I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

Photographs of Mollye are lifted from Facebook

I am stealing a song title from a Beatle’s tune this morning to say a few more words about the post I wrote here a couple of days ago, which I followed up with this one yesterday where I thanked everyone for their supportive comments. If you are someone who reads comments left by others as I sometimes do except over at Pioneer Woman’s place because one post can garner thousands of comments and who has time to read that many … anyway, if you happen to be reading the comments left on the post, Are You Judy’s Daughter, you will see a comment from someone named Mollye, that could do with a bit of an explanation.

My dear friend Mollye is one of the sweetest souls I know. We met about ten years ago when we were both working with folks who were either infected or affected by HIV. While I worked mostly with the physicians and medical providers who managed their care, I also had an opportunity to meet people like Mollye who worked at the time for one of the AIDS service organizations in Atlanta. After reading her comment on the revealing mother-daughter post I wrote, I decided it might be a bit confusing without a little backstory.

Mollye is quite accomplished in many ways, in addition to working as a gifted therapist, she is an amazing artist and photographer. She specializes in pet photography when she’s not helping people searching for their best selves and I only wish I had more of her art hanging on my walls.

I sent Mollye a message yesterday with a link telling her of the dream I had a few days ago that prompted me to write the mother-daughter post. What I did not say publicly in that post was that Mollye had been in my dream too, showing up right at the end just as I was waking up. I told Mollye that I was not sure whether it was because I had looked at her art just before I went to bed which deals directly with ghosts and is titled “Spirits of the Field,” or because she is an Alabama native which is the last place I saw my mother who has lived only two hours from my former home in Georgia for about the last twenty years. For whatever reason Mollye popped in at the last minute, it was comforting to wake up with a sense of her nurturing presence after the familiar rejection by my mother in the dream.

When I woke this morning and sat down to check my messages as I do while the coffee is brewing, I read the sweet comment she left me and felt so lucky to have friends in my life like Mollye. We all have histories and ghosts that haunt us, but who we become in spite of it all is a true measure of a life well lived.

I could make excuses for my mother’s behavior, but there is nothing so horrible in her history that would have made her into the bitter narcissistic person that she is. She is what she is by choice and although I understand that intellectually, that knowledge has provided little emotional comfort over the years.

There is one thing I am very sure of and that is while we may not be able to choose the path we on which we begin our journey, we can choose which direction we take once we gain our own footing. The love and kindness of friends like Mollye are some of the gifts of my journey and an example of the good you receive in life when you choose to walk in the light.

Please feel free to share your story of someone who might be a ” Mollye ” in your life in a comment below.

Hanging On When It Looks Hopeless

Last year for my birthday, my husband John planned a lovely get away to St Ives. Along with an overnight stay at the sweet little B&B below, he surprised me with a stop along the way to buy a Dogwood tree for my birthday because he remembered that I had talked about missing the Dogwoods that bloomed in my Atlanta neighborhood every spring.

This is what my Dogwood looked like when we got it last September. It seems to have made it through the winter snows we had here and has even begin to put out tiny new leaves as you can see below.

We would be seeing an explosion of color by now if we were in Georgia, but the Dogwoods here will not reach their flowering peak until much later. It was early June last year when I realized that Dogwood trees grew in England. They were in full bloom then which is long after you would see their flowery bits in Atlanta.

When we brought it home last September, there as a small piece about 4 inches long that broke off in the car. John slipped it into a small vase of water and put it in the kitchen window where it sat looking like a dead stick for the last five months. I almost tossed it a couple of times, but since John has the green thumb, I deferred to him and left it there.

A few weeks ago I considered dumping it again. It looked so dead that I wondered why he was keeping it. So I took it out of its watery grave and sniped off the end. I gave it a fresh bit of water like John had been doing for months and stuck in back on the window ledge. After all this time, I did not expect much. In fact, I thought we would be tossing it into the compost bucket soon, but today I gave it a passing glance like I have all winter and guess what I saw.

The top looks the same as it has all winter, but hello, what is that I see inside the glass.

It’s new life … welcome back my little Dogwood.

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.

As I Was Going To St. Ives

Most children grow up with the English nursery rhyme shown below. I remembered it when I first heard about St. Ives, a well know holiday spot that is famous for the light which tends to look more blue than other places. This special light as well as the coastline has attracted artists to the area since the expansion of the Great Western Railway in 1877.

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By now you must have figured out where John took me on my overnight birthday trip. We left about midmorning on Thursday and headed south. There is only so far you can go before you run in to ocean in Cornwall so I had one or two ideas once we were on the A 30. I thought perhaps we might be going to Mousehole which is pronounced “Mowzel” and is pretty village near Penzance.  We’d been there briefly on a trip to Penzance and I had mentioned wanting to go back.  We had talked about going to St. Ives a few times, but it was usually during a school break for children which is not the best time unless you want to feel swept along in the sea of tourists and people on holiday. He did throw a twist into the drive to St. Ives when he pulled off the A 30 and began searching for turn that was difficult to find. I knew as we were turning into to Burncoose Nurseries that we must be there to pick up something for me.

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Right away, I knew what John had in mind. Earlier in the spring when we were out for a walk through the gardens at Lanhydrock, I spotted something very familiar to anyone who’s spent much time in Georgia. I know these types of trees grow in a variety of places, but I wasn’t prepared to see this one there.

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In case you couldn’t tell…we stopped so John could pick up a Dogwood tree for me. Earlier in the spring, I had talked about how I missed the blooming Dogwood trees in Georgia and John remembered and made arrangements to get one and plant it so I’ll be able see it through the window of my studio room while I’m writing at my desk. How sweet is that!  I told him that was a perfect gift for me. When we stopped for the tree, we had a look around the nursery which had an interesting history. As you can see from the picture below, it was used during WWII as a laundry  which was worked by women who were in what was called Womens Land Army. I had not heard of this before and found the personal stories of some women who were involved here.

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The pictures above show it before and after renovation in 1989, but I have a few pictures from our visit below.

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Me with my Dogwood Tree.

We left it there to pick up on the way home and then we were off back on the road for the rest of my birthday adventure. I still didn’t realize where we were going at this point and it took me a few more road signs before I worked it out. It was a perfect day for exploring St. Ives and it didn’t take me long to see the blue reflected light through my camera once we arrived.

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Notice the churchyard and grave stones on the hill.

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Surfers are very welcome here with many in from Australia.

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Sticky Toffee Pudding with Ice Cream and birthday candle.

I’ll be back with part two later to tell you about the sweet B & B we stayed in and our visit to an interesting church on the way home.

Days Of Summer-Going…Going…Gone

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There is a common theme with many bloggers as summer begins to wind down. For those with children returning to school, the end of summer is not based on changes in weather like a sudden crispness in the morning air or the exchange of summer shorts for warm sweaters, but more likely it’s dictated by the posting of bus schedules and shopping for school supplies. Many schools in America have started classes and the rest are not far behind only waiting to begin classes after the Labor Day weekend. Georgia students have been sitting in classrooms for about two weeks now and I can only imagine how difficult it must be for the teachers to manage the energy. Sun and heat still equals summer time to most children and it doesn’t seem fair to send children back inside while the days outside are still so inviting.

With the recent graduation of my only child from Virginia Tech, I no longer gauge my days of summer on any one else’s timetable. Although many of the flowers are beginning to fade here, there are quite a lot still blooming and everywhere you look there is life and color. In Georgia, the blackberries bushes would have closed up shop and ceased production marking the end of summer in a pointed way with only the thorns left behind. Here in Cornwall the blackberries are still fat and juicy with more waiting to ripen before they go for the season. There’s more than enough to freeze a few gallons for winter and make another pie or two, but pie making aside we seem to have missed what makes it feel most like summer.

After years of living in Georgia and suffering through the oppressive summer heat and seasons of drought for the last few years, Cornwall in contrast has had it’s third rainy summer in a row and waking up to another grey day I feel as if in some ways I am still waiting for days of summer to begin. To be fair, this part of the world is a wonderland in rain or with sunshine but occasionally I must admit, I’d be happy to see a bit more of the sun. I’ll leave you with a few summer pictures as we begin slip into fall here and I’ll head out the door to pick a few more blackberries for a last taste of summer before it’s completely past.

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The last three pictures serve as an example of what we do to blackberries around here. Mmmmmmm!

Don’t forget tomorrow is the day for TMAST so please consider writing a post for tomorrow using one of the topic sentences left behind over at the Tell Me A Story Tuesdays site. Send me a link and I’ll post it tomorrow on mine. So far Judy Harper has been the only one to join me in the story writing piece of this online group. Others have left topic sentences and I do appreciate that. It’s more fun for me to use someone else’s sentence so even if you don’t want to write a story for TMAST, please consider leaving a topic sentence here.  It’s practice writing not perfection so let your imagination run wild and see where it takes you.

Things That Make Your Heart Feel Tender

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We all know that things don’t matter as much as people, but sometimes when the people you love are far away there are some things you just don’t want to be without. Yesterday, after 78 days and trip that began back in America, some of my special things finally arrived from Georgia. It was a bit surreal seeing the things I had pared down to as the most essential from my American life taken off a truck in the tiny village in England I now call home.

I had to open some boxes right away to ensure there was no damage and my art pieces were the first ones I tore into. I was opening at a good pace with an excitement similar to a child on Christmas morning when the watercolor piece above stopped my excited frenzy of paper tearing with an audible ooooooh… followed by a loud ,”John, come look at this one….”

This sweet little watercolor is a tender connection to my daughter’s childhood and to her every time I see it. She brought it home one day very early in her school career somewhat rumpled as large project can be when carried by small hands. I loved it from the beginning and after claiming a space on the side of the refrigerator reserved for special things, I eventually took it down and rolled it up intending to have it framed. It took about five years before I could make up my mind how I wanted to frame it which occurred right about the time my daughter would have preferred that her middle school age friends not see the art work of her early years. She called this little bunny, “Cerit Body” or “Carrot Body”  as she told me when I mispronounced it the first time based on her written words at the top of the painting and if you look closely at the bottom, you can just make out the young artist’s signature too.

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I felt a bit tearful seeing this little watercolor painting and held it so closely that John picked up the camera to capture my emotional moment. I am so glad to have it with me and I’m already thinking about the best place to hang it when the dust settles around here.

Some things will have to stay boxed until my new space is finished and since our master bedroom is going through a renovation and extension too with the addition on an en-suite bath, nothing can be unpacked for that room yet either. Yesterday afternoon, John and I moved boxes of clothes and linens & towels up to the attic while creating a temporary holding space in the living room corner for the 9 boxes of books I shipped over along with a section for art and other collectables. The kitchen is overflowing with dishes and china, along with bowls and cooking things my grandmother once used on a regular basis. The wooden bread bowl carved by my great grandfather quickly replaced the basket that John kept fruit in and will have a place on the table once it’s cleared of all the pieces I placed there while unpacking yesterday.

Last night when all the lights were out and I was heading for bed, I followed my nightly routine of checking all the doors to be sure the house was locked up tight for the night. This habit is one I inherited from my father who always made this a part of his bedtime ritual. He called it shutting down the house. That I do it now reminds me of my father on a more frequent and personal level than seeing his photograph on my shelf…proving that sometimes a memory or tradition can be as valuable in some ways as our possessions. Last night however, as I lingered at the kitchen door and looked back into the messy room, I was more than happy and content to see the physical examples of my family and my story waiting to find a place in this new home.

In The Air Again

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I’ve “moved house” as they say here in England so often I feel as if I could almost do it in my sleep. As a child, we moved so many times that I missed a good bit of what was important in school…thank goodness I was a big bookworm or I’m afraid I’d know very little. By the time I was in the ninth grade, I’d been to 10 schools and in one extreme year of elementary school, I occupied a desk in 4 different schools on both the east and west coast. It’s no wonder that I grew up with a fierce case of wanderlust.

At 18, I joined the Army and left home moving after completing basic training to my first duty assignment, a post in Baumholder, Germany. I arrived there with what I could carry in two large suitcases and an over stuffed military duffel bag. The rest of my childhood things stayed in Georgia with my family so deciding what to pack was not too difficult. These last few months have presented a different set of choices with regard to packing and moving… some of which have been more difficult than others.

As I leave to fly back to Atlanta today, it is with a clear goal in mind. During the next few weeks, I’ll be sorting through what’s left of my physical life in Georgia. Ever a saver with too much stuff, I’ve been going through things since early last year when John and first considered the possibility of sharing a life together in Cornwall.

It was during the first bit of sorting and selling that I came up with the name of my blog…Gifts Of  The Journey. Having surrounded myself so long with things that held memories that I considered part of my story, I never would have believed I would or could consider letting them go. It would have seemed almost as if I were being asked to slice off a finger or a toe. I thought I needed those things to help me balance and connect to what was important. It was during the time when I was selling off the furniture and things that made my house so cozy, that I realized the gifts I was receiving in learning how to let go of the physical stuff in exchange for my deepening connection with John. I had no idea where we would go or really how we would get there, but what I did know was that my house and all the things inside were not what made it a home. Freeing myself from the belongings that I thought had to have, gave me the opportunity to start over in a life I could not have imagined would be so right for me.

I’m back in the air again soon and my next post will find me sorting through books and art and bits of my old life…choosing with the care and heartache my immigrant ancestors must have felt when moving to America so many years ago.  All I can think is…thank goodness, I don’t have to only bring what I can carry.

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