Sunday, March 29, 2015

Seems I Neglected To Mention A Few Things

It's been a busy couple of weeks, so I've been somewhat hit or miss here on the blog.  We have had a few happenings worth recognizing, though, even if it is sadly belated.    

First and foremost, my beloved father turned 70 in good health and good spirits, feted by a large number of close friends and family members.  In his honor, a joke.  :)

An elderly man visits the doctor for a checkup. "Mr. Smith, you’re in great shape," says the doctor afterward. "How do you do it?" "Well," says Mr. Smith, "I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and the good Lord looks out for me. For weeks now, every time I go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, he turns the light on for me." Concerned, the doctor finds Mrs. Smith in the waiting room and tells her what her husband said. "I don’t think that’s anything to worry about," she says. "And on the bright side, it does explain who’s been peeing in the fridge."



I'd also be remiss if I failed to mention that a few days after Dad's birthday, Himself and I celebrated our lucky 13th wedding anniversary.  Doesn't seem like we could possibly have been married that long, but the dates don't lie!  Happy that I can honestly say that I wouldn't change a thing if I had it to do over.  In our honor, another joke:

Tom and Susan's 25th Wedding Anniversary
At the banquet of Tom and Susan’s 25th wedding anniversary, Tom was asked to give his friends a brief account of the benefits of a marriage of such long duration.
“Tell us, Tom, just what is it you have learned from all those wonderful years with your wife?”
Tom responded, “Well, I’ve learned that marriage is the best teacher of all. It teaches you loyalty, forbearance, meekness, self-restraint, forgiveness and a great many other qualities you wouldn’t have needed if you’d stayed single.” 



And last, but most certainly not least, my sweet Thing One just competed in our STATE's National Geographic Bee this past Friday!  This competition is open to 4th-8th graders nationally.  Students who win the Geography Bee held at their individual school (as he did a month or so ago) are administered a written test.  The 100 students in each state who do best on that test progress to the state-level competition, and he made the cut!!  I couldn't be prouder, especially since the vast majority of the competitors in our state's bee were eighth graders and he is an 11 year-old (aka young) sixth grader.  He didn't make it to the elimination round, but the students who did correctly answered all eight of the first-round questions and he got seven out of the eight correct...I was really impressed.  He's already talking about next year, too!  Have to say, though, I think the best part of the day for him was lunch in the host college's dining hall afterward...once he wrapped his head around the concept that his entry fee allowed him to go to any station in the room and get whatever food he wanted and as much of it as he wanted, he was gone.   The ice cream station took a solid hit, but he deserved it.  :)







Friday, March 27, 2015

No-Brainer

I'd be the first to tell you that Angelina Jolie is just that little bit (or a lot, sometimes--that whole vial of blood necklace thing) too weird for me.  Staggeringly beautiful woman and all (although she desperately needs to eat a hamburger or twenty) but about as relatable to me as an alien.  That said, I've been taken aback by the criticism she's received for her decisions to prophylactically remove her breasts (two years ago) and ovaries (recently) because of her discovery that she carries a mutation in the BRCA1 gene.

Breast cancer research was my professional field for years.  The BRCA1 gene (a massive one, by the way) is considered a tumor suppressor gene and its protein product helps to repair damaged DNA or trigger self-destruct pathways in cells with DNA that cannot be repaired.  Hundreds of distinct DNA mutations in this gene have been identified, many of which are associated with an increased risk of cancer.  Logical: some DNA damage is inevitable, and failures in any part of the repair/cell death pathways are never a good thing.   A mutated BRCA1 gene generally results in a protein that is either abnormally truncated (shortened) or full-length but non- or only partially-functional.  It's worth noting that there is another similar gene called BRCA2, the protein product of which performs a similar function and is often also associated with failures in DNA repair and therefore cancer development.  Certain variations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene sequences are associated with absolutely staggering risk increases for breast and ovarian cancer in particular: depending on the mutations in question, over 80% risk of developing breast cancer and 55% risk of developing ovarian cancer.  These mutations are typically hereditary, which is why doctors ask about family history for these cancers (and other cancers in general) and why people with strong family histories of breast and ovarian cancer should strongly consider being tested for the presence of these mutations.

Ms. Jolie's mother, aunt and grandmother were all lost to ovarian cancer.  She had herself tested for BRCA1 mutations, and the test came back positive.  That put her at a huge risk for developing one or both of these cancers, and probably at a relatively young age (her mother died of ovarian cancer at 56) but at least she knew that.  Information is power.  Breasts are relatively easy to monitor through imaging, and they are conveniently located on the exterior of the chest wall, where they can be palpated.  Ovaries, on the other hand, are not conveniently located.  What's more, there are currently no truly reliable markers for ovarian cancer in blood testing.  CA-125, the most commonly used one, is especially poor at identifying the presence of early-stage ovarian cancers, which are the only kind that are really curable or even treatable.  Ovarian cancers generally are asymptomatic until very advanced, so watching for symptoms is pretty much useless and that blood test isn't much better.

Nobody wants to have to make decisions to have what appear to be normal, functional body parts removed.  I can't even begin to imagine all the body image and sexuality and gender associations there would have to be with choosing to have a good chunk of your female reproductive system removed, never mind all the practical aftereffects (hormone replacement, etc) that come into play post-surgery, since ovariectomy catapults you into menopause.

That said??  If it were me, I'd have those suckers off/out in a heartbeat.  I'd be on the phone scheduling the surgery the day the DNA test results came in.  And I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have waited the two years between the mastectomies and the ovariectomies if I were her, either, knowing that my mom had died of ovarian cancer and that ovarian cancer is both terrible and hard to detect.  Why live with the knowledge that there is a ticking time bomb inside you with a high-percentage chance of explosion when you don't have to?  She made some tough decisions, but I'd have done the same damn thing, and I applaud her courage and also her decision to make the surgeries public information.

I am, in general, notoriously ANTI-celebrities delivering any kind of health message whatsoever (see e.g. that dipshit Jenny McCarthy and all the damage she has done to legitimate autism research and vaccination percentages) but in this case, I think her message is measured, scientifically legitimate, and a genuine public service.  If so much as a single person read one of her NY Times articles and said, "You know, there have been a lot of breast and ovarian cancer deaths in my family: maybe I should go get screened," that's a victory regardless of what decisions they make after they receive the DNA test results.  In the end, health information is power, and sometimes what you don't know can have devastating consequences.




    

Thursday, March 26, 2015

On How To Measure Fitness

The sempai (instructor), another classmate and I were discussing our fitness goals while we stretched to warm up for taekwondo class this morning.  I told them that mine is very simple: it has nothing whatsoever to do with numbers on scales or garment labels and everything to do with not embarrassing myself at belt tests!  They thought I was kidding, but I was deadly serious.

Two belt tests ago, I was testing for my Senior Blue belt.  It wasn't even one of the big long Saturday tests, still one of the more abbreviated Tuesday night ones for lower belts, but I wasn't in good enough shape (I actually fell doing a jump spin kick at one point, which was really embarrassing) and it showed.  They gave me the new belt, but I walked out of the dojo feeling like shit, like I'd let the program down but more importantly, let myself down as well.  That was my "go big or go home" epiphany moment...it was clear to me that I was going to either have to make some changes or quit martial arts sooner rather than later.

Between that test and the next, for my Red belt (which WAS one of the big Saturday tests), I lost about 25 pounds and went down a gi (uniform) size, but those weren't the important measures.  That test was two and a half hours long.  I went through two liter bottles of water and sweated completely through two towels during that time, but at the end, I still had gas in the tank.  If the head sempai had told me to do fifty push-ups after everything else was over, I could have knocked them out with a smile on my face, and that feeling was just the best feeling in the world.

This past Monday night, I earned the eighth stripe for my Red belt.  One more (representing the final check that I still remember all my stuff) and I'm up for the Senior Red test: the head sempai told me to expect to test within the next few weeks.  In our system, where White is the first belt and Black the 12th, Senior Red is 9th, so I'm getting up there.  Tests aren't going to get shorter or easier from this point on, quite the reverse.  I've kept the weight off, I've been working hard on cardio and upper body muscles (cursed push-up requirement!) and I feel pretty strong.  Time will tell how the test goes, but I feel like I've put myself in a position to succeed by virtue of a hell of a lot of hard work, and that means a lot more than any number.






Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Well, What Do You Know??

I have not one, not two, but THREE children with perfect pitch.  Go figure.  The piano teacher tested Petunia today, and her musical ear is apparently just as good as both of her brothers.'  Clearly there is something genetic going on, but I still wouldn't have called three for three, especially since Himself has never had any musical training (or interest) at all and I have decent relative pitch myself, but not perfect pitch.  Pretty cool regardless.

In other news, it rained here today.  Petunia was happy because that means it's spring.  (As in, it's finally warm enough to be raining and not snowing.)  She's right, and I'll take it!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

An Unexpected Gift

Made a nice dinner tonight and Himself opened a good bottle of wine.  After dinner, with the kids upstairs playing video games, we poured a second glass and settled at the kitchen table, Dave Matthews playing in the background and the dog curled on her bed at my feet.  After a few minutes, I sat down on the floor by the dog to pet her.  Thing One walked back into the kitchen, and to my complete surprise, plopped himself down on the floor next to me and put his head in my lap, quietly listening to the music as his father and I chatted.

He's eleven now, and I know my days of this are numbered.  I'll take it while I can get it and be grateful.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Too Much Going On

There is actually visible grass in my front yard!  The birds are singing, the small earthbound critters are scampering about unimpeded by snow, and there is mud from one end of the earth to the other courtesy of all the snowmelt.  Spring has sprung and all that happy crap, as my college roommate used to say.   About damned time too, it being almost the solstice and all, although I'll be surprised if we've seen the last of winter just yet.

Been really busy lately, hence my absence from the blog.  No major accomplishments to report for it, though...been thinking for the past few days about the difference between what's urgent and important.  I've been chasing the urgent, and generally getting those tasks crossed off the list, but I can't say that looking at the list gives me much of a sense of accomplishment after the fact.  Time to reprioritize, I suspect.  I just wish some of the urgent but trivial would go away for a while.  

Standardized test drama (this relating to my Board of Education hat.)  Kid drama, scheduling/logistics and otherwise.  Normal household-running stuff.  Oh, and coordinating and hosting a St. Patrick's Day party for 50 over the weekend with a sick kid in the house!  Party went well, anyway.    

Love this image.  Going to print it out and pin it above my desk as a reminder to focus more on the upper right quadrant.

  

Friday, March 13, 2015

Grand Cosmic Question

Why, oh WHY, must children who are going to barf only do so after eating or drinking something brightly colored??  My upstairs hall rug may never be the same.

Add in the 50 or so people coming over for a St. Patrick's Day party tomorrow night, plus the barfing episode the dog had last night, and this is really starting to look like Murphy's effing Law in action.  Lovely.