Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Disclaimer of Sorts- Not ALL My Relatives are Pond Scum

When my brother and I were  very young my mom developed Graves' Disease and later, thyroid eye disease. My mom had enough sisters and sister-in-law living nearby that most of them took turns coming to our home to care for us there. Our lives were only minimally disrupted.

My mother's thyroid condition itself was treated with radioactive iodine therapy.  The radioactivity ablates the thyroid essentially rendering it without function, and the iodine causes the radioactivity to travel more or less directly to the thyroid. The patient  then takes supplemental thyroid in pill form to offset the effect of no longer having a functioning thyroid.  My mom also developed major eye symptoms. My mom's eye symptoms were treated with radiation to combat the swelling and with several surgeries to improve the function of her eye muscles, as double vision tends t result, and with exophthalmus, which causes a patient's eyes to protude. Years and many treatments later, my mom's eyes look normal and function relatively normally.

About four year after being diagnosed with Graves' Disease, my mother was diagnosed with leukemia. My father believes that, while the treatments for Graves Disease didn't necessarily cause the leukemia, in his opinion they were probably a contributing factors. In the grand scheme of things, it matters little. My mother didn't want to have her thyroid glad surgically removed because she's a singer, and the surgery takes place so near the vocal chords that irrevocable damage to them can be done. Furthermore, she's prone  to keloid scars, and didn't wish to have a prominent ugly scar right across the front of the base of her neck. Other reasons, including recovery time from a surgery while she was caring for babies, figured into the decision. As far as the radiation for the swelling in her eyes, at that point there was little choice, as she didn't wish to go blind.  There isn't conclusive proof that the treatments my mother underwent contributed actually contributed, much less caused her to develop leukemia. Both of her parents died of different forms of cancer. She may have held a genetic predisposition.

My father's suspicions related to her Graves' Disease treatment and subsequent development of leukemia would be little more than a husband trying to explain to himself why such a thing happened to his wife. My father, however, is an oncologist and hematologist  who works primarily in the fields of research fo lymphoma and leukemia cures. His views carried more sway than would that of the typical concerned and grieving husband. This was his field. While his objectivity might have been compromised, he knew and continues to know more than did almost anyone about the subject.

Once the diagnosis was made, there was a certain amount of second-guessing as to whether the correct courses of action had been undertaken with regard to my mother's Graves' Disease. Most time and energy, however, was devoted to finding the best place and method of treatment for my mother. My father was fortunate in that his line of work allowed him to conduct his research at virtually any hospital with adequate lab facilities. My parents flew across the country to    investigate a few course of treatment, but ended up mostly in Los Angeles. Our family had been living outside a small town in the San Joaquin Valley at the time, but my Godmother, who would have been the logical person to care for Matthew and for me, had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.  She was having to farm out her out children to relatives from her husband's side of the family as she sought treatment of her own. We couldn't remain there. The decision was made not to move us to Los Angeles with my parents, as we had no support system living there at the time. We instead moved back to a small suburb in the San Francisco Bay area where we had lived before moving to the San Joaquin Valley. We still owned a house there that we had been renting out, and the lease would be up in September, which was the time for school to start.

I've spent a great deal of blog space complaining about, criticizing, poking fun at, and generally denigrating some of  those who cared for my brother and me during this time.  The people I've criticized have earned every bit of negative press they've received from me,

One person in particular, a twenty-four-year-old sister of an uncle by marriage,  was hired by my father to begin caring for Matthew and me at the very first of September.  She was paid  very generously to get us to school each day, watch us after we returned from our school's after-school day-care program ended (and there was really no logical reason we needed to be at the after-school day-care program in the first place, as this twenty-four year-old woman was not holding down another job or attending college while we were there. she was merely at our house sleeping, eating, watching television or running up or long-distance telephone bill. When we were there, she didn't even cook  for us.  I was forbidden by my father to use the stove, as I was just five, and couldn't even reach the kitchen water faucet without pulling up a kitchen chair and standing on it. I  can remember a few times tearing open and eating packages if raw ramen noodles out of sheer desperation.

Matthew an I got ourselves out of bed using my brother's alarm clock while the babysitter  slept, ate cereal if we had time, and threw on whatever clothing we found. Any laundry that was done was done by us. Even though she was given the use of my mother's car, along with a credit card in order to keep the gas tank full, we walked the ten blocks to and from school, almost always while she was still asleep. Some days we would have to ring the doorbell and pound on the door for five or ten minutes in order to wake her up when we returned home following the after-school day-care program we attended. On more than one occasion neighbors took pity on us and brought us into their own homes.

This woman's employment with my family came to an abrupt end when it came to my father's attention through the school that I has stopped eating because nothing was prepare to eat. I had begun it as a sort of adventure, eating nothing but candy. Eventually even candy lost its allure. Since no meals were being prepared for us (the babysitter was using the grocery budget to drive to fast-food restaurants to order burgers and other things for herself but not for us --usually while we were at school and at night when we were n bed-- no food was available on a regular basis for us. My brother was using his allowance and savings from birthday money to buy milk and cereal from the QuickStop Market on the corner, on which he subsisted for most of the three month that the babysitter worked for us. His diet was far from balanced, but the milk and cereal was keeping his going with some degree of efficiency.

My experiment ended abruptly when I fell asleep at my desk and could not be woken. An ambulance called, and that was the end of the uncle's sister's employment with my family.To this day, I don't think she acknowledges she did anything wrong.

I've written about this babysitter before, so there;'s not much else I  really need to day about her. What I should say was that the summer before school started (a little before summer officially started in fact, as my mom's treatment began before school for the year ended) we were packed up to Idaho to live with my mom's sister Colleen and her family from the end of May until the day before Labor Day. My Aunt Colleen had four children of her own. They ranged from a high school to a fourth gradeer. ( Matthew and I were five and were preparing to start first grade.) She and her husband lived on the outskirts of Pocatello, Idaho. Colleen's husband, Uncle Douglas, was a pediatrician. Colleen gave a few voice and piano lessons, and directed a private children's choir that charged a small fee to the parents of the children. The money went to purchasing music, costumes, paying a small fee to an accompanist, and money for gas to transport children to performances. I don't think Aunt Colleen got rich off the venture) but mostly kept the house clean and transported all the kids to the various activities.

In addition to taking her own kids to where they needed to go, My Aunt Coleen personally gave us swimming lessons in her backyard pool, and gave me piano lessons. (I was Matthew's piano teacher. He couldn't learn from anyone else.) We did minor chores every day, including making our beds and helping the older children with dishes and yard work.We were taken to a riding stable once a week for horseback ridging lessons.  We played informally with neighborhood children and had organized play dates with the children of friends and of my Aunt Colleen and with relatives on her husband's side of the family. We held lemonade stands. My uncle borrowed bicycles and helmets from one of his pediatric practice partners whose kids had outgrown them so that my dad wouldn't need to have our bicycles shipped all the way fro California.  I continued with my gymnastics at their little podunk facility, and Matthew participated in some sort of little pee wee baseball league.

My Aunt Colleen is the one of my mom's siblings who was and is LDS, though neither she nor her husband ever seemed so fanatical about it as did the relatives on my dad's side.  They held family home evenings, but they usually consisted of a picnic in a  park each Monday evening. We did the three-hour marathon of LDS meetings each week, as well as a daytime primary activity twice each month,  but we also dd our Catholic mass. Sometimes we attended with Douglas and Colleen's Catholic neighbors, but if that didn't work out, either my aunt or my uncle went with. Once in awhile one of the other kids would come along.  CCD wasn't held in the summer, so that  was a non-issue.

Aunt Colleen and Uncle Douglas were not exactly rolling in cash even though Uncle Douglas was a doctor, as they were saving money for their four children's educations and for their three boys' missions, but there seemed to be enough money to do anything they really wanted to do, and paying extra for Mathew and  me was never an issue. We went to an amusement park in northern Utah once. My dad had sent money to pay for Matthew and me because he knew in advance that we were going, but my uncle mailed it back to him. They wanted no money for our expenses or for taking care of us. I think the only thing they took any money for the entire time we were with them was for our fall school shopping.  My dad was worried about the logistics of getting it done, and my aunt said she'd take care of it and that he could pay her back once she knew how much she had spent. Thank goodness she took care of that for us. If the babysitter had been entrusted with the task, she probably would have kept the money fo herself and left us wearing the previous year's clothing and shoes. Since we'd been in Catholic school and wearing uniforms the year before, we would have stuck out like sore thumbs.

My Aunt Coleen says one of her biggest regrets ever was that she didn't insist on keeping us in Idaho for the year and enrolling us in school there. The rationale was that if we were in the BasiArea, we would be able to see a one of of older cousins, who was a single fire fighter, and our Uncle Steve, who was in medical school nearby,  both of with whom we were close at least every week or two, and that it would be a quicker trip for my dad to hop on a plane and visit every two weeks or so in California. We never saw the cousin or the uncle because the babysitter was supposed transport us to see them, and she always found excuses as to why she couldn't make the trip. When my dad came home, he was so exhausted, he didn't notice anything amiss, and the babysitter usually did a little  shopping right before he came to make it look as though things were normal,

My Aunt Colleen feels that she could have kept me from getting sick if I had stayed in Idaho for the year instead of being under the care of  Mahonri's lazy sister babysitter. The main reason I went to Uncle Jerry's and Aunt Ilianna's house in Florida when I got sick instead of going to Idaho was that I had, among other things,  a serious case of pneumonia, and they all decided that winter in Fort Lauderdale would be more conducive recovery than would be winter in Idaho.

The main point to this rather ponderous post is to share that not all my relatives are deadbeats, and that some of them were extremely helpful to my family when my mom was sick

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