Saturday, February 27, 2010

My Mother's Eyes

It is a truth universally acknowledge that every woman becomes her mother as she gets older. Not that I’ve ever been too unlike my mother.

I have always sounded a lot like her--people used to confuse us on the phone all the time. And I’ve been old that my mannerisms--the way I stand, the way I move, the way I talk--are very much like hers. And, while my personality trends more towards my Dad’s (Jenny got Mom’s personality), I am getting more and more like Mom as I get older.

I look like her. I look a lot like her. I have her tall, lanky frame, her long limbs, her long fingers. And no one would ever call either of us “curvy.” I didn’t inherit her coloring--my hair has stayed much lighter than Mom’s dark brown and my skin borders on albino while hers had more color to it--but I did get her propensity for freckles. I have her nose, her ears, and, most noticeably, her eyes. The one thing that people always remembered about Mom were her eyes and now, when I look in the mirror, I often see her looking back at me.

But there is one thing that I hope my mother didn’t pass on to me--her ovaries.

I know it seems like a silly thing to say--after all, it was those ovaries that produced me. But it was also those ovaries that left me motherless at 20. You see, Mom was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer when I was just 17. She was 43. She fought hard for almost 3 years, but before I could finish my junior year of college, she was gone. She was only 46.

The statistics say that chances of a woman suffering from ovarian cancer in her lifetime are 1 in 71. The majority of women who are diagnosed are over the age of 60. In fact, unless you have a family history of the disease, they don’t even screen for the cancer until you are 50. For someone with no family history to be diagnosed as young as Mom was is very rare. It happens in only 8% of all cases. The 5 year survival rate is less than 50% but 68% of all cases are diagnosed after the cancer has spread to other organs (like Mom’s) which drops the 5 year survival rate to a paltry 30%. And for someone like me, who has a family history of the disease, the risks are tripled.

I’m not going to pretend that I spend every second of every day worrying about the future, but it certainly crosses my mind. I have the symptoms of ovarian cancer (such as they are) memorized--bloating, abdominal pain, feeling full quickly, digestive tract issues, rapid weight gain or loss. Every weird twinge, every bout of diarrhea, every time I lose a few pounds for no apparent reason I wonder if this it. I oscillate between wanting to run to the doctor for every little thing and not wanting to know. And, while I hate feeling like a hypochondriac, I recognize that the second option is potentially the fatal one. Luckily, I’ve found a doctor who understands my neurosis and takes all of my complaints seriously.

I also know that I’m doing everything I can to reduce my chances of developing ovarian cancer. As soon as I turned 25, I got myself into UK’s Ovarian Cancer Screening Program which means that I get a free ultrasound at least once a year. I’ve been on birth control pills since Mom died. I try to limit the amount of animal fats in my diet (which may be linked to a higher incidence of the cancer). I run and try to maintain good overall health. And, while I have not yet been tested for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes (since my insurance won’t pay for it), I will get tested one day.

But all of that doesn’t mean that I don’t worry about what might be lurking in my body. I realized the other day that by the time my mother was the same age I am now, her life was more than half over. In 16 years, I will be the same age she was when she was diagnosed. In 19 years I will have out lived her. It was a sobering thought. And a scary one.

There are so many things that I wish I had asked her. So much that I just don’t know. Was she as insecure about her height as I am? How did she know that Dad was “the one?” What was it like when she and Dad started their family? Did she know something was wrong before she went to the doctor? Was there anything she overlooked?

And of course, there are the things that she won’t ever get to experience with me. She didn’t get to see either of her daughters graduate from college. We never got to take our Europe trip the summer after graduation. I will never get to introduce her to the man I will marry. She won’t be in the hospital when I have my first baby. She will never know her grandchildren.

But then I look back over the years that I got to spend with her, and I have to smile. We had a lot of fun. There was a lot of love. And I can only hope that one day I’m half as good of a parent as she was.

So, I am proud to say that I am my mother’s daughter. When people mention how alike we are, I smile and nod. I know I have my mother’s eyes. But in one way at least, I hope I am different.

Monday, February 1, 2010

How Do I Love Thee....Let Me Count the Ways (John Wall Edition)

It’s coming up on Valentine’s Day (which I usually ignore) and love is in the air, so I thought I’d expound a bit on why I love John Wall. To set the record straight, I also love Patrick and Boogie, but Wall has been in the media a LOT in the last few days and so, naturally, he’s on my mind.

My love fest has to begin with the disclaimer that while I agree that Wall’s basketball skills are AMAZING, they aren’t the reason (or at least the main reason) why I love him. UK has been privileged to be the alma mater to a number of highly talented players over the years, but most of them don’t make my top five favorite players (Chuck Hayes, Tayshaun Prince, Travis Forde, Tony Delk, Cameron Mills). What you might notice about my all-time top 5, is that while 3 of them made it to the NBA, 2 didn’t, and one (Hayes) is relegated to mostly a back up role for his team. What made me love these guys wasn’t their on the court skills, rather it was a list of off the court qualities like attitude, team spirit, and emotion. (And the fact that Hayes cried on Senior Night.)

You might also notice that every one of those guys was a 4 year player at UK. I don’t really like the idea of One-and-Dones. I’ve never been a fan of players who come in highly regarded and stay only a year or two (Rondo, Morris, I’m looking at you). While I recognize their benefit to the team, I never really take to them for the simple reason that I don’t want to develop a relationship with someone who is going to leave early. So I was predisposed to hate Wall from the moment he signed his Letter of Intent.

I also tend to dislike players that come in with lots of hype. They rarely seem to live up to the expectations, and often come with egos that outstrip any talent they might have--can we say Rashad Carruth? (Carruth, Carruth, Carruth is on fire!) Yet another knock against Wall. How could a kid that was as hyped as Wall was not come in with a huge ego? How could he possibly live up to the hype? How much trouble would he cause?

What I found, almost from the first moment Wall set foot on campus, was that he wasn’t what I expected at all. First off, he was humble. Despite being asked about himself constantly, he rarely gave an interview where he didn’t mention at least one, if not more, of his team mates. He praised Cousins, Bledsoe, Patterson, everyone else on the team. And, surprisingly enough, the rest of the team didn’t seem to mind that Wall was getting the lion’s share of the attention--and they seemed to genuinely like Wall. Already I could feel my dislike beginning to crack.

He also went to class and studied hard (rumor has it that he got a 4.0 during his summer session and at least a 3.5 during the fall). For a kid who would be spending at most 3 semesters on campus to care that much about his school work seemed--well crazy. But he does care. And being a bookworm myself, that certainly made me love him (at least a little).

On the court he was even better than advertised. Did he make freshman mistakes? Sure. But after watching him play a few times, I was willing to give him a couple of stupid passes a game in exchange for some of his thrilling break away dunks and fabulous passes. And watching him take over games (but only when we needed him to) made me realize just how talented he was.

But what has cemented my love for John Wall is how he has handled the pressure cooker that is being the most talented freshman to play college basketball this year for the greatest college basketball program of all time. He has done amazingly well for a kid who is only 19.

Take, for example, this latest dust up about Wall and Cal not getting along. Did he make a rather ill-advised comment Saturday after the game about being unhappy and frustrated? Yeah. But he’s 19. Most 19 year old kids don’t have to deal with swarms of media every time they step into public asking about everything from his choice of shoe to why he isn’t smiling. Most 19 year old kids vent all the time to all kinds of people via Twitter, Facebook, and text. As far as I’m concerned, all Wall was doing was venting. His coach had gotten on him, and he was mad about it. He felt wronged. Most teens do at some point. So he said something he probably shouldn’t have.

What impressed me about the whole thing wasn’t that he slipped up and made the comment (although that did prove that he’s human). What impressed me were the comments he made today. He admitted that he was wrong about how well he played at USC. He admitted that Cal was right when he said Wall hadn’t played well and that he and Cal were “good.” And he admitted that there were things he wanted to work on.

What, might you ask, does Wall think he needs to work on? His scoring (17 points per game)? His rebounding (3.6)? Steals? Blocks? No, the thing that Wall thinks he needs to work on most is his assist per game average (6.8). He isn’t worried about the stats that most guys focus on, he wants to make sure he is getting the ball to his teammates enough.

For a little perspective, the all time assist leader at UK for a single season was Roger Harden who had 232 assists in the 85-86 season and averaged only 6.4 a game (over 36 games). Roger Harden also holds the record for the highest Assists/Game average in a single season. Wall already holds the single game assist record (16 vs Hartford). And the only other freshmen to ever lead the team in assists were the great Rex Chapman who averaged a measly 3.6 a game over 29 games and Liggins last year with an even more meager 2.8.

So, for Wall, arguably the best player in Division I basketball this year, to want to improve on his 6.8 assist per game average says a lot about this young man’s character. He wants to make his teammates happy when he has every right to think of them simply as “those other guys on the floor.” And so, despite the fact that I was predisposed to dislike him, Wall has wormed his way into my heart. Will he become one of my all time favorite players? Probably not. It is going to take a lot to crack my top 5. But he has certainly made himself one of my favorites on this team--and it has little to do with what he’s been doing on the court. Keep it up, John.