Orlando, The City Beautiful

Oh, Orlando. You have been so good to me, to my wife, to our friends and the communities of which we are a part. You have been my home since 1997, when my family moved to Central Florida from upstate New York when I had just turned 16. I remember high school days in the late 90s when swing dancing had its resurgence, and we would go to Church Street to dance or to Atlantic Hall at Disney’s Boardwalk (Downtown Disney). And I see the ages of the victims whose names have been released so far – as young as 20 – and my heart continues to break. To try and picture myself in such a joyful situation as hanging out and dancing with friends one minute, only to be caught up in an everlasting nightmare the next… and knowing that every one of the victims in that club has a story as personal and particular as mine, with dreams and aspirations, heartaches and pain, people who love them and people whom they love…

Yesterday (Sunday) I slept in longer than I have in a long time, waking up around 9am. About half an hour later, I heard a text message – but didn’t look at my phone right away. When I did pick it up, I had a text from my brother, who lives in Brooklyn: “Oh my gosh man I just saw the news about the orlando club.” I thought he was talking about the young 22 year old woman who was a contestant on The Voice, who had been murdered Friday night in Orlando. No. It was the Pulse mass shooting, which he had seen on the home page of the New York Times. I started reading and seeing photos and videos and all I could think was “what the hell?”

I went through a lot of emotional states yesterday. Waves of sadness. Heartache. Disconnection and detachment. Shock. Exhaustion. Anger. I did not feel peace. I did not feel hope. I was glued to my phone and to the updates, even as part of me reflected on how weird it was that I heard about this via my brother in NY, and now I was sitting in church and all of us were there in the same physical space, but most of our attention was in the virtual space, watching the number of confirmed dead climb from 20 to 50, trying to find out who was safe and who was unaccounted for, reading and posting and scrolling and trying to breathe. Amy and I both have lots of friends in the Orlando LGBTQ community. I was restless. I felt like I wanted to do something, but I also felt helpless and stuck. The only thing I posted on Facebook was this:

Tears for our city, its people and its visitors this morning. Tears for the brokenness of the world. Tears for violence and hatred.

Amy posted this:

50 dead, 50. One for each state. One for each star on the the flag. 53 others injured. But 50 dead. 50. 50. Such grief. I don’t know if my friends are all safe. I hope you are. But we will all know someone. We stand with Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino, Baghdad, and on and on and on. If you’re reading this, I love you. It is an ante dote to hate. I don’t have answers to all the bigger questions. But I love you. 50 dead. 53 injured. I’m praying for you all.

Yesterday was filled with grief and pain. Even as the media took up the story and conversation online shifted to the inevitable subjects – gun control, ISIS, homophobia, mental health, love over hate, faith over fear – I was still feeling just sad and heavy. I think those conversations are important, but the main thing I was left with yesterday was, it’s important to weep and mourn, to grieve. Don’t rush that. The other truth I tried to hold on to was that there is room for everyone to process this in their own way, which might not be my way. There has to be room. We are a diverse city, a diverse country, a diverse world. We will not all process or deal with tragedy in the same way.

Towards the end of the day I was feeling more anger and frustration, and just feeling sick at the violence of humanity. The roots of violence go deep. Cain and Abel deep. Violence has been apart of America since the beginning. Violence against indigenous people groups. Violence against Africans. Violence against women. Violence. And our country continues to experience violence. According to the FBI definition of a mass shooting, there have been 133 of them this year along, and we’re only 165 days into the year. And our country continues to perpetuate/utilize violence throughout the world in the form of drone strikes, which are harder to get statistics on. There is so much violence and hatred and evil in the world.

It’s still a fluid situation here in Orlando. Not all of the names have been released. Not all of the dead have been identified. I hope our city will continue to come together across its diverse residents and become a place of peace and prosperity. I pray for the families and friends of the victims, for the LGBTQ and Latino and Muslim communities who have been most directly impacted by this tragedy. It feels weird that we are leaving on a round-the-world trip this Thursday morning. As we travel around the world over the next two months, we will carry the love of Orlando and our love for Orlando.

Orlando Heart Map Print from JulyJulyandJuly on Etsy
Orlando Heart Map Print from JulyJulyandJuly on Etsy

The Call: Well, it’s Cancer…

It was early the next week and I called the doctor’s office for the results during my planning period.  Nate, of course, was again teaching middle schoolers to code an hour away.  I couldn’t wait until I got home. So I called, spoke to the doctor who simply said, “Well, it’s cancer…” I’m sure she said more than that.  But I don’t remember.  It was what I expected.  I wasn’t surprised and yet it was absolutely crazy.  I went into the next classroom and told my friend to pause her class because I needed to speak to her real quick.  She thought I might be joking.  She gave me a big hug and then I went back to my desk to regroup.  I headed down to the school secretary because I knew I’d have to fill out some paper work.  She asked if I wanted to go home. I didn’t think about going home. I’d just sit around thinking about that I had cancer.  That I, Amy Christie Selikoff, have cancer.  I have cancer.  Again and again. I went to another friend’s class to tell her in the middle of teaching that I have cancer.  She asked what Nathan had said; I hadn’t told him because I wanted to tell him when he got home.  She said I should tell him now.  I don’t even remember if I called or texted.  I do know that when 4th period started, I was back up in front of the class.   Usually the federal court system is mildly interesting to me; I have no idea if I made any sense the rest of the day.  “I have cancer” was on repeat.

This is Part 5 of the story. Click Cancer Journey to read all of it.

Biospy(ies): Staple Gun Noise

After the mammogram adventure, they herded me over to a cold corner of the giant radiology center.  They wanted to ultrasound some areas; I just wanted to go home.  After 4 hours of being poked and prodded, I was on my way. They told me I would need a biopsy ASAP. Nathan was an hour and a half away in Melbourne, teaching middle schoolers how to code.  Do I just go home?  I didn’t want to call my mom or anyone until I knew what we were dealing with.  The waiting, the lonely waiting weighed upon me.

I called my OB the next day for the full results and he said he wanted a second opinion.  He was sending me to a breast surgical specialist.  I couldn’t wait to get her business card. I wouldn’t have to wait long, the next day I sat in another waiting room to see the pink decor and tea sets.  The business card matched the waiting room.  Pink.  Pink.  Pink.  It was just a second opinion.  Nathan was teaching again.  I was brought back to an exam room with more pink wall and tea sets.  There was a silicone breast that looked as if it had seen better days.  Posters about breast cancer.  It seemed like I had a long time to learn more about cancer.

This doctor, my breast surgical specialist, is a tiny woman, of about 60 with thick glasses.  I lay back and she begins feeling the lump.  Then she squirts the cold jelly of the ultrasound and begins to map my tumor.  The nurse and doctor kept exchanging looks.  A few times she tells me that the lump is very “suspicious.”  They are very concerned.  Can we do a biopsy right now?  Here in the office?  Yes, we have all of the equipment here.  I guess let’s just get this done now.  They looked relieved.

They had looked at both breasts under the ultrasound: there was a large mass in the right breast and a small one in the left.  In order to biopsy, they inserted a large needle with a numbing agent into the right breast first.  The tumor was so large that they couldn’t fully numb the area.  I got my hacky sack that I’ve used as a stress ball for 20 years, more a security blanket than lucky.  It was incredibly painful when they inserted the next needle to collect the sample of the tumor.  Staple gun.  Yes, the noise it made was a staple gun thuh-wack.  Five times the needle went in and five times the terrible noise.

Then it was time for the other side.  I didn’t know if I wanted to keep going.  The right side had been so painful.  But I had to know.  I had to know what these lumps were in my body.  So they injected the numbing agent and it worked perfectly with a much smaller mass.  The staple gun was still less than pleasant but the worst was over.  I asked how long it would be before we would know the results.  It was a Thursday; they said hopefully early next week.  It was a very long weekend.

This is Part 4 of the story. Click Cancer Journey to read all of it.

Mammography: the Flatter the Better

Mammograms are crazy.  How is this actually the best way to see if I have cancer or where it is?  The mammography technician actually said to me that the flatter we can get the breast, the better the image.  This she said with a bright smile on her face.  Like I should be excited to have my breasts smashed into these cold, metallic plates.  You’re standing there without a top; they take one of your breasts and lay it on a cold metal plate and then tell you to get as close as you can get.  I tried to point out that I couldn’t get any closer to the metal bar because my breast bone was in the way.  Again and again; flatter and flatter; both sides; they went out of the room and would come back in; your neck got in the way, we need to do that series again.  Devastating.  More in a hyperbolic sense than anything.  The tech had this quirky, sweet way about her: just hold still.  As if I could go anywhere, you have my boob in a vice.  Trust me, I’m not moving.  Or “you’re doing great” what else would I be doing?  “This shouldn’t hurt too badly” or “it’s almost over” or “just one more” or “sorry, just a few more” and “you’re doing great; well they make me say that.”  She knew it was terrible, but she still used sunshine.

This is Part 3 of the story. Click Cancer Journey to read all of it.

The Lump

I sometimes feel guilty for how long I waited before I did something about the lump.  I don’t know when I felt it, but it was in the fall of 2013.  I’m sure I sat through all of the NFL’s pink Sundays in October and I felt this lump and just pretended I was making things up.  You know that fantasy where you’re dying and everyone is so nice to you and you’re the center of attention.  I figured it was that.  It wasn’t.  I almost asked my physical therapist about it in December, but chickened out.  By February I was having dreams that I had cancer.  I had this thought in the shower that I was a bad wife because if I had cancer, I had to do something about it and not just leave Nathan a widower.  My breast really did look weird; I looked up some of the signs of breast cancer and my symptoms were consistent with WebMD.

Now I didn’t have a choice. I had to call.  But it was so matter of fact.  Annoying almost.  Like cleaning up when you spill something on a carpet.  Get the paper towels and let the liquid seep in; step all around the area with little steps and soak it in.  Get the carpet cleaner on there before it sets.  That’s how it felt.  Inconvenient.  “Yes, I felt a lump and I think I need a mammogram….Yes, I can come in tomorrow to have the doctor examine me.”  All the while I’m thinking it’s super weird to have to go to the doctor to get felt up in order to figure out if I have cancer.  I went in, he thought it was just probably density or growths from too much caffeine; but he ordered the mammogram anyway.

This is Part 2 of the story. Click Cancer Journey to read all of it.