"Chatterbox" and "In My Mind Annie"

Monday, January 28, 2008

This posting may not be one of my bests. I just know that if I don't write and post this now, it will never happen.

You see, I am desperate. I have to tell everyone the truth --- that this speech and mouth thing is really getting to me.

When I was small my father nick-named me "Chatterbox" because from the time I arrived on this planet I have always had something to say. How my parents wished that yelling at me was enough. No, what would happen when they yelled, pleaded or begged was that I would think about their unhappiness and then I would be "Chattering" with them about another topic they wished would go silent.

My mouth may have dictated my profession. I choose to be an elementary school teacher, then Assistant Principal and then Principal in NYC. Oh, the glory of those days. I talked and laughed with the children; read ; dialogued; argued; philosophized; sang, recited poems, rhymes, and jingles. Talking, speaking, chattering = what fun. And besides that I used my mind to attract the talent that lay beneath the surfaces of these great children. But my vehicle was the "spoken/heard word". And I loved it. Maybe teaching was in my soul, a part of my birthright. It was mine and I loved teaching, talking to people, just engaging in life with the beauty and power of the spoken word.

Cancer of the salivary gland made it necessary to have surgery, followed by radiation. Over a period of years, changes have occurred to by face, neck, and speech. About two and a half years ago I found myself literally tongue tied. My tongue had gotten fibroidic. All sounds were made without being able to move my tongue. My friends became my translators and my most comfortable companions. Picture me in Italy, which I went to in May, 2007. Some very interesting moments!

I feel I have been robbed of my chatterbox status and given this persona of "In My Mind Annie". I selected that name for the conversationalist-style that I now have had to develop. Most of my conversation is in my head where I respond ever so intelligently to someone's comment but my verbal response sounds and feels something like " Wow"and " Ah, ah". All that I thought stays in my head and then comes another saved conversation or joke, another song I didn't sing and each day I make a collection. Do you know how many times I say some form of "I have a speech problem. If you cannot understand me, just let me know." Most people have been really helpful and courteous. For this I am truly grateful.

I have been blessed that I have found three talented dentists who have given me the hope of a "Drop Palate." This has given me the sound of someone who might have a hearing impairment. I have two drop palates and I am trying to see what my tongue needs to bounce off the palate so that I make the sound clearer. So what have I really lost? Snappy jokes, some with innuendos; singing with friends and children; teaching children; eating and talking at dinner; group conversations; being heard in a large group; making an important statement to a large group of peers; arguing a point with a department store on the telephone, comfortable telephone calls. Look, my list is long and my sadness deep. I really don't know what to do about this loss. I am hoping for a miracle. Right now I am playing around with Silly Putty to see if I can improve the shape of the "Drop Palate". You see what I am going through,,,who would ever think I would know what a "Drop Palate" was? This specific journey of silence is going to take me to another road where I will find out what this is all about. When I know, I will write about it. God bless us all, AMF

Art, Cancer and Mental Health

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Found this in the NY Times today.
One thing Dr. Heineman, an English professor at USF and head of the Honors program, often said was that in the United States of America, there is too little focus on mental health. I never forgot that.
We were reading Freud at the time. As a 21-year-old student at a private college in San Francisco, I had the privilege to not think about the issue, or at least not feel affected by it.
Nearly ten year later and having been through cancer and chemotherapy, I completely agree with him.
The physical is obvious and visible. You can see when someone is physically sick or feeling weak. Signs like the return of hair, the tone of ones voice and strength in your step, are easily noticed.
But what goes on beneath is not. And, as we all know, it's not that hard to hide.
At least in this country, and many of this country's cultures, it is difficult to talk about mental health.
How often do we honestly reply when some asks 'How you doing?'.
Though I think there has been a great shift -- in acceptance -- in attitudes towards psychiatry and mental wellness between my generation and my parents, there still seems to be more to go.
I was lucky. I had Adrian, Paul, Guadalupe and many more friends to talk about how I was feeling. My oncologist, Dr. Ahmann, mentioned he could refer me to a psychiatrist that works with cancer survivors. My parents were anxious to listen to my feelings. Even here, I was able to write and get it out.
As a writer, be that articles, poetry, essays or songs, I am comfortable expressing my feelings. But that's not the case with everyone.
I can't even imagine being a child cancer survivor, like little Henry Ortega, Jr., or 11-year-old Alexandra La Force Harkins, mentioned in the Times article, and dealing with cancer and survival, let alone regular growth and development. How different the world must, and will, seem to them. they are the real survivors.
So programs like this are important. I'm glad to read about one.

just in case you were wondering

(Shakeys, Nogales, AZ. 12/30/07 by GRC)

Here's a photo of me: full head of hair and my bigote. Guadalupe shot this one of me last week when we went to visit her grandfather, Samuel Herrera, in Amado, AZ. We took him down to Nogales and we wandered around all afternoon.
Grandpa Herrera has come up with some great plans to support his family after he passes on and he has enlisted my help to set up a factory that manufactures toy UFOs. Also, we'll be heading off to Caborca, Sonora, Mexico, sometime in early February to find a hangar where he can build a safe plane.
I kid you not.
Expect a short story on this adventure later on down the line. While I was getting excited about our adventure, he promised Guadalupe there would be no girls, only pilot business.

Never Saw My Face in the Obituaries

Saturday, January 5, 2008

I got a fade today.
It has been nearly five months since I last walked into Curley's (formerly Johnny Gibson's)in downtown Tucson.
Thomas, my barber, was really excited to see me. He said he'd been wondering how I was doing. I let him know how things had gone and how I was feeling. He explained that he kept a close eye on the obituaries in the local newspaper. Since he never saw my photo, he figured I was alright.
I suppose that's one way to keep tabs on me.
My hair isn't that long. In fact, it is about the same length when I left Curley's back in August. I've been letting it grow since the reunion. But my cousin Diane is getting married in Albuquerque next weekend and I want to look sharp. Besides, Guadalupe tells me every time she sees me, my hair is different and it feels like she's seeing a new man. so I can't let her down.
Meanwhile, I've been keeping an eye on my finger nails. Another subtle reminder of the chemo., the dark streaks have moved closer to my finger tips and I suspect that part of my nails will be clipped by the time I get to Abq. Slowly returning to normal.
Oh yeah, I thought I'd share this with you.
Turns out only nine people tested positive for TB after the Cancer Clinic screened 700 people.

I hope this finds you all in good spirits!

Friday, January 4, 2008