Cancer, Revisited

Earlier this week,  I attended the first annual Kay Johnson Memorial Lecture. Kay was a Hampshire faculty member who died in 2019. I knew her really well because our sons were best friends from birth to the age of 5.

Kay died from metastatic breast cancer. In honor of Kay, I am reposting a piece from 2009.  At that time, my Uncle Norm had a diagnosis of lung cancer. He died a few weeks later. 12 years later, we have still not made enough progress in the fight against cancer. Hopefully once President Biden gets COVID and the economy under control, he can turn his attention to defeating cancer.

Cancer  12/16/2009

As part of my research for my new book, I have been reading short stories from various eras of Harper’s Magazine. One written in 1949, “The Lady Walks,” by Jean Powell, deals with a faculty wife who has breast cancer. Although my original interest in the story was because of the faculty wife character, Ravita, as a nurse I found the description of the cancer treatment clinic she goes to unsettling. The description did not seem that different from clinics I have worked at various times in the past fifteen years.

After reading the story, I have concluded that things have not changed as much as we might think or like in the area of treatment of cancer. Today I participated in a Cancer Care teleconference, “The Latest Developments Reported at the 32nd Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.”  It was very interesting; there are new drugs that might prevent bone loss in cancer patients as well possibly prevent the re-ocurrence of cancer.  However, treatment for certain kinds of breast cancer is a five-year process, which seems extraordinary long.

Around Thanksgiving, I read a story in the New York Times about a recreational lounge for cancer patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, a hospital in New York City. One of the patients is Seun Adebiyi, a young Nigerian immigrant and a Yale Law School graduate. He has lymphoblastic lymphoma and stem-cell leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant. He is also trying to be the first Nigerian to compete in the Winter Olympics in skeleton. His goal is 2014. I have participated in a bone marrow drive but I have never received a call to donate.

I have had friends who have died from ovarian cancer and relatives who have experienced lung cancer. Although we may not have made as much progress in the last sixty years as we would have liked, let us hope that we can make significant progress against cancer in the coming days.

 

Busy Week

This past week I was very busy. As I wrote last week, Saturday was the first night of Passover. We had  a great time with my sons and daughter-in-law. Next year I hope we can have even more family attend our seder.

Passover is one of my favorite holidays ,but eating just matzah for a week is tough. The change in diet gave me some minor health issues, primarily the stomach kind. Regularity begets regularity, if you get what I mean.

Because at the end of last week, I was getting ready for Passover, I fell behind on some routine tasks, such as mail, email (the bane of my existence) and bills. This week I had to play catch up.

As a result, I spent most of the week not actually writing anything. I did finish reading and taking notes on two books that had to go back to the library.  Although I didn’t write much, I had writing experiences due to the two groups I am involved with.

This was week was the first meeting of a new ten week session from Nerissa Nields’ Writing It Up in the Garden. I switched from her group that meets Wednesday evenings back to the group I was in last year, Tuesday midday. I like the people and I got good feedback on some pages I read from the chapter I am currently working on.

One of the people in the group read something about ALS, which was hard for me to listen to. I have known several people, including my brother Fred, who have died from that terrible disease and my first cousin, Lowell, is living with it.

The other writing  experience involved the year long Pioneer Valley Writers Workshop Creative Nonfiction Group that I am participating in. The first meeting was at the beginning of last month. One part of the program is having a different accountability buddy each month. I really enjoyed my first buddy, Jennifer. We have a lot in common and are working on similar topics. It was great to talk about my book to a fellow historian.

Although the week had hard parts and was busy, I did do some enjoyable things. Last week  was the World Figure Skating Championships. I couldn’t watch them in real time so, starting this past Monday, I watched repeats of all the events. It ended last night with the ice dancing. It was a pleasure to watch the superb skating of all the athletes. I love skating and, in fact, I am going skating today. The week is ending on a good note.

 

 

 

Happy Passover

Passover is one of my favorite holidays. When I was a child, my maternal grandparents owned a delicatessen, Al’s Delicatessen, in Long Beach, Long Island.  The store, which is what we called the delicatessen, was open from the end of Passover to Labor Day. Long Beach is an ocean town with a lot of seasonal visitors. In the off season, my grandparents worked in hotels in Miami Beach.

Before they opened the store for the season, they had a big seder for friends and family. The room would be filled with tables where all my relatives sat talking loudly. All of the kids were at one table, me, Fred, Sara, Marla, Linda, Stevie, Marsha and Stanley. I think Lowell was a baby.

My grandfather conducted the seder in Hebrew, speaking really quickly. The place was filled with people and always noisy. There was often singing, not from my family, but my Great Aunt Fay, her children and grandchildren could all carry a tune. I didn’t have any idea what my grandfather was saying but I was always able to figure out when we were done because we got to eat.

The food was delicious. My grandmother was a great cook, especially when it came to Jewish food. She couldn’t make a hamburger but her matzah balls and brisket were fantastic. I can still see her wearing a beige apron wrapped around her waist with her kind face smiling.

At the seder, the grandchildren always got special treatment. Somehow, one of us always found the afikomen (hidden piece of matzah). If we didn’t, we still got a treat. That was the kind of person my grandfather was.

Perhaps these wonderful memories are why I like Passover. I also like that it is family based and takes place in the home. The  holiday message of freedom and liberation is meaningful and timeless. My grandmother died when I was ten and a few years later, my grandfather sold the store. After that  my mother organized family seders which of course had fewer people.

My father, who didn’t speak Hebrew, kept my grandfather’s pace, but in English.  The seders were still loud and lively but there was no singing. My mother tried her best to replicate my grandmother’s tasty dishes. That kind of cooking did not come naturally to her so I give her a lot of credit for trying.

Once I had my own family, I made seders. I have tried to prepare my grandmother’s dishes , filtered through with both my mother’s and my adaptations. From 2005 to 2009, my first cousin’s daughter, Nina, went to Hampshire College so we saw a lot of her. She attended our seders and has continued to do so even after she graduated.

Our seders are loud and lively. We even sing, very off tune, but we do it. My favorite song to sing is not really a Passover song. It is Rise and Shine, about Noah’s ark. We sing it because I know all the words and I think it is funny.

Last year, we had a virtual seder on Zoom. I am grateful that this year we can celebrate Passover in person because we have been vaccinated. Almost of all of the people who made my childhood seders so special are gone. My brother is also deceased. I am glad for those memories and the memories I have made for my family.

 

 

Meghan Markle and Me

I didn’t watch the Oprah Winfrey interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. That doesn’t stop me from having an opinion on the subject. At first, when I read about Meghan’s claim that she hadn’t googled anything about Harry or royal life, I was incredulous. Hadn’t she ever read or saw anything about Princess Diana?

Yesterday I read The Anti-Racism Daily  entitled, “Believe Black Woman.” The Daily is a newsletter curated by Nicole Cardoza. She started it in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. One of her points was about colorism. “Colorism is the reason why Meghan Markle was likely even able to marry Prince Harry and be considered part of the family to begin with. She experienced this violence because she was ‘white enough’ to be included and still ‘too black’ to be loved, respected and projected.

The part of the Meghan-Harry interview that has been the most sensational is Meghan’s claim that members of the extended Royal Family were concerned that Archie, their child, might be too dark. I recently read Nella Larsen’s Passing. One of the most heartbreaking scenes in the book occurs when three light skinned African American women are discussing giving birth. Two of the women are passing; both had deep anxiety about what color their children would be.

If you take away the fact that Meghan was marrying into royalty and instead look at the situation as a case of a woman marrying for love and putting the man’s interests ahead of her own, you have a typical story of the choices women usually make.

When I got married and moved to Massachusetts, that act seemed like a no-brainer to me. After all my husband had secured a teaching position and we were married. I never thought about how much I would be defined as a wife and how badly that would make me feel.

Nicole’s newsletter made me think about Meghan in that light, leading to an increase in empathy and understanding from me. Women often make life choices based on their husband or partner’s needs. It is not that the reverse never happens, but it is not that frequent.

When I was looking for academic positions, my husband always said he would move with me. The further I got in my job search, the more I thought that wouldn’t really work. By the end of my time trying to get an academic position, I not only had a husband, but I also had two children. I didn’t think that he could handle not having a job while I had one. Eventually I gave up, went back to school, and became a nurse.

Maybe Meghan loves Harry, knew his family and position were important to him, so she made her choice with that in mind. I am glad she is now in a position where her needs can also be met.

 

 

Indifference

Sometime after George Floyd’s murder, I started being the facilitator of a once-a-week virtual hour long session on Jews and race in America. The “class” is through the JCA. The last few weeks we have been reading a speech that Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel gave in 1963 at a Chicago Conference on Race and Religion. It was at that conference that Heschel first met Martin Luther King Jr.

This week we read a section about indifference to evil. “There is an evil most of us condone and are even guilty of: indifference to evil. We remain neutral, impartial and not easily moved by the wrongs done unto other people. Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself; it is more universal, more contagious, more dangerous. A silent justification, it makes possible an evil erupting as an exception becoming the rule and being in turn accepted.”

Heschel’s speech was focused on the evil of segregation and the daily injustices that black people suffered. He was also, subtly, looking back to the overwhelming evil of the Holocaust. Heschel, born in Poland, left Germany in 1940; many members of his family who remained perished.

Reading that passage, the word “indifference” stood out. What is the opposite of indifference? Is it attention, caring, sympathy or empathy? Today’s world seems beset by problems. It can feel overwhelming contemplating how to act.

The song “I Think It is Going to Rain Today,” by Randy Newman also came to mind.

“Human kindness is overflowing
And I think it’s going to rain today

Lonely, lonely
Tin can at my feet
Think I’ll kick it down the street
That’s the way to treat a friend”

In my teenage years I sang that song to myself many times. The somewhat sarcastic or cynical lyrics perfectly summed up my view of the world and its problems.

It is many years later and the song still has a lot of meaning. America has many compelling issues. Climate change, systemic racism, COVID and continuing economic inequality are some of them. It is hard to know where to start.

Heschel wanted his audience to face racism and act to end it. Heschel didn’t just give speeches and sermons about the evils of racism. He was an active participant in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and marched with MLK in Selma.

Jim Crow and segregation did end but racism has not gone away. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his essay, Three Ways of Meeting Oppression, “To accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system.” Both King and Heschel fought against indifference to and denial of racism. To act in a way that contradicts indifference to evil requires us to do something, anything. To the best of our ability, we need to stand up and be counted.

 

COVID Vaccines

Me getting my first shot.

 

Earlier today I got my second dose of the Moderna vaccine. So far, I feel okay. The nurse who gave me the shot said the side effects kick in around the ten hour mark. If that is true, I will feel fine at skating but not so well this evening and into tomorrow. She thought I would be fine by Sunday when I go skating again.

I have been volunteering at Amherst clinics, inoculating people and also acting as the scribe for the inoculator. The  Massachusetts rollout of the vaccine has been abysmal. People have faced long waits to get an appointment and the enrollment process is apparently very confusing.

Last week  the Governor announced that people who were 65 or older or had two comorbidities were now eligible to receive the vaccine. People still had a tremendous amount of trouble getting appointments. The list of comorbidities also made little sense. If you  smoke and have asthma you are eligible but if you have high blood pressure, that doesn’t count.

The other thing the Baker administration announced last week was that they were shifting distribution of the vaccines away from doctors offices and hospitals to mass vaccination sites. At that time, the  closest site was at least fifteen miles away from Amherst and not necessarily on a bus route.

Our state representatives, Mindy Domb and Jo Comerford, along with others, worked very hard to get both Amherst and Northampton designated as regional vaccination sites. Starting Monday, Amherst will have clinics in the Bangs Center located in downtown Amherst. If you need more information you can click here. If you need more help, you can call 2-1-1.

Around here, everyone I know is desperate to get vaccinated and is willing to go to great lengths to achieve that goal. I think that is probably true of many people across the country. I did speak to someone I know who lives in Florida; she and her husband have decided, upon reflection and study, to skip  getting the vaccine. She feels they have been careful,are in good health, and therefore, if they were to get COVID, they would get a mild case.

I don’t know how she came to that conclusion. My cousin was very careful and wore a mask wherever he went; he still got COVId and spent five days in the hospital. Now his wife has it.

Everything I have read says that getting the vaccine is preferable to getting COVID. If you have read things that convinced you not to get vaccinated, I would love to know more about that. My advice is, if you can get vaccinated, please do that. More people getting vaccinated will bring herd immunity more quickly.

Proof I got both shots.

Sepsis

On January 5, news broke that the actress Tanya Roberts died from sepsis following a urinary tract infection. Roberts was sixty-five; she had been both a Bond girl and a Charlie’s Angel. She collapsed on December 25th, 2020. Roberts was hospitalized and put on a ventilator. Before her collapse she had not appeared ill.

Over thirty percent of UTIs lead to sepsis; this is 2.8-9.8 million cases in the United States and Europe. These result in as many as 1.6 million fatalities. Sepsis occurs when the immune system, in response to a perceived threat in one’s blood stream, goes into overdrive and starts attacking the body.

UTI’s are usually contained within the bladder and antibiotics easily cure them. If a UTI goes untreated, it can progress to a kidney infection which in turn can became sepsis. Tanya Roberts death resonated with me for two different reasons. The first is that my paternal grandfather, Frank, died in 1937, following a sinus infection. Antibiotics were not widely available; his infection went unchecked and he died. My father was eighteen; his older brother twenty and his younger brother eleven.

The other reason I felt deeply about Roberts’ death was that I had a similar, although obviously not fatal, experience. From December 2011 to the beginning of January 2012, I had a urinary tract infection that went untreated for as long as four weeks. (The reasons for my lack of treatment is another story for another day).

By January 2, 2012, I had a very high fever, was chilled to the bone, and was ashen in color. I had a raging kidney infection and my doctor sent me to the hospital. One of the ER nurses said my white blood cell count was the highest she had ever seen. If the infection had continued to go untreated, it is likely I would have developed sepsis. Once sepsis sets in, there is a very high rate of mortality.

As women age, they are more susceptible to UTIs and often the infection does not generate any symptoms. That certainly could have been true for Roberts since she did not seem ill before she collapsed. As with most illnesses that occur more frequently for women, the progression from a urinary tract infection to sepsis is not well studied.

Tanya Roberts’ story is very sad, and I wish she could have received treatment before she became septic. My kidney infection was the sickest I have ever been but I am glad that I did get treated and did not become septic.

 

2021 Goals and Resolutions

As I mentioned last week, my main goal for 2020 was to finish my book and I did not achieve that. Completion of the book remains my main goal for  2021. I have been working on the sixth chapter since the fall. When I finish that, I will have four left. I am really going to try to complete it this year.

My goals for 2020 did not include anything about losing weight but i did lose 20 pounds  last year. I know many people gained the COVID 15, but I am glad I went in the other direction. At the beginning of 2020 I tried intermittent fasting which I did for a while. The big change came in June when I joined Noom. Noom is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)  and uses artificial intelligence (AI) in its work with clients.

Although I did not count my calories every day, as the program suggests you do, I did watch my calories and weigh myself everyday.  The other part of Noom is reading articles, answering quizzes and interacting with both a group coach and an individual coach. I am not sure if either of these are real people. They may be bots. I have gained insights about my behavior, eating and otherwise, from Noom.

My resolution for 2021 is to lose the remaining three pounds I have to  lose to get to my original weight goal and to not gain the weight back. I have lost weight before but I have always gained it back. I hope that the lessons I have learned from Noom stay with me even when I am no longer paying for the program.

I plan to continue to tweet every day and post on this site every week. Between politics, the pandemic, beer, and other topics, I am fairly confident I will have plenty to say. Today will be the last Wednesday that I post a blog. I am going to return to Friday as the day I post.  I am hoping this will create a better writing schedule.

See you January 22nd.

Subscription Bomb

 

On Thursday I got an email from Venmo that someone had changed the primary email associated with my account. Before I could focus on what I had to do, my Gmail inbox was suddenly populated with almost four hundred emails. They were mostly emails confirming I had joined or subscribed to something. Of course, I hadn’t.

This was very overwhelming, and I didn’t know what to do first. Venmo wanted me to change my password so I tried that. It didn’t work; I think because it no longer recognized my email address. I sent emails to Venmo support, receiving a response that they would get back to me in twenty-four hours.

I tried to call Venmo, but you can’t reach customer support by phone. I also found out that Venmo will not cancel any payment. You must deal with your financial institution. On Thursday I called my bank to make sure that no payment had gone out to Venmo. On Friday, because I couldn’t reset my password, I went to my bank and put a stop on Venmo.

On Saturday I was finally able to access my Venmo account and I saw that on Thursday there was an unauthorized payment to Buydig.com for over one thousand dollars. I rechecked that the payment hadn’t gone through and then I cancelled my Venmo account. I emailed Venmo informing them of this and asked them to remove the payment. I got no response.

On Monday, the bank called and said that Venmo had tried to put the payment through, but it was blocked. I will never use Venmo again. They were completely useless and have terrible security.

While I was dealing with Venmo, I deleted the four hundred emails. I then found out from a friend that what had happened is called a subscription bombing. The point is to distract you while they try to access your financial information and sites. The article I read said that you could keep getting emails for months or years.

I am still getting about 6-8 emails a day from the subscription bomb. I first tried to put a filter on everything that was in my spam folder. That did nothing. Now for each email, if I can unsubscribe, I do. Then I make an individual filter, directly deleting it. Then I mark it as spam. It is very tedious. If any of you know of any other way for me to deal with this, please let me know.  Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Shelton Brothers

Earlier this month, the big news in craft brewing was the closing of beer importers, Shelton Bros. The company existed for twenty-four years and were early importers of craft beers. They introduced America to different beer styles, such as sour beer. The company’s bank pushed them into liquidation; a victim of COVID-19 and the recession. You can read more about the closing of Shelton Bros. here.

I found this news interesting  because of a personal  connection to the firm. One of the Shelton brothers is Will. He is the dad of Zach and Max who are among my son Alan’s best friends. I have  known Will for over twenty years.

For a while he owned a brewery in Western Massachusetts, High and Mighty, which made great beer. I gave a book talk about Brewing Battles at the Jones Library and we served Will’s beer.  The brewery only lasted a few years and then Will moved to California. There, for a while,  he worked with Pete Slosberg from Pete’s Wicked Ale.  He then started a new brewery, Concrete Jungle. Will is now back in Massachusetts.

The demise of Shelton Bros. reflect changes in the brewing industry. The country has over 7,000 breweries. Many of them are very local and supply farm to table restaurants. American brewers now make many of the unusual and exotic styles that Shelton Bros imported, making them less competitive. You can read more about Shelton Bros, in an article from 2017 by Andy Crouch.