Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Milestone Date for Me

December 4, 2016

Today marks a significant date in my life.  Today is commemorated by the marks I bear on my body, scars left as tribute to my battle with cancer and the mastectomy I had one year ago.

I struggle with that word ‘battle’.  I did not, in fact, have much to do with the fight, strictly speaking.  After watching a suspicious change in the breast that would not heal (not a lump, as it turns out—these things do not always manifest themselves in lumps), I scheduled an appointment with my doctor at the behest of my husband.  She then scheduled a diagnostic mammogram, and suddenly I was on a roller coaster I didn’t sign up for—the hurry-up-and-wait of meeting with doctors, biopsies, waiting for lab results, and ultimately, surgery.  Even then I didn’t know that the surgery, December 4, 2015, would be the first of four…and counting.  All that being said, I didn’t do ‘battle’; I was led through the heretofore completely unknown behemoth of cancer care by a skilled and knowledgeable team of physicians and nurses.  I trusted that they knew what they were doing.

But battle?  Trust me, I know I got off easy.  I was not subjected to chemotherapy and radiation.  I did not lose my hair. I did not struggle with depression and crippling fatigue and illness due to treatment.  I did not face a prognosis that challenged my hope.  I was—am—one of the lucky ones.  I feel like I was one of those people who was supposed to be on an airplane that crashed, but for some reason didn’t board the plane at the last minute.  Does that make me a survivor? Does that make me a fighter?  I don’t know.  It does make me lucky.

I do bear scars, though.  A year ago today, doctors wheeled me into a room and permanently disfigured my body to excise the cancer growing there.  I had no idea what to expect when I woke up—how I would feel, both physically and emotionally.  I worried, of course, about the danger of something going horribly wrong during surgery (“a slim chance,” they said, “but always a possibility”), and about whether or not they would find it had spread to the lymph nodes.   I worried that they wouldn’t get it all, or that it might return.  Truth be told, I still worry about that last one.
The doctors have done a fine job of putting Humpty Dumpty back together again, so to speak.  I am three surgeries into the reconstruction process, and although we’re still not done, I’m pretty happy with the status.  I don’t look like I used to, but I don’t cringe or look away from the scars like I thought I might.  That’s just a part of who I am now.


Life has finally pretty much resumed to its normal state now, something that many breast cancer survivors fight way harder than I have to regain.  Sadly, some of them never do.  I am thankful and I am grateful to be where I am and to see the future stretched out before me.  I guess I worry that others who have had it so much worse will feel I am an imposter when I say I am a breast cancer survivor, or that people will feel I shouldn’t talk about it and just move on because the impact on my life seems so minimal compared to others.  And then I look at those scars, those marks on my body, and I remind myself that I am allowed to claim my journey, to mark this date in my own way.  And this is how I choose to commemorate it.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Month In...Where Are We Now?



November 27, 2016

It’s been nearly a month since the election, and I’m still struggling with the outcome.  Nearly every day some new alarming piece of information comes to light, and we are left to figure out what it means and how it will impact our future.  I am not one of those who is espousing the #NotMyPresident mantra; just as I felt when President Obama was elected and folks complained and protested and lamented, I believe that embittered divisiveness is counterproductive for all of us.  Yes, my friends, there was protesting and loud lamentation when the votes were tallied for Obama, much as many Trump supporters would love to ignore. And yes, I understand why people get behind the #NotMyPresident movement; it’s just that I think the deed is done, and what must be done now is to be watchful and proactive of the potential ramifications, rather than choose not to acknowledge the reality in which we find ourselves. 

That reality is this: 

We have the appointment of Steve Bannon, a man considered to many to have close ties to racist White Supremacist groups, to Chief Strategist.  We have the appointment of Betsy DeVos, wealthy private school product with no experience or connection to public education to Secretary of Education. Jeff Sessions, known for his racist and anti-LGBT stances, has been appointed Attorney General, causing heightened concern for civil liberties moving forward.  There is a host of other recently appointed and rumored appointees that draw from one of two categories—long-time career politicians that fly in the face of Trump’s “Drain the Swamp” rallying cry, and wealthy political donors and lobbyists with approximately the same amount of experience Trump himself possesses in the political arena.  Now don’t get me wrong; I am frankly relieved to hear that there will be someone with the keys to the playground who’s actually been there before, but it would be a whole lot less concerning if those being invited back to the playground weren’t all part of the same gang that tried to run everyone else out to begin with. 

What is most striking about all of these appointments of the good old boys is that Trump supporters, many of whom voted for him on the promise of new ideas and new voices in government, haven’t found themselves betrayed by these appointments.  Similarly, Trump has already backtracked, before even taking office, on his plans to charge Hillary for presumed crimes, his pledge to completely repeal Obamacare, and his vision of the Wall.  Like many, many politicians before him, he has said whatever he needed to say in order to get himself elected, and people fell for the act.

The reality—our reality—is that the populace has perhaps the most important responsibility we’ve ever had.  We must hope, though it seems counterintuitive in this case, for the success of our President-elect, because that is the only way we succeed.  What success looks like for America, for the people, might be much different than what it looks like for a wealthy businessman.  We need to teach our inexperienced leader and his cabinet what we believe success looks like; as in any relationship, we must teach them how we expect to be treated and accept nothing less.  As the fringes have moved center and to the primary seats at the table, we have to make sure we maintain the voices of all, loudly and persistently, especially those who seemingly have been uninvited to the feast.  It would be easy to, with time, forget that the dinner party is going on in our absence, but we simply cannot allow those at the feast to forget that the pantry belongs to us all.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Reclaiming My Labels for Myself



November 13, 2016

 I don’t know when the word ‘liberal’ (and even more so, the shortened ‘libs’) became an insult, but somehow it has.  Rather than owning a liberal stance, many of our public officials have shied away from proclaiming themselves liberals for fear of alienating more conservative constituents, and the general populace has followed suit.  When someone asks me if I am a liberal, my first instinct is to temper my response because the conservative base has turned that term into something dirty, or at the very least, uneducated.  In reality, the very definition of the word, according to Merriam-Webster, is one who “believes that government should be active in supporting social and political change” and one who is “not opposed to new ideas or ways of behaving”.  Why have we backed away from owning this term?  We are an evolving and changing society; being open to new ideas and social change is something I am proud of.  It is vital to be forward-thinking in our world.  We need to take back the definition of the word and not let someone else define what it means within the scope of our society.  I don’t claim to speak for anyone but myself here, but I am a Christian and a liberal, and I’m taking my own labels back.  I am educated, I am smart, I am independent, and my opinions are formed by reading, listening, thinking, challenging, and processing.  I believe in love and support of all people, and I believe that there’s a greater spiritual being than humans out there in the universe.  And that’s what a Christian liberal woman looks like in me.

Post Election Distress

November 13, 2016



Like much of the United States last Tuesday, I sat riveted to the reported updates of the presidential election.  In disbelief I watched as the unthinkable happened.  As the evening progressed, it became more and more clear that the brash, unpredictable, and volatile Donald Trump would become our 45th president of the United States.  

Since then, I have watched the inevitable ‘us versus them’ arguments break out online.  Like a great deal of the rhetoric that preceded the election, they veer, in the vast majority, toward grand, sweeping generalizations and divisiveness.  They all think this; we all think that.  Friendships and families have been broken over the results of the election and people’s support of their chosen candidate.  Tuesday’s election was indeed a historic election, though not historic in the sense we all thought it would be; we have been plunged in the midst of a civil war for the modern age, if not literally, at least figuratively.  

“Libs need to get over it and quit being crybabies.”

“We won and they need to get over it.  You didn’t see us protesting when Obama won!”

“Trump says it like it is!”  and also, interestingly, “He didn’t really mean it like that!”

“You can’t hold it against him that he said something you find disrespectful to women in private, many years ago.”

These are just a few of the dismissive and divisive comments I’ve heard, both from friends and strangers over the course of the last week.  This unrest in this great country of ours is not about a temper tantrum because one side didn’t get its way; the unrest stems from a genuine and true fear that many of the people now have in the wake of this election.  We have elected a president who has said he believes in “stop and frisk”, believes in deporting millions, believes in banning Muslims, believes in erecting a wall to keep out Mexicans, believes that he can say anything he wants about women, because ‘if you’re famous, you can get away with it’.  We have elected a vice-president who is firmly anti-LGBT who supports ‘conversion therapy’; we have elected a vice-president who is firmly anti-Planned Parenthood; we have elected a vice-president who believes he should get to decide the reproductive rights of women.  The demonstrations and protests are not about being poor losers in a casual game of baseball; they are about being on the losing side of a privileged majority who has just reasserted its ability to further marginalize and exclude the rights of whole groups of people who have had their voices wrested away.  This isn’t a game in which poor sportsmanship is mildly unbecoming; this is the real world where people’s rights, their dignity, their lives are in danger. 

I do not believe that all people who voted for Donald Trump are racist or sexist; that’s exactly the kind of generalized, incendiary comment that I don’t like directed at anyone.  Make no mistake, however, the racists and the sexists have been mightily, dangerously emboldened by this newly elected administration.  The KKK is holding victory rallies, and students are being told at schools by classmates AND teachers that their parents will be sent back to where they came from. Swastikas and racist graffiti have cropped up in alarming numbers.  People have been harassed and assaulted because of their skin color, their religion, their sexual orientation, their gender.  Is this what folks wanted when they said the world was getting too “PC”?  I would hope not. But this is the world we have chosen when we have elected a man who is publicly and unabashedly a bully; you get justification to behave in this way.  Words matter.  And the words of our president-elect matter.  Don’t believe me?  Look at how the men and women of this country have chosen to respond.

I am not naïve.  I know that there was still racism and homophobia and sexism before the election; of course there was.  But many of us, myself included, had allowed ourselves to believe that progress was being made—that we had moved toward a more inclusive and hopeful society.  But in one night, we have moved back our societal clock and eradicated many of the gains our society has seen in the recent past.  I now have friends who fear their marriages will be declared invalid; I have friends who fear seeing their families torn apart; I have friends who fear that their voices won’t be heard when they speak out against sexism in the workplace.  I have students who don’t feel they can voice their opinions about the election for fear people will find out their parents are immigrants; I have students who fear bullying because of the traditional clothing they wear.  The response I’ve heard again and again from pro-Trump supporters is, “Don’t worry; I’m sure it will be fine.  We just all need to get over it and work together.”  But how can you work together under someone who negates your existence? Who trivializes your fear? Who does nothing to assuage half of the nation who has no idea if there’s even a place in this country for them anymore?

Words matter.  Protests matter.  If you fear your voice is being silenced, speak loudly, and again and again.  I need to speak, to give rise to my own voice.  It matters.  If I don’t speak, my silence makes me complicit in the injustices that follow.  This is not the world I want for my daughters, for my son.  I want them to see that their voices, too, matter, and that they need not simply be subject to the world in which they live; they need not simply accept where they see injustice in the world because they feel they don’t have power.  They can be forceful agents of change.  If I did not speak, I would be complicit in the silence of my own children, and that is not the world I wish for them.  Speak.  And for those who say, “If you’re not happy, you can leave the country,” I say it is my right—my responsibility—to speak for what I believe in in this, my country.  Speak.