I had a bad scan.

March 13, 2010

Remember the tingling prickly painful feeling all over my arms, back, and neck?

The one that sent me to the pain specialist that was a quack?

The one that I thought was probably nothing, and was beginning to be well-controlled by a marvelous new (to me) drug called neurotonin?

Well, my physical therapist suggested I call my oncologist and be sure that it wasn’t a tumor pressing on something it shouldn’t, and my oncologist said, yes, please go get a PET/CT scan.  Immediately.  And come see me in my office on Monday.

I had the PET/CT scan on Wednesday, while my children played outdoors with their Daddy.

The results are in.

I had a bad scan.

We don’t know yet what this means, and we don’t know what the treatment will entail.  All we know is that six lymph nodes are lit up like Christmas lights on the scan, showing hypermetabolic activity.  The options are a) infection (we’re rooting for this one); b) recurrence of the inflammatory breast cancer (possible but weird, because the breast nodes aren’t involved); c) a totally new cancer, like lymphoma (possibly brought on by all the radiation required in my previous treatment); d) metastasis.

I’m not ready to talk to anyone about this yet on the phone, so please don’t call.  I’m not ready to talk to anyone about this in person, so please don’t ask me.  All I need is a hug (if you’re a hugger) and a supportive word.

Anyone saying “I’m sorry” in the comments below will be shot.

We’re not sorry.  We’re ready to fight.  Again.

But we’re still praying that we don’t have to.


Called on account of sunshine

March 11, 2010

I have a funny story about a pain management specialist who wasn’t, and a few other things, but for now all I can give you is this tree.  My children have spent the last four afternoons outside, enjoying the blue skies, fresh air, nature, and friends, new and old.  Oh, and learning to climb trees very, very well.

They are happy, my children.


Children’s Museums

March 10, 2010

Short talk given to the Junior League of Northern Virginia at an event to raise seed money for their signature project, the Children’s Science Center, Saturday evening, March 6, 2010.

When I was little, I lived in Texas, and then Mississippi.  My parents, like all parents, wanted to give me every advantage as I grew up, but in Texas and Mississippi, there weren’t many.  Still, they took me to every art museum, discovery center, and state fair that there was, and they encouraged me to touch, to listen, to ask questions about what we saw.

When we lived in Houston, there was a special trip to the Johnson Space Center.  JSC was a workplace then, with a few displays in the badging area to mollify visitors.  It was a small space, with pieces parts from various missions.  But when I walked in, I was overwhelmed.  There, where I could touch them, were artifacts from the dawn of the space age.  Protective spacesuits from Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo.  And, at the end, a wall of fame of pictures of each of the fifty-some astronauts to go into space.

I held my mother’s hand tightly, then squeezed it to get her attention.

Mommy, I asked her, why aren’t there any women astronauts?

She didn’t know the answer.  My Daddy didn’t either.  But that day they helped me write the question down on a slip of paper and put it in the comment box at the exit.  That day I decided that I would one day be one of them.  I would work for NASA.

I was three years old.

I kept that memory with me, and I worked hard.

After my Ph.D., I went to NASA Headquarters, eventually becoming the Discovery Program Scientist.  I didn’t fly into space myself, but I ran the selections for the next missions to go into space and explore the solar system.  The planets, the asteroids, the comets that no one had ever visited in person could be explored through these new missions, and they were.

After five years, I left Headquarters to do my own research and raise my own children, happy preschoolers now who delight in exploring new places.

Now I take them to children’s museums whereever my work takes me —

  • The Exploratorium in San Francisco;
  • The Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia;
  • The Sciencenter in Ithaca; and
  • The Magic House in St. Louis.

They love it, and so do I.  They love exploring these places, touching, trying, and asking questions.  They ask me all the time to go back to the Magic House, but of course, that’s a thousand miles away.

I take them to these museums because I remember how important the museum experience was to me, and I want to see the light of discovery in their eyes.


LPSC – Women’s Networking Breakfast

March 9, 2010

This is the talk I gave to introduce the Women’s Networking Breakfast at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, 2 March 2010.  I wanted to share it with you today, since this is something that never would have happened if we hadn’t beat cancer in 2007-8.  You helped make this happen.

Good morning.  Welcome to the third annual Women’s Networking Breakfast.

Since the dawn of recorded history, the great scientists, the ones we study in school, look up to, and remember, have largely been men.  Science was done in the monastery, the university, the observatory, and scientist biographies have been filled with detail of their laboratories and their travels, and occasionally, yes, they mention their wife and children at home.

But we in this room are a new breed of scientist.  We in this room have resources unimaginable to previous generations.  We women are university-educated, with multiple graduate degrees, access to outstanding professors and mentors, use of the most powerful mass spectrometers and tricked out labs, and money and time to do field research across the world in search of the best analogues to terrain on other planets.

You do good science.

But we live in a world where doing good science no longer guarantees you a spot at the table.  The competition is increasing, and the very nature of employment is more fluid than the world our mentors lived in.  No longer is it enough to do good science and have a powerful advisor who will place you in a tenure-track position.  Now more than ever we are in charge of our own careers, and we must act accordingly.

One thing that those scientists years ago had that most of us in this room don’t have was a little recognized asset that allowed them to live a life of science.  They were able to – and expected to – live their lives in the laboratory and to die at the microscope.  In fact, many university and civil servant positions still have the expectation that you will work 50 or 60 or more hours at your job, at your desk, in the office, with no care for the demands of your young family, your adventures, your life.  The hiring managers have expected that you will serve like the monks of old, and you are told that to be taken seriously as a graduate student, you must be first in and last out of the laboratory.  That’s how you show your dedication.  That’s how you show that you’re the next hot thing in science.

But that model doesn’t work for many of us.  We do good science, yes, but more and more of us are asking to do science on our own terms.  In this room are examples of women who have taken time off, who have come back, who have balanced caring for a family and a career, who care for aging parents, who dive into volcanoes, who follow hockey obsessively, and who don’t believe that doing science requires you to give up essential parts of yourself in the name of science.

But this is new.

At the same time, we want to be respected, we want access to equipment, we want to succeed in these tenure-track and civil servant positions, and so we do our best to fit into the mold of scientist since time immemorial.

If this works for you, great.  I’m impressed, and I wish you all the best.

But if it doesn’t, I invite you to talk about it with the people at your table today, to gather around the topic that you’ve chosen and discuss what is holding you back.  What policy, situation, habit, or assumption is keeping you from achieving your goals in science, and what are other women and men doing about it?

Is it the two-body problem?  There are solutions for that.

Do you need to bring your nursing baby when you travel?  There are solutions for that.

Want to learn to write proposals that are so crisp that they let your science shine through?  There’s a workshop for that.

Are you looking for your next job and wondering where you will land when the postdoc roller coaster finally comes to a stop? Other people are as well.

Trouble getting data into or out of the PDS?  There’s an app for that.  (Or maybe there should be.)

Looking for funding opportunities and wondering how to compete with people who have been in this field since the Apollo samples were returned?  There are tips for that.

Or are you a graduate student, so passionate about your science, so convinced that this will never happen to you, and you’re looking for the next opportunity?  Awesome.  They’re looking for you.

We are women in planetary science.  We do great science.  If there is something holding you back that is distracting you from your pursuit of truth about the planets, lets’s talk about it today and see what we can learn from each other.

For just as the men of old worked late and shared beers into the night while their wives fed and put the children down, we can come together too – talking about our science and so much more – and we can be better for that.

That is why we come together as a community of scientists.

Originally posted at Women in Planetary Science.