Manly Beach – Soft Sanded Surfer Heaven

 

Elizabeth Harper & John Winchurch - Manly Beach, Australia

I posted the photo above on Facebook, but since not everyone has a FB account I thought I would share it here as well. I snapped this on Manly Beach when we took the ferry over from Circular Quay in Sydney. The wind was blustery that day with a storm approaching and we only had a moment to put our feet on the soft golden sand before the raindrops came to chase us off. Even though a storm was hovering just off shore while we watched, surfers were taking advantage of the waves.

Manly Beach Surfers

John Winchurch - Manly Beach, Australia

Here’s a look at Manly Beach from the other direction. There are huge trees near the beach that look like a type of pine and remind me of trees along the northwest coast of the US, but still are a bit different from any I’ve seen.

I’m typing in a coffee shop called Gloria Jean’s which has free wireless for one hour with a purchase. Free internet access is hard to find in Auckland so I have to keep things short. We’ve been paying for it in our room, but I tend to use it up too quickly as the download is limited and expensive.  Gloria Jean’s has good coffee, friendly staff, and yummy low-fat muffins, but my hour is almost up and it’s time to run off to see more of Auckland.

I will be back later to tell you about an amazing musician I met last night on Victoria Street here in Auckland. His name is Luke Hurley and you can hear and read more about him by clicking here.

His music was so good that after listening only long enough to snap a couple of photos, I paid $20 for a CD. We had a long listen back in our hotel room and loved it! Plus, I found out something very interesting in the minute or so that he paused to meet and speak with me. I’ll tell you next time when I have a minute to post.

Luke Hurley

When Grief Comes Without Warning

In May of 2008, I received a message on a Classmates reunion site from an old friend from high school. In it she said,

” Hi Cutie, Nice to see you; desperately happy; hope the same is true for you.”

I was pleased to see her message and happy that in May of 2008, I was desperately happy too. One year later, I was married to my darling husband John and she was suddenly a widow with the love of her life snatched from her without warning. Last year on a Thursday morning in May, when most people were on their way to work or already there, her husband died in a car accident when another driver lost control and came across the medium into the path of her husband’s vehicle. Both drivers died on the scene leaving the people who loved them grieving and forever changed.

Pam and I are friends on Facebook and I have been able to see her journey as she’s returned to teaching and talked openly about the difficulties of making it through her grief. Recently, as the first anniversary of her husband’s death approaches, she sent out a request to her friends asking for a little help in the form of ” beautiful statements” to help her get through the next few days.

May 14 was the day Cullen died. I can’t imagine how it feels to have your best friend and soul mate be there one minute and gone forever in the next, I don’t want to know. I do know what grief feels like from other life experiences, the kind of deep heartache that you think you will never recover from, but I have not been through what she has and as such, I feel at a loss when it comes to an appropriate message of comfort.

The best I can do is to tell her how inspiring I think her love story has been to me. The very idea of still being, “desperately happy ” as she said in her message in May 2008, especially after so many years together, is a lasting legacy to the love they shared and certainly one I would like to emulate.

If any of you have any words of support or comfort that you might offer Pam, please leave them in a comment below and I will make sure she has a chance to read them.

No Friend Of Mine – Facebook And Me

Couple in Conversation by Johannes Von Stumm

I have come to see the benefits of Facebook over the last few years especially since moving to the UK. It’s an excellent way for me to keep in touch with friends I miss from the US and also to follow some of the happenings in our village here in Cornwall. I tend to be pretty careful when someone “friends me” given previous issues with a woman who stalked us in the past.

Although I don’t post our every move, occasionally I do have something on there that would be more information than I want someone who is not a friend knowing about me. I have checked all the privacy boxes to ensure that friends only and not friends of friends can follow and I study fairly carefully even a request from someone who attended the same high school to be sure we even need to be friends.

I usually note their politics and religious views partially out of curiosity and a mild concern that they might find me a bit shocking if we differ substantially and also because I find it interesting to see the major changes thirty years later. Seeing someone I remembered as a wild child in the 70’s now pop up with a friend request looking more like their mom or dad and identifying as a conservative Christian can throw me for a minute.

This is not meant as a negative comment or judgement, but more as a recognition of who they say they are and what they believe. I tend to be fairly liberal politically and my thoughts regarding faith are not absent, just personal, and I don’t share too much in that area. I feel like my Facebook friends are an interesting slice of my world and a pretty diverse group of folks.

There is room for almost everybody on my friends list if I know you or perhaps knew you thirty years ago. I respect the varied viewpoints of others and really only have a few guidelines when it comes to someone I wish to share information with on Facebook. Big points for me go to those who practice kindness and consideration when expressing a differing opinion.

Bluntly said, I am sick to death of nasty, snarky, comments, only intended to create conflict that do nothing to promote positive change. When my daughter Miranda was growing up I used to say to her, ” You can tell me just about anything, how you say it will have a huge impact on what I hear and on whatever outcome you hope to achieve.”

Recently, I received a Facebook Friend request from someone I went to high school with. I took a look to see if I remembered them noting that yes I did in fact go to school with them, then I noticed Christian and conservative, no problems with that, but then I got to this bit of nonsense …

“DEAR LORD, THIS YEAR YOU TOOK MY FAVORITE ACTOR, PATRICK SWAYZIE [sic]. YOU TOOK MY FAVORITE ACTRESS, FARAH [sic] FAWCETT. YOU TOOK MY FAVORITE SINGER, MICHAEL JACKSON. I JUST WANTED TO LET YOU KNOW, MY FAVORITE PRESIDENT IS BARACK OBAMA. AMEN”

Now you can say a lot in opposition to President Obama’s policies or any number of things he is suggesting or supports and I will engage in a conversation with you and work to do it in a respectful way even if we disagree, but when I read this kind of garbage we no longer have anything to talk about because you have shown me who you are and I am not interested in your “friendship.”  It’s not Christian, it’s not kind and I am not interested.

Sadly, after looking over the hate filled Facebook page with the Obama Prayer, there appear to be at least 1,153,595 people who share her feelings and as such are better able to be her friend.

Remembering Virginia Tech 4.16.07


Last year on this day, I wrote a memorial post to mark the sad anniversary of the tragedy that occurred during my daughter’s second year as a student at Virginia Tech. The Ways We Remember, Those We Cannot Forget details more from April 16 and the days that followed.

When we moved into April a few weeks ago, I noticed my daughter had changed her profile picture on Facebook from her regular photo to the image below. It is familiar to many associated with Virginia Tech and the one I have seen most often in the three years since the Virginia Tech shootings.

After seeing the change on April 1, I asked her about it when we spoke later that day. I usually switch to the same image on my Facebook profile a few days before the anniversary, but never so early as the beginning of the month and I wondered why she had changed hers so far in advance. Miranda told me in so many words that in the month of April, the anniversary is always at the forefront of her thoughts so she wanted to note the significance for her.

When I hung up the phone, I considered that while most people were celebrating spring and new beginnings, she was remembering the day when so many died. It saddens me to think that this will likely always be a rite of spring for her. I wish there was something I could do to change that, but it is beyond my control as are so many things for parents when children grow into their independent selves.

Miranda is generally pretty quiet when it comes to that day. When people ask about it, she is polite and almost matter of fact. She tends to keep her feelings to herself. I imagine these kids, now adults walking around like war vets in a way … only really discussing that day with people who were there and lived through it too. As a mom who believes in the healing power of conversation it is difficult for me to stand back and wait to give comfort when needed, although I smile as I think, I am always at the ready.

I take comfort in how she chooses to honor the memory of those no longer living with her desire to risk more and live more fully for those who lost that opportunity on 4.16.07. I didn’t know she felt that way until I saw something she had posted on Facebook the other day that suggested that sentiment as a way to remember those who died.

I understand that thought completely as it is something I have tried to do when grieving the loss of friends and family who died too young. It gives me some measure of peace to see that we share a similar idea because I know it has been a source of comfort for me when I could not understand the why of premature death. I cannot think of a better memorial for those lost than a life well lived when searching for ways to honor those we can never forget.

Life After Cancer – Now

When I was 31, I went to a dermatologist for a reason I can’t remember now and during the course of my visit, she took a close look at the moles that dotted my physical landscape. There was one in particular that looked a bit iffy to her and she said that it might be problematic in the future. Her suggestion to remove it to avoid an issue later was re-adjusted after discovering the limitations of my insurance coverage.

With a husband in a Ph.D program, we were lucky to have any coverage, even the bare bones policy he was able to get through the University. It did not cover mole removal that ” might ” be a problem in the future and as I was working a job that provided no health insurance and frankly not enough money to spare for the out of pocket costs involved in the procedure, I walked out of her office thinking I would just keep an eye on it.

Even though I was concerned, the pressures of a husband in graduate school, the needs of a young child, and the struggle involved in trying to pay for what was a very lean living, I looked at the mole a time or two and then forgot about the spot I had been warned to watch. Had it been in a more obvious place like my face it would have been easier to see the future before it happened.

By 33, I was divorced and struggling to build a career in pharmaceutical sales while juggling parenting roles and the early beginnings of a social life as a single woman again. I was also unknowingly on the edge of something bigger than I had ever faced. On the morning of Christmas Eve, I felt a strange compulsion to check the mole I had not thought about for months. I was rushing around trying to get ready for the evening ahead and the next day with all of the places my daughter and I would need on be Christmas Day when I suddenly felt compelled to stop and look at the spot on my back.

After twisting myself into a position I where could see the shaded place on my shoulder in the bedroom mirror, I found that I needed more light to see it properly and went into the only bathroom in the house to try to get a clearer look. Standing on the toilet, I twisted myself once again so that I might see my reflection in the mirror of the old medicine chest on the wall.

I knew in the moment I saw it that I was looking at cancer. That’s a melanoma, I said to myself and wondered who I might call. No one was taking new patients that day and I could not be seen by a physician until a week into the new year. The doctor who saw me would not commit to a cancer diagnosis and seemed to take it off just to give me some peace of mind almost going so far as to suggest it was probably nothing.

I was standing in a phone booth in south Georgia a few days later when I got news. Having called the office to find out the results of the biopsy, the receptionist unknowingly gave me the results when she said, ” We don’t know yet, they’re checking it for levels.” I knew enough even then to know that if they were checking it for levels then it was not going to be good  In 1994, I had no cell phone or internet access and I even though I had known intuitively what I was seeing on the day I found it, her words scared me so I could not think clearly beyond asking the woman on the phone to please have the doctor call me as soon as possible. I was barely in my car before my pager went off and when I called the office, my doctor said, ” I don’t usually do this over the phone, but it is malignant and we should know what level we are looking at within about 24 hours.” I kept it together while we scheduled a office visit to discuss the results and she finished by saying we would talk when I came in about what our next steps would be.

All work for me stopped at that point even though I tried to go on with my next sales call. I left the office before seeing the doctor unable to stay focused on whatever drug I was there to discuss. During the two hour drive back to Marietta where I lived with my daughter, I worried the whole way about questions with no answers and stopped at the first library I came across on my way home. For the next hour or so I skimmed over the pages in the stack of books I had pulled  from the shelves trying to absorb as much information about melanoma as my distracted brain could take in. It wasn’t long before I began to consider that my  future might now be defined by terms like, ” five-year survival rates.”

My daughter was barely six and I was painfully aware while reading that there was a chance that I might not live long enough for her to remember me or to know how much I loved her. I carried those thoughts along the information from my visit to the library with me for the next day or so, stressed as you might expect until I met with my doctor who said something I remember now as, ” It is the best it can be, a Clark’s Level I.”

I had read enough to have a decent idea of what that meant, but even after she took more tissue from my back and the margins came back clear, I still lived in the shadow of a diagnosis that could have killed me if I had I not felt compelled to check the mole that day.

Additionally, there were occasions during my work history that I had to provide my own health coverage as my employer didn’t offer it or I was between positions. My premiums would start out high, but manageable and I would pay everything out of pocket while maintaining a painfully high deductible. Like many in the same position, I thought if I avoided making claims, my premiums might stay reasonable, but they still increased by obscene amounts every year.

Even while I was working for a major pharmaceutical company that had over 100,000 employees all with one particular insurance company, there was still no way that I could intimidate them into behaving with integrity. On one occasion, I tried to do battle the health insurance company to pay for an office visit that clearly fell with the parameters of coverage. They kept denying they had received the claims even though the office had filed it three times and I had filed the same information twice. Multiple phone calls later, including a conference call between the insurance company representative and someone from the doctor’s staff and myself, we both confronted the insurance employe, but got no results. In the end, the office then threatened to send my account to collections which forced me to have to pay the whole bill myself. I was never reimbursed for the office visit and their reason for not paying was that they maintained they had never received a claim. After wasting hours of my time, I gave up, which I ‘m sure is just what the insurance company hoped I would do.

Health insurance companies have held the American people hostage for far too long. Canceling the coverage of people who have struggled to pay crippling premiums for catastrophic coverage only to be told when they receive something like a cancer diagnosis, that they are not covered based on whatever obtuse bit of fabricated nonsense the insurer can cite. By the time the policy holder fights for what they paid for all those years, they’ve either lost everything they own or have died.

I myself was always afraid to admit to my doctor during visits that I’d had cancer. My oncology visits were paid for out of pocket so the paper trail for me was limited. After 10 years of being cancer free, some physicians assured me that I would not lose coverage and encouraged me to be open about it. There were times when I had to tell my doctors, but begged them not to include it in my medical records because I was afraid of being denied future coverage or having my premiums be raised so high that I could not afford healthcare insurance at all. Even without knowing my cancer history, during one of the last times I provided my own coverage, my rates increased so quickly after the first year that I was forced to raise my deductible to $5,000 in order to pay the premiums.

I don’t know what the future will hold with passage of health care reform, but I do know that is an embarrassment to me that so many Americans have responded in such vitriolic ways in the days leading up to the vote. I can only imagine what people will be saying later today as America wakes up. While it may not be a perfect solution, it will make it possible for hard working people to have access to health care coverage with stricter controls on the corrupt power that has been wielded too long by health insurance companies.

Taking the paragraph below from the British Times Online which is not noted for its liberal attitude, you can see how their observations confirm what many have experienced in the US.

” It will also outlaw the worst abuses for which the US health insurance industry has become notorious, including dropping coverage when patients become ill and discriminating against those with pre-existing medical conditions.”

Currently, I live in the UK with my British husband and have coverage under the NHS. So for the first time in my adult life since leaving the Army, I don’t have to worry about my own healthcare coverage. I do still have family in the US and I worry about them a great deal.

I have heard the comments of Americans who have been saying that they don’t want a medical system like the one in place in the UK. They cite negative conditions and situations that I have not experienced here. Quite the contrary, my every experience with the NHS, both personally and by observation involving the care given to family and neighbors has remarkable.

A few months ago during a visit home to America, I tried to share these truths with someone I had been friends with for 31 years. I told him in detail about my own experience with the NHS and what I had witnessed with others here. He argued with me each step of the way, going so far as to say, ” I know that’s what you believe happened, ” while refusing to acknowledge that there might be some benefit to having a similar healthcare model.

He couldn’t tell me what was in the healthcare reform proposal having not read it. All of his energy came from listening to the interpretations of talk radio hosts intent on keeping their listeners passions stirred up over a topic that most seemed disinterested in reading about themselves. His comment this morning on his Facebook page was just as I expected,

” Welcome to the new U.S.S.R.-United States Socialist Republic. “

I am actually surprised to see something so mild after the things he has said in the past.

I understand that many in America will not be happy this morning, but for me this is what life after cancer looks like now that one fear has been removed. Access to healthcare should be for all Americans and thanks to efforts of people who do more than shout about freedom, it now will be.