Friday, July 03, 2020

Prospecting and a proposal!

In our family, if it happened once and it was fun, it will forevermore be considered a TRADITION.

Heading south to Quincy, California for a week on Danny's prospecting claims is now one of our favorite family traditions. It's a two-day trip there and a two-day trip back. Normally we'd stay in a hotel, but this damn Covid-19 pandemic has made 2020 anything but normal. We're not about to stay in a hotel, and we're definitely not about to fly anywhere, so a few weeks ago we bought ourselves a cute little trailer.

It's smaller than our last beloved trailer, but our winding, curvy hilly driveway just barely accommodates it, so if we want to travel, this is our option. It's just right for us where we are now in our lives - figuratively and literally. Tom added a solar system (that is, a system for solar power!) to keep the lights on for a week off-grid and Danny brought his "miner's/fireman hose" to keep the tank filled with creek water, so we were all set.

It's a long drive from Gig Harbor to Quincy, and state parks have been closed due to the pandemic, so we made a reservation at an RV park in Grant's Pass, Oregon, which marks the approximate halfway point. When we drove in, we were greeted by multiple Trump/Pence signs.

Not just one, but many of them. To be honest, we probably would have turned around and found somewhere else to stay the night, but RV parks were all jam-packed because public parks were closed, so our options were severely limited. Once we settled in, I decided to talk to the owners, suggesting that they discourage (any) political signs, as most people travel to get away from things like politics, but in the office I noticed a - yup, Trump/Pence sign. Suffice it to say that we slept and left. How sad that politics in this country has gotten to this point. I plead guilty for my role in it, but I stand vehemently against just about everything Trump stands for and have to say that if you love the guy, well... unfriend me, please.

Fortunately, the rest of the trip was filled with beauty. Even the rest stop, with the amazing view of Mt. Shasta, was pretty!

The last two miles of the trip, a rough dirt road, took about an hour, with Danny helping Tom fill in huge gaps, ridges, and holes with logs and rocks.

It was a long, hot haul to get to the claim, but oh, the beauty that greeted us!

We hadn’t seen Kat and Ian since before this damn pandemic began and we had planned this reunion carefully, with testing and quarantining all around, so that initial hug was like new life being breathed into me!

Elisabeth, Danny, and little Leo had caravaned from Washington with us and we met Kat and Ian, along with Ian’s mom (also named Kat, nicknamed “Mom Kat” to avoid confusion with our daughter, Kat), her friend (also named Tom, nicknamed “Tom Not Dad” to avoid confusion with “our” Tom), and Ian’s brother, Arden. Now all ten of us were finally together, ready for a fun week of prospecting, playing, and relaxing. We parked the trailer next to Kat and Ian’s new Westfalia van and the Markus’ tent, and settled in. 

The next morning, as I walked the few steps from the campsite to the river, Ian approached me and announced that he was going to propose to Kat that morning! We’ve known Ian for over 15 years, since he was Elisabeth’s housemate at Cal and 15-year-old Kat’s “crush.” He’s always felt like part of the family and now he was about to officially become part of the family! A few minutes later I caught a photo of Ian as he told Tom of his plan for the morning

Ian had asked Danny to help with specifics: Danny would hand Kat a prospecting pan that was ready for “processing” (the step in which the heavy dirt - and hopefully gold - are separated from rock and other “debris” by shaking and moving the pan just under the surface of the water). In that pan, Danny had placed the ring Ian had brought. Wisely, Ian brought two inexpensive rings, as that river can be quick... 

This is what happened next:

As both families looked on, Ian and Kat became engaged! We quickly named the location “Proposal Pond” and celebrated with champagne! 

What a great way to start our week together! 

The rest of the week was full of fun, relaxation, and yes, even a bit of gold. 

And we got a whole week with Leo - who is far more toddler now than baby. He’s such a cutie, and so much fun!

I especially love this little montage of Tom and Leo. Leo adores his Papa!

What a week it was! After being relegated to home for months, this was such a welcome and unforgettable respite and celebration of family, love, and hope for the future.

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Sunday, March 08, 2020


My mother's death in 2004 of ovarian cancer still seems like yesterday - when it doesn't seem like a lifetime ago.

A few months after after mom died, I talked to her oncologist about a recently discovered gene mutation, BRCA, that had been linked to both ovarian and breast cancer. Is there any chance Mom had that gene mutation, I wondered. He assured me that only 3 to 5% of all patients with ovarian cancer have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, so chances were good that Mom didn't have it. He encouraged me to relax and go about my life, but also said it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a genetic test at some point. The price tag of that test back then was over $6000, and insurance wouldn't cover it.

In 1991, many years before Mom died, when the twins were toddlers, Peter was in pre-school, and Elisabeth was in 1st grade, I had a hysterectomy due to severe uterine fibroids (and Mom flew to San Diego for a month to help me out, as she always did when I needed her).

Before the surgery, I remember crossing off the line on the consent form that stated that this would be a "total hysterectomy," meaning that my ovaries would be removed (called an "ooperectomy"), in addition to my uterus. That would throw me into immediate menopause. I was only 36. No way were they gonna take my ovaries if they weren't diseased! So I crossed out that line and told them to wake me up if my ovaries look like a problem and "we'll talk," but they were not to perform an oopherectomy without waking me first. I wasn't woken and my ovaries weren't taken.

Until 2014, when I was through menopause and decided that my ovaries had served me well, but I didn't need them anymore - especially considering Mom's death ten years earlier from ovarian cancer. I was still curious about the BRCA question, but had taken Mom's doctor's advice and not worried much about the possibility that Mom, and possibly I, had the gene mutation. Although genetic testing had become more common and presumably cheaper, my insurance still wouldn't cover it in 2014. It would, however, cover an oopherectomy - so that's what I did.

So my uterus was removed in 1991 and my ovaries were removed in 2014. But when were my Fallopian tubes removed? Why is this important, you ask? Because recent research shows pretty conclusively that ovarian cancer actually begins in the tubes, and that having them removed (called a "salpingectomy") is protective against ovarian cancer AND against breast cancer.

But I'm ahead of myself.

Just before Christmas last year, Kat had the opportunity to have genetic testing through a program at UCSF. She was surprised to learn that she has an ATM gene mutation which, like the BRCA gene mutation, is associated with higher risk of breast and ovarian cancers, as well as prostate and pancreatic cancers. The risk isn't as high as with the BRCA gene, but it is still worrisome and now Kat, who's only 30, must stay especially vigilant with screening measures. She wondered who she got this ATM mutation from, so asked Tom and me to be tested through Color Genomics. Amazingly, the test was only $50 for first degree relatives of those with a mutation ($300 otherwise - still a bargain compared to $6000!).

Instead of getting my results online, I received an email, asking me to make an appointment to speak with a Color Genetic Counselor. Guess that ATM mutation must have come from me, I thought. Imagine my surprise when, while on the phone with the counselor, I saw this:

All this time, I had the BRCA gene mutation after all, and didn't know it!

The counselor told me that the chance of someone with the BRCA2 mutation getting breast cancer by the time she's 70 is a whopping 74%. "I'm 63; does this mean that chances are 74% that I'll develop breast cancer in the next seven years?" I asked him. No, he assured me, the chance decreases from that number each year that you're NOT diagnosed with cancer. But yes, my chances are pretty dang high.

And that calculator doesn't add my 26% Ashkenazi Jewish heritage from my dad's side, which puts me at additional risk.

I'd just had my yearly mammogram the week before I received this news. It was clear. So that's good. But SHIT! Really? Haven't we had ENOUGH cancer in our family recently?

The counselor noticed from information I'd provided previously that my ovaries had already been removed. As an oopherectomy is recommended for all women with a BRCA gene mutation, I was ahead of the game. "But," he said, "You might want to consider a prophylactic mastectomy. And you'll also want to get a breast MRI, just to confirm the findings of your recent mammogram." I did that last week (such fun... not!) and thank goodness, it was clear, too. So I do not have breast cancer... at this point. And for now, at least, I can postpone a mastectomy until at least next Fall.

Stanford has a great tool which can be used to predict the chances of getting breast cancer, given previous protective measures taken. Remember that it now looks like ovarian cancer begins in the Fallopian tubes - and that I don't know whether mine were taken in 1991, or 2014... or maybe even never. You can imagine my confusion, then, with THIS:

Looks confusing (ignore the "current age" box; what-ifs only work looking forward), but it basically predicts that if I had my ovaries (and presumably tubes) removed at 35 and I have no mastectomy, my chance of not getting cancer (by when?) is 46%, and only 1% greater if I have a mastectomy. If I had my ovaries (and presumably tubes) removed at 55, and I have no mastectomy, my chance of not getting cancer is 18%, and only 1% greater if I have a mastectomy. But when were my Fallopian tubes removed?! 

I requested records from the 1991 surgery and received this in the mail:
 Damn! I tried to call this doctor and was shocked to get a return call from him. He remembered me because my twins were born on 11/9/89 as the Berlin Wall was coming down. It was unforgettable to me and my family, for sure, but apparently it was also unforgettable to him! We had a delightful conversation, but he insisted that he "would have never" removed my tubes if he didn't take my ovaries. Now what?!

I am also in contact with the surgeon's office who did the 2014 surgery. Her nurse assured me that the tubes are almost always taken with the uterus, so they wouldn't have taken them in 2014. Could this mean I still have them? That would most decidedly NOT be good!

So here we are - my new normal. It's a bit disconcerting, but I'm getting used to it.

My tubes were taken with my ovaries in 2014! Just received the surgical report that confirms this. When removed, neither tubes nor ovaries had any sign of disease. So glad to have that mystery solved!

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Monday, October 14, 2019

This book won’t write itself!

Dear Dad,
I was always afraid of disappointing you and now, more than two years after your death, I’m paralyzed by it. 
I should be done with this book about your life by now and instead, I haven’t even begun. I wanted to write while you were still alive, but you were adamantly against that idea, insisting, “You can tell my story when I’m gone.” I don’t know if that was persistent wartime paranoia speaking, your familiar reluctance to draw attention to yourself, or simply the fact that you no longer had the energy to put behind your own voice. 
Always meticulously thorough and organized, you color-coded and systematically filed thousands of research documents, hundreds upon hundreds of pages of diaries, short stories, and journals, and even left behind the manuscripts of two full books – which you refused to publish. You left me notes (“Carol, if you want to tell my story, you’ll need this…”) and annotated sources, indicating that you wanted and expected me to tell your story. 
So why can’t I get started?
If I were a psychotherapist, I could possibly tell you why I haven’t yet begun to write. My best guess is that I’m terrified of being judged by you, even after you’re gone – just as you were terrified by being judged by your own father for the entire seventy-three years of your life after his death. And because my book is supposed to be about you and your father (and your mother and, well, world history), the paralysis is even more pronounced. 
People know that writing this book is my life’s work, now that I’m retired and now that you’re, well… gone. Some are anxiously waiting for me to announce, “I’m done!” But I’ve barely begun. 
Where do I even begin? 
Is this your mother’s story as a non-Jew whose sole existence protected her Jewish husband and mischling children during WWII, then died suddenly of a brain tumor in January, 1944, at which point all hell breaks loose for you, your siblings, and your father?

Is it the story of your father, the prominent Jewish art collector who somehow maintained his title as German consul to Portugal, and was probably the only one of thousands of Jews not deported from Chemnitz? The more I research, the more it looks like he might have had a protectorate! Is that the story?

Is it your story as a mischling (mixed-breed) during WWII, Dad? You wrote two books about your experiences, but refused to publish either one, insisting that they weren’t good enough and no one would really care, anyway. They are, and they would! Do I just edit and publish your books, allowing you to tell your own story when you’re gone, and leave it at that?

And I’ve had so many related experiences myself. Is this my own story, too? Do I tell of meeting Julia Essl in Vienna, the Provenance Researcher who had been tasked with the job of researching your father in order to help determine whether some of his art which had ended up at the Albertina Museum should be restituted to his heirs? Do I describe my own shock at seeing multiple thick binders on Julia’s shelves, each labeled “Carl Heumann,” realizing that Julia knew far more about your father than any living person? Do I describe Julia’s trip to the US to interview you, and the lasting friendship with her that endures to this day?

Do I tell of last year’s invitation from the mayor of Chemnitz and the director of the art museum there to attend the opening of the exhibit in honor of you and your father after you donated three of your father’s works back to the museum, insisting that “seventy years is enough!” when I balked that it was precisely those organizations that stripped your father of his position on the board due to his Jewishness? 

Is it my story, too? Do I somehow weave all this together? Am I a good enough writer to do that? 
My office bookshelf and cabinets are filled to the brim with more than enough research, more than enough information, more than enough documents, more that enough letters, to tell the whole story. In fact, I have so much… STUFF, that I am overwhelmed and paralyzed, unable to begin at all! 

I need help. I need the combination of book coach, writer/editor, project manager, and psychotherapist. Does such a person even exist?

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