Monday, April 30, 2012

Defining beauty

My friend S. is always sending me the most interesting material to think about.  Most recently she sent me an article about a mother who shaved her head to prove to her daughter that she didn't need her hair to be beautiful.  Her daughter is 4ish and into princesses like most other preschoolers, and seemed to hold the mother's hair in high esteem.  So the mother let the daughter cut it off, and then she shaved the hair down to the scalp.

A noble undertaking indeed!  What bravery and self-confidence did that mother require to execute such a daring sacrifice?

The event seemed to have the desired outcome, with the daughter proclaiming her love and admiration for the mother and the mother accepting her new bald beauty.  Her point was that it's what's on the inside that counts.

When I finished reading, I couldn't help but think what would have happened if the mother's noteworthy feature were her eyes rather than her hair?  Certainly she wouldn't have gouged them.  This train of thought vaguely reminded me of something religious...perhaps summed up as Catholic guilt and visualized with someone punishing themselves for being too virtuous?  These thoughts returned simply to, "What's wrong with having beautiful hair?"

Everyone has something beautiful about themselves.  Rather than reducing a feature that might be coveted, isn't it equally important to teach our children how to accept compliments with grace?  How to harbor our own personal strength and beauty with a bit of humility?  

S. and I have been talking a lot about beauty lately--how it is defined, what it means, and to whom.  She brought up a good point in that the mother who shaved her head is classically beautiful:  trim figure, symmetric face, pretty smile.  S. wonders if this woman would she have felt as comfortable going bald if she were overweight, had stickey-outey ears, or otherwise wasn't as outwardly beautiful.  

This in turn made me think of myself and my unibreast.  Would I be as comfortable walking around lopsided (as I do) if I weighed 50 more pounds, had a limp, or were 4'11"?  Is my perception of my level of beauty in line with that of society's, or are people that I meet thinking to themselves, "someone get that poor girl a boob"?  And when it comes to my daughters, do I do a good enough job acting beautiful despite my single breastedness so that they understand that it's what's on the inside that counts?  Or better still, are they learning that I am actually beautiful despite my external deformity?     

I believe that self-confidence goes a long way toward the beauty that one projects.  Beauty begins with the self, whether you're bald or otherwise.  Props to the mother who was brave enough to shave her head and more clearly reveal her inner beauty.  But it's okay to be outwardly beautiful, too, in your own unique way.        

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Stress and blah

Woa, sorry for the long absence.  I warned you that April was going to be a crazy month, and it is the blog that has suffered.  Now you all know where my priorities lie.

This month I have interviewed nine people for 2 positions, hired one person and will hire another person next week, gave a presentation on a whole bunch of projects that are at most halfway done, completed one manuscript and sent it out for review yesterday, and completed the data analysis for another manuscript that will be sent out for review next Friday.  Oh, and I spent 3 grueling days sitting in Illinois at a mandatory work training.  Can you see my eyes crossing?  Can you feel my heart beating with its occasionally irregular palpitations?

I do not like operating at this level of stress.  I am very good at being productive and efficient while protecting my enthusiasm and my family time.  And I still managed to protect my family time, but the stress temporarily sapped my enthusiasm.

Say what?

Sapped enthusiasm is not something I have much experience with.  I am, after all, the H-bomb.

The day I realized that my work stress was taking the fun out of my free time was the day I saw a rainbow and only gave it a passing glance.  Granted I was driving south and couldn't give the eastern rainbow the attention it deserved, but I at least could have talked about it when I arrived at my destination.  I did no such thing.  H-bomb would have stopped everything to observe the rainbow until it faded away.  H-bomb would not have thought about the rainbow making her late.  H-bomb would have described the proceedings of the rainbow to everyone she met.

Later in the week I was eating at my favorite Indian restaurant.  They had my favorite item on the buffet, which is a creamy, tamarind-y sauce with potato dumplings floating in it ("the orange" as my college roommate liked to call it).  I slopped it on my plate and ate greedily, failing to savor each bite.  H-bomb would not have let "the orange" go down so ingloriously.  H-bomb would have dissected each flavor with her tastebuds and sent the pieces down her throat one by one.  H-bomb would have called her old roommate to tell her that she ate "the orange" that day and was thinking of her.

Since recognizing this stress-induced blase I have been actively trying to counter it.  I'm not sure that there is a single solution, but I think that slowing down the pace of life is the first thing to try.  No, I don't have to re-caulk the bathtub while the kids are napping.  No, I don't have to run to the post office before they close.  Let me just sit and watch the big maple tree turn from green to black as it becomes a shadow in the evening light.

I need to quit trying to be a rockstar and simply go back to being the H-bomb.  

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The many faces of freedom

I have 5 more weeks of freedom from post-cancer follow-ups while I wait for the toe scare to grow out.  That is, 5 weeks until the next PET scan.  I intend to savor this freedom by doing everything that I would normally do.  Normal things remain the most satisfying things, even almost a full year after I completing cancer treatment.    

In addition to the cancer freedom, I've discovered another exciting freedom, this time in the parenting aspect of my life.  My little ones are 4.5 and 2.75 years old, so you can imagine how much work they have required of the hubbie and I up to this point.  As the youngest, Eleanor, approaches her 3rd birthday, I am glimpsing a future that includes tiny bits of reclaimed freetime.  Lately this has been occurring even while kids are yet awake <gasp>!

A week or so ago, the girls and I went out to dinner with my dear friend S. and her darling baby C.  S. turned in her dissertation on Wednesday, and so dinner was our celebration.  Having written a dissertation myself, the two biggest moments for me were when I first submitted the final thing to my major professor, and when I at last submitted the revised final thing to the graduate school a few weeks later.  I therefore felt strongly about helping S. celebrate this particular milestone and not overlook it in favor of numerous subsequent milestones.  Our dinner approach was practical if not sophisticated:  location, cafe; time, early evening; duration, short.  We both needed to be home before the pre-bedtime fussiness began.  I don't know if it was because of or in spite of our careful planning, but at dinner an amazing thing happened:  S. and I enjoyed an adult conversation.  Sure, we engaged with the kids, but they did a fantastic job entertaining themselves.  Azalea chatted at C. and drew on her magnetic drawing pad, and Eleanor played peek-a-boo with C. and played with a doll.  For her part, C. was mesmerized by my girls, and that was all she needed.  In short, the kids  were more interested in each other than they were in their mothers.  A novel occurrence indeed!  Our evening was so delightful and painless that S. and I resolved to do this more often; time will tell if the stars were uniquely aligned on this night or if this is part of our children growing up.

One evening last week my ladies presented another opportunity for wakeful parental freedom.  We went outside after dinner to play a game of "hot-and-cold".  This game is supposed to entail the hiding of an object by one player, and as the other player(s) search for the object the first player tells them if they are "hot" (near to the object) or "cold" (far from the object).  Azalea and Eleanor adore this game, but they make no mention of the words "hot" or "cold" during the game although they persist in referring to the game as "hot-and-cold".  Here's their version:  one girl hides a stuffed Mizzou tiger in the lilac bush while the other girl blatantly and acceptably observes from the patio.  Once the tiger is "hidden", the tiger-hider shouts "Ready!", after which she bolts for the patio as her sister makes a beeline for the tiger.  Needless to say although a parent originally helped establish the essence of this game, clearly parental input is no longer required for its execution.  And so I sat on the patio for awhile and observed the game until I realized that I could simultaneously weed a portion of the flower bed.  After awhile I stood up and weeded the whole flower bed.  Pretty soon the game of "hot-and-cold" evolved into an elaborate pretend-animal-rescue game for which again I was not needed.  So I got out a trowel and planted some recent transplants.  Then I watered the transplants, and all of the other plants that looked in need.  By this time 45 minutes had gone by and it was time to head inside for bedtime.        

It's a marvelous change that I am not yet accustomed to, as evidenced by Azalea having to ask me NOT to play with them on occasion.  What a treat to do my chores before 9 pm!    

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The next level of post-mastectomy beauty

Several people have now sent this picture to me, and I would be remiss not to include it on the blog.  I was slow to post it because I wanted to find the original source, to properly give credit where credit is due, but apparently the photo has gone "viral" and I have been unable to find much information about it.   But the message is clear, even in the absence of the facts.

The words are in Portuguese and mean, "I had breast cancer and now I have Theo".  Isn't it breathtaking?  Her smile is so radiant, her pose so strong and confident.  

I hope this woman is still every bit as happy as she was in this moment.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The toe must go on

I am so glad that I went to see Dr. Dermatologist.  He echoed everything that Dr. Podiatrist said, but with a few more details that really helped me to feel comfortable with the discoloration under the nail of my left big toe.  He said that sometimes toes detect trauma that might not register in our brain, and that even extreme temperatures can cause weird toe things.  He also said that inflammation around the nail bed, such as I had in mid-February, can cause a release of serum into the nail plate, as visualized by discoloration under the nail.  Once inside the nail plate, the serum cannot get out.  It simply has to grow out until it eventually gets clipped off.  Together these sound like reasonable explanations for what happened to my toe because 1) I recall no trauma, 2) the whole thing started with inflammation around the nail plate and only later became discolored, and 3) the discoloration is very slowly traveling outward with my nail.

When a patient leaves the office, doctors often state that the circumstances for a subsequent visit should be a set amount of time or "if anything changes".  Clearly as my nail plate serum grows out, there will be constant gradual changes in the appearance of my toe.  So I was grateful when Dr. Dermatologist explained other types of changes that should inspire me to make a follow-up appointment:  asymmetric, irregular, or sudden changes in the pattern or color of the discoloration.  That should be easy enough to spot.

So...I'm officially free of all bodily worries until the next PET scan at the end of May!  Huzzah!

I feel surprisingly liberated, even though I had become fairly confident that my toe problem could be explained by non-cancerous phenomena.  It is invaluable to have a medical professional officially hand down the reassurance.

This liberation is very timely because I will have a very busy April at work.  I am trying to finish and submit a research manuscript, write and submit a review article, hire two people, and attend a mandatory training in Peoria for half a week at the end of the month.  I don't like stress or unattainable goals, so hopefully I can actually make this all happen in the next 3 weeks.  I might have to take some work home, which is a line I hate to cross because once crossed, it is hard to go back.  We shall see.

Time to relax in the fragrance of the lilacs that Ian put in vases this evening.  I can't believe it's April 4th and I have lilac blossoms in my house.  A treat, to be sure.