SoCS: Special Cents

In the US, money is denominated in dollars and cents. We still have a one-cent coin, called a penny.

People tend to ignore pennies, but they have a special meaning for me.

My elder daughter was an early reader and we were always on the lookout for stories that matched her reading ability without being too grown up in content. Her elementary principal suggested “The Hundred Penny Box.” The story is about a child and an elderly relative who has a box with a penny from every year of her life. We decided not to let our daughter read it because no other adults in the book really listened to either the child or the elder, but I loved the idea of having a penny for each year as a memento.

I have given penny boxes to family and friends for milestone birthdays or anniversaries. My parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. My friend and now spiritual mentor as a memento of her 40th birthday sweat lodge ceremony. My college roommate’s 50th birthday. I give a new penny for the current year each year on the anniversary or birthday date.

The only penny box I started that is no longer being added to was the one I gave my friend Angie for her 49th birthday. With a doctor-husband and many friends in the medical community, she was worried about turning 50, knowing that the fifties is a dangerous decade, health-wise, with many serious health conditions cropping up. Because the penny box commemorates the beginning of a year rather than its completion, the penny box for 49 contains 50 pennies. I thought it would be a good way to ease into her 50s the next year.

Within weeks of her fiftieth birthday, Angie was diagnosed with lung cancer, a shock as she had never been a smoker.

She fought hard and we added pennies for her 51st, 52nd, 53rd, and 54th birthdays.

We knew the 54th was going to be the last birthday she would celebrate.

As 2005 began, I wanted to find a new penny to add to the box while she was still alive, knowing her October birthday would not see her alive. I even went to a coin shop, hoping to find a newly minted penny, but it seemed that the mint had not yet started making them yet.

Angie died on March 25.

Later that spring, when I found a 2005 penny, I sent it to her husband to complete Angie’s penny box.

However briefly, 2005, her 55th year, was Angie’s year, too.

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This post is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturdays. Join us! Details here:  http://lindaghill.com/2014/11/28/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-november-2914/.  This week’s prompt is sense/scents/cents/sent.socs-badge
Badge by Doobster @Mindful Digressions

Dr. Barbara Chaffee

The link below leads to a few paragraphs and a short video clip. Even if you want to ignore the text – and the rest of this post, for that matter – watch the clip. It is part of a documentary nearing completion on the life of Dr. Barbara Chaffee, Binghamton physician, mom, and community member, by her son filmmaker Tim Chaffee. Barbara was at the forefront of treating AIDS patients in Binghamton back before HIV was well understood. She was a compassionate and caring person in whatever situation presented itself and her story should be preserved and shared with the world.

Yes, this is related to fundraising and I have made a small contribution myself, but, no, you don’t have to give money to support the film. If you like the link, please do share it via your blog, twitter, facebook, ello, email, or whatever mechanism you use to get the word out.

With thanks,
JC

http://wildgeesefilms.net/news-timeline/34-just-infrastructure

54

Today is my 54th birthday. Not usually considered a milestone birthday, but it is a poignant one for me. Fifty-four is the perpetual age of my friend Angie.

Angie called us “October babes.”  She was born in 1950 and I in 1960.  It didn’t feel like we were ten years apart in age because we had children in the same grades in school, although – bonus for me – she also had a child who was two years ahead of my elder daughter in school, which meant that I had a preview of coming attractions.

We were different in a lot of ways. I’m 5′ 1.5″ and Angie told people she was 5′ 12″ because she thought it sounded less daunting than saying she was six feet.  Angie was raised in New York City and thought of our mutual home now as small.  I was raised in a New England town of 200, so our current hometown of 20,000 was as large as the city I traveled twenty miles each way to attend high school.  She was a trained artist and skilled in decorating and entertaining, with a great and quirky personal style, which included rocking her signature look – overalls. (Trust me – it was amazing.) I am not known for any of those things.  She had a great talent for storytelling, complete with different voices and accents for the characters.  I am better with the written word than the spoken word.  She had a vast array of friends in various circles of the community and was well-known, while I had far fewer friends and was more comfortable working behind the scenes.

We were, however, both personally dedicated to volunteering, and met when I joined a site-based decision-making team at our district middle school.  Angie had already been serving as one of three parent representatives and we quickly became friends.  She helped me navigate the surprisingly intricate educational world and introduced me to a lot of new people and ideas.

Even though she had many friends, she was near and dear to all of them.  She was a wonderful listener and a wise advisor. She was unfailingly kind and generous.  The kind of person everyone hopes to have in their life.

Because her husband was a doctor, she had many friends in the medical community, but had a heightened awareness of the possible health calamities that happen to people of various ages.  She talked about being worried about turning 50, because she had known so many people who succumbed to medical problems in that decade.  When she turned 49, I gave her a box with a penny from every year of her life, which meant that I gave it to her with fifty pennies in it, and the promise to give her a new penny each year on her birthday. I thought already having fifty pennies in the box might help ease her into her next birthday.

Within weeks of her 50th birthday, a nagging cough turned into a diagnosis of stage 3 lung cancer.

It was a shock.  Angie had never smoked, but through some combination of factors – growing up in a congested city when vehicles still used leaded gasoline? lung damage from infections? genetic vulnerability? secondhand smoke, as she was growing up before anyone had even thought of smoke-free rooms? – here she was with a frightening diagnosis.

Treatment was aggressive and achieved a remission. There was a big 50+1 birthday party, which served as a charity fundraiser.  But, as we all feared, there were metastases that developed and more treatment with some short breaks but then the next problem and the next round of radiation or chemo until finally around the time Angie turned 54, there was nothing else that could be done.

After the new year started, I began searching for a 2004 penny for her box.  We knew she would not live to see her 55th birthday and I hoped to get the penny to her while she was still able to realize it, but even the coin shops did not have them available so early in the year. Angie died in March.

When I found the penny later in the spring, I sent it to her husband to complete Angie’s box.

I still miss Angie and honor her memory. One of the ways I do that is by donating to the fund set up in her memory which raises money for scholarships and for the LUNGevity Foundation, which supports both lung cancer research and patients and their families.

Another way is to spread as much love as possible and to dedicate as much time as possible to caring about and serving others.

And for this year, Angie and I will both be 54.

good news from K

I wrote and posted this poem in February and re-posted it recently when it was accepted for publication.  Today, I have the best possible follow-up. I saw K this morning and she shared that her recent CT scan revealed that her tumor has not just shrunk, but disappeared. This winter and spring, she had been treated aggressively with simultaneous chemotherapy and radiation, until she nearly died from side effects and the treatment had to be halted.  She has been in a rest/recovery phase over the summer, but it was a huge and wonderful surprise that the tumor was gone. Hallelujah!

poem for K & in memory of M

I am reblogging this today because I just got news that it will be included in an anthology in Great Britain, which will be raising funds for cancer research. This will mark the first time that my poetry will be in print outside of my local area, which is a huge milestone for me. I am also pleased to be able to take part in such a worthy charitable cause.

Top of JC's Mind

For K and M

The last time I saw you -
     layers of winter clothing
     not quite obscuring
     a bloated belly
     on your thin frame -
you felt full
eating a single egg.

I tried not to panic -
     remembering the last friend
     with a similar story
     that became a stage three
     ovarian cancer patient -
soon enough to win a couple of battles
but not the war.

You had new doctors
with your new ACA insurance -
     some blood tests done
     office visits coming
     maybe some digestive problem?
     gall bladder? -
diagnosis pending.

Yesterday, the news -
     hospital
     abdominal tumor
     entwined with multiple organs
     origin uncertain -
oncologist acquired.

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“The Fault in Our Stars”

While I usually try to read a book before seeing a film adaptation, I did not read “The Fault in Our Stars” before seeing the film earlier this week. The book was written after my daughters were of an age to have read it, so it wasn’t on my radar.

Within the first few minutes, I correctly guessed the final outcome, but that didn’t really matter. The film resonated with me because it re-inforced ideas that I know to be true.

1. Young love is real love. Even without the maturing influence of battling cancer at a young age, young people can be very deeply in love. My husband and I met in our early teen years and have been married for 32 years and friends for 40 years. Obviously, our story is not that common nowadays, but it is a testament to young people being capable of both love and good judgement.

2. Words are powerful. There are many instances in the film where words – spoken, written, emailed, texted – are what drives the plot. A book and its author are a central plot device.

3. Reality trumps fiction. I knew before I saw the film that there was a scene in the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam that some people found gratuitous. My reaction was different. The preceding scene dealt with the main characters’ interaction with the author of a work of fiction that was important to them. The viewer expects this to be a breakthrough moment for the two young friends; instead, it is incredibly disappointing. It is a taxing trip through the Anne Frank House, with Anne’s words of hope appearing in writing and speech and the realization that only Anne’s father survived the concentration camps, that leads Hazel to accept Augustus’s desire to be more than platonic friends. I also felt using the Anne Frank story as a plot device made sense, given that the intended audience for the book was young adults, because most US schoolchildren read either Anne’s diary or a play based on it as an early teen, so they would immediately be able to make connections with it.

4. It’s really difficult to be the parent of a sick child. I thank God that I have been spared having a child with cancer. I have had to deal with difficult, long-standing medical issues, though, and could empathize with parents desperately wanting to do everything they can to help, even when they intrude too much on their child in their efforts.

5. Funerals are for the living. A character in the movie says this and it is true. As a music minister, I’ve been to more than the usual number of funerals. While a funeral often reflect the person who has died, its function is more to comfort the living, even when that means avoiding some of the truth about their final days.

6. Don’t wait to be kind, loving, authentic, and open. None of us have a guarantee as to how long we have here.

I can’t even…

This has been a terrible week for national and international news. It is overwhelming.

News I got today from a sick friend just added more.

Near the end of February, I had written a poem about her cancer diagnosis. While I had been getting news about her, I had not spoken to her until she called me this morning. She has been very, very ill. Simultaneous chemotherapy and radiation reduced her to 85 pounds and she nearly died from internal bleeding.

What is so overwhelming is that I found out that her cancer is one that should have been able to be diagnosed early with routine medical screening, but it wasn’t caught because she has had periods without medical insurance and others on Medicaid. It’s not the Medicaid itself, because she has very good doctors treating her now through the Medicaid system, but through whatever combination of difficulty finding doctors who would accept Medicaid and periods with no insurance at all and labwork expenses and lack of continuity of care and whatever else, what should have been found in a pre-cancerous phase has advanced so far that successful treatment may not be possible.

Right now, she is in a period of trying to regain strength. There may be further radiation or surgery if she can get strong enough. There is no way to know.

poem for K and in memory of M

For K and M

The last time I saw you -
     layers of winter clothing
     not quite obscuring
     a bloated belly
     on your thin frame -
you felt full
eating a single egg.

I tried not to panic -
     remembering the last friend
     with a similar story
     that became a stage three
     ovarian cancer patient -
soon enough to win a couple of battles
but not the war.

You had new doctors
with your new ACA insurance -
     some blood tests done
     office visits coming
     maybe some digestive problem?
     gall bladder? -
diagnosis pending.

Yesterday, the news -
     hospital
     abdominal tumor
     entwined with multiple organs
     origin uncertain -
oncologist acquired.