Sunday, April 16, 2006

Out of the mouths....

Mom, why don't you just work at work? Isn't home for home stuff? I got that from my son this afternoon.

I remember asking Dr. Stanton - my p-chem (physical chemistry) professor - how I would know when I was working hard enough in a conversation where he was lamenting my tendency to do just enough work to get an A in the course, but no more. He said you were working hard enough if you found yourself thinking about work when you were doing other things. He didn't explain it any more thoroughly than that, but over time I learned he was right, and realized that was a reasonably elegant and perceptive answer. And over time, I also realized that he probably realized before I did that I was not meant to go on in Chemistry, regardless of being able to do well at it.

But when I'm deep into code, there's a background process in my brain working regardless of where I am and what I am (ostensibly) doing. Having found a subject I care deeply about, I can now understand what he was trying to say. And maybe tincture of time has brought me a limited amount of wisdom, too.

So now I need to ask him the next question - how do you stop your brain from working when it is already working hard enough?

Laptops. Chains or wings? Or as Dr. Dolan in one of my favorite courses in college (History and Structure of the English Language) would say - not either/or, but both/and.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Eternal vigilance

I've been cancer free for a little over 11 years now. I had a rare cancer - Merkel Cell Carcinoma ( and they initially told me I had a 50-50 chance of surviving a year. With further testing, I was staged at either IB or II (they were never 100% sure if it had reached my lymph nodes). I had Mohs surgery to excise the tumor (on my left temple), and followed it up with two different kinds of radiation therapy. My last dose of radiation was on St. Patrick's Day, 1995.

At first, I had monthly checkups with my dermatologist, then every other month, then every 3 months, then every 6 months, then yearly. It took a long time, but I finally began to feel safe again. One year, when the anniversary of my surgery passed and I didn't even notice, I realized that mental freedom was part of the cure - the increase in the number of years survived was no longer a significant event. My life was moving past the trauma of diagnosis and treatment.

But I just experienced a new release. One of the benefits of having a rare cancer is that the most prestigious doctors are *interested* in your case. While my dermatologist only sees current surgical patients, he has continued to monitor me - until this year. This year, I was told I could just see one of his associates. To me, that is the final return to "normal." It's as if the final rope tying me to cancer has been thrown off. I still have to watch and monitor, but my case is no longer interesting. And boring is good where health is concerned!

But I won't forget to wear sunscreen.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I forgot

that I am tall. I know that sounds odd, and it struck me that way when I realized that I was realizing that fact anew.

I'm just under 5'7. Above average height for a girl. When I was in my all girls' high school, I was taller than about 90% of the class.

But then I went to a recently coed college, where there were 10 times as many men as women, and I work in a predominantly male field. So I became accustomed to being shorter than most of the people I know. To add insult to injury, my youngest son finally passed me in height last fall.

But yesterday, I had to drop a note off at the high school, and I happened to be walking in the building at the same time as a flock of high school girls getting off a bus. I was confused to realize that I was taller than almost all of them. And then I remembered - nothing has changed but my perspective. I think I'm distressed that environment can change my perception so much!