Saturday, January 29, 2011

"Life" is "Cool"! "Love" Life!

Photos taken by Harley Dufek in Cozumel, Mexico
Photo of Rebecca Dufek compliments of reknowned world underwater photographer Bonnie Pelnar of Underwater Colours
"I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing." - Agatha Christie
(quote taken from the the book "Living a Five Star Life" by Betty Mahalik, a Simple Truths publication )

I love life! Even though I have seen my share of struggle through cancer, sickness, disappointment, heartbreak, frustration, and uncertainty, I am still very happy to be glued to the earth. When you live with brain tumors or an incurable disease or condition, down periods are part of the territory. But the nice thing about that is that it opens you to the opportunity to appreciate life with vivid splendor, inquisitive curiosity, and marvelous wonder.
I was recently watching the "Life" documentary series - similiar to "Earth" and "Blue Planet", both of which I happily own. Every little detail of watching plants miraculously burst forth from the ground, vines sprawling up trees exceeding 100 feet, the survival of species of invertebrates in the darkest and hottest depths (750 degrees F) of the ocean or the coldest flourishing under 8 feet of ice in Antarctica, all intrigue and amaze me! What an incredible gift to have the opportunity to live on earth to witness life in its magnificence!

Although I love the mountains, the woods, botanical and floral gardens, and the seashore, the underwater world is my favorite and the reason I became a scubadiver. I SO LOVE to just hover over or under something - such as in the photo you see, and become absorbed in being the respectful observer of the niches of other creatures.

the sign for "love" - a thing and not a person:

the sign for "cool":

NOTE: This is not the way we sign cool in Seattle. As a matter of fact I have never seen it signed that way. How we sign it is you take your open dominant hand with your fingers spread apart like the hand sign for "5". Then you bring your hand up to your chest with only your thumb touching your body while the other 4 fingers point out away from your chest. Then wiggle your 4 fingers vigorously. "Cool" dude! :)

Friday, January 28, 2011

"D" is for my adorable "dad"

Right now my dad is in Finland w0rking hard to preserve the environment for future generations by implementing wind power technology as an energy source which will conserve the precious resources of the earth.
It is because of my dad that I even would have cooked up the idea of trekking up Kilimanjaro. Ever since I have been a child, we were always on an outside adventure going hiking, fishing, canoeing, camping, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, ice skating on woodland ponds on my grandpa's property, engaging in woodland/wildlife walks, and exploring the midwest on motorcycle or jeep.
While I was in high school his interest in the Huron Mountains of Michigan expanded to the mountains of the west and particularly the NW while visiting on a business trip. He also spent some time in Japan. I was fascinated by the marvelous photos of these foreign lands so unlike where I grew up. On the bus in the mornings, I would fantasize that the smokey lavendar gray clouds on the horizon were actually silolettes of great mountains. I vowed one day I would live in the NW.
When I was in college, I met people who had been to Mt. Rainier and shared stories and pictures that further enticed my desire to be among them. My dad and I became enthralled with reading about great peaks and mountaineers. I knew someday we would both live near them.

In addition to my love and respect of nature which I learned from my father, I also gained the important values of honor, integrity, and a sense of right and wrong. My dad has played a crucial role in developing my character.

The photos are from Christmas and I felt compelled to really give him a gift reflecting my appreciation for the life he has shared and passed on to me. The photo is my best hiking picture I took in the Cascade mountains this summer while training for Kilimanjaro. It is a pretty challenging one for me and aside from trekking up Kilimanjaro itself, it rated as the second most difficult in terrain I had hiked since I have been able to return to the mountains again.

It was not easy to get there but oh the view was so spectacular and worth it! We sat and had lunch which felt like the most peaceful and beautiful place on earth. It is a photo you can look up at that will melt your stress away.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Back in the "Game"

This evening I polished off a nice 35-40 minute run which felt GREAT! Well, I mean it was not easy and I did have to push myself to keep going, but after I finished I was stoked!

It has been just over a week since I have run because I twisted my ankle on the unexpected down step of a curb. While my ankle did not look too bad, there was some swelling and puffiness coupled with the feeling of pressing on a bruise. At first when I had the accident, it seemed pretty terrible and was immediately painful. I toppled over onto the pavement and after rolling around for a few seconds I lied there before getting up. I worried just how long it was going to put me out of training. I estimated after being able to walk the remaining 15 minutes to the house that I could be back to training after a week. There was still some soreness over the weekend but today I felt ready.

I have been having a difficult last week on top of it with fighting off an illness, fatigue, migranes, zoning out and barely able to function or stay awake. With that, the vision has been pretty bothersome making driving a prospect you probably do not want to know about.

Back in December I had my followup appointment to recheck my blood labs. In the final week of the month, I was on my way down again with lower iron and red blood cell stats meaning I was starting to slip into anemia again. When it comes on full bore, I get the side effects one experiences at high altitude with lower oxygen levels in the air. At the appointment, we agreed for me to have another iron infusion in January (as you recall from blog post last May, I had 3 weeks of infusions to recover from severe anemia). I sort of put off scheduling the infusion this month but at the end of last week my symptoms were pushing me enough that it was time.

Unlike getting chemo, I GREATLY look forward to an infusion to get a feel better boost! I feel guilty marching into the chemo ward vibrantly among seriously sick patients eager to get hooked up to the IV when I know chemo is just a horrible thing to motivate yourself to go to because you know you are going to feel like crap again. Don't get me wrong, I still HATE needles and the tiring and painful poking process. But the iron infusion is so GREAT that I will grip the chair arm and tough it out in order to get that thing going.

Two pokes today. The first vein collapsed. The sweet little asian RN Dulce felt bad and was very apologetic. I assured her it was ok and that she did a great job. Two pokes is not bad at all and it is really lucky to get it in one which she accomplished on my blood draw in December. I thanked her profusely for a job well done and for making it quick. I have experienced elsewhere with up to 7 pokes and incidents where blood was flying all over. LOL So really this was nothing and I am quite a big baby. Today I was thinking how it would be so fantastic if they invented a mode of transfering IV medicines via a patch that would absorb into the skin. You never know! That could be on the horizon and not such as head in the clouds fantasy!

It felt so good to have my energy levels up again and I know that had I not gotten the infusion today, I would not have been up to going for a run this evening. Now the difficult part will be maintaining my iron levels and not tapping myself out again. So there will need to be a careful balance of nutrition, not forgetting supplementation like I did for a week, and adhering to a proper sleep cycle. It will be challenging not to jump into too much because I have energy. I will have my counts monitored again in the first week of March for my NIH visit and then again out here in May.

For now, I am happily back in the game.

Sign for "game":

Bonus sign for "run":

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"C' the cool "cat"

You kitty lovers will like this and not feel left out seeing my recent post a this week focused on dogs.
With the exception of our friend KC's crazy parrot who has bitten me TWICE and HARD, I tend to have animal magnatism. Even fish at the aquarium will gravitate towards me and follow me along the glass! Way cool by the way!

With my babies so far away, I still managed to have a friend keep me company when off the mountain. Their was a very sweet hotel cat who followed me all over in the main lounge and meal area. If I sat in the common area using Harley's IPAD, he sat right next to me. When dining at the table, he was politely sat right at my feet!

He reminded me of my sister's french bichon dog that my family adopted while I was on the east coast for a summer when I was 19. Oddly when I first came home, it was as if he already knew me and immediately cozied up to me whether I was agreeable to it or not (you have to understand that he was the first small nonhunting indoor dog my family ever had....and he was WHITE! It was a little bit of a shocker to warm up to.)

Anyhow, although I am a dog person there are cats of friends and family who win me over. This fellow all the way in Africa was the sort of chap and I was sad to have to say goodbye as ours was a short love affair.

Here are some pictures of him snuggled in his napping nesting spot among the flower beds just off the porch dining hall. How precious, eh?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Wandering Around the Plantation

Our hotel property grew their own banana plantation. Every morning breakfast included little sweet bananas very unlike our large yellow variety at the grocery stores in America.

"B" "banana" bonanza in Africa

Aside from coffee and bread of course, bananas are pretty much a staple food in Tanzania. Everywhere around Arusha ladies and men were carrying huge bunches of them on their heads or on the backs of motorcyles and bicycles. It was really quite AMAZING! Dear lord I cannot even ride a bike now and back when I could, I cannot imagine pedaling around with an enormous cluster of bananas hanging off the back!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"A" is for "Africa"

Photo on the right: Masai village among the vast grasslands of Tanzania that we passed by on the way to Manyara National Park for Safari day 1

Photo on the left:
After Ron, Harley, Tim and I made it off the mountain, on day 5 we wandered around the town of Arusha while the rest of the team pushed on toward the summit. All the ladies wear colorful wraps called "saris" and carry baskets on their heads.

A newly deafened friend from surgery has expressed his interest in learning sign language which reminded me of going back to the beginning. Aside from just learning a bunch of signs, in order to efficiently communicate in sign language, one should at least know how to fingerspell the alphabet. For one, you need to know how to spell your own name as well as the name of others. Second, there are only so many signs used in sign language. They are LOTS of English words (in particular scientific words and names) which have no alternative but to be spelled out.
Therefore, I promised my friend that this week I was going to post the alphabet. At first when I thought about it a couple weeks back, I had planned to post each letter for each day. I was not sure it could work out but luckily the annimated sign website I have been using does indeed have a link for each letter! It will be additional fun to pick out pictures to go with each letter that I can also provide you a sign for. So you will be getting a letter AND a sign to learn! What fun! :D

It has been some time since I have addressed the Africa trip so we are going to go back to that starting with some pictures and the sign for "Africa". To enlarge the photos to get a closer look, just simply click on the picture.

Note: If you would like to jump ahead at a faster pace, you can see how to sign the entire alphabet at the link below.

How to fingerspell the alphabet:

Note: Your hand sort of outlines the shape of the continent.

For both the alphabet and signs, practice in the mirror to see if you are signing or forming handshapes correctly.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Happy "birthday" boys!

Left: DJ
Right: Harley

Would you believe that Harley and my sister's boyfriend share the same birthday today? Our uncle, dad's brother, was also born on this date.
So naturally the sign for today is "birthday"! :)
Note: In Seattle a shorter variation is used to sign birthday. Using the middle finger on the dominant hand, touch the middle finger to the chin and then bring it down and touch the middle of your chest.
Signs you see can vary depending on what region of the country you are in just like people in the south, east coast, and upper midwest/Canada have different accents. So if a browser or program you are using shows a different way to sign a word than how you see local people sign the same thing, it does not mean either person is wrong. Sometimes there can be 3 different ways to sign the same word.
Among the Deaf community in the Seattle area, I have seen them sign breakfast, lunch, dinner, and thursday different than the ASL browser developed by Michigan State University teaches and also in some beginning level sign language books.
Generally, Deaf people will understand the meaning of the variation but new signers or late deafened adults who are not fluently active may not.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Who Let the "Dogs" Out?

DJ and my neice Jazz (Jasmine) and me with Santa Spud on Christmas Eve

Left: Katie and Jake during the first snow before thanksgiving enjoying their new digs INSIDE the house on their new pet beds - Jake is daydreaming looking out at the snow and Katie is looking at the camera
Below: Jake is being effectionate with mommy after having a joyous ball opening presents on Christmas day.

We are a family of dog lovers. Ever since I was in the third grade we have had a dog as the main pet. As a matter of fact, none of us 3 kids have any children (human that is) but we all have dogs, including mom and dad. Therefore, our pets (our kids) are the total center of our world. Both my sister and I have 2 dogs, a boy and girl respectively while my brother has a dog and 2 cats.
Mine are actually true blood brother and sister from the same litter. My husband affectionately adopted them for me for my 30th birthday and they could not have come at a better time. I was diagnosed with NF2 only a year and a half to 2 years prior and things changed rapidly. They filled a real void while my hearing dwindled and have brought me years of joy despite peroids of turmoil. No matter how sad I may be or how painfully I may be injured, they always manage to change the mood (with the exception of naughty times rolling in horse or goose poop, chasing after a wild animal for long periods of time, or refusing to get back in the truck when it is time to go. All kids have to have some bad habits I guess.)
Spud and Jazz are just as dear to my heart and they LOVE auntie Becky as well as uncle Harley. When I come over they can barely contain themselves. I spent the weekend with them while my sister and DJ were out of town.
Before I left, I went for a quick run and twisted my ankle because I could not estimate the drop in the curb with the double vision compounded by the dim street lights. Back at the house while stretching, I winced in pain when my ankle gave a sharp crack while I was stretching. Concerned that I was hurt, just like Katie and Jake do, they were immediately licking me to death until my grimace turned into a smile and then laugh.
Click the following link to see how to sign "dog":

Saturday, January 15, 2011

"You" and "Me" and Me and You....So Happy "Together"

The year following radiosurgery treatment in July 2004 became progressively worse as the months spanned out from the treatment. With the tumor on a swelling rampage, the bigger it grew, the worse my balance became. At first it became apparent that riding a bike, a motorcycle, and rollerblading would be out of the picture. Other things I engaged in aside from scuba diving were waterskiing, skiing, and hiking. The hiking was the last thing I was able to hold on to and the day I could no longer control my body to handle that safely, I was completely devastated. It killed me to see mountains that my soul yearned to explore all my life and could no longer reach. I was pummeled!
Then in winter 2006 a hiking friend of mine invited us to join her on a snowshoe outing in the Cascades. I was HOOKED!
Seeing how happy it made me to be in the mountains once again, my loving husband took a leap of faith in purchasing me my snowshoes (top of the line no less). I would not have bought them myself. I am too thrifty. But boy as every snowshoe season comes and goes, I am more and more grateful that he took that chance! When I was down and out grieving a great many losses, someone was in tune to help me find a way to adapt via a new outlet to pursue my passion.
Once again, we are heading into the mountains tomorrow. They have always been my church. I am overtaken by their magnificent beauty which are too perfect to have not been created by a higher being.
Signs for the weekend:
Me (also the same sign for the personfication "I"):

Friday, January 14, 2011

"Last" is not a bad thing either!

Like diving or snorkeling, visiting a zoo, and wandering around an aquarium, I was practically the last person off the mountain (with the exception of ski hill staff zooming by on snowmobiles). As the last vestiges of daylight drifted by, 2 snowboarders zipped past me as I approached the bottom. I am sure they were coming from the very top of a Blackcomb glacier as the lifts and gondolas had been shut down and closed for about 15 minutes. (Blackcomb glacier is so high up that it takes quite a long time to make it back down. It was afterall, the site of the 2010 Olympic downhill skiing event!!!!)

The nice thing about being a snowshoer on a ski hill is that you end up being one of the last ones off since you cannot wizz on down like everyone else. Because working our way down is slower, we had time to enjoy the marvelous views and sunset the entire time which I probably would not be able to do had I still been able to ski. My vision cannot keep up with fast movements which either makes things a messy blur or triggers an annoying double vision episode throwing me into a fit of vertigo.

As we marveled at the glory of the sun setting in the mountains on the way down, it occurred to me of what an unforeseen opportunity the NF2 created. I never in my life imagined to snowshoe up a ski hill! Doing so set us apart and gave us some solitude. We were off doing our own thing and going against the grain of everyone else. I am sure people looking down at us digging into the hill thought "Wow! What alot of work! Who in their right mind would do that when you can just take this nice high speed transit and race your way back to the bottom?" I know I would have thought that back in my carefree days without the concerns and effects NF2 inflicts.

Yet, what those who may have been bewildered over my craziness missed is what an incredible empowering opportunity lay before me. I don't know. I think I might venture to say that I enjoyed tackling that mountain more than I ever did skiing effortlessly down it. Equally satisfying was to be able to turn around and have the ability to enjoy the view all the way down. No way did I want to ride the gondola back as Harley suggested. I would not do that unless I had become intolerably cold on the verge of hypothermia or frost bite for fingers and toes. I wanted to prolong the experience as long as possible.

I took GREAT pleasure in being LAST!

click the following link to see how to sign "Last", also the same as "final":

"No" is not a dirty word.

Photo top left, me: "No, let's keep going up! I want to see what is over the edge."

Top of the gondola, me: "No, I am not ready to go back yet. I want to keep going a little further to check out the view there. (After hunting around and falling in a hole trying to find a place to pee) - "I am pretty cold and need to get my body temp up by working uphill."

When I am doing something I really enjoy, I don't want to stop savoring every minute of it. I think it boils down to the issue that I have had to face my own mortality again and again - cancer, a few brain surgeries, and thr threat of constantly growing brain tumors and a few hiding in my spine. I like to take advantage of doing things that make me feel alive as I am intimately aware life can change at any given moment.

click the following link to see how to sign "No".

Make sure you check out the sign to confirm you are signing it correctly. I have seen some of you sign it with 2 fingers which is the sign for bird or a combination of the "yes" movement with the "no" handshape. Take a look. It is used with 3 fingers if you cannot see it clearly. You don't move the hand at all. You only take the open index-thumb-middle finger combination (as in the number 3) and simply close them bringing the fingers together. The annimation shows a repeating of this movement but in the Deaf community people just do a sharp snap of the movement once. I like to think of it as a friend's parrot closing his beak (he likes to bite me and NO he does not like me LOL).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Road" "Trip" to "Canada"

Ahh....can you tell I have an insatieable desire for the mountains? ;-)

Third time this year I have been out playing in them and the first month of the year is not even half over yet! I am making a weekly habit of doing so. hehehe

So now you know the reason for my absence. A week ago my trainer Merrie told me that she and Pedro were heading up to Whistler Ski Resort for their annual ski vacation. "Cool!" I thought recalling how we were marveled at its glory when we visited 14 years ago (back when we were avid downhill skiers).

Since I don't ski anymore after losing balance function, I just assumed those kind of places were no longer an option for me. However, when Merrie ran into Harley Friday morning she invited us to come up and join them. When she extended the invite again to me later that afternoon I immediately responded "I can't ski!" Then she rebuked "You can go snowshoeing." "Hmmn." I paused and thought about what a great idea I had not thought of doing. I never imagined going to a ski resort to snowshoe. Yet I am pretty new to the sport and have only been to 3 trails in the Cascades. Then I came back down to reality and responded "oh, well Harley has to work." Merrie fired back "I saw him this morning and he was thinking about it."
"Really?" I questioned trying not too get too excited in the event it would not work out. "Well I will talk to him later tonight."

To my delight, Harley had indeed given serious consideration to driving up to Canada for a few days to spend a day of snowshoeing. So once we were packed, off we went (no it was not as easy as it sounds and it took a long time for me to get my stuff together. Apparently I do not have spontaneous travel down pat yet.)

Due to missing the sign of the day Saturday-Tuesday, I am going to give you a few all at once related to the post and pictures.

Above in the first shot is the Canadian city of Vancouver, British Columbia off in the distance as we were approaching Saturday afternoon.

So the first sign is "Canada":

The drive along the highway from Vancouver to Whistler is breaktaking! It is a ride of twists and turns along a road winding between mountains jutting up from the water. Not a ride I would recommend doing at night! ;-)

The sign for "road" is:

The trip was a fabulous get away reminiscent of our younger days when we first moved to the NW. If you were asked a good description of part of our character it is that we LOVE to travel. Our lives would feel so incomplete if we were not out exploring the world. We have made a habit in our many years together to travel yearly.

The sign for "travel" and "trip" is the same:

Puffy coats equal warmth

LOL, Merrie is going to kill me when she finds out I posted this photo of her wearing her puffy coat! She thought she looked huge in her down coat next to me in my thin North Face fleece lined jacket (it does not get that cold near Seattle so other than Kilimanjaro, I have not had a need for a down coat). Merrie on the other hand is both a skier and a climber and thus has her big bright yellow coat. I think she looks pretty cute in it though.

It was pretty cold up north so everyone needed to bundle up and dress warm. After 4 hours of snowshoeing up the ski hill, my fingers were bitter cold. I desperately had to stick them down my pants between my outer layer and thermals and wiggle them around to get the sensation back in them.

Merrie and Pedro dress in many layers to keep warm on the mountain. The day we went back I think the temp was 15 degrees. Pedro wore 4 layers of pants!!!!



Friday, January 07, 2011


Click here to see how to sign RAIN
All the beautiful snow has melted now and is gone. Therefore we are back to rain in the lowlands of the Pacific Northwest (PNW). However, we still do manage to have beauty that accompanies the rain. When my mother-in-law Cheryl and I visited the Garden'd Lights back in mid-December, we managed to catch a break from the constant rain for most of our visit and then light showers caught back up with us. Even with the light rain, the marvelous displays were still a spectacular sight as well as my lovely model!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Quote for first week of January

What would you do if you could not fail?
- Amber from Indianola, WA

For me, summit Mt. Rainier of course! Desires also on the list are to reach the crater of St. Helens and stand atop Mt. Adams which you see to the right of Harley off in the distance.

The photos are from one of our last training hikes on Rainier in preparation for Kilimanjaro in late September. It was a good thing because the weather was very different from our July visit and late in the season we were able to experience the cold and wind which occurs on the mountain.

Beauty and Snow - signs for Wednesday and Thursday

Oops, I got behind and forgot to post the sign for yesterday.

Being a completely deaf person, and late deafened that is, vision is something I thoroughly cherish. While it was pretty emotionally painful and a tough hurdle to convert from being a fully hearing person to becoming entirely deafened, the experience has greatly enhanced my sense of visual wonder. I am very often enraptured by the sights surrounding me. It can be totally sureal at one moment as if I stepped into the Wizard of Oz going from black and white to brilliant color. Or the beauty of sight can be so heavenly and move me so deeply that I could almost cry.

The story about the photos pictured here......

Every year during the holidays it it tradition for me to visit the magical light displays created at the Bellevue Botanical Garden. I enjoy them so deeply that I must confess I would feel a little emptiness during the holidays if I missed them. My other great joy is to share them with special friends and family. What is greater than sharing your love of life with others?

Because the lights are so amazing, I will continue to post these cool pictures as relevant to different signs. For today, I will just give you one to build up your anticipation.

The other photos our from our outing in the mountains on Sunday. On the way back down, we were walking towards the sun which glistened on the blankets of snow. Not being the best of photographers, I don't have the technical skill to capture such incredible beauty. The snow was sparkling like diamonds!!!! It was breathtaking and mezmorizing at the same time.

So the signs for today and yesterday are

Beauty (also the same sign for beautiful and pretty)