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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Risk Reduction Surgery

I listened to a piece on NPR a couple of weeks ago about women having bilateral mastectomies with increasing frequency when only one breast is affected with breast cancer.  The health care professionals interviewed were alarmed by the trend because there is no survival advantage to this approach, and since it is major surgery, why would women choose this option.  The piece touched briefly on what would be a motivator for me, which would be that I would be reducing my risk of having to have chemotherapy again, which is a not insignificant consideration.  The physicians commented that a new cancer in the other breast is not likely, and if it were to occur, it would be caught early and is therefore survivable.  Great, but survival is not the only thing going on here (although it is obviously very important).  The fear of it coming back, and having to undergo chemotherapy again would be overwhelming for me.  Not to mention that a second go round with chemo carries increased secondary cancer risks that we really don't know that much about.  The ability to quantify the quality of the life one leads is very far behind the ability to quantify the quantity of life we have, and that is an important gap to recognize and think about.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Rhubarb Mojito

We have been making some things with rhubarb this spring, which has been a very good thing.

1 oz white rum
2 oz rhubarb syrup (recipe below)
5 (or so) mint leaves
1 Tablespoon lime juice
lime zest

In the bottom of a glass add a bit of nutmeg, lime zest, mint leaves and the lime juice. Using a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon muddle the ingredients. You want to really bruise and break up the mint leaves. Add the rum and syrup, give a light stir then top with ice. Garnish with mint and a thin slice of rhubarb.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Spectre (2015)

I was shocked to hear one of my kids talking about James Bond movies in a dismissive way.  They just do not hold the cache they once did, is what I was led to believe.  True, they  have been more imitative than innovative. Even in the 1960s, which is when I first saw them, they were essentially superhero movies starring an indestructible character who wore suit instead of tights. He ran, jumped, drove and flew (with the new addition of parkor) through the movie,  which occurred in exotic and beautiful locations. If you like all that, then you should be more or less happy with this installment, but somehow I found it unnecessarily complicated and while it had all the elements of a good Bond movie, somehow when they were all put together, I was a little disappointed.
The Daniel Craig Bond character harkens back to the early days of the series with a hero who is more human than other Bonds.  Christoph Waltz' bad guy is well within the bounds of off-the-chart evil that you would expect for a Bond opponent.  I think it was the script that I had quarrel with more than anything.  It is a star studded cast and a darkly filmed movie that will probably make lots of people happier than I was with it.  Maybe I am just not that into Bond any more.  The end of an era.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Illness Undisguised

I have not gone around with a bandage covering my ear, as Van Gogh does here, in such beautiful and vivid detail.  I did make the decision that I would not hide the fact that I was without hair under a wig.  I tried, and it just did not work for me.  My oncologist had a very good discussion with me about the disfiguring aspects of chemotherapy, and the fact that losing my hair would be hard, even if I didn't think that it would be ahead of time.  I was fortunate not to lose all my hair in the beginning, and so I had plenty of time to adjust to it and how I wanted to approach it.
It turned out that in the end, time did not help me much.  I just couldn't get used to what felt like fakeness to me about the wig.  I really deeply wish I could overcome those feelings, but after a lot of struggle, I had to admit that I just could not.  Those who know and work with me would not be fooled either way.  A wig is after all not my own hair, and even though I got a very good wig that I very much like the style of, there is no way anyone who knew me would be fooled by it.  So wearing a head covering of a cloth nature wasn't so bold in that respect.  What I did not realize was that it would definitely announce to those that I do not know that I was getting chemotherapy.  I was recently on a return trip to a number of restaurants in Chicago, and on several occasions, someone in the restaurant noted they had served us on a previous trip.  We are not a family that stands out or is in any way memorable.  We enjoy food and each others company, don't get me wrong.  We don't go back to a place that we don't think is great, but rarely do people recognize us on a second go round.  Nope, I am pretty sure that not wearing a wig is what was the game changer.  At first it surprised me, but on second thought I realized that was the downside of my approach.  I was sharing what I was going through with everyone, strangers included.  So be it, because while I am hoping to have enough hair by the end of the summer to look punk, I might not.

Friday, May 20, 2016

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

This is the book that the movie was made from last year and it is a good young adult book.  The story is about a senior in high school who is on the brink of going to college.  She has a boyfriend who is a bit older than her, and they are trying to work out the very common problem of how to balance the desire to continue a relationship with the dreams and opportunities afforded to them.  In her case it is a chance to be at Julliard to study cello and for him it is a band that is increasing in popularity.  The band is touring throughout the northwest and already they are apart more often than they are together.  Then there is a tragic event.  The girl is in a car crash and her parents and brother are killed and she is in a coma.  While unconscious, she struggles with whether she wants to live and why.  Heavy material, but the underlying theme is whether to follow your heart or your opportunities.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Welcome to the Riley's (2010)

This is an emotionally complicated movie that goes places you might not expect.  James Gandolfini and his wife Melissa Leo have lost their connection to each other since their fifteen year old daughter was killed in a car accident.  Leo blames herself for her daughters death, and as a result she has not left the house in years.  Gandolfini has taken a lover, but they are both miserable.  It all comes to a head when his lover dies suddenly of a heart attack. He takes off for a business meeting in New Orleans and decides to sell his business and not return home.  While in New Orleans he meets a young runaway prostitute who he befriends.  Is he trying to save her or is he trying to recapture his relationship with someone his daughter's age?  Or is he trying to save her when he failed to save his daughter?  We never find out, but she becomes the mechanism by which the couple finds their way back to each other.  Leo follows him the New Orleans and moves into the prostitutes rental with him.  She tells him that he may leave her, but that she will never leave him, and they make some tentative steps back to each other.  The rest of the story is left hanging.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Get Out and Feel the Culture

Can you hear the hoot too?
It is the call of culture luring you in.
Up until last month I had rarely ventured outside of my house in six months.  I was waylaid by a combination of chemotherapy, fatigue, and a need to avoid both crowds and noise.  So for my first vacation in months, I wanted to be sure to keep my expectations low so that I would not be disappointed.  One of my very favorite things that I got over this six month period of time was daily art.  A friend who is far more knowledgeable than I sent me art every day.  It was so profoundly uplifting that I wanted to be sure that my first vacation in months included some museums, even if I could only do one or two things there.
I managed to do this while I was in Chicago.  I saw two exhibits at the Field Museum and spent an afternoon at the Art Institute, and while it was not an exhaustive viewing of what either place had to offer, it was very uplifting to be amongst beautiful things.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Growing Up With Grief

My brother was born 55 years ago today, and came home several days later on my birthday.  Sadly, he soon contracted polio, and the complications of it killed him eight years later.  That was the first tragedy in my life, having a sibling who was first physically disabled and then gone.  I grew up with it. What happened to me was so much different from what was happening to other ten year olds that it became hard to identify with those who hadn't had something major to cope with.  Then, as now, people don't much talk about the sadness in their lives, and so while it wasn't verbalized, I was drawn to those who shared my silence and my grief.  I didn't know this consciously, but in retrospect it was the beginning of a life long pattern.
The first was a friend whose family had escaped the Shah's Iran.  How they had come to leave their homeland and live near me I never knew much about, but I did know that I was comfortable with them, and they nurtured another love, one of food from multiple cultures.  I never turned down a meal at their table, and my favorite meals to this day are those that highlight food that I do not make well, foods from cultures that are not my own.  The second close friend at that time grew up in a large family of adopted children, herself included.  Her parents adopted those who were hard to adopt.  Her sister had leukemia, another had hydrocephalus, a third was born without functioning limbs.  No one could visit her house and feel that they had the worst fate.  All sorts of unfortunate possibilities were visually on display.
 In many ways I was lucky to learn to cope with this early on in life.  Life is hard and not fair and yet exquisitely beautiful.  I think it helped me be resilient and thankful for what I have, and yet the sadness of loss had not gone away.  So today I once again thank my brother for everything that he taught me in his all too short life.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Bridge of Spies (2015)

I have been on a great run of watching good movies, and this is no exception (despite the fact that it is over two hours long).   It chronicles the real life story of the Russian spy Rudolph Abel (played by Mark Rylance, who won Best Supporting Actor for this role) and his court appointed lawyer, Jim Donovan (played ably by Tom Hanks).  Donovan is tasked with appearing to provide a competent defense for Abel, despite the fact that he was not a criminal defense attorney, and he took that job more seriously than most intended him to, appealing his conviction to the Supreme Court, where he lost.  His commendable approach to defending Abel won him no friends and plenty of enemies, and when he was approached about brokering a prisoner exchange with the Soviets several years later he participated, despite the poor treatment he had received.  The most interesting thing about watching the movie was the outrage our son had at the prisoner’s treatment.  He didn’t realize that many of the rights that he takes for granted post-dated the time of the movie.  The most disturbing thing about watching the movie is that not much has changed in our approach to those who wish to do us harm.  The public opinion and treatment of Abel is very reminiscent of terrorists put on trial and the fact that we lacked Guantanamo in the 1950s was not lost on me.  We have a long way to go to extend civil rights equally to all. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Music of Break Up

My youngest son had a final project for a class that involved picking a group of songs that had something in common with each other, and writing about each of them.  He chose songs about breaking up and then he and I struggled to come up with some good examples.  He had a few and I had almost nothing.  Other than a few Bob Dylan songs, even the songs that I knew that had that theme I failed to recognize.  So we put out a call to family members to aid us in our efforts and two were able to almost instantly come up with quite a few.  Which got me thinking.  I am not internalizing the lyrics of many songs that I listen to, and I really do not seek out songs that chronicle the end of a relationship.  I have always been a ballad lover, and while they often chronicle tragedy, it is not end of relationship material.  I seek out bigger fish.  Things that make headlines, not matters of the heart.  I also realized that not only do I dwell on the lyrics, there are times when songs that I love have lyrics that make almost no sense.  So much for my self assessment that I am a woman of the book.  Not true, at least when it comes to music.