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.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Expendable




He nodded toward the magazine headlines in the grocery store checkout line and voiced his opinion with confidence.

“Can you believe this sh*t?  This Obamacare?  Affordable my *ss!  
Trump will fix this. He said he would.  Mark my words.
Trump said he’s gonna get rid of all of it!”


The man said these things to me a few days before the election.



My mouth opened and an opinion came out. “Well, I’ve had cancer and have had some insurance changes, so I hope he doesn’t get rid of the pre-existing conditions clause.  I’m hoping my family won’t have to deal with bankruptcy fears... or worse...if my cancer comes back and I can’t afford treatment.”








The anxiety kicked in immediately.  
My heart pounded in regret.
I wished I had kept quiet.  



“You see, it’s people like you I really

HATE!

he said, firmly, finger jabbing toward me.

“I have to pay for people like you to get your chemo and stuff that you pretend will let you live a little longer. MY family and MY finances are worse off because of you. It kinda p*sses me off.”

I managed to mutter-stutter a response, “Well, I’m sorry it’s been so hard for you.  I hope you don’t ever get cancer or another disease so you have to worry about the other side of getting sick.”

He was done paying for his groceries. He grabbed his two bags and turned to me, “Oh, you can bet I would never be so stupid as to get something like cancer.  Cancer is just God’s way of getting rid of people who are expendable.  I’m pretty sure I’m good.”



It was true. I was stupid enough to get cancer.
And now I am someone many people don’t want to help.
I am a burden to society and the health care system.
Sick people like me make your medical insurance more expensive.
I am alive, telling my story today because you paid a few extra dollars in premiums.

That man in the grocery store hated me for all of that.


Do people like me bother you?

Could you come to my house,
drink tea with me at my dining room table,
and then tell me I am too much of a burden?
As you finished your tea, could you tell me you hate me?
As you stood up, ready to leave,
could you look at my face
and tell me I am
expendable?


I am afraid of your answer.



What about next year when you are stupid enough to get sick?  
In a year and a half I have been billed over $400,000.
Can  you afford that?

Is it different when it’s you?



Perhaps you are expendable too.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Manifold




I tripped over an intake manifold when I walked into my bedroom that day. The husband was sitting on the side of the bed putting on his sock.  I was focused on the hole in his sock and missed seeing the manifold.

I should have known the manifold was there.
It had been in the bedroom for 2 ½ months.  

The husband and the challenges and consequences of his automobile obsession have been a part of my life for over 3 decades.  We survived an unattractive paint job on an old Plymouth, an all night clutch repair on a mid 70’s Pinto and a race against a federal security helicopter at 140 miles per hour. We can now laugh at the engine fire in Cleveland, the air conditioning failure in a 105 degree Idaho desert and a ‘69 Camaro runaway hubcap rolling down the toll road south of Chicago.  And someday, I am sure I will look back fondly on the mountainside dirt road, flat tire ordeal.

I was used to piles of car junk, I mean, important treasures, in the garage. I was used to mysterious charges from Jegs on my credit card, gallons of orange hand cleaner under the sink and the occasional carburetor on the kitchen counter. This latest automotive challenge seemed to cross the line, though.  There was an intake manifold for a 1969 Camaro in my bedroom and it was in my way.  I said to the husband, toe throbbing, not hiding my disapproval, “You know, normal people do not keep car parts in their bedroom!”

I saw the husband’s honest reaction in slow motion.  A perplexed look of hurt and confusion passed across his face. A look of shock settled in his eyes that stared back at me. Without any doubt in his mind, he innocently said,  “Oh, I really don’t think it’s that uncommon.  I think you’d be surprised.”

I told myself the husband was nuts. This manifold clashed with my bedroom decor and cluttered up the room. It needed to go.
 


I knew I’d have to resign myself to the hardships that come with being the wife of a car guy. I walked out of the bedroom that day, leaving the husband to put on his other sock. I walked past my piles of scrapbook material, my stacks of family photos and the sweatshirts and shorts I had thrown on the ground.   As I left the room I looked back at the 13 library books, an assortment of  magazines, 3 different kinds of lotion, 5 ibuprofen pills and numerous headbands that lived near my side of the bed. I picked up the mail and the phone, a bottle of water, a thermometer, two earrings and a candy wrapper and headed out of the room.



And as I reached the door I turned to the husband  and reiterated my point, “Normal people do not have manifolds cluttering up their bedrooms.”

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Club




I probably don’t want to join your club.
I’m probably a bit too
shy,
awkward,
tired,
overly sensitive and
unnecessarily analytical to be a reliable club contributor.
I probably want to stay home and
just read my
book.


Those in charge of fate decided it would be funny if I was forced to join a club.
Those in charge of these things chose the CANCER club.


I was highly reluctant.


Despite my hesitation, I was a good club member.  I cried.  I was numb. I researched the traditional.  I researched the alternative.   I announced it on social media with a statement mohawk and just the right amount of verbal ambiguity that was worthy of any new product launch.  I thought positively. I thought negatively. I went to bed angry and woke up terrified. I found ways to be happy.  I convinced myself that realistic trumped naive and hopeful trumped realistic.  I wrote the required cancer blog.


I followed the club rules.


I recently passed the one year anniversary of finishing chemotherapy.  One year later, cancer still invites itself into my day.  Scar tissue says good morning. Green tea glares at me during breakfast. My favorite boots mock my feet that hurt when I wear them now.  A good club member would acknowledge this important anniversary day, pin on a pink ribbon and spew forth a grateful outpouring of thankfulness.  


Thankful they were alive.


I stayed silent.  


I had
nothing to
say.






There are a shocking number of women with my story. They’ve had cancer at a relatively young age and sometimes they write about it on their blogs.  It has been helpful to read their blogs and know I am not alone and I am not going crazy. These women openly wrote about their diagnosis, surgeries, chemo, radiation, and many complementary therapies and alternative treatments.


They wrote about feeling powerless and how they were afraid the
overwhelming vulnerability
just
might
consume
them.
The wrote about their families.  
Their written words, cried and screamed out loud for their children.
They fought for their lives.
They fought for every single
breath they could
breathe
on
this
earth.


These women became my invaluable therapy.
They were my online friends.


I was so grateful these
women had
something to
say.


One year ago I followed 12 blogs.  
Today, there are 6 blogs left.  


One woman has stopped writing because it was too stressful when people commented that she had caused her own cancer and had chosen the wrong treatments.


5 women have stopped writing
because



they
are
dead.



6 of my blog friends still have something to say..
These are women like me. These are people like you.
These are women who don’t want to become a tragedy.
These are women who massage that scar tissue away even though they think they might be massaging a new tumor. They drink that green tea even though it tastes like dirt and they doubt it will help at all. And they put on those boots, no matter how much they hurt, because they are determined that NOTHING will keep them from wearing their Doc Marten's.




No, I still don’t want to join your club. One year after chemo I am still here as a highly reluctant cancer club member.  Maybe, though, I shouldn’t ignore these anniversaries. Maybe I should be more aggressive in spewing forth a grateful outpouring of thankfulness. Maybe I should honor my blog friends by saying something,

something
really
important
and
meaningful.  


They would want that.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Border Clash




There was no foreign financed wall to stop us from leaving Canada.

But there was a border agent with a badge, sitting in a small, grey booth in front of a fancy computer.



Our passports were taken.

The husband, the children and I stared at each other, wide eyed, while sitting on a bench inside a building that was presumably, the bastion of first world border security.  I whispered to the children, giddy and with a smile, that this was, “so exciting!”  I knew it would be an experience they would remember.  

They were not amused and told me to be quiet.

We were surrounded by people who were there for random vehicle searches.  We watched them come in the building and attempt to explain why their hypertension medication was not in its original bottle.  We watched them explain their arrest from 1994 when they were 19 and careless.  We watched them worry about their fluffy white dog, waiting outside, who “never did anything to deserve this kind of treatment.”

We were not there for a random search.  
We were there because of the husband.

He was suspicious.

The husband spoke to a border agent.  The husband was polite and respectful.  They asked him if he had ever been questioned before.  He tried to explain why he crossed the border with a bunch of long haired, pot smoking hippies in 1988.  They told him he had a common name. He casually mentioned his years of dedicated, patriotic, naval submarine service.


They told him there were problems.
They told him to wait.

We all waited.

I cheerfully mentioned to the children that this adventure might be used in an essay for one of their classes this upcoming school year.

They were not amused and told me to be quiet.
They did not use their polite words.

I smiled and assured the reliable, patient husband that we’d be out of there in minutes. I made jokes about his “criminal past”.  

He laughed.
Nervously.  


The border agent stared at his computer, typed furiously, paused, and stared at the screen. He repeated this several times.  He grabbed a piece of paper that had just ejected from a printer and walked quickly to the back of the room.  He gathered all of the other border agents around. They looked at the paper and discussed super secret things about the husband.  They glanced back and forth toward our family.  After half an hour of this,  I turned my now nervous head toward the fidgety husband, cocked my head sideways and raised my eyebrows.  I made my skeptical eyes big and silently asked the husband, “Do you know what the heck they are talking about?”

He seemed unaware I was speaking to him.

Over an hour passed.
We were still being held captive.
All because of the husband and his dubious, hidden, unlawful identity.

I put on my strong woman, resilient, happy survivor face and told the children that, “We were lucky because not many people get to experience American border security at such an intimate level!”

They were not amused and told me to be quiet.
The did not use their polite words.
They seemed a bit angry with me.

I stared long and hard at the husband and began to fuel a senseless rage in my head, “Gosh darn it! We’ve been together for 31 years. I thought I knew him!  What has he done? What is he keeping from me?”  

Our captivity had gone on long enough that I began to anxiously, wonder, way deep down, if my life with him had been one big lie.

The border agent eventually returned, explaining that he had cleared all the criminal activity associated with the husband’s common name. He apologized for keeping us for such along time, but there were some bad guys with the same name as the unblemished husband's name.  He wanted to make sure the husband would have no trouble in his future border crossings.

The husband was innocent.
We were free.

As we continued our drive toward home, I turned an ever-loving eye toward the reliable husband. I grasped his strong, steady hand and was grateful knowing that he hadn’t been hiding a serious criminal habit from me.



I said to the children, “Well, that was fun!  How many people get to experience that?!”
They were not amused and told me to be quiet.
The did not use their polite words.
They seemed a bit angry with me.

They asked me how long it would be until they could get wi-fi.