Eularee Smith
Writer & Educator

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Snow in AugustWatchersRising SunThe Andromeda StrainThe ShiningThe Hunt for Red October

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Vanity, thy name is mine

I have never thought of myself as vain. I am not much of a clotheshorse, as my mother or mother in law will tell you. A particular coat comes to mind, when I was about 14 years old. It was black and white, hood and zipper front. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, but my mother thought it was hideous. She told me if she bought I would have to wear it, no take backs. I wore it everywhere! I wear what I like, style and fashion be damned.

I think of myself as a tomboy. I live in my jeans. I would rather be outside than inside. Getting dirty was always half the fun of anything I did, whether it was on the baseball field or in the garden. Dolls were never my thing. Never cared much for jewelry and it was a rare occasion you would find me in a pair of high heels. But here I am feeling like not only has my body betrayed me, but my sense of who I am seems to be deeply tied to some sort of feminine mystique that has me frustrated, sad and self conscious about the way I look.

Cancer has robbed me of my female identity. The first go around was twenty five years ago with a mastectomy. I have always been slender and wore form fitting clothes. Wearing something loose or baggy made me look like a starved waif. After the mastectomy, it was years of wearing maternity tops to keep clothes from touching the scars. The pain of wearing fitted clothes was unbearable. I was 39 and struggled with the loss, the treatment and recovery, coping with what I thought was a muster of grace and dignity. I was grateful for my life, but like many women, the loss of my breast was a grieving process that both surprised me and horrified me. My husband was very supportive. It was never about him. It was about me. I had never considered that my body was beautiful or even attractive for that matter and yet, now, it was difficult to reconcile this new shape as my own.

Fast forward to ovarian cancer. The mass was so great that it impacted almost every organ in my lower quadrant. The surgeon not only had to perform a hysterectomy, but removed part of the colon. I am cut open from stem to stern and although I had no illusions of wearing a bikini again, the length of the scar is such that wearing jeans is restrictive and painful. Again, I find myself robbed not only of the last of my feminine parts, but I can no longer wear any of my clothes. An identity I have had for over 50 years. I hated being in dresses or skirts. Too girly and certainly not me. Yet, I am packing all my jeans and button pants, and heading to the Goodwill.

Now most women, would be thrilled to get a new wardrobe. I see it as yet another loss to recover from and a challenge to make friends with my new body shape. My doctor recommended a book called A Memoir of A Debulked Woman by Susan Gubar. She recounts her own struggle with the radical ovarian cancer surgery and the changes her bodied endured. It is downloading to my Kindle reader as I write.

It is not that I feel alone in this process but I am surprised that vanity was never a trait I thought I possessed. Yet here I am, sometimes teary, at how unhappy I am with my "new normal", as the doctor puts it. How do I begin to reconcile the picture in my mind of who I am and what I look like, with the image in the mirror? To heck with the gray hair, I am no longer slender, but square. I am wearing dresses and soft clothes (as opposed to denim and khaki). The loss of my hair with chemo was not as big an issue despite the fact I have always had long hair, but it is coming back in thick, curly and slowly. It looks like a bush on my head. So many things that make me want to hide, especially when people tell me how great I look. Are they blind? Do they not remember? Or do they see what they want to see...a survivor. A beauty that lies so deep within that no amount of clothes or hair can mask it? So deep that even I can't see it?

So here I am, about to have my 65th birthday and feeling like I am starting all over again to "find myself". Perhaps this is a gift I need to give myself. It is okay to be vain. It is right and true to feel vulnerable and self conscious. I am woman with a tomboy attitude and hopefully a little grace and dignity left to find something in my closet that I feel good in. Who needs mirrors anyway? 


Mindfulness. Is There an App for That?

This week I read another story about twins who were left in a car and died. Without pointing fingers, I must admit this tragedy is beyond my comprehension. Yet, more often than we care to admit, forgetfulness ends in a tragic circumstance that seems incredibly avoidable. Why?

It seems we are so caught up in the rush of life, that we crush ourselves with 7 minute workouts, 10,000 steps, or 10 minute meals. As childen, we were given a list of daily chores, that were somehow designed to teach us discipline and more importantly, a work ethic. If your bed was made and your room was tidy, you were on the road to having a successful day. Tricks, I suppose, to keep children from being lazy sots. An idle mind is the devil's workshop, sort of philosophy. Technology had all the promise and none of the follow through to make our lives easier and more productive. More productive has lead to an impossible demand on our time, and unfortunately our sanity.

We are more forgetful as a whole, than ever before. We used to blame it on age, but I no longer buy that theory, despite the rise in dementia and Alzheimers. These are diseases that plague the mind, but are not the type of forgetfulness that has become epidemic at earlier and earlier ages. This is not the forgetfulness that sends you back to your child's school in a panic, because they forgot their homework, or rushing to get them the lunch they left on the kitchen counter. This is adults with multiple schedules, appointments, meetings, reports and to do lists that have literally created a cascade effect in our brains erupting into momentary black outs.

It can be as simple as, did I turn the water off or the iron, or the stove. Where is my phone, my purse, or my keys? We simply don't remember the last thing we did, or wore, or said, because so much has happened in between and so much more is left to be done. We depend on our phones to remember for us with calendars, notes, contacts, in essence our life on device. The loss of that device would be a tragic circumstance that quite possibly we can not recover. Did you know that the majority of phone loss is in the toilet? Why are we taking our phones into the bathroom? Is there no place that is truly device free? Has technology so handcuffed us that even reaching for toilet paper can upset our world entirely?

Despite our best efforts to be more connected to the world, we have at the same time disconnected ourselves from the things that matter the most to us. I watch people going out for dinner or in the movies, at the ball game, and there is a phone in their hand. I am not immune, nor do I preach because I have the answer. But one thought does come to mind. Being mindful. If only for a minute a day, perhaps watching what we do, instead of watching for the next thing to do, we could nourish our minds with restful thinking. I will put my keys on the counter and my purse on the chair. I will watch my children play, rather than watch them through my phone and post to Facebook. I will commit to memory the phone number of my friend so I can call them just to say hello, how have you been. I will strap my children into the car seat knowing it is just a trip to the market, or the post office, and I will be taking them out of the seat shortly, rather than running in because I only have 15 minutes between errands. 

Instead of looking ahead, of letting our lives be scheduled so tight we don't have time to think, maybe we should put an alert in our device that says stop and smell a rose. Perhaps we need an app that goes off every few hours that reminds us to breathe, to smile, to call our mother or a friend just to say hello. Maybe it could alert us to be mindful once a day, like a Fit Bit for the brain. It's a thought and as technology progresses even faster, most likely a fleeting one.

What if just today, you were mindful? Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachussets Medical Center has demonstrated that practicing mindfulness brings improvements in both physical and psychological symptoms and creates positive changes in health attitudes and our behavior. So many practices include a meditative process or have some religious focus, but that isn't necessary to achieve results. For me, my garden is my fortress of solitude. Taking a moment to see there are flowers budding, tiny cucumbers emerging or the tangle of weeds demanding my immediate attention, is a mind and body building workout without the weekend warrior results the next day.

We choose to text and drive, rather than be aware of the car changing lanes in front of us. We check our messages, rather than talk to the person across the table from us. We plug in to tune out. Just for giggles, let's try to unplug to tune in. Like any lifestyle change, it takes time. But isn't that what technology is supposed to do? To free up our time to be, well, more mindful? Now that's how technology should work.


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!