Sunday, December 01, 2013
HAPPY THANKSGIVING WEEKEND! Happy to live here, have the freedom and luxury of thoughts, and words.... To those of you who live "across the pond", and around the world, my Thanks and Gratefulness to all of You, in all your glorious countries--I am making a real effort in the coming months, to do some serious traveling. And to the fine doctors, kind nurses, patient (patient as in the subject they are caring for, as well as these sweet nurses' demeanor) case-workers and God--however you "define" Her/Him--the greatest gratefulness. This year has been, as I've detailed in several recent posts, quite challenging. Our Daddy--John Robert Allender, 77--is doing much better, due to his diligence in embracing and practicing--daily--his physical therapy. I was once told he might not ever stand upright again, but.....he's now walking! He MAY be able to transition out of the Rehabilitation Center he is currently in, in Florida, sometime later next year. Our Mom--Demetra Leonora Allender, 74--is doing better-than-expected, and is recovering from her Never-Smoker, Non-Small-Cell, Lung-to-Brain, Stage 4 Cancer....she is, as her Oncologist says "In the lucky 1%, who have these results..." My Father-in-Law, Ho Chang, "Big Henry" (he's 5'6") Kwon, who just turned 80, suffers from Prostate Cancer and recently, has begun suffering from a second type of cancer--Bladder Cancer. His wife, Young Sook, 73-- is visibly depressed by all this, though I am hoping to help her get help in coping, soon. My husband, Hansoo Kwon, has been amazing through this, and I am lucky to have him as my partner. I head to Florida with Mom, (who's been staying with us since Oct. 16th) to check on Daddy in person, and see several other family members, too. Sis Tina will get to have our Mom back home with her, by next weekend. The time melted away from us; it always has.... Again, much gratefulness to all of you, everywhere. Keep the warm thoughts, good energy, kind meditations, and yes--heartfelt prayers--coming. We send them to you, as well. We are One. Peace, Y'all.
Friday, November 01, 2013
Mom--Demetra Leonora(Comati)Allender-- received news, and I was right there with her, along with her brother, Nick Comati, at Cancer Treatment Centers of America on October 17th, when Dr. Sean Cavanaugh, her (Radiation)Oncologist said "Great results on your MRI, the very best you could hope for, Demetra..." and later the same day, Dr. Brion Randolph proclaimed "Your tests show the very best outcome; I only need to see you every three months or so, to do a comparative MRI...." "Kathy P.", one of our Case Managers, actually wept as Dr. Randolph explained that only about 1% of the people with Mom's type of cancer, get this kind of result...when I asked Kathy P. why she was crying, she said "We just don't see this result, often enough..." I quickly reminded her that every single day, they--the very dedicated staff of CTCA, make a huge difference in our lives.... Metaphor of the month: "Ant hills"...... Dr.Randolph explained, "The metaphor I've begun using, is that of ants...you have cancer[cells], and just like ants, we know they are there, but we don't see them; there's no ant-hill, so, until we do see an ant-hill, you are good." Amen to that! So, from May 7th until now, we've fought. We are still fighting. In the what-I've-learned-from-Caregiving-category: I've learned I'm more capable, more organized, than I ever believed I was. I'm stronger than I thought I was. And I 've learned all the confidence I've placed in both of my parents, and in my spouse, is very, very well-placed: they have all earned my confidence, my respect, a million times over... In becoming a (better)Caregiver, I've learned to care better, for myself. As I often say on Facebook: Thank you, kids, for all your warm thoughts, good energy, kind meditations, and yes--heartfelt prayers. Peace, kids.
Thursday, October 03, 2013
The visit to Actor's Express on Sunday was sublime...."Venus in Fur", a play-within-a-play, features the kind of sex-as-power one can expect from the Southeast's edgiest Theatre group. Indeed, the vibe is verrry "Oleanna"-ish. In that David Mamet play, the power struggle results from both mis-communication, and a distinct inequity between the two people, because one is an older male professor, the other, a young female-- and presumably powerless-- student. In "Venus in Fur", by David Ives, the two characters are more evenly matched; they are both theatre-people, and both NEED each other. She needs the role; he needs to fill the role. One is a young actress, but one who longs to "take charge" of her career/private life/anyone she desires; the other, an older male director, but a director who longs to act, as we quickly discover in his repartee' with her. The story centers around a director who's adapted a play--ostensibly about S/M; I'd argue this is much, much more about D/S (Dominance/Submission for you "vanillas" out there), and who yearns to produce it, if only he can find the perfect "Vonda"...Enter Veronika Duerr's Wanda, a whirling dervish of an actress-cum-lately, spinning into the room with a dizzying rapidity of speech, and just a touch of ditzy-ness, which we soon discover belies an intensity Wanda seldom feels comfortable, showing. When she morphs into Vonda, the character in the play she is auditioning for, there is a palpable delight in the audience, as we root for her to get. that. role....and laughter abounds as Ms. Duerr transitions (often within 10 seconds or so), between the two entities. Adam Fristoe's Tom, is, conversely, slow and sensual. His Tom-into-Severin (the character he must read opposite Wanda/Vonda)parries Ms. Duerr's creations, with aplomb and grace. What's fascinating is how Director David Crowe has orchestrated the explosive climax(es) to reflect a mirror-image of the character's respective traits. Once the seduction begins, it is she who slowly, skillfully, and, cunningly as a(sex)kitten, manipulates the suddenly-quick, and unnerved Tom, into a situation they both begin to relish. The two eventually switch roles, and the gender-reversal is hilarious, and, quirky-sexy. It's very demanding to be onstage for the entire 95 minutes, but both actors are up for this game. And their kitten-and-prey game is steamy, and even a teeny-bit kinky. The set is intimate, such that we feel less "voyeur", more participant; the music provides a bit of foreshadowing, and the light changes, often introduced by Vonda, are intriguing, suggestive of another time, another place, and set us up for the sensuality that follows. This is a definite-GO-SEE, as is often the case with Actor's Express. Hurry, because THIS WEEKEND IS THE FINAL WEEKEND. Gratuitous "foot"-note: If you're into legs, and thigh-high boots, and/or submissive men, this is your show. Contact Actor's Express Box Office, at: (404)875-1606
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
I am spending nearly all of my time, writing. Writing down phrases every few hours, just like in "the old days/daze" (that would be when poetry first began pounding in my head). I'm in the midst of: *Finally editing "Kudzu Kreatures", a children's book I wrote over 15 years ago; I need to find an illustrator, though I'm told the publisher can do that, for me... *Editing "Words From Water", a collection of poetry which has finally morphed into the shape I longed for... *Writing "The Taste of Shapes", a play/possible screenplay about a young woman with synesthesia; three characters have shown up, so far: Claire, the young (any race) woman with a secret; Mr. "Joe" Kim, the kindly old Korean piano teacher, and Nouwen, a young African-American/mixed-race girl, a glass-blower who bonds with Claire... *Writing new poems I have, once again, the "Luxury of Thought", --that's what I used to call having the time to read, write, revise, analyze...back when I enrolled in philosophy classes under the auspices of "The Invisible College", though an Emory University Doctoral candidate named Greg Johnson (and later, two other Doctoral students); it was a "luxury" to me, because I'd always had to work two or three jobs to pay bills, such that bill-paying very nearly became my occupation, rather than acting, or writing.... With both parents very ill for several months now, and caregiving responsibilities having been, at times, overwhelming, I am keenly grateful to my sister, Tina, who at this moment, is celebrating her birthday, with our Mom--Demetra Allender-- in Florida, even as she-Tina--lifts our beloved Mom up with her own, lively, physically-engaging brand of caregiving. I was fortunate to be in Florida with Tina and Mom at their home, shortly after Mom's diagnosis in May, and then remained there for nearly three weeks, when Mom and I headed up here on May 29th, to ready her for Cancer Treatment Centers of America, and what Mom wanted: "the most aggressive treatment" for her cancer.... I got to keep Mom for nearly 14 weeks--a little over three months of mostly doctor appointments, radiation (everyday, Monday though Friday), and once-a-week Chemo, as well as acupuncture, physical therapy, naturopathy, nutrition, physical therapy, and general "Quality of Life Clinic" visits... Soon, I'll have Mom here again, to follow-up with her doctors....and also, to celebrate Halloween, my birthday, and if she'll stay put up here--Thanksgiving, too. I'm in a very grateful place: grateful for the kind, talented folks who commented on my set of poems which I read at Decatur Book Festival; grateful for the editor of a fabulous journal, who asked me to "submit as many poems as you like, Lisa..."; very grateful for my little sister--Tina-- who is doing the good deeds of daughter-dom, and sister-dom, in being there for Mom, and for me. Poetry rocks, and so does my sister, who focuses her eyes on our Mom, and gets to the work that is caregiving. I promise not to squander any time I have, right now, Tina. We're both--she and I--committed to making the most of our collective time--with our Mom.... Here's to writing. And family. And time, for both.... Peace, kids.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
So I am catching-up with all of you, and made my first post, since April, the day-before-yesterday.... Yesterday, though, is significant: it is the day we met with Dr. Randolph(astounding, accomplished Oncologist at CTCA), to discuss Mom's MRI (Brain--secondary site) CAT-Scan (Lung--primary site)and see what--if any--progress had been made.... When he entered with his by-now-famous-broad-smile, we knew it would be good news, but I certainly did not expect more than freezing or slowing-down the cancer a bit. After all, it is Stage 4.... He brightened and said "Well, we have news! The tumors in the brain are all shrinking, and are much smaller...they were tiny and they are tinier. They will continue to shrink, and eventually, they will become scar tissue...and in your lung, the tumor was 2.9 centimeters; it is now only 2 centimeters." Mom was offered three options: she could choose to begin Tarceva immediately, or take a break from treatment and then begin Tarceva once she feels better and is more rested, or do nothing at all, and use Tarceva as a "Back-up", in case the cancer "comes back aggressively".... "Tarceva will not extend your life, but what it will do, is make it possible for you to NOT have to do Chemo or Radiation; it is a 'maintenance drug', which is very effective." Mom chose the second option. We'd been hoping for a chance to use Tarceva, as in order to qualify for this wonder-drug, one has to have a type of mutation--or, as in Mom's case, an "amplification" of this type of cancer, AND you cannot be currently on Radiation, AND if you used chemo, it had to have worked....or else Tarceva, will not. So, we (Mom, the whole family, and me), are feeling really great about this.... I had planned to talk in this blog-post, about the past few months--the fear, the stress, the fatigue setting in, the looooong hours of riding back and forth to the wonder that is Cancer Treatment Centers of America, in Newnan, Georgia; I could have talked about my fatigue in Caregiving--that no matter how much I tried to be as patient, loving, and kind as I know Mom needs me to be, I felt I was not doing so. I felt, as I said in my blog-post two days ago, "bereft". At the time I used that word, I thought I had not yet felt a loss, but that's not entirely true: I fear sometimes I'll lose my empathy--the one thing besides art, that makes one truly human. I worry I'll become bitter from being tired, or harsh because I feel so. very. alone. I don't know if anyone out there has any "tips", for handling the loneliness that comes with finding no time to call anyone at all, or for postponing the satisfaction of the longing to tap keys, to create words on a page, (words that just might make some sort of sense--to me, first, and if I'm incredibly lucky--maybe someone else can connect with them, too), the sorrow at realizing no matter HOW HARD I TRY, I cannot--ultimately--change the fact that our beloved Mom, has cancer--Stage 4 cancer. Everything changes, every minute, every day.... Reality probably is always changing, but we are all so very, very busy, we don't see it--recognize it--as such. Cancer grabs us by the shoulder and says "STOP!" And that's a very, very hard thing, to hear. But for now at least, the STOP-ping is the stopping of Chemo and Radiation, and this has become the lingering, in-the-moment, of popsicles, ice cream, going outside, and walking on the grass. Here's to Mom--Demetra Leonora (Comati) Allender-- Cheers to you, Mom! Peace, kids.
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
So this is what it feels like, to feel powerless. To feel bereft, before a loss. To know the ache in your chest is just the beginning of the hurt which may never, ever end. This is where I am at, since May 7th. May used to be my favorite month. The pollen subsided, it meant flowers, sun, cooler temperatures than the swelter of July or August. May meant Mother's Day, and my beloved Mom's Birthday (I have numerous posts in years past, on May 28th, paying homage, to her). This year, on May 7th, at approximately 7:30 am, I received a phone call from my Mom. She had news. For over 18 months, Mom--Demetra Leonora (Comati) Allender-- had complained of extreme exhaustion; she'd asked for--and been denied--a chest x-ray, even though she explained she sometimes felt short of breath. It's not like she was considered at-risk, for much of anything. After all, my then-73-year-old Mom still worked full-time, and rose every morning very early (5:00 am)to walk/run 3-5 miles. She has always enjoyed working out at the gym, and is extremely fit. Suddenly, it was not possible to do those things, anymore... The only serious illness in her family, was the awful incidence of Pancreatic cancer, which took both her older, and then younger sister, years ago...and given that Mom was so tired, and that doctors wanted to "rule out" cancer, a test to screen for digestive cancers was performed. "You are Negative for Pancreatic Cancer", said her doctors. The exhaustion continued, and a serious cough, ensued, and then, persisted.... Finally, she was given the chest x-ray she'd repeatedly asked for, and the doctor told her right away, that "...a nodule, and a mass was found, on her right lung..." A biopsy--standard procedure, she was told--was ordered. So, on May 7th, my Mom called, to tell me the results of that biopsy. In a labored, winded, tiny, voice, my athletic, fit, beautiful Mom said: "Lisa, it's cancer; I have cancer..." "What, Mom--it's LUNG?" "Yes..." "Oh, Mom, I am so sorry....but you never ever smoked; I don't understand. Can you get a second opinion?" Then, after catching my own breath: "Mom, we'll get through this. Do you know what stage?" "No, they haven't done that yet..." At this point, my sister Tina must've come into the room. My Mom lives with Tina and her husband, Tom, and apparently had searched the upstairs for Tina, early that morning, to share this news with her. "It's cancer, Tina, the doctor just called. He asked if I was alone, and I told him, 'No, I'm here with my daughter'." I heard my lovely, former-cheerleader sister ask, in an uncharacteristically soft tone, "I was in the shower...Who are you on the phone with, now, Mom?" "Lisa...when I couldn't find you, I called her." I giggled and said "Gee, thanks, Mom--you couldn't find Tina, so ya called me....Of course... This is hilarious..." We all laughed. I was on a plane to my sis Tina's, within three days, and stayed too-long-for-a-houseguest-but-maybe-long-enough-to-assist-in-Mom's-needs, as Tina works a full-time-job-outside-the-home, and as she drove Mom to and from numerous medical appointments, I cooked some meals, cleaned up the kitchen, made phone calls, researched cancer and treatments on the internet, and helped with laundry, and Mom's medicine-memory... We welcomed Mom's only grandchild(my gorgeous sis--Tina's equally stunning daughter)--Breaz--back home from college, and we held each other and we laughed about how many colors my hair has been, and we joked about Mom losing hers, soon, due to the radiation treatments to her head for the brain tumors (10 tiny tumors in all, but only 2 are concerning, and only 1 of those, considered rather serious--it is in the "mid-brain", which may be responsible for a sudden lack of balance.) We celebrated Mother's Day (my hubby Hansoo treated us to both Greek food in the afternoon, and then dinner out, on Mother's Day--Italian!) together; we celebrated Mom's birthday (some fancy grilling, including lobsters, courtesy my kind bro-in-law, Chef, Tom; great Cajun Boil (spicy shrimp, corn, potatoes, Andouille sausage), from my wise chef-sis, Tina), together. I had called Cancer Treatment Centers of America on the same day my Mom received her diagnosis, but I did want to appear pushy in fetching her to visit the facility (which opened in August, 2012) in Newnan, Georgia...CTCA is very famous for their work, which began nearly 30 years ago, in Chicago... Tina knew of CTCA, and knew folks who'd availed themselves of the Pennsylvania facility; Unc Bud (Mom's sole remaining sibling)knew of CTCA, and I was hoping Mom would give it a chance. She'd already had Radiation for her brain-- and we were told she had a very rare type of cancer: Never-Smoker's Non-Small-Cell, Stage 4, Lung-to-Brain Cancer. "Surgery is not an option; you can get Chemo, once every three weeks..." they'd told her, in Florida.(The doctors in Florida are great, as is their world-renown medical center, but Mom was looking for "more aggressive treatment", as she put it) The cancer had already metastasized, but Mom has always been a competitive person--she's not going down, she is beating cancer, back.. We flew up from southeast Florida, Mom and I, the day after her 74th Birthday, on May 29th, and it's been quite the "journey", as everyone who's ever tangled with cancer calls it, ever since. Once we were accepted for treatment at CTCA, the real work began: an everyday trek, approximately one hour and twenty-minutes away, for a Monday-through-Friday date-with-Radiation-to-Lung, and then, once a week, 6 hours of Chemo to kill cancer cells in the Lung (Chemo does NOT eradicate cancer in brain). Big kudos to Dan Morrison, a man who may not be "blood", but he is most certainly, our kin. He has driven us everyday, and also has assisted me at home with everything from dog-care, to vacuuming... Within two days of meeting Dr. Bechara, he arranged for Mom to have a breakthrough surgery which allowed him to burn away the cancer which had pushed into her (narrowed) windpipe, causing her to sound perpetually winded, whenever she spoke. It literally improved her life, overnight. Her recovery from surgery was quick, and with her windpipe "widened to normal", she could breathe easier, and receive oxygen such that her thinking was clearer, and she began to feel better.... Dr. Cavanaugh (Radiation Oncology) and Dr. Randolph (Chemo Oncology) are stellar doctors. I'm so impressed by their individual accomplishments, and their incredible empathy for their patients. CTCA says they have "The Mother Standard"--treat every patient "as if she is your own mother." So I'll be updating this more often now, because just as Mom has her "second wind", so do I. And the ominous tone, as I began this post? I won't go back and edit it, change it to sound more "upbeat", because if I've learned anything from cancer, it's that the reality--and what you feel about that reality--changes: not day-to-day (I tell Mom, "We don't have 'Good Days and Bad Days', all our days are great, but we have a few awful hours..."), but minute-to-minute, word-by-word... Peace, kids.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HANSOO KWON! My husband of just-over six years, my beau of nearly eighteen years, the love with whom I've made, a life, is Hansoo. We all have had a past; we have all fallen-in-love, or lust, with perhaps more than a few who we then, unceremoniously, have dismissed from our lives. Or maybe we've relegated those "exes" to a "friend only" status. What makes someone a "keeper"? What creates a partner? Certainly, timing. I think if I'd met the rather un-yielding Hansoo in my teens or in my twenties, it would not have worked out. Why? Because I was not looking to be "partnered", indeed, the loving partner I had--a deeply introspective and kind man named Peter, I most likely, did not deserve--I was rather flippant about commitment, ("Flippant About Commitment", great title for a memoir of my 20's)and dashed off to Atlanta, leaving behind a young-adult life of college and post-college theatre, long, romantic walks on the beach (a cliche', but true) with Peter, and my family, for a city I perceived as "huge", and for new, wild-blue adventures. And so many, many, years later, Hansoo and I, found each other. But by the time we found each other, I was a better version of me: able to commit, after many years of leaping from one love to another, I was in a place where I was looking for the kind of love, that would last. It certainly helped that Hansoo is very different from any other person I'd dated: he's exotic, obviously, but he's also a business-person at heart, a pragmatic, let's-solve-this-kind-of-fellow. A "Keeper" is someone who--even when they do not understand you-- makes an effort to love you, anyway. It helped that I'd already had a few of those what I call "wild-blue" moments. Recognizing him from an indie-bookstore, and then refusing to call him when he offered me his card at the nightclub(I never gave my number out), I was nonetheless, very impressed. Extremely handsome, and with great legs (he was wearing casual clothes, which included slightly-above-the-knee-shorts when we met), he had graduated Ga. Tech, which meant he was incredibly intelligent, but his graduation had been only a couple of years earlier, which meant he was younger--much younger--than me. I tried to discourage him, I really did, remarking to him: "You know, we can't go out because number one, you're a LOT younger than me, and I'm not comfortable with that (he interrupted to claim I looked "about 30"(I was actually almost 39)) I continued:"I'm Bisexual, and that's never going to change; and you look Korean, and I'm not, and that means your parents wouldn't approve, so why don't we save ourselves a lot of time and trouble--I just got out of a bad relationship, and I'm not looking to get serious (that was a lie, I was "looking"))...." He was calm, and said simply, "Uh, I was thinking lunch...Could we just have lunch?" After a few days of yakking about this "really cute, smart engineering-management guy" as I described him to my gal-pals, I finally called the number he'd given me, and left a message with his roommate. I actually did not want to talk to Hansoo; instead, I wanted to pretend I really was not that interested, as I was indeed, very interested, but did not want Hansoo to think I was all-hot for him (I was). When he called me back that same hour, I was on the other line, and so when I picked up (this was 1995; there was no caller-id on my home-phone)I was very surprised, but I took a breath and then answered in a deliberately flat, disappointed tone, "Oh, it's you..." to which he replied "You don't sound very happy to hear from me..." And then, my integrity kicked in and I heard myself say, "I was trying to sound like I'm not interested..." "What? But, you called me....let's just have lunch..." That did it. A "Keeper" doesn't give up. It ended up being a late-night "lunch", and it was "Steak n'Shake", and I had every item that was meat-free, including cream of broccoli soup, french fries, salad, cottage cheese, and fruit, and I washed that all down with a chocolate malt; He had a steak-burger, fries and a coke. I insisted on paying for us both. A "Keeper" indulges you, and your whims. We went from dating, to me crashing at his shared-apartment (God Bless Jerry, his very kind, tolerant, now-former-roommate), to us moving into an apartment together, to us searching for and finding our first house, in August, 1998. Which I helped make a home...for he and I, and our first doggie,an Aussie we got in May of 1997 named "Frisco", and then "Louie", our Golden Retriever, adopted (October, 1998) from Golden Retriever Rescue of Atlanta (GRRA). We later moved to the house we currently live in, and married in 2007, in a ceremony beyond dreams. It is no small thing, that I married. I was a true Marriage-o-Phobe. (Read all about our wedding, in this same Blog:simply search the Archives(Archives are located below and to the right of this column) for my "February, 2007" entries.) We have a multi-generational household now, which includes my in-laws, "Omma K", and "Appa K", and their two "grand-dogs": "Afton" (a rescue GSD, whom we adopted from "Big Canoe Animal Rescue")and "Agent", a troubled male GSD, who was only an hour away from being euthanised when a family in Covington rescued him, and offered him for sale to us. A "Keeper" sacrifices, for those he loves. It's been a long time, and the man I originally found so adorably funny and cute, still is. A "Keeper" helps you laugh, even when you've suffered. We've survived terrible losses(his Hominee'(maternal grandma)June 14th, 2007); my Grandma Dorothy (paternal Grandma) October 22nd, 2003); my beloved Theya Helen (August 14th, 2007);I also lost two maternal Aunts within 2 years of each other--both to sudden, unexpected, Pancreatic Cancer: Aunt Helen Harnett, June 14th, 2001, and Aunt Mary Prince, May 23rd, 2003);we lost "Frisco", at almost-11 years-old, when we learned she had advanced cancer, and would seizure/suffer a painful death, unless we "chose" euthanization for her--hardest thing I've/We've ever had to do; we lost "Louie" later--who lived to nearly 14--to a brain infection, and we held him, just as we did "Frisco", as he passed.) But also have found tremendous, sweet joys--in our nieces, in our extended-families, in our own "furry-kids",the aforementioned "Afton" and "Agent" and in the making of every day, anew. A "Keeper" puts Family, first. I've seen Hansoo grow even more, into the capable man I always knew he was, the kindhearted man I know he can be, and the romantic man, he always is. He has supported me emotionally, artistically, financially, and when I was quite ill in the past--physically, as well... We continue to work on our Spiritual connection. A "Keeper" believes in You, even when his beliefs in other things, are still evolving. As I've often said: I think there are a lot of people you can fall-in-love with, but there are very few, you can make a life with. Here's to You, Hansoo. My wonderful chef-husband, my cheerleader for my writing and acting, "Daddy" to our fur-babies; inclusive son-in-law, and brother-in-law, to my family-of-origin. You rock, Hansoo Kwon. Peace, kids.