Eularee Smith
Writer & Educator

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Snow in AugustWatchersRising SunThe Andromeda StrainThe ShiningThe Hunt for Red October

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Powdered Bums

As a cancer survivor, every article, newscast, social media post, or rumor perks your curiosity. I try to focus on the positive research, survival rates and new treatment protocols, but inevitably one crazy development jumps into the mix. 

TV ads are blaring out the news that baby powder has a direct link to ovarian cancer. Since I have been there, still doing that and have the T-shirt, this would, of course, get my attention. My daughters are questioning my life long practice of using baby powder since my diagnosis, and knowing that it is the only source of personal hygiene in my bathroom since I was a teenager. I am highly allergic to deodorants, perfumes, lotions, and most fragrant soaps and girly adornments. Baby powder has been the one staple that I have been able to use without fear of side effects. 

Rather than panic, especially since these ads seem to favor litigators, not survivors, I decided to do my due diligence and research the allegations. There is little evidence to support the theory that the use of baby powder or talc is cause for ovarian cancer. Moving on, I spoke to my oncologist, Dr. Charles Anderson, who is also the head of a study on the effects of Keytruda on ovarian cancer. His thoughts were interesting.

Apparently, the theory of talc powder causing cancer is one of the first things Dr. Anderson said they are taught in medical school. The theory has existed for decades, but there is no evidential science or research to support the theory. The reason it has become such news now, is because litigation has made it ripe for the picking. If there were supportive evidence, such as in the case of cigarettes and lung cancer, talc powder would have been removed from products or certainly have warning labels. We know cigarettes can lead to lung cancer, and yet we still sell them. Alcohol is linked to liver disease, and yet we still sell it. It is not surprising that baby powder has been around, but that there is no scientific evidence to prove its harmful nature, seems curious.

Here is my theory. And please, remember this is only the theory of a lay person. I, too, have no science to back up my thoughts on the subject. I am not discounting anyone's experience. That being said, babies have been doused with talc powder for generations. Johnson & Johnson have been around for decades and are the leaders in baby and family products. Sure, they could be hiding evidence that talc powder is harmful to protect their company brand. The real question is why? Could they produce a baby powder without talc? Yes, and they do. Could generations of babies be at risk? Why is there not an epidemic of powdered bums in oncologists offices around the world? Why wouldn't these doctors raise a red flag?

Use common sense. If you are concerned, stop using baby powder. Make your own. My grandmother used corn starch. I don't advocate turning a blind eye. But, I honestly believe that cancer is a crap shoot. We are all vulnerable. From our environment to our food, plastics to treated wood, solvents, household cleaners...the list goes on and on. I have known people who never smoked a day in their life getting lung cancer. I have known people who smoke like chimneys all their lives and never get cancer. What I do know is, if you live a healthy life, eat properly, exercise, you will have the right stuff to fight should cancer come calling.

Life is not a spectator sport. Do your homework, and don't feed the monster. Love those around you. Take care of the business of living each day to the fullest. Enjoy the small things, because in the end, they are the most precious. Pack your bag with laughter, blessings and FUN! Let the rest of it go. 

Just my two cents, from the chemo chair.


It's A Bird. It's A Plane! It's Social MEDIA!

Sweet mother of mercy! All I have done for the past few days is immerse myself in the den of social media. From Facebook to Twitter, and now Instagram and Snap Chat, not to mention the online revolution of subscription software and data management. I need a week of decompression in my garden, where the only buzz I hear is from the bumblebees.

These necessary tools of evil have driven me to the heights of excitement with the challenge of something new, to the depths of despair on the learning curve from hell. The only question that remains is WHY??? The Univeristy of Oregon School of Journalism spent the last couple of months putting together social media projects for the non-profit Upstart Crow. I am the Executive Director there, and as chief cook and bottle washer, it is my job to use these projects to promote our work.

The projects have been downloaded into Dropbox (an online filing system/depository and yet another password to remember) so we can use them in our strategic social media content calendar. My daughter, Jala is the CEO of Embark Creative and social media guru. She is spearheading this massive launch of radicalness, promising waves of brand awareness and buzz feed for our upcoming show School of Rock. Ideas are flying everywhere between her, my Creative Director, Heidi, and myself. What if we did this? How would we do that? What is a geo tag? Do we need Instagram? How do we encourage Snap Chat? We need to update photos and videos on our only one year out of the box web site ASAP.

The one thing that frees me as well as freaks me, is the fast pace of all this. Snooze you lose is definitely the correct mantra for Social Media. You have to be on it and either moving with the tide or creating your own tsunami to stay ahead of the game. I have no skill or desire to learn all the social media jargon. The trunkcated verbage, the acronyms, the misplaced, misused and certainly absense of grammar is appalling and frankly impossible for me. It is like going against everything you have been taught since Kindergarten! It is engrained in my writers soul to not speak in forked tongue and yet, everywhere you turn the language I was brought up to revere and respect, let alone celebrate in written form, has been abolished for the faster pace of the social media verbage. Good news or bad news, I have no opinion. Language at its worst is still our human form of communication. If we can no longer communicate because of our resistance to its evolution, then what have we left as writers, or even as a society?

All leading to the excitement of learning new things. It is a challenge to determine a 140 character tweet that both communicates and engages an audience. To fill a social media calendar with content that will resonate with your Facebook and Twitter followers. To use that content to increase awareness of your brand while providing education and entertainment. To choose images that excite and draw audiences to your web site, or your event and have them at the ready for that quick draw McGraw tweet.

Don’t get me started on Instagram. I do not understood exactly how that plays into the big picture. Apparently, according to Jala, unless we use it regularly and with purpose, we are wasting time on launching that social media pillar (again with the jargon!) Snap Chat (what???) I don’t even know where to begin with that app. It is instaneous and not a sharable platform. So whoever sees it, sees it in an instant and then it is gone. It is really a young person’s game and by that, I mean, even Jala feels out of the mix. We are talking teens, although Heidi tells me it is being used by the Broadway Theatre crowds for show promotions. So the challenge is to get the cast members to Snap Chat a series of backstage scenes from rehearsals at School of Rock, contradicting our teaching policy of NO CELL PHONES! My suggestion at the Summit of Social Media yesterday (which consisted of Jala, Heidi and myself on Skype) was to provide a 10 minute time during rehearsal break and say ready, set, Snap Chat!

Frankly, this old fool is quickly finding she doesn’t want to be on this learning curve monster and her garden is speaking much louder than 140 characters!


What Is My Mother Doing in My Mirror?

I remember, as a child, thinking my grandmother was really old. To a six year old, 50 is OLD! Working at a youth performing arts center, I am surrounded by children. I was admiring a little one dancing in the lobby one day. Her remark to me, "too bad you are too old to dance". What? As Art Linkletter used to say "Kids say the darndest things."

But she was right. Through her eyes, I was indeed too old to dance. She knew nothing about the pain in my knees. Her perspective was that of a six year old. Here I am in my 60's and realizing I don't recognize the woman in the mirror anymore. It's not so much that I look like my mother, as it doesn't look like me.

How did that happen? Sure, I can moan and groan about my mastecotomy, chemo, radiation, KIDS, ovarian cancer, chemo (again), hysterectomy, but the truth is, I am living the new normal. The sixty year old normal, and frankly, I've never been here before, so what do I know?

My 87 year old mother told me that she doesn't remember a day without aches and pains. Since my last round of cancer, I can say that about the past two years. I am just now starting to separate what is age related and what is cancer related. In either case, there may be an old lady wearing my clothes, but she certainly is not looking through my eyes.

I am the same woman who went to college, partied all night (I hope my kids aren't reading this), married young, had 3 kids, went backpacking, camping, all night road trips and would never have let a speck of dust hit the floor before I mopped it up. I worked in the garden from dawn until dusk, even in the driving rain. I washed the car every week and meticulously cleaned every square inch. Unfortunately, these things now take me longer to do and sometimes just don't get done.

I struggle with the picture on the website and what I look like now after the ravages of cancer. Which one is me? Can they both be me? If so, why don't I recognize myself when I look in the mirror?

Who am I? I don't look the same. I don't feel the same. I don't feel old, but mirrors don't lie. I had a wonderful discussion with my six year old granddaughter. She was trying on bathing suits and I found a dress I liked. As we are sharing the dressing room, she says one of the suits doesn't fit right, but the sparkly one was perfect. I tried on the dress and said it wasn't me and you could see all my scars. I put the dress back.

Driving home, she asked me if the reason I didn't get the dress was because I didn't want people to see all my scars. I thought for a moment, and told her no, it was because I didn't feel good in the dress. It wasn't me. I asked her about how she felt in the one bathing suit that didn't fit her right and the sparkly bathing suit she did like. She smiled and said yes, that was how she felt. The sparkly suit made her feel pretty and fancy. 

I have since found the right dress. I need to stop wearing clothes that make me feel uncomfortable, even though they are what I think I should be wearing. I have to create a new style that fits me now, bad knees, scars and all. So when I look in the mirror, I see a beautiful woman through my eyes and my mother smiling proudly in the background. Welcome to my new normal!


It's Hell To Get Old At Any Age

As we age, we find more things go wrong, than right. I don't necessarily think this is true just for us aging boomers, though. I remember teary moments with my own children when they found out Santa's real name, or how the tooth fairy was funded. From the moment we are born, aging brings its own set of problems to bear.

My mother in law, Kathryn, turned 95 this month. An impressive accomplishment in and of itself, but when you add the fact that she is on no meds, has no particular ailments and her new digs are a definite upgrade from independent living to assisted living, you might be under the impression that life is good. In a perfect world, you would be right. In her world, not so much.

A phone conversation with my boomer friends usually reveals the aggravation of not being able to do the things we used to do so easily. Some are on oxygen, others have back problems, a few of us with cancer or things we can't eat, or how much weight we've gained or lost. Taking care of aging parents, grandkids, the price of this or that. The latter being the boomer variation on walking 10 miles in the snow, barefoot and uphill. The music, the clothes, the hair, all reminiscent of our younger years and yet the echo from the past doesn't seem to resonate quite the same.

Let's face it. It is hell to get old. From our first steps we are walking away from being young and eagerly running toward adulthood, like it was the golden goose. Truth is every age has its own hell. Getting through the terrible twos is not only tough on parents, but imagine the frustration of the two year old. Don't even get started on adolescence. Does anyone every say, I wish I was 13 again? Our teen years are a mix of fear and loathing. Our 20's, we are suddenly expected to think and act like adults with only hindsight of the fear and loathing years to guide us. 

There are precious few moments when life is actually good in and of itself. Unfortunately, it doesn't stand still and we are off to fend the demons of the next aging process. Whether it be arthritis, back injuries, disease, death of a parent, war, is filled with growing pains. 

At 95, if you ask Kathryn, if she is happy with her life, she will tell you no. Ask some teenagers the same question and the answer will most likely be the same. It is hard to pick out the good sometimes from the overwhelming bad news we seem to get everyday. But what if getting old were a state of mind, rather than body?

What if we looked at getting old as a once in a life time opportunity? What happens if today is the one and only time we have to experience? Would that make aging seem all together different? My mother in law says she wishes she could ride a bike again. Would she have appreciated riding a bike more if she knew it would have been the last time she experienced that feeling? I think so. If we spend each day celebrating what an opportunity it was to see, hear, smell, run, walk, ride, drive, laugh, cry, feel, perhaps aging would then be an everyday celebration. Instead of focusing on a new ache or pain, a fight with our kids, road rage, disappointment, frustration over what was lost or not as we expected, maybe we can find ways to embrace the age we are in.

When my kids were young, I always asked them what was the best part of their day, followed by what was the worst part. I ask my grandkids the same questions. Most of the time, they quickly tell me of something exciting that happened. The worst part? The answer is usually "it hasn't happened yet".

Getting old may be hell, but the worst hasn't happened yet. So let's celebrate the best part of the day!


Happy Birthday,Dad!

Today should be National Hamburger Day. Hamburgers are, as my Dad would say, the perfect food. Every Saturday for as long as I lived at home, we had hamburgers for dinner. The day was sacrosanct with beef patties, tomatoes, onions, lettuce and pickles, albeit not on a sesame seed bun. We would barbecue, grill, or fry burgers with or without cheese as the mood or the refrigerator dictated. But Saturday was the one day of the week, when Dad chose the entree.

Dad, William J. Duncan, passed away four years and five months ago. Not a day goes by that I don't shout out a good morning, or seek his wisdom or just cry on his heavenly shoulder. That's how it is supposed to be. Our loved ones are merely gone from sight, but never from our souls. They are part of who we are and hopefully the better part. I am a writer, because of my Dad. He was a reporter, coining the phrase the Underwood Man, because he loved his Underwood typewriter and cursed the computers that followed.

As a child, I was fascinated by the idea that what he wrote was dropped off by the paper boy at hundreds of households every morning. I began writing my own newspaper and would deliver it to his car in the morning before breakfast. He would chat about what had happened in the Duncan News with my Mom, as if it were the only newspaper in town worth reading.

I wrote a monthly column for a regional and local newspaper for many years. Before sending to my editor, I would have him review it. Same with every magazine article, feature story or blog post. He died on a Friday and I was on deadline for the following Wednesday. He never read that column. It took me days to hit send. It wasn't so much his approval I needed, as it was just our thing.

So today, I join my brother, Jack, for a burger lunch. We will top it off with some vanilla ice cream, also his favorite. I am passing out zwieback toast, which I made for him every year on his birthday. I hope that all those that taste it, will celebrate a man with simple tastes, an incredible wit, a heart as big as the ocean and a smile that would charm the birds from the trees. A Marine until the day he died. Semper Fi!

Happy Birthday, Dad! 

For further information, click here for the life and times of Bill Duncan, a storyteller extraordinaire.