By Celia Ruiz Tomlinson
In 1968, the City of Albuquerque hired its first female engineer in its history. Not just any female engineer, she was a 26-year-old Filipino babe! LOL! Those days, a woman engineer had no redeeming value to the older white male engineers while the female secretaries resented a young chick engineer. An adorable personality could not possibly adjust those attitudes overnight. Such were the times. I went with the flow.
During the first few days on the job, I went on coffee breaks at the cafeteria, by myself, lapping up the stares. One morning, a nattily dressed Anglo woman in her mid-30’s joined me at my table. She smiled and handed me a napkin with a handwritten note on it. I read the note. It said “Can you be my friend?” I wrote my own note, “Yes.” I was mystified. Why we were writing notes? My last memory of exchanging notes secretly was in grade school. She pulled out a small notepad from her purse and wrote another note. “My name is Dorothy. We can have lunch in your office and for 15 minutes every day, I’ll teach you American Sign Language (ASL).” Light dawned! She’s Deaf. Not hearing, not talking. I’ve always been a positive person. I thought I gained my very first friend in the United States and the prospect of learning a new language, to boot. My inner linguist did sommersaults!
Thus started a unique, deep and abiding friendship that has lasted 46 years and counting – a win-win relationship where we have filled each other’s needs. We have subscribed to the same sense of equity. One has not taken advantage of the other.
For years, until I decided to start my own engineering company, I did not drive. During weekends, when my husband had to take care of things, Dorothy drove the gang – her, me, and my four-year-old son – everywhere. Next thing we knew, my little boy was signing to us that he was bored! I invited her to places, events and activities she would have otherwise missed out on. I went with her where she needed a “voice.” When my parents came to the United States to live with me and my family, Dorothy traded her two-door car for a four-door model. She knew there’d be two more Filipinos to haul around. When my mother sewed a “poncho” for me, she made one for Dorothy, too. Through the years, we celebrated milestones together – her divorce and remarriage, her job changes (data entry), my morphing from a non-entity to CEO, my first book signing event, our retirements. When my husband died, I made sure Dorothy was in the front pew with the rest of my family. One year I took her on the Rhine River Cruise with the hearing population. The following year she took me on the Nile River Cruise with a boatload of Deaf people. Until the early 1980’s, we each had a teletype machine the size of the Stonehenge for long distance communication. Nowadays, armed with smartphones, we text each other regularly.
Then came 2012 and my lung cancer diagnosis. Dorothy received my announcement. She was shocked. You know, cancer is the shock disease. When the drug Tarceva turned my soft, shiny, straight and black dyed hair to a dull steel wool head cover, Dorothy had a Deaf man crochet custom colorful caps for me. She bought a see-through contraption for the passenger window of her car to shield me from the sun, with which Tarceva has issues.
Then came 2014. Dorothy texted me that she had been in the hospital on an emergency because she could not breathe. Later her husband emailed the CTscan image in a broadcast to friends and family. I saw what looked like dandelion blossoms in the middle and lower right lobes of her right lung. Based on my Oncology degree from Google University, I thought, My dear buddy is in deep doo-doo. I told her the lines that I give to Inspire.com’s scared newbies: It’s not cancer until a biopsy says it is; Cancer is not a death sentence anymore, yada, yada. I made sure that if her lung problem was cancer, she would benefit from all the knowledge I’d accumulated about treatment options.
A week later, I received another broadcast from Dorothy’s husband. The biopsy results and diagnosis: Sarcoidosis, not cancer. So much for my expertise! But I was so happy for her. Like cancer, sarcoidosis has no cure and has to be CTscanned every so often to see what’s happening. Unlike cancer, sarcoidosis does not metastasize.
Nowadays, Dorothy and I both look and feel healthy. We still play, this time around our CTscan schedules. Life goes on and we both hope it stays good.