In Sickness and in Health

In Sickness and in Health

Every June we celebrate Father’s Day. To be fair, we Moms get a whole lot more fussing on our day in May than the Dads do. I hate to admit it, but I am always grateful that the kids’ teachers would make sure there was a card or crafty thing for Dad because I have been known to forget. My husband and I aren’t greeting card people anyway. Our traditions don’t involve shmoopy mandatory cards, in fact we don’t follow the rules of magazine marriages and groove more to our own beat. For instance, we prefer to save for vacations and not go for expensive date night dinners. Out of necessity, a trip to Costco without the kids is what we call a date these days. We don’t exchange jewelry, or do couples massages at the spa, hell we don’t even stay up on New Year’s Eve anymore. We are knee deep in busy kids and being middle aged. We have earned our naps, and dammit, we will take those naps. The one rule we do follow is an important vow from our wedding. Among the promises we made that day was that we would be there for each other in sickness and in health. At the time, we pictured the sickness part coming way the hell later than the health part. We had visions of sickness looking like elderly me helping geriatric him with his cane, or to find his teeth every day because he was forgetting where he put them. “In the glass on the bathroom counter honey”, I pictured myself saying. We knew realistically that humans start to fall apart as we age and in our declining years we would need to be strong for each other when illness came calling. What we didn’t know is how little time we would have between “I do” and cancer. It is me. I have cancer, and it is a bad one. My husband and the Father of our children had to make good on his promise to be there for me when it got hard. Really hard. And because we aren’t celebrating “Husband Day” (although that should be a thing) this post is about my kids’ Dad. When I was diagnosed, he must have felt like he was suddenly crushed by a falling brick wall. I am not sure how he felt at first, because his initial response was that he would take the cancer on himself if he could wish it to be so. He was terrified for me, and our kids. Others might have shunted aside their vow and succumbed to their fears and bolted. He did not. Every single day since cancer came to fuck...
Tend to Your Titties Ladies

Tend to Your Titties Ladies

Boobs Tits Jihooblies Tatas Fun bags Sweater Puppets Also a source of endless anxiety. It all started as we went through puberty. I don’t know about you but I kept wondering when they would be done growing. Are they stopping now? Or how about now? Or maybe now that I can no longer see my feet… maybe? They seemed HUGE and, as it turns out, they actually were huge. Carrying around this new front end load took some getting used to. Then over time, we figured out their power didn’t we? Everybody likes boobs. Even gay guys think boobs are fun. For many of us, the fleshy milk dispensers get handed over to the little humans we grew in our bellies. Those who breastfeed have different timelines for how long they are willing to have a little latched on suckerfish. The rule applied by women in my family has always been that breast feeding ended promptly at the first bite. Time for a sippy cup of warm milk and coffee kid, you are done. Then when the ravages of aging and childbearing are finally done with the girls, they are often nothing more than a wizened shell of their former selves. Like an aging prize fighter, they need to step out of the ring and retire… no longer powerful, we tuck them into sensible bras and sweatersets. And THAT is when we start to realize that maybe we have taken them for granted. Maybe we didn’t think to do self exams for lumps and bumps. I mean after breastfeeding, you get a little sick of hauling them out all the time. Who could blame a girl for not wanting to explore the damage in the light of day? But face it we must. Good health is our job as Moms. In ourselves, our kids, the sweet dope who fathered them, our own parents  – we care about everybody. But we usually worry more about them than ourselves. Here is the thing. They need us to be around. Their worst nightmare is losing us, even more than our own fears of illness in our loved ones. Here comes the sermon: If your health care professional says it is time for the annual mammary squish, do it. PAPS and squishes are no fun, but suck it up princess. Put on your big girl panties and make an appointment. Frankly my hair appointments take up more time than a mammogram, yet I find time for a full cut and colour every 8 (ahem maybe 6) weeks. An annual poke and peek is no big deal. Big or small, saggy or fully paid bolt-ons, they all need to be tended. Get your lady...
No Regrets

No Regrets

You know what is almost worse than a terminal cancer diagnosis? Regrets. Not to diminish the torture that is cancer, and the chaos it causes in your head, but the disease comes with its inseparable henchman, regret. There is nothing that forces a review of your life like receiving notice of your own expiry date in the form of a terminal cancer diagnosis. It went like this for me. I have cancer, and it is a nasty beast with relentless progression which cannot be negotiated. So in the depths of the night hours, I ruminate about my disease. Sometimes I think I can feel the tumours destroying my lungs, my brain, my spine and wherever they plan to lodge next. But other times, when I am not trying to echo-locate the corrupt cells in my body, I think about my life in retrospect. No point in thinking about the future, so the unfinished novel that has been my life becomes the chapters I lovingly review all night long. I touch the ephemeral pages of my stories and smile, or cry, but they are indelible, so I let the words and memories wash over me. Herein lies the lesson. I also spend time exploring regrets from my life, and how I chose to live it. Why did I do that which I am now regretting? This is a huge question, because when you land where I am, you don’t get a second chance to go back and rewrite specific chapters. Your story won’t change when the lights do finally go out. Fortunately, I have very few regrets… really…. I have looked at my memories with a magnifying glass, and in the overall, I feel pretty good about the score sheet of good and bad in balance. I am so thankful for my little bag of regrets, rather than having to cope with a big dump truck load of them. The regrets I do have are more about people I have hurt, rather than opportunities I didn’t take. This is an important distinction in my mind. I cringe when I think about the insensitive unfeeling injuries I have inflicted on the people who drifted in and out of my life. If I could make those things right before the clock runs out, I would. I ache for the people who made the mistake of standing in my line of fire when really, my bullets were about my issues, and not usually theirs. On the happier side, there are very few regrets on the list of chances I didn’t take. There are even fewer on the ledger of items I wanted to do and didn’t. I have always done precisely what I wanted to....
Don’t Say Nothing When Facing Tragedy

Don’t Say Nothing When Facing Tragedy

I have a list in my head of what people said to me when they heard that I was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. There were those whose words, presence and actions were real comforts. Then there were those who probably meant well, but totally missed the mark — and they are the reason for this list. To be sure, talking about a terminal diagnosis is one of the most emotionally fraught conversations you’ll ever have. It is devastating to hear from a loved one that they are dying. How you react to the news matters, yet most of us have no idea what to say when somebody we love shares their tragic news. In that spirit, I offer my own personal don’ts and dos. DON’T say “let me know what you need.” A generalized “call me for anything” is nice to hear, but understand that those of us who are really sick can only tolerate certain people washing our hair or driving us from a chemo session as we barf in a bucket en route. A good thing to text or email would be: “If there was one thing I could do today in your house or garden that would be helpful, what would it be?” and then be prepared to do it. Empty offers are just cruel. DO make sure you ask if they can handle flowers or scent of any kind. Before showing up with lilies or spritzed with Chanel No. 5 just check. Many medications create bizarre and shifting sensitivities, most of them to smells and flavours. Perfumes, flowers, cotton candy and even spaghetti sauce have sent me to the bowl for a gag. DON’T pelt them with 20 questions. I know that for some people getting all the gory details is the only way they can absorb the news. But detailed questions can be exhausting to answer. Never ever ask how much time they have left. There is a really good chance that, like me, I told the doctor I didn’t want his estimate. A good question might be “What is the plan for your treatment?” then let them talk. DO notice when they are tired, and leave. Are they blinking longer? Shifting uncomfortably? Maybe they don’t want to admit being tired or unable to stay up. Notice, and then make a loving and speedy exit. DON’T touch them without permission. Sound strange? Consider this: Maybe they are just barely holding it together and leaning on you in that moment might result in a meltdown they can’t bear. Depending on your relationship, you might want to ask them if they would like a hug, and be ok with whatever their answer is. DO let them know...
The Future Without Me

The Future Without Me

I am a happily married mother of two young children and I have terminal lung cancer. These days, I’m consumed with curiosity — and worry — about what my husband’s and children’s lives will look like after I’m gone. I picture my daughter meeting her fiancé’s parents sometime in the distant future. They’ll ask polite questions about her family and she’ll respond with this: “My mother died when I was (blank) years old.” The only thing I can’t picture in the conversation is what age she will have been when I died. Will she lose me this year at age 14? At 16? Maybe at 20? It won’t be 20 though, people with Stage IV lung cancer don’t get that long. Will my son make it through high school, get a driver’s license or find a girl without me there to celebrate and worry? He will, but I wish I could stay for all of it. My body fails me even though from the outside it appears as it always has, quite complete and whole. But it isn’t. Everything is being done because I need my life and my life needs me. All the modern cancer fighting technology is waging war with my body and on it. I can handle the intense invasive medical procedures because this marathon is about endurance. The more treatment you can endure, the longer you live to endure more of it. Until you can’t. The rage keeps me going. I am so angry at my body, which quietly allowed incurable tumors to invade my bones, my lungs, my brain. It came in stealth and only made itself known once it was far too late to catch my life and live it. I sat on the cold hospital table hearing the news. At that moment my life fell from my hands onto the floor by my feet. I couldn’t reach it or pick it up. I just sat beside it and watched it get smaller as it seemed to drain through cracks in the floor. I don’t cry. If I do, I feel it might cause me to miss something I can’t get back. I hold my life fiercely because I can’t imagine leaving my two young children. They will have to navigate their lives based on what I have taught them and I know I won’t have taught them enough. Sometimes my mind dips so fully into my outside life, I can actually forget I am dying. I participate in my life as best I can. I work full time, see friends, drive my kids to their sports. I smile and laugh and make it all look so light and breezy that my children...
The Inner Darkness of Cancer Warriors

The Inner Darkness of Cancer Warriors

It wasn’t normal for me to have headaches. It was even more bizarre that I would suddenly see a white lightning storm in my field of vision and no amount of blinking would help. And then there was the buzzing, like a flight of bees resting inside my skull that finally sent me to get some answers. When the doctor came in to the examination room, he held no file, made no eye contact as he sat and just looked bereft. I felt my stomach heave and stick in my throat. Then he said the words… the ones that rebounded through my nightmares for weeks.  “Your scan shows multiple brain tumours.” The shock of that moment feels like being dropped from a cliff. Later, as I made my way out of his office, I realized that in just a small increment of time, my future had been violently ripped away. I have since realized that the moment at the Doctor’s was just the first of many bombshells. The days to follow would become a painful rending of flesh and increasingly deep cuts. Since that day, I have been sinking and bleeding as pieces of my emotional strength are excised with a rusty blade. I listen to the plans of my friends and family for their vacations, or their retirement and I feel the wounds open further. Every time I force a smile to appear happy for somebody who has the privilege of keeping their life and a future, my pain deepens. Once cancer comes into your body, it physically takes over space in sometimes dangerous and painful ways. What I didn’t realize is that it also bullies a whole new space into your emotional world. And you have to live in that dismal space all by yourself. It is lonely in a way that goes beyond desolation. Suddenly I can’t seem to connect with anybody around me anymore. When did that happen? The reality of slowly sinking and drowning has a brutal impact, but I thought I could still be me. This isn’t me. I can’t even find me. How could I explain to all the happy people around me that part of my mind had become a dark body of sludgy water constantly lapping against my feet? I picture my cancer as a black corrupt ocean extending beyond the horizon, and it will come for me on the ever shrinking beach when it is my time to die in it. Living with cancer means that at my best moments, I am walking alongside the killing black water and pretending I don’t see it.  I turn my thoughts away from the rising line and feign that it isn’t trying...