Saturday, March 28, 2015

Skipping in the midst of it.

Last evening, Liv and I took Socks out for a walk when we got home from work/school while Bing stayed home, promising to make scrambled eggs and toast for dinner when we got back.

We walked slowly, meanderingly, talking about her day at school, mine at work. It has become difficult for me to go to work, not because I am ill, but because I am not handling the solicitous way that most of my co-workers are behaving, with the exception of Jin, my co-partner, who is acting like a spoiled brat. Everyone, except Jin, is over kind, greeting me each morning with a deeply saddened Good morning. How are you DOING today?, looking at me soberly as if I already have one foot in my grave. One of the secretaries has taken to leaping to her feet whenever she sees me and asking if she can do ANYTHING for me. ANYTHING.

My bestie, Harriet, tells me to wallow in it, use it.

"Tell them that you want them to keep you stocked in flat whites from Starbucks," she says. "Pull that cancer card hard, girlfriend!"

Ugh. I can't. Is it so much to want to just be treated normally, not over gently? And Jin is just the opposite. She is the mother of two children under the age of five and because she will have to step up and take on a few of my patients while I am gone, is behaving as if she has suddenly been doomed to work in a coal mine. She is openly hostile to me, once slamming her office door so hard when I was talking to our other partner about where to buy a turban in this town, that all the mail on the wall next to her door fell out of their boxes on to the floor. I chalk it up to her youth. She is in her late twenties, an ex cheerleader who is married to an elementary school principal who is much older than she is and behaves more like her slave than her husband. Jin comes from wealth. Her children are nannied and her home is maintained by a full time staff. Her office is decorated like something out of a fashion magazine, everything in soft pastels, her walls decorated with dancing baby animals. She is a specialist in mentally gifted children and unlike Bambi (my other co-partner) and me, rarely has screaming children in her office. Well, unless their parents forgot their special bottle of juice. She is more likely to have brats. We are more likely to have children who are suffering with psychological pain. I have mostly autistic children. Bambi has children who have suffered psychological trauma. Now, I am not saying that all gifted children are brats. But, Jin seems to have a great deal of ones who have PARENTS who are brats, thus they have begat brats.

And now Jin is not happy that while I am recovering from my mastectomy and during my chemotherapy, she may have to step up and take on some of my patients. We are ALL trained to deal with children needing psychological help, but Jin seems very squeamish about taking on my kids. I am thinking that Bambi will do most of the heavy lifting or that I will have to lose some of them. And, frankly, I adore my kids. I don't LIKE the idea of them having to deal with Jin.

So, work has not been fun.

Liv and I talk about this a little bit. She knows that I love my job, care deeply for all those children. And she knows how much I hate being away from them, how I will worry over them.

We move on to discuss her days. She is doing splendidly in track, setting school records right and left. But, she admits that she gets very little joy in running track or jumping. Says that she prefers team sports, that track feels oddly isolating. I gesture to her long, long colt legs.

"You've had those long legs ever since you were a baby. I knew you'd either be good at ballet, mountain climbing, track, or maybe just running away..."

Liv smiles. "Remember when you signed me up for ballet when I was four and I lasted for one day?"

I nod, smiling back. "You HATED it. I think it was the sloooowwwnnnneeeessss of it. You wanted to shimmy and shake and it was all about standing primly and pointing your toes out."

"YES!" she exclaims. "That was it, exactly! I HATED all that standing still and pivoting. I wanted to MOVE my booty!"

I tell her that she DID move her booty when I signed her up for traditional Mexican dancing when she was seven. And how she LOVED learning to ice skate.

"You were the only blonde head in that sea of Hispanic children," I said. "I could always find you."

"And I learned how to speak some Spanish," Liv adds. "But, I never really fancied dancing of any kind, except for the Lakota and Irish ones. When I'm at Lakota pow wows or dancing Irish jigs with your side of the family, I enjoy it, but that's about it."

I tell her that I never liked dancing much either. Except the jigs with my Sisters. We shrug. Maybe it's a genetic thing.

Liv suddenly laughs.

"Remember how we used to go for walks when I was little? We would go on leprechaun/fairy hunts and snake hunts or just walk around?"

I say that yes, I do remember those. Who did she think hid the little notes from fairies in those notched tree trunks and branches?

Liv hugs my arm. "I had the BEST childhood. It was magical, Mama. I remember that all the notes were written in French and you told me that fairies spoke French, exclusively. So, we had to go home and decipher them. And the notes always told me that they were tired from dancing all night in the trees or that they were so full from drinking acorns filled with honey. I used to think that the world was such a cool place."

I stay quiet for a second and then say, "It's still a very cool place, hon."

She nods, doesn't answer. Right now, the world is not a very cool place for us. But, we are hopeful.

And then she suddenly says, "I remember that we played that fun game on our walks. Remember? Like...Let's walk like elephants. Let's walk like penguins. Let's walk in tiny baby steps. Let's take giant leaps! Let's hop like rabbits...."

With this, she starts hopping like a delicate little rabbit. I smile and then join in and we are both hopping, our hands in front of us. Liv smiles hugely and motions her head over for me to look at Socks. I do and am astounded to see that he is hopping too, right along with us, dog-style hops. Part of our family, like always.

We look at each other and laugh.

It is a good walk. Socks is an amazing dog.

When we get back, Bing is in the kitchen, stirring cream into eggs for scrambling, hands Liv a bowl of chives and parsley to sprinkle in. She hands me a few letters.

I get letters nearly every day from members of my very large, very devoted Catholic family. Today, there are two letters, one from my Aunt Anna, another from my cousin Marianna in Idaho. Both cards include prayer cards with novenas on them. I add them to the circle of  novena cards held by magnets on the fridge.

From Aunt Anna is a novena card for the Immaculate Conception.
From cousin Marianna is one for Our Lady of Fatima

They join:

Kateri Tekawitha
Margaret De Castella
Our Lady of Guadalupe
St. Andrew
Gerard Majella
St. Benedict
St. Dominic
St. George
St. Lucy
Maria Goretti
St. Peter
St. Nicholas
St. Therese, the little flower
and St. Walburga.

Bing, jokingly added a new magnet to the fridge. This is one with Jesus on it and underneath it are the words: Look Busy.

I turn around and take the plates from Bing to go set the dining room table. We are all lighthearted for once; the walk has been good for Liv and me and Bing seems to have caught our mood.

The doorbell rings. I go with Bing to answer it, Liv close behind, Socks ready to bark if it is a foe and not a friend. One of our neighbors stands there. With an apple pie. She smiles sadly at me.

"I heard of your troubles," she tells me. She hands Bing the pie and immediately envelops me in a big hug which I stiffly accept. God, I HATE this shit. I smile thinly, thank her for her kindness. Exclaim over the pie.

"I know that baby Jesus is with you now," our neighbor says fervently and then hugs each of us, in turn, before she leaves.

We close the door. I sigh. Look at Bing accusingly.

Bing looks helplessly at me.

"I only told Tim and Penny (neighbors across the street)," she says. "I thought that when you were home alone after the mastectomy, someone in the neighborhood should know to check on you once in a while. And they're retired...."

I want to yell at her but I can't. Her intentions were good. Instead, I ask her if we have vanilla ice cream for the apple pie. She says we do.

But, the light mood is gone. We are once again saddened, reminded that in a few days, I will begin this journey.

Still, it's a step towards normalcy. That walk. And we will rely on those for now. 

Oh, and Jocelyn? I can't comment on your blog anymore as I don't do the facebook thing. But..hey...try Canada Dry Tonic Water. It has quinine and is magic for leg cramps. 



Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sword of Damocles

Hanging above my head, held by a single hair of a horse's tail.

I feel it every second. Every minute.

It's been nearly a month since I found out that I have cancer. A month of tests and waiting, First, the biopsy. Then, the waiting. Second, the abdominal, pelvic and chest scans. And then, the waiting. Third, the bone scan. Then, the waiting. Lastly, on Thursday, the echo heart scan. And now the waiting.

The mastectomy will take place on March 31st, provided that I pass this last test....one that every woman over the age of 50 has to take before a surgeon will operate. And this last one is the one that I am terrified that I will not pass.

My Da died at 41 of a sudden heart attack. I have always felt that I inherited his bad heart. I had everything else from him: type 1 diabetes, migraines, rheumatoid arthritis. These things have all skipped my Sisters and come to me. I just figured that my heart was probably weak, too. But, it's never really been tested. I don't have high blood pressure. My cholesterol levels are pretty good, but borderline high.

I've always felt that I was one test away from having a bad heart show up.

And now, I will know soon. After the echo, the technician, a silent, morose woman who, thankfully, did not try to chat me up, told me that I would hear the results of my test from my oncologist in three to five business days. So...today was three days. Thursday will be five. If I don't hear anything by Friday, I am in the clear.

My Sisters keep telling me that no news is good news! I smile and nod, but when I am alone, I gaze up at the sword over my head.

Sometimes, even in crowded rooms, I feel extraordinarily lonely. I remember this keenly from last time. That feeling of being utterly alone in the world, even in my partner's arms.

We told Liv last weekend. She broke my heart. Not because she cried, because she tried so valiantly not to. I kept it as light as I could, simply told her that I had breast cancer but that I had a very good chance of survival as it had not spread to any of my other organs.

I looked into her eyes, her face and flinched when I saw myself looking back at me. She sat stoically, her features frozen, but her eyes terrified. She tried to smile, decided it was too much to ask, so simply allowed me to hold her, her body rigid. I kissed her hair, murmured that I was so, so sorry to have to tell her this news, that I wished I could spare her but that I wanted her to be a part of this healing journey.

She looked back at me, tears starting in her eyes and then she furiously blinked at the ceiling, a trick that I use whenever I feel like crying. How she learned this from me, I don't know. Maybe it is just part of her genetic makeup.  She nodded twice. Told me that she would help me in any way that she could. That she loved me very much. And then, she stiffly rose and said that she had homework to catch up on.

I let her go. I knew to wait.

At two in the morning, I felt her sliding in bed with me, burrowing in between Bing and me. She lay against us, keening. Crying.

She finally spoke: Please don't leave me, Mama.

I told her that I had no plans to leave. That I would fight to stay. Always. Eventually, she fell into a deep sleep in Bing's arms. We were all spent and so glad not to have to awaken to an alarm. I woke up the next morning to a bed with only Liv and me. And surprisingly, Socks....who is supposed to know that he is not allowed on Bing and my bed. Oh, well. Bing must have put him there. He is not as spry as he used to be, has a hard time getting up on the bed without assistance anymore. Like me, he suffers with arthritis. Liv woke up and we lay with Socks between us, not talking much. Just gazing at each other the way we used to do when she was a sleepy toddler, just waking up in my bed.

Since then, we have gone on with life. No other way to do this dance. The fiddler plays and whether I want to or not, I have to dance. As does my family. I am the one with the heavy load, but they are the ones who have to watch me carry it; no small task.

And that sword of Damocles teeters and sways above me.

So, while I am playing this waiting game, I apologize for not making it to all of your blogs. I have been very guilty of watching a lot of mindless television and getting lost in my books.

When the plan is firmly in place, I will be better able to converse back.

For now, I wait. We wait.

And I feel my blood in my veins so keenly that I can hardly stand it. I am more alive than I have ever been as I sit quietly, waiting.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What to say and what not to say.

The first thing that comes to most people's minds when you tell them that you have cancer is that they have no idea what to say. Or do.

Let me help you here.

WHAT TO SAY AND DO

1) I have a car and these are my free days: (say or better...write out your free days) If you need a ride anywhere, just call. I have these times reserved for you and I want to help. Plus, we can get flat whites at Starbucks or Orange Julius' at Dairy Queen on the way to or from.

2) I think about you a lot and know how strong you are. But, if you need to start bawling, I have this shoulder.....

3) Did I tell you about that crazy secretary at work? Guess what she did THIS time? (We really do want to hear and it helps us not to always feel like cancer ridden people....)

4) Call the person's spouse or partner, if they have one. Give them your digits. Tell them number 1. Sometimes it is easier for someone else to call than the person who needs the help.

5) Let's go to a movie (or play or sports event....something you both like..) Again, it helps to be treated like a person, your friend, your co-worker, your cousin and not like your friend, co-worker, or cousin with cancer.

6) Ask if you can send your cleaning lady over when the person with cancer is in the hospital getting their boobs whacked off or other body parts. Coming home to a clean house is such a nice thing and a CLEAN house means less chance of infection.

7) Come over and take their pet out for a walk. Or spend a half hour playing with their cat. The pet is not getting enough attention.

8) Bring over treats. A lot is better than too little. 



WHAT NOT TO SAY OR DO

1) I had an Aunt who had cancer. She beat it the first time but then it came back and oh, yeah...she died. But, boy was she a fighter! You remind me a lot of her.

2) I have the worst allergies this year! (Cancer wins...always. And really? Compared to what the person with cancer is going through, this is so minimal....)

3) My boyfriend just broke up with me and I really need to talk. (Find someone else to cry on. Even if this is your usual confidante. Trust me. This person has a plate that is so full, shit is falling off the edges. They do not need to add you to it.)

4) How much do you think all this shit will cost you when all is said and done? (So much, dude. In so many ways....)

5) Just call if you need me. (Give specific times that work for you. No one wants to reach out and have you say that you can't take them to chemo because you have to take your kid to his baseball practice. It is really, really hard to ask for help. Knowing WHEN you can help can be crucial...)

6) No sad sack looks or outstretched arms unless you know this person really well and know that they are very touchy feely and really crave pity. Actually....a hug is ok as long as you don't start crying. NEVER make the person with cancer take on the role of comforter. Unless you are a child...then it is perfectly fine.

7) Can I feel your lump? (No. You. Can't. JESUS!!!)

8) Don't bring over homeopathic remedies that worked for your Aunt Betty. Giant carrots. A bottle of pills called Beat that cancer! Not unless requested or you've talked about it and the person is game to try it.

9) You'll be fine. You have a fighting spirit. (This may sound nice, but really....not everyone who fights cancer gets to win. And those who lose don't lose for lack of trying. It is perfectly okay to say that you are praying for them or sending white lights or manifesting. Whatever. But, NEVER imply that they will beat cancer because they are a fighter. We are ALL fighters, win or lose.)

10) Do not shave your head unless it is okayed by person with cancer. Personally, I see no reason why someone else has to have a cold head just because I do. Knit me a hat instead. A soft blue one, please. No flowers. Just soft blue.

The most important thing to remember is that each person is an individual who has their own style of fighting, surviving. Respect that. If they are gooey, it is fine to be gooey. If they are stoic, be stoic too. Take your cue from them. If you have questions, it is okay to ask respectfully.

The most important thing you can do is to treat them EXACTLY the same as you did before they had cancer, except with an understanding that they are under tremendous stress and that they get to call the shots. Unless they act like a jackass. Once is probably okay. Even twice. Any more than that and they need to be DONE TOLD. Cancer is no excuse to be mean.

Mostly, though....just love them. Because they need your love more than water right now.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

What I can get lost in while I walk through this muck....



The Americans.

Tom Mison making me laugh out loud in Sleepy Hollow




Ragnar Lothbrok and The Vikings showing me my Viking blood and the notion that if I die, I die fighting, with a really big sword in my hand.



Mindless television that doesn't make me think, but lets me enjoy the gorgeousness of Adam Levine's face.



And my favorite show of ALL time. Reminding me that there are A LOT of survivors out there and I am going to just be one of them.




My life is full of small steps, big leaps, pristine crystals and very messy paths. I have a family, good insurance and a disposition that is hell bent on survival. If I wobble, I wobble. But, I get up and don't look back. I don't know what is ahead. But, I DO know that I have tools. I have my seedlings, laughing with a co-worker about a SNL skit, a warm sun or a crazy ice storm, either...doesn't matter. I have Mrs. Grass chicken noodle soup. Songs by Nirvana flying through my head. Good books. A partner who holds my hair when I am puking my guts out and then tenderly wipes my face and pours me a cup of ice cold water. Who says, "I'm not going anywhere. Deal with it, babycakes." A painting on the side of a building that calls out to me as I pass by. Graffiti. A hot cup of chai tea. A grilled cheese sandwich. My wedding ring. My dog sitting next to me and refusing to leave me, even when bribed by Liv with a taste of her roast beef sandwich.

I have my sister calling me to ask if I feel up to sharing a cinnamon roll at that little cafe with the good coffee. My daughter painting my toe nails bright red. A promise from my wife that she will NEVER tie a pink ribbon around my cane.

The smell of blonde brownies baking in the oven when I mention a recipe that I saw on Kate's blog. And suddenly my wife is baking, our daughter at her side.

A good friend telling me that she recently manifested a job for herself and that she is going to manifest the cancer right out of me. An old co-worker (Betsy) telling me that manifesting is nonsense and that she is praying instead to Jesus to give me strength and then making me laugh by saying, "Oh, the heck with it...let her manifest. Let's bring ALL our guns to this fight."

My bff, Harriet, sitting next to me in a movie theater and agreeing to go buy me Sugar Babies when I whisper in her ear that I have cancer! and then coming back and saying, "You get to use that fucking cancer card every time you want, lovebug. Just don't leave me. Don't leave us. I can't stand to think of a universe without Maria Lastname in it." And then holding my hand ALL through the movie and finally leaning down to rest her head on my shoulder, winding her arm through mine as if she will never let me go.

The softness of a fellow blogger's towel against my face on a slow morning. A weaver.

My niece sending me a photo of herself with a balloon hat on her 40th birthday.

My great nephew sending me a photo of himself with a beer in his hand on his 21st birthday.

The taste of that first sip of coffee in the morning. Or a ridiculously expensive cup of flat white from Starbucks.

One foot in front of the other. Over and over. And then....one way or another, the other side.







Saturday, March 14, 2015

The things that pass through my head at 3 a.m.

It's been a rough couple of days. Had to get cat scans of my chest, abdomen and pelvis and a bone scan on Thursday. I was nervous about the port being placed. I have to get blood tests every three months and whenever I walk through the door, no one wants to stick me. I am a hard stick. A person with tiny veins that roll. But, the nurse on duty got me the first time, so that I thought that was a good omen. And after all the tests were done. I actually went back to work. I remember telling one of the secretaries that I didn't know what all the fuss was about. I felt fine.

Until Thursday as I was driving home from work. And all of a sudden, nothing was fine. At all. I felt nauseated and my head was pounding.

Great, I thought. This is the easy part. If I can't get through this...how the hell am I going to get through chemo again?

I went home to bed and didn't get up til this morning. Except to vomit. Which was every fifteen minutes.

Now, I feel better. Still a little shaky, but otherwise okay. I was able to go with Bing to pick up Liv at the airport, returning from Spring Break at her Father's home in Colorado.

I spent the afternoon listening to Liv talk about her adventures in Colorado and then she went off to see friends and I caught up on the episode of The Vikings that I had missed when I was passed out or throwing up.

And after that, I sat outside in this gorgeously strange pre-Spring weather that we are having here on the plains: temps in the 70's, sunshine galore. I watched Bing and Liv preparing our garden for May planting, raking up stray leaves from underneath bushes. And thought.

There are some things that are going to get me through this next hard journey. I am already visiting them at three a.m. when the house is quiet and it's just me and the darkness.

I think of the tiny green seedlings in our basement. We planted them last weekend before Liv left to go to Colorado. We do this every year. We start, either from sprouts or seeds, all of our vegetables. My heirloom tomato seeds have been carefully cultivated from the delicious tomatoes and are now resting in their plant beds, ready to grow. We're growing the usual this year: lettuce, carrots, okra, onions, potatoes, pumpkins, squash, beans, peas. And all of my flowers will be back. Bing informed me today that the chives and rosemary are already five inches up in the garden and that the Russian lavender is not far behind. I will add lemon verbena, sage and thyme, which are now resting in their plant beds in the basement, too. I love to think of everything growing in our basement. That earthy, salty, dirt smell that slides around my nose whenever I go downstairs. And, hopefully, I will be healthy enough to plant it all in the ground in May, or at least oversee it.

We gardeners are a special lot. We have green thumbs handed down from great grandmothers or great great great grandfathers and even farther back. I can't explain the joyfulness that I feel when I am in my garden and it is mid-Summer and everything is humming with growth. That smell. That feeling I get that I am useful, that I can pull life out of the ground. The taste of a carrot when it just comes out of the earth, cleaned in the garden hose and then munched on. Liv's face as she pops a cherry tomato into her mouth and sighs. Nothing tastes as good as a tomato that is warm from the sun.  The smell of rosemary chasing chive in the herb garden.

It is intoxicating. It is life giving. And exactly what I will need most. The only thing I worry about is tending those gorgeous living tendrils of the earth with my chemo hands. But, maybe they will understand and try not to shudder. To know that I need to do this so badly.

I think about other things too, at 3 a.m. I think of Ragnar Lothbrok and how he sits jauntily knee up in his ship while the heads of his enemies swing around him, hanging in warning to the next of his conquests. The terror of the men on shore as they see his face and those heads swinging.



You'd think this would make me sick, wouldn't you? I mean, here I am rhapsodizing about growing vegetables and then I switch to bloody mayhem?

But, there is a dark side in me, too. You know this. I love the fighter that is the fearless Viking, Ragnar Lothbork. I have that in my blood as well. I can tenderly slip my seedlings in the ground but there is a warrior inside me,too. One who wants my enemies to fear me. I want to be Ragnar Lothbrok and I want cancer to be on that shore, watching me with fear. Seeing those hanging heads of previous cancer that tried to best me. And lost.

I think about my daughter's face as she came through the gates of airport. Looking like a young girl, her eyes anxiously looking for mine as she walked through, backpack hanging half off her shoulder. And then, her eyes meeting mine, relaxing and rising up in happiness. The feel of her arms around my neck. The smell of her that is only Liv. Lemons and grass. And a bit of cinnamon.

I think about the sun and how incredible it feels in a month that is still usually full of snow and ice. How, I feel it sink into my bones and heal me. Warm me. Socks, sitting with his head on my bare foot, his black curly dog hair as I lean down to pet his head.

There is sustenance in these things and  I grab hold when it is 3 in the morning and I feel the fear rising up in me. The questions.

Can I make it this time?
Am I too weakened?
Will I be able to get through with the dignity that I yearn for?

When those thoughts come in, I reach for the other things.

Tomato seedlings growing in my basement.
The chives already up and showing their face.
The feel of the sun on me, strong and steady as June, instead of weak and timid as March.
Ragnar Lothbrok, staring down the enemy on the shore.
My daughter smiling as she sees me in the airport.

I will cling to these things instead.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Alone at last and now all I want is company

It's been another tough week here on Lake Wobegon the prairie.

Tests reveal that while the lump in my left breast is benign, the one in my right is malignant and kicking and that yes, it is well into my lymph nodes.

So, now that hunt begins on Thursday. A bone scan followed by CAT scans of my abdomen, pelvis and chest. More blood tests. All on the same day, which I requested. Get them all done at once and over.

Appointment with Dr. Orange on St. Patrick's Day to get results and make a game plan.

I'm terrified. But, I don't admit that to anyone. Except Socks. I tell him everything that I can't say to anyone else. That I have felt off since Thanksgiving. Not horribly ill or anything....just the feeling that something wasn't right.

I became so tired so easily. Blamed it on the holidays. The fatigue was thick and dense. Like swimming in syrup. The pain in my legs, knees, ankles, even my feet grew stronger. Blamed it on RA. The cold. Stress at work. Watery stools that only went away with a dose of Imodium once a week. Blamed it on not eating enough roughage. Sudden shortness of breath for no reason. No hills climbed. Just sitting at my desk and suddenly...breathless. Blamed it on anxiety. Work has been very stressful lately.

But, sometimes.....late at night right before sleep, I would hear a small voice in my head whispering that this was not good. This was so not good.

And when the biopsies came back and there was the clear evidence. Stage 2 breast cancer in my right breast that had spread to my lymph nodes.

And then came the hard part. Telling people. I knew that I had to let my co-workers know. I would be taking lots of time off for tests and did not want to lie. And whether or not it had spread to my bones, I would be needing time off for a mastectomy one way or another. And I needed to tell my family, Bing's family.

So now everyone knows except Liv. We are waiting til St. Patrick's Day, waiting til I know exactly what sort of battle I am fighting. And then, I will find a way to tell her. I can't think about this without my stomach cramping and shivering uncontrollably.

So, I talk to Socks. He is my favorite listener. He doesn't cry (like my sister, Celia, my old friend, Betsy or my niece...) or treat me like I suddenly have leprosy and may be contagious (my co-workers, Jin and Fawn, one of the secretaries in my office and one of my nieces....) He just listens carefully and lays as close to me as he can to keep me warm.

With Bing, things have been so different. The last time we went through this, she was all business. She sat me down, told me that it wasn't my time and stoically sat through all medical procedures. This time, there is a subtle difference. She sat down and asked me what my gut feeling was. I was quiet for a moment and almost lied. Almost told her that I planned to be a survivor, that I had whipped cancer once and I would do it again. But, this time....all the odds are against me. I am older, considerably weakened by advanced RA, stage 2 kidney disease and a cancer that is back, this time moving faster and striking harder. Right now, I plan to fight, but I am realistic. I may not win this battle. And if I find that I am riddled with cancer, I will not spend the last months of my life laying listless in a hospital bed. I want my time to be quality time, not bleary moments trying to stay coherent to speak to my child.

I will fight, but I will not allow delusion to sink in to me.

Bing sees that and so we have cried together more than once. Twice she has broken down and said that she has no interest in being in a world without me, that I am the love of her life. I tell her that if I'm not around to raise Liv, I expect her to step up and co-parent with Tinton. So, she BETTER plan on being in this world with or without me. She sighs, says that Liv would go to live with Tinton anyway, so what does it matter?

It matters! I plan to try very hard to survive and to see Liv go to college. And if I can't, well....we don't know what Liv will choose, but Tinton has sworn to me that he will abide by whatever Liv wants. And who knows? She might want to stay with Bing. She loves Bing. She loves Tinton. But, this has been her home since her birth and she may want to finish out her high school years here. That's a bridge we will cross when we get to it.

Thinking about all of this sends me out on a walk with Socks.

"What should I do?" I ask him. "Do you think I can beat this again?"

He looks at me solemnly, his Scottie face dignified. He is 8 years old now. 56 in dog years. I am only one year older than he is. He stops to smell another dog's feces and considers my question. Finally, he looks up at me and says in his Ernest Borgnine voice, "I think it best to take one day at a time, Alpha woman. For now, let's just enjoy this sunshine." I tilt my face up to the sun. He is always right, always has the best counsel. I reach into my bag and find a dog treat for him. He is surprised. These are usually reserved for when he poops. But, he takes it all the same. Sometimes you just need a treat for no good reason. Dogs understand this so much more than we humans do.

And now, it is just he and me. Liv left for Colorado to spend Spring Break with Tinton and his girlfriend. Bing had a class trip scheduled for Austin planned since October. She said she would cancel it but I told her that this was foolish.

"I haven't had any chemo or boob sliced yet," I told her. "Save sticking to me like glue for those days."

She reluctantly agreed when I promised her that I wouldn't raise a finger to do any cleaning or laundry. And she'll be back on Wednesday night, just in time to take me to my day of tests on Thursday morning.

We took Liv to the airport on Friday night and I drove Bing there again this morning. It was a hard drive. Her flight left at 6 a.m. and she wanted to get there early to meet her students, so we had to be at the airport by 5. And then, I came home and plopped down in front of the television only to find that it had not been changed to daylight savings time. For some reason, this seemed unfair to me. Like it was just insult to injury. I toyed with the idea of calling the cable company and saying, "Listen, I have cancer. I get moved to the front of all damn lines. Fix this now." Instead, I called and listened patiently as Danielle, the cable representative assured me that it would be fixed by this evening. And it was.

But, I still reserve the right to pull my cancer line whenever I need it.

And now, here I am alone with Socks. As I have been so many times before. I took him outside for a short walk today and we talked it over.

Maria: Well, I feel abandoned and lonely and scared. Isn't that crazy?

Socks: Yes, it is a little silly. I'm right here. We can eat dinner in the living room; you know how much Bing hates that. And you don't have to take or pick up Liv anywhere. We could get a burger from McDonalds and split it. You know how I love those. And I can sleep on your bed all night long without Bing enforcing the no dog on our bed rule. I think we'll be just fine. All you have to do is come right home after work and no lollygagging, because by the time you get home, I will have to pee like a racehorse.

Maria: Okay, buddy. Good points all around. I'm going to let you run around the yard for a while now, okay. Promise me you won't let those squirrels rile you up. Just ignore them! They LOVE it when you chase them barking up a storm. Show some decorum, will ya?

Socks: I'll try...but it's hard. It's in my blood. Like buying shoes is in yours. They call to you and squirrels call to me like a pair of Ferragamo heels call you....

So, here we are. Just the two of us til Wednesday night. I may not be opening my email or snail mail. My sisters have been sending me St. Theresa novenas and rosaries. Friends and co-workers have been sending me cards and quotes about beating cancer.

Really, what I want is for them to get that look out of their eyes when they see me and that sound of their voices when they see me. That look that says, She has CANCER! Poor baby! or that sound of "I feel so badly for you and I am so glad that it isn't me.

Harriet is the friend who gets it. She's been sending me cards and emails that are exactly the same as before I told her about the cancer. Except, when we go to a movie, she urges me to tell the guy at the ticket counter that I have cancer. "Maybe, he'll let us in free or give us a free pretzel coupon. You know you love those pretzels." When I respond that yes, I do but they are loaded with carbs, she says, "Fuck it. You have cancer. You get WHATEVER you want, babycakes."

But, when I broke down once talking about Liv and how I just wanted to see her graduate, she pulled me close and said, "Oh, honey...graduations suck. And she goes to a Catholic GIRL'S Academy. Their speaker will probably be Sarah Palin and the theme will probably be something like 'saving your body for your marriage bed.'" Let's hope that, instead, you see her beat some guy out for a job after college. Much more fun,"

I love Harriet. And Socks.

And....my life.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

I'm not dead yet...

Received this from Tinton this morning after calling him to tell him about the cancer and to ask for him to be available for Liv if she needed to talk and couldn't talk to me. We haven't told her yet, are waiting until we know if the cancer has spread, until we have the complete picture. But, I want her to have as much support as I can find for her and I believe that Tinton will be one of the best sources of that.

He didn't say much, just that he loved me and that this all sucked so much. And that it seemed so unfair to him that the Isis terrorists who cut off people's heads couldn't have gotten this instead of me. I was proud of myself. I am learning to talk about this without breaking down. I recall doing this 7 years ago, too. That I learned to compartmentalize and talk calmly without my voice shaking.

So...anyway, he sent me this:



I texted him right away.

Thank you for the lovely poem. But...hey, I'm not dead and gone yet. I'm still here and still ready to fight again.

His reply:

I know! I didn't mean it that way...and remember that first couple of lines about looking back when you are OLD....and my beautiful Maria? I have no worries about you not fighting. Every time I watch "Walking Dead", I think that you would be in that band of kick ass survivors. You are the strongest person that I've ever known.

FUCKING RIGHT.

I did it before. I'll do it again. And I will motherfucking swagger......