Monday, November 29, 2010

Scaffolds of people

I had an awesome weekend with Ian and the girls.  We walked four blocks to the grocery store, picked out a small Christmas tree, and dragged it home in our red wagon.  Azalea herself did a significant share of the pulling.  I smell a new holiday tradition for the family!  Needless to say with this good health I will be going to work all of this week, except for easy chemo day (Wednesday).  Speaking of work, I was invited to interview for the permanent scientist position that I applied for before I got cancer (see post "Hey, that wasn't so bad"), and my interview is Dec. 7th.  That gives me one week to put together a knock-their-socks-off presentation.  I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...

On Thanksgiving day I felt terrible with chemotherapy-related digestive issues and lurking fatigue.  This led to the additional phenotype of being antisocial, which ordinarily is not a problem for a family event.  However, Ian had invited a friend of his to join us for Thanksgiving, and I felt (still feel) bad for not doing a better job of drumming up conversations with him.  He seems like an interesting person, he is certainly nice, and he made delightful funny faces for my daughters.  I later realized that an additional part of my conversation deficit was due to the unfortunately few facts (half of which are unfortunate) that I know about him.  I will call this my scaffold of him, which is as follows:

He served in Iraq, in the Army (I think).  His mom passed away last spring, of multiple sclerosis.  He and Ian enjoy watching Monday night football together.  He shaved his head when Ian and I shaved ours.      

I think of it as a scaffold because it is the beginning of my knowledge of him, just as assembling a scaffold signifies the beginning of a project.  I hope to progress beyond a scaffold of this person, and I'm sure I will eventually, but you can see how this particular scaffold presented a challenge for me on the Thanksgiving holiday.  We got a lot of mileage out of the fact that he shaved off a mole when he shaved his head, uncorking a large volume of blood from his scalp.  After that, I couldn't think of an appropriate conversation to launch from my scaffold of him.  

This got me thinking about the scaffolds that other people build about me.  Most of you have known me forever and so your scaffold is long gone (except for when I need repairs in your regard), but what about strangers or new friends who are reading this (such as Bernice L. cool is that)?  Inflammatory breast cancer is certainly a load-bearing post on their scaffolds of me, and I'm not sure how I feel about that.  I have had complete control over most other facts about me; indeed, I have worked hard to assemble this certain pile of facts.  The cancer fact, however, is ugly and interesting, making it a likely component of all future Heather scaffolds.  It's a part of my scaffold over which I have no control, analogous to the death of the mother in my scaffold of Ian's friend.  I'm sure everyone has something like this in their scaffold, some horrible I-feel-sorry-for-you fact, but I'm pretty sure it's my first one.  And eventually I'm sure I'll get used to it, own it, be proud of it.  I just hope it doesn't wreck future conversations before they even start.        

As a result of this thought experiment, I have added a blog feature called "Scaffold of a Person".  I will feature someone in my life and present a scaffold that I would build of them if I were to introduce them to someone.  Let me know what you think...this is clearly one of those things that could be more fun for me than it is for you, although you might find it fun to learn more about fellow commenters.  I promise to only use first names, and to be nice.  Also, let me know if you don't want me to build your scaffold on this blog, because you could be next!


  1. MY dear Heather,
    Your scaffold is a very strong one indeed. Many wonderful people have contributed to it. I am certain that it is chromium cobalt or some such alloy.(figure that one out techy friends!!)It won't decay,rust or break. You are at a point were you will simply be making it stronger going through this transition. I am certain you will arrive on the other side of this even more beautiful than you are now, looks and spirit both.

  2. I love the way you think . . . and write.

  3. Heather,

    I am one of the many "strangers" who reads your blog regularly. As a matter of fact I haven't missed one of your posts. Your blogs are so inspirational and you have such a witty humor about you.

    We did meet once at a wedding, but I'm sure you wouldn't remember. I am a friend of your sister H and brother-in-law A. Anyway, just wanted you know my husband and I pray for you and your family, a speedy recovery, and the strength to make this who thing to "suck less".

    God Bless!

  4. The idea of the scaffold is interesting, and it is one more way in which I am in awe of your creative and talented mind works. My husband researches machining an unusual metal used for surgical bone replacement/repair after trauma (think military applications) that is called "foam metal" made of the element Tantalum (how is that for geeky?)! I am sure your scaffold - your true inner core- and not this temporary eyesore of cancer - is made of something even more durable and lasting.

    And hey... rock that interview! Like I told you after the first RIP seminar I heard you give... it was one of the best I had ever heard at NADC. I am sure you will not disappoint again.

  5. Congrats on the interview! Love the scaffolding.

  6. You give one heck of a seminar, so I know you will be great at your interview. Just be yourself and they will love you. Best wishes!

  7. Heather, I hate to break it to you since it is not a "real" science, but I think you have invented a[n awesome!] sociological concept. Oops. Love you! Big wink. Mallary

  8. Dear Heather,
    You are indeed a talented writer. I look forward to reading each and every one of your entries. The scaffold piece is so interesting. In education, we, as teachers build scaffolds for children all the time in order to help them progress in their learning process. We add a little piece to their scaffold every time we do a lesson that they can add to their "bag of tricks" to unlock the mysteries of learning. those scaffolds support them in their incremental learning process. The scaffolds you are talking about help us to build knowledge and connections with people we know! Great idea. Hit 'em hard with your interview. I'll be saying prayers.

  9. Congrats on the interview!!! I know you will do great!!

  10. HK, your brilliant mind keeps finding amazing ways to reveal itself. Scaffolding people...interesting and intriguing!! Will look forward to this new dimension to your blog!

    Best wishes on your prep and interview process. You'll be beyond GREAT!!

  11. For what it's worth, bud, my scaffold of you has, as its load-bearing posts, the day I showed you the Hoyt Park Overlook; the day you suggested our former PI might wear "Teal. Or black. Or teal AND black" to a conference; the Beaker doll you used to have over your lab bench; the note I just found on lab letterhead that said "Fudge in the fridge" in my handwriting and "Dude, that shit is AMAZING" in your handwriting right below that; and the fact that you named a potted plant "Lois." No inflammatory breast cancer there at all.

    Speaking of Lois, by the way, her daughter Joelyn has lived in my office window for the past three years. She's currently enjoying a year-long sabbatical on my living-room windowsill because I was too lazy to take her back to campus in September. Like most of us, she's had a few rough patches, but like most of us, she's still around and looking pretty good.