Little Tree in The South Window, Arches National Park, Utah
Tag Archives: life
It is. It’s almost the end of 2015 and I, for one, am ready for it to be done with. Except for my boob job in January, it’s been a pretty shitty year I’ll admit.
My 89-year old mother became ill in early February and subsequently died on the 19th, one day prior to my elder sister’s birthday. We can’t thank our lucky stars enough that we were both there to care for Mom at the end of it all. From then on, life and work went to hell in a handbasket. I’d break into tears every time I thought of Mom or thought of (or heard or saw) something that reminded me of Mom, My sister and I constantly second-guessed ourselves concerning Mom (woulda, coulda, shoulda). I found myself working for a horrible boss who made my work life miserable. I was not in the least interested in photography. And my entire life revolved around being Executrix of Mom’s estate.
Poor Mom. She thought she was leaving my sister and me with a nice little nest egg of her savings. As it was, my sister and I spent every single penny of that nest-egg savings getting Mom’s house up to snuff so we could finally put it on the market; fingers crossed that this sale goes through smoothly so we can be done with it. These upgrades included a total re-grade and re-sod of the entire front, back and side yards around the house (including the addition of what they call “French drains” to get the standing water to drain into the ditches around the house thanks to the horrid spring thunderstorms Texas constantly experienced all April and May); installation of more foundation pillars in the hallway; patching and repainting the cracks in the walls caused by the foundation work as well as the house’s normal settling issues here in southeast Texas; re-carpeting the hallway, one bedroom and the large den; getting the electrical issues worked out; installing a new roof to replace the one damaged by a freak April hailstorm; fixing the garage door, removing all of the high-tech hurricane storm shutters; and a number of other smaller issues – all required by the home inspector’s and the structural engineer’s report and the current realtor’s suggestions to make the house more – well – salable. This work has all taken two months shy of a year since Mom’s death. It’s been an albatross around my neck and I can’t thank my sister’s husband enough for all of his help – his 30 years in the construction business has enabled me to keep from going mad and throttling most of the people and businesses within this horrid little Podunk Texas town in which I currently reside. My experience this year has lead me to believe that there is absolutely no business here in this town that is totally trustworthy. At least, not when it comes to dealing with a divorced, middle-aged woman such as myself. Fuck ‘em all, I say.
As you can probably tell by now, this entire experience has given birth to the New Me: Angry White Woman.
I don’t take shit off of anybody anymore and I’m far more vocal about my feelings, opinions and beliefs (this includes my political and non-religious leanings, much to many of my Facebook friends’ annoyance). I have discovered I am also far more willing to stick my neck out at work and push back to the dirty politics I experience on behalf of myself and my friends who either cannot or will not push back themselves (it’s easier for me to do it since I’m close to early retirement and I don’t have a family for whom I must provide – this allows me to follow the courage of my convictions).
It’s taken me 54 years, and I’m absolutely certain Mom’s death was the catalyst to make me realize what is truly important in my life. Hint: it aint work. Work is not my life and never has been – it just pays the bills, pays for my camera equipment and allows me to travel. No, what is really important – to me – is family and people who love me.
I no longer have family here in Texas. They all live out in the Pacific Northwest, and sooner rather than later, that is where I will move. I am making my plans little by little. I don’t want to grow old and spend my remaining days alone in a Texas nursing home, waiting to die, far away from people I love and who love me. Besides that, I’ve never been a huge fan of Texas and am ready for the next adventure further west where the mountains and my family live.
I’m also trying to regain my photo mojo. I’ve done a few small photo projects this year, including:
Using my new 11-24mm, 100mm macro, and 500mm prime lenses at Brazos Bend State Park, Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, and around my home and my mother’s home;
Spending a wonderful sunrise photo shoot as well as an entire day in the photo pit at the 2015 Wings Over Houston Airshow;
Performing my duties as staff photographer for The Merchant Prince and capturing images for his use out at the 2015 Texas Renaissance Festival;
Photographing my newest great niece whom I have never met until last year (for only 20 minutes before getting to the airport) and who is now almost 3 years old;
And photographing my company’s annual gingerbread decorating event.
I haven’t really taken any photo holiday because almost all of my annual vacation days were spent caring for Mom and thereafter taking care of the estate. I did take a short trip to visit my sister and her family in eastern Washington over Labor Day, spent a weekend in Santa Fe NM during the Memorial Day holiday, and visited my sister and her family, again, during Thanksgiving.
My main vacation is coming up and I hope it will be the jump start to much more photography in 2016: I’m going to be spending 10 days in Europe (including Christmas and New Year): 8 days in London and 2 days in Paris. Everything is paid for, I printed out all of my tickets, and I am all packed, including my camera backpack:
- Canon 5DS body
- Canon 5DS-R body
- Canon 1DX body
- Canon 11-24mm lens
- Canon 24-105mm IS lens
- Canon 24-70mm IS lens
- Tripod, a gazillion memory cards, a small Canon flash, a couple of wireless shutter releases, and lots of extra, fully-charged batteries
I’m not taking my 70-200mm lens because it’s heavy and my backpack is already heavy enough (plus I’m taking two suitcases as well as my laptop bag with travel laptop, mouse, memory card readers, 2 external hard drives – 1 TB each, iPhone, iPad, book, and folder with all of my ticket information for the various venues I will attend). I can only take so much – don’t even ask me what I’ve packed in the suitcases (grin).
I apologize for not publishing more blog posts. I know one is supposed to do that to keep readership and to keep one’s writing skills in tip-top shape. I’ll get back into the groove, I promise. I’ll have free WiFi in my London and Paris hotels, so I know I’ll be editing photos and writing about my experiences, uploading to both my Facebook photography page as well as my Twitter account. I may even publish a post while there. For now, stay tuned to forthcoming imagery from my 2015 trip, as well as the trips I have planned for 2016. I plan on making up for lost time.
Everything feels “off”. By “off”, I mean not only as in “powered down” but also off as in “off kilter” or “askew”. I go home to my apartment and it doesn’t look or feel the same. Naturally, it wouldn’t look the same because it’s a total pig sty right now, complete with undusted surfaces, unwashed dishes in the sink and stacks of boxes filled with items taken from Mom’s home. Those boxes are in every room of my 2-bed, 2-bath apartment. I have no idea where I will put everything, but I’ll handle it because those items are now all that are left of my mother and father. Those items are all that I wanted to keep. The rest have either gone to my sister or they are to be sold in the estate sale this coming week or will be donated to charity.
My 89-year old mother passed away in early-mid February, a little less than 5 years after my 86-year old father died. She was in the hospital for a week and then I and my sister took her home to care for her with the help of Hospice. After Mom’s death, my sister flew back to her home and family in the Pacific Northwest and I began the duties as Executrix for my mother’s estate.
This has been one of the hardest, most physically- and emotionally-draining things I have ever done in my entire 53 (almost 54) years of life.
In addition to my full-time job, I am handling Mom’s estate. All by myself (ok, I have the attorney working on probating the will, but you know what I mean). And my sister and I are sooo very thankful that Mom had the means to pay for everything and that she had the foresight to put me as a signer (signor?) on her checking account.
You see, here in the U.S., you can’t die for free. Not unless you are totally indigent, I guess. Mom was not indigent, so of course there was a fee for the cremation, and another fee for interring her ashes in a little niche at the local cemetery. Then, there’s the filing of the income taxes. And the costs for probating her will. Plus, I can’t do much of anything without the Letters of Testamentary (part of the probate process) but that will only occur after the 10-14 day waiting period while the Court publishes notice of the probate in the local paper to let any creditors know of Mom’s demise. Luckily, Mom’s house and car and everything else were all paid for. Nonetheless, I can’t sell her car or the house or get the taxes done or do any other of the myriad tasks dealing with Mom’s death without those Letters.
I wrote the obituary.
I informed people and agencies of Mom’s death.
Everything I have done is a reminder of the demise of her existence.
I talk to my sister on a daily basis – sometimes more than once – particularly if there is some sort of emergency (which there usually is). I, who never wanted any more responsibility than that of work (which is why I have not yet ever remarried, why I never wanted to buy a house or why I don’t even own a pet) now shoulder more responsibility than I sometimes feel I can handle (but I’m an Aries, so you can damned well be sure I will handle the responsibility and I’ll handle it successfully).
I have very little vacation time left for this year, and it’s only March. Most of my free days were spent caring for Mom or attending to her estate matters. I will have to take a day off to attend court in order to get the Letters Testamentary. I will have to take a day off to go to the local Social Security Office in order to inform them of Mom’s death and get a tax form to take to Mom’s accountant for taxes. I’m sure I’ll have to take another 2 or 3 days off regarding other estate issues, as well. I *am* taking a couple of 3-day trips during national holidays (Memorial Day and Thanksgiving) to spend time with my sister and her family; which reminds me, I still need to find out if United Airlines will allow me to carry the cremated remains of my father in checked luggage since I want to leave them with my sister for a future trip with her to Montana to spread Dad’s ashes over his favorite place there. Thankfully (right now, anyway), I also have enough time left to take a 10-day trip (including weekends and holidays) to London in December to see the Christmas lights and to watch the New Year’s fireworks over the London Eye and to just escape from everything I will have had to deal with over the year. I want to recharge my photography (’cause I haven’t felt like taking photos at all and still don’t feel like it) and I want to explore that wonderful city. Who knows – maybe I’ll meet an awesome Brit of my dreams there …. Stranger things have happened, right?
In the meantime, though, I feel sad and lonely and a little out of place. I get teary often; I was never one of those sentimental, sappy kind of people, so this teary thing is a nuisance and an emotional drain all at the same time. I miss Mom. I keep feeling like I should have / could have done more. I’m always exhausted. I’m still sick with a lingering cold. I’m now dealing with the wet carpet in the sunken living room all by myself; heavy rains and a crack (or two) in the foundation slab contributed to the issue and the house now smells while the carpet dries. I need a hug and there is nobody here to give me one; actually, I could use lots of hugs.
Everything just feels off.
I walk through Mom’s house, checking on the damp living room carpet to see how much more it has dried, looking at all the things set up by the estate sales agent in preparation for this weekend’s sale. It doesn’t feel like Mom’s house anymore because Mom’s not there any longer. It’s just a house now filled with loads of stuff collected over a lifetime of 89 years for Mom, and 86 years for Dad. And I feel empty. I know things must be “off” if I feel like going in to work is the same thing as taking a vacation.
I guess the best thing that can be said is that I am busy. I am busy with work (bless my co-workers for being so patient while I take off days here and there to handle this stuff), I am busy with the estate, and once all of this is over with and done, I will be handling my own messy apartment and initiating the process of researching places to live around and within Houston, much closer than where I currently reside (moving won’t happen until 2016).
Before all of this occurred, I was rather emotionally detached. Now, I find that I am sympathizing more with people and their situations – especially if they are going through similar experiences.
Right now, it all sucks but I know that this, too, shall pass. I know that somewhere at the end of this long, narrow tunnel there is a pinpoint of light; I don’t see it yet, but I know that it’s there.
A recent incident regarding one of my photographs made me think about how I act toward others concerning advice. This, in turn, brought to mind the idea that it might serve as a good blog post, tied to some recent red-tailed hawk photographs I captured during an evening visit to the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge (since the hawk photos are the main reason for all of this in the first place). My blog posts are like photo ops: I’m always trying to find another great reason to put one out there for public consumption.
I’m horrible at taking advice. Doesn’t matter from whom: my mother, my sister, my best friend. I’m an Aries woman with a strong Type A personality ; all the women in my family are a bossy lot with strong opinions, so I don’t know if it’s a gender thing or a familial thing. I readily admit to having doled out advice without being asked for it. I’ve been on the receiving end too; I was once married to a man who used to attend a weekly evening group session where people just listened to each other’s stories/rants/issues with the objective of being better listeners and not advice givers. This same man – my then-husband – would afterwards come home and start giving me unasked-for advice – apparently those group sessions didn’t help him much….or else this was his way of getting it all out of his system because he couldn’t impart his ” learned “ advice to the others in these group sessions.
I recently was once again on the receiving end of some unasked-for advice from a well-meaning (and very good) photographer who I met once through a mutual acquaintance and who owns a very expensive Nikon camera and a lens as big as I am. I did not take his advice very gracefully, I’m afraid. As a matter of fact, I did a slow burn over it for the remainder of the afternoon.
That being said, after I got home, I went through the hawk photos (the object of the advice) and actually did re-work several of them, following that unasked-for advice. I do like the reworks, as a matter of fact.
This whole episode was a good learning experience for me and the gist of it all is knowing when to keep my own mouth shut, no matter how much I might want to say something. Oh, I’ve screwed up plenty in that department, believe me. I’ve had the temerity to ask probing questions then dole out unasked-for advice to people whose photography blogs I follow. What the hell was I thinking??! If I don’t like unasked-for advice, then why would anybody else like it coming from me? Sigh. Lesson learned.
So, while it’s one thing to ask for advice, it’s another thing to get unasked-for advice. I now make every attempt to keep my mouth shut. I am learning what a friend of mine calls “The Power of Shutting Up”. This doesn’t mean I won’t probably slip up at times to say something I perceive in my own little mind as being well-meaning. But I’m trying to not do that.
For you photographers out there, I promise I will keep my mouth shut tight and only give advice to you if you ask. For those of you who have been following my posts for a while, you know the photographic advice I impart here is more on the instructional level and not geared toward any one person or entity.
That being said, let’s take a look at some recent images I captured during a late afternoon visit to the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge (the whole reason in the first place for this longer-than-usual diatribe from me).
(ok, this is a morning shot, but it was so pretty I just had to post it here)
During this time of year, as I am zipping home from work in the evenings, I see all sorts of birds of prey looming over the highway, either perched high atop trees or else on signposts right next to the road. They are such beautiful creatures, but to try and photograph one while driving home is impossible. I am driving fast, there are other commuters tailing me at a fast(er) rate, and if I pulled over and stopped rapidly, said raptor would fly away…..This is also not to mention that the only camera I have with me on a daily basis is one with a 40mm lens attached . Yes, I always carry a camera with me – my “purse” is actually a Lowepro messenger-style case into which I store a camera with attached lens, hairbrush, extra pair of glasses, wallet, USB flash drive, pens, etc.
So this past weekend, I took a late afternoon drive out to the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge to see what was going on. The day had dawned chilly and warmed up to the mid-60’s. The sky was blue and the atmosphere was clear. The first sight that greeted me upon reaching Olney Pond within the refuge was a red-tailed hawk riding the currents against the backdrop of the deep blue sky.
From there, I found another red-tailed hawk perched atop a covered picnic area opposite of Cross Trails Pond. After allowing me to get within a certain distance of it, this hawk flew away too (always use your Servo focus mode when photographing birds that may take flight, so you can keep them in focus as you pan your camera to follow their flight path).
After spending a little more time in that area, I returned to the car to head back toward the visitor center and out of the refuge toward home. I was driving reeeeaaaalllllyyy slowly and had glanced down at my camera on the passenger seat. Looking back up, I suddenly saw to my right this beautiful juvenile hawk perched on the metal post. I slowed the car to a stop. Lucky for me, the windows were already down. Hefting my camera/lens combo (without one of those window bean bags – I’ve used one before and personally find that it gets in my way), I rapidly and happily snapped away for as long as this raptor was willing to pose for me.
This is the original photo.
This is the photo after I applied the advice over which I had such a knee-jerk reaction. In truth, I like the change….although I’m fine with the original, too.
After the hawk flew away, I continued my slow trek along the auto-tour road, and spied another red-tailed hawk (could have been the same one since its leg was also banded) sitting high atop a pole specifically erected for perching purposes. This time, my 6-lb camera/lens combo was aimed through the open window of the passenger side to capture this awesome creature (thank goodness for image stabilization).
After this bird flew away, I knew it was time to go. I drove all the way home with a smile on my face.
I had planned on a relatively quiet Christmas, with 9 days left of vacation time to use up. I figured I might venture out to the nearby national wildlife refuge and maybe a nearby state park to check out the birdlife, but other than that, I had no big plans.
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Back track to December 2010. I was visiting my sister, brother-in-law, and assorted family members for Christmas in eastern Washington. We were standing around their kitchen island conducting a whiskey taste testing (Redbreast Single Malt won hands down). Andrew and Julie (the sister to my niece-in-law) turned to me and said how much they would like to have me photograph their wedding…..whenever they set the date. I told them that would be awesome. We resumed our whiskey tasting.
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Fast forward to late September 2012. While talking to my sister, she mentioned that Julie and Andrew had set the wedding date for sometime in early December. This was the first I had heard of their pending wedding, and I knew I would not be able to make it because my remaining vacation days were already committed to those last two weeks of December. Sigh.
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Fast forward to early October 2012. I received an email from Julie telling me they’d set the date for December 28 in Tacoma, Washington and would I be able to photograph their wedding if all expenses – including the plane flight – were paid? December 28 was during my vacation, so I was beyond thrilled to be able to say “YES” after all! (It heartened me mightily that Andrew and Julie felt so strongly about having me as their wedding photographer).
We made the plane reservation with enough time for me to first spend several days before and after Christmas with my sister, brother-in-law, and assorted relatives in eastern WA. I had a white Christmas Eve and and a White Christmas Day and a wonderful time while there.
Lights and ornaments and tinsel and pretty presents. No arguments, lots of laughter, non-stop eating and a little bit of egg nog. I soaked in the love and closeness and humor of family and the joyful screams of my great-niece and great-nephew as they opened their gifts. “This is the best gift ev-oh! You actually listened!” (this coming from a 4-year old who received a pair of Stompeez slippers).
It was a great Christmas!
What did you do for the holidays?
In my previous post, I told you about my friend Tammy’s battle with lymphoma; I spent the morning with her, photographically chronicling one of her chemo sessions. On the evening of that same day, Team Wooo Girls (Tammy, her family and friends, of which I count myself lucky to be a part), joined in on the Light The Night benefit walk in The Woodlands, TX, sponsored by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Following are scenes captured from the walk.
Tammy, our Wooo Girls Team Captain
Lots of people and more to come
Decorating Tammy’s chariot
Tammy and Mark
Wooo Girl Becky
Wooo Girl Vanessa
Some Wooo Girls (and a couple of Wooo Guys)
So many different reasons for doing this walk:
Our National Anthem
Gold balloons in memory of loved ones
Market Street – the Start and Finish point
Love those specs!
Time to walk! Wooooo!
A quiet moment away from the crowd
Walking to kick cancer’s butt!!
“….the good news is, nobody ever died from this….” so said the nonchalant quack doctor (during two different visits) as he referred to my friend Tammy’s symptoms, believing a nice round of antibiotics would cure it all up. This doctor never once thought to schedule bloodwork or scans for Tammy….ever.
Down the road much later, Tammy still suffered from the same sinus infection-like symptoms as well as some swollen lymph nodes that wouldn’t go away. That was when a much better doctor actually diagnosed and informed Tammy that she had B-cell lymphoma. It took a year for her to be correctly diagnosed. Now, she is literally fighting for her life, and chemotherapy is part of her arsenal.
Curious, I wanted to find out what goes on when a person must undergo chemotherapy. Of course we are all sorry whenever we hear a friend or friend’s family member must have chemotherapy, but unless we are very close to the cancer sufferer, we don’t quite understand the process. I wanted to try to understand (at least, a little better than I currently did). So, with Tammy’s permission, I brought my camera with me to chronicle her 3-hour session – a moment of time out of her Life Journey. She joked to the nursing staff that she never went anywhere without her paparazzi.
I spent the morning at MD Anderson Cancer Center with Tammy and her sister-in-law & best friend Sarah.
MD Anderson is one of the best places in the world to be if a person is diagnosed with cancer; people from all around the globe come here. The staff are top-notch and the doctors are the finest.
After several months of treatment using a trial drug, the name of which I still cannot pronounce and which ultimately did not work for her, Tammy began her rounds of chemotherapy: each round consisting of 3 days on treatment with a 28-day break in between. I visited on Day 2 of Round 2.
Tammy’s treatment morning begins early – typically 8AM.
Her first day of treatment lasts 8+ hours because she is given 3 drugs via IV drip on that day. The other 2 days (where she receives 2 drugs) last an average of 3 hours – depends upon how fast the veins accept the IV drip.
Once through the admittance door, Tammy is taken to a room for weigh-in and temperature. The nurse hands out a wonderfully warm blanket (I know, because the nurse handed the blanket to me, first) and assigns Tammy a room number.
Tammy knows the drill, so once she gets into the room, she adjusts the bed to her liking, settles in with breakfast and drink, and lets the attending nurse administer the drugs. We live in a time where wonderful anti-nausea drugs now exist, allowing Tammy to eat and drink without that horrible urpy feeling.
So….first thing they do is remove a piece of netting “tube” from her arm (looks like a piece of Goth clothing decoration that Tammy wishes came in black, since “black is slimming” ) . Wads of cotton are then gently removed to expose the the IV hook-up embedded into her arm for the duration of the 3-days of treatments. Because of this “hook up”, Tammy can’t shower or bathe – she just takes what I refer to as a “spit bath” and what she refers to as something I can’t print in this post.
Upon removal of the netting and cotton, a saline/alcohol “flush” is administered via syringe. I asked Tammy if any of that entire treatment ever hurt, and she mentioned that the flush is usually a bit of a shock to her system, but none of the other IV drips hurt (thank goodness); Tammy has to go through enough other painful things (physically, emotionally, and mentally) associated with this disease (bone marrow biopsy, lymph node biopsy, side effects like exhaustion).
Do ya like her “I’m A Lympho Maniac” shirt? My friend has a nicely skewed sense of humor. She can’t drink any alcohol during her entire treatment process, so she joked the next time she and her entourage return for treatment, she’s bringing a large sugar-rimmed margarita glass filled with a 7-11 lime slushy just so she can watch the reaction of the nurses.
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Once the Flush syringe is empty, the other drugs are attached to the IV drip, and then it’s a matter of waiting while everything gets into her system.
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I asked Tammy a lot of questions about her cancer and her treatment. Like many if not most cancer patients, she wants to know what she is up against and how to battle it.
Lymphoma is a type of cancer of the blood cells (not as readily recognizable a brand-name as breast cancer). Tammy explained in simple terms for me. Think of a normal blood cell as a round or oblate cell (she made her hands into fists to illustrate a normal blood cell). When normal blood cells start grouping together because they are in a tight squeeze, they die off to make it a little “roomier” for the other normal blood cells. Cancerous blood cells, on the other hand, are irregularly-shaped, so to speak (at this point, Tammy made the UT “hook-em horns” hand sign to illustrate her explanation), and instead of dying off when they get in a confined space, these cancerous blood cells meet and greet each other like old friends, grouping together and growing to create swollen masses of lymph nodes as well as causing other problems for their human host.
Even after the doctors get this current bout of cancer to go away during her treatments (Tammy says she can feel them shrinking, woo hoo!), the oncologists will still have to keep a close eye on her for the rest of her life, because there is a very good chance that this form of cancer may re-occur. According to Tammy, as long as her bone marrow makes those kind of (“hook-em horns”) cells, then in all likelihood, she may have to return for further treatment in the future. This is a treatable cancer, but not a curable cancer. I forgot to ask her about the possibility of a bone marrow transfer. I know that they are very expensive, and sometimes finding a match is tricky. I’ll have to ask her that the next time I see her.
Thankfully, Tammy is a healthy 40-something young woman who has a strong fighting instinct and is totally focused on “kicking cancer’s butt”! She also has a fantastic network of friends and family. Because of this she is always in good spirits and constantly joking and never goes to a treatment alone. There are so many out there who must undergo the same thing, but without anybody to be there with them or for them.
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This day was going to be a busy day for Tammy and the rest of us. Treatment in the morning, some time to rest during the afternoon, then participation in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Light The Night benefit walk at Market Square in The Woodlands, TX.
So, what is this “Fight Like A Wooo Girl” thing, you ask? Well, Tammy, Sarah, and I are some of the founding members of the Wooo Girls (check us out on Facebook, we have three “o’s” in our name). The Wooo Girls is (are?) a group of ladies (and a couple of guys) dedicated to the enjoyment of life, with plenty of good times, good friends, and lots of laughter (not quite like that How I Met Your Mother episode, btw).
On this night, October 21, 2012, The Wooo Girls would be walking for, and in honor of, our friend Tammy, as well as for, and in honor of, other friends and family members battling the disease.
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I wandered around the web for information regarding the type of lymphoma Tammy has (and because I couldn’t totally remember everything she told me, even though I tried to write it all down). During my fishing expedition, I found this link to an interesting online article written with the question in mind: is lymphoma curable?
I’ve added a couple of links for the American Cancer Society and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, for further information and if you are so inclined as to make a donation to helping find better treatments and ultimately a cure.
Next Post: Light The Night!