Fall Has Arrived

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Fall arrived last week.

The days have been growing shorter. It won’t really feel like Fall (temps in the 40s-60s versus 80s-90s Farenheit) until Halloween is here. But signs of late summer and early fall have appeared.

Partridge pea flowers are blooming. Morning glories are blooming. Sulphurs and Swallowtails have been here all summer. But tiny butterflies, stout butterflies, and harvest colored butterflies (in orange and yellow and brown), are flying all around in the late morning and well into the late afternoon.

It won’t be long until the swamp marigolds are blooming around waterways. Acorns, hickory nuts, and sweetgum balls will soon be underfoot.

As pedestrians crush the acorns, the sidewalks will be covered in saffron yellow crumbs. The acorns and other seeds that were spared pavement and hungry squirrels will nestle down in a thick blanket of old leaves until spring.

Nature is always beautiful thing. This season brings with it a mixed bag of other likes (and a few dislikes) for me.

DISLIKE: I don’t look forward to being cold. Not so much outdoors, but indoors. The only beverages most restaurants offer are cold, and they are running an odd combination of AC and heat. I ask them to hold the ice. I carry decaf tea packets in my purse, and I hope restaurants have a tea spigot on their coffee machine, or a microwave to heat up some water. Many restaurants don’t have decaf coffee on hand and I try not to drink caffeine after 4pm.

LIKE: I have a collection of crazy patterned socks to wear everyday. Wearing tights or other spandex also holds in heat without adding bulk.

DISLIKE: The cold and flu bugs that go around.

LIKE: The changing leaves are beautiful, especially when the sunlight streams through them. New England and the Blue Ridge are bracing for record traffic. But anywhere cool and at higher elevations has a brilliant show all its own.

DISLIKE: Christmas overkill arriving too early. Hearing Christmas songs in stores on November 1.

LIKE: Fall and winter are seasons offer more people opportunities to showcase their individuality and creativity.

  • Carved pumpkins are beautiful. Extreme Pumpkins out of Detroit always has a impressive show of last year’s carvings.
  • People’s costumes for Halloween. People who don’t have $30+ to throw at a store bought costume can get pretty creative.
  • Every year I see more Day of the Dead food, decor, etc. appearing in stores, its awesome to see this Mexican cultural phenomenon take off in the US.
  • There’s some really beautiful woven work at Interweave. It’s not cold enough to wear it here, but I love the slideshows.
  • Seeing Northern Lights online. [One day we’ll see them in person.]
  • New plays come out. New art comes out. A lot of Oscar hopeful films come out.

For all the likes. For all the fun, beautiful things, I’ll put up with some cold. In the meantime, I am watching for butterflies.

Fibroids

It’s not about words this time, so I’m posting on wildcard day. This post is over 3000 words, so skim to the TL;DR at the bottom if you don’t have that kind of time, or don’t like reading biological/health stuff. 

A year ago today, I had a laparoscopic hysterectomy. But I will back up…

PERIOD WEEK:

During “period week” every month from 2010-2015, it was a lot like having a stomach flu. I was running to the restroom constantly. It was as if my system “woke up” during this time and decided it was a fine time to have a liquidation sale: “everything must go.”

I was anemic, bloated, and gassy. I got horrible sleep. I wore the biggest pads, but I was still paranoid about leaks. I slept on a towel just in case.

I was achy. Ordinarily I would just take NSAIDs for 2-3 days and the worst of the pain would be over. If my NSAIDS weren’t working, I’d use a heating pad.

I haven’t worn white pants in 25 years. I haven’t gone swimming much at all. When I was near a pool, it was inevitably “period week.”

THE DISCOVERY:

By 2014, periods lasted longer. NSAIDS weren’t working so well. There would be other aches (not cramps) that, like lightning, came and went. I thought it would stop happening; it didn’t. So I went to my gyno in the Fall of 2014.  I got a ultrasound, and that’s when I learned I had a fibroid. This happens to 30-something women. A lot of them: to the genetically predisposed, to women of color, and to the more voluptuous ladies among us. But I didn’t know about that happening in my family.

I had the option to do nothing about it. I could bear with it, and it *should* stop growing once I was in my 40s.

I opted to have this one pedunculated fibroid (looks like a hornet’s nest dangling from the top of the uterus) removed in January 2015. Then I had a followup scan two months later.

The new ultrasound revealed that there were rapidly growing fibroids that weren’t even detected months before. Apparently, my uterus was a fibroid farm, with different types in different locations. And maybe more were growing on the outside that the ultrasound wand couldn’t possibly detect.

There was a lot of thinking to do.

DECISION FACTORS:

I could keep getting these things cut out every few months, in the hopes of still keeping the “still have kids” window open. Each surgery, if I didn’t have insurance, could cost at least $30k. But to what end? How costly would all those repeated procedures add up to be? If I got the whole thing taken out, this would be over quicker, and less expensively. I just had to let go of the biological offspring option idea.

It would be really hard to get on with our lives if I had to get repeated surgeries several months or years in a row.

For added complications, we’d seen TV ads for lawsuits about fibroid removals that led to cancer. I didn’t want to take the steps to fix the situation, and just make it worse in the process. The more fibroids a woman has, the more I would suspect one of them could be a “rancid tomato” whose contents are capable of spreading cancer around the abdomen. So it seemed even more risky to have repeated morcellation procedures.

We talked to my doctor on two separate occasions before I decided to have the hysterectomy. He/she affirmed that the devices used in those recent lawsuits aren’t in use anymore. My procedure would use a DaVinci.

THE SURGERY:

There’s an animation here. In this procedure, they took the whole uterus, fallopian tubes, and cervix out of a very dilated vagina. The vagina was sewn shut at the top. The ovaries are still in place, but they release eggs with nowhere to go. All released eggs are absorbed by the body. The patient does not experience menopause until her ovaries have run out of eggs.

So I had that done a year ago today. I went in very early, so once I proved I could walk around the hall and use the restroom, I was free to go. I was in and out the same day.

THE RECOVERY:

At first I was forbidden from lifting things because it could tear where the vagina was sewn shut, and organs could fall through. Yuck.

I had to walk a lot. I was easily fatigued. But it got better over the course of a couple months. I didn’t have to take a lot of pain pills. I haven’t had complications in followup appointments. I made a point to eat more fiber and stay hydrated so that for any pain meds I did take, constipation would not be an issue. I had read about the procedure and aftermath at Kronda.com, a woman who had been through the same procedure a couple years before me, whose blog I discovered online. [If you know somebody taking painkillers awhile, stool softeners, laxatives, and a bouquet of broccoli or fruit are a nice gesture. You would think the hospital would provide these, but even if they do, they are quite possibly stupid-expensive.

Days after my surgery, I called my family to tell them what happened. They were sad I did it alone without telling them beforehand, but they were glad I was okay now. In talking to my sibling, I learned who else in the family had had fibroids.

My spouse, always a wonderful support, was really good to me. My best friend and family sent flowers, which is always nice.

Months later, I could lift anything I could pre-surgery, and I was back to normal. Actually, probably better than normal given the drama I used to have every 30 days. I don’t miss buying pads or NSAIDs.

My fibroids could have been so much worse. I feel lucky to have the doctor I did, and to have sought the procedure when I did. Some are not as lucky.

THE AFTERMATH:

NEW PHASE, NEW HAIR: I’ve given up coloring my hair dark chocolate once a month and that’s saved cash, time, a messy sink, and the packaging trash. With this procedure and turning 40 soon, it just felt right. I think it will be much easier to maintain as we travel more.

I grew my roots out from July until December. Then I got a pixie haircut so I would look nice (okay, nicer) in holiday family photos. Who’s that in the short salt and pepper hair and glasses? Oh, right.

After a year of growing it out, my hair is salt and pepper gray with several white streaks around my face. I’m not a master with wax and product. I haven’t mastered a faux hawk or gel-based pompadours. I haven’t updated online avatars just yet.

I just might buy white pants and a swimsuit.

THE BIGGER PICTURE:

Since the procedure, I have thinking of all the other ways this has been a positive change and happened for the best.

Since I’m not anemic, I can get back to donating blood on a regular basis. I have a desirable donor type. It’s a good thing that I’m comfortable with needles. [I don’t know how someone could be lifelong hypothyroid and not comfortable with needles. I get blood drawn pretty much every GP visit.]

Seeing tampon, birth control, pads, and cramp meds on TV is strange: wow, that doesn’t apply to me anymore. 

HYSTERECTOMY ON TV: Sister Evangelina on Call the Midwife had this procedure (albeit more difficult and with a longer convalescence in the 1950s; they made a bigger cut into a woman’s abs back then.) Like a lot of Evangelina-isms, her observation was priceless: “No need for any great fanfare. It’s just an old pocket in some apron that I’ll never use.” 

THE MEDIA & SOCIAL SCENE: IS IT JUST ME? Evangelina was a nun, though, living in a home with nuns of all ages, and working with young midwives, in a tight knit small town called Poplar, in postwar England in the 1950s.

In the real world, in the 2010s, in the US, it’s not easy to find same-age peers who’ve gone through a hysterectomy, except online. So many women around me have babies and kids, and they identify and hang out with other American women with babies and kids.

Hollywood women between 30-50 are having kids left and right, all over the globe. So let’s just say this procedure is alienating in that regard. Am I one of the guys now? Is it time to join the Red Hat Ladies? Another group?

Fibroids and hysterectomies don’t usually make it to (non-PBS) primetime TV, the web, or the news. Most likely there isn’t going to be a The Real Hysterectomy Honeys of Homosassa, or Barren in Bismarck, or other drama series anytime soon.

So I and other women who’ve been through this have to hunt down common ground on message boards, websites, and blogs. Because it’s the internet, we have to type in the just the right subject keywords to find information on the subject. It doesn’t just appear in our inboxes, or get delivered by a godmother, or stork. I just learned this year that July is Fibroids Awareness month.

This sucks because it’s not just me, or any other woman that had this procedure, or will have this procedure in the future. But it can definitely feel like “just you” when your culture that doesn’t acknowledge hard things, or disorders, nearly as much as it does life’s “happy” milestones. Or it acknowledges women’s issues mostly in March (women’s history month), or pink-laden October. Medical challenges don’t happen during a convenient PR month, though, they happen all the time.

Sometimes daytime TV touches on women’s issues. But how many women are home during the day, and even if they are home, are watching daytime TV like previous generation did with their afternoon stories?

It’s the avoidance and refusal to talk about hard things in primetime that are less than perfect/ideal that’s a problem. When you get bad news about your body that you didn’t see coming, it’s like being hit by the proverbial bus. When you don’t hear about it happening to anyone else, I reiterate, it’s alienating.

My motivation for this post was to talk about hard things, and encourage other people to talk about hard things with their younger family members. A lot of people go through life with the attitude bad things can’t happen to him/her, until those things happen.

If you are a young woman and want to have kids someday, your aunt blogger here hopes you discuss fertility, fibroids, thyroid problems, and breast and any reproductive organ cancers that run in the family with your parents, just so you know what you’re potentially dealing with. If you can afford a genetic test, it probably can’t hurt to get one. If you are adopted, I hope your biological parents had some documentation about family history to share with you because you deserved to know. If they didn’t, a genetic test is the next best thing.

Broaching the hard things with our moms, the family history of fertility and cancers is something the grown daughter is more likely to bring up to the parent, not the other way around. I didn’t, I should have. The wonky periods. Fibroids. Cysts. PCOS. Infertility. Midlife chin whiskers. Cancers. Thyroid flip outs. Rapidly declining metabolism. Other estrogenic Murphy’s (Murphette’s?) law type stuff. Please talk about it.

Some women don’t get a lot of time to detect these things and get it dealt with. As of this writing, the youngest woman to be diagnosed with breast cancer was 10Linda Creed, lyricist behind Whitney Houston’s The Greatest Love of All, died of breast cancer at 37 after fighting it for years. You might recall that Angelina Jolie had multiple procedures because she learned she carried the genes for reproductive cancers. In prior years, Jolie had lost three women in her family to those cancers, including her mother, who was 57. Was that ever gonna be front and center on E! ? Was that going to come up on the red carpet? Likely no. Jolie wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times. Then it was entertainment news.

When Generation Y (today’s adults), Generation Z (today’s young adults), and the Alpha Generation (today’s little girls) want to be moms, I think they should know some things. For all the cute babies in media that everyone’s having (like its easier than tying a shoe), the truth is fertility has been difficult for a lot of Generation X moms, mom’s siblings, and mom’s friends. It happens to the famous and not famous. It happens to princesses, and royalty is chronically, singularly obsessed with offspring more than the average in-law. How does this aunt blogger know? It’s gleaned from newly released books, interviews about those books, and just digging around on the web. I guess because I don’t have kids I have this kind of time. For some, kids just aren’t happening at all. For some “no kids” was a choice, but for others, it was inconvenient genetics.

It concerns me that once a decade is over, the issues get shelved and not brought up again, as if they won’t be repeated in some fashion if people just don’t bring them up. But they can, they have, and they do. And another generation of moms and non-moms gets hit by the proverbial bus because no one wants to talk about hard things in the family genes, or culturally. It appears like the only time you can bring up something hard is after something happy occurred after it. You know, the ubiquitous athlete mini-biopic type story.

We can’t prevent all hard things from happening, but communication about potential problems makes people better off about their choices, and working with what time is available.

In my view, based on more proactive conversations I could have had in my life, Moms and their grown daughters should discuss fertility and reproductive cancers in their family history sooner than later.

Thanks for reading.

TL; DR: Though usually benign, fibroids hurt, can be debilitating, and they can mess up fertility for 30-something women. I had several fibroids when they were discovered, and the best option to me was a hysterectomy, so I got one. Everyone’s decision is different.

Sources and Other References:

Kronda.com (especially if you are going to have a hysterectomy procedure)

Fertility for Colored Girls: July is Uterine Fibroid Awareness Month

Fibroid Relief.org

Barrier to Motherhood: Raising Awareness of the Fibroids Crisis

May 18 is Fibroid Awareness Day (I had no idea before writing this post)

HysterSisters

Call the Midwife

thenotmom.com (I am intrigued about this site and only heard about it 7/11/16)

Jennifer Aniston’s op-ed for Huffington Post, July 12, 2016

 NEW! Refinery29 Slideshow: Childfree celebrities 

Sorry I’ve Been Away. . .

I’ve been creating an e-class with my husband called The Remote Worker IT Toolbox. If you want to check out some free lectures for our class, here’s some links: the first is Google Drive and the second is Security and Passwords.

There’s also a companion website, WifiWorkerBees.com, and a Twitter account, @WifiWorkerBees. We’ve both been posting stories about remote work, digital nomads, co-working spaces, and remote working trends in our own Twitter feeds as well to build a community focused on remote work.

The last six months have involved brand brainstorming, doodling logos, fine-tuning said doodles in graphics software (for a final logo I am very proud of), writing courses, creating presentations, and rehearsing presentations to sound more at ease on camera, then editing those videos and posting them online. That was all a lot of work, a lot of I hadn’t done before (talking to a webcam, video editing, writing a class) and next comes the marketing!

Easily Confused Words will be making a return in the next couple days.

Thanks for reading!

Excerpt from Real Life: The 20 Year High School Reunion

The first week of June, twenty years ago, I graduated from high school. And spoiler alert, I am not going to a reunion this year.

I attended the same school system in the same town from kindergarten through 12th grade. I think that was long enough.

I was a long-haired brunette and the younger sister of another long-haired brunette. [Why the long hair? Our dad is a total Hispanophile, having fallen in love with Rota, Spain during his Navy years.]

If I was well-known, it was by default. I never felt “popular.”

For someone who lived in the same house and the same town all that time, I felt alien in a lot of ways. We were a Navy family, not a storied last name in these parts. Our last name (my maiden name) was German, but not pronounced ethnically; we had to spell it on a daily basis. We were Catholic. We all had dark hair. In the South, blonde and blue-eyed has been the beauty ideal for a long time.

My circle of friends was the ‘nerd herd’, a circle of mostly girls and one guy who would graduate in the top ten. Most of them were in gifted programs (the ones that let you skip class for another activity several days a week), but I was not. All in all, they were a good circle to be in, even if sometimes I wondered if I belonged in their company. This circle was my date to prom for two years in a row. Somehow, even with my lackluster math scores, I managed to graduate at #9.

I am in touch with a couple of these friends on Facebook. One, my best friend, I’ve been in touch with the most. In the last twenty years, it has become apparent friends like that don’t come along very often. I was fortunate they came along twice: once with her, once with my husband.

This year, the reunion is being planned by former cheerleaders and their ensemble. Predictably, they’re choosing the activity, they’re setting a date, and they’re lobbying their circle to hunt down the outer limits of the class of 1994 on Facebook. It’s $65 a head to hang out with people I had no choice about hanging out with for the bulk of my young life. People who think they know me, people who probably think they knew me.

I think I’ve seen this movie and the ending is predictable. I will regret going, and regret feeling upbeat in anticipation. No thanks. And thanks to social media, there isn’t too much about my life people couldn’t figure out from a Google search.

I won’t say it was all bad, but school was a lot of other people telling me what to do and what I was capable of. Some of my strengths, but mostly my weaknesses. Early on, I scored high on reading tests, but because I thought through my answers before speaking, I was labeled slow. It took parental intervention to put me in an appropriate class. The word “introvert” was unheard of.

I was a daydreamer prone to petite mal seizures. I was bad at math. I was not athletic. I would take walks and listen to my headphones. I spent most evenings in my room drawing, reading, or listening to the radio. I was avoiding a grumpy parent who I was nothing like personality-wise or interests-wise, and that wasn’t okay. I lived with a lot of daily anxiety because I thought every stranger saw me as this parent did and it had me shaking in my boots. I didn’t have my own car. If I had, I might have left for good.

School is full of judgement. The clothes you wear tell everyone about how much your parents make. As your teen years arrive, you can add your acne to how you are being judged. Some teachers played favorites while being pretty cold to other students. If you were a younger sibling, you learned your teacher’s relationship with your older sibling mattered a whole lot in how you were treated (you know, because you weren’t being compared enough at home.) Some Christian teachers were nicer to the souls they felt were”saved” versus those who are not. Some students or teachers with a unique religion encountered repeated scandal and controversy from parents and faculty even though they were perfectly fine people. And probably needless to say, gay kids couldn’t comfortably ‘come out’ in a small Southern town. Even if it’s something didn’t happen to me directly, seeing it happen to other kids didn’t feel good. These were all unfortunate life lessons about the petty, shallow side of human behavior. Are any of these things worth reliving, or celebrating? In my mind, they are not.

When you run into people from your past, you get reacquainted with who you used to be, whether you want to or not. It’s not always a bad thing. But I think the question is, do you want to feel like that person again, yes or no?

‘No? Then don’t look back.

PS: Have a good life, class of 1994.

If you liked this post, you might like” Graduation, or Findings.”

End of January 2014 Followup

Well, one month down. So far one New Year goal has made strides, while another did not turn out.

SUCCESS: I have been writing for a bigger, well-known publication in my area. It’s been thrilling, and so far the feedback has been mostly good. I have interviewed several really interesting, creative people. I admire the focus and courage they had to pursue a career in arts; I had neither and tried to pursue a practical career. Hopefully in 10-20 years (hopefully much sooner, I’ll take sooner!) I will feel similar sense of success. Some of these folks are teaching classes; it would be really awesome to attend those. Sadly, I cannot afford all of them, cash-wise or time-wise.

Through writing this new series of pieces, I have noticed lots of ways to change my approach and strategy. I want to try writing and editing in “heats”. I am expecting this to make the process go faster with less over-mulling my words, and less staring at the screen re-reading a piece over and over. By learning to work faster, over time that means more can be written and finished in less time. There’s personal projects I have delayed because I took too much time on stories. I am a little mad at myself for that.

FAILURE: A few weeks ago, I attempted to lighten my own hair at home. Spoiler alert: If you don’t have a license, don’t try this at home. The ease of coloring at home versus the difficulty of removing color at home is night and day, and not in a good way. I went from having three color hair–ashy black, white, and reddish brown–to having five color hair. This was not the desired outcome. Mortified, I went to a chain for “hair rescue 911” walk-in convenience. And the hair stylist balanced my hair back to varying shades of brownish-red. And thankfully, she never gave me a guilt trip about it. Not once did she say how dumb this idea was on my part, or ‘you folks think my job is easy and then you need a bailout when you screw up’. Nope, she was strictly there to help. I will be back. Tiny flecks of silver have already started reappearing, but I am ignoring them for at least a month.

OTHER FEEL-GOOD MOMENTS: My car was overdue for having valves replaced. I am pleased to report that’s behind me. My service appointment was delayed by two surprise snow days, but it got done.

I am very glad we survived those two snow days. I had picked up water, bread, and other non-refrigerated food staples to last 2-3 days before it hit. We dripped our faucets (a must in the South). As boring and confining as it is to be cooped up inside, I do not drive on snow days. I also do not go Downtown if it’s been raining for days.

It’s not that I am afraid of snow, it’s the black ice and the bad driving habits I see on the roads every time I’m behind the wheel. These habits aren’t a good idea on dry days, never mind wet, icy ones. I am not risking getting in a wreck when I did not have to be out in the first place. In the event I do have to be out in bad weather, I leave ridiculously early, take my time and do not follow other cars too closely.

This was our first snow at our current house. It looked like giant creature spilled granulated sugar from above in random spots, like the edge of the lawn, in the bushes, on tables and outdoor furniture.

In other news, I have sinusitis. This past Saturday, I noticed my nose hurt like I had been punched in the face. Knowing I had not been punched in the face, and having no bruising to prove otherwise, I googled my diagnosis. Yep, sinusitis. Yuck.

I am cleaning up notes from a weekend interview and getting started on the next story. How are your goals coming along?