Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Identity Mix-up Gone Horribly Wrong For Two Families

Okay, I read this story today and it left me shivering. This has got to be one of the most unfortunate situations that I have ever heard. Here's a portion of the article by Ashley Herer:

INDIANAPOLIS - A couple sat by their daughter's hospital bedside for weeks after an auto accident until she came out of a coma and they realized she was not their daughter after all, but another blond-haired young woman injured in the wreck. Their own daughter, it turned out, was dead and buried.

In a tragic mix-up, one family had been incorrectly told their daughter had died in the April 26 crash in Indiana, and another was erroneously informed their daughter was in a coma.
The two young women — both students at Indiana's Taylor University — looked remarkably alike, and the one in a coma suffered facial swelling, broken bones and cuts and bruises, and was in a neck brace.

Here's a photo of both girls:

Cerak and VanRyn look so much alike that they could easily have passed for sisters. I'll be keeping both of these families in my prayers for a long time. They have gone through something so horrible that I can't even imagine how it must feel. You can read this article in full here.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

After All This Time

Today she came over. I'm talking about one of my long-absent cousins. As I've talked about before, I grew up with almost all of my cousins around me. We all lived in New Orleans and sometimes we even lived on the same street. They are really more like my brothers and sisters because I am just as close to them as I am to my siblings. Anyway, there were two cousins that were never amongst this constantly oscillating flow between houses.

Actually, some people might say it was three who were missing but one of them doesn't count because he's not my real cousin. It's a bit off-topic but perhaps a little interesting. My mother had lots of sisters and only one brother. Her brother had a son but he's not considered my cousin. He belongs to his mother's family. I know that might sound cold-hearted but that's just the way it is. I've seen him maybe four times in my life. He lives in Michigan with his wife and their two children. Sometimes it feels odd to have a different kinship system from most people in this country but I do feel that ours is just as valid as any other. After all, it's not like we planned to exclude my uncle's child from everything. It's just that this is what feels most natural to us. There are some difficulties though.

My relationship with my bio-dad has been rough. He always felt like it was his role to be the disciplinarian for my brothers and me but that just never worked. There is nothing in the world that he could do that would give him the right to exert the kind of control that he wanted to have over our lives. My mother says that the best thing he ever did for us was when he left her and they got a divorce. Now they can get along just fine.

My other cousins experienced the same sort of problems. I suppose their fathers were no different from the average men but even being average can present problems when the two people in the couple have very different ideas about family roles. This war of the wills has been going on in my family for as long as I can remember. My mother and all but one of her sisters are very assertive women. Unfortunately, several of the men who married into this family were downright aggressive. As you can likely understand, this led to many clashes between them all.

At some point, one of the husbands (my uncle) decided that he didn't want his wife to have anything to do with the rest of us. Unfortunately, it was the husband of my aunt who is extremely timid, probably as a result of her mental illness, so she went along with her husband's demands. I was very young when this happened, only around twelve years old. I have no idea what prompted his decision but I do know what resulted from it. Abruptly, my aunt cut off all contact with her sisters. My mother says that, at first, she thought it was just a little phase but this "episode" turned into a situation that lasted many years. Though my aunt and her two daughters lived in New Orleans, we were not able to visit or talk to them on the phone. Occasionally, some family member would try to just stop by anyway even though they weren't invited. Sometimes my uncle would come to the door and tell us that my aunt was not home or, if my aunt did come to the door, she'd hold a little conversation and promise to keep in touch. After one or two phone calls, she'd suddenly be unavailable again.

This uncle of mine is originally from Bolivia. After a few years, he decided to take my aunt and their two daughters and move back to his homeland. He would come to the USA and work for a few months and then he'd take the money back to Bolivia. In the winter of 2004, I went with my mother to try and knock on their door and ask my uncle if there were some way we could get in touch with my aunt and cousins. My uncle said that they don't have a home phone but we could e-mail them. It wasn't a satisfying answer but it was all he provided and so I tried to contact her this way. It did not work. The e-mail addresses didn't exist.

We had to get used to the fact that they were gone and we might not ever see them again. My mother is the eldest of them all and now that her parents are dead, she's pretty much the matriarch of the family. She was the most upset about us finally losing all contact with my aunt and cousins. I was pretty furious myself but I also felt that eventually my cousins would come back to the USA. It's not that the USA is some Utopia but the reality is that Bolivia does not offer as many economic opportunities as this country does.

Sure enough, I was right. In January, my cousin whom I'll call La Boliviana, came back to the USA to go to college. At first her father and mother came with her but then her father left to spend some time in Bolivia. This was the perfect opportunity for her to get in touch with us and she did. She's been working two jobs and going to school full-time so it's been hard to catch up with her other than on the phone but she does call all the time now.

Today La Boliviana came over. It was the first time I had seen her in nine years. It was a dream come true! She came over with a couple of my other cousins who have been scattered all over since Hurricane Katrina. The German fried catfish with a garlic, butter, and almond seasoning on top. C'est si bon!! We had a magnificent time. I took photos and you can see a group photo of us here, or just a picture of La Boliviana here, or if you want to look through the whole set you can do so from here. We plan on seeing each other again next weekend when my parents come to town so that my mother can finally see my cousins too. I'm happy to say that times and situations change but the love that the people in my family have for each other still remains intact.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Wealth Perspectives

Lately, I've been seeking ways to feel better about some events going on in my life. Several of my best friends have been kind enough not to give up on me through this and one of them sent me a link to another cancer blog. The original owner of that blog normally referred to herself as CancerBaby but her real name is Jessica. Just two weeks ago, Jessica passed on from this life. I never got the opportunity to speak with her since I didn't find out about her blog until a few days ago. However, I've been spending some time reading the hundreds of messages that have been left for her family and friends. While doing so, I came across a few links that eventually led me to a site called the Global Rich List.

It's really easy to sit and complain about my lot in life every day but this site shows how much I have to be appreciative for. I have to admit that I do sometimes gripe about not having enough money to do all that I'd like to do, when it comes to finances, I am among the priviliged in this world. VanGoghGirl doesn't always like what we're having for dinner but she has never had to go even one night without having the opportunity to eat. I don't know how I would cope if I had to look her in the face and tell her that there was nothing I could do about her hunger. In actuality, my seemingly meager income falls within the top ten percent of the world's wealthiest people. When I look at things that way, I become more cognizant of how blessed I am to have a healthy child, a well-stocked pantry, two cars that run, steady income every month, and all else that I own even though there is nothing that makes me more deserving of these things than any of the billions of people on this planet who will live and die without ever having any of the creature comforts that I tend to take advantage of so freely.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Scar Map

These are my cancer-related scars. As much as I hate war imagery because of how it glamorizes violence, I still tend to think of my scars as battle wounds. Each of them tells a little bit the story of my life over the past few years. To me, they represent my pain, my struggles, and my survivorship. I'd like to say thank you to sister Kili and all the other people here who have been vital in helping me in my on-going effort to re-imagine my body as a work of art and not just another medical anomaly. I won't pretend that I am exactly comfortable with others seeing these photos which is why I put off posting them here. In the end, I decided to share them because I don't think you can really get to know me for who I am if you don't see this part of me as well.

The line down the center of my back is where they cut me open for my first major surgery. This scar is a little over a foot long.

The dark brown area around my first scar came from the radiation treatments. If you look closely, you can see my birthmark as well. Before the treatments, it was the darkest thing on my back but now it's really light compared to the permanent "tan" that radiation therapy gave me.

The surgery that left me with this scar was considered "minimally-invasive". I guess that's just relative to how much they could have done to me. On the bright side, this photo managed to capture what has got to be the best manicure that I've given myself in a long time.

For this surgery, they went into my chest and cut out the part of my rib that the tumor was attached to. Even though it was more invasive than the first surgery, it was not as emotionally difficult to get over the first stage of recovery because I knew how much pain I could handle and that it would decrease over time.

The two small(er) scars underneath the big one came from where they inserted two plastic hoses into my chest to drain fluid as it built up after my second major surgery. The morphine drip was needed mostly because of how uncomfortable/painful it was to try and sleep with these two hoses sticking out of my chest for five days. It wasn't until they took them out that I found out each hole in my chest was holding up twelve inches of hose inside of me. The thoughtless doctor who pulled out the first one didn't even bother to prep me with a little extra pain medication before he literally yanked it out of me. If I hadn't been so traumatized, then I'd have probably yelled at him for not at least giving me some notice that he was about to do it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

10 Things You Might Not Know About My Life

I have met some people who think their lives are really boring but I think that if you ask them the right questions, you'll find that it's not true. However, that's no guaranttee that you'll actually be interested in my life no matter how amazing I think it has been thus far. But if you are, then now is the time to find out what you want to know. Here's a few things you might not know about me:

1.I've been writing poetry since I was seven years old. I've had my work published in a few magazines over the years and I've even won a few national poetry contests.

2.I grew up in a family of twelve kids. My mother had four kids with her first husband and my step-dad had eight with his first wife.

3.I am a hard-core Jazz enthusiast.

4.I LOVE hummus. I can eat the stuff for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There is no better food on the face of the earth.

5.I can not dance, not even a little bit. The German is a better dancer than me and so is my daughter.

6.Of all the places I've lived in my lifetime, I loved Madison, Wisconsin most of all. I'm hoping to move back there in a few years if all goes well.

7.I am a video game fan-girl. I play video games on my computer almost every day that I'm up and about. Yeah, that's right. I'm one of those geeky girls with glasses who wear jeans and tennis shoes almost everywhere I go and would gladly sell her right arm for the opportunity to have gone to the E3 this year in order to get a look at the new games line-up for myself. My favorite game is The Sims and I have absolutely every expansion pack from the first and second series.

8.I used to have a birthmark on my back in the shape of a marijuana leaf. Even my doctors said it looked like one and people often asked me if it was some sort of tattoo. It's unrecognizable now due to the radiation treatments and surgeries on my back.

9.I am an NPR junkie and I think that Clear Channel is of the devil.

10.I am a "collector". I collect dolls, rocks, traditional clothing from different countries, and books of Persian and Arabic poetry.

Well, that's it for now. If there's anything else you want to know, feel free to ask and I'll be glad to talk about it. My life is pretty much an open book.

Cheering Myself Up

Okay, so here's what's up. I have been really down lately. Well, "down" is probably a bit of an understatement so I visited my psychiatrist last week and we decided to add yet another drug to the list of medications I will be ingesting daily. The newest one is Wellbutrin. A few months ago we increased my Lexapro dosage and it definitely helped with my depression. Still, I've been having a lot of trouble dealing with an increased level of stress in my life.

VanGoghGirl is wrapping up the end of her school year and that means there are a lot of projects that we have to finish in the next few weeks. Then there's the matter of who will and won't be attending her promotional exercises. My parents are still living in another state thanks to the hurricane damage to their house that hasn't been fully repaired yet. They had planned to come but now I'm not sure if they'll come down for the graduation because, if they did, they'd either have to stay here for a week until they can take my daughter back out to Texas with them or leave and come back into Louisiana for a second time a week later when the school year ends.

VanGoghGirl's bio-dad was going to ride with his parents to the graduation but now that they let me know that they may not be coming, he says he's going to see about finding another way. In other words, he probably won't be there either. The German's mother may not even be in town on that day but if she is, then she's going to come and my bio-dad is also coming. That last fact is sure to add more stress to the day if my mother and step-dad come. It's not that they aren't civil with each other; My mother just refuses to have anything to do with my bio-dad so I have to plan everything in a way that there will be sufficient space between them to avoid any uncomfortably awkward conversations that might mar the fun for VanGoghGirl.

My younger brother and his wife and daughter have been visiting with me for the past few weeks while they look for another apartment. The one they were supposed to move into fell through unexpectedly and they had already moved out of their former place. It's really hard to find apartments here since the hurricane last year. Sometimes I think my life will never fully recover from the effects of Hurricane Katrina/Rita. Well, I know it will but it's just taking so much longer than I thought it would and I'm not even among the displaced folks. I can't imagine how much depression and anxiety they are dealing with but, judging from the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms exhibited by my family members, I'm pretty sure that it's considerably worse for them than it is for me.

I'm not even feeling emotionally ready to talk about my health right now. I am just really overwhelmed with all of the work that it takes for me to even function at half-speed. I had wanted to write about it but I haven't been able to get myself to the point where I felt like discussing it so, instead, I've decided to write a bunch of totally pointless posts about random subjects. I'm doing it because if I wait until I'm feeling up to talking about cancer again, it might be a few days or a few weeks and whenever I stop writing regularly, it becomes hard to start back up again. So, please bear with me my silliness a bit. I'm just trying to give myself a few badly-needed hugs right now in the form of comfort-writing.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Confessions of a Hippie Christian

Well, this is my Blog for Radical Fun Day post. Yeah, I know it's more than a few days late but I have a good excuse, okay? When you're me, you don't exactly get to decide which days are going to be the most conducive to trying to stay awake long enough to write about anything. I've been trying to decide what I'd do for this event and if finally hit me yesterday. So, this is it: My confessional post.

I've had a few people ask about what faith I subscribe to and it was really surprising to me how many different guesses people have made. In a way, I'm glad that people have been able to come away with different impressions about me because I'd like to think that it's because they see something in my religious views that they can relate to.

Over the years, I've studied several different religions. I've discussed my religious background before, so I won't bother with that too much here. I think it suffices to say that I grew up in a family of ultra-conservative Christians. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't one of those groups where you are all required to live in a commune and get married at puberty. It was just the sort of denomination where all the guys wore suits and ties and the women wore wore dresses or skirts to every service unless you were a visitor, in which case aberrations were excused because you simply "didn't know any better". It was an environment where even a single act of sex outside of legally sanctioned marriage could result in one's excommunication. Was homosexuality accepted? Well, let's just say that I'm fairly sure that there's a better chance of President Bush converting to Islam before this group ever considers the notion that God doesn't find same sex unions inherently evil.

I remember back in the late eighties my brothers both wanted flat top hair cuts. Now, my mom never allowed them to have more than an inch or two of hair on their heads, so basically all they wanted was to have the hair at the top squared-off. Well, my uncle, who was a minister at the congregation we belonged to basically told my mother that my brothers wouldn't even be allowed the "privilege" of holding the microphones if they had that particular "worldly" haircut. Skip forward to 1996. I wanted braids in my hair because I've never been the sort of girl who liked to bother with curling irons and hair spray. I paid to get them done with my own money, no funny styles, no funny colors, just plain brown shoulder-length braids. You'd think that this place was being run by the Taliban judging from the reaction that I got. I swear, if I had walked through the doors with poop rubbed on my glasses I couldn't have gotten a more judgemental reaction.

Looking back on it, I can't understand why it had to be that way. Well, actually, I can understand it perfectly. The only way you can make free people give up their ability to think is by leading them to believe that independent reasoning is inherently bad, sinful even. I didn't even set out to be a rebel. The truth is, I really wanted to conform. However, I just never was able to get it together to the point where my life was acceptable to them and the pressure to measure up crushed my spirit so much that I couldn't even find a way to be the best person that I was actually capable of being. So really, I felt forced out although others would probably say that I left willingly and eventually I did, but it wasn't nearly as long ago as some might believe.

I don't know anyone who can say they behaved like stellar citizens as teenagers and I was no different. Still, I didn't go above and beyond the sort of activities that A LOT of teenagers will get into. I experimented with marijuana and alcohol abuse. I skipped classes and hung out with my friends who were mostly kids from my congregation but also felt very ignored by our religious leaders. I got a second hole pierced in each ear. I thought about what it would be like to get a bunch of tattoos or be allowed to take a date to the prom. I even fantasized about growing up and moving to a little trailer home near the Mexico/Texas border region and cultivating a little farm. Actually, I think I'd still enjoy doing that last one!

The point is, I didn't get into anything that a religious organization shouldn't have been able to deal with. I'm not saying that a church is supposed to condone drug abuse or juvenile delinquency; I just think that if religion isn't relevent to today, then it's pretty pointless. It just becomes another hobby or a place for singles to meet and marry and I wanted so much more than that. I wanted meaning not just repetitive worship of some deity that had the power to smite those who questioned His existence. Voltaire once stated, "God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh". That isn't a god I wanted to know nor is it one that I would praise. So what else is there?

Well, it turns out there's a whole lot but I'm still in the process of learning more about it. However, here's some things that I believe right now:

1. God wouldn't allow over a billion Chinese people to be born, live, and die without ever really learning that much about Christianity if being a Christian is the only way to get His approval.

2.Calling God "Him" sounds right to me because I've been conditioned to see God in this way. God is no more like a human male than He is like a human female. I use masculine pronouns simply because it's what's conventional where I'm from. I find female pronouns just as accurate a description because anything that compares God to humans is, I believe, simply inadequate.

3.I don't know exactly what will happen to me after this life and you don't know either. The truth is, any answer that someone might give you is purely speculation. However, I believe with all my heart that what awaits us after this is merely a transformation of some kind and I believe that those who have done tried to do what they believe is ethical and moral and loving have nothing but good things to look forward to experiencing and those who have been intentionally and unrepentently cruel and judgemental and unethical will indeed get their come-uppance in abundance.

4.The Bible's accounts about Jesus are a wonderful example for people to emulate even if you don't believe in any of the immaculate conception, resurrection after three days, walked on water claims.

5.The Buddha was also a wonderful example for people to emulate even if you think that Jesus or Isis or Mohammed or the Flying Spaghetti Monster should be put at the top of the prophet/miracle-worker hierarchy.

6.As a matter of fact, anyone who preaches non-violence, believes that widows and orphans should be cared for by society, and doesn't turn up her/his nose at the poor would make a wonderful example for people to imitate...Hey, it sure beats the sort of people that this world tends to praise despite their war-mongering, hateful, and bigoted pratices.

Some people--okay, lots of people--seem to think that belief in Christianity means that you must denounce everyone else and/or claim to have absolutely no doubts about the stuff in the Bible. If I didn't have any connection to Christianity, I'd probably be pretty disgusted with the whole religion just on the basis of encountering so many people who think like that. I can deal with people who are like that because I remember what it was like to be them.