Leave a Message

Texting and social media have become the communication methods most people prefer. It’s a fact, especially for people who have grown up with cell phones and internet access. This is fine for personal communication, but what about communicating on the professional level?

I have been an administrative assistant since I was in high school. My main task was, and still is, answering the phone and returning messages. You would think that’s an easy job, but it’s actually a challenge if callers don’t leave enough information. Here are a few easy tips to get a response.

1. Leave your full name.
It’s important to give your first and last name if you want a response, especially if you have a common name like Jane or Bob. If your name is unique (like mine is), speak clearly and spell your name.

2. Leave your phone number.
Please speak slowly when you give your phone number. Believe it or not, it takes time to write down a message.

3. Explain why you’re calling.
Are you a new client/customer? Do you need an appointment? Do you need a drug refilled? You’re more likely to get a quick response if the message is specific.

4. Repeat your name and phone number.
It’s irritating to listen to a message multiple times just to get the name and phone number of the caller. If you leave a message with the contact info at the beginning and end, you’re doing yourself (and the person you’re calling) a favor.

In sum: Keep your phone messages clear, specific, and helpful. That’s it.

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New Year, New Brain?

astrocytoma2020 – what a crazy year! I’ve been lucky enough to avoid COVID-19, but my brain function is still a rollercoaster ride.

I’m nearing the nine-year anniversary for my brain tumor diagnosis. I passed the calculated expiration date on Super Bowl Sunday in 2018 when the Eagles were playing Patriots. I was told I had 5-7 years to live after my diagnosis in 2012, but they also suggested that my 6cm astrocytoma started developing in my teenage years. Math is great, but even quantitative analysis is guess work in my opinion.

The past nine years have introduced me to migraines and seizures. I’m allergic to all of the current seizure medicines except two of them: Vimpat and Keppra. I’m still having seizures, so it’s time to throw a Hail Mary.

Back in October 2020, I was having a proper Sunday football binge with my friends. Between the afternoon and evening games, we decided it was time to grab some chicken wings. I went into the restaurant pay for the food. I had a grand mal seizure, passed out, and barfed all over myself. Mad props to the restaurant staff for knowing how to deal with a person in a seizure. When I came to, they had me sitting upright in a chair, and they had called 911. I wasn’t fluent yet, but I pointed at my phone and said my friend’s name. My friend called my partner so that he could meet me at the ER.

The grand mal seizure was the last sign that I needed to have a Vagus Nerve Stimulator (VNS) installed to help regulate my brain activity. In summary, it’s like a pacemaker for your brain. After all of the MRI’s and eight years of chemo to regulate my brain tumor, what’s one more brain surgery?

I haven’t been sharing my cancer story because too many things have been up in the air. That being said, my brain with undergo the knife again February 8th. It will be outpatient. I’ll recover at home, and my partner and dog will have the luxury of heeding my bossy requests. It’s not COVID-19, so I’m feeling grateful.

I’ll keep people updated about Medusa (my brain tumor)’s reaction to 24/7 monitoring. I literally can’t wait to go through TSA again and mystify the security guards. Until then, get your COVID vaccine and enjoy the little things in life.

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Macarons and Coffee? Yes, Please!

In case you didn’t know, I’m a fat girl who loves to eat. To be specific, I love dessert. To be even more specific, I love macarons. And coffee. Dark, unsweetened coffee. When I found out about Amy Becker’s Facebook shop Sweet Beckery Confections, I knew I had to try the macarons. They were beyond delicious. Amy was kind enough to let me ask her about her passion for pastries.

1. How did you get into baking?
I’ve always loved being in the kitchen in any aspect. When I was little, holidays were very important in our home. My grandma would come over and she and my mom would bake all day long. It was a great memory, and my mom and I continue that tradition on still to this day.
I was introduced to macarons in Disneyland, and knew I had to work on reproducing them so I had a little Disney magic at home, too.

2. Who are some of your role model bakers?
My mom and grandma. My grandma made the best Scandinavian cookies that I just cannot recreate (yet!), and my mom makes the best chocolate chip cookies. I feel like if I can recreate either of their recipes perfectly, I’ll be a happy lady!

3. Macarons are a technical challenge. How long did it take you to master the art of piping?
I’ve been working at macarons for a bit over a year. There are so many things that could go wrong! Piping came fairly easy for me, but the macaronage is what took almost a year to perfect. That is the stage that will make or break a macaron.

4. What’s your favorite macaron flavor?
My favorite flavor has to be pistachio. I use real pistachios in both the shells and the filling, so I feel like it gets a really good sweet and salty balance.

5. Your Facebook page promises to bring new flavors for the Fall. Can you drop a few hints?
We recently visited my hometown in the Midwest, and so I really want to incorporate some flavors from there. One hint is one of my favorite things to do in Wisconsin is the Bayfield Applefest.

I don’t know what this Applefest is all about, but I can’t can’t wait to find out. In the meantime, I’ll keep ordering pistachio macarons and savoring them until the new flavors arrive!

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Dear Senator McSally: Healthcare is a Human Right

The Democratic National Convention has been interesting, to say the least. I have enjoyed watching the wonders of technology to accommodate social distancing. My favorite part of the convention, though, was the speeches from Michelle Obama and Kamala Harris. Strong women with strong voices.

In contrast, I have been very disappointed Senator Martha McSally, one of Arizona’s strong female voices in Congresses. Today I sent her a letter to let her know why I am disappointed in her. This is what I wrote.

Dear Senator McSally,

My name is Serena Freewomyn. I live in Tucson, and I have lived in Arizona for almost all of my life. My stepfather was a jet mechanic for the Airforce. My grandfather was a company clerk for the Army, and his brother served in the Marines. My great-grandfather was an engineer for the Navy. My husband’s grandfather was also an engineer for the Navy, and his brother-in-law served two tours in Iraq for the Army. Needless to say, I have pride for everyone who serves the United States, including you.

I feel proud of your fight to have women’s service in the US military held to the same recognition as men’s service. You took leadership to have bipartisan support for the Women’s Memorial. You demanded that women should be buried in Arlington Cemetery. You even took Donald Rumsfeld to the Supreme Court of the United States to allow women to fly into combat. You have shown bravery in the face of sexism. And I admire you.

I do not admire, however, you standing beside Donald Trump and allowing him and his cronies in Congress to restrict access to universal healthcare. Even before the COVID epidemic, you supported rescinding the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare.”) I am a thirty-nine year old woman who has spent the last decade scheduling her life around chemotherapy, radiation, speech therapy, physical therapy, and naturopathy treatments.

I was diagnosed with a stage-3 brain tumor in February of 2012, just as Obamacare went into effect. I am very Blessed that an anonymous federal employee waited with me while she passed my application up the food chain. I was approved for the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan the day before I went in for my next MRI. I was (and still am) able to get chemotherapy and radiation.

The Affordable Care Act was up for repeal in the summer of 2017. Senator John McCain had just announced that he had been diagnosed with the same type of tumor I had. I wrote to him asking him to vote in favor of the ACA. I explained my story to him and told him that I admired his service to this country, both as a senator, and as a service member who was a POW during the Vietnam War. I told him that he had the privilege of getting medical treatment, both as a member of Congress, as well as having VA hospital access. I don’t know if my letter had any influence on his decision, but he did vote to keep the ACA in place.

I am alive today because of Obamacare. I am alive today because of Senator McCain’s vote.

This is an election season, and so political ads are expected. Captain Mark McSally’s campaign has a positive tone. Your political ads have been virulent. Both or you served in the military. Both of you have accomplished amazing things for our national. However, I cannot support a candidate who doesn’t respect the basic human right of access to healthcare. Please remember that you were NOT elected to the senate. You inherited that position. If you expect to win the 2020 election, you need to appeal to all of the constituents in Arizona, not just the Trump supporters.
Thank you again for your service. Women value strong female voices in leadership positions. I hope you will take this into consideration.

All of the DNC speakers this week highlighted multiple issues in their speeches. Healthcare is my number one issue. If a candidate doesn’t support it, I can’t support them. Period. I hope equal access matters to you, too.

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100 Years of Voting

August 18, 2020, marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the amendment that finally recognized women’s right to vote. Although women should have already been included in the U.S. Constitution when it was adopted in 1789, it took suffrage workers 131 years to get the 19th Amendment ratified.

The women’s suffrage movement began during the summer of 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention in upstate New York. This was the first women’s rights convention in the United States. Elizabeth Cady Stanton helped organize the convention because she was passionate about women’s equality. In her opening speech, Stanton declared:

We are assembled to protest against a form of government, existing without the consent of the governed — to declare our right to be free as man is free, to be represented in the government which we are taxed to support, to have such disgraceful laws as give man the power to chastise and imprison his wife, to take the wages which she earns, the property which she inherits, and, in case of separation, the children of her love.

Why should women be controlled by political leaders they didn’t vote for? Why should they pay taxes to a government they didn’t elect? And why should they follow laws that were not representative of all citizens?

Elizabeth Cady Stanton wasn’t alone at the Seneca Falls convention. Many of the people who attended, including Frederick Douglass, were leaders of the slavery abolition movement. Last month, I interviewed Mary Logan Rothschild, Ph.D., professor emeritus of women’s studies at Arizona State University, who explained that the abolition and women’s suffrage movement were intricately entwined:

Susan B. Anthony was an abolitionist and cared deeply about the abolition of slavery. Initially, she didn’t see women’s issues as important in comparison. She joined the feminist movement because her mother and sister had attended the Seneca Falls convention and convinced her that women’s rights and ending slavery were tied and needed to be attacked together.

The connection between civil rights and women’s rights are just as important in 2020 as they were in the 1800s. According to the Census Bureau data, women in general are paid just 82% of what men make. When you add race and ethnicity to the equation, the wage gap gets larger for many women: For every dollar a white male earns, African American women get paid 62 cents, Latina women receive 54 cents, and Native American women receive 57 cents. But all women are affected by this pay gap: Asian American women get paid 90 cents compared to the white man’s dollar, and white women are paid 79 cents.

Why bring up the pay gap? We live in a capitalist society, where, to quote one of my favorite Wu-Tang songs, “cash rules everything around me.” Wage inequality hampers people’s access to housing, food, education, and health care. We need representatives who support economic security, which is why it’s imperative that we all vote for people who will support us.

Susan B. Anthony’s Act of Defiance
Susan B. Anthony was considered a radical when she had eight other women join her at the poll to vote in the 1872 presidential election. Anthony was the only one arrested, since she had organized the peaceful protest. She was charged for “knowingly, wrongfully and unlawfully [voting] … without having the right to vote.” Anthony pleaded not guilty, and had to stand trial.

Susan B. Anthony was not allowed to testify during the trial. When the judge ruled she was guilty and asked her if she had anything to say, Susan B. Anthony had a very strong reply:

… in your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled under foot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights … are all alike ignored. Robbed of the fundamental privilege of citizenship, I am degraded from the status of a citizen to that of a subject; and not only myself individually, but all of my sex, are, by your honor’s verdict, doomed to political subjection under this so-called form of government.

Susan B. Anthony’s defiant act was just the beginning of suffrage radicalism. At the turn of the 20th century, suffragists like Alice Paul and Lucy Stone organized rallies demanding the right to vote. They stood outside the gate at the White House with posters that said, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” The protesters were arrested and became political prisoners. The prisoners went on a hunger strike and were force-fed by prison guards. Alice Paul was declared a psychotic so she could be secluded in a psychiatric ward to prevent further protest.

A Turning Point
The women’s suffrage movement succeeded on August 18, 1920, when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment. We all owe a huge debt to the suffrage workers, who literally put their lives on the line so women could be acknowledged as citizens and equal to their male counterparts.

We are at a critical turning point in this country. There is a health crisis that is killing thousands of people a day. We need to honor our ancestors, as well as ourselves, by voting in this year’s election. When I spoke to Dr. Rothschild, she reminded me that the Affordable Care Act passed by just one vote in Congress. When I asked her if we needed to be as radical as Alice Paul and Lucy Stone, she said:

For some people, it’s hard to be more radical. We all work in different ways. There isn’t only one form of social action. We can get where we need to go if we work together. Do whatever you can do. You have to vote in the primaries, and you definitely need to vote in November.

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Face Masks are Fashionable

It’s official, y’all. Vogue has declared that face masks are not only necessary; they’re the latest fashion accessory. So have Marie Claire and Glamour. DIY online shops have been making/sharing masks since March 2020. To keep up with the trend, fashion designers, such as Gucci and Pradda, are gearing up to introduce face masks fashionable, and not just functional.

Believe it or not, this feminist LOVES fashion! When I got diagnosed with cancer in 2012, I didn’t lament losing my hair. I already had a large hat collection, and I was eager to widen my accessory options to include scarves. Why wouldn’t I go all out for face masks?

I am a longtime Project Runway enthusiast, and I hope Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum have designers from Making the Cut are encouraged to make COVID prevention fashionable. We’ll see when the fall lines hit the runway if high end designers take face masks to the next level.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Puzzling Words

The COVID crisis has unintentionally sparked a trend for people to exercise at home, rather than at a gym. My dog has started to expect three trips to the park, even though he has easy access to our yard. My partner is obsessed with the number of steps he takes each day. Me – I’m focused on keeping my brain active.

Crossword puzzles are one of my favorite types of exercise. I do 2-3 crossword puzzles each day. I write down words I don’t know and look them up in the dictionary. Why? Because crossword authors regularly use the same clues in different puzzles. I like expanding my vocabulary. I also like training my memory so that I can recognize the words when I see them.

I use a similar strategy for word search puzzles. I try to focus on two or three letters of the word while examine the puzzle. What letters are the least common? Are there double letters in the word? It’s easier for me to find small parts, rather than the full word. If I get frustrated, I move onto another word so that I don’t get caught up focusing on something that blocks my focus. I can always come back to that word when I’m finished with the other words on the list.

Fill-In puzzles are fun, too. They’re a mix of crossword clues and word search in the sense that you have all of the words; you just have to use some logic to discover where they fit in the grid. I start by filling in one section at a time, focusing on the longest words first. I look at connecting words to see if they match up with each other. Just like crosswords and word search puzzles, I can see words that are often on the list. It’s a good memory exercise.
My speech therapist taught me that it’s okay to look in the back of the puzzle book to verify my answers. It’s not “cheating.” It’s a way to get started on the puzzle without getting frustrated.

I hope you develop the same sense of entertainment for word puzzles that I have. I can carry a puzzle book in my purse so that I can do mental exercises while I’m waiting for the bus, or sitting in a lobby waiting for an appointment. Word puzzles are also a great way to enjoy a good cup of coffee and a scone. Your brain needs just as much exercise as the rest of your body. Have fun, and keep your brain working!Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Is Your Brain Puzzled?

It is important to keep your brain active while you are going through chemotherapy. We all get “chemo brain,” and it’s especially true if you tumor has set up camp in your neuro region. My speech therapist encouraged me to do word puzzles (crosswords, fill-in, wordsearch . . .) in multiple platforms. One benefit of doing a crossword on paper is that you are exercising multiple parts of your brain. The cerebral cortex manages speech and reading comprehension. Another part of your brain controls the mobility of your hand while you write.

I love old-school puzzles in the newspaper or a book, but phone and tablet apps help my help me utilize another part of the brain. Isn’t it ironic? (cue Alanis Morissette). Here are a apps you can download for free on your smartphone or tablet.

  • Wordsearch: The app is pretty straight forward. You get a list of words that grouped by categories. The puzzle get more challenging the more you play the game.
  • Word Swipe:
  • The puzzles in Word Swipe are also categorized by theme, such as world landmarks, 1960’s pop culture, and famous authors. Every day there is a famous quote to decipher, and it’s a great way to learn about history/geology.

  • Memorama: This is a basic memory game. You turn cards over to find a match. It’s as easy as that.
  • Onet Connect and Onnect: Both of these game require you to find matching pictures. They’re different that Memorama because the pictures are face-up and you have to able to connect the pictures with just three lines. Onet Connect shows the same pictures each level, but the tiles start to move around. Onnect is similar, but the pictures change every level. You can replay the same level to increase the speed of your matching. I like to play the levels at least three or four times before I move onto the next level.

Video games can also exercise your mind.

  • I love Big Brain Academy for Wii. It has several memory games, as well multiple visual recognition puzzles. The utilize five types of learning: math, memory, matching, visual. You can play the game alone to build up strength. You can also play with multiple players to encourage a sense of competition.
  • Tetris a great throwback to the 1980’s is also available on Wii and the Amazon Firestick. This game utilizes space recognition and logic. You have to think about how different moves will set you up for future moves. It’s fun to play solo, or with a partner.
  • There are games to download to your phone or tablet that are similar to Tetris. 1010!, Flow Free, and Unblock Me both focus on block placement.
  • I change back and forth between games so that I don’t get bored. Think about going to the gym, or preparing for a marathon. Different types of physical exercise focus on specific parts of your body. Wee should take care of our brain as much as we tend to the rest of the body.

    I hope these tips can help you maintain your brain, your body, and emotional strength healthy are you travel through your cancer treatment. And if you don’t have cancer, we all need to keep our brains in check. So keep a puzzle on hand – even if it’s an old school paperback puzzle. There’s still value in the classic forms of reading.

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Enough is Enough

I have had the privilege of sharing my stories with Female Storytellers!, a local organization that provides monthly writing prompts and gives women (however they define that identity category) to share their stories with a live audience. This month’s prompt was “Enough.” I was drawn to this prompt because I have had enough time on chemotherapy to speak from the heart about the impact is has made on my life.

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Chemo Can Kick You Into Early Menopause

One of the predictable side effects of chemotherapy and radiation is a disruption of hormone production. Menopause typically occurs between the ages of 45-56, but menopause can occur earlier if you are receiving chemotherapy; if you’re using hormone replacement therapy (either because of chemotherapy, or because you’re transgender); or if you’ve had a hysterectomy.

Symptoms of menopause include:

  • Hot flashes
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Headaches
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Urinary problems

I have experienced all of the conditions of menopause thanks to being on chemotherapy for over eight years. I don’t miss tampons, but I do miss feeling chilly.

I started dealing with early menopause a few weeks after I started receiving Avastin, an IV chemotherapy treatment. The downside, however, was that I started having hot flashes and headaches. Even small changes in room temperature or ligthing can trigger a migraine. Although I’m usually cold (even in the Arizona desert), I have to dress in layers so that I can strip/redress depending on my perceived body temperature.

There are several things you can do to address the side effects of menopause. Acupuncture is one of those tools. I enjoy getting acupuncture because it works. And at the very least, I get a good nap when I go in for treatment. Acupuncture has helped reduce the frequency and intensity of my migraines and hot flashes. It has also helped me manage my depression.

Don’t let menopause get you down. Take care of yourself, and focus on healing.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail