Personal Space

It’s that time of year again. Where I hurry from work to get the kids, to practice and games and karate. Where I sit on the bleachers for a game and when someone comes up and sits next to me, I want to tell them, “Hey, can you move over about… well, you know, a hundred or so feet please?”

See, I have issues with personal space. My sphere starts at the center of my gut and goes out to a radius of – well, pretty much the size of a football field. You want to stress me out? Come sit by where I set my jacket on the bleacher to try to save some space, then keep inching your butt closer and closer until you’re touching it. Come eyeball the spot where my kid just vacated to go get a drink. I’ll watch you like a hawk until either my kid comes back or you move away. If you try to sit there, I’ll screech at you that “Someone’s sitting there!”

It’s frustrating to be this way, because situations where other people are enjoying themselves (a fireworks show, the beach, the fair, Disney) are incredibly stressful for me. Even if I lay out a blanket to claim my “space”, other people will inch their way right up to the edge of it, making my heart pound, my breathing labored, my head light. Standing in queue lines where people merge together instead of having a clear sequence of who is next tortures me.

Why am I like this? I have no idea. So, of course I googled it.

Here, the woman on the left was secretly scooting closer to the woman on the right (in Finland) to see how she would react. Watch the whole video to see a perfect example of my facial expressions when people crowd me. (

While searching, I found various articles talking about the importance of personal space in some countries (Finland and Sweden two of the most common). I’ve done some research and realized that if it weren’t for the weather, I might do well there.

This is supposedly a photo of  people waiting at a bus stop in Finland.


Wouldn’t it be nice if people would do this here? 😀 I, for one, would be a much happier person going out in public if I could expect this sort of behavior from strangers.

For the home games that Reagan has played this season, I’ve volunteered to run the game clock. I’d like to say it’s because being Catholic makes me naturally inclined to give back to the community and do my share of the work that needs to be done. <That’s not the reason>. I’d love to say it’s because I’m just a good person who wants to help others. <I’m not>.  See, the person who runs the game clock has a table all to themselves to sit and spread out and breathe and have no one around you crowding closer (except my own kids, but that’s my own fault).

I think I found what I want for Christmas. Could someone tell my husband for me?

Or maybe this?

Either one would probably be fine. :/

Anyone else feel the same?




I ran into an old friend the other day who also happens to be a fellow breast cancer survivor. When she asked how I was doing I told her that I was still cancer-free since my mastectomy a year and a half ago. After congratulating me, she instantly responded with “We’re not cancer-free, we’re in remission.”

Yeah…but… “in remisson” sounds so much worse, doesn’t it? It means I still have cancer and that it’s just not showing up right now. I don’t want to think that way. I really want to be cancer-free. What I actually am is evidence-free. As long as there’s no signs or symptoms of the cancer, I’m considered to be in complete remission.

But I’m not cured. See, it’s like alcoholism. You can stop drinking but you’ll still be an alcoholic – you’re just a non-drinking alcoholic. We removed my cancer and stopped it, but I’m still considered a cancer patient – I’m just a cancer patient in remission. Cancer cells could still be in my body, without showing any signs, even for many years. Then someday, like a sip of wine by an alcoholic could trigger disaster for him – one stray, rogue cell that grows out of control could trigger cancer recurrence for me.

So, because the words “cancer-free” implies your cancer will never come back, and there’s never a guarantee of that, most doctors will not give you that diagnosis. Instead, we are N.E.D. No evidence of disease.

It’s interesting what I hear – people tell you to forget about it- be grateful that you survived – go on and live your life. Okay. I get it. I should be happy and move on, forget what I went through. Don’t think about the small chance that the cancer may come back.  Let’s just say that it’s easy for someone who’s never had cancer to give that sort of advice.

Cancer changes you. As I’ve said before, never again will you think it won’t happen to you – because it already has happen to you before. I know I fought it off once, but if it comes back, can I do it again? Mostly, I do give myself the same advice the non-cancer people give me –  try not think about that. But I do. And I’ve found most other cancer survivors feel the same way.

It’s getting better. Other than the daily reminder when I shower that I only have one breast, and the variety of issues I continue to struggle with – I don’t think about it as often as I used to. It pops into my head more fleetingly now – a stray thought that I’m able to push away fairly easily most of the time.  Before my chemo treatments, my friend had told me that someday I would look back on all that I went through as an abnormal blip in the timeline of my life. That the time would go by fast.

They were right about that- I can hardly believe a year and a half has gone by since my surgery. In September it will be 2 years since I had my last chemo treatment. (and yet I still get nauseous at the sight of red or pink clear liquids :/ – only those who have had the chemo drug Adriamycin will understand that one 🙂 )

At my last visit, my oncologist said that after December, we’ll be switching from having checkups every 3 months to having them every 6 months. A milestone on my way to the coveted 5 years in remission.

During my morning run, I saw one of the homeless ladies that I regularly see on Grand River. She, as always, was wearing a coat and a smile. In contrast, I was wearing running shorts and a sleeveless shirt, sweat running down my face as I ran past her. I was burning up from my exertion, she had very likely been out there all night and needed the warmth of her coat.

She had been leaning on the bus shelter as I approached but hurried to move her cart off the sidewalk when she saw me. She said “I’m so so sorry.” I told her it was okay, I could go around. We exchanged our normal “Have a good day!” and smiles as I continued on past.

What if this lady was to have cancer? Would she even know what to do if she found a lump in her breast? Could she get to a doctor? Does anyone ever check on her? It reminded me also of Carmella and how I first felt when I realized what her situation was like for her.

It was a gentle reminder that life is good for me. Sure, I battled cancer and struggle with the aftermath, but I have a job and healthcare and a family to care for me. Life is good, even when you’re just in remission.

Felt People in the Crosswalk

Last fall when I was running, I noticed a little person lying in the crosswalk. It looked as if a preschooler had accidentally dropped part of his felt art project on the way home from school. I felt bad for the little preschooler and his parents, who would miss out on seeing the crudely cut little felt man.

A few days later, I noticed another little felt person in a crosswalk nearby, and I investigated. It was stuck to the pavement with something akin to super glue. And it wasn’t felt, it actually looked and had the texture of whatever crosswalks are made of (paint, stiff tape?). Obviously not someone’s lost art project.

When walking with a colleague later that week, we noticed several more around the edge of campus, all in crosswalks. At the time I was intrigued, surely this was part of some big secret code that I could investigate. What could be the meaning? I hoped it wasn’t some commercial advertising ploy, that would be disappointing. The additional ones we found looked more like robots, so I decided to call them felt robots.

Over winter, as I moved my run to an indoor track, I forgot about the little robots and what their purpose could be.  When I began running outdoors again a few months ago, all the robots in the crosswalks along my running route were gone, but I didn’t really notice. I’d forgotten about them – until a couple weeks ago.

My friend and I took a walk along a sidewalk we hadn’t gone on in a long while and there was a new robot right in the crosswalk. I remembered the photos I’d taken last summer and that I had never investigated what they were all about. I watched diligently for more and on our way back to the office, I noticed an old robot that was still there from last year, albeit whitened from being bleached in the sun. Each time we’ve walked since then I’ve watched for them. Most are gone, probably scraped away by snow plows during winter.

But their meaning? Who had placed them there and why? Maybe I’d put off investigating because I didn’t want to find out it was some gimmick to sell something or that it had to do with whatever the latest political anti-freedom movement was. I liked the mystery and didn’t want it soiled.

But my curiosity was piqued again so I gritted my teeth and googled ‘felt people East Lansing’. I found nothing. I got the same result with ‘felt people crosswalk’. This actually made me feel better. There was still a mystery. If it had been some advertisement or a political statement, there would have certainly been something in Google about it. Then I tried ‘robot crosswalk’ and bingo!

There were articles and blog posts from as early as 2008 up through present time about these robots called stikman and its anonymous artist creator known only as ‘Bob’. “He considers himself an artistic Johnny Appleseed, spreading stikmen instead of seeds.” (from Washington, D.C. article below) Although in that article, the author questions whether ‘Bob’ really is stikman’s creator, because no one really knows. In the latest articles, they mention the stikman being seen in cities such as Philadelphia, D.C., San Francisco, New York, and Ann Arbor. None mentioned East Lansing, although it’s only a hop, skip and a jump from AA.

As best I can tell, stikman originated in NY. And according to the NY artist who claims to be the creator, they have no meaning at all. He is not trying to convey any message. He is simply sharing his art with the world. His thoughts on street art/graffiti: “At its core we all work in that vibrant zone where art meets real life in the space we all share.”  He also mentions that when his stikmen are removed, he may be disappointed, but he doesn’t consider it as “precious art”.

Interesting, I guess, but I was actually quite disappointed that there was no real meaning to it other than he enjoys making little stikmen and leaving them behind in cities he travels to by sticking them on the pavement. No message. No more mystery.

And then as I read article after article (surely there was more meaning to it somewhere, right?) I started to sense something. Nearly every website that I read had a multitude of comments posted on it by people from all over the U.S. mentioning that they’d noticed stikman in the crosswalks near them. That they enjoyed seeing them and finding new ones, like I did.

Were the ones here in East Lansing really from the legendary stikman creator? Or was it perhaps a copycat that was placing them in other cities? Were these real stikmen or just copies?

Then I thought – does it really matter? Art inspires art. We are all connected, really, by our appreciation of things that people have created. Art affects each of us in different ways, bringing forth emotional responses that even we struggle to understand at times.

Whether it is the striking architectural features of certain buildings,

notes from the musician on the street corner wafting through the air as we walk along the sidewalk,

a natural scene,

or even street art such as robots in the crosswalk, we are all touched by art.


The best articles I found for more information on stikman are:

Washington, D.C.

New York City



I saw her face


Last week when I went into the locker room and turned on the lights, I realized that someone was already in there. In the dark. Locked up in the larger-sized disabled shower stall. They had lots of things lying on the floor in there, I could see under the stall door. There was also an electric cord coming out from under the door, plugged into an outlet on the wall. It was pretty obvious this person planned on being there for a while.

As I ran that morning, I pondered this person. Maybe a student who’d had a fight with her roommate and needed a temporary place to sleep? A student who’d been evicted from her apartment? I thought about who to call to get this person help. IPF? Student Affairs and Services? Someone who could point them to the services they needed and especially to make certain they were okay. I didn’t end up calling anyone that day. I mean, maybe she was just resting for a while.

She was still there by Monday. Same situation, all her stuff stacked around in the stall. I could hear her in there sniffing her nose occasionally, moving around. I went about changing and hurrying out to the track, again wondering who she was, knowing I needed to call someone, DPS maybe. And then after my run, as I went to step into my shower stall, she came out of the large stall, and I saw her face.

She wasn’t a student. She was an elderly homeless person. She’d found a warm place that even had water and toilets. She was living in there. She obviously needed help. I called DPS and they said they would come check on her.

Yesterday, she was still there. She was taking a shower in the morning when I went in to change for my run. I called DPS again. They were in the locker room for quite a while with her. It was obvious she’d resisted leaving. They walked her out and I saw her face. She looked confused, agitated, alone. They walked her to the door. Three officers carrying her stuff – a blanket and a few other odds and ends. Probably all she owned in the world.

I ran, then showered. I got into my nice clean clothes. Then I got into my car and turned on the heater, sipped from my bottle of water, and started to sing along to the radio. And then again… I saw her face.

As I drove across campus I said a prayer for her – that they would find her a warm place to stay and some food. That she would be safe and feel cared for. Because doesn’t everyone deserve that?

I know I did the right thing. Another woman at the track had told me she had also noticed the woman and had waffled back and forth about whether she should call DPS. And we both agreed that as University employees, we are stewards of MSU. We have an obligation to put our students (and their safety) first.

This homeless woman may have been on drugs. Or she may have not been on drugs that she needed for a mental condition. She might have become agitated if someone confronted her (See this and this). If something had happened to a student, well, not reporting her presence would have been inexcusable. I did the right thing. I know this.

And yet…180167_159814654070057_3663832_n

Last night, I came home to my family where we had pizza for dinner and watched a movie, laughing, enjoying being together. I kissed and hugged the kids before they went to their beds. Later, as I lay down in my own bed, I pulled the warm covers up around me and I settled down comfortably to go to sleep.

… And I saw her face.



The No-Tamoxifen Trial

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been suffering from extreme leg/feet cramps and Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). I’ve tried all I can to supplement my diet, drink water, stretch, exercise, etc to relieve them. Sometimes it works, sometimes I’m up all night in misery. I also cramp up easily in my stomach muscles (just by bending over to pick something up) and my neck (especially at night when I first lay down on my pillow). Feet cramps can be triggered by something as small as slipping my foot into my shoe, or simply rolling over in bed.

For a while, I thought I had it figured out – drink 5-6 bottles of water a day, eat my banana and yogurt, take my calcium and magnesium supplements, plus my multi-vitamin, and don’t drink too much caffeine. It worked, for a while. Then, with absolutely no changes (wearing the same shoes, doing the same run and stretching, same food and other activities), I suffered from a 4 night set of spasms that kept me from sleeping more than a half hour at a time. And since before Thanksgiving, I’ve been getting random nosebleeds. I’ll just be sitting there and blood comes pouring out of my nose.

I thought at first it was due to having the heater blowing in the colder weather, so I started using a humidifier in my office at work (we don’t have forced air heat at home). It seemed to help, and then the nosebleeds started again. I read the literature on Tamoxifen and it stated in rare cases it can cause low blood platelets (which is what causes blood to clot), thus the spontaneous nose bleeds. I also read that Magnesium levels can affect platelet counts.

When this started happening even at work, I tried upping my magnesium supplement, since most medical articles state that is the one mineral of the trifecta (calcium, magnesium, and potassium) that is most often deficient. No relief from the cramping, but since magnesium is a laxative…well :/ . At work, I could barely stay awake, I was afraid to drive very far in case I got too sleepy, I was mentally dull.

MSU Health, including my cancer team, recently implemented a new electronic health system. I wasn’t scheduled to see my chemical oncologist until March, but I found in the new system that I could send her a message. I explained my concerns about the Tamoxifen being a possible magnesium leech and what I’d tried to counteract it. I asked if, other than the laxative effects, was there an upper limit on how much magnesium I could take.  A nurse from the chemo center, Therese, called and told me the doctor wanted me to get a blood test so she could see my mineral levels. So, the next morning, I did not take my magnesium or calcium supplements and went in for the test.

A few days later, the doctor called. Guess what? All my levels were absolutely normal. She then went on to tell me that Tamoxifen should not cause low magnesium levels, or bloody noses, or RLS. I nearly started crying. It was reminiscent of the Taxol/Neulasta debate (which I won, by the way… that is if you can call feeling extreme pain from a medicine “winning” :/ ) -this medicine shouldn’t cause this symptom, yet it was causing it for me. I believe it is the same with the Tamoxifen. The doctor suggested (after convincing me it would safe to do so) I stop taking tamoxifen for a two weeks trial to see if my symptoms improved. I also stopped the magnesium supplements, but continued my same diet and water consumption.

For 5 days, I was gloriously free of muscle cramps and bloody noses. And then Sunday night, I woke up extremely ill (norovirus, we think) with vomiting and diarrhea. So much for the experiment, as vomiting and diarrhea can deplete your body of minerals, especially magnesium. Within two days, I was back to having bad leg and feet cramps. I have tried for nearly a week now to get enough magnesium, calcium, and potassium in my diet and get back to drinking 5 bottles of water a day, but when you are having stomach issues (I didn’t even eat for two days), it feels impossible. I finally caved in and took a magnesium pill one night, leading to a re-triggering of diarrhea by morning.

I’ve only been out of the house twice in the past week. Once on Thursday to drive my son to karate, only getting out of the car to walk to the docheng and back to the car. It wore me out. Then yesterday, I went to Walmart to grab some groceries and just walking around the store caused severe leg cramps- mostly in the front of my legs (shins) making me stumble around holding onto my cart to get through the store and back to my car.

Last night, I took magnesium, calcium and my multivitamin before going to bed. Even so, I had to jump out of bed 7 times between 4:00 and 6:30 am to relieve the severe leg cramps in my shins. (doing the math- that’s about every 20 minutes). Regardless of my exhaustion (I had wanted to drink as much water as possible before bed, so I was up until 1 am ), I finally just gave up and got out of bed.

Today, as I was writing this blog, I dug around in the literature to make certain what I was stating was true and I found something out. Magnesium deficiency does affect platelet counts, but not in the way I had thought. The lower the magnesium, the higher your platelet aggregative ability, i.e. the more your blood clots and vice versa. So, it’s possible, even probable, that I have been causing my own nosebleeds by making my magnesium levels too high, causing my platelets to be less “sticky”. No wonder my nosebleeds stopped when I stopped taking Tamoxifen – because I’d stopped taking magnesium at the same time! 😦

On the other hand, the Tamoxifen drug literature lists that a rare side effect is low blood platelet counts. So, at least I was right about that. But my magnesium supplementation only made it worse, not better. I also found that magnesium can affect your body’s potassium and calcium levels, the other two minerals required for proper muscle function. Calcium helps your muscle contract and magnesium helps it relax, thus the reason most people take magnesium supplements for muscle cramps. Too much magnesium is associated with low calcium levels and high potassium levels. So, it sounds like I shouldn’t be taking calcium supplements, since I probably get more than I need already due to my dairy-addiction. Too much calcium can cause cramping, so can too little. But I possibly shouldn’t be taking magnesium either, or at least maybe should take a lower dose.

The next thing I guess I can look at is my shoes. My husband has been convinced it is my shoes. When I think about it, I usually don’t have cramps on the weekends. What’s different on the weekends?- I don’t usually wear my dress shoes (at least not for 10 hours straight), I don’t run (which means I also don’t usually wear my running shoes), I don’t sit at a desk all day long, I don’t drink as much caffeine. Yesterday, when I went shopping and had the severe cramps, it was the first time I’d worn my dress shoes to walk around since getting sick a week ago. But of course my cramps have been going on for about 5 days- again due to my sickness probably depleting the nutrients from my body.

It’s so frustrating to always be the one where no one can seem to diagnose what is causing my sleeping, pain, bleeding or cramping issues nor what to do to fix it. 😦

A Glimpse


I had lunch with my daughter yesterday. She’s lived at college for the past several years. Close enough to visit often, but we don’t, for her sake. She has adjusted to her new young adult life well. And I miss her.

I miss knowing that I will see her each night and get to hear all the details about her day (good and bad). I miss seeing her face at the dinner table. I miss her cuddling up to me on the couch at night when she needs a little mom-time. She comes home every few weeks, at least until midterms and/or finals hit her and then it’s less often.

I’m always happy when she texts me a “do you have any plans for tomorrow?” message. Assuming my work schedule allows it, my answer is always “having lunch with you?” Yesterday, she came to my office after her morning class and waited for me to finish a meeting, then we walked across the street for lunch.

The event that sparked our lunch this time was that I needed to give her her vehicle registration card and sticker for her plates, as well as her “Time for Renewal” notice for her driver’s license. She’s turning 21 next month and will get the “adult” version of the license that is horizontal orientation instead of vertical for the “under 21” kids. So, I explained how she needed to go to the S.O.S. to renew it, get her photo taken (not one of her favorite things), make sure she took her I.D., her wallet, etc.

We didn’t necessarily discuss anything major. Just small things about which of her siblings had done or said what recently. She talked about how her classes were going. She’s in pre-vet and had to raise a chicken for butchering this term. She really enjoyed that and now has some chicken in her freezer for a “free” meal sometime soon. 😀

Then I drove her to the Plant Bio building where she had her next class. And we sat in the parking lot and chatted some more before she headed off to class. She was scheduled for a volleyball game that evening. Her lab would end at 5:50 and her game started at 6:00 pm. She and her roommate would eat dinner after that (I remember those crazy schedules!). We talked about relationships and how you find the best ones when you aren’t really looking for them.

She kissed me before she left (she’s never been one to be embarrassed about her love for her parents 🙂 ) and I watched her walk up the sidewalk into the building. As any mother knows, you feel this mixture of absolute pride and bittersweet emotions when your adult child heads off like that. My baby is all grown up and she’s beautiful and intelligent and confident. And she doesn’t really need me every day anymore. :/


And as I drove back to my office, I thought. I thought about how I only get glimpses into her life now. I thought how I’m jealous of the people that get to see her daily, at the same time that I’m glad that she is finding her place in the world.

And I thought – I wish I could just see her in her daily activities and interactions without actually being there. Like a fly on the wall. Not because I’m worried at all about her. But because I would love to continue reading her story. See, as her parent, I got to be the author of her story when she was a baby.


At first, I got to choose everything for her, what I thought was best, her clothes, her food, her activities. And then I slowly relinquished my place at the keyboard over time, letting her spend more and more time typing up her own story as she grew, with me just helping edit along the way.


And now, she’s the full author in her own life story. She gets to make things up the way she wants them to be. And I have to wait to read excerpts of it in these little glimpses of time that I get to be with her. She still asks my advice, and I have to work very hard to make certain she is asking for my opinion, not my approval. I’ve explained to my kids that they get to choose what they want to take from their dad and me into their own lives, and what they want to leave out. That their lives are their own, even though we’ll always be there for them. I love who they’re becoming. And as most moms, I miss not knowing everything, but it’s okay. So far, from the parts she’s let me see- it’s turning out to be a great story.

Now #2 is starting her journey, applying to college, planning her life. Slowly letting loose of my hand. Bittersweet.


And #3, 4, and 5 are starting to spend more time at the keyboard writing their own stories as well. And I get to be the reader, as it should be. I look forward to seeing how these stories all turn out. 😀


Good for you!


It’s one of those statements that I know is meant to be encouraging, but somehow it feels judgmental. This morning I was about 1.5 miles into my 3 mile run when a guy on a bike rode past, and as he did, he gave me a thumbs up, then held his arm out with a fist (like he was flexing his muscles). I know what he meant. Good for you, keep it up, you got this, etc.

And I know he meant well- and when people do things like that, I take it in the vein it was intended. He was encouraging me, and I did appreciate that. It’s just…

Well, no one does that for the skinny in-shape people. No one says “good for you” to the fit people who are out running.

So, I take it as – “hey fat ass, it’s good to see you got off the couch and are doing something to get in shape”. I know, I know. Be positive. Be happy people notice what you are trying to do. Bleh, bleh, bleh. I DO get it. It’s just…

Well, it feels demeaning. Like they think if someone doesn’t encourage me, I won’t keep doing it or something.

I have to remind myself that they don’t know what I’ve been through. About how the cancer treatments rob you of all fitness. How the steroids they give you at every treatment keeps you from losing weight, even when you are barely eating due to nausea. How the anti-cancer medicine continues to rob me of sleep, which causes increased stress levels, which makes it nearly impossible to lose weight, regardless of how much I exercise. :/

Hey, he noticed I was trying my hardest and he wanted to let me know that. He meant well. That’s what matters, right? So, I yelled out “Thank you!” to him. And I smiled for a while as I ran.  And I remembered that what other people think of how I look doesn’t quite matter that much to me anymore. So, good for me!

I wanted to also let everyone know who may be wondering- I remain cancer-free! The radiologist said that all looked normal, nothing to worry about! Thanks for all your support.