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 young 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.