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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

On Turning (Gasp!) 70

I never thought this would happen. I don’t know what I thought would happen, since I’m on a 104-year plan, but 70 caught me a little (okay, a lot) off guard. When you are 18 on the inside, the outside can throw you for a loop. Luckily, I hang out with really vibrant, fun people 70 and beyond. One of my favorites is 93 and she just started shacking up with a 96-year old. That’s living!

We hike, we trek, and we climb 14-ers, those fourteen thousand foot mountains for which Colorado is famous. Another friend who turned 70 within a month of my birthday and I are climbing Mt Huron to thumb our noses at that number. My sweetie, who is a healthy 73-year old is coming with us and he and I will climb a couple more later this summer.

Of course, we all know that evolution wants us dead and that our bodies were not designed for 104-year plans. Our bones, joints, rotator cuffs and teeth are all trying to bow out while we work desperately to keep them. And maintenance takes waaaaay longer than it used to! My three closest friends in Colorado and I all had major surgery this winter: two spinal fusions and two shoulder repairs. But we’re back in action, with the help of some extensive physical therapy.

The trick to navigating 70, as far as I can tell, is to stay involved and connected. In my case, that means working more than ever, learning new systems and having Millennials for bosses. My experience really counts for something by the look of my paycheck, and I’m learning new types of writing and processing information all the time.

We are now the oldest generation, our parents having bowed out after a long and fruitful life. As such, we set a somewhat different example for our kids and grandkids than did those parents because of our fast evolving world and frame of reference. The Baby Boomers are now embroiled in the Trump Generation, whatever that turns out to be. All I know is that it’s never dull.

One of the tenets by which I live is to celebrate everything. Hallmark birthdays, like the decades, have always been sacred. At 40 I set new personal bests at all my running distances. For 50, I cajoled my sweetie into climbing Kilimanjaro. For 60, nothing would do but to be in Timbuktu. So you can imagine his trepidation at what I would come up with for 70. Not to worry, easy peasy. I just want to drive a Zamboni. And drive it I will in the space of two weeks at the Breckinridge, CO ice rink, courtesy of a friend whose husband is the facility manager there. And I will be in costume and so will all our friends and family who are attending. Outlandish attire required! I will be deplorable at it but that’s part of the fun, and it lets others know that it’s okay to be silly and undignified in our joy of being alive.

Next year, we celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary and my sweetie and I plan to celebrate the whole year, traveling all over and wheedling the kids into taking part. My parents were just shy of their 71st when my dad died, but there wasn’t much celebration in their lives. We plan to change that.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

My First Holidays After Dad

I got up this morning and thought ‘I have to call Dad.’ And then I thought: “Dad died.” It comes to me at odd times and then the waterworks start all over again. He was an easy father to love—in his later years.

In his early years, he was a dedicated bread winner and corporate executive. He traveled worldwide and we didn’t see him much. When he was home, Mom would recite our sins and he became the disciplinarian. He was affectionate, but not overly demonstrative.

After he retired, he became the most loving connected father. Oh sure, he was still bitterly disappointed that he didn’t raise four Republicans and we didn’t seem to understand what a mess this country is in, but he loved us anyway. We got hugs and kisses and I always called home before I left on a trip and each time I got to my destination safely. He wanted to know I was okay. And he always reminded me to “keep the back door open.”

My father, Joseph T. Hepp, was a long-time contributor of editorial opinion pieces for the Battle Creek Enquirer. He self-published two books and even had a blog, all to keep trying to wake up this country to the wrong direction in which he thought we were headed. As a writer, I was his editor of his newspaper pieces and books. While I didn’t often agree with his stance, I was always so honored to do that for him. And he was a quick learner. I very patiently fixed and explained to him about not doing all his indentations with hard carriage returns, and that he didn’t have to put every important word in quotes. Courtesy of cut-and-paste, I could move paragraphs around so the meanings and connections worked. Over the years he got much better and produced long articles, typing with only his right index finger. He used to joke that if the arthritis got too bad in that finger, he was going to have to write them with his middle finger, which might be a statement in itself! The last thing I wrote for him was his obituary.

I miss him so much today and every day. At almost 92 years old, he was a force in all our lives. My husband spent a lot of time today giving hugs. He’s a great father, too. As is my son. His daughters are amazing and know they are unconditionally loved.

My father wasn’t perfect, but as he told us a few years ago in frustration at our inability to forget the things they did wrong raising us (as all children love to do), he said: “Listen. We did the best we could with what we knew then. Get over it.” I sure hope my son will understand that about his upbringing. I made a lot of mistakes.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Losing a Parent

It’s tough losing my dad, even when I’m a senior citizen myself. I will always be his oldest daughter, his writing collaborator and his biggest fan. I never tired of saying how blessed I felt that at the ripe age of almost 68 I still had both my parents in my life. I could see them helping my husband and I celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary in three years. But that didn’t happen. He checked out two weeks before his 71st anniversary.

As my mom’s caregiver, he was the healthy one. He was adventuresome and would be very active. However, my mom, whose comfort zone is a table in her kitchen, didn’t want him going anywhere. His job was to take care of her. I had big plans for traveling with him after my mom was gone. But life is like that sometimes. He’s gone. She could live to be 100 and she doesn’t like it one bit. But here we are.

Logic says that it was his time. He had a good life. He was almost 92. Logic isn’t worth a crap at a time like this. He’s gone. I miss him and I have this hole in my heart. His four daughters all miss him terribly, but we honor him by doing everything we can to take care of our mother and make sure she is safe, physically and financially.

My dad: the editorial opinion writer, the book publisher, the diehard Republican. I was honored to be his editor for his books and articles, and set up his conservative blog. I disagreed with a lot of things he wrote, but I was thrilled with his determination to keep trying to sway people to his point of view. The last thing I wrote for him was his obituary.

He was cremated and we will hold a party to celebrate his life. My dad had many friends. It should be well attended. We will talk about our favorite memories. My nephew will sing a song he wrote for him. A Quaker minister will deliver a homily. And we will release butterflies so my dad can again soar into the heavens and fly, his greatest joy.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Ringing in a New Year in Style

Resolutions aside, the New Year is a great time to give thanks for all our blessings. In addition to the wonderful people in our lives, our relative ease of livelihood and great experiences add richness to our lives and make us feel very fortunate. This year, we watched the New Year ring in from around the world and celebrated our familiarity with all those places:

Times Square, New York: Probably the quintessential New Year’s Eve venue, we celebrated it there last year to commemorate our 45th wedding anniversary. We were probably the oldest people there, crammed in with over a million of our close personal friends.

Memphis on Beale Street: We spent three delightful evenings there this past October while at a professional conference.

Key West, Florida: Several times on diving trips, we spent time in Key West on the waterfront, eating seafood and watching an amazing routine of cat tricks. Who knew cats could be trained?

Dubai: Brilliant fireworks from the Burj Khalifa reminded us of our trip to Dubai and looking down from its observation platform. Also, last year in Times Square, we met a man from Dubai who came here to celebrate!

On a cruise ship in the Caribbean: We did that one better. At the turn of the Millennium, we were on a cruise ship in the South Pacific, watching dawn over Pitt Island, the Southernmost inhabited island. Then we crossed the International Dateline and did New Year’s Eve #2!

We know at some point, these adventures and other gallivanting around the world will come to an end, but I will never feel cheated from life. We have shared a richness with other cultures that continually makes me feel awestruck at the diversity on this planet. And, while strife goes with the territory, I feel I’m a better world citizen for having traveled to faraway places and soaked up the culture, not expecting it or wanting it to be “just like home”.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Taking Charge of Your Treatment: A Breast Cancer Two-Timer Shares Her Experience

The diagnosis of cancer is a highly charged emotional event. It can throw us off for days before we can begin to think clearly. The inclination may be to follow whatever the person delivering the news tells you. Not always the best idea. As a nurse/medical writer who has breast cancer twice, here is what I recommend and live by:

1. Don’t accept the first treatment recommendation you receive. Get a second and a third opinion, and listen to the reasons for each one’s recommendations. One doctor may recommend less treatment than you think you need. Get as many opinions as you need to feel comfortable about your decision. You don’t have to decide today.

2. Ask other cancer patients, friends, and people in the medical profession for names of doctors for second and third opinions. Don’t use two doctors in the same practice, and make sure they are not affiliated.

3. Set up your appointments as soon as possible, and get copies of all your medical records to them in advance. Create a paper trail. You should have a complete file of any surgical or biopsy reports. They may be needed years later and be difficult to track down.

4. Do your own research-but wait until you have all the facts. It will help you ask the right questions. If you don’t have a feel for the reputable medical websites, make friends with a health professional. One of mine was upset by my diagnosis and said she needed an assignment. I asked her to research the relative risk of recurrence with and without chemotherapy for my type of cancer. When she had the information together, we sat down and made a list of questions for me to take to my appointments. I felt more in control, and she knew she had really helped me.

5. Take someone with you to the appointment or tape record it. When dealing with a highly emotional issue like cancer treatment, even nurses don’t always hear everything. A second set of ears or a tape will allow you to re-hear it in a more neutral environment. None of the doctors I saw: my surgeon, radiation oncologist, or the medical oncologists had any problem with taping our session.

6. Ask them to put chances of recurrence with various treatment options in a way that makes sense to you. For me, percentages worked. If surgery plus radiation and tamoxifen has an 85% cure rate, and chemotherapy would only add an additional 2-3%, is it worth the trauma and side effects of chemotherapy? That was my situation and I could live with a 2-3% risk. Another woman I met in radiation, a stockbroker accustomed to taking risk on a daily basis, was in the same boat. She opted for chemotherapy because she needed to feel she was doing everything possible. That’s the point. What is right for you may not be right for someone else.

7. Don’t give away the treatment decision to your doctor. It is your body. For any treatment to be effective, it must have your full mental and emotional support. Your immune system will not be fooled. Only you can decide your risk comfort level. My first oncologist had declared that I needed six months of chemotherapy in addition to the radiation and tamoxifen. I thought I would die either way. Both the second and third opinion physicians felt that chemotherapy was not even clearly indicated in my case. And because they both agreed, but for slightly different reasons, I felt comfortable going with my gut feeling that chemotherapy was not really right for me. It has been 13 years since that second diagnosis.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Trash Collection is Site-Sensitive

Picking up trash can be fascinating, seriously! I have the blessing of living in two different places, one way up in the mountains with very little trash, and one in the heart of a major city with beaucoup trash, so plentiful it seems to come up out the ground instead of grass. So I have different approaches to my dedication for keeping my world cleaner.

In Colorado, I have a friend who is always training pack llamas, so when we do our adopt-a-road trash pickup, we take a llama along with saddlebags to hold the trash. Then we climb down and up ditches, picking up what tourists flying by have decided to jettison. They don’t live here; why should they care?

Rattling the saddlebags and stuffing trash gradually gets the llamas used to packing and we don’t have to carry all of it. Win-win. Plus, with a llama, people always slow down to look and sometimes notice we are picking up trash, which gets them to thinking about not leaving any!

My city home has a real dearth of pack animals, so I have my own mantra for that: if I see a discarded plastic bag (and who doesn’t daily in the city?) I was meant to pick it up and fill it with trash before depositing it in a proper receptacle. That basically means, every time I leave my house, I will be picking up trash, but that has a finite limit, as does the bag. Then I can continue on my way, enjoying the walk, the day and any flowers.

Imagine my surprise one day during my mountain time while sauntering down a dirt road gawking at the new snow covering on the mountains, when an empty plastic bag drifted in front of me. Here? Okay, same pledge holds, so I picked it up and started filling. Because of our paucity of trash, I walked a lot farther toting it before it was full. And my surroundings were once more pristine.

Can I invite you readers to do the same? Minus the llama, in most cases, I know, but be aware and help out our planet a little.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Getting Fired by Your Friends

Well, I have reached the point in my life where I’ve been fired by two long-term friends. We’ve all had to re-evaluate relationships as we realize life is too short to spend in one-sided non-productive “friendships”, so we just stop calling those people who always are up for something if we call them but never reciprocate.

This is different. These were friendships I really wanted to keep. One just stopped interacting because she said we no longer have anything in common. She and her husband have very tight money issues after their investments tanked in 2008. We have done all right and can continue to travel. While I try to focus on family when we’re together, and not travel, she still knows and doesn’t feel we have enough to share. I still continue to send birthday and Christmas cards with warm thoughts for their continued well-being. She’s still MY friend.

The other one is a sad case: a brilliant woman with many talents but deeply scarred from her life. Adopted and neglected, the break-up of two marriages have left her bitter and feeling the world is out to get her. I tried to be a friend to help her focus on her talents and encourage her. She lives alone in a hermit-like existence. We were doing fine until another person treated her unjustly in a group email. All of us who got it thought it was tacky, but because we all just discounted it, none of us rallied to support her. Unfortunately, because she can never let go of slights or assign them to the other person’s issues, anyone who sees that person is slamming her and can never be a friend again. Although I had apologized, it wasn’t enough. I was forever tainted.

This has distressed me, but as another friend who does counseling says, “She made that choice. You offered friendship. She wouldn’t accept it.” Even this compassionate person knows that sometimes it’s not within our power to help another person who doesn’t want it.

The personal benefit out of all this is that I look at my relationships and my demonstrations of caring more critically, and try to increase them with every encounter. Am I being the best friend I can be to those who matter to me? Am I guilty of distraction and lack of support when things come up in my life, or am I able to be in the here and now when people need me? Truthfully, not always, and I will work on that for the rest of my life.