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Drug use & cancer: An unfortunate contrast

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A field of Steph’s favorite flowers.

Yesterday, I lost an old friend to leukemia. We worked together at Planned Parenthood for almost nine wonderful years and let me tell you, she was one of the kindest people you would ever meet. Honestly, I cannot think of a single moment when she was mean or annoying or unfriendly or too busy to be kind. She was a sweet, gentle soul who was always giggling and despite impossible odds, she always managed to keep herself out of office politics. Steph was a young girl–several years younger than I–and not only did she leave behind her PP family but she also left behind a young son and husband. I can’t imagine how hard it’s going to be for her son to deal with losing his mother way too early in his life.

Steph’s struggles with cancer began in July of 2012 and yesterday her body finally gave up and understandably sought peace. Cancer is such an impossible battle. I watched it literally consume my sister’s body until there was nothing left. I admire anyone who bravely fights an illness of this kind and the people who stick by their side the whole way. Take it from me, watching a loved one go through something like that is beyond painful. It takes all the strength you possess and more.

I’ve noticed that people who face life-threatening illness tend to buckle down and prepare themselves for the fight of their lives. They develop an unshakable will and determination to do whatever it takes to live. However, I can’t help but consider the contrast too. I think of the people out there who have their health and are not facing death, yet they give up way before their time. A friend of mine lost the love of her life last Christmas Eve. His death was in part due to drug use. She has not gotten over this loss and probably never will. To add insult to injury, just a few days ago, almost exactly a year later, she lost a good friend to drug use. There’s a lot of shame around using drugs, so much so that even close friends are unaware of one’s private struggles with addiction. That’s a lot of energy spent hiding one’s pain from the world and I can see how it would be consuming. I hope for all of those suffering that the will to live overcomes shame and that help is sought.

Hard, deadly drugs seem to be becoming more prevalent in our society today. My 46-year-old brother has lost several friends in the past few years to drugs. He lives in Ocean City, MD and heroin use seems to be exploding there. This absolutely shocked me to hear because, first of all, I thought that only rock stars and Hollywood actresses did heroin and secondly, well…doesn’t everyone and their mother know that heroin is one of the worst recreational drugs one could ever take? If you’re going to a resort town to party, why the heck would you pursue a potential overdose of a toxic substance? Am I alone in this? I just don’t get it. When I was down there last, we went to Rehoboth Beach, DE for some food and they’d just busted a bunch of people selling heroin needles right on the beach. This is the place where we spent our summers as a family! Even in our hometown, they’re finding meth labs every day. What the hell are people thinking?

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Rest in peace my friend. Until we meet again.

It’s this contrast that I find puzzling. Some people will fight with every last fiber of the being to live and some easily give up. I’m not going to sugar coat any of this and I have no desire to be judgemental but this isn’t an issue of education or lack there of. The entire world knows that heroin, meth and the like are toxic and potentially lethal. When you begin taking drugs like this, you must know in some capacity that you are giving up on life in some way shape or form. Yes, it’s a form of escapism, and I know life is hard but when I think about people like Steph who face almost certain death and refuse to give up, I have very little pity for those who are feeling down so they need a drug-induced pick-me-up.

Then there is this horrible grey area where unsuspecting people are being sold death in pill form by drug companies. I feel for the well-meaning folks who are hooked on prescription drugs, such as opiate pain medications (basically heroin hiding under a fancy name). We are told that drugs are bad and that they’ll kill you, yet drug companies slap a new name on a deadly substance, provide doctors with incentives to prescribe it, and now people assume that what they’re being given is safe because doctors know best. The only thing safer about these prescribed drugs is that there is dosage, side effect, and contradiction information provided. They’re most certainly as toxic and habit-forming as any street drug though.  They slowly modify and breakdown the body just like any other drug and people often forget that innocently mixing them with alcohol or even Tylenol can be fatal. With the best of intentions, people get hooked and if worst comes to worst and the doctor cuts you off, these medicines are so commonly prescribed that they can easily be found in the pocketbook of the person next to you. And if desperation takes hold, don’t worry, you can find it being sold on the beach in a family resort town.

I just don’t know what to think about all of this. Some people fight so hard for life, some do everything they can to escape it, and some are just duped. Your thoughts?

Musings

Farewell dear friend

I’m sad to report that a 15-year love affair ended today. I put my sweet little companion, Barry White, to sleep at noon after deciding it was time late last night. It was a difficult decision. I had my heart set on him running off into the field  someday soon and just never coming back, but he’s way too much of a mama’s boy to do that. He has been wasting away for several weeks now. A few months ago he was put on thyroid meds and he began to bounce back to his vibrant self until about three weeks ago. He seemingly lost several pounds overnight and pretty much quit eating (which is one of his favorite pastimes). I knew his meds were calibrated correctly because his levels were tested just a few weeks before and his blood work came out fantastic. The retired vet tech in me knew that his lack of appetite, weight loss and super stinky breath meant that his kidneys were shutting down and he was in the beginning stages of renal failure. I’ve learned from past mistakes not to go overboard trying to delay the inevitable and he was nice enough to make it clear that for once in my life I was not to intervene. He was going to embrace his failing health. So his last days were spent on his terms and I let him do the things he needed to do. No meds were shoved down his throat. No forced feeding. I let him go outside and visit with his groundhog friends and chase insects. He got milk and tuna when he wanted it and he got lots of love. He was purring, dust bathing, and sunning himself outside until the moment I brought him to the vet today. Even the car ride was nice. No despised pet carrier. He rode on my lap, pressed up against my chest, seat belted in with me. The windows were down and the wind was in his hair. That’s the first and only time I can say that he enjoyed a car ride.

My biggest problem has always been figuring out when is the proper time to put an animal to sleep. There’s such guilt surrounding this issue and past mistakes have, and always will, haunt me. Like I said, I was hoping he would make the decision for me but I got the signal I needed last night. He was laying on my bed–purring–and he opened his mouth to talk to me and I saw that his gums were white like a sheet. Being a retired vet tech, I knew what would be next–yellow. The jaundiced look of liver failure. Yellow eyes, skin and mouth. I would never want to see my friend suffer that way. The purrs, the nature walks, the late night kisses and booty calls were soon coming to an end and then there would be no more joy left. I’m not convinced his love would ever run out entirely–he is Barry White after all, the Ambassador of Love–but it would be heartbreaking to see his love flame totally extinguished. It was time to end on a high note and I knew it. This morning he went outside and hid in the grass a few steps away from the house. Usually he would be in a groundhog hole by that point–making out with an entire community of groundhogs–but he couldn’t make it that far–another indication that it was time. Then I cried and two huge breaths, like waves, washed over me and told me that it all was perfect. I finally got the timing just right. After so many past mistakes I finally learned something. And it felt good.

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Things I will miss:

♥ I speak for all of us by saying that we will all miss the late night B&W booty calls. He felt it necessary to visit every person and animal in the middle of the night to shower them with kisses and drool. He would do this all night long. Every night. I joked that I was going to make a collar for him that would hold a small pencil and paper so we could all write notes to each other. He is such a vigorous late night lover that it took two baby gates to keep him out of our bedrooms at night when I was living at home with my mother.

♥ I will miss the drool. Such an unexpected surprise.

♥ I will miss how you are not independent like other cats. You are very much a little man in a tuxedo.

♥ I will miss how you completely take for granted the fact that you are bright white and black. You can be seen a million miles away but yet you think when you are out hunting in the field that you are camouflaged somehow. I could never understand how you caught anything.

♥ I will miss how you let my mother treat you like a little baby. She would come outside every night and call your name until you came running out of the woods to her. Then you would stop at her feet, sit down and wait until she picked you up and cradled you in her arms like a baby. You put up with this treatment every night. You are the closest thing to a grand kid she will ever have.

♥ Petunia will miss sniffing your butt, coveting your food and being jealous of the attention you receive when you walk into a room.

♥ I will miss my little lap warmer. You always loved being an active part of my work. Heck, you even wrote many of my blog posts for me and sadly, I took all the credit.

♥ Your ridiculously large feet/snowshoes will be missed. God gawd! In all my years I’ve never seen such wonderful paws. Pictures don’t do them justice.

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I’ve learned a great many things from my friend over these past 15 years. Above all else, I’ve learned that we all sell ourselves short when it comes to our ability to love others. I don’t believe in one singular love or just focusing my love on one person. I’ve come to learn that I have the capacity to actively love ten, hundreds, potentially thousands of people at any one time. To love just one would diminish what I’m capable of and thereby sell the world short. Can you imagine how great it would be if people just stopped focusing on finding some “one” and instead found many to love?  I don’t mean any of this in a sexual way, but in an emotional/spiritual way which is by far more important. B&W lived that philosophy every day. He loved every dog, groundhog, insect, person and sometimes cat that crossed his path. There was no preference; his love seamlessly bridged the species gap. When he was with you, he focused all of his love and attention all on you. The magnitude of it often became overwhelming, in a good way. Then when it was time, he would move on to the next being and do the same. In some points of his life he collected 2nd and possibly 3rd families. He had more than enough love for all of us. So perhaps we can all learn something from him. 1. Love everyone you possibly can with no expectation of what you’ll get in return. 2. Be genuine in showing your affection for them. 3. Make them feel important when you are with them. Your time may be short with them but make it concentrated.

Happy trails to you, dear friend. Until we meet again! You were, are and always will be loved. I hope everyone goes home and gives their own pet(s) a huge lick on the face for me and Barry White Kitty.