced off the side view mirror of the car of Peter’s physical therapist as she was driving to our apartment. I could have collected a year’s worth of kindling for our fireplace in no time (if we still had one). There were even a few snow squalls.
But the days are noticeably longer and the start of Daylight Savings Time, my favorite day of the year, is less than two weeks away. I saw forsythia and pussy willows in the florist’s window, a sure sign that spring is near.
Best of all, walking home from my fourth-from-last radiation treatment, I spied a very plump robin perched on the lowest branch of a tree at the entrance to our apartment building. As a child I learned that if you make a wish on seeing the first robin of spring before it flies away, it will come true. So I did.
Late last fall, Peter’s neurologist suggested that some of the symptoms that we attribute to his Parkinson's Disease might be the result of hydrocephalus (water on the brain caused by poor drainage of spinal fluid). She suggested that implanting a permanent shunt in his brain to drain the fluid and relieve the pressure could make a difference.
Scary? You bet. But he would be in the hands of a surgeon who is particularly skilled at this procedure that improves brain functioning eighty-percent of the time. We thought it was a gamble worth taking.
So our family was thrilled when the doctor called after the surgery last week to say the procedure went well, although we won’t know if he is among the lucky 80% for another week. After a night in the hospital, we brought him home with smile-like stitching across his partly shaved head and his great sense of humor intact.
Although my copy of The American Heritage Dictionary weighs around ten pounds, it came with us on our two recent moves because I can’t imagine life without it. I know--I can find any definition I want in seconds online. But when I pick up my dictionary, I invariably start to read it. And I think that’s a good thing.
The other day I looked for the origin of “cisgender”, an adjective that means that a person’s identify and gender correspond with the sex assigned at birth, the one declared by saying “It’s a boy!” There was no such word in my 1992 edition. So I had to resort to the computer to learn that cisgender came into general use in 1994. Microsoft Word (at least my version) still doesn’t recognize it.
Years ago, we played a game called “Dictionary”. One person picks a word that no one knows, and all the players write a definition of it. The player who picked the word writes the correct definition. The others write one they make up. Then everyone votes for the definition they think is correct. It’s extremely amusing.
This is my 1156th blog post. Surprisingly, it’s the first containing the word “dictionary” (a reference source in print or electronic form containing words usually alphabetically arranged along with information about their meaning and use).
Today I’m eighty-one. That’s a big number. There’s no denying that eighty-one is old. Yet I try (to deny it, that is).
There’s a big photo of me with our boys on the wall of our study. It was a birthday gift for Peter nineteen years ago. I don’t look that different now (with my clothes on at least). I do have more silver in my hair and I am thinner. But I easily recognize me.
I find that the biggest difference in my eighties is that many of my peers have health challenges. So do I. But that’s an incentive to be grateful for every day, and I try to do that.
I’ve just finished Educated, Tara Westover’s memoir of growing up in a survivalist family in Idaho. Her father did not allow her to go to school and she never saw a doctor. She didn’t have a birth certificate until she was nine, and even when she got it, nobody could confirm the date of her birth. The youngest of seven children, she began to study on her own after an older brother who had left home to go to college urged her to prepare for the ACT so that she too could get away.
As a freshman at Brigham Young University, she thought Europe was a country and asked a professor what the Holocaust was. By her late twenties, having earned a PhD in history at Cambridge University, she decided to write the memoir that has been on the bestseller list for fifty weeks.
I read Educated in two days. It’s not an easy read. It’s disturbing. If it were fiction, I would think the author had lost all sense of reality because the story she told could never have happened.
But it did. The book is courageous and the story is well told. In an interview, the author stated her belief that what happened in her home wasn’t malicious, that the members of her family loved one another. In the end, she had to make a difficult choice.
Parts of the book are hard to read. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it is unforgettable.