Posts Tagged ‘cancer’

Why #cancersucks, the #TracyMafia rocks and the past month (or so).

April 17, 2014

In the most obvious statement, cancer sucks. I hate it. Aside from the most isolated research biochemist who has the social skills of a dead tree on the planet, who is going to run around saying yeah cancer! (The idea of doing that reminds me of a professor at Hollins who mocked Nancy Regan and her “Just say No!” Campaign because where we really going to tell our kids to go get high? He then paused and said that might not be a bad f’ing idea). I digress.

Tax day was the anniversary of The Marathon Bombings. Like many who live in and around Boston, I’ve begun to grasp what New Yorkers went through on September 11, 2001. The interwebs crawled with the more than normal narcissism of Bostonites and how other towns did things one way versus another. Whatever. Even growing up in the Chicago ‘burbs, the Boston Marathon has its aura. I mean, we run 26.2 miles to celebrate starting a country. We are slightly crazy. We don’t go through Lexington and Concord. Nope we wind through a few towns and turn left on Boylston to finish mid-block on the third Monday in April because you know, that makes sense. Oh, and you have to qualify by running an aged based time and even then you have to win the lottery. Uh, yeah ok, like I said it was the more than normal narcissism of Bostonites. Basically, we want to have a 26.2 mile drinking party and created an event that involves a baseball game getting out as the “commoners” are making that turn. That, my un-Boston friends, is the Marathon. And last year, 2 jackasses killed 4, injured hundreds and basically made this town turn into a giant how can I help on twitter feed. And ok, we’ll stay inside when you want to find the terrorists. (Seriously, it was strange, but live through a New England winter, it was a Nor’easter minus the snow complete with whackadoodle TV coverage). So yesterday when everybody started to descend on the city, I found myself in tears a few times.

I realized later that night: April 15, 2013 was the last time my mom was my MOM in that nothing can fix this but I need my mom sort of way. I was a few days out of a major shoulder surgery, in a bit of a narcotic haze and then they blew up our block party. And I freaked and started doing a lesson learned of 9/11 in texting, tweeting, facebooking: Mom and I are safe, didn’t go to the Marathon today. I played a twitter find shelter give directions with a California friend, called my sister to tell her to TELL the medium sized girls before turning on the car. And I cried, I was angry, I was scared. And I spoke in the strange half sentences like “Omg that is right by the place where, I don’t get it, I mean, it’s the Marathon” and my mom just watched the news and said they’d catch who did it. She could not say much to console me; she didn’t even try and for one of the rare times in my life, I was glad my mom was here because my mom told me they’d get the bad guys so everything would be ok (I’m going with the theory that the Percocet haze helped this work because the idea that I fell for it is lunacy!).

Somewhere along the line late last summer, I knew my mom’s cancer was back. I cannot pinpoint it, she said her reports were good but I did not like the way she looked. Or coughed. There was something off. And because I’m insane I saw a friend posting on FB about running his first marathon …. After picking up running as a lifestyle change after his second surgery for cancer and did anybody want to run the Philly marathon with him. Not for a cause but just to train and run. I laughed a bit as Tracy was pleading in his Tracy way and I finally said, hey I just registered for the half to walk it. The response from just about everybody: you’re NUTS. (Ha! I said nuts!).

You have to understand Tracy: he married a college classmate of mine. He then voluntarily attends class reunions. Of hundreds of screaming women who drink too much wine and act like idiots. I don’t think he’s missed one: our college doesn’t have a mascot. But our class has Tracy. We get our hair and fashion tips from him (and so do lots of other people). And bacon reviews. And there is something about not liking pie. As in the dessert but Whopie Pies are trick pies because they have frosting. Basically, he is the younger brother/older brother/best friend/half of the most positive couple you’ve ever met type of person. We chatted in Philly about his cancer, my mom’s cancer and how much cancer sucks.

And then my mom died. Who starts to reach out? While quietly finding out his own news? T and his wife. People who’ve walked in the shoes I stood in who had EVERY reason to make a quick hang in there, I’m here for you post and allow what they knew would come out to stand as the reason because we’ve known each other that long. But they didn’t. That’s why cancer sucks. Cancer doesn’t go out and use natural selection. Cancer can be so random, so unfair.

I think we both did a half marathon (I use the word ‘both’ so liberally) the weekend he let people know of the cancer returning. I was sick, I was pissed and the smart person wouldn’t have been at Hyannis. I do not know how he was feeling but there was a lamentation on not being under 2:00 in Rhode Island that same weekend. I will lay money there have been tears and anger and all of that: but the quintessential New England response was FU cancer. I have my family, friends and my very own mafia. I have to travel. I have to run half marathons (while trying to con my wife into one on FB) and I really want to run NYC (and probably secretly qualify for Boston because you know, I’m a Sox Fan).

I remembered Steven Colbert’s opening remarks on 4/16/2013: after running a marathon they went to give blood. That’s the type of person Tracy is. That’s the type of person his wife is. That’s how my mom was. There are people like me who float around in corporate America and then there are people out there advocating against the injustices that we layer or are layered upon us by genetics or circumstance. And when a person who works for the greater good is dealt such a blow, you want David Ortiz to say and FU for them. Because it hurts. It hurts where you don’t know it can hurt just when you thought you were done with the hurting.

Then you look back at the reaction to the news: Ok, I’ll deal with it. I’ll have surgery and in-between finding out and surgery, “squeeze” in 4 half marathon’s (including under the 2:00 barrier!) and a few 5K’s. And the other way: curl up at 3 am wondering if there is sleep, wander through a half marathon in a time that a snail would be embarrassed by and say it sucks as a mantra.

Today is not going to suck. Today the mafia don kicks cancers ass. Tomorrow, he starts training for Richmond (where we know he’s secretly going for a Boston qualifying time, a Ranger’s Stanley Cup and some free hair conditioner). And I’m wearing a blue shirt with tan pants. I will think about all of my friends whose shoes I’m standing next to in fighting the fight. I love you all very much.

Peanut butter sandwiches and other strange things I’ve heard

March 23, 2014

I sat at my desk and tried to book a flight to Knoxville around two storms that were about to converge on the greater Boston area. A few co-workers were checking various options when it became apparent to everybody something horrifically had gone wrong. As tears streamed down my face, a friend said her mom died and we are trying to figure out the best way to avoid flight delays. One of the guys I work with looked at me, he’s about 24, and said I don’t know what to say. But I can make you a peanut butter sandwich because you might get hungry and not want to talk to anybody at the airport or something. I think I shook my head. I know I didn’t leave with a peanut butter sandwich.

I wish more people offer peanut butter sandwiches. Like anybody who has had a loss that isn’t quantifiable, dumb comments abound. I wish I could say “oh, they’ve never experienced the loss of a parent, spouse or somebody intrinsic to their life, they don’t understand the numbing feeling that fluctuates from time to time.” But when a 24 year old knew that he didn’t know what to say? I’m short on giving people a pass. Especially those who I know have had such a loss.
Most of these were met with blank looks or uh-huh comments. But if somebody reads this out in web-world, just think before you offer advice:

1) I said I was going to my parent’s the first part of next month. A co-worker corrected me. “You mean your Dad’s since your Mom is no longer with us.” (Ok, note, my mother NEVER MET THIS PERSON so she was never with ‘us’) Give me a break. My parents were a couple for over 50 years. This one is going to take a while. Sometimes, I can catch myself and say dad where I’d normally say parents. It’s hard: and it is like turning a screwdriver in my gut. If I’m low on energy, I let whatever form of nouns fly.

2) “Wow. Your mom’s death doesn’t seem to bother you that much. I’d be devastated.” COME AGAIN? Let me describe my time since I came back to Boston. Go to work. Go home. Sleep for a few hours. That’s it. I made it to church once. I did a half marathon once. This is the first weekend I’ve even attempted to make my place not look like an episode of hoarders. I’ve been known to cry my entire commute. But when I’m at work, I try get myself into auto-pilot. Why? It’s easier. I’m devastated. I went to text my mom about Dayton upsetting OSU on Friday and caught myself.

3) “Your mother wouldn’t want you to be/to do x.” Ok. Probably. My mother didn’t do mourning much. But she also understood that people are different. My mother would understand that I would understand that things upcoming on my calendar would cause trepidation. The Final Four in Nashville, my nephew’s high school graduation, going to New Orleans. Places and events that she should have been present (or would have had a few texts about) but won’t be. It will be hard.

4) “Rely on God and His Plan”. Ok, that just stands on its own: my mother and I had the same views on “God’s Plan”.

5) “It could be worse.” Your right. I could have lost a child. (Ok, I don’t have one). I could have caused the death of a child. Wait. Fuck that idea. Just take that statement and shove it. Or if your are going to be so damn moronic as to say it IN my presence, you had better not BITCH about one DAMN thing for a year.

I know people don’t know what to say at times: I’ve seen the panicked look on faces when I say the word “Mom”. I remember probably looking the same way at times. The entire process is hard: life moves on; the good, the bad and the ugly. The healing comes in phases. And it is revisited from time to time: that is the nature of the beast. It’s just the re-visiting is less painful (or so I’ve been told). I know I’m less numb. I can’t decide if that is “better” (I know in the long run it is – I also know that being less numb is also making me less tolerant of stupidity). I know I can hold conversations with my siblings and my dad without dissolving into tears which was not possible for the past few weeks.

Luckily, most of my friends have offered various forms of peanut butter sandwiches. I try to remember that when the advice columns start.

What I’ve learned in 33 days

March 9, 2014

It has been a month. A month? Really? It feels like yesterday. It seems like a decade. At various times in my life as a corporate drone, I’ve heard “this is going to get worse (name of issue) before it gets better”. I hope this gets better. I’m making a list; partially as a gentle nod to my mom and mostly so I can remember. In no particular order:

1) Sadly, I have family and friends who have lost their parent(s) too early, too quickly, and/or without warning. I need to remember when they say “I get it”: they do. They may not get the complexity of a relationship but they get the watching Law and Order at 12:43 am while writing a blog post.
2) This sucks. It sucks because even in the hardest, most complex times of a complicated mother-daughter relationship, I knew, somewhere, that if I needed shelter, she would have welcomed me (and the cat collection) home.
3) I have wonderful, amazing, beautiful friends. I have people in my life who I have known since Girl Scout days who have made sure I’m ok. I have college classmates who reached out and continue to make sure I am ok. I have friend who DESPITE bad news checked in and kept checking in (person who turned me on to half marathons and your spouse, I’m looking right at you).
4) I struggle with the mitzvah’s. From the randomly strange to the sublime love (the asking if I needed a peanut butter sandwich as I tried to get back to Knoxville, to the making sure I had cash, to a pet sitter cleaning my home, to a friend spending 3 hours helping me remove 3 FEET of snow from my car, to the TSA guy helping me get through security), I have no idea to how to repay the kindness.
5) The pain, I am told, is a good pain. It shows the love. Ok, whatever. File that under one day I’ll understand.
6) As painful as this is for me, my grandmother buried a child, my father buried his wife. It must be worse for them. No matter the age, even I get that your child dying before you must tear you in a way that makes no sense.
7) I am lucky/blessed/grateful for my friends. The ones that just sent random insane texts to try to make me laugh, the ones who understood when I said “I can’t talk”, the one who listened to me babble for an HOUR while stuck in rush hour.
8) There are people who came out of the woodwork to show their love and support. There are people who never acknowledged my mother’s death who I thought “would always be there”. Both surprised me; one day, maybe I’ll let go of the anger regarding the second part.
9) My paternal cousins. You’ve been there. You know where we are. You’ve called, e-mailed, texted, Facebooked and poured wine into a glass.
10) I’m learning what is important. No crazy changes for a year: but I’m learning.

Next week March Madness starts. As crazy as my mom was for college football, she loved basketball. She’d call me: Are you watching Boise State vs Alaska-Fairbanks? (um, no). You need to be a student of the game! I’d laugh. I like my teams. She loved the sport. I’m flying back to Knoxville and will be attending the women’s Final Four in Nashville. In my fairy tale ending, it’s The Ohio State University vs University of Tennessee and it goes to 5 overtimes (I don’t care who wins). Or Uconn (then it better be UT) – my mom liked the program Geno runs in Storrs. I know sitting next to my dad will be hard: my parent’s and I would met for the Final Four in various locations even when things were hard in our relationship and have a good time. I know my Dad and I will have a good time. I know we will have a hard time. And I know we will have a good time.
This month has been hard. I completed my second half-marathon. I feel myself un-numbing from the death of my mother. I’m trying to remember the advice somebody gave me: one good step at a time.

Getting sick and other such dramas

February 19, 2014

It’s been a little over two weeks since my mom died. I’m fine at work. I become distracted by my excel tables, reports and general amusement. And then it stops. My last two commutes have been snowy messes which passes the time. My cats seem to be glad to see me (ok two of them . . . Sir Fluffy Butt remembers the cone and runs. He’s not afraid, just smart).

The bad thing? Aside from the unknown path of not knowing how I’ll feel hour to hour? I’m getting sick. It’s more a combination of digging out my car for two hours with help from a friend who rescued me from the Logan Express parking lot snow pile and the stress I’ve been under. It doesn’t matter how impractical it’s always been, when I’m sick I want my mom and chicken and dumplings. Never mind the decades that have passed since that happened, that is what I want. As I feel like I’m swallowing razors and itching my ears, I know I’m treading on dangerous ground. I know my Dad, brother and my sister would feign interest in my illness, it’s not the same as my Mom calling to make sure I gargled (I never did) and all of her other home remedies. The reality is I just want to curl up and sleep. I want my mom to know I’m sick and pity me (ok, she never really did).

I know in my heart that my mom died the way she wanted: quickly, at home with only my dad. Part of me (ok, a huge part) wishes we had the chance as a family to say good bye. Would it make it less sucky? I don’t know. Maybe we did at Christmas without knowing it. For all of the travel misadventures of my family, we were all at my sister’s for three days. We had fun. We poked fun at each other. We played some Wii dance game. We laughed. A lot.

I move from numb to angry and back again. Except I’m not really angry. The anger comes when I hear the debates about the efficacy of mammograms. A mammogram gave my mom 17 years. Cancer sucks. It is exhausting. I know my mom is finally pain free and at peace. It just sucks to be left behind.

I’m supposed to walk the Hyannis Half Marathon this weekend. My mom was all excited about it because it goes by the Kennedy compound and she wanted a picture. Who knows? Maybe I will.

Goodbye Mom. We will miss you.

February 15, 2014

Here is the eulogy I mostly delivered at today’s service of my mother’s life. Sometimes being an adult sucks.

On behalf of my siblings, Sarah and Nathan , their spouses Don and Evie , the grandchildren Donald, Patrick, Kathryn, Emily and Lauren and Evan , we wish to thank you for the love and support you have shown our parents throughout course of our mother’s battle with breast cancer. As the Boston daughter, I was often asked by my friends why I did not have my mother seek treatment at Dana-Farber in Boston or Sloan-Kettering in New York. I truly and honestly believe that the care my mother received at the University of Tennessee hospital by Dr. Timothy Pinella, her primary nurse Ruth Borden and countless others including Merritt Brakebill was equal to or better than the care she could have received in Boston. For this, I am truly grateful.

Cancer never defined my mother. Approximately 15 years ago, we received the crushing news that my mother had a 3% chance of survival after one year with the return of her cancer. As her children and probably her spouse, sister, mother, in-laws, nieces, nephews all tried to wrap our heads around the probability, my mother in her mom way simply told Dr. Pinella “I don’t have time to die, I have grandchildren.”

While others may have faced the odds presented with complacency, my mother fought cancer. In my eyes, she won. She continued to teach through chemo and radiation and she learned. She learned and re-instilled into her now adult children the lesson of a cancer diagnosis. Learn what is important: and if it isn’t important, it doesn’t matter. For her, this was simply her family, her faith and teaching. I’ve reached the decision that being a teacher must be like being a mother: you never give up the role.

Others will speak and have spoken about my mother as an educator: To me, she was simply, complexly Mom. Looking back through the pictures that were shown in the fellowship hall with my siblings; we laughed at the bad 80’s hair, the horrific 70’s plaids and discovered our parents as a couple before they had kids and cried at the pictures of graduations, weddings and baptisms.

Sorting through wedding pictures from nearly fifty years ago, I am reminded how my parents lived out their wedding vows: for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, sickness and in health, to love and cherish. Dad, she loved you. She loved telling the story of how, in vanity, she didn’t wear her glasses at her wedding and couldn’t see when you stuck out your thumb instead of your ring finger and the minister smacked you. She couldn’t stay mad (for very long) if you winked at her. She took great pride in causing the great Philadelphia Phillies collapse of 1964 and reveled in the fact that Yankees triumphed in the 2011 World Series over the Phillies. As hard as it is for your control freak daughter to admit, mom died how she wanted: at home with only you by her side. You were truly the love of her life as she was yours. As parents, you taught us the most important lessons: family, faith, service and the love of college sports.

Sarah and Don, Mom marveled at your ability to raise your family, volunteer, work in time consuming demanding jobs. Sarah called me and said “oh, Don just made a big mistake, he told me he wanted to collect cast iron. What’s going to happen when mom finds out?” Don, Mom took pride in converting you into a cast iron collecting college football fan. I think it’s time you raise the white flag of surrender; you’ve been assimilated. Sarah, mom was amazed at your ability to teach Kindergarten to Algebra II and just about every subject in between. Seeing you and Don as a couple, is like looking back at Mom and Dad. You have faced the challenges set forth in wedding vows and as a couple have met them. She was so proud of you. She admired your ability to be calm in the face of adversity and take one step at a time. It is a skill I wish I had. She told me this fall you two were probably the proudest parents in the state after Donald, Patrick and Kathryn lead worship: I know she was probably the proudest grandmother on the planet that day.

Nathan and Evie, well, let’s face it. Mom bought Nathan at a garage sale and then got mad when I sold him to a friend for some baseball cards and jacks. She made me take you back AND grounded me. Evie, I told somebody this week that the only s who can sing are the ones who married into the family. She loves the fact that you and Crystal sang today. She appreciated how grounded you were by your faith. Nathan, you totally inherited the rabid live and die with your team football mentality. She loved laughing at your Saturday antics and she never quite got how you became such a rabid UT fan especially when there was a perfectly good team located up I-75 in Columbus. She was thrilled that you took Evan to the Horseshoe last year for his first Ohio State home game.

Donald, Patrick, Kathryn, Emily, Lauren and Evan, Grandma loved you with everything she had.

Donald, Grandma always shook her head in amazement at you. From your helping any kid with homework, to standing up for your beliefs she was proud of the young man you’ve become. Her favorite stories of you, though, are from when you were a toddler: when you tried to mow the grass with your toy mower and you couldn’t quite figure out why the grass wasn’t getting mowed, to cutting your own hair because your head was hot and playing all positions in a one person football game, she was always impressed with how you managed to stay occupied.

Patrick, Grandma loved your inquisitive curiosity. She had so much fun finding odd ball treasures for Patrick’s collection (I mean, how many grandmothers would buy a blow dart?). Your voracious reading is just like Grandma. She loved your explorations in linguistics and vocabulary. She would often tell people about one of your teacher’s making a “Patrick vocabulary list”. She always laughed when remembering how I caught you climbing up a ladder to the roof and when I asked the 4 year Patrick what he was doing, I was promptly told “Climbing down”.

Kathryn, you are your mother’s daughter. Your mother was her mother’s daughter. I think, by extension, that makes you grandma. Grandma loved your fierce competitiveness. Your glare cracked her up. From the time you could glare, you glared: from not wanting to share kiwi, to a server taking your plate too early or simply clearing the table after dinner, we all know the glare. Somebody, usually your mom, could get Grandma to stop glaring. Nobody has been able to stop the Kathryn glare. Grandma marveled your adventures at Russian and Chinese camps. She loved watching you play softball. You have amazing artistic ability. She probably told everybody she knew that your carving won an award at the Oklahoma State Fair.

Emily, you are a fireball of energy that Grandma loved to enjoy. She called me last summer to tell me you cartwheeled UP the hill from Tic-Toc without getting hurt! She told me she didn’t think she could turn that many cartwheels ever. She was so impressed with the dress you made last summer.

Lauren, Grandma loved your library. She loved how organized your lists were. She made lists and thought it was the best way to stay organized. She loved the letters you wrote Grandpa. You are a much better letter writer than Grandma (and she’d always remind me how busy you were when I kept saying ‘Lauren owes me a letter’).

Evan, Grandma loved how you thought everything was awesome. She smiled every time you shrieked with enthusiasm. Your joy and happiness makes everybody happy. That is very special and Grandma loved it.

Emily, Lauren and Evan: Grandma loved Camp Chaos. She loved playing cards (she did not like losing to the kids), watching the dance competitions of kids versus adults (I think she secretly cheered for the kids’ teams since she didn’t dance) and having you at her house playing, laughing and breaking some of the rules. I know that Grandpa will be great at leading Camp Chaos this summer. Take turns, but each day one of you needs to make sure he wears his hat while working in the garden.

You six are her legacy. Continue to stand up for what is right as your parents have taught you. Do justice and love with all your heart.

Dad, Sarah, Don, Nathan, Evie, Donald, Patrick, Kathryn, Emily, Lauren, Evan and all of those who loved my mom, in the immortal words of Dr. Seuss that I was reminded of by my cousin Matt, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” We aren’t quite there yet. But we are working on it and that is all my mother would ask as a parent and an educator. Via con dios, Mom, go with God.