Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thoughts and Prayers




3 years ago I sat on my front porch and cried.
I had been diagnosed with cancer at the age of 45.

Forty.
Five.

I was terrified of my future.
The husband sat next to me in shock, witness to my panic.

"I can't die.
Not yet."

I declared it to him.

"I am NOT done with (the teenage boy)!
I have to at least get him through high school.
I need to see him graduate.


He still needs a mom."





3 weeks ago that teenage boy (man?) made me laugh.
We reminisced about the last few years.
We talked about his upcoming graduation.

I told him how proud I was of him and how hard he had worked.
He told me of his plans, his dreams, his future.
We remembered his high school experiences.
We remembered his accomplishments.
I teared up a bit, thankful I was still here.
I appreciated that moment.

He said, casually,  "But mom, don't forget about the best thing about me graduating.
Don't forget about my most important high school accomplishment."

I chuckled and said, "Oh, what is that?"




"I never got shot."






My son said that to me.

My baby boy, born 3 weeks early said that to me.
My toddler boy,  my little boy, my teenage boy, my adult son....


...he said that to me.





"I never got shot."


















It was one of those moments that,
perhaps literally,
broke my spirit.

My soul cracked.



He was joking about it.
But he wasn't.

We tried to laugh about it.
But we couldn't.


"Come on mom, in this day and age, that has to count for something."' he said,
trying to lessen the impact
that was obvious
on my face.


I'm very much aware that danger is everywhere and bad things can happen anywhere at any time.
But this is about what is forefront in your brain. This is about being afraid.

This is about walking out the door, backpack slung over your back, homemade sandwich tucked in the third pocket. Pencils sharpened.  Homework done, organized in the first pocket. This about saying goodbye to your mom.


This is about your mom fighting cancer, hoping to see you graduate from high school.
This is about walking out of your home, 17 days before you graduate from high school,
grateful that you haven't been shot there.


This is about wondering which one was the bigger threat.






There's a lot of life left,
for the boy and I, we hope.

He has a few days left of high school.
We both have a lifetime of needing to
walk out the door, without fear.

We would appreciate your
thoughts and prayers.

We've heard that's the solution.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Waking. Middle Aged. With Pet.






It was dark outside 
when the husband leaned in close
and whispered 
in my ear.



I was laying in the preferred position.
I was on my stomach, which I knew, made it as flat as a supermodel's stomach.
My right arm was stretched out above my head and my hand
was numb, dead, completely asleep.

One leg was outside the covers, just a little bit too cold.
One leg was inside the covers, just a little bit too hot.
And then, suddenly, it was 2000 degrees in the bedroom.
I threw all of the covers off of me.
5 minutes later I would pull them back.
Because the room would be freezing.

I turned my head and my cheek landed in
the wet drool spot on the pillow.
I turned my leg and soon
regretted that extra set of
lunges from the day before.

It had been a good sleep, relatively speaking, of course.
I only woke up once to pee.
I then only worried about
three things that I had
absolutely no control over
before
I

finally

fell back asleep

....27 minutes before the alarm went off.

It was a solid 5 hours of restless tossing.




The husband had to go to work.
The alarm went off at 4:40.
He showered, went downstairs and ate the Cheerios.
He surveyed the living room as he
made his way back upstairs.

He saw the things that he saw.
And he kept on walking.


He innocently brushed his teeth.
He casually turned off the bathroom light.
He approached the bed, with hesitation.
He approached the content and peaceful

(anxious, hellishly hot, restless, sore, numb, wet-cheeked) 

sleeping woman.

He wanted to say goodbye.



The kind, well-intentioned husband leaned in close and whispered in my ear.
He rubbed my shoulder gently and kissed me softly, apologetically.
I did not respond with enthusiasm in a futile attempt to avoid
the inevitable full wake up that was coming.

But he felt obligated to give a proper farewell.


'I'm leaving.  Do you want me to reset the alarm?" he generously purred.

"No, I'm getting up," I grumbled.

"Ok.

Well.

Um.


............just to let you know,



The cat has thrown up
all over the couch.

It's pretty nasty."


I swear he screamed it in my ear.
He remembers whispering those words, somehow, in the most romantic way possible.

I remember my paralyzed, resigned silence.

He quivered in fear, awaiting my response.
Or maybe, he just finished putting his shoes on.

I swear I heard his sigh of relief as he ran out the door.







The husband went to work.
I cleaned up the nasty.
He pretended to feel bad.
I pretended to feel put out.

We laughed about it at dinner.
Well, he mostly laughed about it at dinner.
It took me another day.
Because it was super nasty.
I wasn't done gagging, yet.

But eventually, I managed a chuckle.

Because that's what you do
when you've been married 29.43 years
and you are not young anymore
and you have a pet that likes to ralph all over the place.



You just have to laugh.

Every day.




Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Penn Station, Rise Up




I rose up out of the bowels of
New York City's Penn Station
searching for a Nathan's Hot Dog stand.
Despite being able to buy them at my local grocery store,
I was convinced a Nathan's hot dog would taste better in New York City.

I heard the angry, grumble shout of the man around the corner as I ordered from the Penn Station stand. The louder he became the more I repeated in my panicky head,

 "Welcome to New York!
  Welcome to New York!"

The grumbling man was intense.  He was clearly upset.


I ate my hot dog, which somehow WAS better than I could have made at home.
Yet, the grumbling man became more enraged.
The police officers arrived.  Three of them.
The tiny janitor bravely pointed his finger.
The grumbling man was scary.
He announced to the crowd
what awful things he
was gonna do.

But then, the hot dog counter lady declared her attitude.
She leaned over the counter and put her hand on her hip.
She shook her finger and bobbed her head left and right.
She lectured, with authority, to the grumbling man,
"Oh no you ain't!  You ain't gonna do none of that.
You are gonna grab your back pack
and get outta here right now
and move on your way.
Do you HEAR me?"

The grumbling man leered, leaned in toward her,
where she had perched herself,

 ...halfway over the counter.


He paused a second too long.

She had won.


She repeated, louder,

"Do you hear me....HUN....EEEE???? 

DON'T MAKE ME COME AFTER YOU!!"

He wanted to stay, the grumbling man.
He wanted to cause trouble.
He was unhappy with the janitor.
He was annoyed by the 3 police officers.
But he was more frightened of the hot dog lady,
perched on the counter,
ready to take him out.

And so,
he left.




I rose up out of the bowels
of New York City's Penn Station
2.8 years after I was diagnosed with
aggressive triple negative breast cancer.

Triple negative breast cancer doesn't like to behave.
Triple negative breast cancer likes to cause problems.

It likes to kill you.


After you think it's gone, it likes to come back.
On average, at 2.8 years after...
after...what???
or maybe it's 2.6 years or 2.3....
For 1/3 of  the people?  Maybe less?  Maybe more?
or maybe we don't know......




But nevertheless, I rose up out of Penn Station that day.
And I rose up out of the shock of the words,

"You have cancer."

I rose up out of anxiety and fear and despair.
I rose up out of surgery and chemotherapy and radiation
I rose up out of cutting and poisoning and burning.
I rose up out of scar tissue and rare lingering side effects and seemingly endless aches and pains.
I rose up out of the grumbling man that is cancer, the one who wants to cause trouble.
And I arrived as the hot dog lady with attitude.

I rose up thinking there was a time that I didn't know if I'd be alive to see Penn Station or the grumbling man or the hot dog lady with attitude.

But 2.8 years later, I did see Penn Station.
I did see New York.
I saw it all and it was fantastic. 
And I was grateful for every single minute of it.









"



Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Good Doctor


I told my doctor that I worried.  Mostly at night, right around 3 am, after I had woken up to pee.



I told her I worry about my family and friends and the hardships they are going through.  I worry there is nothing I can do to fix any of it.

I told her I worry about breast cancer and the treatment that I had for it.   I worry about what it has done to me--physically and mentally.  I worry when I get out of the shower and see the scars in the mirror.  I worry when the radiation burns stare back at me. I worry when my body can't seem to run a 5k as fast as I think I should be able to.  I worry when I am always tired and can't lose weight. I worry I have passed my peak. I worry when I worry.

I told her I mostly worry about the ticking time bomb limbo I'm in-the aggressive cancer that likes to come back. The dream of living 5 years without it knocking on the door of my liver, my lungs, my bones or my brain. I worry about this when my back aches for 3 days in a row or my "shin splints" won't go away or that shooting pain comes, again, across the side of my head.  I worry about the unknown.

I just finished a book by Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts, a two time cancer survivor, entitled, "Everybody's Got Something".  She's right.  I'm not special with my cancer or my worries.  Every person out there could tell a similar story of hardship, a similar story of worry.  Unlike the outgoing Robin Roberts, I'm a little bit shy, 75%  introverted, and frequently appalled at my public self expression.

I really don't want you to know my business.

Yet, sometimes I blog
Sometimes, I throw myself out there.
And then, probably, I worry about that.

This is my problem.






I had my yearly physical the other day with my regular family doctor whom I've been seeing for years.  We talked about lots of things that didn't have anything to do with cancer.   But, as it does, cancer forced it's way into our conversation. I told her about the 42 things I worry about.  She told me that almost 2 years out from treatment isn't very far out in the breast cancer world.  She told me worry at this point was normal. She said anxiety was normal.

And then she said,

"When I had my breast cancer............." 

She told me her story.
She didn't question my feelings.
She said things that made a difference to me.

She also said a bunch of super smart doctor stuff.

 But the most important thing she said was,

"I've been there."

She knew. 
She knew that sometimes cancer isn't all physical.
She knew that sometimes cancer doesn't end when treatment ends.


But she also told me that cancer wasn't the last sentence in her paragraph.
She told me that cancer wasn't even the last paragraph in her essay.
She told me that her essay might even

evolve 

into
        some

                                                   free      form

                       poetry.


She told me she knew.
She was a good doctor.

FOR ME.



And so I write this blog. 
And tonight, the little bit shy, 75% introverted parts of me will probably worry about it.  
But tomorrow, I will be grateful that this wasn't my last paragraph.
Tomorrow, the essay evolves.






Thursday, October 5, 2017

Scrumptious, Fee



My dad's pet name for my mom was, "Fee".  I remember it being used most affectionately at the end of dinner.  My dad would  push back his chair when he was done eating the meal my mom had made for him.  He would stand up, look over toward her and announce his approval and appreciation.

"Scrumptious, Fee!" he'd call out.

She would nod and grin.



40 years later I dip my spoon into the hot, bubbly stroganoff gravy. The cats at my feet stare, focused intently on me while I blow on the liquid, willing me to drop some on the floor. When it's cool enough, I taste it.  It is fantastic.  I drop the spoon in the sink, look over toward the cats and announce my approval and appreciation for my own cooking. I announce my appreciation for my mother.  I announce for that hidden, empty spot inside me.

 "Scrumptious, Fee!" I call out.

The words echo in my head, perhaps even in the room.
I wonder if she hears me.
I wonder if, somewhere, she nods and grins.



10 years ago tomorrow my mom died.



I've written several blogs about my mom and none of them were easy to write, this one included.  After 10 years of her being gone, she deserves to finally be honored with an uplifting story, a happy memory or an amusing anecdote representative of all the good that she had in her.

I'm surprised though, that I'm having a hard time writing that positive blog, surprised at how close to the surface the tears are.

I'm surprised that occasionally, still, I will think that I should give her a call. An awful lot has happened in the last 10 years. We would have over analyzed all of it for hours and hours, I'm sure.



I miss talking to her.


We used to speak every day, you know.







*************************************************************************


I just finished my cup of tea.  It was fantastic.
I announce my appreciation for the tea.
I announce my appreciation for my mother.
I announce for that hidden, empty spot inside me.

"Scrumptious, Fee!" I call out.



I wonder if she hears me.



 My daughter is a fan of the fantastic tea and was the one who recommended I try it.
 I should message her and tell her I liked it. 



We message every day, you know.


Granny and granddaughter




Thursday, August 17, 2017

30 Years

I saw Nancy in the produce section of the grocery store.

At the time, we had graduated from high school together, 25 years earlier and 90 miles away from that store.

We compared our fruit.  The last cantaloupe I bought was terrible.  Her watermelon was fantastic.
We spoke of the children. Hers had grown. Mine had too.
I asked about her brother, my one time TOLO date.
She talked about her
cancer.

I nodded sympathetically and hugged her awkwardly. 
I'm sure I said the wrong thing.  


I left that store thanking God it wasn't me.


Except then it was.
It was
me.

With
the 
cancer.




I recently went to my 30th high school reunion.  Many years ago I crossed paths with these people in the hometown I was born and raised in. From the Madison Elementary School playground to the drama of La Venture Middle School to the science classes in the Mt. Vernon High School S-buildings (RIP S-buildings), I experienced many of life's formative experiences with these people.  During my reunion I spoke with many classmates who were old friends.  Some, however, I spoke with for the very first time. We reminisced on the small part of life that we all had in common years ago and shared stories about the 30 years of life that had passed since graduation.


Partway through the evening I found myself standing in a corner having a lovely conversation with two other classmates who had also been diagnosed with cancer.   We were laughing at Dave's funny radiation story when I saw Nancy's face again.  The slide show playing in the background included photos of her and other classmates who had died much too young.

I suddenly felt very grateful to be there in that room.



One minute the inside of my head was screaming at me, "Can you believe you are
standing in the
CANCER corner?"

The next minute I was yelling back, "Yeah, can you believe I am

STANDING. 

HERE.

At my 30th reunion,
In the cancer survivors corner.



Reunions are hard for me.
I never know the right thing to say.

I wish Nancy could have been at our reunion.  I wonder if I had known that produce section conversation would be the last time I would ever speak to her, would I have made more of an effort to listen to and understand her? Would I have known the right thing to say?   I looked around the room at my classmates who came to the reunion that night. I did enjoy talking with them.  I was glad they came to the reunion.  I looked up again at the slideshow of those classmates we had lost.

I wondered




**********************************

I've had this blog in process for weeks now, since the day after my 30th class reunion.   I haven't posted it because it wanders a bit and I didn't know what I was trying to say.  I didn't know what story I was trying to tell.  And I could NOT bring myself to write that last sentence.

"I wondered how many of us would be alive for the next reunion."

I didn't want to write it because it is terrible, depressing and not at all helpful.  It's something I worry about a lot.  It hits a bit close to home.  But then today, I received word that another classmate had died. I remembered his face and how he made me laugh.   I pictured the next reunion slideshow and it was terrible and depressing.


**********************************


I saw my classmates at my recent class reunion.

We  graduated from high school together, 30 years earlier and 5 miles away from that restaurant.

We spoke about our lives.  
We laughed at the past.
We hoped for the future.



Reunions are hard for me.
I never know the right thing to say.   


Nancy's Obituary


Thursday, July 20, 2017

We Ain't Old

The grocery store checker asked me if I had anything fun planned for the weekend.

“I’m going to my high school reunion.”

I told her it was hard to believe that 30 years had passed since I graduated from high school.

“Oh yeah, 30 is a big one!” she said.   “I remember I walked into my 30th and thought I was in the wrong place.  I walked out of the room and had to check the sign outside to make sure I was in the right place.”

“Why did you think you were in the wrong place?”

“Cuz the room was filled with a bunch of old people I didn’t recognize!  Turns out, they were my classmates!”


I’ve never looked forward to attending any of my class reunions.   I didn’t even go to the last one.  I’m sure I had a really good reason such as I had failed to lose 10 pounds or I was too shy to talk to anyone or that no one would remember me anyway.  I even told the husband I wasn’t going to attend this year’s reunion either.   I spouted out absurd reasons that included cancer and the farmer’s tan on my arms and Shakey’s pizza being closed and how my former classmates would only be interested in what my post chemo hair looked like. 

He sighed and gave me a good eyeball roll.

As he should have.





The morning after I told the husband I wasn’t going to my reunion I received a notification from the Facebook reunion group that someone I was friends with in high school had committed to attend.   The next day it was someone I only casually knew in high school but we were now good Facebook friends.   The following day it was someone I didn’t have anything in common with in high school but I knew I sure did now. I could probably talk to these people, I thought.

I found myself kind of, sort of, actually wanting to go.  I reminded myself that despite my apprehensions, I have always been glad I went to the reunions that I did go to.  Those extra pounds never really mattered.  The outgoing people made an effort to talk to the shy people like me.  And some people actually DID remember me. 

I always enjoyed myself. 





I told the grocery store checker that I was still a little bit nervous but also, finally, a little bit excited for my reunion. She said that she had a great time at her reunion once they brought out the name tags.  "You know, there ain't no spring chickens at a 30th high school reunion.  It helped to put a name to all the old looking faces."

I smiled and said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about old people for, though.   The people I graduated with aren’t old!  We are all young and fabulous and still look great!”


Even those of us with post chemo hair.