Monday, March 30, 2009

Update: Chemo Canceled and I'm Losing My Hair

I was scheduled for my next session of chemo on Friday, but the blood test on Thursday revealed my white blood cell count was too low.

"Come in on Monday," the nurse advised. "That's 21 days from your previous treatment."

Hubs has Fridays off and while his boss is very understanding about this, Hubs & I would like to inconvenience his fellow employees as little as possible. The nurse grumbled, but pushed my appointment back a week.

I'm a bit annoyed at her attitude because Hubs and I told the clinic that we would prefer my appointments to be on Fridays and they assured us there would be no problem once we saw how I tolerated chemo. And it was one of the staff who moved my appointment up four days.

Okay, so that means I have to rework my personal calendar to determine how I'm going to be feeling at different events and try and schedule around when I think I'm going to be wiped out.

The nurse (who is really very nice) warned my about avoiding "large crowds," so I decided it probably wasn't a good idea for me to be a Eucharistic Minister at Mass. But I did go to that and to my poetry group.

But I feel fine. I've been going to my aqua aerobics and aqua running classes for the last two weeks; working, riding BART, going to my favorite warehouse store to stock up on yogurt and string cheese so I'd have quick, high-protein snacks. I feel strong. So how can my white cell count be so low?

And then there's my hair.

My hair felt really dry. Then the roots started hurting, not a lot, but whenever I brushed it or the wind riffled through it. This past weekend, it's started coming out en masse, whether I brush my hair or not. I'm trying not to play with my hair (a habit of mine while reading) because I'd need a garbage bag or wastebasket nearby to dispose of the remnants. I am in a shedding competition with our dog.

Beauticians have commented on the amount of hair I have; my hair is fine, but there's a lot of it. I am now amazed myself. The "blonde" seems to be falling out; the silver-white gray is hanging in there, though for how much longer is a mystery. I bought some very nice hats on Saturday--DD#2 helped me pick them out; DD#1 critiqued them and approved of two, thought one was "very much you, Mom," and we agreed the fourth one needs some jazzing up. (It's white and a very soft cotton, which is why I bought it.) I took out some of my other hats and tried them on as well. My hat size is noticeably smaller and I can only attribute it to hair loss. At Mass last night, DD#2 kept brushing stray hair from my shoulders.

Hubs has slowing been losing his hair on top and the kids were teasing us about really looking alike as long-married couples often do (we've been married 30 years as of the middle of March).

"Yeah, but mine will grow back," I retorted. Hubs groaned.

Usually I pick my hat to match my outfit. Now I'm picking my outfit to match my hat!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

More Reflections on Education as an Encore Career

I was going to use Jaime Escalante, the teacher who brought advanced math courses to the students at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, as an example of someone with an "Encore" career. While Mr. Escalante was successful at Garfield, I thought I had read he had much less success when he moved to a different school with a different ethnic make-up. I went to Wikipedia to start my search, and found something else I hadn't known and hadn't thought of.

Mr. Escalante had to fight the academic establishment at Garfield to get the classes he wanted. He didn't have success until a principal came along who supported his efforts. In fact, when the principal, Mr. Escalante, and another teacher who used the same methods left Garfield, the math program fell apart.

One of the reasons Mr. Escalante left, according to Wikipedia, was professional jealousy from other teachers and the political in-fighting that often happens.

My school district had "Coach Carter," who benched the entire boys' basketball team when they failed to live up to their study contracts. Mr. Carter also did not have the support of the principal, but he remained steadfast and eventually the team got their academics together. What did the school district do? Move the principal from the inner-city high school to the suburban one, where she was just as ineffective. (She was the principal during DD#1's senior year and DS#2's freshman year, before we moved him to a different school in a neighboring district.)

Eventually the school district caught on and transferred her to a grammar school.

So how many people, after putting up with the "daily grindstone" of working for a corporation, will put up with the political machinations that go on inside most urban school districts?

And what do the NEA, AFT, and other teachers' unions think of this plan? After all, we simply cannot have unqualified (i.e., uncredentialed) people teaching our children. It would be absurd to have a former CPA teach economics or math or a former corporate lawyer teach about government.

Wouldn't it?

Teachers spend years learning classroom management and skills like how to teach reading and math and social studies to young children. How could anyone just "walk in off the street" and into a classroom and be successful?

Maybe they could be classroom aides. Or go to school for a year to earn their credential first. And then experienced teachers can "mentor" these Encore Career teachers and guide them through the political thicket of the typical school.

Okay--I'm being more than sarcastic here. I know that corporations are also political minefields. Still, I find there is a bit of the "Lady Bountiful" attitude in this suggestion: those of us "lucky" enough (because, you know, hard work and discipline never plays a part in one's success) will come to a classroom in an "underserved" area (another one of my favorite euphimisms) and spread enlightenment and learning on the children eager to lap at the pool of knowledge.

Which is why Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn are university professors, I guess, and not in the nitty gritty classrooms of a Chicago school.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Working Longer, "Encore Careers," and Civic Duty

My local paper carries Ellen Goodman's syndicated column. While she's an articulate writer, I often wonder what planet she's living on.

Scratch that. I know. She lives in Boston and summers at the Vineyard. You know, like regular folk.

Her latest column is "The Benefits of Working Longer" and I can't figure out whether she is for it or against it. I think this is her thesis:

But if the downturn comes with the seeds of generational conflict over jobs, it also carries packets of social change. There is a chance for the boomer generation to make a virtue - or a revolution - out of the necessity of working longer.

We already know that a growing corps of people in their 50s and 60s are more interested in renewal than retirement. Marc Freedman of Civic Ventures talks about "encore careers" for those who want to leave their midlife jobs and move into work with social value. (emphasis added-ed.)

Now, he says hopefully, "The one benefit of this economic crisis is to drive home the reality that longer working lives are going to be necessary and desirable. If we can give people a sense that contributing longer is not another set of years at the grindstone but an opportunity to do something they can feel proud of, we'll have accomplished something significant."

I find those words "social value" especially chilling. Who determines the social value of a particular job? I happen to enjoy my job and I help many customers make full use of the data my company provides, data my customers use to expand their businesses and hire more people. Or import more cargo, which provides jobs for Teamsters and stevedores and clerks and cargo inspectors and... You get the idea. Doesn't that have "social value"?

Okay, how about this: some of my customers are non-profits--universities and business libraries and governmental agencies who are interested in trends in the movement of goods between the U.S. and the rest of the world. Agencies that are using the data my company provides to allocate public funds--funds taken from hard-working Americans in the form of taxes. Surely that has "social value"!

And I am proud of the work I do. I'm good at it, a fact my company recognizes by paying me pretty well.

Again, from Ms. Goodman's column:

The bipartisan Serve America Act coming to the Senate floor not only expands AmeriCorps with its young and old population but provides model fellowships in 50 states that would help older adults enter areas where they're needed, such as education or the environment. (emphasis added --ed.)

Has Ms. Goodman been inside an urban school--or even a suburban one--lately?

About ten years ago, when our local school district first started having serious financial problems, our city council invited the public and school administrators to a meeting to brainstorm solutions. DS#1 was a student at the local high school and had mentioned the drug-dealing he saw going on in the back of his classroom. I mentioned it at the meeting and my observation was seconded by the Student Body President.

The principal denied it was happening: "We have a zero tolerance policy and all of our teachers adhere to it."

In discussing this with Hubs, I commented, "You know, if there were two 6' tall, 200-lb. male students dealing in the back of the classroom, I'm not so sure I would be willing to take them on."

Now that I'm older, I'm more sure that I wouldn't confront them.

Around that same time, a local third grade teacher was stabbed by a parent during a conference.

These incidents happened at the "good" schools in our district.

Yeah, that's where I want to work when I'm 60.

No mention is made of volunteer work, a very traditional, a very American way of doing meaningful work. Volunteer coaches and Scout Leaders. Volunteers who restore creeks and historic sites. Who plant flowers, set up flags along the sidewalks on holidays, paint murals on bridges. Who collect canned foods and warm clothes, sing to those in nursing homes, serve Thanksgiving dinner to lonely seniors, make tray favors for Meals on Wheels. Who drive the vans delivering those meals or take folks to medical appointments or check in on the seniors living alone.

You know, work with social value that isn't organized by the government, that doesn't require a huge bureaucracy.

Update: The Anchoress is thinking along the same lines, it seems!

We've Got a New Bishop!

On May 5, Bishop Salvatore Cordileone will be installed as the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Oakland. Unfortunately, it's after DD#2's Confirmation--ah, well.

Bishop Cordileone comes from San Diego and has quite a theological background, having received his doctorate in theology in Rome. According to Fr. P, Bishop Cordileone has a reputation of being a theological conservative, which, if true, just might cause some friction the more liberal clergy at some of the local universities. I don't think that bothers Fr. P at all.

Bishop Cordileone was a parish priest in Calexico, just on the California side of Mexicali, and speaks fluent Spanish--a plus here as well. He's also young--52--so Fr. P wonders how long he will actually be with us before he's tapped for bigger and better things.

I haven't checked other Catholic blogs to find out more about him. The latest edition Catholic Voice, our diocesan newspaper, was published before Bishop Cordileone's appointment was announced. I'll be interested in what they have to say as well. The paper tends to have a liberal bent, although our previous bishop, Bishop Vigneron, was conservative.

(Can you be theologically conservative and politically liberal?)

As ever, prayers for the new Bishop who will have many challenges in the coming years.

Prayers Requested...

For a friend of The Anchoress. Heather is pregnant and has an aggressive cancer, so is opting for radiation only until the baby is born. Please keep her and her family, including her baby, in your prayers.

Stories like Heather's give me some perspective in my own life. My "baby" is 15 and is well on her way to adulthood. She and the others may depend on me for emotional support and for guidance (along with a good deal of nagging on my part), but they are all self-sufficient. No one will starve if I can't cook dinner. They can shop, they can do their own laundry, they can even clean when the spirit moves them.

Even Hubs, whom I like to tease about his inability to multitask, can fend for himself.

I can afford to take an aggressive approach with my cancer. And for that I am grateful.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

La Ligue and Subversion

Last night Hubs, DD#1, DS#2, and I attended the annual banquet of La Ligue Henri IV. It was the 114th Anniversary banquet and we filled a table with my mother (who is the widow of a member), my three brothers (who are members) and their wives, and Sis#2. DS#2 is a new member and wore his tux. Bro#1 is now a Directeur, and eventually will move up the ladder.

Our great-grandfather belonged to La Ligue, founded as a benevolent society back in the 19th Century before the government designed programs to rescue us. The aims of the Ligue are simple: to provide insurance for the members, to promote French culture and language--particularly that of the Bearn, Basque, and Pau Valley (where Henri was born)--and for charitable works.

My great-grandfather must have found some comfort in going to meetings, dinners, and picnics and hearing the patois of his village, which is much different from the French of Paris. We are peasant stock, built low to ground, the men barrel-chested and the women wide-hipped, designed to climb the mountainsides.

I can't say that I appreciated this when I was a child, except for the food: hearty and heavily laced with garlic and onions.

La Ligue has widened its membership requirements in recent years, accepting those who do not necessarily have a French last name and whose French heritage is from a wider area. One thing has not changed: it's still men-only.

As the MC detailed the history of La Ligue, I thought back to other benevolent and fraternal organizations started around the same time: Lions, Moose, Elk, Rotary, Native Sons & Native Daughters of the Golden West, E Clampus Vitus, Italian Catholic Federation, the Caledonian Club, the Hibernians, and others. They were all designed to take care of their members or the widows and children of members as well as the wider community. Men and women met and mingled, took care of one another, sponsored youth groups and charitable causes such as providing eyeglasses for children who couldn't afford them.

I wonder if this is a model we, as a society, need to return to as "The Government" becomes overwhelmed trying to be all to everyone. There were over 1000 people at the banquet last night, most of them middle-aged, most who also have children they want to take care of and pass their culture to.

Odd to think that La Ligue may be as subversive in its own way as ACORN and MEChA.

R.I.P. Natasha Richardson

My children are used to me exclaiming over the death of a celebrity whose name they don't recognize. I've been doing it a lot lately. But Natasha Richardson they knew as the mother in the remake of The Parent Trap with Lindsay Lohan.

And they know Liam Neeson as Obi Wan's mentor in The Phantom Menace.

To me, Ms. Richardson was one of those classic English beauties: blond, calm, self-possessed when needed, fiery and passionate inside. She seemed to have a graciousness onscreen. I remember he performance in Nell and in A Handmaid's Tale, though I didn't realize that she played "aFrank" until I read her obituary. The idea that she died from fall on the bunny slope seems preposterous. She didn't slam into a tree, as Sonny Bono did. She wasn't doing anything particularly daring or dangerous.

She was on holiday with her family.

May she rest in peace and may her husband and sons find comfort in her memory.

Book Review: A Long Way Down

A Long Way Down, written by Nick Hornby, who also wrote Fever Pitch, About A Boy, and High Fidelity, is told from the perspectives of four people who happen to meet on New Year's Eve on the roof of the Toppers' House--intending to jump to their deaths. Each of them has a different reason: Martin, a former TV morning talk show host who was convicted of statutory rape; Maureen, who is the sole caretaker of her severely-disabled adult son (and has been for his entire life); J.J., a musician and the only American, who has broken up with both his band and his British girlfriend (and is mostly upset about the breakup of his band); and Jess, a seriously messed-up young woman with no impulse control whatsoever.

Maureen arrives on the roof as Martin is sitting on the edge, smoking, and contemplating his final act. When Jess rushes up to the roof, heading straight for the edge, Martin tackles her, and he and Maureen pin her down to prevent her from committing suicide. J.J. arrives with a pizza. The story follows them around as they form an unlikely bond and learn how each of them happened to arrive on the rooftop that fateful night.

And, in their own warped ways, they try to solve the problems that brought them to the edge, although it's not that each individual tries to fix what's wrong in their own life. That wouldn't be funny enough. Three of them try to fix the problems of the fourth, in a kind of rotation, although Jess is usually the catalyst.

There is definitely a British sensibility to all of this, along with the black humor. And some very substantial issues are discussed: what does it mean to be a mother, a father, a husband? What obligations does one individual have to another? How do the mundane, everyday choices one makes in life affect what happens later? What is one willing to sacrifice for love? How does one define oneself? How do subjects left undiscussed come back to haunt?

The story alternates among the first-person voices of each of the characters and very often key events are told from several different perspectives. Each voice is clearly labeled and has its own vocabulary and tone, so you know who is speaking. Mr. Hornby makes this technique work and it serves the story well.

The ending is pretty true to life: rather vague and open-ended. The characters are not the same people they were at the beginning, yet the changes are subtle. Each has moved out of the small circle of themselves and been forced into a wider world. Overall, they still are who they are, but their perspective has changed. And isn't that what happens to most of us over time?

On the March Hare scale: 3.5 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks.

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

Friday, March 20, 2009

An Awesome Feast For Ears & Palate

Fr. P. has slowly been making our parish his own. His first steps were to bring our liturgical practices into conformance with GIRM. Not harshly, but firmly. He then went to work on the music.

He's a priest in the mold of Benedict: well-schooled theologically with a love of music. He brought back chanting to the Mass, especially during Christmas and the Triduum. He's encouraged our choirs to expand their repertoires and include some traditionally hymns and more vocally challenging pieces.

But his big project was restoring the organ in our church. He not only succeeded, he also enhanced it by adding more pipes that became available from a synagogue in San Francisco (which I find rather fitting, in a "completing the circle" kind of way).

Last night, the Bishop Emeritus came to bless our new organ, on the feast of the patron saint of our parish. A noted organist was brought in and we were treated to thirty minutes of music as he put all the pipes through their paces, demonstrating the range and the possibilities. That was followed by Mass.

DD#2 was one of the acolytes. Her primary job was to hold the Bishop's mitre and crosier. The Knights of Columbus were also there, swords, capes, and plumed hats. And I was reminded that singing with an organ is definitely not like singing with a piano! Organs can hold a note, so the pace of some of the familiar hymns was slower than usual, notably the Gloria. Which means my breathing had to change to match, something I had learned waaaaay back in the '60's.

And then there was the Recessional. The first few bars played and I laughed, unfortunately out loud. The organist chose Holy God, We Praise Thy Name, my all-time least favorite hymn. And we sang all three verses.

(Perhaps an explanation is in order. Growing up, in my pre-Vatican II parish, only one recessional hymn was ever sung: Holy God. In fact, Holy God was just about the only hymn sung in English. Now, I only know of about three people, not in a choir, who can actually sing this hymn without squeaking. I am not one of them.

(Just for the record, my other least favorite hymns are Come Holy Ghost, again because no one I know can sing it properly, and Faith of Our Fathers because I find the melody somewhat whiny. Come Holy Ghost was practically required at Pentecost and Confirmation, as was Faith of Our Fathers.

(I know, I know... all three are "classics." Frankly, I prefer Kumbyyah to any of them, especially when the congregation gets behind it!)

After Mass, we had a "St. Joseph's Table," an Italian tradition that I somehow missed. Basically, there was a table of food set up in the Parish Hall, all day long. And each family was encouraged to take a loaf of bread to bring home to share. The tradition started much like Thanksgiving: a village in Italy, facing famine, prayed to St. Joseph for a good harvest. Their prayers were answered, so they had a communal meal where all could share the bounty and celebrate. This was a wonderful way to end the day, talking and laughing with friends and fellow parishioners. I hope our Parish is able to carry this tradition forward next year.

On a funny note: the sanctuary was decorated with cala lilies. It took me twenty minutes before I made the connection between the lilies and St. Joseph. D'oh!

I can't wait to hear the organ during the Easter vigil.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Personal Update

Wow! I didn't realize it had been so long since I posted. I compose posts in my head at odd moments and somehow they never seem to make it online.

I had my first round of chemo about a week and a half ago and spent the rest of that week discovering how the chemicals were going to affect my body. The anti-nausea meds worked very well, especially when a friend mentioned that it's the kind of nausea that goes away if you eat something. Oh--like morning sickness! I know how to deal with that! So I ate crackers when I woke up and ate something every couple of hours. (So much for my Lenten fast...) Then, over the weekend, which was several days after I stopped taking the meds, I noticed my vision was blurry. Turns out one of the meds is a steroid and blurred vision can be a side effect. Swell--my choice is nausea or blurred vision. I'll take blurred vision for $100, Alex!

There was the expected fatigue and then there was the fatigue that crept up on me that I didn't always realize was there. There was constipation, despite drinking several quarts of water a day. There's the nagging sore throat, not a bad one, just one that worried me because I have a history of tonsillitis and strep. So I slept, added molasses to my morning oatmeal, and gargle with warm salt water.

This week I feel like my old self, so much so I went back to my aqua aerobics class yesterday. And then had to explain where I'd been since the beginning of the year. I'm one of the regulars and my absence was noted, which is a nice feeling, actually.

I cut my hair short, kind of like the pixie cut I wore as a girl, which everyone thinks is really cute. And "you got new glasses!" Well, yeah, back in November. People notice the hair and then notice the glasses.

I also made my oncologist laugh at my follow up appointment on Monday. I mentioned I had returned to the office on Thursday after my chemo and she was surprised.

"I had Girl Scout cookies to deliver," I said in explanation.

"Oh... Girl Scout cookies!"

"Yeah. We have our priorities."

"And I can see where Girl Scout cookies are a priority," she said and laughed.

As Sis#2 pointed out when I mentioned the doctor wants me to "keep up my calories": like there's any problem with that during cookie season! (My favorite? All of them, for different reasons and different moods.)

I also attended the special Mass & Anointing of the Sick held by my parish over the weekend. And, yes, I did feel better after attending. Part of it was the feeling of community: I am not alone, spiritually or physically, in my suffering. I have the Communion of Saints to get me through this.

My next treatment is a week from this Friday.

Also, please pray for my friend who was just diagnosed with Stage III lymphoma. She's known in our local Girl Scouting community as "Grandma Willow," and keeps us on our toes! Her daughter, one of my closest friends, is taking this turn of events very hard.