Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Couples Dancing with Cancer Together

Love in the Time of Cancer is all about how couples cope with cancer. We talk about how to keep love, intimacy and sex alive while your partner goes through a cancer diagnosis and treatments. So the article in yesterday's New York Times is a wonderful addition to our conversation.

The only downside is the insistence on the war metaphor...maybe we could start a change here. How about "Dancing Cancer Together" instead of battling? Wouldn't the metaphor of dancing do more to help couples with cancer? And yes, even dancers trip and fall and get out of step but there are also moments of flow and beauty and dancers seek a mutual rhythm.

Let's think more about this idea of "Dancing with Cancer". But for today here is the very helpful piece from the Well at The New York Times.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

On Memorial Day, we see parades and flag ceremonies at monuments and maybe some politician will offer remarks from a VA Hospital, but there are other sites we should notice and honor this Memorial Day. They are the psychiatric hospitals, treatment centers and soup kitchens. These too are places where American veterans live with the injuries of war. There is a long history of the kinds of injuries seen in those less holy places, as there is a long history of military mental illness.
On April 6th 1917 the US Congress declared war and we entered WWI. It was our first full-scale entry into armed conflict on European soil. War has changed since then and we have changed but there is one constant, which is the sad fact of psychological injuries sustained by soldiers in war. 

Various authorities—military and psychiatric—put the estimate of “stress casualties” between 25 and 60 percent, though the words we use to describe them has changed over time. Terms have included: Battle fatigue, war neurosis, shell shock, military hysteria, trench suicide and  “LMF” or “lacking moral fiber”. These labels reflect the cultural attitudes of each time period, but they are also influenced by military strategy and even demographics.

In 1917 the US population was at an all-time high. In supply terms this meant there were plenty of soldiers. In that war, where supply met demand, it was not uncommon to find that those who broke down, who froze on the field, who hesitated to shoot, retreated or exhibited any other detrimental behavior were considered to have problems of character rather than injuries.

By contrast in World War II, with fighting in both Europe and Asia putting more than 16 million Americans in uniform, the condition of a struggling soldier was framed very differently. War trauma became an illness which could be treated or cured.

But beyond the words we use, it’s important to note that there has always been a civilian hand-me-down from the military and the psychiatric casualties of war. The need to keep soldiers on the battlefield or to return them to combat in World War II saw one of the United State’s largest investments in psychology and psychiatry. Through the 1940’s the Pentagon spent millions of dollars for psychological research. That has had a lasting impact on all of our lives.

The research for that war’s soldiers spilled over and into the fields of advertising, education and even design. 1946 saw the first National Mental Health Act; in 1948 The Snake Pit –a movie about shock treatment and psychoanalysis won 7 Academy Awards, and also that year Psychology Today magazine was launched for the general public. In 1949, the Nobel Prize for medicine went to Dr. Egas Moniz, who “invented” the pre-frontal lobotomy. Today our casual talk of “issues” and “processing feelings” has its roots in the Pentagon’s need.

  More than any other war Viet Nam redefined our beliefs about mental health.  Five years after the fall of Saigon, “Viet Nam Syndrome” was identified, which morphed into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which rapidly generalized to civilians who suffered trauma.

Now, we are trying to end another war. Our soldiers face guerilla combat  plus suicide bombers and armed civilians. These increase the psychological difficulties, and we are now seeing another reframing of the resulting psychiatric casualties.

For now, we must remember to factor in these injuries when we talk about the cost of war. We must  ask how we will label our broken soldiers, how we will care for them—and their families-- and what will be changed, now and later.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Tis the Season

Wedding season that is.

For the longest time our wedding was the last one we went to and then suddenly a big shift. We have been to three weddings since January and there are three more before July. Most are first time marriages and some are for the second time. But even the first timer's have to manage step-families and double and triple sets of parents and grandparents. That means that a lot of people have to "wear beige and shut up."

We have seen some extraordinary examples of well-blended families. One wedding--a second time--included the former spouses of the bride and groom and their spouses and everybody's kids. And everyone was genuinely happy. How does that happen? A lot of therapy? A lot of medication? And/or a lot of prayer and grace I think.

We are on our way to another wedding today. We hope this rain blesses them. No matter the weather I feel cheered by their belief in marriage and their willingness to celebrate with family and friends. And the bonus is that John and I  get to dance together again.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Team Billy and the Brain Tumor Research Walk and Ride

Today our annual event in Saratoga. We joined the Team Billy Walk for the Brain Tumor Society--a fun and fund raiser for brain tumor research. Always a great walk for a great cause and with good friends. And then the rest of our May tradition--bagels at Uncommon Ground-- then racing to Lyrical Ballad--the best used and collectible bookstore ever.

We come home satisfied that we exercised, gave to charity, found new books, and justified making Thai food for dinner.

But I also come home moved by the back story of today's walk. Ken and Sherri Grey's son Billy died of his brain tumor. Their grief became a cause and they allow their pain to become service to others.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Angelina Jolie's Pro-Choice Decision

You have by now heard that Angelia Jolie chose to have a double mastectomy as a preventative measure after assessing her risk for breast cancer. News reports are saying this is controversial and social media is filled with Pro and Con and WTF? messages.

So I am attaching the original New York Times OPED piece here below for you to read and consider.

This is an important cancer story and this is an important story for couples facing cancer or, as in Jolie's case, couples faced with the risk of cancer. But one important thing we have to remember and that some in the debate are missing is that: This is her body and this is her choice. Pro-choice means all of your body ---both above and below the waist.

Take a look. Here is the link.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happiness for Mothers and Fathers and Those In-between

Maybe on Mother’s Day we suspend the debate about who has it harder but it’s always kinda there. There are cultural roles and expectations. Moms who work get hit one way and Moms who don’t have it the other. And Dads work too much or not enough and are they doing enough at home?

Who is too rough? Who is too soft? We attribute the differences to gender and socialization. But for all the struggles we have in either role I can tell you—even without knowing you—that no matter where you fall on the Mother’s Day angst and Parenting spectrum you have it easier than Jennifer Finney Boylan. Boylan was a father for six years and a mother for ten years and in-between she was, well—in-between genders.

Yes. When Jenny Boylan was a young Dad she came out as transgender and she transitioned from a man to a woman and from a father to a mother.

Boylan’s new book, “Stuck in the Middle With You” is her story of the transition. And it was so much more than going from he to she. Boylan has a wife, Deirdre, who was with her through all of this and two kids who have had to make a challenging transition as well. And they all seem to have done this pretty well, which makes the case that in parenting and marriage and stepfamilies and cancer and caregiving and all of it—it’s about love.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Summer is Coming Again

Today we did a three-mile walk with hills. We were huffing and puffing but moving at a pretty good pace. As we made the turn to come back home I said to John, “Do you remember the summer after your first surgery; you could not walk from our front door to the car.” And he remembered. It’s a shock still, how that cutting into flesh and being sewn back together took away so much strength so fast. He looked the same but could not walk at all.

Now we hike and do hills and push each other on.

That summer of chemo changed so many things. No movies, no malls, no grocery stores. Even a tiny bit of air-conditioned air caused excruciating pain and frozen breath. He couldn’t even look in the refrigerator so I had to learn to cook. That was one of the gifts of Cancer Land—I became a cook. But that summer when it all began was so shocking and crazy.

I think about this today as we hike and run and dress for a dinner out. So many things changed. We grew from them and with them. I know that isn’t everyone’s path. Cancer can end a relationship as well. It can be too much. And no one gets blamed for that. It can just be too dam hard sometimes. So what I feel tonight is gratitude and grace.