Harold and Maude is a movie made in the early
70's that starred Ruth Gordon. I recently watched it for the
first time and loved it! It seems mild now but must have made
quite a stir when it first came out. It is about life and love
and loving life. Ruth Gordon plays 79 year-old Maude. She has
a beautiful spirit and everything in life is an adventure for
her. She meets a very depressed young Harold who is in the habit
of faking elaborate suicides to win the attention of his mother.
Harold and Maude meet at a funeral. If that isn't strange enough,
Harold, who can't be more than 18, grows to love Maude and wants
to marry her.
Maude has such energy and youthful spirit that she becomes
ageless, while Harold is barely living, and only realizes this
through knowing Maude. Maude embraces life and her exuberance,
creativity and joy rubs off on Harold. She gives him the gift
of living. This movie made me think about living and how so many
people walk around half-living and half-dead. Maude is truly
happy and in one scene you catch a glimpse of a small tattoo
of numbers on her arm. She has experienced the horror of concentration
camp and still goes on to see the beauty in life. In one scene
Harold gives Maude a coin souvenir from their trip to the carnival
and she says, "It's the most beautiful gift I've received
in a very long time!" She then flings it into the sea and
when Harold looks surprised she says, "So I'll always know
where it is." Maude shows that life isn't about material
gifts but is a gift in itself.
On March 29th I returned to Spokane for an MRI. It had been
over four months since my radiation treatments had ended and
3 months since my last MRI. Before my appointment I went back
to my hair stylist and friend, Steve. He was expecting me as
I had the foresight to make an appointment just in case I had
enough hair to get a uniform cut. He was great and proceeded
to make me feel beautiful with a very short cut. Now if you don't
look too close, it was as if I had purposely cut my hair this
way. No more bald spots! This ceremonial cut gave a sense of
closure to this stage of my journey, as I had been there the
day before my biopsy and during radiation. The circle was closing.
Steve also mentioned that he had read my website and saw my Julia
Sweeney piece. He said that Julia Sweeney's mom gets her hair
done there! Small world!
With my new haircut I was ready to get my MRI and tried to
be calm and positive even though I had been very emotional the
last few weeks and especially the past few days. I had been having
lots of dreams and many of them had a theme of trying to help
injured animals. Always in these dreams I was trying to convince
others to help me. The symbolism seemed to suggest that I might
be relating this to my experience of trying to get help with
my diagnosis and taking so much effort to convince health care
professionals that something was wrong.
I always have to psyche myself up for the MRI as I have a
little bit of claustrophobia (at least in this situation) and
so I began to focus, tried to relax and take deep breaths as
I sat in the small waiting room. Eventually a young man with
a clipboard came and asked me some questions including "Had
I ever had a MRI before?" "Yes." "Had
I had surgery?" "A biopsy." "Had it
been cancer?" "Still is." Then he looked up
from his clipboard and said "Bitchin' haircut!" That
gave me a smile.
Once in the MRI "tube" I tried to slow my heart
rate and not emphasize the importance of the outcome of these
images. As usual, after most of the images were finished I was
brought out to get an injection that would show contrast to highlight
certain areas of my brain. Usually a simple task, the two women
could not get a vein to cooperate. Each time my vein would collapse.
They tried many different places and it was determined that I
was dehydrated and cold. A warm blanket was put over me and in
a few minutes it was easy to find a vein. I went back in to the
tube and finished the MRI.
The next day the neurosurgeon ushered us into the hallway
by the light board so we could examine the latest MRI. We all
agreed that the tumor had gotten a little smaller, and we were
about to jump for joy when the doctor said, "I'm not sure
if this matters or not." My husband and I stopped and looked
at him and said "Huh?" He explained that what he was
referring to was the fact that there were no studies that he
knew about that proved the shrinking of the tumor versus
it just stopping made a difference in the long run. Again
we were confused. How could it not be better to have the
tumor get smaller? He explained that yes it was good news, but
that eventually the tumor was going to grow back. I looked at
him and said "Can you tell me what the goal is here?"
He responded that the goal was to make it stop growing. By this
time all the good news had disappeared.
We proceeded to his office and he began to answer our questions
in a slow and thoughtful manner. I said that I didn't remember
about it being a sure thing that the tumor would grow back. He
explained that with an astrocytoma it was not possible to get
all of the fingerlings that expanded out and mixed with brain
cells. I asked him what he had seen in his own practice with
my type of tumor. He said that in 10 years, none of his patients
who had the same type of tumor and were treated with radiation,
the tumors had not started growing again. So it could be years
or decades before it grew back. He said it would typically grow
back in the same area. I looked at my husband and said "I
don't remember talking about this before." He replied, "I
think we were told that there was a possibility of recurrence."
We had tucked it away because it was too difficult to comprehend.
It was decided that we would meet again in 4 months for another
MRI. Once a year had gone by since the radiation treatments,
depending on the size of the tumor, radiosurgery might be an
option.This is where a strong dose of radiation is given one
time.This has risks and is dependent on the tumor being under
3 cm. I gave the doctor a hug and left feeling very confused,
yet appreciative that he continued to be straightforward and
was willing to explain things again and again. Yes, I wanted
him to be a little more sensitive, not use words like life expectancy,
try to be more careful about dashing my hopes before I could
celebrate the tumor shrinking. Yet I trusted him and that was
the most important thing.
Later we visited the neurologist and I told him that until
now I had silently been only letting myself think of my future
a year from now. I told him I wanted to think in decades "Could
I begin to think a decade?" "Yes! I definitely think
you should think in decades," he replied.Of course my greatest
lesson from this should be to enjoy each day and years. I am
trying to do just that but it is also a wonderful luxury to imagine
ahead and picture your travels and children and life in the future.
It gives you hope.
(song written by Charlie Chaplin,
J.Turner, G. Parsons)