WeekendCoffee Cancer Fight

pinkribbonIf we were having coffee today I’d apologize for my recent absence. We’ve had a lot going on these past few weeks and it was difficult to find the time to sit down and share a little of what was going on.

What’s the deal?  The BIG “C” is what we’ve been dealing with.
My darling wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and we’ve been completely absorbed with a wild mix of office visits, biopsies, blood draws, mammograms (and more mammograms + ultrasound + more X-Rays),  bad news, and finally surgery.
Worry is the worst of it.  We worried about the diagnosis, about the prospect of surgery and its many possible complications, and we worry about the reality of a lifetime of changes.  Worry alone is enough to wear anyone out.
She had a double mastectomy almost two weeks ago.  Big reality check:  It basically involves not one but two amputations.
Let that sink in for a minute. Amputations.
It has been both physically and psychologically taxing for her.  She feels she has lost part of what makes her a woman. Think about it.  We live in a society that is obsessed with breasts and here she is losing hers in her own private war on cancer.  Me? I am just busy trying to be there for her while at the same time trying to keep the animals fed and the house in some vague resemblance of order.  I also help her keep track of her meds and monitor her symptoms, and of course, I have to manage her drainage tubes.
I try to reassure her that, in my mind, really, what makes her a woman is HER.  She’s still there completely, along with all of her love, her intelligence, and especially that feisty survivor attitude. To me, THAT is what makes her a woman, not those appendages. She’s my other half and she always will be.  Sure, I’m a man.  I love breasts … especially hers.  But I’ve psyched myself to hate the cancer that was in them.  For me, it was a no-brainer.  I’ve still got HER and that is all that matters to me.  I am inspired by her inner strength.
I’d long heard the term “breast cancer survivor”… but now I have a much better understanding of what that means.  I’ve seen these first phases of it first hand.  We were told that the second she was diagnosed she joined the ranks of survivors.  I also know there is a vast sisterhood out there of her fellow survivors.  It is astounding to learn how many lives have been touched by breast cancer.  Survivors are everywhere. My hat is off to all of you.  Every single one of you deserves everyone’s total respect: this is a sisterhood that needs to be heard.  As I sat in the waiting room at the Duke University Medical Center Breast Clinic during her breast biopsies I realized this affects young and old, all races, all sizes, all religions, rich, poor … it can affect anyone, every day, every month, every year.
I also understand now that “breast cancer” is not a singular entity.  That is a highly generic term.  I’ve learned that every single patient has their own version of the disease, with its unique currents and whirlpools in the stream of life. Specific treatments of even similar ‘types’ of cancer cells can take many twists and turns. She’s still in the early stages of treatment.  The pathology of her cancer cells shows a certain promise of optimism for a long-term cure but the jury is definitely still out and we are sitting in a darkened waiting room of an uncertain future. It will likely be weeks before we know the plot of the next chapters of her story.
I told her last night she is a Warrior Woman in her new lifelong battle with cancer.  Her scars are battle scars. Together we are going to beat this and kick this cancer’s ass.
So, dear coffee friends, that is the reason for my absence the last couple of weeks.  Please donate to valid breast cancer research charities, like The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.  I like them because a very high percentage of the money they receive goes to research.
Please reblog this or tweet and retweet links to this post.  Please share your own stories in the comments.   We have got to win this fight.
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WeekendCoffee Dance

audIf we were having coffee today I’d have to tell you about my daughter’s recent award.  Well, it wasn’t a formal award.  It was more a bit of recognition from one of her students.  As you can see from this picture, it was an homage in the form of a 10 reasons list.  It brought tears to my eyes.

I posted this on Facebook at first.  It got a lot of likes and a few comments mentioning that we, her parents, had done such a good job.  Sure, we enrolled her in dance.  We paid for it. We rallied through rehearsals and competitions. We volunteered where we could and continued to encourage her.  But, seriously, that is just the tip of the iceberg.  It’s a good metaphor.  Beyond all of that, lies the truth. She worked hard.  She formed and molded, she learned, she studied, she practiced, and she focused.  She did everything she could. This is all her.

We’ve seen a lot of dancers come and go, a lot of them very dedicated dancers too.  A very few have progressed to the level Audrey currently enjoys.  In short, most of those past dancers burned out.  Audrey continues to flourish.

I’ve seen her take recital classes of tiny dancers, four and five years old, who most teachers feel lucky if they manage to go through most of the motions and make her dancers actually dance.  They stand out.  Where others see a bunch of little kids who find it hard to keep focused longer than five minutes, Audrey sees a class she can teach and then she motivates them to learn.  She is a master teacher, one who makes it fun while instilling knowledge and skill.  Little students love her and older students love her even more.

It hasn’t been easy for her.  She’s short.  The common perception about “tiny” ballerinas? It’s a myth. Ballerinas need to be at least four or five inches taller than she is.  Almost always.  But she learned and practiced and applied herself.  And she thinks dance, a skill she very early figured out makes her an exceptional choreographer.

She’s done some remarkable things too.  Did you know that she was the first person at Duke University to earn an official Bachelor’s degree in Dance?  The first.  Their department had a dance minor for a long time and she was a dance minor her first year.  But while Audrey was there, they upgraded the program and she was the first declared dance major.  She’s concentrated on teaching but has had some great experiences professionally dancing in a few companies.

Teaching dance pays okay, but most of the time it’s a part-time job.  She’s compensated by teaching a lot, sometimes at as many as five or six different studios.  That, my friends, is true dedication to her craft.  I frankly don’t know how she keeps her schedule straight.

So go back and reread that list after reading this short essay.  One could easily change “Jazz” and put in “Ballet” or “Modern” or “Tap.”  THAT is my daughter.  Her mother and I couldn’t be more proud of her.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer and “dance dad” living in North Carolina.  You can get more information at http://thefensk.com

February Sale

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I am please to report that my novel, THE FEVER, has been included in booksgosocial.com‘s Amazing February Sale Guide.  My book will be on sale through the end of the month ($1 off).

You can check it out, along with the other Mystery and Crime titles here: BGS Sale Guide/Mysteries

The full Sale guide is here:  BGS February Sale Guide

This is a great chance to Catch THE FEVER and support other independent authors.

 

Murder-by-Siri?

If we were having coffee today I think I’d have to fess up about a recent case of attempted murder.  No, not by me, silly.  It was Siri.
You see, Siri tried to kill me a couple of months ago.

My daughter lives about three hours north of us, very near the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We had gone up for Thanksgiving with one of our grandsons and decided to try a different route south, mostly because the grandson lives west of us and I wanted to see if there was a more direct route, so I asked Siri.  She is generally quite attentive to such requests.
Indeed, Siri took us a different way, down a very unfamiliar path. But we were headed south so it seemed fine until we got to our second major turnoff. She spoke up

“Turn right.”

There were in fact what looked like two rights. We took the first.  Siri didn’t like that.  I have often thought any GPS with a voice should use an exasperated sigh when one misses a turn. Instead, she said,
“Turn around, when possible.”
GPS programmers take note:  this would be an ideal spot to program something like “No, No, No, the other right.”
There wasn’t any place to turn around. She repeated her request several times until we had gone more than half a mile.
At this point I guess I should mention a few pertinent facts:
I was in a rental.
I hadn’t purchased the extra insurance.
It was packed to the rafters.
I wasn’t inclined to do potential damage-inducing maneuvers.
I glanced at the map my phone and realized we were actually on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a particularly narrow portion of it at that.  At this point, I expected one of the famous overlooks you see about every half mile along some stretches of the Parkway.  Nothing. Just narrow road framed by dense foliage.
Siri finally decided to recalculate a new route and soon instructed us to turn left.

We took a left on what we were assured was a state road, State Road 814.
I remember thinking at the time, “How could this one lane graded road be a state highway.”
Yes, indeed, I really could have turned around here and yes, I should have. It was only about five miles back to the turn-around.
But I had faith in Siri. I knew she was going to get us out of this, so we proceeded down “state road 814”.  It was reasonable to assume that we would soon intersect with that other road.  So I drove on and on.

The problem was, there was no place to turn around on this road.

And what a road it was … we went up and down and around, and up and down and around.  We traversed a couple of mountains with long stretches of steep drop-offs with no rail. This was ear-popping, white-knuckle driving.

It was the kind of road that has periodic gates somebody closes in bad weather but it was so narrow, I don’t know how anybody could turn around if the gates were closed. I don’t know how anybody would or even could try to drive up there in a snowstorm to close those gates. Talk about “worst jobs in the world.”
My darling bride kept saying what a fun drive it was.  She wasn’t driving.  Thankfully we encountered no vehicles going the other way.  I have no idea what we would have done if that had happened.  There was literally no room for two cars to pass … not in my rental car, anyway.
Finally, after about an hour or so, the road started to level out and we began to see signs of civilization again.  Eventually, we emerged onto some pavement.  Yes, I saw a street sign, it WAS still state road 814 but we also found out it was called Campbell Mountain Road. We eventually hit another real, honest-to-goodness, highway, with pavement and stores and gas stations.  It was salvation.
 Siri kept plugging away with myriad directions and eventually got us to … the same highway we would have taken if we had gone our “normal” route. I stuck to it like glue the rest of the way home.
Okay, I guess she didn’t intentionally try to kill me.
But then again, she’s smarter than all of us and has the entire internet at her disposal.  Consider this: I did some simple searches for this highway for this post and I found the following warning in some directions to a nearby campground (The phrase I boldfaced below particularly caught my attention):
“WARNING: Please use the directions we have provided below for safe and pleasant driving. If you choose to use another source for your directions, please be wary if they include Route 814; this winding, gravel mountain road is not for the faint of heart. DO NOT take 814 if you have a camper or RV.”
Sound advice.
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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  Check out his books at http://thefensk.com
All pictures borrowed from Google Maps in the interest of public safety.
Yes, he’ll probably go try to find Campbell Mountain road again sometime.

Reflections: 15 Years On

columbia1Fifteen years ago today, I was driving south on US 29 in southern Virginia when I spied a bright light moving across the sky.  There were no blinking lights associated with, just a smooth steady motion, very bright, across the sky from West to East.

I knew what it likely was.  No, not a UFO.  I figured it was either the space station or the shuttle Columbia.  I also knew how to verify it, once I could get to a computer.  I had long been a space station watcher, and I knew a website where one could check for possible viewing opportunities.  It included other satellites, but nothing shows up quite like the space station or the shuttle.

I checked the website and found out it was indeed Columbia, well into its second week of a long mission.  It gave me a good feeling to know I had seen it pass because I had a special personal association with the shuttle Columbia.  In 1981 I had driven to Florida to watch the first launch.  It was the culmination of a lifetime fascination with space flight, dating all the way back to Alan Shepard’s first Mercury flight.

Anyway, I didn’t think too much more about it that week.  Until Saturday.  Our son called and said turn on the TV, there was something about the space shuttle.  I was with our daughter Audrey and as the news channel came on a deep pit opened in the bottom of my soul.  “Ooooooo,” I said.

Audrey must have noticed visible shock on my face and asked me what was wrong.

columbia2I pointed at the screen.  “See all those trails in the sky?”

“Yes.”

“That is supposed to be ONE.”

She realized what I was implying and asked, “Can anything be done?”

“No.  It’s over,” I said, “They’re gone.”

It was a horrible tragedy, but space flight had always been dangerous and always will be.  Is it worth it?  As I sit here typing on a device that can trace its widespread use, along with the networking and other technology that make this communication possible, I’d have to say … yes.

In a way,  I always thought the Columbia disaster was even more tragic than the Challenger explosion because these astronauts had a very successful mission up to that point, most of it doing hard science.  And a high percentage of their data had already been transmitted home.  They had completed their jobs and were fifteen minutes from landing.  So close, in fact, that people were at the Florida landing area anxiously waiting for their imminent return.  It just never happened.

On a personal level, with the people and families involved, it’s a tough call, but every single person who flies into space has to accept the risk; they know it is extremely dangerous.  Life is full of such risks.  If we were suddenly whisked away from the nineteenth century and plopped onto the freeway into a car driving seventy miles an hour along with hundreds of other cars … we’d probably drop dead in fear.  And at any moment, even those of us who are used to it should realize that it is extremely dangerous and in a split second, we could suffer the same sort of fate as those astronauts.

I think Alan Shepard explained the astronaut side of it best when he said, “It’s a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one’s safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract.”

columbia3Anyway, as we approach the fifteen-year anniversary of the tragedy I’ll be thinking about the Columbia crew and their families.  Tragedies like this make us all stronger and help to make space flight even safer. The shuttle was the most complicated machine ever built.  That we lost three out of five was regrettable, but even more regrettable is the fact that we lost continuity … we should have continued building them, making them better and safer, maybe a new one every four years. At the very least we should have had a replacement vehicle ready long before we retired the fleet.

Now, we are on the cusp of a new era of exploration.  There will no doubt be other tragedies.  Advancement sometimes has a high price.

If you ever want to spot the station flying overhead, you can sign up to get text alerts of when one is coming up.  Sign up here:  https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/sightings/

I highly recommend it.  You can look up and think, “I belong to a civilization that can do stuff like that!”  When you think about it, in many ways it is as remarkable as building the pyramids.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  You can find out more about him and his works at http://thefensk.com

Note: his debut novel, THE FEVER, is available for a 25% discount for a limited time.  http://thefensk.com/fever.html

I’m Giving It Away!

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day … the Kindle version of THE FEVER is FREE!

Take a walk in Sam’s dusty boots and catch THE FEVER!  A riddle, an obsession, and a quest … what could possibly go wrong?

Don’t have a Kindle? Get the free Kindle app and start reading on your phone.

It’s only free for two days … get it NOW!

Happy New Year!!

A Bit of News

img_8019My publisher, Wings ePress, has decided to distribute exclusively with Amazon.  You’ll find my books, The Fever and A Curse That Bites Deep available as part of the Kindle Unlimited program on Amazon.

This basically means Kindle Unlimited subscribers can download the ebooks for free.  Others can still buy them but look for specials from time to time to time.

Get links and more information on the books here: http://thefensk.com/ku.html

Prefer print books? Don’t worry, the link to the paperback is there too, on Amazon, right next to the eBook.

I want to wish you all the happiest of holidays.  Be safe!

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  http://thefensk.com

WeekendCoffee Tardiness

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

If we were having coffee today I’d be lamenting our lack of coffee sharing lately.  I’d end with the “it’s not you, it’s me” explanation.

It’s not that I don’t have anything to write about, but a few weeks ago I found myself glued to the weather channel watching news about my hometown Houston and Harvey.  Then I was closely watching the doings of Irma … and even now, Maria’s course is still a bit of a question mark regarding the NC coast.

Ah, hurricane season.  Global Warming?  Maybe.  I’m not a naysayer but I’m also not firmly in the “we humans are totally screwing up our world” camp either.  I think the earth is a much bigger engine than we give it credit for.  Sheesh, thirty years ago scientists were saying the exact opposite: we were causing a general cooling trend, possibly starting a new ice age.  Nobody made a movie about that though.  If you follow planetary astronomy, you’d know that the ice caps on Mars have been in decline as well.  We’ve thrown a lot of trash at Mars but I don’t think we’ve created emissions yet.  Maybe there are solar causes for some of this?  I don’t know.

Nobody talks quite as much about the massive loss of tropical rainforests … probably because they are out of our control.  I think they have a bigger effect on the global climate engine.  And don’t get me started on contrails … sometimes half the clouds in the sky are contrails.  Should be cut emissions?  Sure.  Couldn’t hurt.  Save the rainforests? Definitely.  Those are the scrubbers of the emissions.  Recycle?  Sure.  But I had to wonder when my local program started just saying separate THIS, but not that … just put it all together.  Okay, makes me wonder if that stuff is actually being recycled. Recycling depends on available markets for the materials.  But I still recycle.  Why? I have curbside recycling but not curbside garbage pickup.  If I recycle, I cut down the solid waste I have to haul to the local garbage place by more than a half.  Whatever works, right?

But back to the hurricanes. We’ve always had hurricanes.  Ever heard of the port of Indianola?  Probably not unless you’re from Texas.  Even then, probably not.  It was once the second most active port in Texas.  It was thriving.  It was the county seat.  It had a nice huge courthouse.  It’s gone.  It was destroyed twice in the late 1800s.  In the 1870s, it was pretty awful but it was rebuilt.  In the 1880s people sort of said, why bother after a massive storm really whacked it hard.  All that remains are a few foundations and headstones.  The county seat was moved and most of the town was reclaimed by the sea.  Granted, if you follow hurricanes and the Texas gulf coast they built the town in the exact worst place.  Countless storms, including the massive Carla in 1961 and this year’s Harvey would have hit it again.

I live about 200 miles inland from the NC coast.  It’s far enough to not worry too much but close enough to take notice anytime a storm is out there.  I’ve lived here almost thirty years … one storm whacked us pretty good inland in the mid-nineties.

Everybody I know in Florida did okay through Irma.  Most people I know in Houston came through okay, and those unlucky few are alive and working through the rebuilding process.  Global Warming?  I don’t know.  It seems to me that blaming Global Warming outright for a bad storm season is sort of along the same lines as saying God is punishing us for this or that.  It’s just a bad storm season.  Keep your eyes on the sky and a few extra cans of something for an emergency.  Oh, and coffee.  I wish I had a gas stove.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC

 

 

Disastrous

Photo Courtesy of Melanie Hauser
I might have mentioned before that I’m originally from Houston. The situation there is dire … thankfully, all my friends and family seem to be holding their own so far. My younger sister lives with our 95 year old mother in the house we all grew up in. It has flooded once before, with Tropical Storm Allison. This time, so far (literally knocking on wood here), the water got up to the house but not into it. They haven’t had power since Saturday night. 

I’ve seen a lot of conjecture on the media about this situation, but there are a few things you should know.

 Houston has *always* had flooding problems. The place is basically a swamp they built a city on. Most often, it is localized, but any part of the city can get at least temporarily inundated. I always hated even the temporary inconvenience of flooding. I’ve had to clean up after a catastrophic flood only once, in 1976 … the first citywide flood I’d seen. I worked for The University of Houston, at the University Center (the student center) at the time and their “satellite” student center  flooded. Small wonder, as it was underground. The aftermath was awful, especially in the food service area. 
Some of my earliest memories back into the fifties are of our street flooding. Those floods rarely extended much beyond the curbs. The worst one of my childhood was Hurricane Carla. It got about 1/3 of the way up the yard. Unlike Harvey, Carla blew and rained and moved on. That’s what these storms are supposed to do. 

This tendency to flood is a major reason I decided to move away. I’m a wimp about flooding, I admit it. 

I hear the Mayor, Sylvester Turner, has gotten some undeserved flak about not ordering an evacuation. I knew him in college, he is one of my favorite people from those days. He’s a stand-up guy. He made the right choice. The critics need to understand two things …
ONE: anybody can choose to evacuate on their own. One of my sisters chose to do just that. There was plenty of warning. If you have a place to go, then get there as early as you can. 
TWO: where was anybody expecting to go? This storm in particular, was (and still is) a big question mark. San Antonio? Austin? Dallas? There were chances all three might be affected. It is easy to “say” evacuation … but as Houston found in 2005 after Katrina and when Rita was threatening, there are a LOT of people in Houston. People were literally stranded in the worst traffic jam in history. And in this case it very well might have placed hundreds of thousands at serious risk of death or injury. Can you imagine being stuck in gridlock then slammed with a storm? And for all anybody knew, they might be going someplace worse. There was no clear track to this storm. Still isn’t. They’re pretty good with predictions but sometimes, these storms will basically make their own weather. 

Twenty plus years ago, we thought we were high and dry here in central NC, 130 miles from the coast when Hurricane Fran threatened. It maintained hurricane strength all the way to Raleigh! It was one of the scariest nights of my life. Not so much flooding here, but trees were down EVERYWHERE and power was out for quite a while. 
In short, these are natural disasters. Disaster is the action word here. It’s never going to be good. 

Keep your thoughts and prayers with the people in harm’s way, especially my mom. 

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC. 

http://thefensk.com