Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Eye Candy

Do you know what eye candy is? To me, eye candy is beauty. A pretty person is “eye candy.” A pretty place is eye candy…and right now we are in one of those pretty places. Yesterday we drove from Colter Bay to West Yellowstone. Seeing the magnificent Teton Range floating above Jackson Lake is eye candy. Seeing Lewis Falls is eye candy. Seeing an elk browse on tall grass in a meadow is eye candy. Seeing the lodgepole pines reach up to brush the sky—you got it—eye candy. It’s places like this that make you connect with nature. These are the places that relax your body and ease your mind. There are not words that can describe the feeling of good eye candy…but if you want to experience it, come visit The Tetons and Yellowstone. Pictures can try to capture these places, but they fail in the end. Eye candy is only in the mind of the beholder and pictures are but a ghost of what is really here.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Menopause Chronicles-part 6: CA-125

My friends in the MSG are all about the same age. We are all doing this “thing” called surviving menopause together. We gather at each other’s houses or at restaurants or at the park, to laugh, bitch, moan, complain, kibbitz, revel, wonder and extol our problems. This has been a good thing. We need to know that what we are feeling is normal and all right. We are a group. We’re better than the Red Hat ladies. We don’t need a special costume. We don’t need to be retired. We don’t need to be mothers or wives. We just need to be women who are willing to talk to each other without fear that what we say, do or think, will go no farther.

One night we are going to Linda’s home. Linda has not had a good menopause. Is there such a thing as a “good menopause?” Linda has had all of the stuff happen to her. She had the first hot flashes. She talked about moodiness first. She also talked about her husband. This man just does not understand. He does not get it! He thinks that all he has to do is ignore her when she’s “doing her thing” as he calls it, and “it” will go away. Not so.

She needs to talk to him. She needs help to come up with solutions. He just goes on as though nothing different is happening to his wife of almost 30 years. I call these solutions “work arounds” a phrase stolen from computer technology. When I’m in a moody state, and I’m doing housework, it helps that everyone else does housework. If one of the boys (husband included) is sitting down, or playing a game, or heaven forbid, looking at TV, he knows he is in CAPITAL T TROUBLE! The work around however is easy. All he has to do is look at me. If it looks like steam is rising from the top of my head, then he had better look like he is working too. All it takes is moving to the vacuum cleaner closet, taking it out and plugging it in. That usually works. If one of the boys then does something as strange as start to push the vacuum around, while it is turned ON, now we have a break through. I will probably stop steaming and he is all right. Linda’s husband needs to learn how to “work around” perimenopausal issues. Life will be easier for everyone when it happens.

No, menopausal women are not princesses who need to be coddled (that would help sometimes, unless we’re really grouchy)…we just want it understood that we don’t understand what’s going on and why we are doing what we are doing. That’s a lot to ask for, but that’s the way it is.

Back to Linda. It’s more than just moodiness and hot flashes. Linda starts to have real problems. She always has dark circles under her eyes, even when she’s had a lot of sleep. She’s not interested in sex. She has a nagging backache—it’s constantly present. She has zero energy. Getting up and going to work is a major obstacle each morning. Finding the energy to get dressed is hard. She is bloated and has a tummy like she’s about 4 months pregnant. She is not a happy camper.

The MSG sees that she is not doing well. Something is wrong, so after months of lackluster behavior, we finally persuade her to see her GP by promising to go with her to the office. That works becuase Linda starts a long series of tests all with negative results and no progress. Finally, as a last resort, Linda has her yearly physical with our GYN and she tells her saga. By this time, all of us go to the same GYN. Our DOC collaborates with her GP and finds that a CA-125 blood test has not been given. This is an ovarian cancer test. It’s easy to administer and it might rule out cancer. Linda has the test and her answer comes the next week. The answer is one she does not want to hear. She has cancer. In fact, she is in stage 3-c of a 4 stage cancer. She’s had it for awhile. No wonder she has been feeling so bad.

There’s no one to blame for the situation. Her husband was not able to help. She was sure “it” would go away. Her GP did all the things that he could to find out the problem. Our DOC did the CA-125 test as a last resort because she truly thought it would be rule out cancer. DOC was just as surprised as Linda.

Linda’s surgery was scheduled on the first available day, which in her case was eleven days away. The MSG was there for everything. The MSG is good. Every woman needs an MSG. We took Linda and her husband to the hospital. We waited together in the hospital; we consoled each other; we even consoled her husband who finally “got it” and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief when the surgery was over and the doctors said they thought they were able to get all of the cancer, but chemo-therapy was needed.

Again, the MSG took turns taking Linda to chemo. This is something that bonds a group…and we were becoming more bonded with each chemo session. Surgery, months of chemo-therapy, and Linda was given a one year release and best wishes from our DOC and the GP and the oncologist. Her husband had planned a surprise…the theater in London for a 3 week vacation. Linda is cancer free and we are thankful we know her.

What an ordeal! What a year! What a group! I have become a firm believer in one more thing: CA-125. Of course I still think the MSG, (those initials will never stand for a food additive again) is pretty good too. These can be added to my ever growing list that includes dark colors, jackets, large purses, women doctors, understanding mates and lots of patience for our not-so-gracefully-aging bodies.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Menopause Chronicles-part 5: Life with Boyz

The twins were growing up. No longer did I have to worry about the ceiling fan being used for batting practice. I also did not have to worry about cats being put in the dryer. Wet cats are never fun. Can you imagine how a wet cat feels after it has been spun in the dryer ? Can you imagine what the dryer looks like?

We had good kids. They did not get into trouble. They did not get bad grades. They had great friends…but they were the same age and what one did not think about the other did. They had their own language they learned it in-utero because I still don’t understand some of the “words” they speak to each other. They were also good friends who were very curious. I don’t know about all boys, but my boys wanted to learn how everything worked. Everything from a drawer to a computer. Taking apart a drawer was not a big deal. Taking about a computer, now that’s another story.

I’ll never forget the day that RedSon had fixed my computer. First off, I did not know that anything was wrong with it, but he assured me that something was. He had fixed it. On the outside it looked the same. It booted up the same, but I noticed that the Windows logo had a little thing flying around it now. It looked a little bit like a fly or a bee. I was more or less right…it was a bug. He had fiddled with the programming of the Windows logo so that it had a bug it in. That was not a big problem, but why did I have to have a real bug in my program?

Another surprise came on the first rainy day of the season. My bugged computer gets a message on the screen that says “There has been a leak. Your computer will go through the spin cycle to dry it out and then it will shut down.” I look at the ceiling in my office and I see that indeed there has been a leak or at least a splotch of what looks like drying water is on the ceiling. My computer then starts to make a bunch of strange sounds I’ve never heard before. It grumbles and gurgles and makes splishing sounds. Then I heard something that indeed sounds like the spin cycle on the washer. Finally the computer makes a sound like it’s squeezing out the last of the drips of water. The screen does a flip-flop and turns black.

I’m still not sure what is happening with the computer…will it turn on…where did the water come from.. when I hear RedSon and my secretary laughing. They are having a major case of giggles while looking at my expression of wonderment and puzzlement on my face…and that’s when I catch on that I had been had. My secretary knew that the "spin cycle" had been planted for weeks and she had made a deal to call RedSon when the cycle started.

He later told me he had programmed this spin cycle on a random basis. He planted the splotch on the ceiling (and I never saw it before). What was accidental was his timing...he did not think it would happen on a rainy day. Needless to say, I asked him to remove the bug and the spin cycle from the computer, which he did. I knew from then on, that his ability to work with computers far exceeded mine…that his ability to pull practical jokes was getting very good too…and that his brother would be up to something different but just as “bad” if I was not careful.

Life with boyz is interesting.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Time in Paradise

Our brief stay in Paradise is quickly coming to an end. We have only 22 more days. How quickly summer flies when you are having a good time. We've had company; we've had a couple of dinner parties; we've created two lamps from aspen logs and that's about it! Yet being in the mountains in the summer is heavenly and we treasure the moments.

On the horizon are 3 cruises. We only had 2 until last week when we made a whirlwind decision to go cruising in late January. We'll be cruztalking on the Sun Princess and the Pacific Princess. Then we'll be passengers on the Norwegian Star.

We'll board the Sun Princess in Seattle and wend our way to Sydney, Australia by way of Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, and New Zealand. Once in OZ we'll hop on The Ghan in Adelaide and head north to Darwin for a few days then we'll head to the Great Barrier Reef before flying home 6 weeks later. Watch this space for an account of that cruise.

We'll board the Pacific Princess in Papeete, Tahiti and head for Ft. Lauderdale on the next cruise. We'll have a chance to set foot on Easter Island--Thor Heyerdahl would be proud.

The third cruise will take us to the Mexican Riviera with stops in Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa and Cabo San Lucas.

Sounds like a good way to finish 2007 and start 2008 if you ask me. So while our time in Paradise is coming to an end for this summer--there are more adventures in the wings. This is good.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Menopause Chronicles-4th Entry--Flasher, flasher

Maxine calls them her inner child playing with matches. Cassy, an MSGer, calls it her own private summer. Whether you call it a power surge, private summer, or a flash, they are some of the most uncomfortable things that can happen during perimenopause and menopause. Did you know that 80% of women have hot flashes and that no one really knows the cause? Some think they have something to do with changing hormonal levels. Gimme a break, of course they have something to do with changing hormonal levels…now if you could do something about them, that would be better.

My first hot flash comes after the boys leave. I guess I’m 46. My husband and I are away during the Christmas holidays. We’re shopping in a quaint little store in Santa Barbara. The weather is perfect. We are having a good time. All of a sudden, I feel awful. My stomach is turning over. I feel weak kneed. I feel like I have morning sickness. I’m 46…this is ridiculous. What’s happening?

I make a dash for the door and head for the wuss-wagon (we still have it) and lay down on the back seat. My husband, ever so quick to see that something has happened, rushes out of the store too and says “what’s the matter?” My, that’s an intelligent statement. I’m laying down on the back seat of the wuss-wagon, shaking, my face is white, and I don’t have a clue. Later, I discover that I had a hot flash.

Boy, do I not want another one of them. Off to see the doc and find out what to do with that problem. The MSG has talked about flashes, but never like this one. They talk about sitting in their offices and all of a sudden they turn red, start dripping, feel weak, then it goes away. My flash was different. The doc says that flashes take many forms. Yep! Many forms. And now we get serious about hormone replacement therapy or homeopathic therapy. She gives me stuff to read. I search out other information. I read article after article that states HRT causes cancer, does not cause cancer, increases the risk for cancer, has not been proven to increase the risk for cancer…The homeopathic therapy sounds flaky too…putting on a hormonal cream in various places around my body. I finally decide for HRT and she gives me a patch. Sure enough the patch stops the hot flashes, but now I’m continually aroused by it. I go back to the doc. It’s fun to be aroused some of the time, but not all of the time. My husband can only do so much. She changes the dosage and the brand, and sure enough, the flashes go away AND I’m not aroused all the time.

The hot flashes now take a new form. They are mini-flashes. In the course of an hour, my body can make 100 different temperature adjustments. I’m hot, then I’m cold, then I’m just right, then I’m freezing, then I’m ok, then I’m boiling. This has to go away. I’m just sitting on the sofa looking at TV and my body is trying to find something…the magic temperature of comfort? My father in law used to say that “ladies are nice but their thermometers are broken” and now I know what he was talking about. My thermometer is definitely not working like it used too.

The flashes and mini-flashes are part of my body now. There’s no going back. My friend Cassy walks around with a small battery powered fan and uses it to stay cool. My sister has a water pump that she sprays on her when she gets too warm. In the old days, I guess women used fans, but where to get one. I finally bought one on a trip in Romania…a good invention and they don’t need batteries, take up less room and don’t look quite as obvious as a water pump does.

The list has increased again: jackets, dark colors, large purses, baby wipes, extra maxi pads and tampons, super-duty face cream, and now a fan. I know the list will get bigger before it gets smaller!

Menopause Chronicles--The Weight is Depressing

I’m now 44. What will this year bring? The boys are doing well. They will be graduating from high school this year. We are looking at colleges for them. My husband is making good gains in his career at the University and he has branched out into consulting. All is going well. My body however is experiencing other changes. I’m gaining weight. It’s depressing.

I’ve never gained weight in my life (except for pregnancy and that went away when the twins came). What’s going on? I drink a glass of water and gain a pound. I eat nothing for a day, and gain a pound. I breathe air and gain a pound. I don’t know how it happened or when it happened, but soon I weighed 140 pounds, then 150 pounds. My waist is wasted. Overblouses are good things. This is outrageous. It’s not fair! WHY ME?

My carefully designed DARK garments are fitting a little tighter. Maybe I should buy longer jackets to cover up more of me. Why am I gaining weight?

A trip to my GYN is in order anyway, so I ask about weight gain. She and I are about the same age and she commiserates with me. “Yep” she says, “that’s part of what is going on with your body.” I ask “Is there anything that can be done for it?” and this time she does not have a good answer. She asks me to look at my mother. Is she slim? To be truthful, my mother is not slim. She’s not fat either…let’s say she’s sturdy. But I say “My older sister is slim. We have the same parents, she’s going through the same thing that I’m going through. Why is she not gaining weight and I am?” Alas, there was not a good answer. She came back with “genetics.” While we share the same parents, we do not share the same genes. Boy is that the truth. We have never looked alike and we have never done the same things, but up till now, we’ve been about the same size. Why me!?

Weight gain can be the result of decreased physical activity. I felt that my physical activity had not decreased. I was still chauffering kids; teaching a full load at school, as well as running around the University; and doing all the stuff that is needed to maintain a household. In fact, I was thinking that it was time to hire a “wife” to take care of the kids and clean the house as I was too busy to do that as well as everything that my life demanded to be done. Since hiring a wife was out of the question, I thought that maybe walking needed to be added to my regimen.

That’s when the MSG was formed. What an addition to my life. MSG is short for “Menopause Support Group.” We are a group of about 10 women, all of “an age” who are experiencing the same thing. With the MSG I find a walking partner. Each morning at 6 AM, my partner and I walk two miles a day. Funny thing, it became enjoyable! Neither of us had time to do it, but we made the time. One day I would drive to her house and the next day she would drive to my house and we would do our warm ups then start on our walk. We were usually back at our houses by 6:30 and ready to start the day. We had two mile courses marked out and walked them religiously rain or shine. We talked about everything and had a good time. Sometimes our cats would follow us. Since it’s hard to think of cats following anyone, it was cute to see the 3 felines walking in a line behind us! Once we saw mountain lion tracks, (they have a big foot.) She started bringing a hand gun in her fanny pack but after discussing what we would do if we actually saw the cat, we decided the gun was not a good idea. Neither of us knew what we would do if we saw the lion. We might be able to shoot toward the cat…and if we did, would either of us be able to aim a gun. That’s when we found out that we could not kill a lion and we decided that an air horn was a better thing. So she stopped wearing the gun and starting to bring a small portable air horn instead.

The weight did not pile on as much and it was fun to walk with my friend from down the block in the morning. In fact, after the walk, I felt invigorated to do more than I did before. It is something that I still do, but the weight has still continued.

But this leads to the best discovery of my 44th year. The creation of the MSG. The ten of us meet every once in awhile, have lunch or dinner or snacks and complain, bitch, moan, laugh, cry and talk. We try to solve problems that each of us are having. We commiserate. We are important to each other. We compare menopausal symptoms. When someone else has the same problem, we know that we at least inhabit the same planet. When something out of the ordinary happens, we call an MSG meeting. We study the situation and come up with solutions.

The MSG came to the rescue when it was discovered that I had high blood pressure. Did the weight cause the high blood pressure or did the high blood pressure cause the increase in weight? No one knows the answer to that conundrum. With exercise and diet high blood pressure can be reduced, but it needs to be watched all the time.

I asked the MSG if they had gained weight, and the answer was almost unanimous. They had all gained weight too. No one felt like they were lazier than before, but they did feel the change. The waist had gone to waste. The sagging bottom. The chins. Oh, what to do with all these unwelcome changes. Laine Bryant exists for large women, but I’m not a large woman. I’m 130 pounds on the inside with 150 on the outside. This is wrong. This is bad.

Get real Lee, this is the way it is. I would give myself pep talks. The MSG propped me up too. We all realized we are no longer going to be 130 pounds. We’re not 30 anymore either. Wake up and smell the roses. You are no longer going to be skinny like you used to be. You have a line on your forehead. You have fibroid tumors that are masses 3 inches by 3 inches. Then the ugly reality strikes…you are no longer going to be able to have children. That’s the scary thought. While I don’t want any more children, I know that it’s going to be impossible to have any more. Before, it had been a choice not to have more children, but now my body is making the choice for me. I’m not in control of the situation. One more reason to say “it sucks!”

What does it feel to be out of control of the situation. I’m two years into menopause, and I’m feeling out of control. There are so many things that I cannot count on any more. I cannot count on being slim. I cannot count on a regular period. I cannot count on wearing a size 10. I cannot count on a face without wrinkles. What else is going to slip? Are there other things that I can look forward to and dread?

I start to wonder what my mother did when she was 44. I ask her questions, but she says “things” happen. My mother-in-law is even older than my mother and I know she will not say anything. My sister tells me a few things to look forward to, but she lives far away and we have not discovered the uses of email for everyday purposes when I was 44. One more reason why MSG is important to me. Our mothers did not have the background experience to help us with these problems. They just lived with them. We were going to make a difference.

The rest of that year was more or less uneventful, body-wise. It’s hard to tell a houseful of men that you don’t feel like doing everything that you used to feel like doing. It’s hard to tell them that you are just a bit sad as they just don’t understand.

They do learn to realize that there are mood swings. I guess that’s the worst part of the depression. Some days I’m happy and nothing bothers me. Some days, look at me with just a smirk, and I’ll fly off the handle.

Pepper, she’s an MSGer calls it an evil demon waiting to boil up from the pit of her stomach. She will wake up in the morning and she can feel that demon just waiting to get out. She wants to yell. She wants to scream. She wants to throw the clothes out of the hamper and all over the bathroom floor. She wants to destroy something. She also doesn’t want to clean up the mess…and she wonder’s “What’s with me?”

One day when I get this same “demonic” feeling, I told the twins to eat their breakfast quickly and then before they even get started I put the dishes in the dishwasher. I hurry them out the door forgetting that I need to have my stuff ready. Now everything in an all male household goes into the dishwasher, sometimes even cats make it into the dishwasher. But knives do not get put in the dishwasher. They have to be washed by hand so they will stay sharp. The boys know this. I tell them to wash the knives before I get home.

Well, you know what happens. The knives are not washed when I get home. Nor is the front yard mowed and there are things all over the place. That evil demon that resides in the pit of my stomach starts screaming and makes an ugly appearance. I pick up the knives and put them on the back deck and exclaim that they might as well rust out there as well as in the kitchen. The boys know that something is wrong…I wonder what gave them that idea?…My husband takes me by the hand and says “let’s go out to dinner.” Someone needs to remain calm as it’s not me. Do I need to remember this ploy if I don’t want to supervise dinner fixings?

Not all mood swings happen at home. Some happen as work. I had just stepped down from being Chair of the department. I thought the title “chairman” was not appropriate and chairperson sounded a bit too impersonal, so I changed the name to “chair.” After being chair for a couple of years, I was excited about the change of routine and the less busy schedule of being full time faculty instead of double time administrator. The new chairman in his wisdom thought it would be fun to send me “up the road” to our branch campus 90 miles away because I was a good trouble-shooter. I don’t think so. I saw the assignment and that evil demon started splashing around in my stomach again. I stomped to his office and pulled rank. “As a tenured full professor,” I said, “I WILL NOT TEACH 90 MILES FROM CAMPUS UNTIL ALL OF THE PART TIME FACULTY ARE TEACHING 90 MILES FROM CAMPUS.” The poor guy did not even have a chance to argue. I walked out of his office and went back to my cubby hole that the university so gleefully calls a “one person office” and played games on my computer. I was steamed. The next day I had an on campus assignment. Don’t argue with a menopausal woman.

Weight gain and depression! Go figure…live with it. I can make adjustments. I start to look at the little things that are important. The twins are a miracle. Here were two tiny babies weighing less that 5 pounds each and now they are grown up. When did that happen? There are flowers and seasons. The redbud only blooms for 2 weeks a year, yet it grows all year long. I rejoice at the hearty magenta-red blooms and sadden when they start to fade and fall. A robins nest is a sign of hope and spring. I’m part of the cycle. My reproductive part is ending, but something better must be starting. At least that is my hope. At least I have to convince myself that that is the case. The MSG and I ponder what will get better.