Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It Was the Oddest High School Reunion

By Susan Esther Barnes

It happened days ago, but I can’t stop thinking about it. It was the memorial celebration for Mark West, held at the Contra Costa Civic Theatre, where Mark participated in so many plays, and where he taught at the summer drama camp for kids for a decade or more. It was where I was the House Manager for a few years in the 80’s, and where the man who is now my husband ran the lighting booth.

Many of the people attending the memorial were people my husband and I had known in high school, although, for the most part, they were his friends more than mine. One of the first people who greeted me was Erika.

I remember Erika distinctly, partly because we played Dungeons and Dragons in the same group of people, but mostly because, in high school, I was jealous of her. She was younger than me, and blonder, and prettier, and many, many more boys wanted to date her than me.

I was quite surprised when the first thing Erika said to me was, “You look great. I wish I looked as good as you do.” When I was in high school, I would have killed to hear her say something like that. I would have told you it would never happen. And if you insisted that it would, I would have thought it would be cause for celebration. It wasn’t.

Despite the jealousy, I never disliked Erika. I could totally see what the boys saw in her. Not only was she pretty, she was a fun person. There was something inherently likeable in her that I can’t quite define. Who wouldn’t want to date her?

I don’t know what she looks like in her own eyes, but all of us have aged. None of us look like we did back then. Most of us have changed in other ways, too. But one thing she still has, and which is obvious right from the start, is her likeability. I am at a place in my life when I consider that to be much more important than whether we’ve picked up a few wrinkles or who has more grey hair.

I am no longer jealous of Erika. I am not jealous of Gretchen, or Rosalind, or any of the other people who were and/or are cuter than me, or have better legs, or blonder hair. I’m not jealous because I respect me for who I am, and I respect them for who they are. We are all attractive and powerful women in our own way.

The memorial itself was supposed to be a celebration, and it mostly consisted of stories about Mark. We heard about how he rushed to help when he thought a couple of kids were bullying another, how he challenged and inspired kids at drama camp, and how he treated his nieces and nephews to Slurpees and Top Dogs.

We saw clips from some of the plays he performed in, photos of him as he grew up, and a couple of clips of him that were used in a “Stand Up to Cancer” telethon in 2008.

We laughed a lot, we cried, and we cheered.

Afterward, we went to the Mallard Club, a place where Mark used to go to drink and to play dice and pool. It was the same place where, at his brother’s birthday party a number of years ago, we first learned Mark had cancer.

We told more stories about Mark, we toasted him countless times, and in between we caught up on each other’s lives.

It was the oddest high school reunion ever, and I think Mark would have approved.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"I Want to Know What I'm Praying For" on TC Jewfolk

See my latest post at TC Jewfolk, called "I Want to Know What I'm Praying For." It was written before the surgeon told me I don't have cancer.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Adventures in Medical-land

By Susan Esther Barnes

I know I haven’t been writing much lately. Frankly, I’ve been a little pre-occupied with my health, but now that a doctor has said he doesn’t think I have cancer, I suddenly find it easier to focus on other things.

It all started with a minor irritation I mentioned in my most recent post. After a week on antibiotics and anti-inflammatories there was no change. As advised, I visited my doctor (actually a substitute for my regular doctor since she was on vacation or something), and that’s when things got a little dicey.

The doctor wasn’t sure what I had or what to do next. She said I could try a different antibiotic, but since the first one had made no difference at all, she thought I probably didn’t have an infection. Therefore, we decided not to waste our time on that option.

She said there are a couple of diseases that don’t involve bacteria that could be causing the issue, and she mentioned something called “Padget’s Disease.” Then, she said she would leave the room for a moment to consult with someone with more specialized experience.

When she came back, she told me she had spoken with someone, and per their recommendation she had scheduled me for a mammogram that afternoon. In addition, she said I should see a surgeon, and that they would call me later that day to make an appointment.

She said all of this rather calmly, so it wasn’t until the next day, when I looked up “Mammary Padget’s Disease” online, and started to think how odd it was that she wanted me to see a surgeon without even waiting for the mammogram results, that I started to put it all together. What she was saying in her professional let’s-not-scare-the-patient way was, “I think you may have cancer.”

One of the interesting things I noticed during this process, aside from the desire not to scare me, was the willingness of the medical professionals to make stuff up. When I went in the first time, the nurse who took my vital signs asked me what I had come in for. I told her swelling and irritation, but I noticed that she typed in “breast pain.” I never used the word “pain,” and she never asked me if it hurt. I wondered at the time whether there were only a limited number of options from which she could choose, but it looked like she was just typing it in.

A week later, after Padget’s was mentioned and I was in the radiology department waiting for my mammogram, I looked at my paperwork. I saw that the doctor had written that I had been symptomatic for two weeks. Nobody had ever asked me how long I’d had my symptoms, and at that point it had been something more like four weeks. I don’t know how much it matters, but it seems to me they should try to get these things right, which doesn’t seem so hard to do when all they need to do is ask the patient who is sitting right there in front of them.

At any rate, the good news is that the surgeon said my mammogram looks normal, and he couldn’t find any evidence of a tumor, so there was nothing on which to do a biopsy. He gave me some ointment, and said to call my regular doctor if that doesn’t clear things up within a week.

I still don’t know what I have, or whether the ointment will get rid of it, but right now “not cancer” feels like a good place to be.