Mary Claire King

Two new habits in my life brought a crazy-good, goosebump-inducing moment into my life last night, which illustrates the lovely possibility of finding something awesome in an otherwise everyday moment.

My two new habits: walking Pedey in the pre-sunset hour while listening to podcasts. Credit for the first habit goes to Pedey himself, who in his previous life in our former house was the laziest creature on Earth but who has developed a new leash on life (heh heh) since residing in our new abode. Credit for the second habit goes to my medical sherpa and dear friend Amy, who turned me on to the wonderful world of podcasts.

So last night, I was walking Pedey

The not-so-lazy guy exploring the bayou behind our house last year

The not-so-lazy guy exploring the bayou behind our house last year

listening to a podcast, and taking in the beauty of the evening. While much of the country is covered in snow, here in the Great State of Texas, it was a balmy 70-something-degree evening. This is what it looked like when Pedey and I headed out for our walk,IMG_3721

and this is what it looked like when we were nearing home.

grainy, I know; someone was tugging on the leash as I snapped the pic!

grainy, I know; someone was tugging on the leash as I snapped the pic!

Along our walk I tried to ignore the ever-present pain in my bum knee and the increasing discomfort in my hands from this wretched carpal tunnel syndrome. Instead, I forced myself to be present and to notice things like the shapes of the clouds in the darkening sky and the colors on display.IMG_3730

I smiled to myself because I didn’t have to rush home to make dinner (I’d cooked a double batch of chicken noodle soup for a friend whose entire family was felled by the flu). Instead, Pedey and I could linger while taking in the view.IMG_3723

IMG_3722

The podcast was from The Moth, which for the uninitiated, features real people telling real stories from their lives, live in front of an audience without notes. These are regular people telling personal stories; you can hear the nervousness and emotion in their voices. Each Moth podcast typically contains several stories with a common theme. The one I listened to last night had four stories: a doctor faced with her own father’s memory loss; a man recounting his attempts to plan his Bar Mitzvah as a teenager; an archeologist who had a very personal run-in with the effects of climate change; and a doctor whose life is upended as she is on the cusp of a breakthrough in cancer research.

I had listened to the first three stories earlier in the day, while making the soup, and so had the last story to savor as I wrapped up my day with the twilight walk with Pedey. The narrator of the last story, Mary Claire King, told a compelling story that began on April Fool’s Day in 1981 when her husband dropped the bomb that he was leaving her to run away with one of his graduate students. The Kings had a 5-year-old daughter at the time, and the very next day Mary Claire was awarded tenure at Berkeley. Reeling from the announcement from her husband and processing the tenure award, she arrived home to find that their home had been burglarized. Her father had recently died, and her mother had just been diagnosed with epilepsy. Add to that chaos that she was due to travel from California to Washington, D.C., to present a grant proposal to the NIH for her research. Yowza. That’s what’s known as a class-A cluster.

A snafu in Mary Claire’s childcare for that trip to D.C. nearly brought her pursuit of the NIH grant to a halt, but thanks to some over-and-beyond help from her mentor and intervention by a kind — and über famous — stranger at the airport, she was able to make the trip, present the proposal and win the grant. I was still agog at her recounting of the airport encounter when she finished her story by saying “that was the beginning of the the grant that has become the story of inherited breast cancer and the beginning of the project that led to BRCA1.”

Wow.

Mary Claire King is the person who discovered “the breast-cancer gene.” She pioneered the genetic research that has completely changed the way breast cancer is diagnosed and treated. She has changed the lives of countless women, including the one walking her dog on a beautiful February night in the Great State of Texas. Crazy. And crazier still is the fact that she very nearly did not get on that plane to present that grant that would lead to one of the biggest medical discoveries of this lifetime.

I’m soooooooo glad she did get on that plane.

I have personally benefitted from Mary Claire King’s work, and there she was, in my earbuds, telling an incredibly compelling story, the majority of which has little to do with her groundbreaking research and her far-reaching progress in our frustratingly slow war on cancer. I don’t carry the gene that predisposes me to breast and ovarian cancer. Being free of the genetic predisposition doesn’t really change anything about my cancer “journey.” Despite not having the genetic predisposition, I nonetheless have had a bilateral mastectomy and a complete hysterectomy. I find some peace in knowing that my cancer wasn’t caused by funky goings-on in the 17th chromosome, and that I’m not passing that funky gene on to my daughter (and son). I don’t know what caused my cancer, but I’m fortunate to have had the resources to take the BRCA1 test to find out whether my 17th chromosome had funky goings-on that would indicate causality. I like knowing, even if it didn’t change the outcome or my choices in treatment.

Decades before breast cancer entered my world, King was hard at work to figure out how it worked and how to stop it. I love her. From 1974 to 1990, King worked to find a connection between genes and breast cancer. When she began this quest, the prevailing scientific explanation for cancer was a virus; no one thought it could be genetic. But King thought otherwise. She used her previous theory from her Ph.D. , which showed that humans and chimpanzees are 99 percent identical genetically, to pursue a genetic component to cancer. She believed that examiningt the DNA of women whose relatives had breast cancer could lead to a genetic link, and in the pre-internet era, she gathered information by hand and by word-of-mouth. She overcame obstacles from lack of funding to primitive research tools to derision as a female scientist. She prevailed. She rocks.

Those of us unfortunate souls whose lives have collided with a diagnosis of breast cancer or ovarian cancer know about the BRCA component. While a low percentage of breast cancer is genetic, the discovery of the BRCA component affects all of us in the Pink Ribbon Club. My cancer was not inherited, but I’m certainly glad I had the opportunity to learn that. Furthermore, the possibility of future breakthroughs in cancer research are promising. The solution to the cancer epidemic lies in people like Mary Claire King, long may they prevail.

photo credit: Alan Betson, Irish Times

photo credit: Alan Betson, Irish Times

Listen to Mary Claire King’s story on The Moth. It’s a good one.

 

 


World Cancer Day & Stuart Scott

Today is World Cancer Day, and rather than rehashing my own cancer “journey” I’m thinking about Stuart Scott.

A longtime ESPN anchor, Scott was a familiar presence in my house. His wordsmithing appealed to me, as did his irreverancy. In a world populated by former jocks and professional windbags, Scott contributed a cool combination of intellectual breadth and liveliness. Scott’s colleague Dan Patrick once said about Scott that “he didn’t just push the envelope, he bulldozed the envelope.” I’m a fan of bulldozers.

Scott was diagnosed with appendix cancer in 2007. Yes, you read that right: appendix cancer. Weird and rare, there are an estimated 1,000 cases of appendix cancer in the United States annually, compared to nearly 300,000 cases of breast cancer every year in this country. Perhaps this is another reason I relate to Stuart Scott: between his appendix cancer and my post-mastectomy mycobacterium infection, we both faced the question of “who in the world contracts that??”

Stuart Scott wrote a book about his cancer “journey,” which explains his gladiator approach to confronting his disease. The cancer community is divided on the “battle” aspect of the cancer fight — some people love the idea of a cancer warrior while others are uncomfortable with the war metaphors — but one thing I know for sure: the cancer experience is a fiercely personal one, and no one has the right to tell another how to do it or which analogies to use.

espn.com

espn.com

I read an excerpt of Scott’s book and am hungry for more. He was a gym rat, like me, and he leaned heavily upon his workouts during treatment, both for physical strength and for mental health:

“I can’t tell you how important it felt to go from the chemo infusion center to the gym. There were patients at the infusion center who were gaunt and too weak to walk. I wanted to hug them. I wanted to work out for them. It took about fifteen minutes to get to the gym from the infusion center, but I felt like I was traveling a great distance: from the land of the sick to the land of the recovering. I’d work out three or four times a week, but the most important workout was the one right after chemo. It was like I was proving a point: While you kick my butt, cancer, I’m gonna kick yours.”

In thinking about the name of one of the drugs in his chemo cocktail, Scott realized “The medical name of the medicine is fluorouracil, but they call it 5-FU. That’s what it said, right there: 5-FU. All right, I thought. A sign. FU, cancer.”

FU cancer. Indeed.

Scott continues: “My return to the gym felt kind of spiritual. I wasn’t really supposed to run since I was still connected to the port that was giving me my medicine.  I looked down, and my eye caught the logo of the manufacturer of the machine I was on: LifeStyle. That word jumped out at me: Life. I thought back to the first thought I had when [diagnosed]: I’m going to die. But I was still here. And here I was, not forty-five minutes out of chemo, and I was in the gym, doing what I do. I started to run. What could be the harm? The disease wasn’t in control. I was.”

That sense of control is of epic importance in the cancer “journey.”

Scott explains it like this: “Mentally, I needed to be in that gym. I’d talk smack to cancer like Ali talked to his opponents. A third set of push-ups? Take that, cancer. Twenty full-out sprint pass patterns? Cancer, you ever run up against this? Some kicks and punches into the middle of the heavy bag after the elliptical? I got yer cancer right here! I needed to do that, not just to show my girls I was fighting for them, but also to show myself I had some control over the situation. ‘Cause cancer wants to take control from you. You’ve got to very purposefully stand your ground. That’s what going to the gym is to me. I decide, cancer.”

A few weeks ago I came across the late ESPN sportscaster’s speech about his cancer “journey” at the ESPY awards last summer. That speech is powerful. Here’s the link so you can check it out.

Scott was awarded the Jimmy V Award at last year’s ESPYs and joins an acclaimed list of courageous and inspirational people from various corners of the sports world. Perhaps his career as an on-camera personality gave him the extra flair that made him such an engaging speaker. Maybe that was just his personality. Either way, his speech is compelling.

The take-away message, for me, lie in these words from that speech:

“When you die, that does not mean that you lost to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.”

Stuart Scott taught me a huge and valuable lesson. He did die, but he did not lose. How he lived proves that. Today, on World Cancer Day, I honor Stuart Scott. While at the gym, I will think of his no-mercy approach. I will remember all the days in which I was that patient too weak to walk, and I will silently thank him for all the times he worked out in my stead. For all the times he went straight from chemo to the gym and said FU, cancer.

espn.com

espn.com


New year, new game

Two weeks into this new year, I am wrapping my head around a whole ‘nother challenge. This new game has nothing to do with cancer (for the moment, anyway — knock wood) but concerns the myriad ways my body challenges me. I refrain from classifying those challenges as failures, i.e., the many ways in which my body is failing me, because that is the new game: the mental side of physical illness.

I’m a fierce player in all aspects of the game that is confronting health issues. All aspects except the mental game. I suck at that part. Give me the worst-case scenario (mycobacterium fortuitum, I’m talking to you) and I will slay it. Give me a long, difficult road on which to travel, and I will keep on truckin’. But tell me that the only weapon I have in which to fight is my mind, and I’m hosed. Tell me to stay positive and look on the bright side, and I struggle. Offer me platitudes and I will want to punch someone. Outlook: not great.

Some of the news ways in which my body challenges (fails) me are minor: graduating to the bifocal club, or needing to hit the hay well before midnight. To those challenges I say let’s call a truce. But the bigger challenges are well, bigger. And more challenging. There are three bad guys vying for attention these days: the bad knee, the wonky thyroid, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Awesome.

The bad knee is acting up and acting out. Again. Three surgeries and countless rehab exercises mean nothing to that old hag. The misaligned kneecap is screaming for attention, and the missing cartilage is hunkering for its piece of the pie. Two very squeaky wheels in an already crowded field. The second round of synthetic synovial fluid injections did little to appease the missing cartilage. IMG_3073Despite the giant needle being jabbed straight into the innocent flesh adjacent to the bone-on-bone area, relief evaded me. Upon reviewing my day-after-Christmas x-ray, my orthopedist shifted gears from a previous recommendation of partial knee replacement to osteotomy, which requires cutting the bone at the top of the tibia and using plates and screws to relocate it in its proper place. The one word that comes up when researching the recovery for this surgery: brutal. Standard care is crutches for two weeks and a cane for a month alongside endless physical therapy. Thanks but no thanks.

The thyroid is being an asshole, as well. Long story short: underactive thyroid, two daily meds, and two nodules that may or may not be problematic, and dissenting opinions by my crack medical team as to whether another thyroid biopsy is needed. Being the fierce player that I am, had my crack team concurred, I would have promptly had that biopsy. As much as I detest the idea of another needle being stuck IN MY NECK, I will do it if it’s necessary. But if there is dissent on the matter, I’ll defer. That said, that asshole thyroid has some wily ways of mucking up my life. Symptoms and side-effects of a wonky thyroid are far-reaching, and just when I think I have them under control (or am at least resigned to them), another one makes its grand entrance.

Which brings us to the third challenge: carpal tunnel syndrome. For a couple of years I’ve had what I thought was neuropathy: tingling, numbness, swelling, and radiating pain in both hands especially first thing in the morning. It came to a head shortly after we moved into our new house last year, and my GP chalked it up to overuse of my hands and forearms from packing and unpacking endless boxes. A round of steroids and some anti-inflammatories should have done the trick, but instead there is a fresh new hell to endure. 165305

Ugh.

If I employ the “coulda/woulda/shoulda” tactic for dealing with the three most-pressing physical challenges, I find myself regretting my decision to put off treatment even though I had met that $6,000 deductible last year. As I face the blank slate of a reset deductible, I wish I’d sucked it up and had the surgeries and procedures I need. Perhaps I would not be typing this very post with pins & needles fingers. Perhaps I would not be thinking about how stiff and sore my knee will be after sitting at my desk to compose a blog post. Perhaps I would not be chiding myself for having been tapped out by the end of 2014.

Cue the mental side of dealing with a physical issue. Because I did not have these problems surgically repaired, I must figure out how to change my thinking. For instance, I give myself a pep talk on the way to the gym. It goes something like this:

“Don’t think about what you used to be able to do, but focus on what you can still do.”

“You’re here.”

“Lots of people more able-bodied than you aren’t even trying.”

“Don’t look at what the other gym-rats are accomplishing; comparison is the thief of joy.”

“Even a shitty workout is better than no workout at all.”

I’m not very good at this part. I recall the words of my favorite yoga teacher: where my mind goes, so too goes my energy. I envision my faulty parts bathed in a warm glow of healing energy. But it’s work. A lot of work. I’m not a fan of listening to my body and accepting limitations; I much prefer to push through the pain. It’s a struggle to avoid falling into the “haven’t I suffered enough??” mentality, and it’s certainly not a great way to start a new year. But, instead of deciding that this old dog can’t learn a new trick, I will become a player (albeit not a starter) in this mental game. As the great Yogi Berra once said, “Ninety percent of this game is half mental.”


#nofilter

What kind of moron schedules an appointment with a new specialist while recovering from yet another revision to breast reconstruction? Probably the same moron who thinks yet another revision is no big whoop and expects recovery to be swift. Will I never learn??? And the post-surgery antibiotics are wreaking their usual havoc and using black magic to cause me — a non-meat-eater and pet-pig owner — to crave ham. Ham. Of all things.

Dr E, the neurologist I saw yesterday for the mystery neuropathy I’ve been having in my hands, offices in the medical plaza adjoining the hospital to which I was admitted in early June 2010 for the nefarious post-mastectomy infection. A small PTSD episode may or may not have occurred inside that plaza at 8:30 a.m. yesterday, in which I stepped on to the wrong elevator en route to Dr E’s office and found myself not in the plaza but on the 9th floor of the hospital. I was transfixed and rooted in place, knowing I was not in the right spot but temporarily unable to grind the right gears and get out of there. I stood there, sweating profusely and shivering alarmingly near a giant window overlooking the freeway that leads from the hospital back to my home, in the Land of Sugar. The dregs of a rainy-day morning rush hour in Houston creeped along that freeway as I watched it, momentarily paralyzed with the searing memory of looking out that window on day 6 or 7 of that hellish hospitalization. My kids had just finished their second- and fifth-grade years of school; I had turned 41 just a week before that hellish hospitalization. Summer glistened ahead of us as I began a protracted and ugly battle against a rare and nasty infection following a cruel and unexpected cancer diagnosis. If someone had predicted that nearly 5 years later I would be paralyzed simply by being in that same hospital, I would have rolled my eyes and scoffed at that lame-0 idea. Suffice to say, no eye-rolling or scoffing occurred.

All these years later,  just being in that same hospital brought it all back. It took a few moments to snap out of it and load my shattered self back into the elevator to retrace my steps into the medical plaza and away from the hospital. Why was I catapulted back to that unpleasant and unwelcome era in this long, ugly cancer “journey?” I’ve no idea. No matter, I suppose, as the take-away is that after many hours and a full sleep later, I’m still reeling.
Arriving in the neurologist’s office, I dutifully handed over my new patient paperwork and was briskly admitted into an exam room. I read most of this article in Men’s Journal about when to say no to your doctor. Ironic. When Dr E walked into the room, I joked about that irony and was met with stone-faced silence. Perhaps the newest doc in my tribe doesn’t find me, or that article, very funny. I briefly considered ripping out the article, to reread it later and decide if it was indeed ironic, but then remembered I brought a small purse and would have to fold the ripped-out article. Not worth it.
Within mere minutes of meeting me, Dr E proclaimed that I have no filter (’tis true, although I thought I was on my best behavior). So he doesn’t get my humor (wouldn’t be the first man to find himself in that situation), and I briefly and un-filteredly considered whether he could tell I was contemplating lifting his magazine article. No time to explore that, though, because he asked if I’ve been evaluated for ADD, then moved on to ask a series of pointed, unpleasant questions about the exact nature of and appearance of the neuropathy (e.g., when was the exact moment I recall experiencing neuropathy? How would I know — I have ADD.) He delved into my complicated, checkered medical history. After a thorough scouring of my history and timeline of current symptoms, he vowed to get to the bottom of my problem. He asked if I could submit to a series of tests in an hour and directed me to the coffee shop in the lobby. I filtered myself by just listening instead of telling him I know exactly where the coffee shop is and why I possess that knowledge. How ya like my filter now???
Forty-five minutes later, I returned to his office and was shown into a small, airless room and instructed on how to take a computerized test to gauge my attention span. I can’t recall the exact acronym of this “continuous performance tests” (hellooooo, I have ADD, remember??) but the point is a very simple response (in this case, clicking a button) is required after a simple stimulus (in this case, a rapid-fire series of black rectangles appeared on the computer screen in random order. Each rectangle had a small white square in it; sometimes the white square appeared in the top of the black rectangle, and other times it appeared in the bottom of the black square. Each time it appeared in the top, I clicked the button). This went on for 20 minutes. For 20 minutes. For 20 interminable minutes, my eyes watered and blurred. My thumb clicked the button. I slumped and straightened in the seat. I wrote and re-wrote a blog post, then promptly forgot what it contained.
squirrelI sweated and cursed the small, airless room. I wondered how much time had elapsed. I wondered if clicking that button was contributing to the neuropathy in my hands. I rebelled against the test directions to avoid looking for a pattern and guessing when to click the button. I composed a grocery list. I fashioned a crude fan from a piece of paper to stir the hot, stale air, not once taking my eyes off that blasted screen. I thought about what to serve my kids for dinner that constituted a nutritious meal yet required little or no work from me. I vowed to ace that test, but grew bored of and distracted from it post haste. Hence the no filter.
My 20-minute penance done, I entered the next level of hell: the shock test, aka the nerve conduction velocity test. Yuk. I’ve endured some pretty yukky medical procedures in my day, but this one was yukky in its own special, unique way. Long story short, the nerves must be toasty warm to be shocked and measured, so I had to get under an electric blanket while wearing a paper gown. I had to keep my feet covered, which is one of my versions of personal hell, and I suppose Dr E would categorize that revelation as further evidence of me having no filter. Fine, that’s fine. I don’t like my feet covered. And I don’t like being under an electric blanket preparing to have my nerves shocked. Whatev. Personally, I believe filters are way, way overrated.
After I told the the nurse that putting a menopausal woman under an electric blanket is seriously not cool, she hooked up electrodes to my fingers, palm, wrist, forearm, bicep, and neck and shocked me repeatedly. Think of hitting your “funny bone” again and again while sweating under an electric blanket with a moist paper gown stuck to you and your feet protesting the claustrophobic conditions, and you are there. You get the gist. Except it’s not just your “funny bone” that smarts from the shock; it’s more of a full-body twitch. When the larger nerves were to be shocked, the nurse instructed me to take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Nothing good ever follows being told to take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Nothing. I defy anyone to find anything good. With those deep breaths, I wanted to be like this:

googleimages.com

googleimages.com

But instead, I was like this (pardon the profanity; it’s fitting and again, another example of me having no filter):

googleimages.com

googleimages.com

Shock after shock. And I submitted to this test willingly and within my right mind??? One or two shocks is doable. But nearly an hour of it, on both sides of the body? Filter this, people. I kept thinking, at least there are no needles involved.
Once the shocking was over, the nurse said to relax and wait for the doctor, but please stay covered up because he had one more test to administer. I honestly thought about shucking the blanket off, peeling the sodden paper gown from my stanky body, and getting the hell outta there before Dr E had a chance to reappear. However, I was a bit curious about how I did on that computer test, so I stuck around.
Remember the foolish, filterless goofball who thought, at least there are no needles involved? Guess who ended up with a needle stuck in a nerve ranging from fingertip to neck on both sides of her body? Yep. At that point, I was exhausted, my eyes hurt, my body pinged from having been shocked, and my dignity had long left the building.
Dr E pronounced me to have been through the proverbial wringer, both that day and for the last several years. He described the extensive nerve damage I have to both wrists, as well as a lingering muscular issue in my right shoulder. He gave me solutions, both pharmaceutical and holistic. He talked a lot about genetics and its role in our ongoing health, and asked me to come back in two weeks. I agreed, as long as there were no shocks involved. I wanted to ask him to commit to that in writing, via a binding contract, but was trying to use my filter.

A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

To quote from Alexander, the hero of Judith Viorst’s timeless children’s book, today was a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” Alexander-and-the-No-Good-image

Actually, truth be told, it’s been a terrible, horrible, no good very bad month. It’s been a death-by-a-million-paper-cuts month.

I didn’t wake up with gum in my hair or miss out on dessert at lunch like poor Alexander did. But it’s still been a THNGVB day.

This is dangerous territory. As a cancer “survivor” I should be grateful. I should be happy. I should be thankful to be alive and (more or less) in one piece.

To which I say, screw the “shoulds.”

Of course I’m grateful to have “survived” cancer (and of course I recognize that the “surviving” only hold true until the day in any given month in any given year that the cancer comes back. Which it does for some 40 percent of women diagnosed with early-stage, favorable breast cancer). I am happy that I’m not currently metastatic. I am thankful to be alive. None of this, however, cancels out the rest of the yucky stuff involved, and sometimes a girl’s gotta vent.

Today was the tipping point of my THNGVB month. A punctured tire this morning turned today’s to-do list into a scrap in the recycle bin. A cut on my leg from two weeks ago has become red, hot, painful, and pussed instead of healed. My attempts to slather it in Neosporin and cover it with a band-aid didn’t cut it (heh heh) so I’m now back in antibiotic hell. Cue the nausea, thrush, and terrible taste in my mouth, which join the dizziness, joint pain, neuropathy, fatigue, mental fog, muscle weakness, hot flashes, and sweating. Sheesh. I mean, sheesh.

I’ve been blaming this fresh hell on Aromasin, the latest aromatase inhibitor I’ve been taking to stave off a recurrence of my cancer and (theoretically) live a longer life. However, I’ve had the luxury of being off the dreaded Aromasin for a two-week period in advance of and following surgery. Yes, another surgery. Don’t be jealous. Perhaps it takes more than a two-week window to rid oneself of the nastiness Aromasin brings. Perhaps I’m just a whiner. Either way, I don’t feel good and I firmly believe that in some cases, the cure is worse than the disease.

Attempts to ameliorate any one of these symptoms are for naught. Taking a probiotic. Counting my blessings. Backing off of the intensity of my workouts. Viewing photos of baby donkeys and Golden Retriever puppies. Lighting a yummy-smelling candle. Drinking more water. Making an appointment with a neurologist. Doing a good deed for a friend in need. Nothing is helping. Nada. Nuttin.

In my most recent attempt to carve out a moment of not-hell, I read this quote in the current edition of Oprah’s magazine:

In our day-to-day lives, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with responsibilities and challenges. Having enough time to give to everybody who needs you and have any left for yourself is a constant struggle. But in the long run, designing space for you is the only way you can survive without burnout and resentment. There is no life without a spiritual life, and spirituality is like a muscle. It must be fueled. Fuel yourself with beauty, inspiration, music, laughter, nature, a hot soaking bath, silence. Whatever form it takes for you. Know this for sure: You have more to give when your own tank is full.

Dammit, Oprah! I’m trying. I’m trying to design space for me and to fuel myself. But what does one do when nothing is working?

I suppose I’ll have to take a page from Alexander’s book and move to Australia. alexander-childrens book-disney

 

 

 

 


Cheers to GCD!

Today is my favorite day of the year. No, it’s not my birthday — it’s Global Champagne Day. Which might as well be my birthday. It’s one good thing — perhaps the only good thing — about the month of October, and I plan to celebrate. images

Some people consider December 31st to be GCD; however, they are wrong. December 31st is New Year’s Eve, and while lots of champagne is consumed on that day every year, champagne does not share the limelight with the last day of the year, with the giant mirrored ball dropping, or any such nonsense. Champagne stands on its own. Sheesh, the fact that it’s Global Champagne Day proves that. It’s not even in the same league as National Shrimp Day or National Lost Sock day.

One of my friends at the gym heard me talking about GCD and asked — in all sincerity — if I made it up. As if I would fabricate a global movement just to have an excuse to drink champagne. As if I need a reason. Sheesh.

In honor of my favorite beverage on my favorite day of the year, here are some of my favorite quotes. I’d love to find bigger images of these quotes (all from googleimages.com) but am in too big of a hurry to pop a cork. Perhaps there is a way to edit the sizes right here on my computer screen, but again…time’s a wasting and I gotta get to pouring.images-3

I gotta work on that “start with a smile part.” The “finish with champagne” part — I got it covered.
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I couldn’t agree more with Napoleon. And that guy knew a thing or two about defeat. Drink up, people.
c8b6ca89e56ea43f1ee9e5c2fe540056

 

It makes no matter if one is happy, sad, alone, with others, thirsty or sated. Champagne is just right for every occasion. Promise.
images-5

 

I like to drink water along with my champagne, so I can keep drinking the bubbles without fear of waking up with a headache. It’s called The Water Course, and anyone who has raised a glass with me knows I swear by that practice. A little tip from me to you. You’re welcome. original_let-s-dance-champagne-quote-printDance away, folks. Just don’t spill your champagne. 

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I have this Bette Davis quote framed and hanging in my bathroom, where I see it every day. Most of the times I see it, it makes me thirsty. images-4

I have no clue who Cat Deeley is, but he or she is wise. Very wise.

images-2

Allow me to reiterate: champagne is just right for any occasion.


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Preach on, Mark Twain. Preach on.

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Oh, Winston Churchill! Why oh why didn’t anyone listen to you and institute a free champagne policy?

I don’t care what the question is, images-1

Seriously. It does not matter what the question is. I know the answer. f710d339b40dae8bcdf750dd4615bc3cDon’t let this happen to you.

Cheers, y’all!


An appointment and some art

Lovely surprises lurk around every corner.

Sounds like a corny message from a fortune cookie, right? Certainly not what you expect from this little blog, which is typically full of snark. Allow me, if you will, to deviate from the gnashing of teeth, shaking of fists, and renting of garments usually contained within this site.

I had an appointment at the med center this morning to have my wonky thyroid checked out. I love the fact that I live in a city that is home to the world’s largest medical center and that world-class care is available to me.tmc_map

Some fun facts about the med center:

  • some 160,000 people visit TMC every day
  • that equates to 7.2 million people a year (more than the populations of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Houston combined)
  • 106,000 people work at the med center
  • 50,000 people are students at TMC
  • TMC is made up of 21 different hospitals, 13 support organizations, 8 academic and research institutions, 6 nursing programs, 3 public health organizations, 3 medical schools, 2 universities, 2 pharmacy schools, and a dental school
  • this beast of an institution is spread across nearly 1.5 square miles, and the 18 miles of public and private streets surrounding it would take the average person 6 hours to walk in its entirety
  • the highest concentration of life-sciences professionals in the country live near and work at TMC
  • TMC contains 7,000 patient beds; if stacked up, the beds would stretch 1.65 miles or 7 times the height of the Empire State Building
  • a baby is delivered every 3 minutes at TMC
  • a surgery is performed every 3 minutes

Indeed, everything is bigger in Texas.

Ok, so being the most kick-ass med center isn’t enough. TMC also throws up some pretty nice artwork–hence the lovely surprise. This morning while hoofing it from the endocrinologist’s office to the radiology department (a portion of the 1.5 square miles mentioned above) for an ultrasound, I passed some unusual artwork and stepped in for a closer look. Picasso said, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of our daily life off our souls,” and I was all for giving my soul a little spit-shine.

The minimalist approach of the first piece caught my eye, with its interesting color combination and deft brushwork. The combination of long, thin brushstrokes and fat, wide ones hold a lot of appeal. IMG_3281

The second piece is much busier and conveys a very different energy. The squiggles suggest movement and a fast pace, and the composition suggests the artist has a lot to say and says it quickly.

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Painting number 3 is a bit more purposeful and controlled. The brushstrokes suggest a certain scale to me, and my first instinct is big. Or perhaps the suggestion of large size comes from the predominance of orange, which to me is a color that speaks out loud.

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Back to a minimalist style for the fourth piece. The ratio of color to white space is quite different from the other pieces. While the pieces share a similar color scheme, they are vastly different.

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The fifth painting could have been done by the same artist as painting number 4, with its similar colors and use of white space. The restraint that comes from the white space impresses me, as my instinct would be to cover a canvas with as much color as possible. Restraint has never come naturally to me. IMG_3290

Hmmmm. Very intriguing. I’m no art critic, but I like what I see, and I definitely like these pieces.

Would you believe that each piece was painted by a resident of the Houston Zoo?

The first piece was painted by Shanti, an Asian elephant who, according to her artist bio, is pretty serious about her craft. She dips her paintbrush into sand to give her paintings a mixed-media effect, and unlike the other elephant artists, she curls her trunk around the brush rather than holding it with the “finger” at the end of her trunk. She employs a keen concentration while painting and then likes to unwind by horsing around in the pool (she’s known for swimming in circles to make waves while the other members of her herd are in the pool).

The “busy” feel of painting number 2 can likely be attributed to its artist: an otter named Wednesday. This playful painter likes to walk through a puddle of paint and then step onto her canvas, hence the stippled look of the predominant green paint. She has been known to take a break from painting to go for a swim, then return to her canvas and let her wet feet create a true watercolor. Her motto: Will paint for fish.

The purposeful, controlled painting number 3 belongs to another Asian elephant named Methai. Before becoming a painter, Methai was a circus performer in Thailand. She’s a musician as well as an artist and can play several instruments, including the harmonica. Methai is the most prolific elephant artist at the zoo, and like Shanti, she too is all business when she paints: she is known to squint her eyes in concentration.

Painting number 4 was done by Harry, a White-faced Saki monkey. He’s a tree-dweller from the South American rainforest who mastered the art of painting quickly. He works fast, often completing his masterpieces in mere minutes, and tends to be pretty laid-back, although rumor has it he sometimes gets a bit frenetic about his work and ends up with paint all over him once he leaves the studio.

Credit for the last painting on exhibit at TMC goes to Cali the sea lion. The smart, playful sea lions are a crowd favorite at the Houston Zoo, and when Cali isn’t putting on a show or hunting for fishy treats, she’s churning out paintings like the one on display at TMC. She holds a paintbrush in her mouth to create her masterpieces, then hops back into the pool to frolic with her buddies.

Nietzsche said “The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.” After seeing this beautiful art, this great art, I’m grateful for Shanti, Wednesday, Mathai, Harry, and Cali.

 

 


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