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Randi Kreiss

Into thin air again, and finding my way


Part Two.

Two months ago, I wrote about my daughter’s discovery that she has a mutation in the BRCA1 gene, which brings with it a high risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer during her lifetime. I’m writing about this, with her permission, because the variants in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes occur much more frequently in our community of Ashkenazi Jews. Testing for the mutation is easy, but fraught.

Determined to maximize her chances for good health going forward, my daughter decided to have the prophylactic surgery: double mastectomy, hysterectomy and oophorectomy. Easier to write about than to live through. 

A twist in the story is that she and her family live in the high mountains of Northern California, five hours from the medical care she needs. In August she had the breast surgery in San Francisco. I was in California from July 24 to Sept. 15 to help out, and to try not to have attitude at altitude. At 6,700 feet, the thin air can make a flatlander cranky.

By the end of September, my daughter was hiking again in her beloved Sierra Nevada and I headed home.

I knew it was only Part One.

The second surgery was last week in San Francisco, and I’m out here again in the mountains. She is home recovering, and after a week, we can all breathe again.

Living at this altitude isn’t fun for someone habituated to sea level. When I first drive up into the mountains, I can’t sleep or ambulate very well, or even think clearly. The headaches are epic. Imagine walking uphill with weights on your legs, huffing and puffing and never quite getting enough oxygen. My kids, who hike and bike and paddle and ski, keep telling me to get out and exercise. I am. I’m breathing.

Last time I was here, it was summer. Last night it was 7 degrees. The stars are gorgeous, but offer cold comfort.

My kids don’t get sea-level seniors. Last week, the day my daughter and her husband drove down to the city for her surgery, my son-in-law said he would show me how to use the wood stove. I was game, but when he handed me a blowtorch that looked like a medieval flamethrower, I declined. No blowtorches, no catapults, I always say.

The real bummer was Election Day. They have no television, so I walked around the house holding my computer in front of my face, trying to follow the results while the internet connection faded in and out.

Fortunately the dryer broke, so I couldn’t do laundry. But I could cook and bake. No, I take that back. You can’t really bake at 6,700 feet. The altitude does incredibly strange things to baking powder and yeast. Maybe Stephen Hawking could have figured out the adjustments of time, heat, moisture, leavening and the speed of light, but I can’t.

I did attempt one whole-wheat bread, since that’s my new passion, and it came out OK, but the dough started heaving in the bowl in a disturbingly unnatural way that reminded me of “Alien.” I had no idea what would pop out of the oven, but it was a reasonable facsimile of bread, and the family was ecstatic.

Without a TV, I’m getting only snippets of the news. Dems won the House. Trump fired Sessions. The new A.G. may spell trouble for the Mueller investigation. Wildfires are raging across northern California, and are only 100 miles away.

The grandkids get all the really important news at school. They say coyotes and black bears are rampaging through the neighborhood looking for food. Since friends and neighbors have been leaving casseroles at our front door, I have to be quicker than the bears.

My daughter is bouncing back. A remarkable athlete, she was walking up and down the road the day after she came home, two days after her surgery. She has climbed her own mountain, with grace and real fortitude.

I’ll head back to sea level very soon, I expect. Thanksgiving awaits, and this year it will rock.

As was said in the delightful “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “Everything will be fine in the end. And if it isn’t fine, it isn’t the end.” I think this is the end of a particularly challenging chapter in our family life. And I think it is fine. I can breathe again, even at 6,700 feet.

Copyright 2018 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.