Make a difference

In medical school I made a difference.

I was with two women and two men from class. We’d had a lecture on rape that day. One of the guys piped up, “If I were a woman and I was raped, I’d never tell anyone.”

“Man, I don’t feel that way.” I said, “I would have the legal evidence done, have the police on his ass so fast his head would spin and I would nail his hide to the wall.”

He looked at me in surprise. “Um, wow. Why?”

I took a deep breath and decided to answer. “You are assuming that you would be ashamed and that as a woman, it is somehow your fault if you were raped. I was abused by a neighbor at age 7. At age 7 I thought it was my fault. I thought I might be pregnant, because I was a bit clueless about puberty. I made it stop and tried to keep my sister away from the guy. When I went to the pediatrician the next time with my mother, I decided that since he didn’t say I was pregnant, I probably wasn’t. When I started school that year, second grade, I thought sadly that I was probably the only girl on the bus who wasn’t a virgin.

In college, I heard a radio show about rape victims, how they blame themselves, often think they did something to cause it, are often treated badly by the police or the emergency room, and feel guilty. All of the feelings that I had at age 7. I realized that I was 7, for Christ’s sake, I wasn’t an adult. It was NOT my fault.

If I walk down the street naked, I’m ok with being arrested for indecency, but rape is violence against me and no one has that right no matter WHAT is happening.

And child sexual abuse is one in four women.”

The two guys looked at the three of us. After a long pause, one of the other women shook her head no, and the other nodded yes.

The guy shook his head. “I never believed it. I didn’t think women could be okay after that.”

“Oh, we can survive and we can heal and thrive.”

We had the lecture on child sexual abuse a few months later. My fellow student talked to me later. “I thought about you and — during the lecture. I thought about it completely differently than before you talked about it. I would deal with a patient in a completely different way than I would have before. Thank you.”


previously posted on in 2009

for the Daily Prompt: release

brave women

For the Daily Prompt: brave.

I took this in 2010, at a synchronized swim meet. These are very young swimmers, yet each girl is being lifted by three others, who are lifting only by swimming. They may not touch the bottom. It takes enormous amounts of practice and teamwork.

I hope that more women speaking up and saying “Me too” and refusing to tolerate the Weinsteins and all of the others will change the pattern.

Strong girls and brave women.


For the Daily Prompt: fortune, an old poem. This is the version I learned, but there are others… I think that I learned this from a nursery rhyme book, that had been my mother’s. A cautionary tale, perhaps….

“Where are you going, my pretty maid?”

“I’m going a-milking, sir,” she said

“May I go with you, my pretty maid?”

“No one will stop you, sir,” she said

“What is your fortune, my pretty maid?”

“My face is my fortune, sir,” she said

“Then I can’t marry you, my pretty maid.”

“Nobody asked you, sir,” she said.

Other versions:

I took the photograph a few days ago at sunset. We are almost at the solstice. Blessings all.

Paper of pins

For the daily prompt: Treasure.

This is another song to raise girls. My sister and I loved the double twist at the end. This is a courting song, to be sung by at least two voices. At music parties, my parents would sing it to each other. We would join in joyfully.

First voice:
I’ll give to you a paper of pins
and that’s the way our love begins
If you will marry me oh me,
if you will marry me

I’ll not accept your paper of pins
if that’s the way your love begins
and I won’t marry you oh you
and I won’t marry you

I’ll give to you a dress of red
all sewn round with golden thread
If you will marry me oh me,
if you will marry me

I’ll not accept your dress of red
all sewn round with golden thread
and I won’t marry you oh you
and I won’t marry you

I’ll give to you a coach and four
so you can ride from door to door
If you will marry me oh me,
if you will marry me

I’ll not accept your coach and four
so I can ride from door to door
and I won’t marry you oh you
and I won’t marry you

I’ll give to you the keys to my heart
so we can love and never part
If you will marry me oh me,
if you will marry me

I’ll not accept the keys to your heart
so we can love and never part
and I won’t marry you oh you
and I won’t marry you

I’ll give to you the keys to my chest
so you can have money at your request
If you will marry me oh me,
if you will marry me

I will accept the keys to your chest
so I can have money at my request
And I will marry you oh you
and I will marry you

I love coffee and you love tea
you love my money you don’t love me
And I won’t marry you oh you
And I won’t marry you

I’ll take my tea and sit in the shade
I think I’d rather be an old maid
And I won’t marry you oh you
And I won’t marry you

We were interested in the escalation of the offer and that in the end, the woman was quite clear: she did not love him and was not for sale.

There are multiple versions on YouTube with different words. I like the one by Rose Lee and Joe Maphis.

The photograph is of a sewing kit. It belonged to Margaret White, my maternal grandmother’s oldest sister. It says: J. A Henckel, Twinworks, Germany. The paper is a paper of needles, needles of different sizes. I liked small things, so my mother let me have this kit. I have used it since I was a child. Some of the pieces were missing from the start, but I suspect that those that remain are ivory. My grandmother was born in 1899, so this kit would be from the early 1900s. I carefully kept all of the needles in their paper packets.

Beast Cthulhu and bone metastases

In 2011, when my sister wrote  Beast Cthulhu and bone metastases,  about her breast cancer being a treatable chronic illness, I was so sad…..

….because it was not true, even though I wished it was.

The perils of being the doctor sister.

It was clear that her cancer was progressing. Yes, she could request to continue treatment. Yes, they would keep treating her….

….but it wasn’t working.

The hematologist-oncologist chooses the best treatment first. Chris Grundoon was 41 and very strong and healthy so they hit the cancer as hard as they possibly could. Chemotherapy, mastectomy, radiation therapy, a second degree burn on her chest wall. It was stage IIIB to start with. Cancer is staged 0 to IV. Zero is “carcinoma in situ”, cancerous cells that have not even invaded their neighbors. Stage I is very local. Stage IV is distant metastases. Stage IIIB of ductal breast carcinoma means multiple lymph nodes, but not the ones above the collarbone, and no cancer in bone, brain, lungs or liver.

She had two years in remission.

The cancer recurred with a metastasis above the collarbone. The cancer had morphed as well, as it often does. Most, most, most of the cells were killed… but those that survived… were different. Now she was estrogen receptor negative, progesterone receptor negative and her2 negative. All genetic markers which help decide which treatment is best and how to target the cells. More and more are being found.

Our mother died of ovarian cancer. I went with her to her oncologist only once. My mother said that her CA 125 was rising, and of course she could do more treatment if she needed to. The doctor said something positive. I followed her out of the room. Once the door was shut I said, “My mother is talking about another clinical trial! She can’t do that, can she?”

“No,” said the oncologist, “Of course not. She is too advanced. But we will treat her for as long as she wants.”

Whether it works or not. Because she wants to be treated. In spite of diminishing returns.

My sister passed her five years from the day treatment ended. So technically she is in the five year survival group even though then she died. When she was diagnosed, the five year survival for her type of breast cancer and stage was about 5%. It had improved to 17% by 2011.

Her oncologist told her “I am referring you to hospice.” in the spring of 2012. She went to San Francisco to talk to another group about a clinical trial. But it was too far and too late. She refused hospice until about two weeks before she died. Fight to the end, she was willing to fight even when the oncologist said, “You are dying.” She had promised her daughter and promised her husband.

I saw her three times in the last two months before she died. She seemed angry to me on the last visit, glittering, knife edged. I tried to sing a lullaby, but she wanted something else. “Samuel Hall?” I guessed. She smiled and I sang it. My name is Samuel Hall and I hate you one and all. To the gallows I must go, with my friends all down below. Hope to see you all in hell, hope to hell you sizzle well, damn your eyes, damn your eyes. Then she trusted me to be present whether she was angry or sad or confused or once even happy, glowing, transported, transformed….

Some people do not go gentle. That is their right. It is their death, not ours, not mine.


The photograph is from the memorial here… My father had end stage emphysema, on steroids and oxygen, and I was hospitalized with strep sepsis the weekend of her first memorial in California. We could not go. Many people from our chorus Rainshadow Chorale came and we are singing the Mozart: Requiem Aeternum. My father died fourteen months later.

Songs to raise girls: My name is Samuel Hall

The last time I visit my sister in hospice, my cousin is sitting by the bed when I arrive.

My sister looks terrible and like she is suffering. She is in renal failure and her eyes are slitted against the light. She is in a hospital bed and barely eating. It takes me three days to figure out how to make her comfortable.

But when I first arrive, I say hello and hug her. She laughs and it is dark.

She doesn’t want to talk. “Shall I sing to you?” I ask.

She nods.

I start singing a lullaby: I gave my love a cherry.

She shakes her head: no.

I study her. “How about Samuel Hall?”

She smiles and nods.

“My name is Samuel Hall,
Samuel Hall, Samuel Hall.
My name is Samuel Hall
And I hate you one and all
you’re a bunch of buggers all
damn your eyes, damn your eyes
you’re a bunch of buggers all
damn your eyes.”

Another song to raise girls. We adored it, because it is unrepentant, horrible and had swears.

I killed a man tis said
and I left him there for dead
with a bullet in his head
damn his eyes

My cousin’s eyes widen. “I haven’t thought of that song in years.” he says. He starts singing along, remembering.

They took me to the quod
They left me there by God
With a ball and chain and rod
Damn their eyes

My cousin has two children. I guess he is not raising them with the dark songs we were raised with….

The preacher he did come
And he looked so goddamn glum
As he talked of Kingdom Come
Damn his eyes

My sister is smiling, eyes slit against the light, angry.

The sheriff he came too
With his boys all dressed in blue
They’re a bunch of buggers too
Damn their eyes

To the gallows I must go
With my friends all down below
Saying “Sam, I told you so.”
Damn their eyes

I see Nellie in the crowd
I am shouting right out loud
I shout “Nellie, ain’t you proud!
Damn your eyes!”

“Let this be my parting Nell
Hope to see you all in Hell
Hope to Hell you sizzle well
Damn your eyes!”

And my sister laughs and then she sleeps for a while, angry, angry at death.

My name is Samuel Small:
My name is Samuel Hall:
My name is Samuel Hall:
and Johnny Cash:

This is not the suffering photo. I can’t bear to post that….