Leave Your Mark

Category: Health & Well Being

I Am Not My Leg

We met because of a mutual need, hers to receive care, mine to give. Doris was about to lose her life due to complications from diabetes. At 82 years old, her choice was her leg or her life. For her, it seemed a no-brainer. She chose life.

Doris faced surgery to amputate her leg when I met her in 2002. Her attitude was positive. She knew she wanted to continue living for her husband of 60+ years, for her family and for herself. Her strength, faith in God and her desire to go on living gave her everything she needed to survive such a trauma to her ailing yet determined body.

The surgery was a success, and Doris wanted to recuperate at home. Enter my in-home care giving company. Because of our service as a personal care agency and the assistance of home health care agencies, Doris was allowed to go home after a brief stay in the hospital.

Her recovery went well. As is the case with amputees, she had to adjust to several prostheses. She was able to walk within a short period of time. At 82 years of age, her recovery was unbelievable.

When I was young, I was a dancer and an athlete. To me, the thought of losing a leg seemed about the worst thing that could happen to a person. On a visit with Doris, I told her how much she had taught me about the courageous human spirit, the love of self, God and the desire to live.

She was surprised at my comments and replied, “No big deal. I am not my leg!”

Wow! That response has stayed with me all these years. I had always thought losing a leg would be worse than dying. I see life differently because of Doris. She taught me so much with those five words, “I am not my leg.”

Doris was our first client, and we were together for seven years and three months, all the time cared for in her home by the same primary care givers. Their compassionate, skillful, one-on-one care allowed her not only to stay in her home but to flourish there.

Doris was preceded in death by her devoted husband. She passed away peacefully last year, in her favorite chair, in front of her television, happy to be ‘home.’

NOTE: Janet Tueller is a provider of at-home services for the elderly. She continues to appreciate the wisdom and courage she has gained from those she serves. Her story comes from the anthology, One World, Many Stories, Seeking Freedom and Dignity.


Betrayed by Mushroom Clouds

Victoria Burgess, PhD

Victoria Burgess, Ph.D., as a Child

It snowed a lot today for the first time this winter (Sunday 10 November 2012). I looked out my balcony window sitting at the computer, writing this story. The snow reminded me of when I was a child. I watched the white mushroom clouds of the radiation of atomic bombs being tested. I lived in Southern Utah. I thought it looked beautiful as I thought the snow did today. Little did I know what was in the future.

Today was significant because I just returned from the hospital after my second surgery for breast cancer caused by the radiation I received as a child and a teenager. I worked at Bryce Canyon in Utah as a waitress and singer on my summer off from school between high school and college. Everyone at that time also thought the mushroom clouds were beautiful.

We are called Down Winders. Most of the world does not know what this means. It means we lived downwind from the atomic bombs being tested by the government of our country.  Years ago at my high school class reunion we learned that many of my classmates had died from this tragedy.

Seven years ago I was operated on because I had cancer in my right breast.  I refused radiation and chemotherapy because I believe dying of cancer is easier. This is all they knew to do.

Breast Cancer is not curable. Try as they may, most of Western Medicine’s so called cures for breast cancer do not have a good success rate. Those who try their cures are not much more likely to survive than those do not. Thus here I am. I do not know what to do. As an “older” woman I am doing the three important things I have found in my studies of 100 people over eighty-five, and other studies of successful aging. I have good genes. I take good care of myself. Part of this is exercising an hour and a half day and meditating twenty minutes twice a day. I eat well. I have eliminated much of the stress in my life. I do not associate with people and organizations that are not supportive of me. I did not renew my psychologist license this year. Growing up my children would comment that their Mother worked as a human garbage can. I thought they were exaggerating. Now that I do not practice as a clinical psychologist any more, I have discovered they were somewhat correct in their description. I have listened to a lot of pain and refuge from thousands of people. This was stressful.

Now I have cancer in my left breast. I went back to the Huntsman Cancer Institute where I was treated before. They said I got cancer again because I refused radiation and chemotherapy, the only thing they knew to do. Radiation and Chemo Therapy have toxic side effects. I asked if they believed that chemotherapy and radiation in the right breast would stop cancer in the left breast, I needed new doctors. I then sought the services of St Marks Hospital in Salt Lake City. My MRI showed I had cancer. The mammogram did not pick it up. Thus I had an “exclusionary bioscope.”

I feel helpless, discouraged and depressed. I have just moved into a new apartment with boxes all around needing to be unpacked and organized. I cannot bring myself to finish this project as my breast still hurts from surgery.

On a positive note, I did get victims reparations for my exposure to the atomic bomb testing radiation. I purchased a beautiful cabin in Lava Hot Spring, Idaho with the money.  Recently, I had to sell this property as it cost me five hundred dollars a month just to maintain it. Owning a home is often more about it owning you not you owning it. After trying to sell this property for the last three years, I finally had to accept a selling price of less than half of what I paid for it.

A Down Winder that is what I am. An Atomic Energy Commission written report said that they justified their decision to practice the atomic bomb on our area because we were “low functioning members of society.” Needless to say I was very upset when I read this report. My children said give it up Mom. I replied that this is one I cannot give up.

My Dad was a cattle rancher. He graduated from Utah State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Husbandry. He was very successful (in more ways than one). He raised all the feed for his cattle on the ranch. I started working on the cattle ranch when I was five years old. My Mother supported my desire to be on the ranch. Her only requirement was that I wore a long sleeve shirt and a wide brim hat. I bless her to this day for that requirement because my skin is smooth except where I kept the top button of the long sleeve skirt unbuttoned. My father taught me how to back up a tractor pulling a wagon full of baled hay into the feed yard before I learned to drive the tractor forward. I bless my father to this day, as I can back up a vehicle almost as easily as I can drive it forward. I am grateful to my parents who respected me and allowed me to be who I am.

Speaking of “low functioning,” a former governor of Utah, Scott Matheson died of bone marrow cancer from exposure to radiation from being a Down Winder. He and his wife lived in Southern Utah in a small town next to mine. I think being a governor is fairly high functioning. My father and mother were friends with Scott Matheson and his wife Norma. I saw Norma Matheson at a party recently celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the testing of the nuclear bomb in the Four Corners Area. She was beautiful. She was in her nineties and had an inner glow which I hope was not nuclear, though she said she suffered from the effect of the bombing.

If all of that is not high functioning, try the inventor of the television, Philo Farnsworth from the neighboring county of Millard. He died from the effect of radiation from being a Down Winder. So much for excuses for bombing people.

I appreciate all the work that people did to make available the reparations from being exposed to radiation by a country that claimed I was a low functioning member of society.  Even though I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and a Master’s Degree in Psychology from Utah State University and a Doctor of Philosophy Degree from Northwestern University in Psychology. I am the Mother of five highly functioning children, an author of nine books and a retired Colonel in the US Army. I guess I was low functioning enough as a child to be bombed, as well as a Veteran of Deseret Storm.  I hope this story will help in some way to prevent this type of thing from happening again.

Writing this helped me feel better and less stressed about what happened and what is happening to me.

Victoria Burgess, PhD

Victoria Burgess, PhD