Thursday, August 21, 2014

"More Than A Woman"

Music means a lot to me. It keeps me connected to memories of my dad, he was such a great musician and lover of music.  Last night, we took the kids out to a restaurant that is located across the street from one of our old apartments.  We ate outside and enjoyed the eclectic mix of old tunes playing.  When the Bee Gees' "More Than A Woman" came on, it was as if I got my marching orders from dad to get this blog post done.

During the summer of '79, my mom couldn't keep up with washing my favorite iron-on, Bee Gees t-shirt.  I loved the Bee Gees - dancing to their songs is just pure fun.  Recently, Barry Gibb has been in the media talking about being the only living brother, touring alone for the first time, and dealing with the roller coaster of emotions that all of that brings.  I can certainly relate to those peaks and valleys; I have so much love and support surrounding me, but I can still feel alone, lonely in my struggle.

Right now, I'm losing my hair rapidly.  I will probably be bald by Labor Day.  I try to remain positive, especially for Jack and Anna.  I remind them, and myself, that all of this is not permanent and we can have fun trying on different hats and wigs.  This is really hard to do when you are confronted with commercials that have celebrities talking about the latest advances in hair color or how shampoo technology has improved to make your hair as strong as rope.  I never thought that I would hate going through the hair care aisles in CVS so much!

My hair loss is another example of something I can't control and of course, that royally sucks.  I feel less like myself, less like a woman, less like the girl Steve fell in love with (I know that my long, brown, curly hair must have had something to do with it).  Of course, the irony is, like many people, I often hate my hair!  I have had a lifetime of struggles with my thick, curly hair, so perhaps I should take this as a gift of starting over. I've been told that my hair may come back different -- so stay tuned for that one.  In the meantime, I'll try to keep reminding myself that these changes, these struggles make me more, not less of a woman and if all else fails, I'll cue up Saturday Night Fever...

Friday, August 8, 2014

Mommy's Booby Problem

I've sat down a few times to write about my cancer through Jack and Anna's eyes, but each time I tried, I just closed the laptop and walked away.  I didn't know where to start or how to really convey how much it sucks for a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old to live with their sick mom, the uninvited breast cancer (and all the doctors that came with it), and their dad who really isn't o.k. with it all either.

From the very start, I give credit to the Dana Farber website and my doctors for helping me find age appropriate ways to talk to the kids about what was going on with me, in baby steps, one day at a time. That approach worked pretty well with the early stage of appointments, procedures, and surgeries.  Steve and I sat them both down and reassured them that the doctors were helping me get some bad stuff out of me.  Of course, being inquisitive children, they asked, "where is the bad stuff in you, mommy?" and I pointed to my chest, my right breast, and from that point on, Anna referred to my cancer as "Mommy's booby problem."

Now that things have become more intense with chemotherapy treatments and the related symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and hair loss, the questions have definitely become tougher.  The ability for Jack and Anna to cope with what they see and hear is all the more challenging for them; adding to it is the fact that everything around them is new.  Their house, their yard, their neighbors, their friends are all gone - nothing looks right.  It is really hard to ask your kids to stop yelling and crying, in a 2-bedroom apartment nonetheless, when in actuality, they have every freaking right to hate all this.  In their world, this thing, my cancer, is happening to them.  But, they can't yell at those shitty cells in my body, so Steve and I will have to do.

Jack has asked questions like, "when is this going to be all over?" and "what if you don't get better?" I try to use times I have alone with him to be more specific, provide details in a sequence that hopefully reduces the abstraction.  Last August, when I was sick with viral meningitis, he asked if I was going to die, so I know he has the ability to create doomsday scenarios in his head.  So, I sit there with him, hoping something sinks in, he shakes his head, shrugs his shoulders and in split-second fashion, switches gears and tells me the cool, new Dude Perfect stunt he saw on-line and that Alabama Crimson Tide is SO much better than LSU.  That makes me feel better and here I'm trying to make him feel better.

Anna loves to play hair salon - she really has amassed quite a collection of salon tools.  We usually take turns doing each other's hair.  A couple of days after I got my hair cut short in preparation for chemo, Anna stopped asking to take turns with me.  She just wanted me to do her hair and I didn't push her to do my hair or to tell me why things had changed.  But, recently she said to me, "I want your hair back to the way it was Mommy."  I had to stop myself from saying something that wouldn't make sense to her in that moment and I didn't want to scare her by starting to cry.  I reserve my crying for the bathtub, at about 2am, it works for me.  I asked Anna, "how do you want my hair to look?" and she replied, "long, you know, about to here (she points to her shoulders)."  Knowing that Anna loves to shop, I said to her, "well, let's go see if someone has my hair out there in a store and maybe it will be purple."  This seems like a good fall project, right?

Parenting is constantly adjusting and making it up as you go along.  Cancer is the housemate that has forced us to be even more patient, creative, and spontaneous.  And when we are, those little moments that bring such life, laughter, and love happen.  Spur-of-the moment trips like going out to Fairview Beach ( and showing Jack and Anna a little bit of the Redneck Riviera/Parrothead fun that helps mom and dad deal with the insanity of life (Jack seems to be interested in Keno already).  And, our timing was perfect because we just made, in seamless fashion, the pontoon shuttle that Steve worked on almost 20 years ago.  I might have been thinking of my booby problem, but I knew in that moment our kids weren't and that meant the world to me.

And then this happened:

Me: Jack, tomorrow I go for my chemo.
Jack: You get to go to the restaurant tomorrow to play Chemo?!?

Not a bad idea, Jack.  Let's see if I can get my chemo moved to the Keno bar.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Gin, Forrest Gump, and Seinfeld

My new Virginia license plates!  They finally got on my car today after we learned we did things a little backwards with state inspection, but really, when have we ever done things as they are supposed to be? The personalized plates have a lot of meanings for me and they arrived when I stumbled onto a life lesson from an unlikely source.

I didn't hesitate, at all, when I found out I could donate money to the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation by getting a pink ribbon plate.  And, I thought, why not personalize it?  4 MA GIN is for me, Ma Gin because so many of my students over the years referred to me as mom, Mama Gin and I want to always carry my adopted children with me.  Also MA is for Massachusetts; the people, places, and experiences will always have a place in my heart.  Lastly, it carries my love for Steve and my memory of him often repeating to me that adorable line from Forrest Gump, when Forrest introduces his love to Lieutenant Dan, "This is my Jenny."  These plates are about feeling good when there are many times that I (we) feel so bad.  This journey is unbearable at times, it is ugly, but it's the little things that give me (us) a boost to keep moving forward.

For as long as I can remember, Steve and I have always tried to have one television show that was ours to watch together.  I think it all started with watching West Wing and then our selections got much less serious with shows like Entourage and Big Bang Theory.  As the reality of the cancer diagnosis and my symptoms started to sink in, I knew Steve and I would absolutely need something to watch together, so we started watching the Internet show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.  A show that offers us therapy through such easy, feel-good laughter.  If we don't laugh, if we don't find those boosts, my cancer and all the anger and worry it brings will just swallow us whole.

If you haven't watched it, and I highly recommend you do, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is a brief glimpse into what it would be like to just hang out for a little while with some funny celebrities.  We just watched an episode where Jerry takes Michael Richards, (aka Kramer from Seinfeld) out and about.  The humor and banter was great, but then, there was a beautiful moment of humility and grace shared between them; it's not every day you see an adult (Michael) admit fault and have such insight on the mistakes he's made.  Michael said of his on-stage, racist rant seven years ago, "I acted selfishly, not selflessly."  I think I might have seen my life flash before my eyes when I heard him say that - honestly, being unemployed and fighting cancer kind of does that to you too, but his words felt like such a powerful reminder of how our intentions in our actions is everything.  I thought it was one of the most authentic expressions of caring, humility, and insight I had ever seen; I hope I find some of that clarity on this long road trip of mine (ours).

Perhaps Jerry Seinfeld would like to drive me around for 20 minutes of therapy?  

Watch the episode:
Michael Richards It's Bubbly Time, Jerry - Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee by Jerry Seinfeld