The 70-Something Blog is now The 80-Something Blog. Stay tuned in ten years for The 90-Something Blog!

My Dictionary

Although my copy of The American Heritage Dictionary weighs around ten pounds, it came with us on our two recent moves because I can’t imagine life without it. I know--I can find any definition I want in seconds online. But when I pick up my dictionary, I invariably start to read it. And I think that’s a good thing.

The other day I looked for the origin of “cisgender”, an adjective that means that a person’s identify and gender correspond with the sex assigned at birth, the one declared by saying “It’s a boy!” There was no such word in my 1992 edition. So I had to resort to the computer to learn that cisgender came into general use in 1994. Microsoft Word (at least my version) still doesn’t recognize it.

Years ago, we played a game called “Dictionary”. One person picks a word that no one knows, and all the players write a definition of it. The player who picked the word writes the correct definition. The others write one they make up. Then everyone votes for the definition they think is correct. It’s extremely amusing.

This is my 1156th blog post. Surprisingly, it’s the first containing the word “dictionary” (a reference source in print or electronic form containing words usually alphabetically arranged along with information about their meaning and use).

 


Happy Birthday

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Today I’m eighty-one. That’s a big number. There’s no denying that eighty-one is old. Yet I try (to deny it, that is).

There’s a big photo of me with our boys on the wall of our study. It was a birthday gift for Peter twenty-nine years ago. I don’t look that different now (with my clothes on at least). I do have more silver in my hair and I am thinner. But I easily recognize me.

I find that the biggest difference in my eighties is that many of my peers have health challenges. So do I. But that’s an incentive to be grateful for every day, and I try to do that.

Sometimes, it’s easier said than done.


Educated

I’ve just finished Educated, Tara Westover’s memoir of growing up in a survivalist family in Idaho. Her father did not allow her to go to school and she never saw a doctor. She didn’t have a birth certificate until she was nine, and even when she got it, nobody could confirm the date of her birth. The youngest of seven children, she began to study on her own after an older brother who had left home to go to college urged her to prepare for the ACT so that she too could get away.

As a freshman at Brigham Young University, she thought Europe was a country and asked a professor what the Holocaust was. By her late twenties, having earned a PhD in history at Cambridge University, she decided to write the memoir that has been on the bestseller list for fifty weeks.

I read Educated in two days. It’s not an easy read. It’s disturbing. If it were fiction, I would think the author had lost all sense of reality because the story she told could never have happened.

But it did. The book is courageous and the story is well told. In an interview, the author stated her belief that what happened in her home wasn’t malicious, that the members of her family loved one another. In the end, she had to make a difficult choice.

Parts of the book are hard to read. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it is unforgettable.


“Breathe In…Hold…Breathe”

I am one of countless women who have invasive breast cancer. In 2019, more than 260,000 will hear the news that I heard late last fall. Many of them will face difficult treatment choices just as I did. It is a great relief to have made a plan and move ahead.

Late last week I started daily radiation treatments. I was impressed by the kindness of everyone in the radiation oncology department, as I have been by the kindness all of the medical personnel I’ve met during the last two months. The care they take in making precise measurements to ensure that the treatment goes only where it should is impressive.

Because my cancer is on the left side, special care is taken to minimize the odds of damaging my heart. They do this by making me hold my breath during radiation so that my air-filled lungs shield my heart.

Time and again during each treatment, I hear “Breathe in...hold…breathe”.

When February ends, so will this treatment.

Fortunately, it’s a short month.

 


Done!

I’m not a fitness fanatic, but I am open to actions that might delay the inevitable.  That’s why I signed up for (and wrote about my commitment to) The New York Times 30-Day Well-Challenge. I added its prescribed six-minute daily workout to my morning routine.

At least once each week, there was a day without exercise. Instead, the challenge was a meditation or a discussion with a loved one.

Monday was the 30th and final day.  On Tuesday morning, I missed it.  I had grown used to the mellifluous voice supporting me through each movement. 

I have not changed my regular exercise routine. But my attitude has changed.  Rather than exercise to get it over with, I am more mindful as I do it. One day our assignment was to take a mindful walk.  I walk all the time, but now, I try to make walking a meditation.

Will this last? Maybe. 

You can try it here.


Choosing

Eight weeks ago, when I learned that my newly-diagnosed breast cancer was not as trivial as my doctors first thought, I embarked on a fact-finding mission. Friends, family, medical professionals and even 80-something blog readers had helpful thoughts.

I had to choose between a five-week course of radiation and five years of anti-estrogen medication or chemotherapy for a year plus radiation and five years of anti-estrogen medication. 

The Dana Farber Cancer Institute asked me to join a study of a new treatment regimen for "older" women with the type of cancer I have.  It included chemotherapy.  The oncologist who offered this option when I saw her for my second opinion was wonderful to me and spent lots of time helping me think through my choices. My original oncologist was also generous with her time over three appointments. But the decision had to be mine.

I made the difficult decision to forego the Dana Farber study because I couldn't bear the thought of a year of chemotherapy with its potential side effects at a time when I want to be available to Peter and when we are finally feeling settled and happy to be "home".  The chemotherapy would improve the odds of no cancer recurrence by 10-14%.   I didn't think those odds were worth a very difficult year. So radiation and anti-estrogen medication it is.

The one thing I am sure of is that I can't look back.

 


Brief Encounters

Sometimes it's the little things that make your day.  Like the time last week when I was rushing up to our apartment from the  laundry room a floor below because I was eager to get to the gym.  I was feeling particularly virtuous because I had done an all-white load of laundry, something I always mean to do, but rarely get around to.  A white-bearded man, walking with a cane, came out of an apartment and headed to the elevator in front of me. 

He turned to me and said,     "I am the the luckiest man because I have the best wife in the world."  Since he was alone, I assumed he was talking to me, and I replied, "How nice".  He then asked if my laundry basket was heavy, and although I didn't know how he would carry it with his cane, I assured him that it was not. He was going down.  I was going up.  We parted.  Alone in the up elevator, I smiled because it has been such a nice moment.

An hour or so later, I was leaving the gym.  I was lost in my thoughts and didn't realize that someone was coming out of the door after me and I let it close on a handsome young man.  I apologized.  "No worries," he said.  I explained further that I had been lost in my thoughts.  "No worries," he repeated and gave me a big smile.

Another lovely moment.


My Worry Gene

Thirty-four years ago, we sent our so Seth, then fifteen years old, to Kenya. Well, we didn’t exactly send him. He went on a service trip, sponsored by his YMCA summer camp to help build a community building in Busia, Kenya. It was a life-changing experience. Two years later, his brother Jeremy did a similar trip to Sweden and Russia.

Back then there was no Internet. The only form of communication was those flimsy blue air-letters that took forever and told you that your child was OK two weeks ago.

Now, our fifteen-year old grandson Leo who attends the same YMCA summer camp will be off to Vietnam on a service trip in July. Everyone is thrilled that he was accepted.

His father, sounding worried, called the other day to ask how we were able to stand not knowing that our child was OK when communication was so slow. Memories of checking the mail every day and usually being disappointed, came flooding back. When a letter arrived, I was relieved to know he was OK when he wrote, but still worried about how he was that day.

Both children survived (although Seth came back with hepatitis). Our sons are now well into middle-age. Email and texting keep us in close touch.

But I still worry.


Ups and Downs

The other day I wondered how much of my life is devoted to waiting for one of the two elevators in our building. As in most apartment buildings, there is a mirrored wall across the hall from where I wait, so I can occupy myself by gazing at my not-very-interesting-in-the-mirror self. I’ve been known to apply lipstick or wonder where my once-generous behind has gone while waiting.

The odd thing about our elevators is that although they are verrrrry slow between floors so that a trip to the lobby (two stops) seems endless, they have no patience when you are rushing to get on. The door will not hesitate to shut on you as you enter.

I’m thinking of measuring the time it takes to answer my call each time to see if there is a pattern. Or to tally my correct guesses about which elevator will come first.

It’s something to do.

 


Body Work

I started running forty years ago.  I stopped running when my knees refused to cooperate, twenty years later.  Now, I lift weights, bike and walk. My goal: to stick around as long as possible.

So I was an easy mark when Tara Parker-Pope who writes the “Well” column for The New York Times offered “The 30-Day Well Challenge”.  Its goal is “to help you build healthy habits for your body, mind and spirit--one daily challenge at a time.”

Here’s how it goes:  Every morning you get a video email with your daily six-minute workout.  Usually it’s a series of four exercises, each lasting thirty seconds with fifteen-second breaks in between—and the whole series repeated twice.

The soothing voice accompanying the video makes it OK that you don’t have the perfectly-toned bodies of Malia or Gillian or whoever is leading that day.

One challenge emphasized breathing.  Another, a “refresh” day, required turning your phone off at lunch.  It’s “OK to reward yourself with a smoothie or a little piece of chocolate with your coffee,” you are told.   Each session ends with “Good job!”

Fifteen days along, I’m wondering what I’ll do with that six minutes when it’s over

Start again?

(You can start your own challenge. Sign up at www.nytimes.com/programs/well-challenge)