Bravery, Carcinoid tumor, Health vs. Beauty, ovarian cancer, Women

Bravery: Not Always Pretty.

After the elective ovary-fallopian tube removal surgery that filled my abdomen with air, then sliced, diced, washed and scrutinized everything that could be examined in my abdomen — along the way my appendix didn’t look good, so the surgeon nipped that out too — the bloating had finally reduced enough on day four so that I could see my feet. In disbelief I howled my first complete sentence into the shower steam;

“WHO THE F DID THEY GIVE THE RAZOR TO?”

That was when I got my first laugh, bent over the sink holding a towel to my sutured belly. I needed that laugh. My belly was a mountain range of peeling steri-strips, yellow bruising up and down and around, my belly button full of stitches.

Thanks to two friends in the medical profession I had been linked up with a first class surgeon. April 20, 2017, was her first available surgery slot — a completely random date, for a straightforward elective preventative surgery  — which turned out to be more crucial than anyone knew. Two weeks into recovery, pathology reported that my female bits were all fine. But I only got half a victory lap. The appendix was filled with tumor.

The road back from this surgery initially required patience, sleep and helping hands. But most importantly, this one required, and still requires, bravery.

I am healing from round one and my work isn’t done. I have been overwhelmed and full of fear since the pathology report, the kind that makes your knees weak and your head disconnected, a paralysis that had me knocking things over when I bothered to even get off the couch. I did not know this fear, a bleak, dark, exhausting swamp that mired me day and night, that arrested my healing, my appetite and my sleep. I didn’t want to be alone, and then cringed when anyone saw me. This was ugly. This was not brave.

And then, last week, I went back to Mass General Hospital and met with my GI Oncologist and the next surgeon for round two. As we talked, I felt the anxiety rise out of me. Like a palpable, visible mist right off my shoulders. I suddenly realized I chose trust. As these two men looked me in the eye and laid out our game plan, I understood that after a life of being in control I could recognize when to give it away. I didn’t google, or argue, or faint. I asked questions and listened carefully. I brought a note taker.

The next day I received an email from a fellow writer and cancer survivor. She wrote me: You have to be a fighter. And I would add, to be a fighter, you need to chose your team to go to battle with you. And when I chose, and accepted, I got my first good night’s sleep.

As I move forward, this life changing surgery — now referred to as surgery #1 —  leads me in a few weeks to surgery #2. I choose to count my blessing; if I had postponed the first surgery until after my daughter’s wedding in September the situation would have been immeasurably worse. I will have deeper scars and take longer to heal. I have to ask friends and family to re-boot meals and help and support all over again (thank you). I will most likely marvel if not laugh over the new mountain range of scars and the price of spanxx.

Bravery isn’t pretty, but I am upright.

Though frankly, the guy in surgery #1 with the razor (had to be a guy) might have tried to do something about those stretch marks while he was down there.

To be continued.

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Nurse Olive never left my side.

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Birth Control, Facts, Feminism, Planned parenthood, Women, Women's March

Counting Up Your People.

Day #4.

You may think the hashtags are counting down the days (oh, so many) until we elect someone else. But actually, every day I am counting up the privileges I didn’t appreciate that are now threatened by the new Republican administration. Access to birth control. Accurate news. A president that tells the truth. The presence of elected women in the White House. To name four, on day four.

Women have marched and we are home now, reevaluating our strengths, finances and abilities to make change. The low-end estimate is 3.3 million  women and men that took to the streets on January 23rd, 2017. This is a fact. But I am one woman. What can my impact be?

I have given this a lot of thought — where can I make a difference —  even though by the end of the day I want to go on a dozen crusades. I mean National Endowment for the Arts?  Our National Parks? Freedom of the Press? But  I choose women’s bodies and for starters, Planned Parenthood.

Please unfriend me everywhere if you think God is involved in this decision. We will not agree and I am ok with that. If a man can obtain Viagra to go play I should have the exact same rights to obtain birth control to go play. Let’s put that on the table early here. You have a choice and I have a choice. Don’t click on this blog if you want to rant. I have work to do.

I have two daughters, and the thought that they will lose rights they were born into both stuns and infuriates me. Women are supposed to roll back the clocks to an era where men in suits decide when, where and what we can do with our bodies?

No

You know, I am going to rewrite my history in the next four years; my history of letting everyone else do the heavy lifting. I now get Twitter and Facebook feed from Planned Parenthood. I am stopping by next week to walk through the door and make an appointment to talk to someone about volunteering. One by one we need to walk, talk, count up and lace up. Remember this:

day32017I am, for better or for worse, privileged to be in my late 50’s and just now hear a call to action. But what better than a white woman full of words with some time to spare?

Find your people. Get to work.

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Drawing by Emma Dane Garfield http://www.emmadgarfield.com @edg_originals

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Feminism, Pussyhat, Vote, Women, Women's March

What She Carried.

Unable to slide my datebook into my purse today, I dumped the handbag unceremoniously over on the counter. Here, at the risk of going over my strict word limit, is what I found:

3 plastic dog poop bags, 4 different Boston restaurant matchbooks, stacks of crumpled receipts, a small notebook, my  checkbook, 2016 medical card (aha), 2 used handkerchiefs, 5 used kleenex, a ziplocked bag with 3 lip balms, 4 pairs of glasses, my Fitbit (finally), 5 hair clips, ear buds, mints, a book of stamps, a comb, five post-it pads, 6 pens, 2 pencils, 6 dusty dog biscuits, and a bra.

Really.

I should be embarrassed but in a strange, distancing-myself way I am fascinated by what she carried, this woman who ran rampant over the holidays, making, baking, decorating, wrapping, visiting, drinking, eating, not sleeping, not writing, feasting on family time. She needed lip balm. And very soon got the flu and needed tissue. She lost her glasses over and over. And her favorite bra after a massage session. A lot can be said about me, where I have been and where I want to go, if you look deep to the bottom of my handbag.

The 2016 presidential election has focused an intense spotlight on women — unexpected, thought provoking and worthy of examination. Women supported Trump overwhelmingly across the country despite everything he did that might indicate a different vote. No one looked deep enough into their purses and examined what they were carrying that affected their voting choice; their specific issues on jobs, healthcare, race, feminism. Turned out, just because they carried a purse did not mean they were going to support just any female politician.

I will be walking on January 21 in Seattle at the Women’s March. Don’t think I don’t have reservations, as the organizers dictate when and where participants can be silent and vocal. Or when I read the sheer numbers that are anticipated when as a firm rule I avoid crowds. But I am interested in what we carry, us women, and I hear we will all be there, dumped onto the streets in our pink hats, shouting our views, making the contents of our beliefs and feelings seen and heard.

America the beautiful. America the brave. We the people. Me, the coward, in the midst of it all. It is a year of seismic changes, from the street to my purse. Time to understand each other, to look deep, to lock arms. Even to shout.

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Feminism, Women, writing

Kick Butt.

I remember the day my grandmother taught me how to curtsey. She was somehow in charge of me on bridge day and I was dressed to be shown off, squeezed into an uncomfortable wool jumper, the white blouse underneath bunching up around my middle. I knew I fell short on many levels, but determined, she gave me a quick how-to before her guests arrived. Holding my plump hands in hers she positioned me in front of her and demonstrated: slide one foot behind the other, dip my knees together, look her in the eye.

I remember feeling a little sick to my stomach. At home I ran barefoot in the wheat fields. Why am I learning this I wondered. The year was 1965 and I had personally witnessed my mother throwing away her bra. “You can do EVERYTHING I couldn’t” my mother told me as she dropped it in the bin with a flourish. But I also knew, like my grandmother’s even, back-slanted handwriting, that today’s lesson held the key to being a lady, a term my mother scorned but the little fat girl secretly worshipped. I stood by the front door with my grandmother that day and executed a perfect curtsey to each guest. They cooed in admiration. This felt just fine.

So began my conflicted relationship with being a woman that frankly has not abated fifty-two years later. Does it ever abate with any woman my age? I write my essays on being white, middle aged and full of words. I question retiring from life when the kids leave for theirs. My essays and blog posts are sprinkled on the internet weekly and after publication I am full of heavy dread each time I turn on my laptop. Who will be offended? Can I live what I say and say what I mean?

But then we have the elections of 2016 and I face that I have been coasting along, letting other women do the heavy lifting. How to hone feminism and fifty and language to shape the next generation now keeps me awake at night.

“Look what we did for you!” was my mother’s favorite line when she pushed me to college, graduate school, begged me to get a PHD. This year I assure my oldest daughter as she plans her wedding, “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want,” and I know my mother would be proud. Then I order my daughter monogrammed stationary. Because, honestly, I am still doing a little curtsey with a pen in my hand, bridging the worlds that raised me.

If I want my daughter to keep the path for equality and feminism open despite the elections of 2016, for her to be the next female president (why not?) or know her, I need to trample the have to’s and remind myself and other women daily that women can do anything. So here goes another blog, and some more words, and the choice of honesty.

You will still be a lady if you kick butt. Even more of one now in 2016. And you need to.

Thanks for cutting the path, Mom. Stomping on it right now for you and all of us.

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Gathering lilacs at Moose Hill. Alexandra Dane, 1965

 

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Changes, Choices, Friendship, Women

What We Need We Do Not Know.

 

What we need we do not know but find on the street corners, women in soft t-shirts walking dogs, mothers, the milk, just strangers who pause to savor that day of freedom November 8 the talk of children and leaves not small circles pressed deep with pens and pencils or choices all the ones we have made over and over for everyone but ourselves for today is our day.

What we need we do not know November 9 we push our fingers frantically, beating against our streaming words and screaming soundless fury, scrolling and scrolling and hoping the next line will make us better, so many words to find one answer the rainbow bleeds to white at the unfathomable red fury.

What we need we do not know but find anyways when we push off the noise, once the rain falls relentless and the paper stays unopened we float curled on the couch seek with coffee and friends anchor at our kitchen tables the tired in our bones rising, the tired that comes just before the fight and the starting gun.

What we need we do not know but it’s been buried deep and anyways will take four years to recognize, to age into the imperfect terroir clinging to our tongues staining our breath the taste of loss and resurrection of sweetbitterlove.

What we need we do not know but we discover in a humble safety pin. We push the sharp end through our ragged skins, catch the torn edges, secure the clasp. Begin in pain anyways bleeding and mending,my skin fusing with your skin my children scarring together with your children my vote cast with your vote. Again.

What we need we do not know until we find ourselves at the corner with the women holding each other, laughing at the joy of ourselves.

Alexandra Dane, November 11, 2016

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Hillary Clinton, Not Okay, Vote, Women

Not Okay. Again.

Last week I was making a return at a Nordstrom’s store situated in the northern suburbs of Seattle. All was very quiet on Thursday afternoon at 4:30 PM on the third floor. I was the only customer in sight. My back was to the escalators and while exchanging information with a very young saleswoman I heard it. Right behind me.

“In my day we didn’t stack women’s underwear on tables for everyone to see,” he growled. I could feel him a few feet away. Those little hairs on our neck? They really do prickle when adrenalin flows.

I smiled at the gal, got very still then heard closer behind me,

“Seriously, you bitches need to do something about this.”

I looked her in the eye, did not turn around and said, “Does he come here often?”

She continued to smile and said without missing a beat,

“Oh, thanks goodness, I thought he was with you. No. Never seen him before.”

I laughed too loudly and said “Ah. No.”

And that’s when I felt a very new feeling. I wasn’t scared. I was completely enraged. Expansively enraged.

He moved next to me, fiddled with some pamphlets, commented on our vaginas. I folded my hands around my bag and turned to face him. I was seriously sweating and ready to deck him. This was not ok. Again. The language, the attitude, coming into our space — ladies lingerie for god’s sake. Like a bad movie rerun after all the news, the endless pussy jokes, the locker room talk from Donald Trump. Not. Okay. At. All.

Then he swiveled, circled the sales counter, got very close to another saleswoman and started to talk in a low voice. Not breaking her smile, my saleswoman asked for my signature, then answered a phone call.

“Yes, I did. White male, pony tail, white shirt, back of the lingerie department. Thank you.”

I looked at her in total respect.

“What did you do? I asked, keeping an eye on him.

“No need for phone calls,” she smiled. “We just have to press a button.”

I was flooded for love for this young woman, her professionalism, her smile, her calm. And deeply saddened that standing in our women’s sanctuary we had to protect ourselves. Again.

I looked her in the eye and said,

You are awesome.”

As I headed to the escalator two men took got off and split to either side of me and headed to the back.

Not ok. Again. But here’s what is happening since Donald Trump opened his mouth: Women are not scared, we are really, really angry. We are people, not objects of filth, voyeurism, sexual predatory behavior and let me emphasize, this behavior is not acceptable anywhere. Not in a bus, not in a house, not in the street, not at my feet.

Know the difference between OKAY and NOT OKAY. Or you might get smacked by a sweating writer with a bag full of books and bras. And I guarantee it will hurt.

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Women

Notice.

A few months ago at a college reunion I told a woman I barely knew that she was beautiful. I had been so struck by her stunning calm, her sweet smile, her kindness to other people that day. Her face fell when she heard my words. She narrowed her eyes, checked sideways to see if her husband was listening, glared at me and hissed in a whisper,

“Don’t say that!”

And quickly walked away like I was toxic.

I tell my daughters and son they are beautiful always and forever because they are and always will be. They are my works of art, marvels of DNA and history and memories.

But we woman don’t say beautiful to each other. Well, women have said to me “you look great!” which I instantly translate to “you didn’t look so good the last time I saw you.” Then there’s “you’ve lost weight!” and I cringe because what I weigh is none of their business nor is their assessment of my body type sought after at any time.

We tell each other that we are dressed well, or our hairstyle looks good, or our shoes are glamorous. Exterior compliments. Men or the fashion industry or the magazines rate, weigh and place cultural values on our looks. But for a woman to call another beautiful, in a completely a-sexual manner –the kind of beautiful that is a state of being; not of hair, or clothes, or skin? Highly unusual.

Why don’t we — as women — acknowledge when another woman glows, or looks happy, or truly radiates beautiful?  Why do we let others be better judges?

Her fearful glare had warned me  “back off  you are embarrassing me, my husband won’t like that,” and indicated to me that no one had told her enough or, sadly, at all, that she was beautiful. After the reunion incident I decided more notice was necessary, not less.

Strangers hug me after I say it. Girls smile. Men (yes, I am not exclusive) kiss me on the cheek. Let me tell you something: you will feel as good as they do when you say “you are beautiful.”

A random stranger brought this home today. I was headed to an early ferry, my hair a mess, my jacket rumpled and not quite awake. The morning was so sweet, the coffee so perfect, my car smelled so like heaven packed with dahlias, sweet peas and apples that I had jumped into the car not caring at all about my appearance. I may even have been still wearing my sheepskin slippers.

The ticket lady handed back my change and said, “you are so beautiful, and so early in the morning.” I looked up at her and said “thank you” and cried all the way down the ferry dock.

It was nice to be noticed for the right reasons. It was even better to have a woman tell me.

Notice the beauty. Pass it on.

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“Carnation”, oil on canvas, Emma Dane Garfield 2015

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