Friday, June 10, 2016

Changes are coming for Opal’s Park in Cottage Grove

5/25/16 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

In my so-called “Golden Years,” constant change is frustrating. It seems I just get used to one iPhone, computer or television set and they change the format. I find doing business on the computer necessary but exhausting. Where are the humans for communication? And the fact that my grandsons are starting to marry is mind-boggling!

Frankly, I can handle the past better than the present. Perhaps that’s why my aging brain starts many sentences with—“I remember when…” That was my first thought when I heard of possible changes to Opal Whiteley Park. I remember when we didn’t have an Opal Whiteley Park/All-American City Square! And now we need changes?

I remember when the corner lot, where the park now stands, was home to several small shops. In fact, it was the original location of The Bookmine. I remember when the shops were torn down and a large building was designed for that space. I remember when the building permits were denied and the project stopped.

 I remember when the lot became ugly and weed-filled. It sat there with no purpose and no future. I remember when residents spontaneously brought in soil and planted apple trees to soften the landscape. It wasn’t fancy or committee generated but it provided shade and shelter and peace.

I remember when world traveler Mary Peck made Cottage Grove her home. I interviewed her just before her 90th birthday in 2004. She and her husband traveled the world and pioneered in Alaska before it was a state. She held too many executive positions to mention and could shoot a bear! Here in C.G. she threw herself wholeheartedly into projects that benefitted our community. She was a dynamo.

I remember when, near the end of her life, Mary purchased the then apple tree lot and deeded it to the city with the stipulation that it remain “an open space available at all times to the people.” That space became the Opal Whiteley Park that we have today.

I was remembering all of this history on Tuesday evening, May 17, during an open house at the Cottage Grove Armory. A city press release had called a meeting to discuss possible needed changes and improvements at our now 10-year old Opal Whiteley Park to  “sustain the park for future generations.” Yuck. More changes.

I was running a bit late and arrived at the meeting just in time to hear Marston Morgan, AIA, the park’s original architect, finish up his comments. His closing statement particularly struck home: “The park stands as a piece of sculpture by itself. It doesn’t have to have people flowing through it all the time.” Amen.

I love that image of a peaceful place. Do we always have to have perfectly orchestrated commercial spaces in the heart of a city? Why do we humans think that we have to make things bigger and better with more activity? Why can’t we just enjoy the little gems of life without making them complicated? Grumble. Grumble.

Back to the meeting. As it turned out there was no public discussion. City Planner Amanda Ferguson had put together a charrette. A forum for ideas and immediate feedback to designers. And no, I didn’t know what that meant either. It turned out to be a very clever way for a large crowd to share their thoughts. This is how it worked:

 On the walls around us there were detailed sketches of the park. i.e. the mural, planter walls, plants, walking areas, etc. Instead of everyone taking a turn and orally vetting their ideas, we were instructed to grab post-it-notes, write down our ideas and place them on the appropriate space for changes, specific concerns, wishes, etc. Evidently they are now being scrutinized and rated for importance.

The wonderful Opal Whiteley mural, the kiosk, restroom and stage building will remain the same. The plantings, walls, flagstone steps and everything else is up for that dreaded word—change. Following are just some of the suggestions the public submitted.

Change the name back to only Opal Whiteley Park
Keep stones; replace cracked ones.
Change paving to sand finished concrete
Fix the bricks only
Trim plants to better see mural
Remove the center planter
Put back the tables
No smoking in park
Open Park to alley
Remove or re-design ramp

A water feature
More native plants
Install cameras
Games: large checkers game; hopscotch, bocce, 4 square
Commercial shops
Visitor’s Center
More informative signage
An annual celebration event
Santa in the bell tower
Night lighting

A clock at the top
Reflecting pond
Light mural from above
More garbage cans
Cig butt containers
No smoking
A place to eat lunch
Hire a gardener!
A shade tree or two?
Use recycled irrigation water
Put signs up explaining tower is for fire hose
Space for Christmas tree

Volunteers: design, landscape and maintain
A friendly, welcoming, wonderful place

“Bigger fish to fry than a park.”
“Let a small town be a small town.”
“It’s not the Olive Garden!”
“Use Metal benches: they dry fast and are not good for sleeping.”
“Use as free speech area i.e. Hyde Park, London; own soap box.”
“(Street) lights are ugly; do not even resemble vintage.”
“Alley is a potential gem.”
“Open Park to businesses”

Last evening another meeting was held (after this column went to press) facilitated by David Daugherty, a landscape architect. It remains to be seen what (if any) of these changes are deemed necessary and if a grant is available to pay for them.

My husband says we need to repair and maintain.
I say…Do we need change for change’s sake?
What say you?

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Older? Brain drain is frustrating but not fatal. It just feels that way!

April 27, 2016 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

My husband’s stepmother, Mae Kaiser, was in her early 90’s when she began initiating me into the perils of getting older. This successful businesswoman outlived two husbands and married for the third time in her 80s. Until the day she died, she loved ballroom dancing, socializing and keeping up with the youngsters in the family. She was a marvel of nature and a joy to know.

She was particularly known for her prodigious memory. Also her handwritten notes. Each one was a labor of love because she suffered from severe macular degeneration in an era before the age of modern treatments. She used a large magnification lamp to help her see the thick black words she wrote on lined paper. Sometimes the words ran off the page and were unintelligible but we cherished them all. At the end of her life she was nearly blind but still writing.

It was from Mae that I started hearing such sayings, as “These are not the golden years I was expecting. They’re bronze!” Or, “You know you’re getting old when everything hurts and what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work.” And finally, with a tired sigh she would sadly whisper “My get up and go has gone and went.”

I was a young whippersnapper in my 40s when Mae came into the family. And frankly, I never gave it a thought that I, too, would one day suffer from the consequences of being “older.” Youth never does. As the saying goes, I didn’t drink, smoke, chew or go with boys that do! I thought my boundless energy would last forever because I was the queen of aerobic exercise into my late 50s.

Guess what? I got older anyway. I had gray hair in my 40s. In my 50s I started wearing make up and eyeglasses. In my 60s I developed laugh lines and wrinkles. And the day I turned 70 my brain’s retrieval system slowed down. In the words of a former 90-year old neighbor, “I had turned another corner.” That is seldom good.

 “Brain drain” aka a ‘broken memory retrieval system’ is serious business. That’s what happens when the answer to a question is on the tip of my tongue but I just can’t quite spit it out. I’ve come to believe that smart phones were invented especially for seniors like me. I still know my social security number and everyone in the family’s birthdays but don’t ask me what their addresses are!

This retrieval problem has now expanded to email quizzes that readers love to send me. Last year my retrieval level reached a new low when a relative sent me the following quiz on Mental Health Day. She said, “This is a quiz for old people who know everything!” She was either being sarcastic or she doesn’t know me very well because I failed it miserably.

So, I’m sharing this quiz with you. There are only nine questions. They are straight questions with no trick answers. But here’s a warning: if you find yourself searching your brain for an answer that is right on the tip of your tongue and it won’t come may have brain drain just like the rest of us. Good luck and no peeking at the answers first!

A Brain Drain Quiz

1. Name the one sport in which neither the spectators nor the participants know the score or the leader until the contest ends.

2. What famous North American landmark is constantly moving backward?

3 Of all vegetables, only two can live to produce on their own for several growing seasons. All other vegetables must be replanted every year. What are the only two perennial vegetables?

4. What fruit has its seeds on the outside?

5. In many liquor stores, you can buy pear brandy, with a real pear inside the bottle. The pear is whole and ripe, and the bottle is genuine; it hasn't been cut in any way. How did the pear get inside the bottle?

6. Only three words in standard English begin with the letters ' dw' and they are all common words. Name two of them.

7. There are 14 punctuation marks in English grammar. Can you name at least half of them?

8. Name the only vegetable or fruit that is never sold frozen, canned, processed, cooked, or in any other form except fresh.

9. Name 6 or more things that you can wear on
your feet beginning with the letter 'S.'

Answers To Quiz:
1. The one sport in which neither the spectators nor the participants know the score or the leader until the contest ends: Boxing.

2. North American landmark constantly moving backward: Niagara Falls. The rim is worn down about two and a half feet each year because of the millions of gallons of water that rush over it every minute.

3. Only two vegetables that can live to produce on their own for several growing seasons: Asparagus and rhubarb.

4. The fruit with its seeds on the outside: Strawberry.

5. How did the pear get inside the brandy bottle? It grew inside the bottle. The bottles are placed over pear buds when they are small, and are wired in place on the tree. The bottle is left in place for the entire growing season. When the pears are ripe, they are snipped off at the stems.

6. Three English words beginning with dw: Dwarf, dwell and dwindle...

7. Fourteen punctuation marks in English grammar: Period, comma, colon, semicolon, dash, hyphen, apostrophe, question mark, exclamation point, quotation mark, brackets, parenthesis, braces, and ellipses.

8. The only vegetable or fruit never sold frozen, canned, processed, cooked, or in any other form but fresh: Lettuce.

9. Six or more things you can wear on your feet beginning with 'S': Shoes, socks, sandals, sneakers, slippers, skis, skates, snowshoes, stockings, stilts.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Guide Dogs for the Blind bring joy and independence

Guide dog puppy in training  

3/30/16 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

I love dogs! At our house, sunshine and happiness radiate from two little red Dachshunds. They get up happy in the morning and go to bed tired at night. All day long they bring a joy into our lives that is beyond measure. They are ready to join us in almost any adventure; they alert us to danger, their tails seldom stop wagging and they offer kisses when they sense when we are sad.

Today I’m going to introduce you to an organization that brings that same companionship, joy and security to the visually impaired. Guide Dogs for the blind (GDB) was established in 1942 to provide guide dogs for veterans returning from World War II. It has no  government funding and there is no charge for services. All services, including the cost of the dog ($50,000), are funded by gifts.

Recently my friend Charlene invited me and my husband to a presentation in Eugene by this organization. Charlene has long been active in GDB but this was our first introduction to how long it takes a village to turn a puppy into a guide dog.

We learned that the mission of GDB—matching the visually impaired with the perfect puppy— is not magic. It is hard work that begins when puppies are born on their San Rafael, Calif. campus. It actually begins before the pups are born when their parents are bred for good health and temperament. The Breeding, Veterinary and Neonatal staff ensures that the pups are happy and healthy from the get-go.

Once they're born, the fun begins as volunteer puppy socializers cuddle and pamper those precious babies. Everything is exciting so they gently introduce them to their new world People, sights, sounds, dirt, grass and pavement are all waiting to be explored.

Just about the time they’re getting familiarized, they board GDB’s puppy truck to new homes all up and down the west coast where they are eagerly awaited by puppy trainers. Some pups land in Eugene but others have found loving homes from San Francisco to Bend. All trainers volunteer their time, food and toys!

At the meeting we were greeted by two adorable puppies in training. A Golden Retriever and a Golden Lab arrived in Oregon on the Puppy Truck in early Feb. to live with their volunteer puppy trainers until they’re 14-16 months old. These pups were well behaved and so cute I wanted to smuggle one home.

Their two veteran Eugene puppy trainers have trained about 13 pups between them. Here are some things you’ll need to know if you’re thinking of being a puppy raiser:
*The dogs go everywhere with them that is open to the public.
*They are taught good house and public manners.
*They practice positive re-enforcement
*Bad behavior is ignored.
*Pups are on a strict natural balance diet. No table food or treats.
*Good behavior is rewarded with “one” piece of kibble.
*A working dog wears a jacket and a Gentle Leader in public.
*No, you should not pet a working dog without permission.
*Puppies are puppies! Even though they have lots of training they can play in the yard, etc.
*Puppy raisers want confident, happy, successful dogs!

At the end of their training time here in Oregon, the two golden pups will return in the GDB puppy truck to San Rafael or the Boring, OR campus. Tears will flow but new pups will take their place. Now the formal guide dog training begins. The pups will be made comfortable and meet their new trainer who (over the next year) will teach them the specific skills needed to guide a blind person.

This is where the rubber meets the road. GDB will find out if the pups are suitable for the job. Someone said, “Dogs are like high school students. Some are ready for college and some are not. Those who do not meet the requirements needed are described as making “career changes.” Perhaps they are divas who need a more sedentary life or they might be inclined to police work. There will always be a place for them

Once the dog’s guidework training is finished, there is a celebratory graduation that the public is invited to attend. Then it is time to be paired with a human partner. Some people like quiet dogs. Others prefer those who are active and ready to go at a moment’s notice. We were told that the right personalities just click.

 Our speaker of the day was athletic, vivacious and vision impaired. She told her story with her dog (a large black Lab) at her side. She is an active young woman who began losing her vision about 12 years ago. She lived in Texas and had a high profile job. One day while she was driving she noticed that her vision was compromised. Fuzzy. And no matter what she tried, it didn’t clear up.

Her vision tested at 20/50 and deteriorated from there. Eventually she had to give up her
driver’s license and move back home to Portland where her twin sister and family live. It was hard to get around and using a cane was difficult. Life was depressing. At the Oregon Commission for the Blind she learned about the Guide Dogs for the Blind program.

She said, “I was open to anything to give me independence. I went to Boring for two weeks of training and the whole experience was amazing. It was the start of a new beginning for me.” She and her big black Lab became a great pair, walking the neighborhood, crossing Portland’s bridges and riding the bus to work. 

Then she had a near death experience. She wanted to cross a street and tried to step off the curb but her dog wouldn’t let her. Then a car whizzed by. “She over-rode me with her intelligent disobedience. She’s the smart one. She moved me from an unsafe situation to safety,” said this grateful woman.

Now the couple happily walk, work and play together 10-15,000 steps a day! If they are any example, it looks like our little Golden puppies have a happy and active life ahead of them.

         Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Cottage Grove is home sweet home

A summer day in Orgon
3/2/16 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Twenty-seven years ago on March 3, 1989, my husband and I moved from our home in California to a home in rural Oregon. We resigned from boards and committees, sold our house and business, said goodbye to our family and literally left behind everything that was familiar as we headed into uncharted territory. It was one of the best decisions that we ever made but I’m still shocked that we did it.

I’ve written about this before and I know it may sound a little dramatic to born and bred Oregonians. After all, we weren’t riding up here in an oxcart on the Oregon Trail. No, we were in heated cars, an RV with 2 dogs and a cat, behind a moving van, over the snowy Siskiyous and up Interstate 5 to a challenging fixer-upper-property. Still, for us, it was an extreme and challenging lifestyle change.

We city people were fulfilling a lifelong dream of living by a lake, smelling the fresh clean air, watching the sun rise and set, the wildlife scamper through the fields and the birds fluttering and nesting in the towering trees near our home. The fear? We didn’t know a soul in Oregon, desperately missed our children and didn’t have jobs. Anxious, sleepless nights punctured our euphoria.

The town we found had all the basics we were looking for: churches, doctors, a hospital, pharmacies, newspaper; grocery, jewelry, clothing, hardware, auto and variety stores; antique shops, covered bridges and a colorful history. It was also close to a big city—and a lake! Cottage Grove was almost too good to be true.

Of course, we had city people questions. I drove realtor Becky crazy:
Are you sure the well won’t run out of water? (No.)
Why is our lake drained in winter? (Flood control.)
Is there trash pick up out in the boondocks? (Yes.)
The neighbors live acres away. How will we get to know them? (They drive down the driveway and introduce themselves and you hold an annual C’mas cookie party.)

There were also questions we should have asked and didn’t:
What kind of weather damage can we expect from Oregon winters? (Flooding, frozen pipes, mold, falling trees and more.)
Does the electricity go out often? (Yep!)
Does it stay off very long? (Sometimes for days.)
Is it safe to leave building materials unattended? (No!)
Are there wild animals to be concerned about? (Bear, deer, cougar, deer, raccoon, deer, feral cats, deer, etc.)
When should we take the Calif. license plates off our cars? (As soon as possible!)

Our first weather reality check came while escrow was closing. The house had been a rental and the renters had vacated the premises. Something called the Siberian Express hit the region and guess what? Most of the pipes in the empty house were frozen. Of course, that led to the pipes breaking and water damage. Welcome to reality!

We dealt with all of the other unasked questions as they reared their ugly heads. Building materials were re-ordered and put under lock and key. The Calif. license plates came off immediately but other things took awhile. Twenty years into our residency we finally bought a generator to help us through power outages.

But after a quarter of a century, the sunsets are wonderfully memorable and the wildlife exciting. I am still in awe when I see a ruddy colored fox with a bushy tail run across our meadow. Bears have destroyed our neighbor’s beehives and come tumbling down the hill while we were walking the dogs. Cougars have been seen sunning on the pavement, drinking from ponds and visiting a neighbor’s dog pen. They are all an exciting reminder that we share our home with truly wild four-footed critters.

Our deer stories are legendary. We love watching them graze peacefully out in the meadow. Knowing, of course, that they are merely scoping out their nightly forage. They are voracious eaters and one year I wrote a column on the ‘Stalag 13’ fence compound that Chuck built around his vegetable garden. We have hot-wired the roses. We spray “Deer Away” on potted plants. Still they come.

Sometimes our encounters have been deadly. One year a deer was hit by a car and died outside our fence line. We called the county to have it removed. No, they couldn’t do that! If the deer was on our property…it was our responsibility. So, our neighbor came down with his front loader tractor, a deep hole was dug, the deer was picked up, dumped into the hole and given a proper burial.

Shortly after that a passing car on Reservoir Rd hit another deer. In a last-ditch adrenaline rush, it jumped our fence, ran straight for the vegetable garden and died! Again, Chuck got to bury a creature that weighed more than he does!

One morning, a large deer decided to jump over Chuck’s vintage El Camino as he drove into town. This deer misjudged and hit the left front fender, rolled over the windshield and ran away. Apparently he survived to chow down on our roses another day.

All in all, living in our lakeside home has been a joy. It has been everything we hoped for and more. Upon arrival, the neighbors were helpful and welcoming. They showed us the ropes of country living and we couldn’t have done it without them. We each found new careers, reveled in each new day and have made countless lifelong friends. As an added bonus, our grandsons got to vacation in the country every year and learn to drive on a tractor!

 It just doesn’t get any better than this. Oregon is truly home. Thank you, Cottage Grove for making our dreams come true.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Winter doldrums lead to the Internet

Baby, it's cold outside!

2//3/16 Chatterbox

Betty Kaiser

I am a true Capricorn. I get up most mornings with a mental list of what I am going to do, where I am going to go and whom I am going to see. I make lists and check off the finished projects at day’s end. I like to be busy and productive. So what changed me this year?

This winter I have been more interested in being a slug than a worker bee. None of the items on my many lists have been crossed off. Interior woodwork has not been painted. Photo albums have not been dated and organized. I did get one desk drawer cleaned out but have not tackled even one closet. I have not even been tempted to go outside and weed around the tulips that are popping up.

As a rule, I am never bored but you might say that currently, I have been lazy to the point of boredom. I’ve even been considering the pros and cons of joining social media to jolt me out of my bear like hibernation. Maybe I need some of that  “face time” everyone talks about. It seems that I’m that only one that hasn’t joined “an electronic form of communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages and other content.” Sheesh! That's a mouthful!

Frankly, this kind of communication (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) just isn’t appealing to me. I obviously stand alone in my thinking as all of my kids, grandkids and friends are currently profiled on Facebook. If they’re not texting one another, they’re posting friends, or sending messages, status updates, videos and photos via social media. In turn they receive notifications when others update their profiles. Why?

My friends tell me they do this to keep up with what their grandkids activities. My grandsons’ parents tell me the same thing. The grandsons aren’t talking. In fact, I don’t believe that I have ever seen my grandsons actually have a voice-activated telephone conversation with their friends. Why should they? They can knock out a 25-word text faster than I can find my cell phone in my purse!

Knowledgeable sources say that Facebook is the world’s most popular social media site. If I read my facts correctly, every month the site has over 900 MILLION visitors. That is mind boggling when you consider that the population of the United States is only about 320 million people (give or take a few thousand).

Still, this whole business of baring ones soul on social media doesn’t interest me. But Facebook is tempting. Everywhere I go, people are saying, “Did you see it on Facebook?” Magazine/newspaper/radio/TV ads request that you “Like us on Facebook.” It’s like a mysterious club and I’m not a part of it.

Now I may not be a joiner but I don’t like to be left out either. So I investigated the pros and cons of social networking. The pros are many and compelling: the ability to meet new people, re-acquaint with old friends and distant family members; bragging rights when something good happens and bringing awareness to social causes.

The cons are worrisome. The biggest is probably the privacy issue.  Ironically, this newspaper columnist with a blogspot can’t quite see herself sharing daily activities to friends and family that could be broadcast around the world. On the other hand, my life is pretty boring. Who would care if I shared what I had for breakfast or that a gorgeous gray squirrel is eating out of our bird feeder?

Some cite that Facebook is addicting and therefore time consuming. Others object to the advertising and everyone distains those users who are hateful and spiteful. Peeking at one page, I was appalled at the angry dialog over a difference of opinion. It’s just not my style.

Ultimately, I once again said “No” to Facebook and started looking around for a less public way to spend my time. A segment on  “Good Morning, America,” caught my eye. Perhaps you have seen their on-going episodes of  “Free Money.” i.e. “Unclaimed Money” that may be waiting for you and me to find. Now that’s interesting!

Depending on the source, it is estimated that over 90% of Americans have some sort of unclaimed funds or assets available. Every state in the Union, the District of Columbia, Canada (and more) have unclaimed funds and assets that have they are holding because the owner has forgotten them or the recipient is deceased.

Typically these funds were originally held in bank accounts, insurance companies, tax refunds, safety deposit boxes, etc. After an extended period of time, if the funds aren’t claimed, they are turned over to a government agency until the recipient can be located. Filing a claim is a free public service. The trick is finding the money.

In Oregon the Department of State Lands handles unclaimed money and property. According to the website, every year in Nov. as much as $40 million in property belonging to individuals are added to the Oregon Unclaimed Money base.

To find out if you have any money waiting you can start here at If you’re a lifelong Oregon resident try:

Every state is different in where unclaimed money is handled. So if you previously lived in Calif. unclaimed property is the responsibility of the State Controller’s Office:

Now, a warning:  Be sure that you don’t fall for a fee scam. Look for the name of the state government in the link and the search will be free of charge. And be sure to look in all states of former residence.

At the end of this day I didn’t make any new friends nor did I find any free money for the Kaiser family. I did, however, stay warm, learned something new, watched the weeds grow and finished this column. Mission accomplished. Now back to normal.

FYI: I do welcome your comments and now that I've figured out how to access them maybe we can start dialoging. I'm a little slow at this computer stuff :(

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

My Mammogram Surprise!

Jan. 7, 2016 The Chatterbox 

"Prepare the umbrella before it rains
Life is full of surprises!"
Author unknown

In addition to protection from the rain, there are many other kinds of umbrellas. And as I count my blessings going into this New Year, I would like to share with you an umbrella procedure that may have saved my life. It was a mammogram that launched me on an unexpected medical journey for the last fourteen months.

Sentinel Columnist Betty Kaiser
On November 5, 2014, I blithely zipped into our local mammography lab for my annual mammogram. I was feeling fine and never dreamed that anything was wrong. I have had one of these every year since I turned 40 with nary a problem. The machinery for this procedure is state-of-the-art and only momentarily uncomfortable. I chat with the technician, get smashed, dressed and leave.

At home I waited for the report that says: “Everything is normal. See you next year.” It didn’t happen. Instead, I received a report that said a small mass had been detected and additional evaluation was recommended. That included diagnostic mammography, spot compression films and ultrasonography.

I was shocked. Blindsided. I couldn’t believe it. One minute I was fine. The next minute I wasn’t. What had gone wrong? I’d like to tell you that my Pollyanna side was preaching “Don’t worry, you’re okay,” but it wasn’t. Deep down, I just knew that a little cell had gone haywire and I was in for a hard ride.

My husband and I were leaving town the following week and I didn’t want to go without knowing more about this small mass. Was it malignant or benign? I needed to know ASAP. As each appointment was piled on, my heart would pound and I felt light-headed. I was overwhelmed by endless information and procedures. This was really happening-to me-and it was scary.

More mammograms and ultrasounds were performed and each time I could tell by the quiet in the room that something wasn’t right. After I got dressed, the radiologist put two sets of images up to compare. The previous mammograms were clear. This time there was a small glowing spot in the tissue. Cancer? A biopsy was the next step to answer that question. Another umbrella.

I was given a tour of the room and the machine that would do the recommended stereo-tactical biopsy. Then, the machine had a time-out (break down) and the procedure was cancelled. Next I was informed that the radiologists had “a difference of opinion.” They were now recommending an ultrasound guided biopsy and the insertion of a clip in my tissue—right after another couple of mammograms.

 “Cancer” and how to treat it became the word of the day. By then my vocabulary had expanded. Pathology reports used words and phrases like “a DCIS Solid with comedo necrosis (plugged by cancer cells); intermediate grade with estrogen receptor possibility." I added more vocabulary (and tension) after I saw the surgeon! He was another umbrella.

Finally, after all the bad news, there was good news. Definitive surgical management was recommended but only a partial mastectomy. Among other things, the mass was “in situ” (confined to the breast duct) and hadn’t spread itself around. That was good. But unfortunately, even with the clip in place the small mass wasn’t easily found. Later a metal hook had to be attached to mark the spot for the surgeon to find. Ouch!

As word of my diagnosis got around, friends, neighbors and perfect strangers started calling me with their stories. That was both helpful and overwhelming. But by the time I got to the hospital I had an idea of what was going to happen from the female perspective. One of my friends told me about the search for the Sentinel Node in Nuclear Medicine in such detail that I wasn't terrified and actually knew what was going on when I got there.

Prior to that I had (again!) been squished by mammography, injected with anesthetic, squirted, the mass located and the previously mentioned guide injected for the surgeon. I will tell you that it was the most painful part of the process. Tears ran down my cheeks as a sweet nurse rubbed my back. Covered with marks and bandages I was wheeled into surgery and came home that night.

In my case, follow up treatment was a little dicey. Tissue samples revealed that although the cancer was contained, its nuclear grade was Intermediate/High. That made a recurrence more likely. A decision was made to treat it with an anti-estrogen drug and a medication to strengthen my bones.

I am happy to report that as of Dec. 18, 2015 my one-year diagnostic mammogram was clear. I’m on a five-year treatment plan like many other breast cancer survivors. The medication is tolerable but not pleasant. However, I have one year down with only four more years to go. Another umbrella. I’m a grateful woman.

Now here’s the bottom line and the reason why age appropriate women must get a mammogram every year—a mass the size of mine cannot be seen or felt. It can only be detected by mammography. And the mass is always cancer at 70 years old! Think about that. If I had waited another year or two the mass would have grown and spread. Timing is everything.

My advice to you is simple: if you are a 40, 60 or 70+  year old female, make an appointment for a mammogram! Stop procrastinating. Get your mammogram scheduled and done. Do it this year and every year. I don’t care what the so-called experts say you’re never too old for this procedure. I’m a good example that it's worth your time.

Have a happy, healthy New Year!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Shootings: Where is the light in this madness?

12/9/15 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Traditionally, December is the month of love, joy and peace. It’s the time when we happily worry and fret over how we’re going to get everything done in time for Christmas. It should not be the time when foremost in our thinking is the safety of our loved ones in their school, shopping or work place. That safety, however, is today’s concern, as inexplicable violence and mass murderers seems to be erupting all around us. The light of the season seems strangely dim.

Sometimes when I’m wallowing in the misery of this reality, I need to step back and get some perspective. While I like to see the world through rose colored glasses and believe that today’s killings and atrocities are something new and have never happened before, I would be wrong. Evil is and always has been at work amongst us.

I am old enough to remember many senseless and tragic killings in our country. I remember where I was when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Nov. 1963. My three little towhead babies were in the car with me as we drove down Inglewood Blvd., Calif. They were oblivious to the news but tears ran down my face as I wondered not “who” but “why.”

I remember the escalation of fear and frustration during the official Vietnam War era of 1969-1973. It was an ugly war and I marveled at the bravery of the war’s protestors. Then, on May 4, 1970, the unthinkable happened. The Ohio National Guard fired on unarmed protestors at Kent State, killing four and wounding nine others. Three years later the war officially ended. Where was the light?

The 1980s and 1990s were filled with dozens of illogical shootings. In 1984, in San Ysidro, Calif., an out of work security guard killed 21 and wounded 18 at a McDonald’s restaurant. In 1986, a mail carrier in Oklahoma, walked into his post office, opened fire and killed 14 co-workers before killing himself over a poor performance report.

About this time, a sort of pattern seemed to be emerging. Individuals disgruntled with their jobs or perceived treatment would heavily arm themselves and go on a killing spree. There was even a term coined for this mentality called “going postal.”

Twenty years ago, Americans were ushered into a new killing nightmare. Timothy McVeigh, an anti-government militant and his accomplice Terry Nichols introduced a new level of homeland terrorism. McVeigh set off a truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring hundreds including children. Where was the light?

Revenge was McVeigh and Nichols motive. Their hatred against the way the U.S. government handled a standoff with Randy Weaver that ended with a firefight was one of many grudges they held. In return McVeigh decided to bomb a federal building and destroy both it and its occupants.  Until Sept. 11, 2001 it was the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil and is the worst act of domestic terrorism in our history.

Suddenly, multiple school shootings came into the headlines. In 1998, Kip Kinkel, a disturbed young man, was suspended from Thurston High School for carrying a loaded, stolen handgun. That afternoon, he shot and killed both of his parents. The next day he returned to school wearing a trench coat to conceal his weapons.  He fired 50 rounds, killing two and injuring 37. His fellow students eventually restrained him and he is serving a life sentence.

In 1999, two students put Columbine High School on the map when they opened fire at school, killing a dozen students and a teacher plus numerous injuries to others before they killed themselves.

Just two years later on Sept. 11, 2001, our country was introduced to global terrorism. Everyone remembers where they were when they saw the Twin Towers taken down in a coordinated series of attacks. We remember the ash-covered survivors running for safety. We remember the towers collapsing. We remember the heroism of First Responders. Thousands were killed. We were shocked to learn of an enemy dedicated to the destruction of the United States. A fatwa or declaration of war had been issued by Osama “Who”?

And the list of horrors goes on. I think that CNN reporter Brooke Baldwin spoke for many of us when she said, concerning the Roseburg and San Bernardino shooting …”I’m sick of speaking the words ‘active shooter situation.’ I’ve been covering too many of them…I’ve become too familiar with this. It’s sadly become a routine.”

So where is the light in all this madness? That’s a good question.

It saddens me to put out a column of remembrances like this in an attempt at perspective because I have no answers. I can’t just pretend that evil isn’t happening in my happy little corner of the world. The truth is, evil doesn’t take a break. Not even for Christmas. And now, more than ever, we must be vigilant. Now is the time to be alert, know our neighbors and put our fears in perspective.

One answer is to look around and find pockets of light. Random kindnesses are being practiced daily. Every-day life goes on. Good people are at work everywhere. Law enforcement is working to protect us. Babies are being born. Birthdays are being celebrated. Families are flourishing. The poor are being fed. The homeless are being sheltered. We are becoming united against the darkness.

In the Netherlands during the dark days of World War II a church minister was trying to convince his people that God would eventually destroy their enemies. He said, “It can take time but good will always win over evil...For the time being I can only forecast a dark night but the dark night will be followed by a bright dawn.”

These are dark days. But the gift of Christmas and the angel telling us to “fear not” is just around the corner. Let us pray for and work towards a bright dawn. Shalom.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.