A Photograph of me without me in it

A Photograph of me without me in it
A photograph of me without me in it

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Healthy Brains

Since the American Association of Retired Persons keeps pointing out my advancing age, I'm thinking about my health (and yours) more than I used to.

In cleaning off our computer table (a significant challenge, as Ann restricts my talent for making piles to this table), I ran across these notes from a Brain Tumor Support Group seven months ago. Dr. Nancy Isenberg, a neurologist titled her lecture "Healthy Aging with Cancer," though her tips apply to anyone who is aging (and if you aren't aging, you're dead. So you might as well admit it: you're aging.)

"What good for the heart is good for the brain." I'm not sure that the poet Kabir who scribed these words was writing about exercise, but Dr. Isenburg was.

"How much exercise?" you may whine. I know you've heard this before, this part about exercising, but there's stuff here that you haven't heard.

Walk at least 3 times a week for at least 45 minutes. (You reduce the risk of Alzheimers by half if you exercise 30 minutes a day.) The biggest benefit of exercise is metacognition.

Juggle. Juggling changes the patterns of activity in the brain.

Dance to music.

Eat well, too. Yes, you've heard that before, too. Here's more:

Take vitamin D. Low Vitamin D is associated with dementia. (And, my note, we all know that there's Vitamin D in the sunshine, so if you live in a gloomy place like Seattle, you should go to Mexico or Hawaii at least once  a year. I'm pretty sure your health insurance will foot the bill.)

Eat fish for Omega 3s. This is the advantage to living in a gloomy place like Seattle. You have great salmon. (Omega 3 is also good for high cholesterol and ADHD.)

The Mediterranean must be a good place to live because its sunny and the Mediterranean diet is good for your hypocampus: Olive oil, red wine, fish, fruits and veggies, and walnuts. Especially walnuts on an ice cream sundae. (I'm pretty sure your health insurance will pay for you to relocate to the Mediterranean, too.)

Coconut oil, peanut oil and avacadoes are good. Kelp, too. Throw 'em all in a pan and stir 'em around. (They're a great addition to walnuts on your ice-cream sundae.)

Bob, whom I liked a lot, was going on hospice care at the time of this lecture. In my notes beside his name, I have written his motto: "It's not the size of the dog in the fight. It's the size of the fight in the dog."

Alpo was never mentioned.

Schooled by Annabella

"A white man invented those," Annabella said, pointing to the dining room lights.

"Electricy?" asked Ann. "That was Edison."

"Yeah," Annabella said, ready to get on with her point. "A white man invented those, but the Black man invented almost everything else. Like the traffic light. I'll be you didn't know that.

"I'm not Black. I'm Creole. My daughters are Black.

"I know a lot that my kids don't know. They went to Catholic school, but you learn some things in public school that you don't learn in Catholic School.

I searched for Black inventors on the innernets when Annabella left. She's right about a lot, of course. A guy named Garrett Morgan invented the traffic light. He also inveted the gas mask.

I learned more about Black inventors at http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/bhistory/inventors/mccoy.htm and I've posted their top ten below. Go to their site for more photos and more information. Then you can be schooled, too.
mage Credit: New York Public Library.

Elijah McCoy

Elijah McCoy (1843–1929) invented an oil-dripping cup for trains.

Fast Fact: Other inventors tried to copy McCoy's oil-dripping cup. But none of the other cups worked as well as his, so customers started asking for "the real McCoy." That's where the expression comes from

Lewis Latimer

Lewis Latimer (1848–1928) invented an important part of the light bulb — the carbon filament.
Fast Fact: Latimer worked in the laboratories of both Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell.

Jan Ernst Matzeliger

Jan Ernst Matzeliger (1852–1889) invented a shoemaking machine that increased shoemaking speed by 900%!

Fast Fact: In 1992, the U.S. made a postage stamp in honor of Matzeliger.

 Granville T. Woods

Granville T. Woods (1856–1910) invented a train-to-station communication system.

Fast Fact: Woods left school at age 10 to work and support his family

George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver (1860–1943) developed peanut butter and 400 plant products!

Fast Fact: Carver was born a slave. He didn't go to college until he was 30.

Madam C. J. Walker

Madam C. J. Walker (1867–1919) invented a hair-growing lotion.

Fast Fact: Walker grew up poor. But she became the first female African- American millionaire.

Garrett Morgan

Garrett Morgan (1877–1963) invented the gas mask.

Fast Fact: Morgan also invented the first traffic signal.

Otis Boykin

Otis Boykin (1920–1982) invented the electronic control devices for guided missiles, IBM computers, and the pacemaker.

Fast Fact: Boykin invented 28 different electronic devices.

Dr. Patricia E. Bath

Dr. Patricia. E. Bath (1949–) invented a method of eye surgery that has helped many blind people to see.

Fast Fact: Dr. Bath has been nominated to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Lonnie G. Johnson

Lonnie G. Johnson (1949–) invented the world-famous watergun, the Supersoaker.

Fast Fact: Johnson's company just came out with a new Nerf ball toy gun.

Is That a Poem in Your Pocket?

The idea is simple. On April 26, 2012, National Poem in Your Pocket Day, carry a poem in your pocket and share it with co-workers, family, and friends. On Poem in Your Pocket Day, celebrated each year during National Poetry Month, poems from pockets will be unfolded at events in parks, libraries, schools, workplaces, and bookstores in all 50 states throughout the country. Choose your own pocket poem from Poets.org's selection of new printable PDFs—including classic poems from the Academy's Poem in Your Pocket anthologies

Here's the poem in my pocket. It's in Ann's pocket, too.

Keeping Quiet - Pablo Neruda (trans. Alastair Reid)

And now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let's not speak in any language,
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about,
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve,
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My Dinner with Annabella #1

Annabella came for dinner tonight. We had steak and pototoes. "Delicious!" Annabella knows how to be appreciative.

Annabella drank Stella Artois with tomato juice. Yes, in the same glass. Ann and I drank Inida Pale Ale. Annabella's open-minded. She likes us even though we drink different beer.

Annabella told us about a dance they had in the church hall recently. Some kids asked her to dance, so she did. She said to them, "I'm 92 years old." She did something I forgot the name of and twirled her hips.

She said she also did the Snake Hips and the Scissors. The kids  clapped. They said, "That woman can still dance." Then one said, "And she's got big boobs."

Annabella laughed in a high burst, like a chirp. She laughs like this when she says something amusing and slightly contraversial.

"When we were young, Mama (accent on the second syllable) went to all the dances with us. She danced with us. All the mamas did. We danced like waltzes and two-step. It was real nice. We didn't throw each other up in the air and bring our partner back through our legs. That was later. I don't like that jazz. We didn't have scratchy music."

"We used to have some good music,but those days are gone and we can't go back," she said. I like Porgy and Bess. My daughter Trisha took me to see Oklahoma downtown. It used to be all white, but this one is all black. There were some beautiful women. Trisha looked at me, and I was just...." Annabella drew the trail of  tear from the corner of her eye. "It was beautful."

At the end of the night, she sang:

Grab your coat and get your hat;
Leave your worry on the doorstep.
Just direct your feet
To the sunny side of the street.

Ann sang along, and they laughed and high-fived. Then Annabella looked, puzzled, at me. "I'm too young," I said. "I don't know the words." Annabella, unbelieving, looked at Ann for confirmation. Ann nodded. "Yep. She's too young."

"That's alright," she said. Then she stood and put out a hand to each of us. We all held hands. "Whenever I come here, I'm glad."

I'm glad, too, Annabella. I'm glad, to know someone who's 92 years old and singin' on the sunny side of the street.

Monday, April 23, 2012


A psychic told my friend Susan that her past life was in 19th century England. Susan said that's probably why she likes Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy so much. She also likes bridges.

I'm not sure about my lives before I landed on the 13th floor of Atlanta's Grady hospital, but I'm having several lives in this one life, and that's pretty cool.

Of course, reincarnation requires a death before a rebirth, and the dying part isn't so fun, but the dying part of this reincarnation has not been as hard as other deaths.

First, my body started failing. I needed a lot of rest.

I've submitted my application for full-time disability, a kind of death certificate. I'm submitting my application for medical leave, though I know that it's unlikely I'll return. I've given away almost all of my books, from home and from school. You can't take it with you, I hear. That's not like giving away my gowns. That's like giving away my food.

Moving from adolescence to adulthood wasn't reincarnation. It was metamorphosis. I'm not sure what the difference is, but it's different. Maybe metamorphosis is changing shape, but not changing being. It's shape-shifting without dying. There is a kind of dying in this.

In this reincarnation, I'm moving in my job from being an educator to being a therapist.
I've told my colleagues and friends. Lots of people say they'll miss me. Many wish me the best. That seems like a good send-off.

I've made plans for a new life. I'll start school in the University of Washington's Master of Social Work program next year. The American Association of University Women will pay my expenses. I'll be a babe again.

In more traditional reincarnations, I'm not sure that a person (or a rock) gets to choose the next form, so I am lucky. I also get to remember most of my previous life without consulting a psychic. And I don't have to read Thomas Hardy or Jane Austen again.


Life, as the t-shirt says, is good.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ependymoma Awareness Day--April 19, 2012

I imagine that having an ependymoma (my brand of brain tumor) is like living on the dark side of the moon. It's dark and cold. If the tether holding me to this world breaks, I may drift into the dark black hole of space. Few people go there. Few people even look there. There's a strange beauty in it all.

“Why is there a national ependymoma awareness day?” you may wonder. “Hardly anyone has one.” Exactly. Ependymomas, which generally occur in the brain or the spine, are rare tumors in children and even more rare in adults like me.

In trying to figure out what rare means in this case, I asked my dad, a pediatrician for a gazillion years, how many patients with brain tumors his practice saw over the years. “Six.” And how many of those were ependymomas? "None." And these tumors are more common in children.

A man in my online support group said that his doctor told him that ependymomas occur in one of 350,000 adults around age 50. That would be two adults in Seattle, where I live, or one in Raleigh, NC, where I grew up. That’s not very many.

Because they’re so rare, not much is known about them. These tumors are probably different kinds of tumors that are classified as one right now because we don’t know much. Treatment regimens generally involve surgery and radiation and sometimes chemotherapy, especially with recurrences.

When I had my second tumor, the doctors on tumor boards seemed to have a great time debating the best treatment for me. Opinions ranged from “do nothing” to “do surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.” I was not having a great time. It’s hard to be just beyond the scientific horizon.

Doctors don’t even agree about whether or not this tumor is a cancer. My neurosurgeon wrote in a book that all brain tumors are cancers. My radiation oncologist, a doctor at the same health center, assured me that this is not a cancer. The World Health Organization says that only grade three epedymomas are cancers, though any of them can spread and recur. Life insurance companies treat all ependymomas as cancers, so that someone with an ependymoma can’t get life insurance until they’ve had a stable MRI for eight years.

We need more research so that diagnosis and treatment might be clearer. That’s why the Collaborative Ependymoma Research Network (CERN) is working to raise awareness on National Ependymoma Awareness Day, April 19.

Ironically, the WHO won't classify the tumors as cancerous until more research is done, and research costs money. Funds designated for cancer research can't be used for researching ependymomas because more research needs to be done. You're smart. You see the problem.

CERN is releasing butterflies as a symbol of hope that research can bring. So put on your butterfly pin or your butterfly costume and tell a friend that you know someone who needs your help. That’s me.

Monday, April 16, 2012

My Kind of Town

Walla Walla, Washington is not usually a vacation destination. It's best known, perhaps, for its onions. Ann and I traveled there for our spring break, however, and the visit was fabulous.

We stayed at a B and B, Maxwell House, about a block from campus and within walking distance of downtown. The hostess, Penny, is relaxed and helpful and makes a pretty and substantial breakfast. Penny is helpful and there when you need her, but we didn't feel like we were vacationing with her like we do in some B and Bs. The home was built in 1904, and Penny's antiques are interesting and practical. There's a gaslog fire in the living room and cookies in the cookie jar. The home feels like a home and not an antique mall. If you go to Walla Walla, you should stay at the Maxwell House.

People move slowly in Walla Walla. When I approached a corner, planning to cross the street, any onconing drivers stopped a good ten yards from the cross walk, leaving me no doubt that they saw me. When I made it to the other side of the street, the driver waited a few seconds before moving slowly on: there was no gunning of the motor to let me know that this driver was in a hurry and irritated that I had slowed the day.

At stop lights, I never feared for my life when I crossed in the cross walk, as invited by the man in white lights. Drivers watched for me. Not some of them. All of them.

There's public art everywhere. Whitman College, a small private college, has an art sculpure walk around campus. We saw a colorful rectangle divided into perfect ratios (Math Teacher Ann took lots of photos there); a giant colorful carving of Venus de Milo, and a great stick horse ridden by a weary looking plastic bag cowboy. (It was prank week.) That's just a few highlights. In town, my favorite sculpture was a frog looking reflectively at a fountain, fist to chin in "The Thinker" pose.

We visited wineries, just a few among the 178 or so, and basked in the sun as we sipped red wines. Our B&B moved at just the right pace, too. Big breakfasts (I'm back to my post-Christmas weight) at a leisurely 9 am, and chocolate chip cookies in the cookie jar for the taking.

Like the poet Theodore Roethke, "I wake to sleep and take my waking slow." In Walla Walla, I could take my walking slow, too.