I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Thinking about my thyroid

Sometimes I really wonder if I have a guardian angel who helps to arrange events in my life. This week, completely by accident, I learned that I have a lump in my thyroid gland. I mentioned this on my other blog, but I give myself permission here to deal with my thoughts and feelings in depth.

It all started with the carotid ultrasound that was ordered by my new young doctor, who does inspire confidence in me because of the way he treated me, like a colleague, interested and curious. He was concerned about the ten pounds that I had gained since last year and the rise in my cholesterol levels. With my family history of coronary artery disease, he told me that a noninvasive look at the carotids would give him an idea of the condition of my coronary arteries, as blockage in one is usually also indicative of blockage in others. I remember being secretly glad because I had never had one before and I hoped that if there really were something going on in my neck, it would show up.

For the last few months, when looking down and to the left with my chin tucked in, I thought I felt something in my neck, but since I couldn't actually feel anything after probing, it was a bit of relief that he would be taking an ultrasound in that general area. The ultrasound technician was a big gorgeous hunk of a man who was personable and very helpful. After taking pictures of the right side, he moved over to the left and almost immediately told me that he saw an anomalous lump in my thyroid and said he would take a few extra pictures. I asked him what it was likely to mean, and he said that my doctor would probably order some blood work and possibly a biopsy, but not to worry. I said, "Well, if I got any kind of cancer, I suppose thyroid would be best since it's the slowest to grow." He said that even if it were cancerous, it might not bother me for years. I knew all this from a friend who did develop thyroid cancer in her thirties. It was removed and she takes thyroid medication daily.

I was a bit thrown for a loop. He showed me a picture of the lump when I asked; it is perfectly round and 1.1 centimeters in size. No wonder I could feel it. Driving home from the appointment, I was so distracted I missed my turn and got temporarily lost. That was my first clue that I was really worried. However, once I reached my trusty computer and looked up information on the internet, I learned that thyroid nodules are usually NOT cancer and that many people, especially women, develop them over the years. That was a relief.

The very next day I received a call from my doctor's office telling me that my carotid arteries are in very good shape. Waiting expectantly for the next part, I was floored to find that nothing in the radiologist's report even mentioned the thyroid lump! I told her what I had seen and been told by the technician, and she said they would order pictures from the lab and would get back to me. As of today, I have been scheduled on February 11 for another "enhanced" ultrasound of my thyroid, and the promised blood work has already been drawn.

What if the technician had not mentioned what he saw? It makes me realize how important it is not to remain in the dark about my health, to be proactive, and to follow up with health issues instead of hoping things are not what I suspect. My mother was somewhat of a hypochondriac, but it saved her life when she insisted that the lump under her arm was not right, although she had no lump in her breast. A biopsy showed it was a very virulent form of breast cancer (inflammatory) and she was treated and survived, when only 5% of patients with that particular cancer do. I should have mentioned the sensation in my neck, but it was so nebulous I didn't even think of it when I chatted with Dr Whitehead.

So, there you go, my guardian angels were busy thinking how I might discover this nodule and become aware of the health issues going on in my body. If I had not gotten a new physician because of the need to change insurance carriers, if he had not ordered the ultrasound, if the technician had not mentioned what he saw and shared it with me... all of these decision paths followed to bring me sitting here in the dark on Sunday morning, writing about it, hopeful that it will be benign, but preparing myself for whatever the truth of it is.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gently going into that good night

My son Chris and me in 1966
Ever since Emily died last month, the whole concept of loss, grief, and death have been uppermost in my mind. Seeing my new doctor and talking with him about the cholesterol problem that caused the loss of my son when he was forty only magnified these thoughts. I think maybe I can use this vehicle to explore my own feelings a little. I hope you won't find it too depressing, but I need to go there.

Dr Whitehead is a very young-looking 36 years old, engaged and interested in his profession. He must deal with a fair amount of grief and loss every day, so it must be possible to come to terms with it. I notice that I usually submerge my feelings of loss until an event brings them up again. Frankly, though, loss and grief are part of the package when we come onto the scene here on Earth.

Long ago I thought about the fact that I would not live forever, but when you are young and have not experienced massive loss firsthand, it's all academic and doesn't carry much weight. I remember using the phrase "the rest of my life," which seemed infinite, and in a way it was, stretching out as far as my mental eye could see. Then at 22, my first really big loss occurred when my baby Stephen died of spinal meningitis. Devastated beyond belief, that event changed my life's direction forever. But I did recover. I still remember the day I was watching an infant and realized that I no longer averted my eyes from his beautiful baby's smile of delight. I was smiling back. It had been ten years.

Now I am childless, with Chris gone for almost a decade now, my parents both having died in their sixties, and now I am two years away from the Biblical life span of threescore and ten (seventy). That seems incredibly premature now, but it's not, really. I know I have lived most of my life and that going into that night is somewhere not in the distant future. I wonder how I want to go. Emily died suddenly and so prematurely that it still seems unreal. Not that way. Not in a parachuting accident, or car accident, or anything so... truncated. Not having the time to say goodbye, to make arrangements, to face the event.

My father's heart attack put him into the hospital for three days before he died. All six of his children came home to see him, to say goodbye before he "popped off," as he put it. His heart had been severely damaged and there was little hope, and he knew it. His last words to us were, "I love you all."

Mama had so much illness and pain in her life, and her final heart attack followed so many others, all of which she had pulled through. None of us thought it was the end, but Mama knew. Every one of us came to see her, and she went through her jewelry box and furs and gave them all away. She was in bed, sitting up and looking like her old self, but she knew it was time. I wonder what it is that lets us know? Will I know? She slipped into a coma for a few days, but suddenly she rallied and for a few precious hours she again was lucid and herself. She said God had let her come back to say her goodbyes.

That's an interesting word, "goodbye." It means so many things to me, and I am not exactly friends with that word, but a good bye is something to wish for. I have not had any family members die lingering and painful deaths from cancer, and I hope I never do. Now that I think about it, dying of heart disease might not be such a bad way to go. To me, the heart is the seat of emotion, the place I carry memories of those who have gone on ahead, the place that carries my core beliefs about life and love.

And the heart breaks, and the heart heals, and sometimes, the heart knows the future. Whenever it comes, I do want to go gently into that good night.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Monkey mind

Years ago I heard of the concept of "monkey mind" when I was learning to meditate on a daily basis. I guess it would be a good thing to start the practice again, as my mind right now is all over the place. Scattered here and there with my thoughts. Last night I tossed and turned thinking about things and wondered what I would write about this morning. It will be a mishmash, for sure, because that's what my mind is doing. When I decided to take the word "mindfulness" for my New Year's Resolution, this was NOT what I was thinking about. Here goes:

For one thing, I can't meditate like I once did because I can no longer sit in lotus position, or even cross-legged with my back straight because my knees won't take it. At all. Maybe I should look for one of those kneeling stools so I can try sitting again. At one time I sat for an hour every day, a half hour morning and evening, and sometimes I would go into such an altered state that I would realize that more than an hour had passed and it seemed timeless, just very peaceful and calm. It carried over into the rest of my day, and if for some reason I missed a session I would look forward to the next one with anticipation.

On Wednesday I see a new doctor for my regular annual checkup. With the change in the Medicare Advantage plans this past year, the plan I was using was dropped by the Center for Senior Health where I was enrolled. So this year I am going to another part of PeaceHealth, the PeaceHealth Medical Center. In some ways I'm happy to be seen by a young doctor who is possibly more up to date on the latest medical advantages, rather than a geriatric specialist. In deciding which doctor to choose, I looked him up on the Internet and found that he's only been practicing for three years but had several rave reviews from previous patients. I didn't have the choice of a woman doctor, which is the only down side of this guy who looks to be fourteen or so in his picture.

In anticipation of the appointment, I had a liver and lipid profile taken from my blood. With the Peacehealth system, I can find the results of my tests on line almost immediately, and what I saw was both good and bad: my total cholesterol is up significantly since last year, which means I will need to take a higher dose of a statin drug. Hypercholesterolemia runs in my family. My parents both died in their sixties from heart disease, as did my son at forty, so I don't take these numbers lightly. After a short period of feeling depressed, I called my sister to commiserate with her. She reminded me that she has taken a powerful dose of a statin drug for more than half of her life, while it wasn't until I was in my mid-fifties that I had to start them. Every one of my siblings takes statins, which were not available to my parents.

The good news was that my "good" cholesterol had also gone up, making the totals still putting me at less-than-average risk for heart disease. And my triglycerides were way down on the low side of normal, so that was heartening. I wonder what he will say about all this, although I am prepared for an increase in dosage.

I have gone to see a couple of really good movies in the past few days. In fact, "The King's Speech" was so good that I will take Smart Guy to see it tomorrow, and I'm actually looking forward to a second viewing as I tend to get so involved in the story that I miss a lot of interesting parts. I awoke in the middle of the night after seeing it, thinking about it, and of course I went on line to see how historically accurate the movie was. I was pleased to find that the relationship between Prince Albert and his speech therapist was very accurate, and there were only a few issues dealing with other characters and their relationship to Hitler that were not entirely accurate. If you don't know the story, in the late 1930s, Prince Albert was forced to take the throne and become King George VI and had to deal with his debilitating stutter in order to lead Britain during wartime. It's the story of how he overcame it. I found the movie to be wonderful and inspiring.

Then yesterday, after finding nobody to go see "The Fighter" with me, I went alone. It's another historical movie, this time about Micky Ward, a prize fighter, and his relationship with his amazingly dysfunctional family. I had read about the performances of four people who will most likely receive a nomination for their parts: Mark Wahlberg, who plays Micky; Christian Bale, who plays his crack-addicted brother; Amy Adams as Micky's girlfriend; and Melissa Leo as his mother. They were all outstanding performances, and I'm glad I saw the movie, although I am not a fan of boxing. I also went online to find out the historical accuracy and learned that Micky Ward retired from boxing in 2003 and was very successful. If you can call having your brains knocked around in your cranium so often that you had to be hospitalized after some of your bouts being successful, that is.

So that's where my monkey mind has been scurrying and scampering around these days. Hopefully I will return to more serenity in the near future, once my fears about the new doctor have been laid to rest and I am able return to a more contemplative existence. I'll look into finding that kneeling stool. Until then, I hope you remain well and happy. Until next week...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

More skydiving dreams

Last night I dreamed again about skydiving. I figure it must be because of my recent trip to Colorado and seeing all my old friends and remembering what it was like to have skydiving in the center of my life. In the 1990s and beyond, everything else was peripheral, including my job and any relationships I had at the time.

I took up video for awhile, since I really wanted to do something other than teach all the time and I wasn't really interested in competing myself. I figured it would be fun to film others who wanted to compete in four-way events, so I was happy to get the camera equipment and find out how to do it myself. It was a lot of fun, except there are some problems when you are trying to video people who are competing: you must be sure to show each separation and the grips that are taken. Four-way competition requires the camera person to fly high above the formation and at a fairly steep angle. As I was learning, I was told to keep getting higher and steeper on them until I finally was in danger of falling on them! It was fun to learn, and I did actually get close enough to fall on my teammates one time.

In my dream last night I had decided to give camera flying another shot, for some friends who needed me to help them out. I pulled out my old equipment and my little portable TV for viewing the pictures and was suddenly aware that all my equipment is completely out of date! Who uses video tapes any more? Everything is now digital, and I didn't have any of it, so as I was waking up out of my dream, I reluctantly decided it wasn't a good idea to get back into camera flying. It was as real to me as writing in this blog is right now. For some reason my dreams lately have been very vivid and realistic, not fantastic like they sometimes are.

My rational mind tells me that I am processing the trip to Colorado and that it's a normal evolution in my consciousness, letting go of that part of my life and becoming more at peace with what my life is today, perhaps. I'm not sure, but I do know that dreams have helped me in the past. They help me with loss, because every once in awhile I am reunited with loved ones who are gone, and in the most real and satisfying ways, too.

Years ago I studied Carl Jung and became fascinated with his view of the collective unconscious. He posits that we all have certain archetypes in common that are present throughout all cultures. My own personal unconscious comes out in my dreams, with strong overtones of the collective myths and desires of every mother who has lost a child. So even though it's possible that my dreams aren't actually REAL, they perform every task that I might require of them: remembrance, interaction, delight.

And just in case I wanted to take up camera flying again, I guess I'll have to update my equipment. You know, I would probably be the first 68-year-old woman to do it. I have to smile when I think of my dream in the light of day, but hey, it was my dream.

P.S.: when I wrote this post in the morning (it's 1:30 pm now), I looked around in my pictures for a scene of a four-way skydive, and I found this one a friend posted today on his Facebook page. I asked him if I took it, because I vaguely remember this skydive, and since I wasn't in it, I figured maybe I was the photographer! Neither of us remembers for sure, but here it is:
The camera angle is steep enough to see all the grips, which is how they count points. I thought you might enjoy this little synchronicity.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Before I turned a year old, this picture was taken of me. If I look closely, I can still see the person I am today in that face. Mama had lovingly combed my hair in the baby style of the day, and I was obviously well fed and happy. Sometimes I wonder how different my life would have been if I had not believed that the entire world adored me and would protect me from any harm, because of the enormous outpouring of love I received from my doting parents and extended family.

I've learned that every seven years not one part of your body remains the same; everything is eventually replaced by new cells, even down to your bones, which are alive and continue to grow during your entire life. So who is that little person, really? Is it me? How do our memories and sense of self continue on through our lives? I know some people who say they can remember crawling and beginning to walk (although I have no memory of such things). Life is truly a mystery. That little person has now been reconstituted almost ten times, if you think about it.

But it's still me. And now as I begin a new year, along with all my friends and family, I've been pondering the need to make some resolutions. I'm sure that little baby had no need for them, but I sure do. There is always something that I feel needs to grow and change within me so that I can become a better person, and resolving to change something that needs changing is what some of us do at the beginning of a new year. This auspicious year, filled with ones and elevens, seems especially appropriate for thinking of changing a way of being in the world. I've decided to make my New Year's Resolution to be one word that I can bring into many aspects of my life: Mindfulness.

Being mindful means becoming aware or conscious of different aspects of my life. I have decided that the first step is to become more mindful of how I eat my food, sitting down and actually having a meal instead of making a hurried sandwich and gobbling it down while in front of the TV or computer. This should help me lose a pound or two, since I know that food is much more nourishing to body and soul when you pay attention to what you are eating. I'll try not to beat myself up too much if I don't adhere to this every day, but mindful attention is what I'm looking to achieve.

I want to be mindful of my blessings. The loss of my friend Emily so suddenly really knocked me for a loop, making me realize anew how precious life is, reminding me to be thankful in this moment for my partner and my family. My extended family, you, are also very important to me and provide the intellectual stimulation that would be missing from my life without you, without blogging, without the community of like-minded souls whose lives I share every day.

The idea of a one-word resolution comes from one of my blogging friends who chose the word "shed" last year and rid herself of many parts of her life that had become cumbersome. This year she chose "nourish" as a reminder to give herself the things that help her to grow in the ways she would like. It is so easy for me to drift along from day to day, following the same patterns of my daily life without conscious thought. I'd like to nourish my soul and maybe help others along the way.

It's easy to decide on a resolution but not so easy to figure out how to put it into practice. One way to begin is to state the intention, which I'm doing here, and then think of a concrete step  I can take every day to remind me (such as sitting down at the table for every meal), and then take it slow and steady. It takes about a month to change a habit, so the first few weeks will take some effort, but it should not be difficult to take small steps forward.

As I sit here in the dark, before the sun comes up on the second day of the new year, I look around the room at the environment I've created for myself: a laptop warming me as I sit propped up in bed, my partner softly breathing beside me, a cup of hot tea within arm's reach, a tapestry on the wall across from me that I brought back from some long-ago visit to a foreign country. A pervasive sense of peace steals across me. Gratitude is not hard to find in my life, but paying attention to it, becoming mindful of the present moment, is my resolution for the coming year.