Re-Blog: Breast Exam

I’ve posted this here once or twice already, but since October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s not a topic that can be over-emphasized, especially for women. Men, I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to skip this one.

I wrote this piece in 2009 when my husband Bill was still alive. It stresses the importance of performing monthly breast exams and annual mammograms. Did you know that if breast cancer is caught early, there’s a higher chance of survival? I know people who lived through this. If they can, so can you, ladies, as long as you take preventative steps.

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I’m sitting on the toilet, moving the index and middle fingers of my right hand up, down, and around each breast, as the radiology technician showed me. There are no lumps. I stand, repeat the procedure, and still find no lumps.  In the shower, I rub a generous amount of soap on both breasts and repeat the examination. Still, there are no lumps.

As I finish showering, I reflect on my first mammogram eight years ago.  A friend emailed me a list of ways to prepare. One suggestion was to insert my boob into the refrigerator and close the door. Another was to place my breast behind one of the back tires of my car and have someone drive over it. Either way, I would have a feeling of what it would be like to have a mammogram. These suggestions didn’t make sense until I had my first procedure.

The mammogram machine was a tall contraption with an adjustable top. I stood, leaning against it, while my breast was squashed between the top and bottom halves. I held my arm, corresponding to the breast being examined, straight out, and clutched a bar on the side of the machine.

Two views were taken of each breast, one side to side and one top to bottom.  The top to bottom ones weren’t bad, but the side to side were excruciating because of my short stature. I had to stand on tiptoe so my breast could be aligned properly.

At one point while the picture was being taken, I wondered what would happen if the power went out. Would the machine lock, trapping my boob between its metal jaws? For the next eight years, I allowed my bosom to be subjected to this torture, and for what?

As I step out of the shower and reach for my towel, I think about my mother who died of cancer ten years ago. Not in her breast, it was the dreaded disease all the same. During the last six months of her life, she was weak from chemotherapy, and Dad took care of her. The oncologist gave her a good prognosis a couple of weeks before she passed. It was a shock when she lay down on the afternoon of December 15, 1999, closed her eyes, and never woke up.

Fortunately, this didn’t happen while I was a child in need of her care. I was living on my own and holding down a job, and I only needed her companionship and moral support.  I realize now that if I were to die, my husband Bill would be lost without me.  Unable to care for himself, he would be forced to spend the rest of his life in a nursing home.  After working in one for fifteen years, I know they’re not bad places, but living in an institution, no matter how pleasant the surroundings or friendly the staff, isn’t the same as living at home and being cared for by the one you love.

So I’ll continue to examine my breasts once a month. When I receive a card in the mail from the radiology clinic reminding me it’s time for my yearly mammogram, I’ll pick up the phone and arrange to have my boobs squashed.

“What are you doing?” Bill asks, as I climb in bed beside him and reach under my pajama top.

“I’m doing my monthly breast exam.  Remember? I do it when I’m sitting, standing, in the shower, and lying down.” I still find no lumps.

With a sigh of relief, I turn, put my arm around him, snuggle against him, bury my face in his hair.  “You don’t want me to die of breast cancer, do you?” I say, as I kiss him.

“No,” he answers with a laugh. “Can I examine your breasts?”

“Sure,” I answer, positioning myself so he can reach them.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Walking to School

One thing on many parents’ minds is how their children will get to and from school now that classes are in full swing. Some students take the bus while others are driven, but how many children walk to school anymore?

During the first six years of my education in the 1960’s and early 70’s, we were living in Tucson, Arizona. Because of my visual impairment, I spent the first five and a half years at a state school for the blind before being mainstreamed into a public school. Because these facilities were too far to walk, and there was no bus, my parents drove me to and from school each day. However, I read stories about other children walking to and from school and longed to be able to do that.

When we moved to Sheridan, Wyoming, in 1973, my wish came true. For the first couple of years we lived there, our house was at the top of a hill, and the elementary school my brother and I attended was at the bottom. During sixth-grade, I delighted in walking to and from school with other kids.
When I started seventh grade, the junior high school was farther away. Dad wanted me to walk, but Mother prevailed, and I took the bus. I did walk half a mile to and from the bus stop each day, and that was fun.

In the spring of my eighth grade year, we moved to another house that was not within a school bus route. This time, Dad said I could walk, and Mother didn’t argue. It was a mile, the longest I’d ever walked. The route took me through downtown, so when Dad walked with me, he showed me how to cross busy streets with traffic lights by listening and watching the direction the vehicles were traveling.

Once I got the hang of it, I loved the long walk to and from school. I often stopped downtown, either at Brown Drug or The Palace Café, and had a milkshake. That was my after-school snack.

High school was a different matter. My main obstacle was a busy street with no four-way stop sign or light. At this point, I was given a cane that I held in front of me while standing at the corner in the hope that someone would stop. Hardly anyone did, and I often waited a long time for a break in traffic before dashing across.

After that, it was smooth sailing, through the park and up the hill. Thanks to that intersection, though, I soon lost interest in walking, especially in winter when the boardwalk up the hill was slick with snow and ice, and there was no railing. I was only too happy when my parents started driving me to and from school each day, although I could tell my father was disappointed.

I understand his disappointment. Because he had to walk to school every day as a kid, it was only fair that his children should do the same. I wish I’d continued to brave that intersection. Better yet, I could have taken a longer route.

In the good old days, many children in rural areas walked over a mile to and from school each day. I remember reading in The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder about Laura and her sister walking home from school one day during a raging blizard.

Nowadays, I see children getting off of school buses every day but rarely encounter them walking to or from school. Because of security concerns, real or imagined, many parents are too over-protective. This is sad. Whatever happened to the good old days?

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

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Re-Blog: The Mystical Delicious Peach

I love peaches but prefer them either canned or frozen. I never could figure out how to eat a fresh peach, but my late husband Bill loved them. This blogger shares some interesting insights on peaches plus memories of canning and a recipe for a peach dessert. After you read this article, I’d love to hear about your favorite fruit and any memories or recipes associated with it. Happy eating.

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The Mystical Delicious Peach

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

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Where’s Your Happy Place?

Believe it or not, even though I live in Sheridan, Wyoming, my happy place is a beach in Jupiter, Florida, where my brother and I often go when I visit him. I sometimes swim but am mostly content to walk alongside the ocean and feel cool waves wash over my feet, cleansing them of the tension from which I’m retreating. I also enjoy sitting in a lawn chair with a picnic lunch or lying on a blanket. Once when I got sick during my visit, my brother and his family encouraged me to accompany them to the beach. I went, against my better judgement, and to my surprise, the ocean breeze and the roar of the waves plus the occasional cry of seagulls made me feel better.

I recently red an article entitled “5 Ways to Re-Start a Bad Day.” One suggestion given here is to think of your happy place. This could be a place where you went as a child with happy memories associated with it. It could be a place where you’ve never been but would like to go. It could even be a made-up place. Now that summer is waning and fall is approaching, I want you to think of your happy place and tell me about it.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

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My Career as a Bowler

As a kid, I was forced to try a variety of sports in school physical education classes. Unfortunately, due to my visual impairment, I was not successful at any of them. I either fell on my face or was hit in the face with a ball. When throwing, my aim was terrible. When I was in college however, I discovered a sport I could do pretty well.

In 1981, I was entering my second year at Sheridan College in my Wyoming home town. I was required to take at least two semesters of P.E. It was time for me to quit procrastinating and do it. I signed up for bowling because to me, that seemed to require the least athletic ability and the chance of injury was slim.

The first few days of class were humiliating. No matter what I did, the ball always ended up in the gutter. Fortunately, nobody laughed at me, which they would have done in elementary school. However, in between frames, I watched other students bowl strikes and spares and heard them cheering for one another and was depressed by the realization that no one was cheering for me. I took comfort in the fact that at least I wasn’t getting hurt.

The instructor saw that I was floundering and tossed me a lifeline. She arranged for me to have a lane all to myself so I would have an opportunity to practice continually without having to wait for others to bowl. She also worked with me to perfect my arm movement so I could aim the ball right down the center of the lane.

Gradually, I improved. My gutter balls became less and less frequent and I began hitting more and more pins each time I bowled. One day, I finally bowled a strike, and the alley reverberated with the cheers of my classmates.

By the time the holidays rolled around, my average score was seventy-six. I loved the sport and wanted to practice in order to improve my game. I even watched the professional bowling tour on TV. I was living at home at the time.

The problem was that since I couldn’t drive, it was impossible for me to borrow the car and drive to the bowling alley whenever I wanted. So I constantly begged my parents to take me bowling, which they readily agreed to do most of the time. We often went as a family with my younger brother Andy tagging along. At Thanksgiving, when my uncle, aunt, and cousins from out of town were visiting, I even talked them into bowling with us, and we all had a wonderful time.

AsChristmas grew closer, I became somewhat depressed when I realized that the bowling class would not continue the second semester. I had really come to enjoy it and wondered if I would ever bowl again. Then, to my wondering eyes on Christmas morning, there appeared a bowling ball, a pair of shoes, and a bag in which to carry them. My parents even gave me an electronic bowling game. They had realized that I was serious about this sport, just as Andy had been serious about tennis a few years earlier.

Through the years, I continued to bowl. When I was studying music therapy at Montana State University in Billings, I occasionally bowled with a group of students from the residence hall where I lived. While completing a six-month music therapy internship in Fargo, North Dakota, I often bowled with a couple of organizations for the blind and visually impaired.

When I started working at the nursing home in Sheridan after my internship, one of the activities we offered residents was bowling. We set up a makeshift alley in the recreation room, and my job was to set the pins. They had to be arranged on the floor just so, and when a resident knocked them down, I had to pick them up. I grew to appreciate the automatic pin setters at the bowling alley.

At one time during my fifteen-year stint working with seniors in nursing homes and other facilities, I got involved in a women’s bowling league. I was on one team, and we met once a week and played against other teams. This was short-lived because the team broke up after a few weeks due to lack of interest. None of the other teams in the league had an opening, so that was that.

Since then, I’ve been married and widowed and moved twice. I have no idea where my bowling ball and shoes are and don’t know if I’ll ever have an opportunity to bowl again. That doesn’t matter. I can still remember standing at the edge of the lane, my feet behind the black line, my knees bent, a bowling ball in my right hand, swinging my right arm back and forth to gain momentum, then letting fly as my arm swung forward, watching the ball roll away, out of my line of vision, and hearing the satisfying clatter of pins being knocked down.

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Note: A slightly different version of the above was published years ago in an anthology of Christmas stories written by authors with disabilities. After reading Mike Staton’s post on Writing Wranglers and Warriors, I was inspired to rewrite and post it here.

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How about you? What sport, if any, were you good at when you were a kid? Did your parents take your interest in this sport seriously, buying clothes and equipment you needed in order to participate, driving you to and from practice, even practicing with you? Please share your memories, either in the comment field below or on your own blog with a pingback here. I look forward to reading about your sporting adventures.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

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Our Buddy

The first vehicle I remember from my childhood was a white Mercedes Benz with four doors and a trunk. The interior seats were of a gray and white decorative pattern. Before my younger brother was born, my parents and I took many trips from our home in Tucson, Arizona.

We called the car Buddy. After my younger brother was born, when he was old enough, Dad started calling him Buddy, and I was confused. My brother’s given name was Andy, so why was Dad calling him Buddy? I was too young to understand that “buddy” was also a term of endearment.

Three years after my younger brother was born, after a second car was purchased, Buddy took Dad and me all the way from Tucson to Sheridan, Wyoming. The year was 1971, and I was ten years old. Dad would have gone on his own, but on the night he planned to leave, while we were eating supper, he asked if I wanted to come, and I said yes, since I was always up for an adventure.

We left that night. Because it was close to my bedtime, I camped out in Buddy’s back seat while Dad drove for a few hours. When we stopped, he unrolled a sleeping bag on the ground near the car. We were still in Arizona.

The next day, we drove through the Navajo Reservation and into Colorado, stopping at Four Corners, where Dad said we lost an hour. That night, we ended up in Durango, and I remember thinking it strange that it was still light at eight o’clock in the evening. That night, we visited several bars. Years later, this experience inspired a poem from my collection, How to Build A Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver.

The next day, we stopped at Mesa Verde, then spent the night with friends in Beulah, and the following evening, Dad left me in Denver with my maternal grandmother while he drove the rest of the way to Sheridan.

I stayed with Grammy and Granddad Hinkley in Denver for several weeks. During that time, Dad and his mother, Grandma Johnson, went to Las Vegas and back to Denver, where they picked me up. We drove to Sheridan in Grandma’s Cadillac because Buddy quit working after Dad reached Sheridan the first time.

We’d come here because Grandpa Johnson died in the fall of the previous year, and Grandma needed help with the family’s coin-operated machine business. During the weeks I spent in Sheridan, Buddy sat neglected in front of Grandma’s house. Dad was too busy running the business and keeping me entertained to worry about fixing the car. When we drove anywhere, we either used Grandma’s car or one of the company vehicles. When it was time for me to start school, Dad drove me to Denver, again in Grandma’s Cadillac, and I boarded a plane for Tucson. I wondered if I would ever see Buddy again.

In October of that year, Buddy somehow managed to get Dad home safe and sound. Two years later, we moved to Sheridan, Wyoming, so Dad could run the business full time. We had two cars: Buddy and the other Mercedes Benz we called 220S Baby. We rented a U-Haul truck to carry our earthly possessions. Dad drove the U-Haul, towing Buddy, while Mother drove 220S Baby.

After we settled in Sheridan, Buddy eventually retired and was relegated to a space in our driveway behind the garage. When Andy became a teen-ager, Mother wanted him to fix up and use the old car, but Andy wasn’t interested, and Dad didn’t like the idea for some reason. She eventually gave Andy her old Fiat when she bought a new Subaru. There were other cars, a gray Buick station wagon, a number of pick-up trucks and a van that were used mostly for the coin-operated machine business, a Plymouth Reliant station wagon, a Mitsubishi, and a red Subaru station wagon that Andy inherited after Dad passed away and gave to his son as a graduation present. For a couple of years when my husband was alive and partially paralyzed by two strokes, I owned a red wheelchair-accessible van. However, our Buddy, a reliable car for years, will always be foremost in my memory.

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How about you? I’d love to hear about the first car you remember when you were growing up. What color and brand was it? What did the interior look like? Do you remember where it came from? Can you think of a specific road trip you took with your family in this car? Please share your thoughts either in the comments field or on your own blog with a pingback here.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

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My Classical Music Story

Because I was born legally blind, my parents exposed me to as much music as possible. I don’t remember much of my early years, but my mother told some great stories later. One of these was about a time when I was five, and my parents had just bought a piano. It was intended as a toy for me, but when my mother heard me play the opening bars of Beethoven’s fifth symphony, she called a piano teacher.

I took piano lessons off and on for years but developed more of an interest in accompanying my singing of popular songs. However, in college, as part of my music major requirement, I performed Chopin’s Prelude in C Minor, which I enjoyed playing because it consists mostly of chords and no fancy melodic passages. After that, I became a registered music therapist, working with senior citizens in nursing homes and other facilities. I often played the piano and sang old standards as part of our activities.

Fifteen years later, I got married, and because I was writing as a hobby at the time, my husband persuaded me to quit my job and other obligations to be a full-time author. Three months after our wedding, he suffered the first of two strokes that paralyzed his left side. I cared for him at home until he died seven years later. I often played the piano and sang “Stormy Weather” and other favorites for him during this time.

Nowadays, I’ve published four books and a fifth is on the way. I still play the piano and sing but not often, and I don’t play classical pieces anymore. I wish, though, I could remember the day when, at the age of five, I played those opening notes of Beethoven’s fifth symphony that signaled fate knocking at my door.

What about you? Has a classical music piece impacted you in some way. I’d love to read about it, either on your own blog with a link to this page or in the comment field below. You can also share your classical music story here.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

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