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4 posts from September 2013

September 30, 2013

From what I read, fall is

beginning to hit in the States, at least in areas where the foliage normally turns from green to gorgeous yellows, oranges, and reds, before the leaves drop to the ground.  Having spent most of my childhood in a part of the south where these changes did not occur (green leaves to brown overnight), I have grown to appreciate the splendor that is autumn in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

This year, for obvious reasons, the only change we might observe here is to crank the A/C a bit more, as the days seem to get progressively warmer and more humid.  Or maybe it just seems warmer, since tomorrow is October 1, and by now in northern Virginia, we'd at least be pulling out sweaters or throwing on the occasional jacket.  Instead, I am enjoying photos that friends post on Facebook, baking pumpkin muffins courtesy of tetra-pak organic pumpkin, and thinking that I will only need a sweater at work for those days when  it seems the A/C is overdoing it.

There is another change I am not seeing here and before I mention it, I will just say how grateful I am.  For if there is nothing more disturbing when back in the States, as when I see the gorgeous fall colors corrupted on an annual basis by the pink.  You may remember this post I wrote early last October.  I was trying desperately not to be smacked by the pink, and yet, true to form, I managed to spend the whole month being hit with it.

While I have seen a few items here and there, to include a pink ribbon on the ajo polvo (ground garlic) at the store (yes, this is inexplicable to me, too), or the cover of a local magazine that discusses Cancer de mama (Really? Amazing how everyone seems to forget men are also affected), that is about the sum total.  There is a  local race, but it is under-advertised (by U.S. standards) and I have only seen one small poster on the local highway thus far.

What does this spell for me?  Total and utter relief.

There is nothing worse, in my opinion, than not only being diagnosed with something so awful, but to have it happen in the middle of an "awareness" month.  The problem is that there is no dearth of awareness, especially in the U.S.  There is pink everywhere in October, if for no other reason than companies want to look good by sharing in the pink.  After all, if you slap a pink ribbon on something, everything will magically be okay.

Let me assure you, that's not the way it works.  A pink ribbon does not change your diagnosis, it does not save your boob, it does not keep you from a painful surgery and recovery (or five, in my case).  A pink ribbon does not mean money will go anywhere.  When you see that pink ribbon, do you stop to look at the fine print? Do you read exactly where the money will go, what money is left after various and sundry administrative fees are deducted from it, corporate style salaries are paid, and the cost of advertising is removed? Do you find yourself buying a product just because it has a pink ribbon on it, because someone you know was affected, and you just want to help? 

If so, then stop.  Stop and find out who slapped that pink ribbon on the product.  Find out where the money goes (and if it's that giant K company, I would put that product back on the shelf and stop buying that brand), and what exactly it's how it's going to be used.  Ask yourself if you are buying the product because you really need it or because you somehow feel even the pittance of money that goes to said organization will really help.  Put the product back, write the name down, go home and then research the heck out of the product, the organization benefiting from said trickle-down donation, and decide if then that purchase will really do any good.

The reality is that no amount of pink ribbons will stop this from happening, nor will it give back to those of us who have lost so much throughout the years.  The truth is, the pink is just a giant slap in the face that reminds us every year for 31 days that a nasty cell infiltrated our bodies and forced us to have a few really bad weeks/months/years.  Corporations that may well make cancer-causing products then try to convince us that since they put a symbol on their product, it somehow means they really care and want to help us. If you want to donate to a facility that actually performs research, send the money directly to them and bypass the middle (and very expensive) man.

Breast cancer appears to be the only sickness that is supposed to be deemed as cute and pretty.  People seem to believe if you hand someone who is dealing with it a cutesy plaque with a pink ribbon, he or she will be so enraptured with the color, that somehow they will forget the doctor visits, the tests, the constant invasive questioning, the surgeries, the pre or post-surgical treatments, and most of all, that he or she may have lost a body part that not everyone deems necessary, but some  like to have.

The flip side of the coin is that people focus so much on awareness of one topic, they completely forget about others issues or that awareness, in and of itself, does very little.  Awareness did not save me from anything.  It did not change the course of my treatments, and in fact, if I needed awareness in any arena, it would be what it would be like to live with all of the changes the surgeries would foist on me. I knew when something was not right with my body and that's why I went to the doctor. Not because of a pink ribbon or a bra campaign on Facebook, but because a lump that does not go away after a week or two might not be mastitis.  Just like if I had a loose or painful tooth, I would go to the dentist. I don't need someone telling me every day for a month to see the dentist if my tooth hurts.

I would love to see less pink and more time spent on awareness of post-surgical and treatment changes.  Doctors tend to spend so much time focusing on the "getting rid of" that they forget just how much damage it can do to one's body and mind.  I know if I knew then what I know now, I would have radically scaled back my primary surgical choice and reminded my surgeon that it was my body she was dealing with, not hers. Survival factors (though I have no plans on dying from anything but crankypants old age), would be no different and I would feel less mutiliated (yes, really, some of us actually feel that way...and you know what? It's okay!)

I would have been far more vocal with my first oncologist and fired her the moment she told me that "No chemo was not a get out of jail free card," while discussing the Tamoxifen issue.  After all, if this wasn't my fault (something I was repeatedly told), why was I to feel that I was supposed to be in jail?  Never mind that she could not prove to me that Tamoxifen could be helpful, even more importantly, not fatal with my family history of pulmonary embolus issues. Last, but not least, she told me she would not be held liable if anything happened to me. Um, right.

I would have loved an awareness that my getting back to normal revolved not around overtreating something that was removed from my body and likely never to return, but simply getting on with my life. The counselor who told me to just "take 18 months off" had clearly never been through anything similar and I would have given anything for her to be aware of the pain her words caused me. 

Instead of shaking in my boots and just trying to breathe when the first radiation oncologist screamed at me that I "might be stage 3" (no evidence to support that from any tests),  I would have told him where to stick in and walked out of the room.  In fact, the only doctor who I still would consider seeing (but I don't need to do so) from the first *set,* if you will, is the plastic surgeon.  He actually commented that he was grateful I didn't fire him. I just smiled and nodded, but probably should have told him that since he treated me like a person with a few brain cells to rub together, I did not find the need to send him down the not-so-primrose path the others took.

Let's have awareness that those who are dealing with this issue might need nurturing, hand-holding, or just a day to bloody forget about all of the decisions they are struggling with. They might want to not stress about meals, extra money for child care, or who is going to walk the dog while they are recovering.  Be like all of my amazing friends around the world who brought me food (okay, those in the tri-state area), organized said bringing of food, collected donations (insanely helpful for the extra daycare Nick needed), brought me warm blankets, and called to gossip about anything but what I was going through.  They took me to lunch, we stressed about Foreign Service stuff, and they kept me going when I was enmeshed in a sea of painful pink.  They didn't use words like battle or survivor (those are also on my bad list), but instead reminded me about the joys of bidding and insisted on conversing about where we would go next.  And...that got me through.  Not glittery pink scarves or not walks that went nowhere (and required insane amounts of money just to register), but friends and their awareness of what really mattered.

Most of all, take fall to be aware that life is short and needs to be enjoyed. Put down that pink-beribboned item, go outside and breathe in the autumn air. Enjoy the foliage, go to a corn maze, and pick some apples or pumpkins.  Life can be short for any one of 18,000 plus reasons, and buying into the pink ribbon program (like the $200+ pink Uggs) won't change that.  Do think of us when you pick a pumpkin (we will miss that this year), just don't pink it, k?


September 23, 2013

Two weeks ago Nick

came home from school and let us know that his teacher was away due to a death in the family. He wasn't entirely sure whether it was her mother or grandmother (and at one point, decided it was both). I sent his teacher a very general email the following Monday and offered our condolences.  She replied that she was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from the children when they learned of her grandmother's passing, and that Nick had offered sweetly, "My grandma went to the sky, too." 

I normally try to be a bit more original, but I thought last year's post said it quite succintly.  Feliz cumpleanos,Mom, from all of us, especially from the Little Guy who adores you and knows of your importance despite having never met you.

Love you and miss you. 

September 20, 2013

Que busca, mi niƱa?

Was the refrain I heard over and over, from the moment we stepped into the local market in Managua. The kindly grinning vendor, garbed in the traditional Nica outfit, and not at all overwhelmed by the large basket balanced ever so delicately on her head, was sure she could help me. It was our second trip to the Roberto Huembes market and to say it dwarfs the Masaya market is an understatement.  While I was really just looking (my common refrain), I couldn't help but be charmed by her insistance, even if I was well-stocked on cacao or rosquillas.

We investigated the Huembes market for the first time two weeks ago when we had a borrowed car and a need to escape our home.  Our house is large and beautiful, but isolated and we are still adjusting to not having a wealth of neighbors or kids simply running around all hours of the day.  We packed ourselves up and as Cait was busy snoozing, as teenagers are wont to do on weekends, we took our empleada instead.

I'd love to give directions to the market, but if you know Managua, you know that's a bit difficult. I'd say it's 20 minutes from our house, not in the direction of Masaya and that's about as close as I can get.  The market itself stumbles around a large area of Managua and is not confined to one building. We had little trouble finding the turn for parking, but then did not know what the guard-like person was selling in the middle of the road when we turned in. Parking passes? Lottery tickets?  We opted out and attempted parking in the first lot to the left.  The spots just seemed odd, so we backed out, went back out to the left and found a larger, more spacious lot with lined spaces.  After parking and declining the ever-popular car wash offer from the lot guards, we headed into the market.

The outer shops reminded me of Masaya.  Cookies and other sugary treats were proffered constantly.  Stopping to look or even check one's watch will have several people offering samples or pointing out the goods they have to offer.  We had nothing in mind on the first trip, other than allowing our empleada to give us a brief tour.  It was more intense and packed than we expected and this surprised the kids.  They were a bit overwhelmed, and we ended up limiting our purchases to thread and doughnuts (well, at first glance they looked similar).

The thread was a happy surprise. Very inexpensive and a wide variety of colors.  The "doughnuts" were actually a type of cookie that seemed to taste like corn.  A bit crunchier and not as sweet as we expected, but now we can say that we've tried them. I've done a bit of searching, and if I've found the right recipe, they are called rosquillas and are a sort of doughnut-shaped cornbread cookie. 


Perusing the wares...

We left not long after the doughnut discovery, but ended up back at the market only a week later.  The office in which I now work had thoughtfully created a city tour and several of us opted for the excursion that would give us an overview of some of the more historic areas.  Many of the areas covered were on my previous trip, however, Peter had not had a chance to see any of the sights and the tour guide was able to offer interesting historical tidbits. 

We began in the original downtown that has never really recovered from the earthquake in 1972.  We were not able to visit the cathedral or see the eternal flame, as there was a rather large event taking place.  However, we did get a chance to enter the waterfront park that we opted out of during our first tour a month prior, Puerto Salvador Allende.

It seems to be touted as sort of a boardwalk style entertainment area.  There are several restaurants and had a festival with local dancers on the day we visited.  While it was very different from the other areas of downtown Managua, there didn't seem to be an overwhelming amount of actual activities.  There was an extremely clean and bright playground (actually, most play areas are very colorful), however, there was no shade and even past noon, the sun was shining brilliantly.  We are not even to the really hot season, and we could not imagine staying there longer than half an hour or so.  There was a walk out to the lake, but the fence surrounding it was a bit obstructive of the view and of course, there would not be any water activities due to the pollution.



A recycling bin! I was beyond pleased. I think it's amusing every item on the trash can is actually compostable and not trash, but still...this is good.

After 30 minutes there, we were sufficiently sweaty and packed back into the air-conditioned bus.  We continued through the city and even returned to Lome de Tiscapa.  It was gorgeous, as usual, if not a wee bit warm.  The final leg of the trip had us revisit the Huembes market.  I was a bit weary after the long ride, and had nodded off several times on the bus, but figured I needed to give the market a go in case I missed something the first time.  Did I ever...

Wow! Blurry, but you get the picture...


We didn't really peruse the meat section, but wanted to capture a view of it.

Yep, dog food in bulk.

Turn a corner and tables are magically filled with everything from potatoes to ginger, and corn to spices and flowers and....Vegetables seemed so ripe and recently picked, unlike much of what you find in the stores, and the selection was far larger than I had seen at any fruit stand.  No idea if anything was remotely organic, but at least it looked fresh and had to be straight from the farm. To say it was a coup to find this place would be an understatement.  The bag of tomatoes ran me 80 cents and the ginger...maybe 20 cents?

I can't say it's easy to find on one's own if you are only in town for a bit, but if you have a few days to explore or live here for any length of time, the market is worth a visit.  If not for the fresh produce, perhaps for the local outfits (the children's traditional clothing is so bright and happy), then perhaps for a small wooden toy or other locally made treat.  Be cautious with your belongings, but enjoy, as it is definitely a shopper's paradise for local goods.


September 07, 2013

Like a breath of fresh air

Last weekend, we had our first chance to really leave the city since our friends left in early August.  We still don't have our car (word on the street is it *might* be ready Monday) and to say that I had cabin fever was an understatement.

The kids were getting out of the house each day, but the only way I could get out would be to either schlep into the Embassy with Pete (a 35 minute crazy ride one way) and stay there all day and/or pray that a kind soul would offer me a ride to the grocery store.  While we knew we would live a bit far out, we didn't realize until we arrived just how in the middle of nowhere we live.  We certainly have little noise to deal with, but we don't have a pool or access to recreational facilities and after a while, tend to feel a bit trapped.

Now one might say, "Why not get out using local transportation?"  Not to decry this option, but, well, I can't is the long and short of it. There is no subway, I have not begun to understand the way the bus system works and while the tuk-tuks look adorable, I don't always feel safe riding in a car. The poor condition of most roads and the many obstacles in them such as potholes, dogs, and the famous fire juggler (though technically he hangs in the middle of a lane on the highway) can make driving here a rather stressful experience.  

Last weekend, we lucked out and managed to find an automobile to borrow.  While I'm still a bit nervous not being in our own car, the ability to get out and about when we need it is amazing.  Even better, Peter had Monday off, but the kids did not, so we managed a whole alone-time day.

I let him plan the day as he would be driving and therefore, whatever he felt doable would work for me.  We had originally hoped to do a trip to Aqua Nicaragua over the weekend, but that was based on the car arriving in a more timely manner.  Since that didn't happen, we've postponed that to a later date in the not-so-distant future.

Instead, he decided we should explore Laguna de Apoyo.  We didn't get started too early due to a surprise massage for me in the morning at the Beauty Lounge, which my poor back desperately needed.  The stress of settling in, adjusting to the local food climate (I finally ended 5 weeks of nearly consistent feeling sick on Sunday), and not having slept in my own (very comfy) bed since May 29 conspired against me and caused quite the stiff back.  Everything caused pain and I am thankful that between the massage and a few adjustments with the bed and a/c, the pain is now seriously diminished. Now maybe I can run faster than the chickens on my runs!

We headed out of the city on the main highway, and stopped for a quick lunch at a local grill.  Way more meat than I needed to think about, but it's a very popular option and we had plenty of leftovers for Nick's lunch the next day.  Once back on the road, I'd like to say it took another 30 minutes to arrive at the entrance of the nature preserve. However, I could be off as I nodded off in the car and only woke up when we hit the occasional random (yet ever present) dip in the road.

Once paying the fee to enter, we drove in and found ourselves on a narrow winding road that we shared with folks walking, dogs,  the occasional biker, and more than one woman with a heavily loaded basket of goods atop her head.  We really weren't sure entirely where to go, so headed off to the right at the first fork in the road.  It seemed like a heavily residential area, with an eco-lodge, but nowhere really to just stop for the afternoon.

We then turned around, and headed back up the road and took what would have been the left turn.  We passed one day stop that we had heard of, The Monkey Hut, and then kept going to see if we could find Abuelas, another popular stop.  We drove until the road became a rutted mess and not much later found Abuelas. The parking scenario seemed iffy at best and with the condition of the road and not actually owning the car, we felt it best to turn around and return to the Monkey Hut.

The sign advertised day visits and a space right up front was begging for our car to be put in it.  I had glimpsed the lake from the drive, but once stepping out of the car, it was a sight to behold.  Given that it was a Monday, there were few people visiting and the view was amazing and unfettered. Just a large, clear lagoon with a few kayakers and swimmers dotting the lake.

We headed down to the lagoon and managed to bump into a few friends who had the same idea.  They had a bit more experience on the day visit to the Monkey Hut and we realized that it would be the perfect place to take the kids for a weekend day of fun.  For $7/person, you can swim, kayak, float on a tube, snorkel or just snooze away on a lounge chair overlooking the lake.  One would presume it might be cold, but the geothermal vents warm it up.  Note: the depth is variable.  While extremely shallow around the edges, it deepens quickly and at the deepest point hits in the neighborhood of 800 feet. Needless to say, despite being strong swimmers, think we will use life jackets when we do our kayak tour.

The Monkey Hut has rooms for rent, though they are under renovation right now.  We watched some of the work and with the way the wood saw was whining frequently, I have no doubt it will be ready for guests soon.  In addition to the recreational facilities, one can also get a taste of comida tipica at the Monkey Hut or pizza at another restaurant along the shore.  Be sure to bring cash (effectivo) with you should you decide to visit, as the entrance fee will need to be paid that way and the internet is not the best there at times.  We had to pay our fees by credit card and it took several tries and the receptionist walking around quite a bit before she could find the ideal connection spot.

Even though we were only there for maybe an hour, just hanging by the lake saw the stress of the move and the adjustment period begin to melt away. I found myself planning our next day trip there, a bit selfishly sans kids, so that we can take as much time as we want to lazily explore the lagoon by kayak or innertube.  If you happen to be planning a visit to us any time in the near future, do not forget your swimsuit, as the lagoon will be at the top of our to do list!