Vertigo When I was growing up in the 1950’s, there was a television show called “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” We loved Hitchcock for frightening us, confusing us, and surprising us with a skill no other had nor has to this day. In his introduction to the show Mr. Hitchcock kindly shared a bit of information to prepare us for what was to come and politely introduced us to his sponsor. Then, as my dad used to say, he proceeded to “scare the bejeezus” out of us. The show was best watched with a group.

At our house it was a rather large group; most of us sitting cross-legged on the living room floor in front of a black and white TV. After dinnerDad would set up his drawing-board behind the crowd and work on layouts with blue pencils, triangles and a T-square --- ancient tools of graphic design. We watched TV shows together as a family (no matter how one longed to savor “Dr. Kildare” by oneself). Those evenings of TV viewing, coupled with nightly family dinners when nine of us communed around a crowded table playing games, teasing and eating, formed the glue that’s made us siblings stick together --- no matter how far-flung we are geographically.

When my own children were little they watched mostly video tapes --- by themselves. But at Christmas time there were a few favorites that we liked to watch together like “The Muppets Christmas,” “Olive the Other Reindeer” and “The Snowman.” When the recent “The Muppets” movie came out, my daughter, Mercedes invited me to see it with her as part of my birthday present. For one hour and about forty-five minutes I felt like I was sitting next to my 4 year old daughter who literally laughed out loud non-stop throughout the film. What a gift! I felt 20 years younger myself. And since the premise of the movie was that the Muppets had to “put on a show” to save their old theater from a greedy tycoon it tickled me to see Mickey Rooney’s cameo performance.

For in his youth, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland starred in several movies that we kids watched on TV after school. The stories were always about putting on a show to save --- something! These were movies that MY mother saw in the theater when SHE was a girl. Mickey Rooney connected my mother’s youth to mine and now to my daughter’s.

I will now circle back to Alfred Hitchcock who, besides television shows, made a few movies. Many of these films had short, sometimes just one word titles --- “Rope,” “Notorious,” “The Birds,” and “Psycho." You could almost imagine what was in store for you from those titles, but the one I never got was “Vertigo” --- a word that I didn't understand--- until yesterday.

Last week I’d been having spells of dizziness and mild nausea off and on. My great fear was that those symptoms signaled a recurrence of the brain lesions that gave me similar problems last summer. It didn’t seem possible, and by that I mean FAIR that I might be facing another brain treatment now when I’m so close (February 7th) to being finished with the clinical trial. So, I didn’t call the doctor until the room started spinning. And that was the clue ---Vertigo makes the room spin, brain lesions, probably do not. The doctor thinks I have something called “benign paroxysmal positional vertigo” – or BPPV. Thank God!

It’s not like having a vestibular disorder is a piece of cake --- I’m feeling rather homebound at the moment because of the relentless rain and the uncertainty about whether I should be driving or even walking unattended. But it’s certainly a better diagnosis than brain lesions. The doctor explained (and even drew a little picture of) what likely happened. A minute crystal in the inner ear has broken off and is floating around in the fluid, bumping into other microscopic things and throwing me off balance. Once that crystal settles in one place the symptoms should subside. The damage was probably caused by chemo, radiation, and/or my "advanced" age. We’ll never know.

But now I know what VERTIGO means, Mr. Hitchcock, and as unpleasant as it is --- it’s better, I think, than being set upon by those angry birds!
Betsy Egner Milligan
Portland, OR

Mary Elizabeth "Betsy" Milligan
Betsy Egner Milligan Mary Elizabeth “Betsy” Egner Milligan took her last breath at home in Northeast Portland on Saturday September 8, 2012 at the age of 60, a victim of lung cancer. Betsy had given up smoking over 30 years ago when a friend complained that he could quit smoking if only she would. “OK”, she said, “I quit” and she did, just like that.

Betsy was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Bill and Marjorie Egner and was one of seven children, two of whom, Jeff and Amy, predeceased her. She graduated from Dominican High School and attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

After several years working for her father’s printing business in Milwaukee, Betsy moved to New York, where she was a practicing artist and taught graphic design at the Center for the Media Arts. There she met her future husband Lee and together they brought into this world daughters Mercedes and Loulou.The family moved first to Baltimore, Maryland and then to Southern California, where Betsy became an accomplished collage artist, showing her work in local galleries and participating in group shows. She pursued her longstanding interest in food and health by studying at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and becoming a “health coach” in private practice under the name “A Picture of Health.”

After moving to Portland in February 2008, Betsy soon learned that she had stage 4 lung cancer. Despite this grim diagnosis, Betsy lived a full and joyous life in her adopted hometown, making many close friends and taking advantage of the cultural richness of this wonderful city. Shortly after her arrival Betsy started a blog to write about her experiences ( Thus began her second calling as a writer. She began writing with PDX Writers in the summer of 2009 and had been an active member of the community since then. Among her many writings, she was a contributor to PDX Writers CityScapes.

She is mourned by all who knew her and is survived by her husband of 26 years, daughters Loulou and Mercedes, stepsons Aaron and Timothy, grandchildren Lyric, Orion and Madeleine, sisters Jenny and Julie, brothers Phil and Paul and an abundance of nieces, nephews, cousins and dear friends.

A celebration of Betsy’s life will be held in her home on Sunday September 30 at 1PM. In lieu of flowers it is suggested that a donation be made to the Center for Science in the Public Interest ( in Betsy’s memory.