Rest, and responsibility

After a few fun days in the hospital (I’m only partially kidding – check out the beautiful bespeckled toenails Amy painted last Wednesday and the hi-larious swag that Leticia’s kids picked out from her recent NY trip), I returned home to rest and recover from the whirlwind of the last week, to detox from the various meds we’d tried, and to see if my life could somehow return back to a normal – a new normal, now that we knew once again that the cancer was back, and that we were at a situation where I would be on chemotherapy for the rest of my life.

The skin covering my port scabbed over and healed again, leaving only a fine line at the top of the “pocket” where the port was inserted into my tissue and a small red incision in my neck where they threaded the tubes from my chest to just above my heart.  It’s not painful at all, but it is really disconcerting – and when I get a running hug from the kids that bumps it, even just a little, it feels like they really pack a wallop!  I’m not happy with the port by any means, but it will make things easier as I go for chemo, which I did last Thursday and will do for two out of every three weeks for the foreseeable future.

But the good news is that I have a foreseeable future, one that extends past weeks and hopefully months and there is reason to hope.  I’m not giving up.  I’m encouraged by the many lovely women who have brought me meals this week, the two that have sent me chocolate (thank you PrettyBabies! thank you, Kate!), and all the love that you have shown me in your comments here on the blog.  It’s really wonderful to see them here, and I read and re-read them often, as I suspect my mother does too, and please forgive me if I don’t respond to each.  I simply don’t have the energy to do so this time around, but they do cheer me so.

We went to church on Sunday, the air conditioning finally having been fixed, and we worshipped as a family, with Grandma and Grandpa sitting beside us, and I may or may not have cried a little, grateful for the opportunity to do so, singing with my 6 year old and cuddling up with my 4 year old, exhausted already, since he had gotten up well before 6 a.m.  Then back to bed for more meds, and rest, and a nap that lasted all afternoon while the rest of the family played and read together.  Grandpa fixed things, and Grandma, bless her heart, attacked my laundry.

On Monday came the big decision – go to the Astronomical Society of the Pacific meeting that I registered for several months ago, excited to share the Women in Planetary Science interviews, essays, and community that we had created, a real way to approach e-mentoring for young women in the field, complete with Facebook, Twitter (@WomenPlanetSci), Pinterest, and soon, Google+ support, or sleep in bed another day and recover.

It will surprise no one that I went to the conference.

WonderDaddy drove me to Baltimore, walked me up to registration, and helped me put my poster up.  He then excused himself from the meeting so as not to distract (he is a program officer at NASA Headquarters with a budget – quite popular at these kinds of things, as you can imagine).  He worked in a quiet corner of the hotel, catching up on work emails and such while I signed in and listened to a fascinating talk by Chris Mooney, author of Unscientific America.  If the book is half as good as his talk, it’s one worth reading!  After a short coffee break (why yes, I did have TWO chocolate mini-muffins.  Life is short and should be full of small delights!) came my moment to present my poster.

At ASP (#ASP2011), each presenter gets exactly 1 minute before all the attendees to give a quick teaser of their poster, with time scattered during breaks throughout the week for people to come visit their poster and discuss the real meat of the project presented.  It’s like Science Fair, I suppose, but usually with breakfast muffins or after-dinner beer.  The 1 minute teaser was new to me, but I was happy for the opportunity, for I was very tired.  I misplaced my notes, but I said something like this:

“Women in Planetary Science is in some respects a follow-on to all the programs encouraging girls and youngASP2011 women to love science, to study science, and to pursue science as a career.  Those programs are wonderful, but they serve the K-12 community, and the difficult part often comes after that, in undergraduate or graduate institutions that may not even employ a single female professor in their department of choice, making difficult times even more so.  I’m not saying that a male can’t mentor a female – certainly, they can and should – but a department without women on the faculty is often blind to the problems that may hinder their women students from succeeding, and offers no sympathetic ear to questions like, “Should I change my name after marriage?  What about the job search – is it better to look for jobs together or separately?  Are this professor’s actions toward me unreasonable or simply difficult, as to be expected in a graduate program?  What about these other expectations that are put on me alone?  Is it even reasonable to expect to interview for tenure track jobs on the same coast as my fiance?”  It is for these kinds of questions, and for semi-anonymous career advice, that Women in Planetary Science was founded.  The site now has over 50 interviews with successful women scientists that offer insight into their career paths and frank advice that they offer their own graduate students.  There is a bulletin board on Pinterest with pictures and links to over 300 more women in the field, showing even greater diversity.  We support students and early career scientists through informal conversation on Facebook and Twitter.  We bring e-mentoring to where the students and scientists already are, to fill the gaps that institutions do not.”

Faltering, my voice wavered as my body grew more and more tired from just the brief minute standing before the conference, and I made a decision then and there.  “I will not be at my poster this week, as I am very ill.  But I have left a number of cards at my poster, and all of the information is online at those addresses.  Please feel free to check us out, to use us as a resource for your own students or programs, and contact me if I can be any help at all.”

And then I walked out of the auditorium, saying goodbye to a twitter friend and a Nobel laureate, and found my husband.  He drove me home, exhausted, to sleep all afternoon.



69 Responses to Rest, and responsibility

  1. jodifur says:

    i’m so glad you went. And if you feel up to it, I hope to see you, however briefly, Saturday evening. Or not. Whatever you need.

    Much love.

  2. Niksmom says:

    Susan, you never cease to amaze and inspire me. I am so glad to know you even the tiniest bit that I do. And,you look beautiful and vibrant in that photo! I’m grateful for your presence in the lives of so very many. Sending you love and prayers.

  3. Bon says:

    that picture of you makes me inordinately happy. well done. well done.

  4. *m* says:

    You are a wonder, Susan. Rest and get strong and hug on those boys. Thinking of you every day.

  5. Amanda says:

    You are so very wise. And, having followed you these years, a taste of you is like an afternoon spent with some. Rest, sweet woman.

    You are loved.

  6. Ellie says:

    You are an amazing lady! Before you posted this, I sent you an email regarding my 9 year old daughter and her love of science. Although I am a total stranger to you, I am praying for you and yours. Your drive and courage is truly inspiring.

  7. Laurie says:

    I’m so glad you went.

    Your project sounds great, and I wonder if my colleagues at MC are aware? I would love to (and will) share it. I work with some great female faculty professors/advisors in math, computer science and biology/pre-med. There are few things I enjoy more than coming across a talented female science/math student. This is not aptitude that I have, and I was not encouraged very much to build upon it, so it impresses me to no end. Checking the Pinterest now.

    Thanks for sharing your progress. I’ve been thinking of you lots — glad you got the good family time this weekend too.

  8. Michelle Baker Willis says:

    You inspire and amaze me. You should be so very proud of the network you created. You touch so many lives in so many ways.

  9. Annie says:

    You look so beautiful and happy! Congrats on making it to the conference. Amazing! Continued prayers for comfort and healing.

  10. Dawn says:

    “I may or may not have cried a little” Was also me at church this week. Such an ordinary, special thing. Much love.

  11. Elaine says:

    I just keeping thinking about that lost female graduate student who cares deeply, but starts to get discouraged because she doesn’t get the lab time she needs or she hits some sort of wall, and can’t figure out who will help her. And there you are. With all these incredible resources. What a gift you are giving! My daughter is so lucky. I look forward to sharing the history you’re helping both create and document.

    • That was me. I was denied time on the instrument that I had to learn to use to do my dissertation work, and no one would teach me how to use it (it was extraordinarily complicated, as much art as science, and there was no manual). I had a horrible time my first two years in graduate school. Then, I picked myself up, changed groups to one that worked with each other, and successfully finished my dissertation, even discovering something new in the process. It wasn’t the science that was hard – it was the attitude of the first group.

      My work tagline is “Niebur Consulting: Helping Scientists Succeed.” I like that.

  12. You are truly incredible. So glad you went and that then you took care of yourself! xo

  13. Catherine says:

    Susan, I’m surprised again and again by your courage and heart. And amazed that after such a day, you’ve managed to write about it. Thank you for all you do and for sharing yourself with all of us who read your blog.

  14. ecobabe says:

    Bravo, Susan! Both for making it to ASP and through the presentation and for having the presence to know when you had accomplished what you came for and when it’s okay to go. Sorry to have missed you and ASP this week — we’re getting ready for Juno’s launch on Friday. xoxoxoxo

  15. Megan says:

    I am speechless. I hope you are proud Susan. You bring so much to everything you do. Hard to put into words, but you honestly inspire me. I find myself less and less inspired the older I get (just more cynical I guess) but you inspire me to be a better Mom and to continue to work hard at what I do. Am praying very hard for you every day. So glad you have such wonderful friends and family!

  16. Susan, you are truly amazing. I’m glad you went, glad you decided to rest…you show us all what is possible.

  17. fran53 says:

    Susan dear…. I’m so glad you went to the meeting too. The decision was a “no brainer” as the saying goes, haa. Nobody will be surprised that you attended either.

    I would like to tell you that I’ve had a medi-port in my right chest for two plus years now. I had it for chemo infusion and also for 52 weeks of Herceptin infusion. Then, it was left in for several months after remission; then it was kept in for severe rib pain while scans were done; then I moved from Cali to Texas to be my daughter and was left in due to move; then, found new Oncologist in Texas who did new round of scans recently and now it is still in but will be removed finally in the near future.

    While undergoing treatment, it was handy for several blood transfusions and several platelet transfusions and fluid replacements from severe dehydration while under treatment. I am amazed you went so long without a port, quite frankly. I never minded the port really and still don’t. However, I was terrified of the insertion and will be equally terrified of the removal too when the time comes. Also, I’ve never had one tiny issue with it – not even one.

    BTW, I love the toenails – such fun and very pretty, indeed! Don’t worry about the port – it’s a piece of cake, haa. Let the pain medication work. It will help with rest and coping with the rounds of chemo. You’re a trooper and I wish the very best for you. You are in my thoughts and prayers…… : )

  18. Michelle says:

    I have cried during Mass often. I’m so happy that Grandma and Grandpa were there as well. You are surrounded by love. By God’s love and and the love of your family. You are surrounded by the love of your cyber friends that you will never meet…

    I am so happy that you went to your meeting! Hooray for a warrior Princess who rocks!

  19. Spacemom says:

    Of course you went!
    And yes, it is nice to have a foreseeable future!
    your spirit is in the right place…

  20. Delora says:

    Your tireless and selfless work never ceases to amaze me. I adore that photo of you with your poster, and hope the scientific community reaps the benefit of your knowledge of mentoring and community building in your absence.

  21. nadya valliani says:

    dear susan, your positive attitude towards life keeps you going .keep it up.we all pray for you.

  22. Kristen says:

    Kick. Ass. Day.

  23. liz says:

    my goodness, susan, you are an amazing woman. amazing. beyond words.

  24. mayberry says:

    LOVE that picture! How awesome. Lots of love to you.

  25. Jackie says:

    I am, as always, in awe of your strength and determination. You and your family are in my thoughts.

  26. Dorothy Doyle says:

    Susan, you are a constant inspiration. I am in deep awe of you, and you are having a profound impact on so many of our lives. May God bless you and your family abundantly.

  27. Arkie Mama says:

    You amaze me. Constantly. Thinking of you. Praying for you. Sending many virtual hugs.

  28. Kami says:

    You truly do “fight like a girl” I love it. 🙂

  29. Susan, you are truly amazing!! I am so in awe! Way to go!! I’m thrilled you were able to go at all, and so proud of you for what you did and the wisdom in presenting contact info and leaving!! Excellent job, and what a great impact you are having even now! God is using you in amazing ways!! Hurray!!!

  30. {sue} says:

    You. Rock.

    I loved watching your tweets today! I’m so proud of you!

  31. Marcia says:

    You just taught an army of women – survivors or not – how to conduct themselves when presented with so much adversity. I come here almost everyday to check on you and to learn from you. Thank you for teaching us all.

  32. planetnomad says:

    You are awesome!

  33. midnightmama says:

    To greet each day with such aspirations and hope is simply amazing. You are amazing! We don’t know each other but I would defo give you a giant hug :). My thoughts, prayers and positive thoughts are headed your way as you endure more treatments. Peace to you & your family.


  34. Jane says:

    I just knew you’d try your best to attend the meeting, and still I was amazed you could do it after the week you just had! If I wasn’t working social media at the Juno Launch this week I’d have attended the ASP meeting – I spent a few years on their board of directors, and would have loved to have seen this session and especially your flash presentation and poster! Post it online, please?? Oh, and now, please rest -and rest assured we are all in awe of you.

  35. Amy says:

    What more can I say than “You rocked it!”. And wow. And you look adorable (in a professional adorable kind of way). And wow. Love ya!

  36. Karen says:

    I’m so glad you were able to make it there–for you, because I know it meant so much, and for the academic world, because they needed to hear that. What a wonderful resource for so many women.

    Sounds like those two muffins were well deserved.

  37. Cindy says:

    Hi Susan! I am new to your blog but anxiously await your new posts with news of your progress. I am happy to “hear” you are doing so well and I hope it made you feel triumphant to deliver your one minute teaser at the meeting. You truly are amazing! Count me in as another one of your prayer warriors!!

  38. Capital Mom says:

    I read all your posts with amazment. We should all be so brave and passionate about our work.

  39. carosgram says:

    Reading your posts I always feel uplifted. I am inspired to get off my a** and get doing. So I wrote the newspaper article I needed to complete and then drafted the invocation I have to give on Thursday. Thanks for leading the way!

  40. Your passion and dedication is an inspiration to all of us, planetary scientists or not. Through your personal and professional work you’re “mentoring” more women than you can imagine. Thank you, Susan.

  41. anandaleeke says:

    Hi Susan! You continue to amaze me. Will keep sending you and your family love and light as you all navigate your healing. You inspire me. I love the photo of you. Thank you for sharing so much of your journey with us. Blessings, Ananda

  42. Teresa says:

    Susan, you are such an inspiration. You and your family are in my prayers.

  43. marty l says:

    I have to argue one point with you. C may have a NASA budget, but it is his shining personality and hilarious banter that would have been distracting 😉

  44. You are amazing! I love that you went to the conference to share your work which will help so many young women beginning their career in planetary science. You are making a difference in so many people’s lives with your work and your blog. Sending you lots of positive thoughts!

  45. Lisa Walker says:

    Susan, You are so amazing and brave! You are an inspiration! I don’t personally know you but I think of you, sending positive vibes and hugs your way!

  46. WONDER WOMAN, you!! I’m so glad you went– not just for those who had the pleasure of hearing and learning from you, but for your own heart and mind, as well.

    Have been thinking of you, as I begin a unit on “space” for grade 1 students– we made little rocket ships out of old film canisters today, and put alka seltzer tablets and water in them to make them “shoot for the stars”. It’s an old trick, but a fun one– great for an introductory activity that will hook their little minds on the subject!

    Loads of love to you, my dear– as always, CGF xoxo

  47. Linda Lawrence says:

    Great to see the picture! Love and prayers! 🙂

  48. Your poster looks fantastic, and you look fantastic, and three cheers for the next generation of women in science!

  49. Angela says:

    Wonderful that you could make it to the conference! And that sounds like a good balance to give the teaser and leave cards with a way for them to gather more info.

    Thinking of you constantly!

  50. Cassandra says:

    You look fantastic!! Love that smile….

  51. Stimey says:

    I love so much that you are working so hard for women in your field. It is such a necessary endeavor and you do it so passionately. And I agree with the others, you look gorgeous in that photo.

    I’m glad you were able to stop by to present and I hope you’re getting some good rest this week. I love you!

  52. A little bird told me you went to the conference. I wasn’t surprised; just even more impressed and inspired. If anyone can beat this bastard, it will be you. Now please, rest!

  53. You. Kick. Ass.

    You. Just. Do.


  54. Beth Colley says:

    Good to see you smiling in the pic. Would be happy to serve as a career advisor and coach for women in planetary science. Just ask any time and the answer is yes!

  55. I’m so glad you went, and that you had a good time. You are glowing in the photo! I’m proud to know someone who is such a great advocate for women in science, too – you inspire me and many many more.
    Lots of love and hugs!

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  57. Stacey says:

    I’m so glad you enjoyed a church service with your family. I’m so glad that you made it to the conference and got to present! I’m so glad that you enjoyed 2 chocolate mini-muffins! (One of my favorite quotes is from Iris Murdoch, “One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.”) I’m so glad that you were able to report on all of it in this post. You shine such a big light in the world!!

  58. My little girl, Beezus (almost 6) is really interested in rockets and space shuttles. I think of you when she asks to see the space shuttle on the computer (love those videos on YouTube).

    We are here. I am praying.

  59. ella says:

    You are, quite simply, amazing. Much love x

  60. JoC says:

    I also love the photo. You look smashing and the poster rocks too! I have shared Women in Planetery Science info with quite a few people via facebook. We had a female physics grad student live with us when I was taking a women’s study part of my BSc. We had some interesting talks. I ended up jumping all around in science and landing finally nutrition which is very female dominated yet your work for women in planetary sciences resonates with me. Bravo for going and for limiting your time as needed!.

  61. Heather Weir says:

    Hi Susan,

    I was in the audience at ASP. When I saw you step up to the podium on Monday, I was excited to see you. I was thinking “Great! Susan’s here. I’ll have to go and talk to her and see how she was doing.” I have to say my heart broke to hear that you very ill. I know that things have been rough. I wanted to go up to the moderator and tell him to cut you a break. I also wanted to give you big hug.

    I tried to email you a couple of times while I was ASP, but I must have kept entering the wrong address. Got to love cell phones. I just wanted to let you know that you are such an inspiration and thank you for all that you have and *are* doing. I don’t think I could state it any better than the many posts before me. You have made a difference in all of our lives and we know that it will continue for a long time too.

    Also thank you for promoting the MESSENGER mission through your tweets. It has been wonderful to have your help. Although, I never got to the PhD level, I would love to know if I can help or participate in Women in Planetary Science. I look forward to seeing you at the Planetary Science Forum in September.

    Please let me know how I can help.

  62. Of course you went. Of course you did 🙂

  63. Carolyn says:

    The strength you have, egads, it is remarkable. Susan, I am thrilled to hear that you have a foreseeable future! It would be a huge loss if you didn’t!

    Prayers, strength and love headed your way sista!

    ps – the toes look totally ‘beast’ (that’s what my nine year old nephew has informed me passes for ‘awesome’ or ‘cool’ these days – so I’m going with it)

  64. Kathi says:

    I’m so glad you were able to go to the conference. I heard a great radio interview yesterday (and of course can’t remember which one so I can find a link…) about mentoring girls and young women in science & thought of you. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that your chemo works without totally knocking the stuffing out of you — just the cancer! Gentle hugs.

  65. Aunt Pat says:

    Great picture and Much love and prayers to you.

  66. NOR says:

    You can pack so much into one minute! And you look great. And will be thinking of you.

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