Fighting breast cancer, she still helps others

My friend Patty Graziano stopped by with a foil pan of stuffed pasta shells. She brought the dish as a donation to a fundraiser set up by my friend Mary in advance of pending knee surgery. You can still donate here if you’re of a mind to do such a thing.

I met Patty several years ago when I was a columnist for the local newspaper. I saw her at Barnes and Noble, a place I used to haunt. Patty usually sat with a different kid each night.

Sometimes her arms gesticulated wildly. She smiled often and laughed loud. The children seemed entertained and focused.

She obviously was some kind of tutor and one with a big following. I observed her several times and never saw her with the same kid.

I approached her one night in the most awkward way.

I walked up to her table and said, “I’ve been watching you.”

Sometimes I forget how big I am, not just in girth, but in height. Patty’s eyes widened. I quickly produced my business card and photo ID to explain I was a writer who wanted to write about her.

Patty demurred. What was so interesting about a tutor?

I find the people who don’t think themselves to be very interesting often have the best stories.

She worried a story about her would result in a bunch of requests for services, but her schedule was booked.

I pressed her and she told me her story.

Patty and I became friends. When I wrote about dealing with chronic depression and anxiety, she often sent positive messages and told me stories from her own life.

I often think of Patty’s relationships with her students.

When I worked for one of the local TV stations, I booked her as a source for one of the reporters.

I suggested to one of the morning producers that they make a weekly segment with Patty, which they did last year during the school year.

Patty’s segment might have been the one positive thing I did in my brief run in TV — and all I did was suggest it. People who know what they were doing — which was never me — made it happen.

Patty marched right into my apartment and gave me a big hug. I offered to take the dish from her. She waived me off and marched into the kitchen and put it in the fridge, complete with reheating instructions.

I wobbled back to my recliner with my cane.

She plopped down on my living room floor, and we caught up.

Patty and her family recently visited Disney World. She built lightsabers and flew the Millennium Falcon with her children, nieces and nephews along for the ride.

The positivity just blasted out of her. Being in her presence is like driving west on I-235 in the early fall when the sun is setting right in your eyeline. She’s almost too bright to look at directly without wearing sunglasses.

We weren’t wearing sunglasses.

We were wearing masks.

Patty and I are both fully vaccinated.

But Patty is fighting breast cancer.

She has surgery later this month. She’s taking no chances. She doesn’t even want to get the sniffles from allergies.

She talks about the surgery with the detachment of the scientist she is, explaining the procedure and process. Yet, she never hides her humanity.

“There has been constant crying,” she told me.

Patty chooses to embrace hope.

She explained how different generations of her family reacted to her diagnosis.

Her parents, she said, are terrified. Her husband and peers, people in their 40s, are worried. But her children?

“They’re like, ‘yeah, lots of people get breast cancer and survive,’” Patty said.

The advancements in science comfort Patty. Two generations ago, her diagnosis was a likely death sentence. Now her chances of survival and remission are very high.

I like the way Patty’s mind works. I keep her in mind when I envision the kind of teacher I will be. I can’t match her energy — nothing short of a supernova could — but I will strive to match her earnestness and enthusiasm for subject, students, teaching, and learning.

Patty teaches me lessons all the time.

Her Instagram account often includes videos where she talks about the difference between frogs and toads or the parts of a flower in her garden.

The day she visited, she taught me the biggest lesson yet.

This was a woman who was facing a far greater health threat than a torn meniscus. Yet, Patty still took time to drop by and visit a friend and bring some food at that.

My eyes well up with tears just thinking about the kind of decency she embodies.

I see the hand of God in my life through the kindness that’s been heaped upon me by family, friends, readers, and often total strangers.

I worked as a newspaperman so long that my negative thoughts about humans only intensified when I wrote about what my late friend, Des Moines Senior Police Officer Dan Dusenbery, called “all the savage things that people do to each other and themselves, intentionally or unintentionally.”

By the time my career ended amidst the news industry’s obsession with online metrics, I began to think of myself as a failure, a man born too late to have done anything meaningful.

My paragraph stacks flowed out of my fingers into the keyboard and then disappeared into the cacophony of noise that is American life, sometimes hated, occasionally liked, but mostly ignored.

Then I hear from people such as Patty.

And I begin to think maybe it mattered, perhaps not on the grandiose scale I hoped it would, but still, it mattered.

If all I had to show for 27 years as a newsman was a friendship with Patty Graziano, that would be enough.

But all of you have shown it’s so much more than that.

I struggle to accept the enormity of that gift.

You’ve lifted my spirits and pushed me to keep moving forward, to be a better man, and always, always, always put love first.

Thank you, again.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
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I’m too fat for an MRI at the zoo

Phone rings. The physician’s assistant from my orthopedic doctor is on the line.

Bad news.

Because of my weight (I’m morbidly obese), there’s not an MRI machine in town I can fit into.

“We even tried the zoo,” he said.

I’ll repeat that for people who think I made it up: They even tried the zoo.

You know the zoo, where there are elephants and rhinos and whatnot.

I’m too fat to get an MRI there.

They also tried Iowa State University’s famed veterinary clinic.

Nope. Not set up for humans. Legal reasons. Yada, yada, yada.

The physician’s assistant remained optimistic. Calls were out to Iowa City and locations out of state.

Unquestionably, this was the lowest moment of my life.

The torn meniscus in my left knee throbs constantly and makes the simplist of movements a challenge.

I’m to start my last semester of classes at Drake University before student teaching in the fall, earning my master’s degree and becoming a teacher.

I need to be able to walk to class, even with the assistive devices and a temporary handicapped parking pass.

I felt my mind slip toward a spiral. The pain in my knee ebbs and flows between a dull throb and the feeling someone is taking a rusty razor blade across my nerve endings.

How was I supposed to get to class this fall? Forget about student teaching.

Some friends kindly suggested disability. But what about the student loan debt?

What about my plan to do something positive with my life?

My despair had little time to overtake my mind.

The phone rang again. It was another guy from the orthopedic doctor’s office. My knee brace had come in.

Well, that’s something.

I went down to pick it up.

The guy strapped it on and showed me how to do it on my own. I stood up. It felt much stronger. The pain was still there, but it was reduced due to the brace’s compression.

With my cane, I could manage.

School was back on.

Survival was possible.

I could lose weight and get on one of the MRI machines and get the surgery later.

It would be hard. Damn hard. But what isn’t these days?

I drove out to the weight loss clinic in Clive. My nutritionist had moved back to Omaha, but the people were kind enough to let me come in to get a weight.

I got the number. I choose not to share it. I’m not ashamed of it.

I don’t want to talk about my weight like it’s a baseball statistic.

I don’t want its change, up or down, to be the thrust of my story. I am more than that number, whatever it is. I did that once, very publicly, and it ended in mixed results.

The last time I submitted to a weight was May 2020. The number I got Wednesday was the same. The clinician who helped me said I could safely shave off three or four pounds because I was wearing my clunky shoes and knee brace.

This was better news than I expected. There was a very good chance I weigh as many as 20 or 30 pounds more than I did in May 2020.

I began tracking my daily calorie intake May 12. Since then, I’ve cut calories by 34%. I also changed the quality of food I eat — more veggies and fruits, better cuts of meat, more home cooking.

Things are going in the right direction.

I stopped by the comic shop to pick up my latest funny books and got home exhausted, sore, and ready to rest.

I was proud of myself. Not too long ago, the challenges presented by this day and the back-and-forth between extremes would have inspired suicidal thinking. I would have started mapping out my overdose, my jump into the river, or hanging.

Instead, I called my therapist, but not in an emergency call. I wanted to talk through the disability option. He knows about such things.

To be clear, I don’t want to go on disability.

I want to finish school and become a teacher.

Persevere. Keep moving forward.

But the Cub Scouts taught us to always be prepared, so I checked out some facts.

I resigned myself to limping along with my cane and brace until I could lose enough weight to get into the MRI machine.

The phone rang again. It was the physician’s assistant. They found a surgeon at the clinic who was willing to do the surgery without an MRI.

I meet with the surgeon Tuesday.

That’s a lot of stuff for one day. A hell of a lot.

Sometimes the ride is filled with so many potholes and detours I think the car is going to come apart before I reach the destination.

But if I’m moving forward, I’m still headed in the right direction.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

IRS refund hell: You’re in ‘error queue’

Update on my tax refund: It’s still stuck in IRS hell. Thanks to Congressional inquiry, we might have some indication of why. We, of course, have no clue when it might shake loose and salve financial woes here in the world outside the bureaucracy.  

I spoke with a caseworker from Sen. Chuck Grassley’s office in Des Moines. They discovered my tax return is in the “error queue.”

Why?

We don’t know.

Well, what can we do to fix it?

We’re monitoring the situation.

Will someone from the IRS or the Senator’s office contact me?

We’ll contact you as soon as we hear something from Taxpayer Advocacy Services.

How long might that be?

We don’t know.

Progress is slight when you’re dealing with the federal government.

Grassley’s caseworker, who was very kind, suggested people who took a tax credit for unpaid stimulus checks have ended up in the error queue.

I got both of my stimulus checks. I did not take the credit.

The caseworker said sometimes the computer just randomly spot checks returns.

Wonderful.

HAL 9000 is screwing with my tax refund.

It had to be this year.

Had. To. Be.

I’m unemployed.

I’m attending graduate school.

Gov. Kim Reynolds bailed out of the pandemic assistance program that paid an extra $300 on regular unemployment benefits. She did this even though the money came from the federal government and cost her nothing to distribute.

Reynolds argued that the money incentivized people not to go back to work.

The governor conveniently ignores that before the pandemic, the state’s unemployment rate was 2.9 percent. It stands at 3.9 percent now, up a tenth of a point since she decided to pull out of the pandemic assistance.

A possible “incentive” for people not going back to work is fewer jobs that pay a living wage.

Anyway, Reynolds can’t be bothered with this kind of thing. She’s got dinners to host for private parochial school fundraisers.

Regardless, I’m sandwiched between the soulless monolithic actions of IRS computers and Reynolds’ soulless political machinations.

I know some would read these paragraphs and start in with the bootstraps speech.

The thing is, I’m already doing that. Except I don’t have boots with straps on them. I have old man New Balance sneakers.

The point is I am doing what you are supposed to do when you get knocked down. I’m getting back up again.

I’m so getting back up again.

My career died.

Well, journalism isn’t technically dead, but I worked in several newsrooms over 27 years. Journalism is like living in a hospice without the morphine drip.

The days of me doing journalism ended. It wasn’t my choice, but it was, in the end, the right time. There was nothing more I could do for or in a trade that had changed so much since the beginning of my career.

So, I invested in myself. I enrolled in graduate school. I took out student loans. I began the process of remaking my entire life at age 45.

Yes, I use unemployment benefits. But I’m learning to become a teacher, a field where more workers are needed.

But for this to work, I’ve got to make everything go almost exactly right.

And that tax refund, the one tangled up in government nonsense, would pay for about three months’ rent.

If there’s truly an error, maybe it’s less.

But still, it’s a significant bit of relief.

This IRS cluster really burns me up.

This is money I earned.

It’s not a stimulus check.

It’s not an entitlement.

It’s not a benefit.

It’s money I overpaid in taxes.

I overpaid it apparently because we don’t have calculators in America that can figure out what a person owes and just deduct that from a person’s pay.

We instead play this guessing game that involves software, a visit to a stranger’s office in the mall, and chicken bone divination.

The IRS’s failure to function properly has created a hardship for me and what I can only guess is scores of other Americans.

Grassley’s caseworker said the IRS is getting closer to full staffing now. She thought that might clear things up faster.

When?

Soon.

I filed my taxes 74 days ago. I shudder to think what the IRS believes “soon” means.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. 
Venmo@newsmanone
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.