I’ve lived with a fear of going blind my entire adult life. As a writer and filmmaker, vision has always seemed essential for my career, an important tool in the creation process. But my father lost the majority of his sight, inexplicably and very slowly, as I emerged into adulthood — his retinas detaching in both eyes with doctors unable to either figure out why or stop the process. Just as my identity as an artist and my career aspirations were taking hold, he was pushed into an uneasy acceptance of his fate that left him bitter, angry, and defiant. I watched this, mostly from afar, and never could shake the question of whether the condition would prove hereditary. Then I became a cancer patient and began chemotherapy, knowing full-well that it very likely would affect my eyesight.
Two days ago, I realized that I couldn’t focus with my right eye.
It’s nothing new for me to have a passing problem with my vision. Yes, my prescription had remained the same for over ten years — my glasses gave me better than 20/20 vision and I was content to wear them, never considering surgery to correct my vision. Six years ago, my daughter had inadvertently elbowed me in my left eye, causing the retina to scar and several ophthalmologists had prepared me for the likelihood that the retina would detach at that time. Admittedly, I was freaked out, and over the course of two years, my retina was heavily monitored as doctors prepared a means of preserving my vision in that eye. The scarring was carefully observed and then it did the most unexpected thing: it healed itself. Where there had been fuzzy abnormalities in the center of my vision, one day everything was more or less clear and back to normal. I breathed a sigh of relief and eventually stopped going back to the eye clinic. My prescription remained unaltered. Continue reading Fear of Fading Vision – Losing Eyesight, or Just Losing Sight of What Matters→
My mother had recently received news about five friends and relatives dying within a four-day period. It seemed really stacked up, and then she got a call that her last remaining uncle was going into hospice care. While it would be another couple of days until he died, the early warning essentially brought the total news to six in under a week. Granted, she is “of a certain age” at which it is expected that her peers and associates will be ending this existence at an increased rate, especially those markedly older than herself. It happens. It’s a part of life. And it isn’t talked about enough.
As a culture, death makes us squeamish. It’s hushed up, spoken of mainly with euphemisms and generally avoided for its awkwardness. Worse, it is often treated as an embarrassment. Oh, why did Grandad have to die so…inconveniently? Perhaps he should have just gone on vacation and disappeared… “I’m sorry for your loss,” they all say, pitying you for being unable to arrange a cleaner exit for the dearly departed. But death is messy, sometimes. Death brings hurt, upends the cozy lives of the living, leaves an overwhelming amount of loose ends.
But death is a natural part of life — one that cancer patients often have staring at them right over the proverbial shoulder. In February, I interviewed Michael March about his, as he put it, “Final Journey.” Michael is dying from throat cancer that migrated to his lungs, after eight years of dealing with various cancer issues (including periods of remission). Our conversation ran the gamut, from the lack of education that people have in talking about death to the spiritual comfort some seek during their period of decline. Michael also opened up about the fear of suffering that still remains after having made peace with the idea of dying. Continue reading Death, Death and More Death, Naturally→
I take the commitment of a Halloween costume seriously. When I was a kid playing with stage makeup, I made myself look like I had been beaten so badly one Halloween that people forgot I was in costume and wanted to take me to the hospital. This year, I contemplated going as my cancer diagnosis. It seemed appropriate, after all, because I had the serendipity of getting my infusion on Halloween day this year. Just seemed perfect. But then I was thinking about it and, quite frankly, cancer just isn’t as scary as it used to be.
So I went with the most frightening costume I could come up with: a candy fiend. After all, little is as horrifying as someone coming off of a sugar binge. And my paunch is perfectly highlighted by the tight-fitting shirt that I have now worn for somewhere in the range of 6 to 10 Halloweens. (What can I say, some things are simply classically insidious.)
While a few years ago the idea of a giant tumor might have been amusing to me, and the notion of cancer in general seemed like a properly frightful subject, the story around these has changed for me. Hollywood, of course, still relies on cancer as it’s go-to meme for unsettling disease requirements, but then Hollywood is creatively lazy and uses the most basic shorthand it has for easy emotional manipulation.
In this modern world, there are plenty of reasons to be cautious. Digital devices almost seem to control our lives. They take up our time, luring us into the virtual world for entertainment, allowing us to be more productive by keeping us linked to our work 24/7, lulling us into a world of social networking that never requires us to physically interact with other humans. It is no wonder that authors of speculative fiction depict alternative worlds where we are literally plugged in.
In offices and homes across the developed world, it is more likely than not that there will be active Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections running all day long, often from multiple devices. In the past twenty years, as wireless connections have become more prevalent, concerns have been increasingly raised about their safety. The World Health Organization (WHO) took notice in the late 90s and began looking at all the evidence that was piling up from studies in many countries. Key to this awareness were the growing trend of Electromagnetic Hyper Sensitivity (EHS) and the concern that Electromagnetic Frequencies (EMF) could cause cancer.
I was going to write about working without wearing any pants, and how pantsless careers are sort of ideal, but instead I am going to offer some thoughts on death and dying.
Most of my mornings begin like this: the low-impact sport of serving up espresso drinks at my daughter’s school followed by a cool down period of errands on the way home. Sometimes, since this is Los Angeles and there is always a bit of traffic to contend with, I have time for a phone conversation or to catch up on my quota of NPR. The ride home also gives me time to ruminate on important issues and subjects for my blog. Sometimes a conversation sparks a new thought process, twists the direction I had planned on going or otherwise derails what would have been a perfectly good fluff piece. By way of example, I recently conversed with my mother about my father’s final days, thus running the train of intention for this post completely off the rails. Continue reading The End of Life and How to Die→
On a recent morning commute, I was stuck behind a car that I coveted. It was only for a moment before traffic split off and I chugged ahead in my aging vehicle, but it was enough time for my brain to process this thought: “well, if I was meant to have a car like that…” If only it was meant to be. I caught myself, teetering on the precipice of that trap, and yanked myself back before slipping all the way over the edge.
If only it was meant to be.
The notion that anything in our lives was meant to be is a dangerous concept. People use it to soothe their despair, to give meaning to tragedy or otherwise cope in circumstances that they feel powerless over. But it is a notion that suggests that we should also give up, give in or otherwise simply accept that truly shitty things are meant for us, while other people are meant for luxury or power or even just a simple happiness of some sort that is uniquely theirs. It suggests that if we do not have that good stuff, we do not deserve it, but that whatever crap we are coated in is truly, divinely ours. Continue reading Meant To Be→
Death and dying have been on my mind lately. I recently interviewed a friend about the experience of losing her mother to cancer. I am planning an interview with a death doula, whose job it is to help people through the process of dying. And one recent morning, I spent a good deal of time mulling things over from a religious perspective, thanks to my daughter and her explanation as to how a particular used tissue ended up on the floor instead of in the wastebasket.
When I asked her how it got there, my daughter took the opportunity to concoct a whole creation story for her tissue. At the end of this story, sad as the tissues eventual demise was, it ended up going to a Tissue Paradise where it was reunited with all the other tissues with which it had once been packed. It was an interesting and inspirational twist, ultimately bringing much joy to the tissues (and to my daughter, who was convinced that her cleverness trumped my passive-aggressive attempt to get her to clean up after herself). Continue reading Death, Life and Tissue Paradise→
I was going to title this post “Why I Love Parabens.” I had been reading up on them lately for a number of reasons, mostly surrounding a largely unfounded controversy surrounding a type of lip balm my daughter had been using. In the case of the lip balm, the “paraben-free” product was being accused of harboring mold with the implication being that this was a manufacturing defect. Examination of the claims revealed, however, that the mold was most likely the result of misuse or poor storage of the product which, due to the lack of effective preservatives, would be expected to mold if it was exposed to moisture and kept in the dark. This does, however, beg the question as to why a lip balm, of all things, would be sold without effective preservatives to protect against mold.
The answer, of course, is the unwarranted vilification of parabens. The natural cosmetics industry, and perhaps more accurately the Environmental Working Group and other activist organizations have been disseminating information about parabens for over a decade now, describing how they are endocrine disruptors and probably cause cancer. And this is where we get to the point of where science is occluded by hype, to the detriment of the consumer, the patient, the regular person on the street…Continue reading Parabens, Fear and Junk Science→
The past two weeks wore on me; at times, I felt like I could drown in the pool of stress I had been slowly sweating out of me, a thick quagmire created of my own internal angst that seemed to engulf me from all sides. I’ve drained that pool in the last couple of days after trying a little exercise I like to call Clearing the Roof. Because I realized that stress is a top-down issue, it was going to have to be dealt with right up there, on the roof, where all that clutter and debris had been sitting, decomposing into mucky, thick, unmanageable gunk. Some of it was fresh, identifiable, easily swept away. Some of it had been there for years and was entirely unrecognizable. A whole lot of it, it turned out, was just settled pollution, junk particles that had come to rest because nothing had ever washed them away. It had been a much longer time than I thought since I had done this kind of personal maintenance.
Good thing I had a tall ladder.
But first, some backstory: For years I have talked about the importance of letting go of stress. I have let it eat at me in the past while I absorbed it from other people like an emotional sponge and the effect is that it triggers very strange migraine effects that mess with the speech center in my brain, causes a blind spot that travels across my field of vision and has, on one particular occasion, caused a trans ischemic event that, for those unfamiliar with the term, is kind of like a small stroke during which I lost control of my body, hallucinated that the table full of Happy Hour beer and appetizers was bouncing around, tossing things at me, and then I could not make sentences that anyone (else) could understand for about twenty minutes while my left hand tried repeatedly to climb up my chest. Continue reading Clearing the Roof→
I don’t normally write about guns, but soon it will be gun violence awareness day, so it seems appropriate to throw my two cents in. After all, I like shooting guns, and I like talking about the law. Plus, you know, I have a terminal cancer diagnosis, so it just kind of makes sense.
I recently read two similar news stories about a pair of women who were killed mere days apart: one was deliberately shot by a stranger after leaving a rural vacation spot, and another was shot in the back when her toddler found a gun in the car while they were driving. Pure coincidence that both of those happened close together in Wisconsin, a state I used to live just over the border from, and happened within a week of each other with two mothers being shot and killed while driving with their children in the car. Otherwise, one was a presumably intentional (if random) murder by a horrible person, the other a very random (and presumably inadvertent) act by an innocent.
I’d love to say that the random shooting of mothers by their small children was a complete outlier, but it isn’t. Sadly, this sort of thing happens far too frequently, even among responsible gun-owners and pro-gun advocates — even while they are driving. Of course, not all toddlers who come across guns shoot their mothers. Sometimes, and I find this part deeply, deeply sad, they simply shoot themselves because a loaded gun was within reach. (For those of you who did not or could not click that last link, it details four cases where toddlers shot and killed themselves during the same week last month, in addition to five non-fatal accidental shootings by minors.)