Eularee Smith
Writer & Educator

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Snow in AugustWatchersRising SunThe Andromeda StrainThe ShiningThe Hunt for Red October

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60 times better than before

As a kid, I remember wanting to make my own decisions. Simple ones, such as when I eat, what I eat and how I eat it. How can a cookie spoil my dinner? Why does it matter if I eat it now or later? Everything was a waiting game and I didn't like the rules. 

Wait until you're fourteen to babysit. Wait until you're sixteen to drive. Wait until you are eighteen to become an adult and twenty one before you can vote, drink or marry (consider this was the 60's). It seemed at every turn adulthood was just out of reach and the grass was definitely greener.

Why are we now waiting to find the fountain of youth in a jar of wrinkle cream? Why not tap into the waters that still bubble inside us? Eat the cookie! Now we have the wisdom to know that once in a while, it's okay. Play with your friends. Recently, my lifelong friends came to visit to take care of me after a chemo treatment. They arrived with mopheads to celebrate my balding head. 

Lick the bowl. Build a sand castle. Run through the sprinklers. Youth is about the thrill of a moment without borders or rules. We are the same people who walked barefoot in the mud or splashed our new shoes in every puddle only 60 times (or 70 or 80 or even 90) times better, because we do know better. Doing it with friends, well, isn't that what being a kid is all about?

You are only as young as you feel, if you act as young as you feel. 


Hair, Hair, Long Beautiful Hair

As a child of the sixties, hair was the cause of many a furor with parents, authorities and the society's Leave it to Beaver attitudes. In other words, men should have crew cuts and women should have boufant hair-dos. Long hair meant you were a hippie or a criminal, and the two were not mutually exclusive.

That was then and as I often tell young people, we paved the way the way for them to grow their hair anyway they like, and apparently that now means on their face, too.

Hair. Why is it so important to us? As I face the daily hair loss from chemo, I find the issue to be quite emotional. Family and friends who have faced cancer have all had a repeating refrain. Losing their hair was the hardest part of the treatment. Despite days, upon weeks, upon months of feeling sick, overwhelming fatigue, loss of appetite, not to mention the courage to face the next treatment, the majority of survivors gave hair loss as their number one misery. 

I have to admit, that at first, it was a quandry. I wasn't sure if I should shave it off after the first treatment, or wait until it was a problem. I opted for baby steps. I had it cut short, a pixie cut. Since I had been sporting an A line shoulder length cut, this seemed like a way to cut down on the clean-up and prepare me for the inevitable. Still there was that lingering hope that I wouldn't require a shave and I was convinced I wouldn't wear a wig.

The hair continued to fall and I began to wear scarves to at least keep the shedding experience my own, rather than seeing it at work, or while cooking and eating. Showering was a daily emotional experience. You would walk into the shower and exit with a handful of hair from the drain. My good friend jokingly said she would tell me to shave when I got to the comb over stage. Still I procrastinated. 

Then one sleepless night, I sat up and realized I was not going to shave it. My dilemma was based on feeling like I had no choice. That cancer had won this round. It would take me hostage for 6 months and then another 6 months of waiting for the hair to grow back. At that "aha" moment, I knew what to do. I went online and found a web site that carried hats for cancer hair loss. The web site Hats, scarves and more had dozens of hats that were stylish, beautiful and FIT! I ordered four.

Within a few days, the package arrived. Inside, my order was carefully wrapped in tissue and a beautiful, personal note was attached to the ribbon. 

I have worn the hats with confidence and received many compliments along with the question, why didn't I just shave my head. The answer is simple. I wanted to see what cancer did to me everyday. To stare in the mirror and remind myself, it's only hair. I will win this battle. I will win this war, with or without hair. Today, I look like a Minion and as soon as I find a pair of blue overalls, I will post my new look. Cancer 0. Eularee 1!



The Relativity of Time

No, this will not be a dissertation worthy of The Big Bang Theory, or a thesis for a PhD from Harvard. Instead it is an insightful look into the way we view time in our daily lives depending on our age, our personal situation and the 24 hours which form our parameters.

Years ago, my Dad had heart surgery. He would stare out the window, reciting the mantra one o'clock becomes two o'clock, two o'clock becomes 3 o'clock. This continued as he rattled through the hours of the day. My Dad was an optimist, a tough Marine that did not have the word "quit" in his vocabulary. To hear this daily chant, meant he must be depressed, a phenmonen we were unfamiliar with in our household. He vehemently protested that he was not depressed whenever we broached the subject and as he recovered it eventually became a moot point, although it continues as a family joke.

Two months ago, I underwent surgery for ovarian cancer. Being a carbon copy of my Dad, as my Mom repeatedly informs me, I thought I would bounce back within a couple of weeks, only to find the recovery was much longer and more arduous than my optimistic predictions. I began to realize what my Dad's mantra really meant and became focused on the impact of the relativity of time in our lives. Each task I undertook during my recovery seemed to take 10 times longer. The clock moved at an incredibly slow pace, as if weighted down by my own lack of energy. Yet, those around me continued in their daily activities unaffected by this phenomenon of the expansion of time within the same 24 hour period. 

I thought about my own childhood and how summer seemed endless and how Christmas Eve lasted an eternity. Chores took forever to accomplish, while bedtime always arrived too quickly. High school was the first noticeable change in that timeline. It seemed to pass faster, despite never wanting to leave my friends and alma mater. My childhood became adulthood and time sped up as the years went by. Before I knew it, hours of walking the floor with my newborn, became watching them walk down the aisle to receive their diplomas, get married or walking their own newborns. All within the same 24 hour daily countdown.

As my strength returned, the days grew shorter. Now in chemo, there are long days and short days, yet all the days have only 24 hours. To my young grandchildren, it is taking forever for Grammy to be well again, so we can do the things we used to do. To my co-workers, they are shocked to see me back to work and how much better I look each day. Though, I am not back to my typical 10-12 hour days, the 6 hours seem just as long. 

I continue to marvel at the passage of time, whether it is slow or moving at light speed. I have only to look back at pictures of my children, my 20 year old grandsons, and even myself a year ago, to realize that despite our best effort we are not able to really change the passage of time. We are merely travelers within those 24 hours, and for some of us the passage is longer than others. Therefore, my conclusion is that it is important to revel in each hour, every minute and the seconds for which we find ourselves at any tick on the clock. As my grandmother used to say, "this too, shall pass", and we will find ourselves on the speeding train of time once again. 


Chickens are not just for eggs anymore

For those of you who still think eggs come from cartons in the grocery store, there is so much more to the lowly chicken than Eggs Benedict. I have raised chickens for over 30 years and everyday, I find them to be a source of comfort, joy and nonsense. 

I have 9 ladies in my backyard flock. Each of them distinctly different from the other and the term pecking order definitely applies. There are those who are higher in the order and rule the roost without the distraction of a crowing rooster. Then there are those who prefer to remain invisible, hoping only to get their fair share of the feed and are willing to wait their turn in the nesting box. The few at the bottom of the order are usually the youngest and find their strength in numbers, looking out for one another as they are shoved to the back of the line.

My coop remodel project this year has been waylaid, due to surgery and chemo, but I hired out the work to rebuild the 30 plus year old hen house and move the chickens to north side of the garden. The reason for the move was the development of a flood plain in the old location. Hip waders became necessary to feed them. I was raising chickens not pigs.

Friends tried to encourage me to let the chickens go. With all I had to deal with, this was one chore that seemed unnecessary. But when I arrived home from the hospital, there they were questioning where I had been with their bobbing heads and fluttering wings. They clucked and cooed when I came outside, huddling around me in solidarity. They followed me to the shed as I grabbed a small handful of feed to scatter for them. "She's home," they chirped in unison and there was a gaggle of twitter and cheep noises to welcome me.

The new coop was built to my needs and is much easier for the grandchildren to gather the eggs. The funny thing is, I don't like eggs. Oh, I bake with them, but I do not cook them. My ladies are not here for the eggs they produce, but for entertainment, comic relief, organic wisdom and down to earth companionship. A neighbor's chicken comes over every day to visit and and hops the fence to go home at night. There is another hen, who became a rooster after three years (that's another story). There is Sadie, a Rhode Island Red, who insists on jumping into my arms every morning, and Lucy, who feels it more appropriate to pull on my pant leg. 

For a few pennies of feed a day, I am thanked with eggs to give to family, mornings filled with chatter and busy talk, and stories to tell about Mother Nature's funniest creatures. What's in your carton?




The Long Chemo Mile

It is 6 am and since I am NOT a morning person, it again seems like a cruel joke that I should be asked to rise and shine, only to sit in a chemo chair for 5 hours. Surgery is almost in the rear view mirror despite the long snaking scar that runs down my belly. Recovery was long, according to my personal timetable. My son chastised me for having patience with everyone but myself. I realized I should have been praying for paitence, instead of recovery. 

Although I walk through the valley of the shadows, I truly am not afraid. It may be because I have walked this valley before 24 years ago and am convinced the path has been worn smooth by those who came after me and the advances of medicine since. Once again, it should be patience that I ask for because all I want is to have this next phase of treatment, also in my rear view mirror. I am ready. 

Cancer has no hold on me. I have a team of angels, family, and a legion of friends that have surrounded me. I have received a barrage of cards that I have taped to my wall that I remind myself of their committment to fight beside me. Spring has sprung through my house with flowers to brighten each day of my journey. Chemo care packages from those who live away have arrived in the last few days, filled with goodies to tempt my appetite, ease my tired body and books to feed my mind and fill my time in the chair. Yesterday, a Nutirbullet arrived at my door with a recipe for a high powered antioxidant juice. I will come home to a clean house and a hot meal. My children are escorting me to the valley, and friends will bring coffee and treats while I look out to the beautiful Oregon forests that are outside the chemo wing. 

My bag is packed with good books, Netflix ready to stream on my ipad and I have treated myself to a year of This baseball fanatic will be able to watch any and every game in the season, including Spring Training games. My goal is to be sitting in the stands next year in Arizona, with these rainy days ahead nothing but a memory. Not a bad one, but one filled with a team of people who love me and have reminded me that I have to live a VERY LONG life to repay all the kindness that I have been given. 

So bring it, Cancer. You have met your match and since so many of my team are under the age of 21, you will also be a word that is not longer a death sentence. My neice sent me a card that says it all.

FIGHTER, FIERCE, FANTASTIC   I've got a whole different "F" word for cancer!