Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Pros of Chemotherapy

Every cancer patient’s chemo treatment is different - different drugs, different doses, different effects. But overall, I think chemo gets a bad rap. The general public is horrified and frightened upon hearing its name, imagining Holocaust-era victims looked haggard and starved by its application. That isn’t the case for the majority of recipients, including me. In fact, Chemo has its advantages. I believe some education is needed, so here are a few of them:
  • No more shaving. Body hair tends to thin during chemo. I don’t have to shave my armpits, and my legs remain smooth for months at a time without the application of a razor blade.
  • Frizzy, fly-away hairdos are a thing of the past. With less hair on my head, my hairstyles tend to be sleeker and flatter, a boon for those of us with kinky, tangled fros.
  • Women at least will appreciate this one – Pubic hair coverage shrinks to a small and dainty triangle, making me feel younger and more feminine. The normally unkempt swatch marking my genital area is all of a sudden cute again.
  • Better nutrition. Cancer elicits a sense of loss of control. As a result, patients take control where they can, which in my case involves an improved diet. I have real incentive to eat healthier because – well, it might help.
  • Weight loss. The fact is that most Americans are overweight. Chemo tends to cause nausea. Patients are unable to eat normally for a day or more during each chemo cycle. This, combined with chemo’s tendency to deplete muscle mass, leads to weight loss.
  • Chemo reduces stress.  Because infusions take all day, it makes me slow down. Cell phones are forbidden in the infusion room, so I am not clinching high-powered deals or negotiating multi-million dollar contracts on chemo day. I am forced to relinquish myself to a more relaxed state. Sitting still for a long period of time reminds me, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” The stresses of work, children, spouse and bills fade in comparison.
  • Chemo grants me a vacation day once every three weeks! That’s almost as good as the Swedish government!
  • I could be mistaken for a teenager because of all the chemo-related zits on my face. Who wouldn’t want to be carded at 45?
  • I have a valid excuse for not exercising – the ‘hand and foot syndrome’ caused by my drug regiment leaves my feet red-hot and sore when walking more than a mile. I really do have to sit on my ass and eat (sugar-free) bonbons.

    But the number one advantage of chemotherapy, a ‘plus’ that cannot be beat by aspirin, anti-coagulants, or caffeine? I get to live.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I Don’t Get Around Much

I know next to nothing about Getaround – an experimental, private car-sharing service being piloted in Portland. But I typed in their website to see what it was all about.

I will start with this disclaimer: I have two cars, and they are both old and ugly. The first is a 14-year old mini-van that grows mushrooms in the carpet; the second, a 4-door sedan with a back seat full kids’ crumbs and dirt clods (and possibly a shriveled french fry or two). I hardly use either of them, but I doubt anyone else would want to use them either.

Both have body damage. Both appear distinctly un-cared for and un-loved. They are not stored under dust-proof covers. They are not buffed and polished once a week – heck, they might get hosed off once a year! My cars are not pampered California cars, sipping premium oil concoctions while getting their tires brushed and rotated at the corner auto boutique. Being a native Portlander, I don’t treat my cars like dependents or pets. They are not members of the family. I don’t identify with them, nor do they convey to the world my personality or my desirability by their make, model or accessories. I may be the coolest chick in town (ask my friends), but you’d never know it from looking at my rides.

My cars get me from one place to another on rainy, dark nights, or when the hills are steep or the distance long. I drive them to retrieve heavy things, to move family members to and from appointments and to get things done when I’m in a hurry. They are purely functional.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a responsible car owner, changing the oil on schedule, fixing whatever clanks or hisses immediately. I count on my vehicles, and make sure that they are there for me when I need them. These two vehicles, as dinged-up and ungainly as they are, are assets, tools in my toolbox that deliver convenience and versatility at a reasonable cost. However, our four-person family puts less than 12,000 miles annually on the two combined (we’ve driven the van about 40,000 miles in 12 years). This is why Getaround piqued my curiosity. These cars could be more productive, generating a small income for me and allowing someone else cheap mobility without a big down payment. It seems environmental and efficient. But what about the risk?

When a friend uses my car, I am always aware of the potential liability I bear. I have never done the research to determine exactly what I could be sued for, but have counted on my friends to be responsible drivers and trustworthy human beings. There is always the possibility that someone could get in my car and end up killing someone, or being killed. This was forefront in my mind as I tentatively browsed the Getaround website. Unfortunately, the site didn’t give many details about their insurance policy other than stating, “Coverage includes liability, collision, property damage, and uninsured motorist protection.” If someone rents my car and slams into a school bus, or loses control in the McDonald’s drive through, can I be sued?

The answer is unclear. In fact, the Getaround website doesn’t spell out much on any topic. The website’s “Tour” uses only 258 words to explain the entire concept. The creators seem to assume that users are either lawyers or simply lacking in prudent curiosity. So, hesitantly, I clicked “Sign up”, reminding myself that I could always back out afterwards if anything seemed unsavory, loose or sketchy.

Registering my car felt like dipping my toes into the dating pool – I felt simultaneously self-aggrandizing and exposed. The app connected to my Facebook account, and my profile picture popped up on my Getaround account so that renters would know what I look like. It asked for the exact address where the car is located, pinpointing my house on a map so that renters can find the car. Finally, it encouraged photos of the car so that renters will know what they are getting. If I had never heard of serial-killers trolling the internet for victims, I would have felt naively safe with the straight-forward process. As it were, I felt extremely uneasy with the fact that my face, my address and photos of my house and car would be available to any random renter. Here I was, purposefully compiling the perfect set of data for lunatic misogynists. All that was missing were my measurements.

The website assured me that Getaround maintains rigorous standards to verify users’ identities and driving histories, but it didn’t mention criminal backgrounds. Can they guarantee that a ‘casual renter’ isn’t just casing me, my home and my family? I felt vulnerable and worried, but in the end, I figured that I could escape at any moment by deleting my account. Or at least that is what I hoped – the website wasn’t very forthcoming about how to delete an account if you changed your mind.

I decided that a good hauling vehicle was something the carless public might appreciate, so I started with my 1989 Plymouth Voyager. I described it honestly and depreciatingly – noting the smell, the moisture, the six-foot scrape along the passenger side. While these kinds of details might deter Happy-Faced-Killer-types (I hoped), they spelled out clearly what kind of a car I was offering. My automotive honesty was the equivalent of telling members that I was fat, stupid and had bad breath.

“If that doesn’t quell the complainers, I don’t know what would,” I thought to myself.

Next, I had to decide on how much to charge. I wanted to make its occasional absence from my driveway worth the trouble, yet price it commensurately with how it would be used. College boys would not be cruising for girls in it. Moms would not choose it to drive the soccer team to the beach. Primarily, it would be used for hauling left over garage sale items to Goodwill, picking up furniture from Ikea, or maybe transporting grandma’s Great Dane to the vet. If it were me, how much would I spend to be able to check those kinds of items off of my to-do list?\

I decided that $9 was about how much I would pay to avoid the unsightly, post-yard-sale, “Free” pile outside my house. Nine dollars was less than a quarter of the $47 cost to have bark chips delivered, but the entire shipping cost for a single sheet of plywood from Home Depot. I shrugged and clicked “Continue”, still holding open the possibility of cancelling the whole thing if it didn’t suit me. I entered the car’s VIN and license and downloaded some photos – I didn’t bother to wash it first. Finally, I was satisfied with the scrappy promotion of my little-ugly-duckling-that-could. Someone, somewhere in Portland would surely find value in a cheap, hauling vehicle that they didn’t even have to clean afterwards. I clicked “Save”.

The website considered my submission and, after a few seconds, responded, “Hey, your car doesn't meet our eligibility criteria—we can only insure cars made in 1995 or newer with less than 150,000 miles. We're working with our insurance provider to offer more options in the future. Stay tuned.”

Oh. I see. Car-sharing is more like online dating than I had thought.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Mysterious Signals

The water-glass windows in the 100 year old homes that align my bike route contain almost imperceptible patterns of undulating waves, formed during their production in turn-of-the-century glass making plants. As I rode by, the beautiful imperfections refracted infiltrating light and sent out magical, miniscule rainbows when the early morning sun hit them at just the right angle. The Willamette River surprised me with a surface just as smooth and enchanting.

In fact, the entire morning was shrouded in mysteriousness. But it only dawned on me in increments. The first oddity was a new lightness in my bedroom at 6:30 AM, due to daylight savings time, no doubt, but also represented in a feeling of lightness in my body. My shoulders felt strangely normal, unlike the past two months of waking to swollen tightness and discomfort. My intestines were at peace – gone were the typical reactions to my daily prescription and poor digestion. My skin was warm as I lay there nakedly enjoying the feel of soft flannel sheets and the tawny heat emanating from my own personal heater, my husband. His smooth skin touched me at places – his arm thrown across my waist, his legs intertwined with mine – and connected me to something plain and visceral, yet representative of an emotional grounding that maybe had been missing in the past. I awoke feeling well-rested. I felt good. After two and a half years of a gradual build-up of the opposite, the sensation was disorienting.

I lay there in bed, slowly noticing and taking in the change. Another anomaly: although it was November, the house was warm. I was able to turn back the blankets and rise from my resting place without so much as a shiver. I didn’t hunch my shoulders against the chill air that would usually bite at the back of my neck this time of day, this time of year. I walked upright, leisurely, naked, to the bathroom. I didn’t even need slippers as I stepped onto its shiny tile floor.

The sense of otherworldliness continued as I easily dressed, ate breakfast, took my pills and gathered my things for the day. The family was on auto-pilot. There was not a hitch. Both daughters calmly took care of themselves, without bickering or fighting, getting out the door easily on time and in good cheer. The newspaper sat squarely on the door mat, greeting me with thankfully benign headlines. The neighbor cat who sleeps on our front porch accepted pets without biting. The yellow leaves from our Tree of Heaven floated down gently and rhythmically. The day glowed hesitantly grey, but promisingly.

I kissed my husband goodbye – his face was pleasantly smooth from a fresh shave. The absence of disagreements and negative interactions between us over the past few weeks seemed to culminate in the kiss as a new symbol of simplicity for our relationship. It was easy to kiss him, to be genuinely concerned for his recently hurt back, to wish him a good day and mean it. This day, suddenly, was a day without resentment or struggle between us. Goodwill and the simple courtesies of a life shared had, overnight, replaced less noble motivators of the past.

On my bike, the ride to work felt as though it was aided by an invisible hand. I glided along effortlessly, circling my legs in a rhythm that brought pleasure, not strain. The sky, while full of high heavy rainclouds, somehow also shone brightly, giving the day a luminosity like underwater fluorescent creatures that mysteriously glow in the deepest of reaches. The humble yet solid design of the neighborhood, with its 2-bedroom bungalows and small, unkempt yards, welcomed passers-by with its damp but genuine hospitality. Fifty-foot deciduous trees slowly bathed the streets, leaf by leaf, in hues of auburn and gold. The peacefulness permeated residents who stepped calmly through their morning rituals wearing raincoats, although it wasn't raining. Moms walked tussle-headed kids to the school bus stop; high school students crossed the street in ones and twos at the crosswalks; cafĂ© patrons sipped their steaming paper cups of caffeine.

There was no wind. As I pedaled closer to the river, the stillness became clear. The silver surface of the water looked smeared on, like a finger painting done with oils. The texture was luscious instead of choppy, clean and beautiful like a young salmon, gliding and melding slowly with the surrounding colors, without sharp edge or frayed border. Car traffic was light. A quietness gently filled the space between buildings where typically engines clanked and droned. People along the way seemed relaxed. No one hurried. Even the bikers were less aggressive coming up the incline to the Hawthorne bridge.

The plethora of harmony awed me, yet disconcerted me. It was in the air and in the water, on the faces of the people I passed, and on my skin, in my bones. Why was today different than any other? I thought, “Today represents a new normal, a relaxing starting place for peaceful healing within me and around me. I have turned the corner and am getting well.” I also thought, “These signals are the quiet before the storm - harbingers of a raucous, tumultuous time to come.”

Today is November 6, 2012 – election day. I am curious to see if I was right.