Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Oh, if I ever lose my hair,
If my pate goes bald and bare,
Oh if I ever lose my hair,
Oh, if,
Oh, if,
I won't have to  brush!

I've been getting preliminary scalp twinges the past couple weeks, and the stray hair began floating out now and again for a few days now.  But this past Sunday evening, the shedding began in earnest.

I drove to evening service with the window rolled down, enjoying the wind in my hair (since I soon won't have that for awhile!). In the church parking lot, I ran a brush through my locks to put them back in order, hit a tangle, and a whole bunch of strands came out with it.  Yep, two weeks since the treatment, right on schedule!

Monday morning in the shower, a lot more emerged on my fingers after the conditioner.  I read online a month or so ago about a woman who, when her chemotherapy made her hair come out in the shower, collapsed on the shower floor and cried "for hours" until her husband came and rescued her.  Me, I don't have a husband (unfortunately) and none of my animals, brilliant as they are, have figured out how to work the doorknob.  So I was forced to be philosophical about the phenomenon and just towel-dry my hair as gently as possible and make sure the sheddings didn't clog the drain.

Actually, if I'm going to get horribly upset about all this, it'd be from reflecting on the fact that I've never had the privilege of identifying myself with my looks.  But that'd be a different post.

Upstairs, more strands in the hairbrush, more big wads for the wastebin.  I've also read of women who say their hair came out "in clumps."  Either they don't define clumps the way I do, or my hair's just thinning out hair after hair after hair, all over.  I was expecting to see big patches of scalp right away.  Nope, and thank God for that.  That would be disconcerting.

Until last night I kept my hair bound up in a highly-unfashionable but effective scrunchie.  Last night, I went to SuperCuts and got myself a short pixie cut, as documented by my friend Frieda.*  Transitional stage, as my long hair was starting to feel like an alien creature camped out on my head, but I just can't see myself doing the razor thing.  It reminds me too much of concentration camp prisoners and early church era shorn prostitutes and other shudder-worthy associations.  The new cut looks pretty good and it's too bad I won't get to keep for more than a week or two. 

Tomorrow I go pick up the new wig.  I had more trenchant and funny things to say on this subject, but I spent the whole day hauling river rock out of my west border and turning the compost pile, and I am exhausted.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Miss Tiggy-Wig

For something that isn't costing me anything, I sure am putting a lot of time and worry into this wig thing.

It's a very nice deal, really.  A civic women's group here in the county has a fund to provide up to $200 for chemo patients to purchase wigs to cover their hair loss, and somehow it works out that even if the wig you choose costs more than $200, you still get it gratis.

I figure that with one shot at my freebie, I want it to be right.

So.  The civic group has two and only two wig shops here in the county where the certificate can be redeemed.  In May, when I was still not allowed to drive, I rang and opened diplomatic relations with one of these ladies.  But before I could go see her, I talked to my friend Frieda*.  Frieda had gotten her own cancer wig from that shop, and hadn't been satisfied.  "She was really nice," she reported, "and she had a good selection to look at, but when she styled my wig she did a really horrible job!"

Oh.  Don't want that.  So a week ago yesterday I went to the other hair stylist/wigmonger on the list.  I'll call her "Dorothy*."

Oh, dear.  Dorothy was also very nice, but did not have a good selection at all.  I think there were three wigs in the entire shop.  And judging by what she said when she tried one of them on me, I'm afraid her styling abilities may have nothing over her competitor's.  But with me not being the one paying for this, I couldn't very well go away and try the other shop, could I?

But oh! she tried this one wig on me and said, "That looks really cute on you!"  Yeah, if by "cute" you mean the skanky teased-up style from the 1960s.  All I would have needed is a black headband, white lipstick, and some menthol cigarettes to complete the look.  Uh, no thank you!

Next one available was in a short, tightly-curled, I-get-my-hair-done-like-a-steel-helmet-every-Thursday-rain-or-shine old lady do.  I vetoed that before it got anywhere near my head.

The third one was equally impossible, so we turned to the catalogs.  I can't explain it, but most of the available styles seemed right out of the 1980s.  Think Big Hair.  Think poof and voooooolllllluuuuuummmme!  Good grief, are these really the latest models, or have these catalogs been sitting around here since the Reagan administration?

Finally, I picked two for Dorothy to order in on spec.  One longer and one chin-length, both with some easy curl to them. My own hair has a natural wave in it, so why not take advantage of the situation and get a wig that looks like what I wish my own mop would do on a good hair day?  I arranged to try them in two different colors, both pretty close to my own shade, but maybe a little brighter.  They advise that for chemo patients.

Two days ago, then, Dorothy left me a message saying my wig(s) were in.  And today, by appointment, I drove over to see which I should choose.  I was looking forward to trying them on, especially the shorter one.

But what's this?  When I arrived, Dorothy handed me three boxes, and none of them held the right models!

"Oh, no!" she apologized.  "Those must be for somebody else!  Your wigs aren't in yet!  Remind me which ones they were."

Through the superannuated catalogs again to find the ones I'd chosen.  And here were more catalogs for me to look at, while she took care of a customer.  I found a really cute wig in one of those and was wanting her to order that for me to look at, until she pointed out that it was what's known in the trade as an augmentation.  Just a hairpiece, in other words.

Oh.  Too bad.

Eventually, Dorothy admitted that she had ordered the three wrong wigs for me.  "So much has been going on in my life, I'm just that confused, you can't imagine!"  I went ahead and let her try them on me.  "Oh, that looks really good on you!"  No, sorry, it does not.  None of them.  Though it did help me decide which of the prospective colors was better.

I decided there was no point in me looking at a long wig.  In the summer I pretty much always wear my hair up, and what's the point of going for a long wig if I'm just going to make my head hotter by doing that?  So let's just reorder the chin-length one by Alan Eaton, okay?

But she couldn't find the fake-hair color sample ring for it.  And when she called her supplier to see about matching my hair for it, she was told her usual rep isn't handling that manufacturer any more.  She felt she probably could still get it, but I'd better keep looking.

Another customer came in.  I was showered with more catalogs, three of them from the same supplier, Gemtress.  Does she never clean these out?  Sat there looking at them with her ginger cat sprawled in my lap.  Same wig kept catching my eye, in all three catalogs.  Medium-short, softly curly, but shown styled in different ways.  A possibility, yes.

What color, though?  Wig hair color numbers seem to be somewhat consistent across manufacturers, but there's nothing about the assigned digits that tells you anything at all about the shade or hue of the color.  I simply had to go though the samples, detach the likely ones from the ring, and check the chart to see if that wig came in that color.

Wasn't much of a choice, if I intended to go with a color more or less like mine.  Soon as Dorothy was free, she came and held the possibilities up against my own hair, so I could check them in her singularly ill-lighted mirror.  Funny I'd do what I did, letting her talk me into a tri-color light-brown to medium-blonde shade, considering what I've learned about her aesthetic judgment.  But it was either that or settle for a very drab, dark, solid shade.  So I'll risk it.

And it will be a risk, because the wig I decided on is-- unlike the ones she mistakenly got in for me to look at-- not returnable.  Whatever color I chose today, that's what I'll be stuck with.  Dorothy was willing to try to order the Alan Eaton wig I'd originally wanted, too, but what would be the point?  I liked it, but good grief, this catalog dates back to 2006.  Very possibly it's no longer available.  And seeing she told me the Gemtress model was better made, and seeing that it apparently can be dressed up or toned down, let's cut the fooling about and just order the one.

And please, Jesus, let it be good!  I've been taking this hair loss thing a lot more in stride than some women do, but I think I'm hanging a lot on having my official wig make me feel good and look presentable.

Dorothy had me write down the manufacturer, model, and color of my choice on a 3x5 card.  Lord willing she doesn't lose it, or misread it, or misconstrue it.  I've already wigged out over this enough as it is.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Some Observations

I'm thinking it might be useful for me to say a few things about my first chemo session this past Monday.

(Note photo of me in back yard afterwards, with bandaged wrist. And with hair, still. Very messy hair, since the photographer had to leave and didn't have time for me to find my brush.)

  • In the first place, getting chemo was a full day's work! From the time I arrived in the waiting room to the time my friend Frieda* came to pick me up, it was eight hours or more.
  • The treatment pods have four recliners in them with four IV stands and two TVs. I was the second patient in mine Monday morning. The lady who was in before me was on her final round for colon cancer.
  • The nurse who took care of me-- I'll call her Nell*-- was really patient and thorough in telling me exactly what was going to go on in my chemo and what side effects I could expect over the course of it. She answered questions as long as I had them. What I don't get is, why, considering that I heard all that before the drugs began to flow, I seem to have retained so little of it!? I'll be glad for Frieda's notes, when I get them.
  • On the other hand, Nurse Nell wasn't so proficient at getting the IV started in the back of my hand. Blew up the vein-- ow! and had to go for the wrist. It doesn't look so bad today, and I wonder if they'll be able to try again there the next time.
  • I was not at all thrilled to learn that my pre-chemo blood counts fall around the 33 percentile of what's considered adequate and healthy. I kept asking her if I could improve that by eating better. No, she kept insisting, my baseline is perfectly healthy and normal for me. It is what it is. Yeah, maybe, but I dislike having so little leeway. They have drugs they can give you to get your counts up so you can go on with treatment, but still. (I've been eating iron-rich food since Monday, anyway. Makes me feel I'm doing something for the cause.)
  • I got four anti-side effect drugs, fifteen minutes per bag, before the cancer-killing drugs proper begin. I can't quite remember what each of them does, but the most impressive one was the liquid Benadryl. Yikes! They say it puts you to sleep; it made me feel like I'd just come from a residence hall kegger! I brought in a sweater to mend, and was taking the last few stitches when the deck, so to speak, began to roll. "Shall I give into it?" I asked myself. Decided not. So I kept my eyes open and my posture semi-upright and went on to read Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus, even if I had to use the bookmark under the lines to keep from reading the same sentences over and over!
  • The chemo drugs took longer Monday than they will at subsequent treatments, because Nurse Nell started them slowly to make sure I wouldn't have a bad reaction. Not sure what that would have been. Swelling up? Turning purple? Suddenly sprouting legs on top and walking on my head? Whatever it was, it didn't happen, and things proceeded according to plan.
  • Three hours and ten minutes of the Taxol gave way to about an hour and fifteen minutes of the Carboplatin. Kept reading Sophocles through it (finished Oedipus at Colonus and went on to Antigone), even though the TV had been turned on long since by a lady who was in with her husband. Medical shows and Dr. Phil most of the day. Did you know they have an operation where they can remove half a person's brain and leave them with fairly normal function? Didn't catch what this is supposed to cure, but it's fascinating what you learn.
  • I learned also that with all the liquid being pumped into you, if you feel like you gotta go, you gotta go. With the drug-induced unsteadiness and the shopping-cart perversity of the IV stand wheels, I couldn't help but feel I was about to be pulled over and busted for DUI on the way to the unisex can. But it was nice how nurses and other patients' caregivers would step back and let me use the bathroom ahead of them, even if they were there first.
  • Plowed through my patient's binder, as much as I could. Every damn last possible side effect is in there, it seems, and what to do about them seemed confusing and contradictory. Emphasis on seemed. Clearly (as clear as anything was the other day!) there was no point in memorizing it all. Wait and see what happens, and go from there.
  • Frieda and I prayed in the car before going in; my request was that God would somehow use me in this to minister to other people at the Cancer Center. Didn't think I had, really, but as I was waiting for Frieda to pick me up I got to talking to the lady there with her lung-cancer-fighting husband. Me, I thought I was just passing time and maybe being a little nosy. But when I was bidding her goodbye, she told me what a great comfort and help my words had been to her, and how much better she felt having talked with me. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at what God can do, but I never cease to be amazed when He does it through me.

I've been doing pretty well since Monday. A little queasiness now and again but nothing alarming or eruptive. Some suppression of my sense of taste and appetite, but nothing that keeps me from eating anything sufficiently savory. I've gone to a continuing education session at the Presbytery office and done a decent amount of gardening; I get tired maybe before I would ordinarily, and have to remind myself that this isn't "ordinarily" and stop and do something sedentary.

I know it'll get more challenging as it goes along, but I'll jump off that bridge when I get to it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Zombie Wars

I've often wondered why people have such an instinctual dread of cancer. It can't be simply because up till recent times it was pretty much always fatal. Tuberculosis, for instance, was just as much a death sentence and people didn't go around talking about it in whispers. My grandfather's first wife died in her 20s of consumption and from their letters I know they both knew she was doomed even before they got engaged. Everyone around her knew she had TB. Everyone was open about it; it was a fact of her life until she had no life left.

And I don't think cancer's basic horror is that it involves your own body turning traitor on you. Auto-immune diseases do that, too. So do infections. I remember a line from a Bill Cosby routine where he's recreating the scene when his mother took him to the doctor to see about getting his tonsils taken out. Doc says something like, "Kid, your tonsils are like sentries that're supposed to keep the bad stuff out. But in your case, they're fighting for the other side."

True, there is a mystery to cancer in that its cause is often so hard to trace. Otherwise perfectly healthy people (like me!) can pop up with it. It's not like you catch it from Aunt Martha at the family reunion-- in all due respect to an old lady I heard of, who kept the photo of a family member who'd died of melanoma securely wrapped in plastic, "Because it might be contagious."

But still, I don't think that's the font of the primal fear of cancer. I think it has to do with our dread and loathing of zombies.

Yes, zombies. Ever notice how our society's sick fascination with those monsters has grown along with our rising cancer statistics?

Anyway, I'm no expert on the Undead, but cancer cells and zombies have a lot in common. Both are mindless. Both have no "purpose" but to devour and assimilate the living. Both replicate themselves in fast and horrendous ways. Neither contribute to the good of the body (politic), but rather, feed on it and destroy it. And worst of all, both zombies and cancer cells are frighteningly difficult to kill.

Speaking seriously on cancer, I read someplace recently that that's what makes cancer, cancer. Ordinary helpful healthy body cells do their jobs then die off and are replaced. Cancer cells have mutated so they don't know it's time for them to die. They're so biologically brain dead, they don't even know they're damaging the body they infest from the word Go.

The idea of something mindless and destructive and horrendously hard to kill growing in you and taking over your system is inherently creepy. No wonder people have traditionally feared cancer and not wanted to mention its name. You don't want it to be true, and at the same time, you don't dare ignore it, unless you want your innards to be the physiological equivalent of those popular zombie-apocalypse films.

We are told on Very Good Authority (Wikipedia, right?) that the only way to destroy a zombie is by going after its brains before it goes after yours. Fighting cancer, we have a few more weapons, which is good, because this battle is real.

And I, tomorrow I'm engaging in front number two in my own zombie wars. We had the cutting-out campaign in late April; in the morning we begin the chemical warfare. I expect to be a bit battered before it's over this September: you have to expect to take a few hits when you're combatting the Undead. But fight I shall, and by God and St. George*, I expect to win.
*You'd think I'd invoke St. David, wouldn't you, if I'm going to invoke a saint at all. But St. David isn't known for his military prowess, and St. George is. Besides (should my fellow-Reformed object), I'm being more literary than religious. 'k?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


Raining, raining, raining, raining, raining . . .

And me reminding myself that my first summer in this region, 2003, was very rainy, as was 2004, and, I think, 2006, and so on, and so on.

This is not apocalyptic. This is southwestern Pennsylvania normal.

So buck up, girl, and do something useful.

Early this afternoon I called another nearby car repair shop at a venture and made an appointment to bring my car over at 2:00 PM. They were willing to put on the alternator belt I bought, though it wasn't their usual policy. And would've done it this afternoon. But the mechanic told me there was two belts involved, and the alternator belt is the one on the inside. Since it's so hard to get at them in the PT Cruiser, it'd make much more sense for me also to buy the other one, that goes to the air conditioner, the idler, the generator, and so on, and get it replaced at the same time. And come back Friday to get them installed.

He didn't think I was in danger of the alternator belt breaking, unless it got caught on a pulley. So I can afford to run some errands in the meantime.

The second belt, which I ordered this afternoon, is in at the AutoZone. I'll pick it up tomorrow.

Did some online research on Asperger's Syndrome. Especially wondering about the subject of AS and moral responsibility. Best perspective on that comes from people who have Asperger's themselves.

I'm reminded that as I teach, I have to keep in mind not all misbehaving students do so because they're deliberately being obnoxious. And not all kids with autism disorders or learning disabilities have been diagnosed.

An alarming thought: What if the reason why my Presbytery won't let me go for another solo pastorate is because they think I have some social development or behavioral disability, and they're too scared to tell me so? And that "You did nothing wrong" means "You just couldn't help it?" Whatever "it" was?

No, I don't think I do have that sort of inborn disabiity. But it wouldn't surprise me if they thought so, the way the PC(USA) seems unable to operate in terms of sin, repentance, and forgiveness any more.

What else? Made a cake out of canned pears and their syrup emulsified in the blender. No recipe. Toothpick in the center came out clean after 45 minutes, and the edges had pulled away from the side of the pan. Still, it's mushy and pudding-like. Underbaked, or just the nature of the formula?

Rain, torrential and streaming, from a yellow-gray sky. Then a steady drip, drip, drip from the surfeited gutters. Darkness falls.

I need to go work on stripping the stairs to the third floor.

The pear cake needs more baking.

Wonder if the pan needs regreased.

It's still raining.



Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Too Much Drama

A rant, with a moral in the tail:

Got a call early this afternoon from the mechanic's, saying my car was done and I could come get it.

I've known since late Saturday afternoon that my neighbor was right, the front brake rotors needed replaced. And since I pulled the codes off the car myself on Thursday, I knew that the check engine light was on because of something wrong with the knock sensor and because the car was misfiring on all cylinders. Yesterday, the mechanic called and said he'd located a Technical Service Bulletin from Chrysler describing this problem and recommending tackling it by replacing the sparkplugs and wires and installing (reflashing) an update onto the engine computer. This turned out to work, and now the car was fixed.

I'd picked this local garage-- I'll call them O'Brien's*-- over the dealership because the latter is several miles up the Interstate and I was nervous about driving the Little Red Dragon far and fast with an undetermined misfiring problem. True, last time I dealt with this mechanic, he'd expressed some odd and alarming opinions on the moral wrongness of customers bringing in parts for him to install, on the principle that to deprive an auto serviceman of the markup was to take food out of his children's mouths. He thought the same about shade tree mechanics who fix friends' cars very cheaply or for free: not that it might not be wise in terms of getting a good repair, but that it was actual theft from the professionals. But this time there was no question of bringing in pre-purchased parts or letting an amateur have a go at it; I needed a shop that had Chrysler diagnostic equipment and didn't require too much driving to get to, and O'Brien's fit the bill.

So I walked over to pick up my car. As I wrote out the check to pay the bill, I asked Mr. O'Brien some questions about what had been done so I understood it. Everything seemed to be amicable and informative. One thing I inquired about just before I went was, should I expect anything different about the way my PT drove at first, since I'd read that a computer reflash could necessitate its needing to "relearn" some things about how you drive and all. He told me it might be a little rough on idle for a bit, or maybe stall out when I stopped at intersections. But it'd get over that soon.

Good, that's the kind of information I needed. I took my keys and my paperwork and went out and got into my little red car. No check engine light on, great! but it was making a high-pitched jingling sort of noise!

What is this? I know it wasn't doing it when I brought it in. Was this part of the computer's relearning things? I nearly reparked it and went back into the shop to ask, but thought well, maybe it was.

I had to go by the Post Office to get stamps, and by the time I got over there I decided I had to find out. The noise could be heard on idle or while driving, and it wasn't going away. I got out my cell phone and called.

Mr. O'Brien was put on, and when I comfirmed that yes, it sounded like crickets, he said, "That's probably a belt."

"Is that part of the computer relearning things? It wasn't doing it before."

No, he said, it wouldn't have anything to do with reprogramming the computer, and I should bring it back and he could take a look at it.

So I did. By the time I got there, it wasn't jingling at idle anymore (maybe because there had been slightly-rough idle, which now had settled out), but when I revved the engine, there it was. He located the problem belt for me (found out a little later it's the one for the alternator), and that's when things got very bizarre.

I can't guarantee the chronology of the conversation, and maybe it doesn't matter. But Mr. O'Brien proceeded to inform me that he'd been very offended when I'd told him that "It wasn't doing it before," because that was as much as to accuse him of having caused the belt noise himself. That it probably was doing it before, I just hadn't noticed, and now I was noticing only because he'd worked on it. That when he used to work for a dealership, customers would bring cars back with issues like this and they'd put a new belt in for free, but he couldn't afford to lose that kind of money on things that most likely had been going on before anyway; indeed, he said, he'd noticed the noise but I hadn't mentioned it for repair, so far be it from him to run up my bill by being like the dealerships and suggesting it be replaced! And, he said, he has Asperger's Syndrome so he's very precise and does everything in a very set, determined way and now I was bringing my car back and implying that he'd done something wrong by-- by what, I'm not quite sure. Close as I could tell, he thought I was accusing him of some incompetence that made the belt suddenly start to jingle and chirp.

All through this, I'm in conciliation mode, telling him no, not at all, it's just that it was new to me and that I wanted to make sure all was well with my car before I got it too far away. I tried to adduce an example of a time when something unrelated did go wrong with a car just after I'd picked it up from the repair shop, thinking to say, "Hey, it happens, that time I was glad I brought the car back, I learned from that experience, so now I'm doing the same."

He wouldn't hear it. "That makes as much sense," Mr. O'Brien said, "as me saying I had a bad experience at the dentist when I was five years old and now I won't go to the dentist." I could not get him off his idee fixe that by noticing the belt noise I was somehow insulting or condemning him and his work. And once he mentioned his Asperger's, I went into pastoral care mode. Let's be understanding and gentle and all the rest of it.

It did no good. He kept insisting the noise had been there all along and to "prove" it, told a story of how his sister-- his own sister!-- had started hearing some noise or other right after he'd fixed her car for something, and the noise and the repair had been totally unrelated! If his own sister could do that, why then, certainly I--!

His anecdote was even less to the point than my story about my old Mazda twelve years ago in Fremont, Nebraska, but no use in mentioning that. Especially not when he was growing ever more defensively emphatic that I had deliberately insulted him by bringing the car back when he'd said it was the belt. There was nothing wrong with the belt, he said; his own car has been making noises like that for a long time, and, he was sure, so had mine!

I nearly got angry back at him as he kept on like this, imputing thoughts and motivations to me that were grossly unfair and untrue. But I remembered who I am, and I considered his Asperger's, and kept my anger down. But when he wound up by saying that he's a trained professional and he knows what he's talking about, I couldn't help it-- I said, "Well, I'm a singer, and I would notice if my car was making a high-pitched noise like that."

"You're a singer?" he said. "So am I." And he goes back into the shop and brings me a CD of country-western tunes penned and sung by his brother and himself. I haven't listened to it yet.

But back there on the street, I was so busy playing pastoral counsellor that I never got around to saying, "Never mind when the noise started, how much would it be for you to make it go away? How much just to replace the belt right now?" Maybe since he thought it was actually still good . . . He certainly never suggested that solution, he was too busy questioning my motives and assumptions.

So I took the CD in the PT and drove away. I had errands to run. The belt noise was a maddening, headache-inducing whine. At the supermarket, I decided, no, I didn't want perishables in the car until I'd dealt with this. Screw Mr. O'Brien's attitude towards customer- bought parts, I was going to the neighborhood AutoZone to do something about it.

The nice clerk there first tried to set me up with a can of belt conditioner. He even came out with me and sprayed it on.

It didn't work. The belt chirped and jingled as much as ever.

He looked more closely at it. "It could cut soon," he said. (The clerk, by his nametag and appearance, seemed Persian in origin. So it didn't surprise me that his English was a little creative.)

"You mean, break?"

"Yes. Break, cut. Especially out on the highway. It's getting worn."

Now, you could say this is just the opinion of a guy at the auto parts store. But let's say he's right. Mr. O'Brien said he didn't do anything with the belt because I hadn't mentioned it. Well, I originally booked the repair session because of the engine light only. I only mentioned the brakes because my neighbor said something to me about it later on. You mean if I hadn't said anything about the brakes, Mr. O'Brien wouldn't've fixed them, either? I'd been thinking I wouldn't go back to him because I can do without the defensiveness and the drama, but if he's going to use his Asperger's as an excuse to overlook unsafe situations, I don't want to go anywhere near his shop again.

I bought a replacement belt. The auto parts guy said it would be easy to put on, pointed out how under the hood, and even printed me out a diagram on how to do it. He said the area repair shops get their parts from them anyway, so it'd save me time if I had it already. And if the shop preferred to get it themselves, I can bring it back. Sounds fair to me.

Then I called another repair shop in town. They didn't seem to mind me bringing the belt, but they couldn't get to it till Friday. Friday! I've got places I have to get to! Maybe I know some guy that'll put it on for me?

After that, more errands (no highway driving). Noise still there, drilling into my brain. And the feeling of depression, weighing into my soul. Damn! a week later, and my car still isn't fixed, I'm having to spend more money on it, and here I can't insist on sensible treatment from the repair shop because the owner has an autism spectrum disorder? Why don't I just start whining about having cancer? (Oh, yeah. Because I don't want to go on the assumption that I still "have" cancer-- the chemo is only for "just in case"). Or maybe I can justify being a pain in the ass because I'm going in for chemo this next Monday? Does having Asperger's absolve a person from trying to see something from another's point of view, especially when the one who has it is aware of his condition? I hated being falsely accused! I hate being broke! I hate that my hair won't lie right and looks awful all the time! I got more and more depressed and had to make a special effort to smile and be kind to the people I encountered as I finished my shopping.

Getting home and making a meal of lots of fresh fruit and tons of (homegrown) lettuce elevated my mood. But now that I've had my rant, I have to remember that defensiveness is not pretty or productive, no matter what causes it. I have to buck up and remember that in the weeks to come, my feeling pleh from chemo will give me no license to inflict my discomfort on other people. It's not their fault I'm fighting cancer. May I refrain from doing drama unto others, as I would not have them do drama unto me.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Good to Go-- Mostly

Today's the six-week anniversary of my ovarian tumor and a lot of other things removal surgery. And yesterday, I had my appointment with my local gynecologist, Dr. P, to clear me for full activity.

And yes, I am cleared for whatever I want or need to take in hand. He said, "Everything inside is healed up by now." I mentioned how I had "been good" and given up on, say, opening stuck windows because I felt my abdominal muscles pull. "If you don't push past that," he said, "you'll never get any stronger." Good, that means I may and can and should go on with it. How much exertion is too much? Let's put it this way: As in ordinary exercise, I'm to ignore those who tell you to "go for the burn." Otherwise, let the garden digging begin!

And guess what? I wasn't crazy or deluded when I thought the ovary with the mass was the righthand one. Dr. P, going by the sonogram, thought so, too. Apparently, there's things you can tell from those images and things you can't.

I asked him if he was looking for some uterine problem when he clapped me in for that ultrasound. Yes, he was, and I picked up that he was more shocked than I was when the ovarian mass was revealed. I, after all, had been worrying about ovarian cancer before I even booked my examination by him in mid-February. I got my cancer anger and fear over with beforehand (thanks to the answered prayers of many). I mentioned this to Dr. P, and he said, "Yes. I see. And once you knew the mass was there, it was a matter of dealing with it."

I thanked him for his expeditious action and vigilance. As I've commented in this blog before, the symptoms that got me in to see him turned out to have nothing to do with the ovarian cancer. It would have been so easy for him to have treated them and sent me blithely on my way, with the mass silently growing in me until it was practically too late.

My friend Frieda* gave me a ride to this appointment, then had to return to work. She offered to excuse herself and come take me home, but I celebrated my liberation by walking the two miles home. It was a nice day to walk along the bluff above the Ohio River, admiring the houses and what was growing in people's front gardens.

And shortly after I arrived home, I got my car key and when out and drove it for the first time in six weeks. Only from one side of the street to the other, so I wouldn't get ticketed when the Borough swept the other side of the street last night.

But alas! not everything is good to go. The check engine light came on on the dash and wouldn't go off! This evening I asked my next door neighbor, who's been moving the PT Cruiser back and forth each week to avoid the Borough sweeper, if he'd noticed any lights that stayed on, and he said no. He thought the rotors on the front brakes were grinding, though. And when I moved the car back tonight, I noticed it, too.

I'd really hoped to go get some garden plants tomorrow. But I see online that driving with the check engine light on could prove dangerous. So I remain effectively carless until I get can get it into the shop and fixed. And that won't be till Saturday morning.

Otherwise, it's time to get back to normal and get things done.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Confessing to a Problem, Part 2

Seems to me, if someone has a problem with one of the standard ways the Church traditionally has interpreted Scripture, he or she had better go to Scripture to define what the problem is. Just saying, "It's inconvenient for me" or "I just don't like it" won't cut it.

And when it comes to the way the Westminister Shorter Catechism expounds the Fourth Commandment, it bothers me how the Westminster Divines chose to defend their interpretation Biblically. The Catechism is written for Christians and presumeably is written with the people of the New Covenant in mind. In that case, why are the vast majority of Scripture supports taken from the Old Testament? Why cite random verses from the seventeenth chapter of the book of Jeremiah in favor of strict Sabbatarianism, when the promises appended there to such adherance clearly have to to do with the physical people of Israel. There I am told that if I keep the Sabbath as commanded, "then kings who sit on David's throne will come through the gates of this city with their officials." But the ultimate King from David's line has come, His name is Jesus Christ, and He sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty in heaven. My Sabbath keeping (or lack thereof) isn't going to cause Him to rule and reign-- He already does!

They cite Isaiah 58:13b, "If you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord's holy day honorable . . . " So why not also mention what Jesus said in Mark 2:27, about how "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." What about the wonderful verses in Hebrews about the Sabbath rest waiting for the children of God? Why are Questions 60 through 62 all about what we have to do or not do, instead of focussing on what God has done for us? "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of slavery, out of the house of bondage. Therefore . . ." Whatever happened to the Third Use of the Law, to show Christians how to live in gratitude to Jesus Christ for the salvation He has given?

Seems to me, the Christian Sabbath should be a time of refuge and renewal. It should be a time gladly to lay down the burdens of the week and enjoy freedom in the Lord. This may be why the Westminster exclusion of "recreation" bothers me so much. Isn't re-creation what the Sabbath is for?

And how can Answer 62 say that "God has allowed us six days for our own employments"? We belong to Him in Christ, don't we? Doesn't all our time belong to Him now? Are we not to glorify Him fully seven days a week? What's with this (forgive me, this is how it seems!) petulant "I let you do what you want six days a week; you better pay attention to me on the seventh!" Do we really want to reduce God to the level of a nagging wife?

On the contrary, it seems to me that the Lord's Day should be like the date night reserved by happily married spouses: a time to pay attention to and delight in one another without the distractions of work and children and bills. And that that can include such recreations as make the individual more conscious of and grateful for who the Lord is and what He has done. For me, that can mean pottering in the garden or making bread. Or getting together with friends, as I already frequently do at the OPC parsonage after morning service-- where we assuredly do not restrict our conversation to theological topics only!

Does my disquiet with this part of the Westminister Shorter Catechism mean I would throw it out and totally reject what it has to say?

No. The strictures of the WSC, legalistic as they are, address a portion of sinful human nature that is the same now as it was in the days of Moses or the days ot the Westminster divines. They were addressing evils and abuses they were confronted with in their day and applied the Word of God to the question.

But this gets us back to the whole Westminster-only question. On this past May 4th the Fighting for the Faith Internet broadcast featured a talk by Ligon Duncan on Did the Fathers Know the Gospel? Dr. Duncan's answer is yes-- partially-- at least inasmuch as the challenges of their time moved them to write in its defense. More specifically, the question asked is "Is the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ represented and set forth clearly in the writings of the Church fathers?" And the answer has to be no. For faithful as those men where as individuals, their writings inevitably assumed and thus left out those parts of the Gospel not being attacked in their time. Their writings thus are guides for the pilgrim Christian, but not the last word.

Every Christian creed and confession (with the possible exception of the Apostles" Creed) was written in response to some contemporary onslaught against the faith. As such they are of their time, and to be applied in every time, since human sin manifests itself in similar ways throughout history. But no one creed or confession can claim to have to last word in guiding us into the knowledge of what the Scripture causes us to believe and do. Not even the Westminster Standards. That would be to elevate them to the status of the Bible itself, which we must never do.

This doesn't help me in the middle run, you know. The PC(USA) for a large part pays mere lip service to any of her many creeds and confessions and may be in danger of running aground and breaking up much sooner than later. If I would choose to flee to a denomination like the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, how can I in honesty subscribe to Westminster only, knowing its limitations?

Well, I'll leave that to God and time. In the meantime, with the Westminster divines or in spite of them, I find it's good to set my mind and heart weekly to accept the gift that is God's holy Sabbath, preparing for it as I would that ideal Christmas Day. Because after all, it's first and foremost what He has done for me in His Son Jesus Christ, and only secondarily, what I do-- or don't do-- for myself or Him.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Confessing to a Problem

Traditionally, at least, my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA) is a confessional church. We have a whole book of confessions we confess: The Second Helvetic Confession, The Heidelberg Catechism, The Westminster Confession, The Declaration of Barmen, and a good handful of others. We're even looking at accepting yet another at this year's General Assembly. We claim that these are faithful guides to what the Scripture leads us to believe and do.

Other Reformed and Presbyterian denominations subscribe to only one triad of faith affirmations: The Westminster Confession, The Westminster Shorter Catechism, and The Westminster Larger Catechism, collectively known as the Westminster Standards. Westminster Standard churches charge that with all our creeds, catechisms, and confessions, we of the PC(USA) really have no standards at all. They say that having so many symbols of faith (boy, that's a good, old-fashioned theological word!), we feel we're free to pick and choose, and end up thinking and believing whatever we jolly well please. Thus the rampant degenerate liberalism (which is no true, generous liberalism at all) of our denomination.

I'm all too aware of the evils of the drift of doctrine in my part of the Presbyterian Church, and I've felt a certain admiration for those Presbyterian Churches who steadfastly adhere to Westminster. They, at least, seem to know what they believe and why they believe it.

But something's happened lately that's made me wonder if "Westminster Only" is the holy grail it's said to be . . .
The past two Sundays I've attended Morning Instruction at the Orthodox Presbyterian church where I go when I'm not filling a pulpit somewhere. The OPC is a Westminster Standards only denomination.

The class, led by the pastor, begins with memorization work. First, the children and youth recite their Bible verses. Then, the adults repeat from memory the featured questions and answers from the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

The object these past two weeks has been Questions 58 through 61, on the Fourth Commandment, on keeping the Sabbath day. This past Sunday I brought in my copy of The Book of Confessions and thought maybe it'd be cool if I could memorize one or more of these answers for recitation myself.

But then, as the others were doing their recitations, I listened to and read and reread what the Westminster divines had written. I grew very disturbed in my soul, and decided, no, at this time, at least, I could not repeat back these words. For to repeat them aloud is to affirm and accept them, and as written, I'm not sure if I can accept these words as the best and most faithful guide to the meaning of this Commandment as given in Scripture.

My biggest problem is with Question and Answer 60:

Q. 60. How is the Sabbath to be sanctified?

A. The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God's worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.

And even more with Question and Answer 61:

Q. 61. What is forbidden in the Fourth Commandment?

A. The Fourth Commandment forbiddeth the omission, or careless performance, of the duties required, and the profaning of the day by idleness, or doing that which is in itself sinful, or by unnecessary thoughts, words, or works, about our worldly employments or recreations.

And with certain parts of Question and Answer 62 (which we haven't really gotten to, but it goes with this group):

Q. 62. What are the reasons annexed to the Fourth Commandment?

A. The reasons annexed to the Fourth Commandment are: God's allowing us six days of the week for our own employments, his challenging a special propriety in the seventh, his own example, and his blessing the Sabbath Day.

Confronted with Questions 60 and 61 in particular, I found myself thinking, what a gray, straitened, and depressing thing to do to the Lord's Sabbath! I can't help but get a picture of a family of dour, legalistic Puritans sitting at home or in their pew at church doing their dire best not to do anything recreational, not to do anything "unnecessary," not to be idle but at the same time avoiding anything that smacks of human work, not to talk about anything earthly, not even to think of anything that could be construed as untheological! Good grief, how could even the most sanctified Christian find joy in the Lord under those conditions?!

I examined myself: Was this my own sin talking? There could be some of that, yes. But like Job, I can't say that my own depravity is all there is to my reluctance to accept this full weight. I have some biblical objections as well.

But I'd better save them for a further post. This is getting long.