Posts Tagged ‘family’

I think about my mom a lot in September.

doris-channelmarker-headshotI went to stay with her in September of 2000, not knowing how long she had, because she wanted to die at home instead of in a hospital, and I had told her I would help make that possible.

Also, September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. The month of teal. Because not all women’s cancers are pink.

I take ovarian cancer very personally. So should you. How can a disease that starts by destroying your female balls, to use the blunt words of Dr. Christiane Northrup in Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, not be personal?

Five years before that September, after nearly a year of general achiness, fatigue, and fevers that started with deep chilling and ended with drenching sweats within the space of a couple of hours, over and over again, Mom’s doctors could find no infection to explain what was going on. An immunologist thought it might be autoimmune and treated her for rheumatoid arthritis, which helped temporarily but then the symptoms roared back. (The treatment was methotrexate, which also happens to be a chemotherapy drug.)

So he sent her to the Mayo Clinic. There, they spotted some irregularities on her ovaries and scheduled her for surgery, which revealed stage 3 epithelial ovarian cancer throughout her abdomen. They removed — debulked — all the cancer cells that they could, plus both ovaries, her uterus, her spleen, and omentum. That’s the fatty pad on the front of your abdomen. (We learned a lot during those years.) After she recovered from the surgery, she started her first round of chemo.

Seven months later, back in Minneapolis in a snow storm, Mom had her second-look surgery to see if the chemo had had its intended effect. The doctors were satisfied and optimistic and declared her in remission, but she would need to have ongoing regular CA125 blood tests to watch for indications of recurrence.

Eventually the CA125 level rose dramatically. It was back. Over the next five years, Mom went through multiple rounds of different cocktails of chemo, with periods of varying length in between when the count was low again. Eventually the cancer ate a fissure between her bowel and vagina, which meant she learned how to live with a colostomy. Finally the chemo had weakened her so much and could give her so little hope of living longer that she said no more.She chose to live the rest of her days well and then when her time came, die peacefully. That’s when I went to stay with her. She died five months later.

Ovarian cancer is not as prevalent as breast cancer, but it is deadlier because early detection is so much harder. Ovaries can’t be examined from the outside, like breasts , and there is no screening test. (A PAP test checks for cervical cancer, not ovarian.) Researchers are working on that, because catching it early increases survival rate.protect-your-privates

In 2015, 21,290 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the US. In the same year, 14,180 women died from ovarian cancer. Once diagnosed, chances of living five years are 45.6%. (Source: Ovarian Cancer National Alliance) My mother made it past that mile-marker, and died 6 months later.

Subtle symptoms exist. According to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, The most common are:

  • Bloating
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Pelvic or Abdominal pain
  • Feeling the need to urinate frequently
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Menstrual changes
  • Back pain
  • Pain during sex

Obviously these can all be caused by other, more minor things. That’s why this disease is so sneaky.

If you experience any of these things more than usual for two weeks, call your doctor. You will notice my mom’s symptoms of achiness and spiking fevers are not on this list.   I suspect that earlier, more subtle symptoms had escaped notice, and this was her compromised immune system trying to fight back.

The lifetime risk for any woman to develop ovarian cancer is 1.4%. Mine is 5% because one of my first-degree relatives had it. Other genetic factors can increase the risk for other women. (Ovarian Cancer National Alliance) Besides genetics,  risk factors include:

  • Increasing age
  • Menopausal hormone replacement therapy
  • Obesity
  • Menstrual and reproductive history. Starting your periods before age 12, going through menopause after age 50, giving birth to no children or having your first child after age 30, or having never taken oral contraceptives all increase your risk of ovarian cancer.

I share this information to honor my mother but mostly because as women it’s important to tune into our bodies and participate actively in our own health. There are no guarantees against cancer, but with knowledge we can give ourselves a better chance.

The two links I’ve provided, to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, both have more information and resources, if you want more.

Here’s to our health.

I still miss you every day, Mom. I love you.




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Potato salad for breakfast? Why not? We order eggs and hash browns all the time when we eat out.

I made potato salad last night, and it was my supper, along with a bowl of blueberries, au naturel. A good portion of both, lest you think I’m wasting away here.

Actually, I’m not eating potato salad again for breakfast, but I thought about it before I remembered the leftover canned pumpkin in my refrigerator that need to get used up. So I made some pumpkin oatmeal various-flours bread, which is in the oven as I write. I can anticipate the potato salad for lunch.

In a pinch, in a hurry, I might buy potato salad from the supermarket deli. But I don’t like it as well. It’s usually too goopy for my taste, more like mayonnaise with some lumps of things in it.

I make potato salad like my grandma and mom made potato salad. No written recipe, which bothered me as a newlywed but doesn’t any more. Eventually you get it.potatoes eggs

Here’s what went into yesterday’s batch:

4 good-sized potatoes that I had found in the produce clearance bin at the supermarket about a week ago. Peeled, chopped into the size pieces I wanted for the salad, boiled in water until tender. More than once I’ve cooked the potatoes too long and they’ve more or less disintegrated when I stirred together the salad. No worries. At a pot luck one time someone asked me for my recipe because they liked that I used “mashed” potatoes. It’s called not setting a timer. Oh, and don’t forget to salt them. I often forget. You can salt  afterward, but it’s a bit less even than salting the potatoes in the water.

4 eggs. These were farmers market eggs, laid by happy hens that get to toddle around a pasture instead of stay squeezed into a cage or pen. The cost of the eggs probably ate up the savings on the potatoes, but well-treated hens matter to me, and the eggs taste better and are better for you, I believe. My grandmother had chickens, and I grew up with farm eggs.

Some sweet onion, chopped up.


Some sweet pickle relish, maybe 1/4 – 1/2 cup, with juice. Grandma would have chopped up sweet pickles she had put up herself from cucumbers she grew in her garden. In my gardening days I would have done the same, but now I just try to find sweet relish that is not made with high fructose corn syrup.

Enough mayonnaise to moisten it all, but not so much that it drowns it. I use olive oil mayo these days.

A healthy squirt of mustard. Yellow, brown, whatever you have. This time I had brown.

Stir this all together in a big bowl. Add more mayo if it’s too dry. Taste it. Add more mustard or salt if you think it needs it. Or more pickle relish juice. It’s your salad.

I like real food. No purist, but I try to eat as close to real food as I can, given the rest of my lifestyle. I like my potato salad. It’s one of those common sense things that got passed down to me, just hanging out with women whom I loved who knew how to do stuff.

I think Mom and Grandma would be okay with eating potato salad for breakfast, too.




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The subject for this post came to me at about 3:30 a.m., and I’m going with it. I don’t know if it’s just about habit, or if there’s more there. But here goes.

When I get up in the wee hours to go to the bathroom, by instinct I reach left first for the toilet paper probably 6 times out of 10. That’s where it was in the house where I lived for the 11 years before moving here. In this bathroom, it’s on the right.

My kitchen wastebasket is under the sink. This is where it should be. It’s where it was in the house I grew up in and in some other houses I’ve had. In others, it’s been in the pantry, beside the cabinets,  or underneath a kitchen island. But wherever, at least once a week I’ve reflexively opened the door under the sink before realizing, oh yeah, it’s not there.

My parents had a starburst clock on the living room wall for many years while I was growing up. And still — still — occasionally I look on my living room wall when I want to know what time it is. Never mind that I haven’t had a wall clock in my house for years, probably decades.

This is the sentence that came to me at 3:30 this morning: Every place I’ve lived has left its mark on me.

I have lived in lots of places. Let’s see —

  1. The house I grew up in. Lived there for 19 years. The clock on the wall. The white house with trees in frontwastebasket under the sink. Good, solid life. That place is truly in my core.
  2. The tiny house we lived in briefly right after we got married. Today it would be considered part of the tiny house movement.
  3. The 12×50 mobile home my dad helped us get. Bigger than the tiny house. Smaller than the apartment where I live now, a fact that gives me perspective.
  4. My parents’ retirement home in Florida. Temporary until we could buy our own.
  5. The house we bought in Florida.
  6. My mother’s home. Also my childhood home. Dad had died and we lived with her for 9 months, again till we could buy our own home, having moved back from Florida.
  7. The house we bought there.
  8. The first parsonage. My husband was the associate pastor at that church.
  9. The second parsonage. My husband was the only pastor at that church.
  10. The third parsonage. My husband was the senior pastor at that church.
  11. The home of a friend’s parents. Things had gone sour at the church and the congregation voted to ask my husband to leave.We did, with nowhere to go and no income. This place was shelter and storage space as we tried to heal and figure out next moves.
  12. The first house in Colorado. We bought it without seeing it, after friends on site checked it out and arranged for a volunteer crew to remodel it. It was traumatic for multiple reasons.
  13. The second house in Colorado, which we rented when we lost that first house.
  14. The third house in Colorado, which we started out renting and eventually bought. Lived there for 13 years.
  15. The house in Indiana. Lived there for 11 years. It’s the one my husband died in.
  16. This apartment, where I still reach for the toilet paper where it was in the last house. And where the trash again fits under the kitchen sink.

This litany of homes brings back all kinds of memories and emotions. But it’s what happened, and I do not think where I live now will be my last home, so the list will continue to grow.

It’s true. Every place I’ve lived has left its mark on me. It’s not the place, ultimately, but what happened there. The seasons of my  life, some quite short, in which I was changed in some way. I grew. Joy and sorrow mixed. Sometimes joy won, sometimes sorrow won.

My children lived in 13 of these homes, too. They also bear marks from those places and the life we shared, for good or ill.

I don’t want any of us to live in those places any more. I want us to move forward. But sometimes sorting through the past is necessary to move on, to heal. Just like you sort through things before a move. Some things you can leave behind. Some things you decide are either meaningful and beneficial, can be repurposed or rearranged to make them useful, or are just plain beautiful. So you take those things with you as you move . . . onward.

Let’s do that.

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Hi, Dad.

Hi, Dad. Today is your birthday.. Tomorrow is Father’s Day. I’ve missed you for 39 years. If you were here, what would we talk about? It was always so hard for us to talk. I don’t know why. You were the epitome of a reserved man. I wish we could have been adults together longer. Maybe then we could have had easy conversations. Do you think so? What would you like to know about me? I have tons I would like to know about you.

I saw John Legend on “Duets” tonight, and I thought of you because of his crisp white shirt, suit coat, and bow tie. Such a surface thing, but so characteristic of you.

I wish you could know my children. See, now the tears come up behind my eyes and in my throat. Oh, Dad, I wish you could know my children. They’re wonderful. You’d have some interesting conversations with them. — Wait, if it was always hard to have a conversation with you, why would it be easier now? It just is, in my dreams.


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To my children, who probably aren’t even reading this blog, or to other mothers’ children, or to our culture in general:

Mother’s Day approaches. Here is not what I want. I do not want $80 cologne. Or a $368 handbag. Or a $225 watch. Good grief.

What I want is to hear my children’s voices on Mother’s Day. For the cost of a few minutes of their phone plans they can make my day. That’s it. If they want to also send a card, that would also be sweet, but they don’t have to make it a Hallmark. They are all creative people. I’m not anti-gift. It’s just that the voice thing is at the way top of my list.

I don’t write this because they neglect me. I write it because I just paged through a flyer from Carson’s that came in my mail today, and oh my word. Who needs this stuff? Who buys it at these prices? Ridiculous.

Other moms, what’s the best Mother’s Day gift you ever received?

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Girls’ weekend

My daughter and granddaughter visited me last weekend. It was fabulous. It moved me more than I can say to hang out and reconnect with the woman that my miracle of a daughter has become.  “I love what you’ve done with the place,” she said. This was especially meaningful because this was the first time she’d been here since just before her father died. “It feels different, and I mean that in a good way. There’s a better energy here.” Yes, dear, I hope there is.

Then of course there is my four-year-old granddaughter. She sparkles. She is a sprite. Her creativity takes her across three thoughts at a time. She is not afraid to say what’s on her mind or what she needs or wants. She loves dresses and leggings and boots, and currently her favorite colors are black and white. Did you know airplanes don’t snore and trees don’t have faces?

This is what’s precious. Breathing the same air as loved ones. The feel of their arms around you that lingers after you part at the airport. Eye contact. Sharing Ben and Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch. Connection.

Thanks, girls, for our weekend together.

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I just read an essay by Bob Greene: “At holidays, those who stayed make ‘home’ home.” It’s an ode to the people who, like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, never left home. It’s also about what makes “home” home.

My husband and I did not stay. Not only did we leave, we moved around alot. Of course this happens in many families, so I don’t mean to paint it as a melodrama. One of my best friends also moved around alot as a child, and she attributes her adaptability and ease with new people to all those new places. But one of the consequences of many moves is that children don’t have a physical place to think about as home. The question is whether as adults, there’s any one place other than their own homes  that they identify enough with people they love to think of going there as “going home.”

I’m in my fifteenth home, not counting college dorms. My children lived in thirteen of those, and they’ve never lived in the house I live in now.

House #1: I grew up in one house. I moved into the aforementioned dorm, in the same town, when I went to college, and came home on breaks.

House #2: When I got married, we moved into a tiny rental house outside town.

House #3: About a month later my dad helped us get a mobile home and we moved into a trailer park. That’s where we lived when Heather was born.

House #4: A year after Art graduated from college (it would be 33 more years before I graduated), when Heather was two, we moved to Florida where my parents had a home where they planned to retire. They let us live there while we saved money for a down payment.

House #5: We bought our own house and lived in it for two and a half years.

House #6: Art got a job back “home,” so we moved north again. My dad had died before he retired, so we lived with my mother for nine months, waiting for our Florida house to sell and saving our money.

House #7: We bought another house, my favorite of them all. That’s where we lived when we adopted Tom and Paul was born.

House #8: Art joined the pastoral staff at a church, and we sold our home and moved into one of their parsonages.

House #9: Two years later he took a church in Colorado, and we moved west, into that little church’s parsonage, where we lived for nearly six years.

House #10: Art took a church back “home,” so we moved east and into another parsonage. That’s where we lived when Heather went to college and then got married.Things at that church went south, and I’m not talking geography. We had to leave after two and a half years.

House #11: We had no home, no savings, no paychecks. A friend’s parents wintered in South Carolina, and they graciously lent us their home while they were gone — except that they came home over Christmas, so for two weeks we had to vacate the house and make it look like we hadn’t been there. Our Christmas “vacation” was spent in Art’s parents home, since they also went away for the holidays.

House #12: After four months, we moved to Colorado again, this time to a different part of the state. Friends of ours who lived there found a house for us and engaged their whole church in remodeling it before we got there. We lived in that house for two years, during which time Tom left home.

House #13: The business Art was starting was struggling, and therefore so were we. Hint: do not start a business without money to live on for awhile. So we lost the home, which as it turned out had a crumbling foundation anyway, and we moved into a tiny run-down rental house.

House #14: Three months later we found a not-as-run-down rental house, next door to our friends, and we moved again. We ended up buying that house and lived there for 15 years. Paul graduated and moved out while we lived there, making it an empty nest.

House #15: Six years ago we moved here, where I still live. It’s a thousand miles away from my children, and none of them have ever lived in this house. I’d be very surprised if any of my children think of where I live as home. In fact, likely this place holds bad memories, since  their dad was deteriorating or near death when they visited.

As a mother, when they were younger I tried to make home a good place for them, for all of us. I hope they felt that. Now my first priority is to establish a home within myself, for me, and hopefully we can get back to the place where they will feel at home when they are with me, wherever we are. That’s the best I can do.

The irony is that the area where I live now is home to me. I left home again, to come home. I have returned, and I can feel my roots here. I guess I hope my children feel that way about where they live, either now or eventually.

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