Large things, small things, and a teenaged girl named Charlotte

I work at a drug company. A large, large drug company.

Bernie Sanders would say I work for “big pharma.” He’s right. I do. I’m proud to work in pharma, I don’t view it as an insult, and I think it’s a shame some do. We do good work.

While I don’t consider myself a mere cog in the wheel, I am not a muckety-muck where I work, just someone doing my small part at a big company. I read drug promotions for health care practitioners and patients. I hope my edits and insight add value to the materials I review and make them more clear to the reader. Particularly if they are a patient, as most patients start out with no knowledge of disease states, adverse events, and contraindications. Being diagnosed with something life-threatening is frightening enough without being confused about dosages and side effects and whether or not it’s okay to eat grapefruit while you are on a medication.

Not only is my company quite large, most of the things associated with it are large, too. I work in an enormous building that houses thousands of people. We’re in “open space,” so there are rows of individuals on each floor with no walls between them. Nobody has an office, so it’s egalitarian. But there are always a lot of people about. Hit the cafeteria between noon and 12:30, and you’re going to stand on line, surrounded by humanity, to wait for your meal. 11:45 and 1:15 are much better times to be hungry.

Our lobby, airy and open, can seem like an airport or some other huge space. A friend who used to work with me said once about it, “The only thing that’s missing is the set of mastodon bones.” They’d fit pretty well, too.

The parking lot goes out a long way, and if you arrive much past 8:30 a.m., you end up parking in what I refer to as “The Hinterlands” or “West Mesopotamia.” You get a good number of your steps in walking to the office from that parking area, but heaven help you if didn’t allot enough walk time to get to your 9:00 meeting.

I tend to work late, and I have often gotten to my car as the sun is preparing to leave the sky, and when I look at our building from a bit of a distance I see how pretty it really is. I’ve taken photos of it in that light, sometimes posting it on social media with a cutline as vague as, “You know, it really is a pretty building.” I would go so far to say it’s beautiful.

Though I enjoy people well enough, and many of my immediate coworkers are people I quite like, I’m not one who has taken wholeheartedly to the whole open space thing. Even after 2 years, I miss my cubicle of old, at the edge of our floor and by a window, where we kept lots of plants. Though I appear on the surface to be friendly and outgoing, I’m actually quite socially awkward and uncomfortable being around people all the time. “Unconventional,” “noncomforming,” and “quirky” are words used to describe people like myself. “Weird” has been thrown about a bit, too…

In this expansive work environment, there are times that my quirky, weird, awkward self would like to feel a bit smaller, maybe even invisible. In my own corner doing my thing with not many people about, even though they are mostly people I like. Because maybe with the sheer number of humans around to be smiled at or acknowledged, it’s easy to stop feeling like an individual at times. Perhaps it’s me, but sometimes my purpose gets lost in these waves of people and my rote and regular smiles and waves and nods as I go to get a cup of coffee. Sometimes I’m just not up for it, though I’ll never stop feeling obligated.

So, yeah, I guess the point of all that is that the place where I work is big.

Since my last surgery and the subsequent medications I’ve been put on to deal with the repercussions of it, I don’t sleep as well as I used to. The other night I woke up after a few hours of sleep; the antihistamines I started taking to celebrate the impending arrival of spring do not keep me knocked out the way they once did. Grabbed my cell phone, checked the time, went on YouTube to watch my typical Dr. Sandra Lee cyst-removal videos until I was tired enough to fall back asleep. Under the Dr. Lee video I was watching, YouTube had a list of suggesteds, and one was a video by a British cancer patient named Charlotte. I clicked.

Charlotte spoke of being 18 and frustrated that her cancer was affecting so much of her life. Her vision was bad, and her left eye wasn’t working properly. She’d gained weight from her treatment and felt bad about her body. Her mother had bought her a cane because her balance wasn’t good, and she’d been reluctant to use it but now knew she would have to. She was upset because she’d had a seizure when she was 16 and had been prevented from learning to drive for 2 years, and just when that 2 years was about over, doctors found new tumor growth. She didn’t know if she would ever learn to drive.

Charlotte paused for her words at times; sometimes she just stopped speaking for a while altogether. Her sad expression spoke volumes, anyway. She was dealing with a hell of a lot for an 18 year old. One thing she said summed it all up: “I just want this cancer to go away.”

My heart went out to this girl dealing with so much. I went to her YouTube channel and put the videos in chronological order, and started watching from the beginning.

They started out with a more petite, more lively, 17-year-old Charlotte. She’d found out at age 16 she had a rare form of brain cancer. It was the day of her prom.

She’d had chemo and lost her hair, and it was growing in. She looked lovely with her short hair and frequently combed her bangs with her fingers. She’d spent 5 days a week over the past year going to the hospital for treatment. She paused at times to think about what she wanted to say. Charlotte was unrehearsed. 

Charlotte had been shy, but her cancer fight had given her the need to speak up and tell people about what it is like to be a teenager with cancer. To answer questions. She felt like most cancer videos were addressed to an adult audience, and she wanted to have something addressed to teens. And she loved fashion and makeup, and she loved cats. Of course, she did. Don’t many teenage girls love these very same things?

Subsequent videos, many filmed in Charlotte’s room, were about fashion and makeup, how to deal with hair loss. Showing off an outfit. Wearing a cute wig. Lamenting about not going to university and spending too much time inside. Explaining how going on steroids makes you put on a lot of weight quickly and that this had happened to her previously. And how it felt when she’d been in a car with a handicapped tag and people looked at her as if she were scamming for a parking spot. The joy of a new video camera for her YouTube channel.

And wanting to get back the time she’d lost, getting back the teenage years where she was being treated for cancer and not on vacation or doing things with her friends. She loved purses. She bought a lot of her tops at a placed called Top Shop.

Charlotte spoke about being reliant on her mom for so much when she wasn’t well. As a mother, it pained me to think of how her mom must be feeling to know her daughter was going through this. Is there a mother who wouldn’t put themselves in their child’s place if he or she had a brain tumor?

I continued to watch. Charlotte had suffered hearing loss from one of her early chemo treatments. She loved the Kardashians. She hated people telling her when she was bald, “Oh, your hair will grow back.” Yes, it would, but for the time being she was bald. She was a beautiful young lady, and she was beautiful bald, too. But no teenage girl wants to lose her hair.

There were a lot of videos to get through. I jumped around. Then I made a mistake, in my view, anyway. I was moving down and saw a video labeled as the last Charlotte made before she died. Had I been watching these as they were put up, I’d have been rooting for Charlotte in real time. I would want Charlotte to have a happy ending while she was hoping for it.

I did not want to see that video yet. I was not ready. In the earlier videos, Charlotte had so much hope and was so full of life.

I clicked on another further down instead. It must have been filmed after the very first one I watched. It was dark, and Charlotte was in bed. She was swollen up again, from steroids maybe. She says into the camera that the latest treatment is not working. She turns the camera off. In the middle of the night, Charlotte was telling the world that she was frightened. You cannot crawl into the computer, you cannot hug this person, and you couldn’t even if she were still here. You can’t make this frightened child feel better. There is nothing you can do. Nothing. And you want to.

In the last video she made before she passed away, Charlotte’s mother had to narrate. Charlotte was in a chair and only able to wave twice as her mother spoke of Charlotte’s hope, still, that medicine could heal her body. Charlotte could not even hold up her head.

The cancer that gave this sweet girl her voice to speak up for teenagers with cancer ended up stealing that voice, along with all of Charlotte’s other abilities.

Charlotte was hospitalized soon thereafter. She was 19 years old when she died. What killed her was a glioblastoma in her brain that then spread to her spine. It had developed from her original form of brain tumor that had appeared to be shrinking when the glioblastoma struck.

Her mother and brother still post videos to the channel; they have created a cancer charity in Charlotte’s name to help find a cure for glioblastoma.

In one video after Charlotte’s passing, her mother spoke of not wanting to leave the home they lived in because she felt like she was leaving Charlotte behind, but needing to replace all the bathtubs with shower stalls because the memory of Charlotte physically struggling to step into the bathtub was so painful for her. Something about her mother describing that was particularly unsettling and sad.

I want to watch all of Charlotte’s videos, but I cannot right now. It is hard to watch a young person have hope, get that hope dashed, and know that she will not get well.

When I think about what Charlotte wanted, to have those lost years back, was she really asking for anything so extraordinary? It seems to me a small request when a young girl asks for a year or two without cancer treatment to replace the ones where she’s had to endure it. It seems a small hope to wish to live to be 20 or 25 or 30 when you are 16 or 17 years old.

What Charlotte wanted really was not very big at all. I wish she had gotten it.

My large, large company makes cancer drugs, among others. At least one drug we manufacture is in clinical study right now, in combination with other therapies, for the treatment of glioblastoma. It’s an extremely aggressive cancer. The study will take time. Children like Charlotte do not have much time, but people are out there trying to give it to them.

This drug and others may have some success, may have some failures. Somewhere, I hope, is an idea in someone’s head at this moment that will pan out when implemented. That will shrink tumors and stop them from multiplying.

Somewhere out there right now is also a child who is carefree, but who in a few years will be sick with cancer. It is the sad and ugly truth, even though no one wants it to be. And when they are being treated and they say, “I want my years back, I want back those years I was treated and I want them to be free of pain and cancer,”  I want a doctor to be able to tell them truthfully that their chances are excellent and that that is what is going to happen.

It won’t help lovely Charlotte. But it may help ease her mother’s pain.

And for Charlotte and her mother and her brother, I will fake my smiles and greetings and continue to put up with a parking spot in West Mesopotamia and a cafeteria swimming with humanity. It is not that big a thing to do in order for the next Charlotte to get her small ask and get her years without treatment, to get her time at university, to keep her head of hair, to get to grow up without being afraid that her treatment is not working.

Rest well, beautiful Charlotte.

Charlotte Eades’ YouTube channel
To donate for brain tumor research

 

Elizabeth Warren, Winona Ryder, and me

So, about Elizabeth Warren and the DNA test that says she has a Native American ancestor from generations ago: she thought she was of Native American ancestry and it’s what she believed. It was lore that was passed down by family and over the generations it got older, but it is what she believed to be true.

And it’s personal for me because…I just had my DNA done. I am adopted by Jewish people and self-identify as a Jew, but I also have this Catholic-Jesus thing, so I call myself Jatholic. Now, my birth mom was Catholic, but one of her (my) relatives told me my father was Jewish, and that all fit for me. It was my ideal. Catholic and Jewish.

Then I get my DNA done, and I am 99.9% European, but only 0.2% Askenazi Jew. There are like 2 drops of Jewish blood in my body.

So this is sort of an existential crisis for me, but I am prone to saying, “Oy Gottenu” and “it’s a shandeh and a charpeh” and around my neck I wear two Catholic miraculous medals, a hamsa, a Star of David my daughter bought me, and the Icelandic Viking bindrune for the word love.

As far as I’m concerned, the two drops make me enough of a Jew to take Yom Kippur off and feel bad about all the shitty things I have done in the previous year.

And as far as I am concerned, Elizabeth Warren is Native American.

Remember what Cher said to Winona Ryder’s character in the movie “Mermaids” as she prayed before the statues of Mary and Jesus on her dresser: “Charlotte, we’re Jewish.”

A shout-out to Al at Shop-Rite

Our work picnic is tomorrow and I needed to pick up fried chicken to contribute. On a cash economy until payday, and I counted out about $65 in the car so I knew what I could spend.

So I got fried chicken and grabbed my necessities for the week–cream for coffee, toothbrushes, Chobani key lime, peanut butter crackers en masse for snacks at office, – frozen mac and cheese–and everything came to about $50. Got in line, and while the person before me was being rung up, I got my money. All I found was $41.

As the cashier started to ring me up, I asked him to hold on and only ring up what had to be refrigerated because I must have left money in my car. He asked me if I wanted to go to my car, and I just started blathering: “I had cancer this year, I am freaking out at the moment and having a hot flash, had radiation and surgery, I am so sorry, I can’t go back out to the car because I am really sweaty…” Like a total hot flash nervous breakdown and I could feel myself turning red.

And the cashier, Al was his name, tells me he is a Christian and it’s all going to be all right, and he hates to see someone upset on his line, and I have clearly had a bad year. And he says he will only ring up the cold stuff, and it will all be okay. And the woman behind me says that she likes Al, that he is a good guy.

And as he is ringing just the cold stuff, I am digging in my purse yet again, as I had for the past 5 minutes, and I find another $40. And Al tells me things work out when you don’t get upset. And he wants me to have a better year and maybe we will all feel better after November, anyway, because of the elections.

So I bought my toothbrushes and peanut butter crackers and all I had planned to. And Al said he wanted me to feel better and he will keep me on his prayer list.

When I got to the car, I was still shaken because that incident reminded me of so many broke single mom incidents when I was trying to pay for stuff for my kids. I guess they are never far from my thoughts. And that is sad in a way,  but I sure am glad that there are people like Al out there in this world when you are having such a moment.

Thank you, Al at Shop-Rite.

God bless my elderly neighbor

I have a sweet neighbor downstairs: an 80-year old woman who speaks primarily Spanish and not much English. She’s got nice children who come to visit her and a cute, little chihuahua.

I know she is a great cook because when I come home from work, amazing smells are coming into my apartment from my stairway, which is near her kitchen.

My neighbor must be part of a government senior program because she receives frozen meals from SunMeadow, which provides food to senior programs. I know she gets these senior meals because she gives them to me. Every couple of weeks, I find a bag of 10 or so frozen SunMeadow meals by my front door, and I Googled SunMeadow to figure out why she had all this generic-looking frozen food to pass to me.

Years ago, we used to visit my ex-husband’s grandma. (We can’t now, as she has passed away and she wouldn’t want to see me if she were alive, anyway, BECAUSE I DIVORCED HER GRANDSON.) She, too, received free food from the government. She was always cutting large pieces of American cheese off the massive slab she’d get from the government and send it home with us. Imagine a slice of American cheese that tasted like it had a full teaspoon of salt in it. It really was disgusting cheese. No wonder she wanted to get rid of it.

I think the government was trying to give my ex-husband’s grandma high blood pressure. (If you met her, you might understand why.)

Anyway, salt content rules must have changed because SunMeadow meals taste saltless. Whether it’s the chili or applesauce or chicken, there is just no flavor. I find them inedible, so I cut up the entrees and give them to the dogs. They don’t mind flavorless breaded fish. I sometimes eat the vegetables. The dessert always goes in the trash.

I know my neighbor is doing this to be kind because she does not want these frozen meals and her kids know I was really sick for a good part of this year. So God bless her for this kindness to me. But now I have a freezer full of SunMeadow senior meals that I am never going to eat and that I microwave to give to the dogs.

I got a ticket on Wednesday morning

On Wednesday morning, I rolled a stop sign. Okay, I simply did not stop. In my defense, a turning lane turns into its own little turnoff street, and I was turning right onto another road, so I looked left, saw nobody was coming, and turned right when I’d only slowed down. And, also in my defense, there wasn’t always a stop sign there. They just put one there. So I wasn’t used to having to fully stop at this turn.

But a police officer pulled me over and gave me a ticket. I have to pay $85 for not stopping. Not real happy about it, but life goes on.

The police officer was nice-looking, around my age, and not wearing a wedding ring. He was also very pleasant. But I Googled him when I got into the office, and he is married…

So that was Wednesday. On Friday, I’d gotten letters from 5 or 6 lawyers for representation. Today, I got another 5 or 6 more. For rolling a stop sign.

So, when you get a ticket, does your name go into some instantaneous database that says you are a scofflaw and you need representation? And then lawyers write to you that very second?

I did not beat anyone up, steal from an elderly person, or rob a convenience store at gunpoint, folks. I rolled a stop sign. I am going to pay my ticket and move forward with my life. Please stop with the offers of legal representation.

If they keep bombarding me with this shit, I may miss the letter from Publisher’s Clearing House telling me I won $5000 a week for life. And missing that would piss me off way more than an $85 ticket for rolling a stop sign in Lawrenceville.

Sometimes you just have to lie

Some six months ago, my very dear friend, “John,” moved from the northeast, where people are pretty normal, to Florida, which is, you know, different than here.

John had the audacity to FaceTime me tonight, and I don’t like these video Skype/FaceTime apps because I don’t want anyone to see my face or my messy place. I don’t usually pick up but I did for him, but only because I love him.

Anyway, I noticed John’s nice new short Florida haircut, and he told me he just got it at the very convenient barber shop he’s been going to that’s just a few blocks away. Likes the barber, who does a great job on his hair. But, he tells me, the poor guy has been having a hard time finding reliable people to work in his busy shop. When John showed up for his haircut, he asked about the guy who used to work there, and the barber said he had to let him go. “And I have a new guy now, and he was supposed to be here 20 minutes ago, but he’s late,” he said.

So, John was sympathizing with this barber about the lack of good help when the barber’s cell phone rang, and he said he had to take it. And while John is sitting there, he heard one side of the conversation, which involved statements like “What?” “Oh,” and “Um, okay,” coupled with some perplexed facial gestures.

When the barber got off the phone, he said that it was the other barber who had just called and that he was not going to be able to come in that day because — and this is exactly what he said to his boss — he had been fingerbanging his wife the night before and his hand was all cramped up and he was unable to hold a scissor.

He did not say he had food poisoning or the flu or that he had a fever, but that his hand was cramped from fingerbanging his wife.

I guess I’d like to know what other human being in the world would tell their boss this. Under what circumstance is this something you’d say to your boss when calling out sick?

And I have more questions. How does the boss ever shake this guy’s hand again without thinking of fingerbanging? How does he shake his hand, period? Forget ordering lunch and sharing French fries. That’s not going to happen. What does the boss say if he ever meets this guy’s wife? How do you look a woman in the face knowing she was recently fingerbanged so rigorously that her husband could not hold a scissor the next day? I mean, do you think to yourself, “she’s got a vagina that really likes a beating”? How do you avoid thinking that?

Look, I have to be honest: I am not a wise person. I make a lot of mistakes. I am overly emotional. I have anxiety. I take medication for it. I am not one to be able to offer anyone useful advice.

Still, I think I am doing you all a favor by telling you that if you ever need to call out for work, do not use the excuse that you were fingerbanging your wife so hard the night before that your hand is all cramped up.

Say you have diarrhea, Ebola, huge clots from your period, or that you lopped off some toes in a tragic farming accident. I would not lead you astray. Any of those, all of those, are far better than telling your boss you have cramps in your hand from fingerbanging your wife.

I do not want a side hustle, thank you

Perhaps I am not the only person getting these emails from Lyft to try and induce me to drive for their company. They use the header “Get your side hustle on” to interest you in working for them.

I am not entirely sure how they got my email or what a side hustle even is, though I am sure some religious Republican congressmen have one and will ultimately pay them to have an abortion, but that is a story for a different time…

What Lyft fails to understand, though, is that I don’t want a hustle. I don’t want a side one and I don’t want a main one.

A hustle sounds like something that would make you tired, and I am already tired. My main job is not a hustle but it tires me out anyway, and when I come home, there are two dogs who have shredded and wrecked my home, and that is enough of a hustle for me. Vacuuming paper shreds for 1/2 hour every evening is plenty of hustle, thank you very much.

I lost the remote a few weeks ago and have not watched television since then because I have to walk about 8 feet to turn on the television and then mess with the cable box to change the channel. To me, manually turning on the t.v. is a hustle, so I just stopped watching it. Problem solved.

I do, however, watch Hulu because it is on my phone, and that is right here in my hand. NO HUSTLE INVOLVED. I don’t really have to move very much. Now, if I lose my phone, I would have to look for it. That would be a hustle. No more Hulu. Or phone calls or texting, either.

Fortunately, as I said, my phone is right here in my hand. Let us hope that does not change.

My father needed a pacemaker inserted today, and I had to leave work to run to the hospital. I suppose that if I had been driving for Lyft, I might have found someone who was going to the same hospital, picked them up, and made some money.

But in order to do so, I’d have had to empty out my back seat, and that sounds like a hustle, and as I said, I do not want one of those.

I am going to go to sleep now. Writing this made me tired.