Friends: Reaching Out — Reaching In

Maggie and Vin

The bright sunlight through the burgundy bedroom curtains made the dark bedroom seem like a redlight district. I’d been living out of bed for over seven years as of 2009. Brief weekends out of bed were followed by weeks of recovery from the exertion. I curled up in a ball around a tiny screen where I would communicate with my friends on Facebook. My phone was anything but smart, and it cost a modest extra fee to be able to have web service on it. But the access to a society who would laugh at my ironic jokes and understand my pain when I couldn’t sleep at 2 am was something I deemed a justifiable expense.

Cell phone

My daughter had been accepted at the University of Washington in the Fall of 2008 and as part of giving their students a way to get to know their roommates, the school suggested new students start a Facebook account. When my daughter was home for winter break, we sat together on my bed as I signed up for my own account. I thought it would be a great way to keep in touch with the daughter I missed.

Some of my friends are quite witty. One of those friends had acquired friends from the online community, meaning “friends” he had never met in person. At first, I was very apprehensive about accepting “friend requests” from people I had never met. But soon conversations and jokes carried over from the friends I did know in person and

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Me & Maria Mills Greenfield (who passed 1-19-2017)

I felt like I knew people from places across the country and even the world. Places hundreds of miles from any I had visited.

While laying in bed in pain, I composed quick thoughts and shared them. It became a release. When people began to respond, I felt I had found friends in the darkness. I connected with other people who were isolated for different reasons. Many of us were dealing with pain. Chronic, neverending pain.

While certain members of the federal administration seem to do anything EXCEPT validate chronic intractable pain, that type of pain is exactly what isolates and literally cripples people, making them incapable of living their previous lives.

Many people responded to the dark comments my mind and thumbs combined to leave on other people’s posts. Quickly I accumulated a large list of friends.

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In October 2010, I decided I would rather take up my friend’s offers across the country to stay a day or a week, rather than rent a room in the gray dark winter of western Washington. I had only seen a few states of the country I lived in and a divorce after over 20 years of marriage was a great reason to explore. Many of my friends made plans to welcome me.

This last week, I lost another friend. It seems the death notices come more frequently now than they ever did. Many of the friends I met during my travels during the years from 2010 to 2017 are no longer around. Their absence in mortality does not lessen their effect on my life. In fact, the more friends who pass, the more grateful for all of them and the ways they changed my life and my attitudes.

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Vin Arnone (2014)

At some point, I will write a detailed memoir, introducing you all to each of them…those who are no longer here. For now, I will say, I would not be around if not for my friends. My friends on social media pulled me out of several seasons of depression. These same people called 911 in 2009 when I was suffering withdrawals after a doctor prescribing me Fentanyl and Percocet discharged me without notice. My friends have saved my life in many ways and on many occasions.

Because I have been the recipient of such generous attention, I know the power of social media. I know when you just need someone to talk to, usually, there is someone at the other end when you enter social media. But I also know electronic connections are not substitutes for in-person socializing. They can supplement it very well, but at some point, my brain needed to meet the people I was talking to on the other end of the data stream.

Being disabled, to be able to afford travel, I sacrificed having a home to come to when I was not traveling. For the most part of seven years, I lived without a permanent dwelling. This was an experience of its own. I am in the midst of writing a book about a part of that experience, The Car That Ran on Prayers.

Many of the people I met in person during my travels joined me online to watch how my journey continued. When I finally made the decision to come inside and begin the task of documenting it all, many of my friends and family nearly cheered with relief. It had been a long seven years for all of us.

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I reached out of my bed into a world I had no idea where or if I belonged in. Then, as I traveled, I began to reach into the people who reached into me when I was reaching out.

I have visited my friends, sat on their beds while they were curled up in pain. I love them all. I love those who have passed, and those who are still here. I love those who no longer consider themselves my friends. I love those who try harder every day, and I love those who just want a break and take it.

On the occasion of saying farewell to yet another friend, I can only reflect on all of my friends and the wonderful ways in which they have all expanded my world. I look forward to being reunited with them, and you, all when we are done on this side of the veil.

For now, I recommend calling a friend. Someone you know who gets lonely. Don’t worry, they will forgive you for not texting first. Too many of us are lonely in a world of friends.

Rest in Peace, Vin, Maria, Stephanie, Dana, Lisa, Bobby and so many more. I’ll see you on the other side. IMG_20170726_054126

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Awareness

The day after my 51st birthday at 6:19 pm, I was sitting at my dining room table contemplating what I should make for dinner. I nearly jumped out of my skin when the antique telephone ringer that signifies someone is calling my cellphone broke the silence of the small apartment. I looked at the number, it wasn’t saved in my contacts and it was from an area code a few miles north… probably a telemarketer or bill collector I surmised and decided to answer it just to make sure I knew which before saving and blocking the number. wp-1509142348363..jpg

“Hello?”
“Hello, is this Margaret …?”
“Yes, who is this?”
“Hi Margaret, this is the Mammography center at Virginia Mason in Federal Way. I’m calling to …”

Her words faded into the ether as my mind raced. I had my mammogram like always just before my birthday. It was an easy way to remember. Now, only two days later, they were calling me about something?!

The sweet young lady from the radiologist office was impervious to my reaction on the other end of the line. She proceeded to inform me that I didn’t have anything to be concerned about, they just needed a few more images and an ultrasound to clear up an area on my mammogram. It was scheduled for 7:30 am on the next Thursday.

I would have almost a week to think about it.

The days went by at a snails-pace while thoughts flooded my mind. I didn’t tell many people for a few days. I didn’t want the people who loved me to have the same racing thoughts that I was having; I didn’t want anyone to worry.

wp-1509142651561.jpgThoughts about the cancers that run so rampant throughout my mother’s family.  Thoughts about my mother’s cousin who just fought breast cancer last year… and not to be forgotten, thoughts of my dear friend Maria Mills Greenfield who lost her fight with metastatic breast cancer on January 19th of this year.

I sought relief of my racing thoughts. I needed comfort. I prayed to my Heavenly Father and He filled me with peace. Divine peace. I knew at that point that all was okay; it was just a scare.

Once I received that comfort from the Holy Spirit, I shared the information with a few people that I would be having a “re-mammo.” A few days later, right before my appointment… I decided to share some of my activities at my reaction through twitter:

I was finally ready to talk about what I was going through.

My friends responded on the post that was echoed on my Facebook account, concerned. I tried to reassure those I could by telling them I felt it would be okay. But I just wanted the re-mammo to be over.wp-1509142645891..jpg

Thursday finally arrived and I awoke at 4:14 in the morning, six minutes before my alarm. My dogs were surprised when I turned on the light in the bedroom and began getting ready.

We were loaded into the van before 6. I nervously adjusted the radio to a station that would include a traffic report about the highly congested area of Joint Base Lewis McChord that I would have to travel through to get to my Federal Way radiologist.  Singing along to the country song they were playing, I pulled out and headed into the darkness of the morning.

Thanks to an absence of collisions, we got to Federal Way about a half hour early. I poured some water for the dogs in their van-dish and assured them I would be ‘right back’ and headed into the clinic.

There was no line at the radiology check in counter and the receptionist told me to have a seat, they would be “right with me.”

I scrolled through Facebook and read email for the longest half hour wait I had in a long time. Finally, at 7:34 am, I was called back to the exam area.

IMG_20171026_075356643.jpgThe young lady who was in charge of taking the extra views of the mammogram was very soft spoken and gentle. I wondered to myself how many times she has to do extra views and if it is difficult on her when there is more obvious issues. She left the room as I undressed from the waist up and put on the gown open in the front.

I could see from the displayed previous image of my mammogram displayed on the monitor that they were focusing on a tiny area that just looked like a blur to me. The young lady was gentle as she manipulated my right breast into the correct position for each image.wp-1509069172642..jpg

After changing out the supports a few times and taking several additional images, she asked me to wait while she delivered the images to the radiologist for her to look over. Another long wait, so I took a few photos around the room.

She came back and informed me she needed more views and changed the supports again on the mammogram machine. After she was done, I waited once more. Finally she returned and asked me to follow her into another room where she passed me off to another young lady for the ultrasound.

I was quietly thankful that everyone I was dealing with were female. Apparently the radiologist was female as well. At least that fact was reassuring. I lay down on the table and put my right arm over my head as she squeezed the cold gel onto my right breast and began the exam.

The ultrasound tech explained that she would be taking a few images and measurements, then she would be going out to get the radiologist who wanted to take a look herself.  The exam didn’t take long at all. Before I knew it, the tech stepped out and almost immediately back in with the young radiologist with long dark hair. Her words were also quiet and kind, making me think that she had to tell much harder news to other women often.

PicsArt_10-26-06.56.48.jpgThe radiologists words were reassuring as she informed me the spot they needed more information about was just a tiny little tangle of blood vessels that wasn’t very clear in the mammogram. She reminded me that I have fibrous breasts and told me it would be a good idea for me to continue getting the 3D mammograms, my next being needed in a year.

As I was leaving, I saw a sign reminding me it is breast cancer awareness month in October. This October I am feeling VERY aware. Very aware and very thankful that breast cancer is not currently one of my challenges. My heart and prayers are with all of those who do have and have had breast cancer. I am also much more empathetic now about the scares that many of us go through.wp-1509142437346..jpg