Thursday, October 30, 2014

Mom's Ghoulish Choice For A One-Way Trip

Halloween in Portland, Oregon (
Below is an excerpt from a recent phone conversation with my mom. As usual, it's more kooky than spooky.

Mom: I'm moving to Oregon.

Me: Oh, is it because it's one of the few states that has the "Death With Dignity" law?

Mom: Yes, it is.

Me: I don't think you'll find a doctor who will agree to assist in your suicide, just because your manicurist's rates went up.

Mom: I'll find someone who will.

Me: Okay, in the meantime I'll do some research, and get back to you.

Mom: Are you going to use that Google machine?

Me: Probably.

Mom: Well, be careful. They could use the information against you. Don't mention that you're related to me, and definitely don't tell them where I live.

Me: I'll try to remember that. By the way, do you have any terminal conditions I should know about?

Mom: I'm terminally bored with this conversation. I'll talk to you later.

According to the Death With Dignity National Center, "The Oregon, Washington, and Vermont Death laws allow mentally competent, terminally-ill adult state residents to voluntarily request and receive a prescription medication to hasten their death. This is one of many end-of-life care options available in Oregon, Washington, and Vermont."

Sadly, this news has made headlines as a twenty-nine-year-old woman suffering from terminal brain cancer made arrangements to end her life on November 1 in Portland, Oregon. Brittany Maynard's plan is to be surrounded by her family and best friend, as she takes a powerful prescription to end her suffering. Her family generously offered to relocate with her to Oregon, the first "Death With Dignity" state after she exhausted all of her treatment options. This beautiful, brave young woman will be ending her life on her terms, but she has decided to postpone the date. Thanks to Janie Junebug for informing me of Brittany's recent decision.

I spoke to my mom again later that day.

Me: Since you have a big birthday coming up, maybe we can have a destination celebration in Oregon!

Mom: Why would I want to do that?

Me: You said you wanted to move there a few hours ago.

Mom: Well, I did some research of my own.

Me: And...?

Mom:  And I'm not going.

Me: You couldn't convince your hair stylist to move with you?

Mom: Have I mentioned that you're terminally annoying?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Survive and Thrive Bloghop: A Nose For Trouble


Alex J. Cavanaugh,  Michael Di Gesu,  Stephen Tremp, and  L. Diane Wolfe are hosting the Survive and Thrive Bloghop to create awareness, and encourage early screenings for disease prevention. Please visit our wonderful hosts to read their amazing stories, as well as the rest of the talented participants. Below is my contribution.

                                                                     A Nose For Trouble

I'll never forget my childhood days of summer. We'd spend hours soaking up the sun in our backyard. Before anyone even heard about tanning beds, my mom had her own outdoor version. It was an inflatable raft that she filled up with water. Because it was silver, it was comparable to baking in a large tinfoil reflective pool. Somehow my mom came out perfectly bronzed without a hair out of place, while I turned beet red.

When tanning beds first came out, I was one of the first people to line up. In a half hour, I could evenly cook my front and back without burning. How could it possibly be harmful?  If only we had known about the dangerous effects of all types of sun bathing.

During a routine dermatologist visit several years ago, my doctor noticed a suspicious mark on my nose. He thought it was a basal cell, and suggested I have it removed by a plastic surgeon to avoid scarring. Two questions immediately came to mind, "Are you going to do a biopsy, and should I meet with the plastic surgeon before the procedure?"  Because this dermatologist had been treating my family for many years, I didn't argue with him when he answered "no" to both of my questions. Big mistake.

After my procedure, the plastic surgeon sent a biopsy to the lab. Instead of a cancerous basal cell, it was just a gland. The procedure was a complete waste of time and money, which could've been avoided if I would've followed my instincts.

As a fair-skinned blond, I'm always prone to blotches and blemishes. Seven years later, I noticed a recurring blemish that appeared near the area of the botched surgery on my nose. It would turn crusty, and reappear every few months. I made an appointment with my new dermatologist who immediately took a biopsy. This time I had a confirmed basal cell, but the location was even trickier to get to, and there was no telling how deep it went. For those reasons, my doctor referred me to a Mohs surgeon.

According to Mayo Clinic, "During Mohs surgery, layers of cancer-containing skin are progressively removed and examined until only cancer-free tissue remains." When I arrived, the nurse told me how fortunate I was that the cancer didn't spread to my left eye.

After each layer, they sent me back to the waiting room, so they could examine it. My husband kept me company until they called me back in for the next round. As a result of the prior needless surgery, I had extra scar tissue, so the surgeon took a skin graft from behind my left ear. It took six attempts until the surgery was complete. I asked if that was a common number, and the nurse said that it took one of her patients sixteen attempts to remove all of her cancerous layers.

Now I try not to be in the sun during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and wear sunblock or a moisturizing lotion with SPF 30 or higher. As my scar was healing, it looked like some of the sutures were popping out, so I immediately went to the doctor's office.  One suture looked particularly long, as I was able to wrap it around my finger. After the nurse examined me, she fought hard to keep a straight face. Then she relayed her findings, "Those aren't sutures. They're hairs. We deliberately took the skin graft from behind your ear, because most people don't grow hair back there." Now there's something I could be proud of for finally coming in first.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sidestepping Into Fall

Fall is the time for new beginnings, and Rosh Hashana symbolizes the Jewish New Year. We celebrated by filling up on the traditional holiday dinner which featured everything from matzo ball soup to brisket. The evening was pleasant but relatively uneventful until our guests said their goodbyes.

The front door is no longer an option for some of our family members who walk with aids. Hence, there are fewer steps to the car through the garage. My aunt and uncle were the first to leave, before the pile-up began. With breaking speed, Mom was about to pass-up my cousin. I told her to stop showing off with her walker, and let our cousin head to the front of the line. My brother helped her down the first step. Then she broke free, and kept walking with her cane. Seconds later, I heard my brother call out for help. Unfortunately, my cousin hadn't seen the second step, and was lying face down on the garage floor.

Apparently, this was the second time she had fallen in two days, and her face was pretty beaten up. After not taking no for an answer, our cousin agreed to let us drive her to the emergency room. My brother met us at the hospital, and we kept her company in between tests. The hours passed quickly, as she told us stories about growing up with our dad. They were first cousins, and though he was five years older, he treated her like a sister. They even took separate trains to meet at the Cubs games when she was only ten. She enjoyed going to the games with our dad, because he told her everything he knew about baseball. Years later, Dad introduced our cousin to his fraternity brother who became her husband.

After her tests were over, they stitched up the inside of her cheek, and were ready to send her home. My brother and I both pleaded with the doctor to keep her overnight, as she lived alone, and was at risk to fall again. We were also hoping a physical therapist would assist her in using a walker. My cousin kept apologizing for ruining our evening, and told us to go home. She didn't realize how relieved we were that she wasn't seriously injured, and how much we enjoyed learning more about our dad. My cousin couldn't have been more appreciative that I stayed with her until she was safe in her hospital room, and promised to call her children first thing in the morning.

It was almost 3 a.m. when I got home. I expected to find all of the dishes piled up, but my husband and sons washed all of the wine and water glasses by hand, and set off the dishwasher. I was so grateful for their wonderful surprise.

At the end of Yom Kippur, I had my immediate family over for a casual break the fast. After dinner my mom seemed anxious to go home. She suggested my brother take his dessert to go. We couldn't figure out why she was in such a hurry. Finally, she admitted she wanted my brother to drive her home before the storm hit. None of us could figure out what storm she was talking about. The sky was completely clear when we walked her to my brother's car.

A few days later, the subject came up again. I thought my mom made up the whole story, because she was mad at me for something.  She swore she heard about the storm on TV, while I was preparing dinner. Then it hit me. She had been watching a previously recorded program from the week before. It must have been interrupted due to a severe storm watch. When I told her she exclaimed. "How was I supposed to know that? And by the way, you gave me indigestion." I'm so glad my aunt has offered to host Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

IWSG Guide: How Selling Yourself Short Might Shortchange You


Alex J. Cavanaugh has decided to take the IWSG to a new level with The Insecure Writer's Support Group Guide To Publishing and Beyond.  As the group enters its third year, as well as the first anniversary of the IWSG website, Alex is compiling a book to assist other writers in the areas of writing, publishing, and marketing.  For a sneak preview, be sure to visit all of the talented writers here.  Below is my cutting room floor contribution for consideration in the Guide.

 How Selling Yourself Short Might Shortchange You

Oh, how I loved to sing. As high school thespians, we would often burst into song like the characters in Glee. I didn't realize how annoying that habit was until I decided to belt out some Ethel Merman show tunes during a long drive home. My "older" boyfriend was too polite to say anything, as I sang for an audience of one in an enclosed vehicle with enough vibrato to fill an auditorium. When he pulled into my driveway his head was throbbing so heavily that he didn't even bother to walk me to the door. Any false sense of bravado I had was lost that day. It must have somehow disappeared along with my phone number.

This is only one of many stories that led me to join the Insecure Writer's Support Group in 2011. As the group was celebrating its third anniversary in early September, I was also celebrating the publication of our anthology, Old Broads Waxing Poetic. Our team of eight witty and wonderful writers, includes two other members of the IWSG. After we got the word out on our blogs, and other social media, the hardest part was marketing to friends and family.

Upon recovering from the initial shock that I was finally published,  a few friends offered to buy the book. I could tell they were just trying to be nice, so I foolishly said, "That's okay. You don't have to." I gave them an out, and they took it. What I should have said was, "That's great! All proceeds are going to Care International. Thank you!"

I didn't want them to feel obligated, and I couldn't be more wrong. I was playing the restaurant game. We've all played it. The bill comes, and one person grabs the check. He or she offers to pay. You initially say that it's not necessary, and offer to split it. The person insists, and you say thank you. I was waiting for the "I insist" round that never came.

Though some older family members wanted to help out, they were concerned about providing personal information to Amazon, as well as shipping charges. They offered to reimburse me, after I ordered copies for them. I was glad they weren't the least bit worried about me sharing personal information. I tried to explain how to access an Amazon card, but they didn't seem interested.

My closest friend surprised me by buying five copies. She gave one to each of her sisters-in-law who enjoyed it so much they're planning on buying some additional copies to send to their friends. Last week she also gave books to two more friends when we were at her house for a holiday dinner. Then  I realized she had given all five copies away. As if reading my mind, she said, "Don't worry, I'll order some more copies." When I started to argue she didn't hesitate to add, "I insist."

This is my entry for consideration in The IWSG Guide To Publishing and Beyond. If accepted, I give permission to include this entry in the anthology.

My Bio: Julie Kemp Pick writes about family humor often featuring her rebellious mom, and blogs at