Category Archives: love

Bladder Cancer – A Family Experience

The memory of my grandfather standing in our powder room struggling with his ileostomy bag is indelibly printed in my brain.  My grandparents had come to visit with my parents and the bag had leaked.  PawPaw never had a cross word for anyone and he didn’t talk much.  Andy always said PawPaw was a lot like God.  He didn’t have a lot to say, but when he did say something, you needed to listen.

That would be their last visit to our home in Fayetteville, Georgia.  PawPaw would leave us about five years later, with my stepfather at his side.  His cause of death would be bladder cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, complicated by medical malpractice.  He would have died, anyway, but his doctor’s incompetence hastened his death and deprived my grandfather of the comfort he deserved.  

The night my grandfather died, he watched his nightly quota of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, then looked over at my stepfather and told him he was going on a trip.  He asked if my stepfather was going with him.  My dad said no, and PawPaw told him he would be waiting for him.  In a few minutes, PawPaw was gone.

Now my husband is fighting bladder cancer.  The doctor who diagnosed him said that treatments had changed and my grandfather’s cystoscopy “was likely performed with a candle.”  I thought that was rude and unnecessary, and a bit cavalier.  He told us that the standard of care for Bob’s type of bladder cancer was treatments with BCG, but said he could not get the drug since it is in scarce supply.  

I am not one to sit back, so we called Dr. James Bennett, who successfully treated Bob for prostate cancer more than 10 years ago.  Dr. Bennett said yes, there is an international shortage of BCG, but he could get some for Bob.  BCG infusions are done weekly for six weeks and are followed by a cystoscopy every three months for the first year.

Dr. Bennett knows I am a nurse and has allowed me to observe during the procedures.  During his second procedure, six months after the completion of the first round of BCG treatments, a new tumor was evident.  In the midst of Covid, Bob was admitted to Emory Midtown and his bladder was resected.  Once his bladder had a chance to heal from the resection, he underwent another series of six weekly BCG treatments.  These were much worse than the first, and he was sick after each one.  He’s finished the six treatments but he is still having issues.

As I sit here and wait for his tests to be completed, I am trying to channel the stoicism of my grandparents.  It isn’t working but I’m trying.  Bob is so calm and is taking everything in stride, while I internalize my stress.  

I wish I could predict the future.  I wish I knew what lies ahead.

Aviation and Gender Bias

I learned to fly to fly before I learned to drive.  Going to the airport and getting in a plane is as normal to me as getting in a car is to anyone else. I started to work when I was 13 years old and saved every penny I made to pay for my flying.  It was my dad’s airplane, but I had to pay for part of it.  That’s who he was – he was a “you don’t get something for nothing” kind of person.  By the time I was 16, I was holding down three jobs and maintaining straight As in school.  I wanted to fly in the military, but they didn’t allow women at that time.  So I stuck it out and worked hard.  I detoured my career, was successful enough to retire at 43, then pursue my passion.

I never asked for special treatment.  I never complained when I was flying night freight that some of the freight hangars didn’t have women’s restrooms.  I used the nasty restrooms with the men and never thought twice.  I used the pallet jack to move truck transmissions off the back of the DC-4 in Detroit. I’ve climbed on the wing of a DC-4 to measure the fuel level in the main tanks, and I’ve pumped oil out to the engines during flight.  I’ve flown powerful people into Aspen, Colorado, where every approach requires precision and finesse.  I’ve flown into East Hampton, New York, and into Ocean Reef, Florida, on Key Largo.  These are challenging runways, short and narrow, not runways that are two miles long.

About a year ago I read an email forwarded from Leonard Brunasso, a retired Delta Air Lines pilot who is now a check airman for Omni Air.  The email was titled “The Age of the 707/DC-8” and it begins, “Those were the good ole days.  Pilots back then were men…”  You can just guess how far it went downhill from there, as he went on to insult every category of people except for white male pilots. From what I can gather, taxpayers paid for Leonard’s flight training in the Air Force.  He refers to pilots “in the good ole days” as real men and refers to flight attendants as stewardesses who appreciated a little sexual harassment, and were “proud to be combatants in the sexual revolution.”  He went on to say these women didn’t have any “plastic or composites” in their pectoral regions.

Rarely am I offended, but having been subjected to blatant sexual harassment and abuse in the cockpit, I have a few things to say to Leonard.  I am beyond angry.  I am furious.  I am sad.  I am, unfortunately, flooded with memories of clowns just like this guy who didn’t think I belonged.  The ones who objectified women.

I’ve taught over 1000 people to fly and I have an impeccable record.  I’ve shared my love of aviation with literally thousands of people.

I’ve endured sexual harassment in every form possible.  I had to sit through an oral exam for 8 hours for a multi-engine rating, purely because the check airman didn’t think women should fly.  I’ve had a check airman stalk me and a chief pilot try to push himself in my hotel room.  There was no question what was on his mind.

During nursing school, I would instruct in the wee hours of the morning and then go to the hospital in Charlotte for clinicals, then I’d go to the airport and fly afterwards.  And I kept my grades up while I was doing it.  I am as proud of my RN as I am my ATP and CFI.

I learned instrument flying with nothing more than needle, ball, and airspeed.  I’ve made the decision to go or not, when flying fuel to some of the most remote villages in Alaska in a DC-4.  I’ve manually calculated how much fuel to take on, and looked at prog charts to see whether it was even safe to go.  I didn’t have dispatch to calculate weight and balance for me, tell me how the weather was, and determine whether I’d be released to fly or not.  I made those decisions, on my own.

I worked my way into the cockpit with my skills and abilities to fly.  I’ve been pinched, grabbed in inappropriate places, and even been physically assaulted by other pilots.  I’ve been asked whether I ever felt guilty taking a job away from some poor man trying to feed his family and when I’ve adjusted the temperature in the cockpit, I’ve been asked if I was having hot flashes.  I knew when someone was having fun and when the line was being crossed.

When I first became a flight instructor, there were only about 4000 women in the US with commercial pilot certificates.  I was one of the youngest, since I was only 18.  Today, 40 years later with my Airline Transport Pilot certificate, I am one of only about 8000, still only about 6% of all pilots.  I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.  I’ve got more than 45 years in the cockpit plus I’ve earned a PhD, started 4 successful businesses, and have tried to be the best person I can be.  I’m happily married to a retired Delta pilot who recognizes and appreciates my brains and my talent.

I want to say all kinds of ugly things to Leonard, but it would do no good.  I just hope that someday, this brand of pilots is replaced by kinder, more respectful human beings, by people who don’t care whether you are male or female, provided you can competently perform your duties in the cockpit or in the cabin.

Today I read a Facebook post where someone shared an article about a crash.  There were no women involved in the crash, but he prefaced his comments by saying he knew a woman who had slept her way into the right seat of one of these jets.  He went on to say she bragged about it, and that he respected my record and my professionalism.  I know he does; I value his friendship.  But why is it necessary to comment on one random woman, when her situation is totally unrelated to this crash?  Why not talk about the incompetent men who make it to the left or right seat because they know someone or because they have the money to persist?  Or the man who carries a flight bag full of porn on every flight?  Incompetent men exist, but why do aviators only highlight the women?  Misogyny?

Honestly, I just wish people would accept other people for who they are.  Be kind.  And stop spreading messages that promote hate.

Facing my fears plus other observations on Ghana

We got up early today and traveled out to the Kakum National Park.  No one will believe this but I am TERRIFIED of heights. I have been obsessing over the rope bridge at Kakum National Park since our very first planning meeting.  One way or another, I was going to do it.

Anyone who knows me well knows that besides a fear of heights, I have some social anxieties and I have to push myself sometimes.  This entire trip has required me to push myself outside my limits, but now I’m comfortable with these people.  At dinner last night, John and I were teasing each other about going across the bridge, and I told him if I could then SURELY he could cross the bridge.  There was a fair amount of trash talking and ultimately neither one of us could get out of crossing that rope bridge, 100 feet in the air, over the tops of trees.  There are actually a totally of 6 or 7 bridges.  I’m not sure how many, but there are a lot!

We got up to the bridge and there was no question that I’d do it, but I was so scared.  I can’t even describe my level of fear.  “The only thing you have to fear is fear itself” was said by someone who never looked down from a rope bridge in Ghana.  But we’re on this pilgrimage together, and nowhere was that more evident than today on the bridge.

In our group was a family from the UK with four children, one an infant in a carrier strapped to the front of the mom.  She’s currently teaching in Egypt and they’re here on holiday, and they all went over!  Do you think this made me less frightened?  No!  Not in the least!  I didn’t even think about them.  Instead, I obsessed over the number of people on the bridge.  The guide told us that the maximum was five.  FIVE!  Whatever happened to the elephants they said went across the rope bridges to test them?  Surely five of us wouldn’t weigh as much as an elephant!

I took the first step, petrified.  I started reciting to myself the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, the 23rd Psalm, and all the other prayers I’ve ever memorized throughout my lifetime.  Then I started singing to myself.

Whether Shanna and Sharon have superhero hearing is something I’ll never know for sure, but Shanna said look at the back of her head and step with her.  I counted every single hair on the back of her head.  She stepped and I stepped.  Then Sharon started asking me questions.  I didn’t forget my fear of plummeting 100 feet to my death, but I was distracted enough that I can’t remember the exact number of bridges that I crossed.  I just know it was a lot.

John and Gale also made it across, and the three of us joined hands to help hold each other up as we went up and down the hills through the jungle.  I had left my cane in the bus and I am so proud of how well I did.  This entire trip has been one giant leap of faith after another.  I’ve made new friends and I’ve learned a lot about myself.

But I never need cross another rope bridge again in my life.

What am I going to do with my Dad?

For the record, I’m really talking about my dad’s ashes.  My dad died in 2016.  He is sitting in an urn in our living room, and I seem to get some sort of odd comfort in knowing where he is.  I didn’t really give this question much thought until our Boxing Day party, when a friend asked me who was sitting on the fireplace.  It took me a minute to realize he was talking about my dad.  This led to a discussion of scattering ashes and how to memorialize someone who has been cremated.

I love cemeteries.  I’ve been actively involved with Riverside Cemetery since we moved to Macon.  I love to go out and walk and look at the graves.  I love knowing where my grandparents and great-grandparents are buried.  But what am I going to do with Daddy?

At some point, my dad told someone he wanted his ashes scattered at Hanna Park in Jacksonville.  He might have told me; to be perfectly honest, my memory is fuzzy on some things.  There were a few things I really wanted to forget.  But I can’t scatter him.  I just can’t.

Part of it is the issue of memorializing, and this was my friend’s objection to scattering.  I find comfort in bringing flowers and going to the cemetery.  If I scatter him, how will anyone know where he is?  How will anyone remember he was even here?  Will anyone care?  Who will remember him when I’m gone? How do we memorialize him?

My step-father’s ashes are at the National Cemetery in Salisbury, North Carolina.  I told my mother we could put the two of them together and then I would only have to make one visit.  I thought it was pretty funny but my mother didn’t.

I am the person who makes decisions.  My daughter and I planned my father’s funeral.  My brother has not been involved and has said he really doesn’t care.  I care enough for both my brother and me.

I just don’t know what to do with Daddy.  Do I scatter him, as he wished?  I’m not ready.  But he deserves to be memorialized somewhere.  I just don’t know where.

Suzanne