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Friday, May 27, 2005

Smokey Briggs

Sage Views

By Smokey Briggs

Lest we

Memorial Day officially became a holiday in 1868 when President Andrew Johnson presided over a ceremony at Arlington Cemetery that year honoring all those who died during the Civil War.

The holiday was called “Decoration Day” at the time.

It is generally accepted that Memorial Day began with Southern women decorating the graves of dead Confederate soldiers with flowers.

One of the first “Confederate Decoration Day’s” was celebrated in the spring of 1866 in Columbus Georgia.

In 1868 General John A. Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic that was occupying the defeated southern states, ordered that May 30th be set aside to honor the dead of the Civil War.

Over the years the name has changed to “Memorial Day,” and all of America’s dead heroes are honored.

It is easy to forget why we have a Memorial Day.

Taking a day off from work makes us feel good. It’s the beginning of summer. Lake waters are warm and the fish are biting. It’s the first break most of us have had since Christmas. A three-day weekend sounds good.

All those feelings run contrary to the somber fact that we’re taking the day off to honor those who died so that we might live free and enjoy a weekend at the lake.

Death and celebration are not completely natural companions.

The combination of the two makes for an uncomfortable feeling.

Being human, it is natural that we might ignore the uncomfortable, somber side of this holiday and concentrate on the festive.

But sometime in between the hotdogs, water skiing, and stock car racing, we need to take a moment and remember in our hearts all those who made the ultimate sacrifice for us.

On most of the inhabited continents on this earth there are huge fields of white crosses that stretch as far as the eye can see.

They stretch for miles across the countryside of Europe, on little islands in the Pacific Ocean, across our homeland, in Asia, and in Australia.

Under each cross is the remains of a man who answered his country’s call and paid the ultimate price. There lies a man who never saw another Memorial Day, never went on another picnic, and never came home to his family.

If these men had not answered that call, we could not enjoy the freedom and prosperity that we do today.

So sometime this weekend as we go about our affairs, lets take a moment and remember our fallen countrymen.

Remember their sacrifice, and celebrate the freedom they died for.

My personal experience with the “C” word

By Peggy McCracken
Staff Writer

Sylvia Sadler looked like a shrunken old man as she staggered down Park Street in the pre-dawn darkness in her “chemo” hat and jeans last summer. I didn’t recognize her until she called out a cheery “Good morning, Peggy.”

“You’re moving mighty slow,” I opined from my front porch, where I was donning walking shoes for a walk around and around my caliche track.

“I don’t feel very good,” she said. An understatement, I am sure. Brain cancer had damaged her equilibrium to the point that may have been her last early morning walk. She would spend several more months attached to an oxygen tank, moving cautiously inside the house and going out with friends when she felt up to it.

Despite her sweet, optimistic spirit, the insidious cancer finally forced her to stay in bed, with round-the-clock care, and eventually killed her.

This process took several years from the time cancer first appeared in her saliva glands. She fought it, was able to return to her Kindergarten classroom, and hoped she had won the battle. She hadn’t.

All this time, I would stop to visit and encourage her as she worked in the yard, never even considering that the same enemy would attack me. Nor did I consider it when Frances Heath suffered a slow death from the same enemy.

Not until a young friend, Nancy Martinez, discovered a pea-sized lump in her breast that turned out to be fast-spreading cancer did I decide it was time for me to check my own breasts for lumps.

Years ago, I had put a decal on my bathroom mirror to remind me to do the monthly checkups recommended by the American Cancer Society and others. And I did the checkups more-or-less regularly for a long time.

Then two years ago, after my husband died and I was painting the bathroom, I scraped off the decal. “I’m not going to have cancer,” I thought.

Wrong! When I found a lump the size of a duck egg, I thought I must be mistaking a normal mass for an abnormal lump. But the other breast felt different. There must be a problem, only not cancer! It couldn’t be, because if a cancer had grown that big, it would have had time to spread all over my body.

For a month, I waffled between believing it was nothing, to some concern that it could be cancer. Having just read a book on estate planning for women, I started shifting some funds and assigning beneficiaries, just in case.

Finally, I had to know for sure, so I went straight to the doctor who would do the surgery if the lump were malignant: Dr. Won Joo Bang, right here in Pecos. He agreed the lump could be a problem and advised me to have a mammogram ASAP.

Have you ever had a mammogram? The operator flattens out your boobs to get a good x-ray. That hurts! After the first two or three, I quit having them, and Dr. Bang admonished me for that.

“If you had been having annual mammograms, you would have found the lump when it was small,” he said.

Yes, probably. But I am told that most women find the lumps themselves during those regular self-exams. That is what I am admonishing myself about. It only takes a few seconds for little boobs like mine. Now I feel like a real boob.

OK, so I went for the mammogram, and it hurt, as I expected. And then the operator took a sonogram as well, focusing on a hard place in the lump. That is when I suspected I was in trouble.

Two weeks later, I still hadn’t received a report, so I wrote an optimistic column saying I would have heard by now if there were a problem.

Wrong again. Dr. Bang had to call the cancer center at Odessa Medical Center Hospital to get a report faxed to him. The day before I was to go to his office to hear the results, I received a certified letter from MCH saying that both breasts had suspicious areas.

I didn’t much like that report, but was prepared to have surgery that would make my chest flatter than a man’s.

When I told him about the letter, Dr. Bang showed me his report, which reveals a problem only with the left breast. Now we are both upset. He has to call them again, and this time is told that “the computer” sent me the wrong letter, and his report is correct.

Did I get another letter from MCH telling me they made a mistake? No. Not until I confronted them last week while there for more testing, and insisted they write me a letter correcting the first one.

(I am sitting in the MCH lobby as I write this on my laptop. If they catch me bad-mouthing them, I may get surgery I wasn’t expecting.)

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