Wanted: A New Best Friend

Wanted: Best friend. Must be a bit goofy. Great storyteller a bonus. Appreciation for art, music and beauty in life. Funny sans sarcasm. Love people while simultaneously irritated by them.

Love food. Dining out, dining in. Adventurous spirit a must. An innate curiosity. Engaged and interested in the world. Above all, kind hearted. 

 

Mike was my best friend. He was my companion, my cheerleader, and my love. And he just got me. And I got him.

True friendship is such a gift. I am blessed. My friends are my light. They have given me so much joy, love and support. Did I already say, I’m blessed? Because I truly am. My friends are my bedrock. (Forgive me, this may be dipping into motivational speaking territory, or, dear lord, aspirational message town.)

Here’s a point: Mike was my husband. He was my love but he was also a fantastic friend. I really, really liked him. That may sound a touch off but the idea of liking your spouse—liking them as a human being, aside from all the romantic and tummy-flipping feelings—isn’t something that gets traction in popular consciousness.

Liking your partner is more important than loving them. Love will fade and surge over time. If you fundamentally like the human beside you, that is the basis of a solid relationship.

That’s free advice folks. I’m not an expert. But I’m an expert in Mike and I.

And I miss my favourite person. He won’t be replaced.

I have many friends in my corner. And I’ve made several new friends since his death.

My new pals never met Mike. My life is moving forward without him.

Mike is now part of my past.

I feel sad for Will and I.

And I feel sad for all the people that never got to meet my incredible best friend.

Before and After: Cancer’s Toll

This is where I check all vanity at the door.

My new driver’s license came in the mail this week.

The picture wasn’t good. To repeat: It wasn’t good.

I know, I know, I know… everybody says that about their photo ID.

But mine is bad. To repeat: It’s bad.

It’s really, really bad.

Cancer takes a toll, even if you’re the one driving shotgun.

When you’re in it — living with near constant stress, sleep deprivation, anxiety and fear— it’s your new normal. You adapt. You move forward. You get through the days.

I know that I’ve paid a physical price for Mike’s cancer.

But aging is supposed to be a gradual process, isn’t it?

In my case, cancer put the pedal to my mettle.

And here’s the proof….

The first photo was taken three months before Mike was diagnosed with Stage 4 synovial sarcoma.

The second was taken four years later and nine months after he died.

Things can only go up from here right?

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I Found a Lump; and other Dreaded Fears

I found a lump in my breast.

I discovered my invader while soaping in the shower six weeks ago.

It was the size of a pea and buried behind my left nipple.

My mind instantly went to the dark side.

I have cancer. I will die. My son will be an orphan. 

Losing a spouse fundamentally shifts your universe. And you become a little paranoid, I have discovered.

On May 24 at 9:30 p.m., I became a single mom. My five-year-old has one parent. And I have only one child. There’s no spare parent if something happens to me. And there’s no spare child if something happens to him.

Mike was diagnosed in June 2011. From that moment on I worried about him and put most every other concern on the back burner. I worried for four years. He died and I stopped worrying. . .about him.

Now it was all about my son and I. Our survival is now a must.

And my paranoia has gone super sonic. The lump didn’t help.

This vicious, life-abreviating alien has been sent to kill me and destroy my son’s life.

I raced to my doctor. She had a feel and ordered a mammogram. In the meantime, she told me not to worry, forget about it for now, and not to touch my breast again. I tried to follow orders.

So I waited for my appointment. Weeks later I sat in the waiting room surrounded by women facing the same fears I had, I’m sure. And that’s when I started to panic.

After my mammogram, I was pulled into a secondary room for an ultrasound. More panic. The doctor came in and took an inside look with her wand. She found nothing.

“This is healthy breast tissue,” she said.

“I’m sorry. I know I’m being paranoid about all of this but my husband just died of cancer,” I replied.

And then she gave me some advice that applies to everyone, regardless of your connection to cancer.

“It’s not being paranoid if you’re taking care of your health.”

It’s great advice, sure, but I don’t know how long I can follow it.

Please Unload Here

Talk to me. Tell me your troubles. Is your cluttered, messy house making you mental? Do you fantasize about giving your nutso kids up for adoption? Is your job driving you bonkers?

Tell me everything. I can take it. I want to take it. Mike died of cancer two-and-a-half months ago but I’m still a half decent sounding board, a good friend (in my opinion), and a fantastic secret keeper. I also love bone-headed husband (and wife) tales.

Being the bereaved is lonely and isolating. You’ve lost your anchor, you become unmoored. But despite the radical change in your life, you’re also fundamentally the same person.

While I haven’t felt any friends pulling away from me—the opposite is true, actually—I wonder sometimes if people are holding back telling me their troubles and triumphs.

Hearing tales about happy lives filled with laughter and love lightens me. And as weird as it sounds, hearing stories about the big and small irritations of life makes me feel normal.

Perhaps friends fear sharing their struggles with the newly bereaved because think their problems are trivial in comparison.

It’s not a contest whose life is crappier or whose really rocks.

But if it were, I would definitely, definitely win (or at least place in the top three) in the crappiest life contest. Look it up—dead husband, single mom of young son and widow (uggh, that word) at 44 trumps bratty kids, irritating spouse and lousy boss any day.

And if you’re afraid to say the wrong thing remember this: no matter what you say, no words can hurt me more than I have already been hurt.

Case in point: A family friend, a devout Catholic with the best of intentions, told me he liked to think of Mike looking up at us. To be clear, he was joking about my dead, agnostic/atheist husband burning in hell. I had to laugh. Mike would be laughing too.

So feel free to unload on me because whatever, whatever you say, it will never be worse than that joker.

Grieving Pains

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Just recently, bumps, scratches and bruises have mysteriously appeared all over my body.

A quick inventory: On my left forearm I have an deep yellow, inch-and-a-half-long bruise. On the underside, I have an angry red scrape that curls around from front to back. On one palm, I have a wee boo boo. Further down, I have four pink slashes, in various states of healing, across my shin.

And yesterday, I slightly burned my right forearm accidentally blasting hot water instead of cold while  washing dishes.

Other than the singed forearm, I have absolutely no recollection of how I got these wounds. I don’t remember any fisticuffs in my recent past, or ever, really. I don’t think I’ve challenged anyone to a duel and don’t recall getting up in someone’s grill.

But since Mike died I am a one-woman wrecking crew. Unfortunately, my body is the demolition site.

I am more injury prone than my pre-K son. I run into walls, misjudge the width of door frames and walk into open cupboards with my face.

In the past, I have generally had control of all my faculties and all four limbs. I have never carried myself like a ballerina but I’m no lumbering galoot either.

Many bizarre things happen when your spouse dies, I am discovering. Along with your memory and day-to-day brain power, you lose a sense of your own body and the space you take up. Other than the obvious pain, and feeling like a dummy, it troubles me that I have become a klutz.

Turns out, I am a completely normal klutz. Clumsiness is directly related to stress, my social worker told me. At least I think it was her. My memory is shredded, along with the skin on my shin.

Even though I honestly and truly feel like I am doing quite well with this whole grief thing, my stress tank is full. And when your mind is whirling with every other little and big thing—settling the estate, raising a little man, and doing my nails, for example—there is simply no room for your body to naturally remember what to do and how to navigate through the world. While that’s not a scientific explanation for why I am suddenly Buster Keaton with bruises and a lot less funny, there’s some comfort understanding the method behind my body’s madness.

Like many stages in the grieving process, this too shall pass. Until then, I hope to retain all limbs.

The Crying Game

(photo by Chris Bolin)
(photo by Chris Bolin)

Confession: I cry very easily. I am a cliché. I cry during greeting card commercials, the news and on very bad days, possibly Big Brother. (I love Audrey but she has really pooched her game.) Acts of cruelty and kindness and all stops in between bring the waterworks. I have always been a little embarrassed about spurting tears so easily.

Since Mike died, I have cried in the ice cream aisle at Safeway, at a neighbourhood Renaissance fair as Vikings “battled” each other and while waiting for my Flat White at Starbucks. I briefly cried in our insurance agent’s office and then later again that same day as I described it to my girlfriend. So, for clarity, I cried while telling a story about crying.

But here’s the strange thing: I am off my game—my crying game.

Sure I have wept in fits and starts since Mike died but I certainly haven’t cried me a river. Maybe a tributary, or possibly a tiny stream but certainly no river. There has been no wailing either.

I often find myself comforting our friends as they release their tears on my shoulder but I don’t join in. Truth be told, seeing our friends cry makes me feel better. It means Mike was loved, and in turn, Will and I are loved.

My former self, the unabashed weeper of all things big and small, is gone. I’m not sure if she will ever return. Truthfully, I am a little perplexed and troubled by my transformation. Mike’s death, the biggest trauma of my life so far, should shatter me. It hasn’t. Not yet, anyway.

So until my tears really flow, I will just go with the flow and try not to fret about my dry eyes.

Unleashing my inner Joe Pesci

Dear Medical Team,

Thank you all for your hard work on my gamma knife procedure. That said, there is one small matter I would like to bring to your attention, and please, I ask that you listen, really listen to me because like Glenn Close in Fatal Atttraction, ‘I will not be ignored.’

As you may recall, the vertigo that led us to the brain tumours was a mystery. You prescribed me the standard drug for an inner ear imbalance. In case the vertigo was related to the tumours (it wasn’t), you also put me on Dexamethasone. Now I regularly take Dex after every chemotherapy.  Once a day for two days.  But never four times a day, for four weeks. I was surprised by the astonishing, relentless hunger. Some days I ate two lunches, three dinners and my son’s Gummi snakes. Don’t smile, that wasn’t a joke. Do you think I’m funny?

Funny, how?

Anyway, you all assured me the brain tumours were easily treated through gamma, and I appreciate that you scheduled the procedure around our Disney vacation. I had every reason to be happy. Instead, I was angry; what some might call “raging.” I got a little “hot under the collar” if someone cut me off in traffic. Or if there was a chance they were thinking about cutting me off. Or might do so at some later date. I believe I screamed at the dishwasher plug for not sliding easily into the outlet. But that was perfectly understandable, dammit. THAT PLUG HAS DISRESPECTED ME FOR YEARS!

Deep breath. Whew.

Okay, so why was I snapping at my wife, walking around in a funk, feeling like every nerve was a tightrope wire?

Because Dexamethasone is a steroid. Maybe somebody could have warned me I might feel a bit tense, a little overwhelmed, a tad homicidal. Don’t get me wrong. I love all you’ve done for me. But I sure find it odd no one mentioned it.

But everything’s fine now. I’ve been off the Dex a week, and I already feel bitter. Better. And I will never piss off a bodybuilder ever, since they feel that rage all the time and they can’t all win the title of  Mr. Winnipeg. I’m giving them all a wide berth.

Anyway, always nice to chat. Take care, and don’t ever disrespect me again or I swear…

Deep breath.

Cheers!

One wobbly step sideways….

Need these in a 36" waist in a cotton- spandex blend.  (photo: whereibuyit.com)
Need these in a 36″ waist, cotton- spandex blend. (photo: whereibuyit.com)

 

Two weeks ago I began to experience vertigo. It wasn’t as interesting as in the Hitchcock movie. There was no murder and no Kim Novak — just a lot of swaying from side to side.

On Monday, it was worse.  I walked the dog around the block and I’m sure my neighbours concluded I’m a drunk.

Luckily, I was scheduled to enter hospital Tuesday for three days of chemo. I told them about it. They said, don’t worry, it’s likely an inner ear infection, not a brain tumour. They ran a CT scan on my head.

Tumours. Two of them, both small, sitting on the back of my brain, causing no ill effects at this point. (The vertigo was completely unrelated, which leaves me wondering what cosmic force gave me the spins in order to find two tumours no one knew existed.)

My oncologist called me with the news and did his best to put my vandalized mind to rest. These are tiny, very treatable, and “a minor setback.”  He told me I am an excellent candidate for a gamma knife procedure. That’s a newish technology that burns tumours with focused beams of radiation, without opening up the skull.

It sounded good, but later that evening I was struck by a frightening epiphany. Gamma radiation. Gamma rays? I know what that means. I’ve read the literature and I’m well aware of the risks.

I could transform into a hulking green rage monster with super-strength and an affinity for purple pants. I might turn into an elasticized man, a flaming torch or a walking pile of orange rocks. I could end up an invisible girl.

Where would I even find a pair of purple pants? I guess I could go clothes-shopping with my mother; she always found me clothes I wouldn’t be caught dead in.

Maybe my powers would be less jarring. Given the advances in medical science, they may have gained some control over the side-effects. I could, for example, gain semi-super-hearing, allowing me to listen in on conversations a full 20 feet away. (Maybe not the whole conversation, but enough to glean the gist of it.) Maybe I’ll be able to predict which elevator door will open first.

And then, how would I use those powers to benefit mankind?

With mediocre power comes a sliver of responsibility.

All right gamma rays, do your worst. Or best. And to the surgeon, please, don’t drop the gamma knife and cut my brain in half.

And thank goodness for vertigo. Now please make it go away.

 

Thank You MJ

egg by robin summerfield

Thank You, Michael Jordan. Thank you for that day in the 1980s when you showed up on court without your thinning pelt of barely-there hair.

Instead, you gleamed, the court lights reflecting off your smooth dome, like a halo. Your sweat even looked regal.

Gone were the days of Fudd-like comb overs, as practiced by every balding NHL player n the 1970s. Instead, here was a new, unashamed look. This was bald, and it was beautiful. From that moment on, men actually shaved away that which they once tried so hard to hold on to. Michael Jordan made it cool to be bald.

(Mind you, he owed me one. When I was a toddler, I often dunked from the foul line, sometimes with my arm tied behind another kid’s back. Years later, Jordan stole this move and made it cool. You’re welcome.)

Jordan’s smooth melon has been a comfort to a generation of male chemotherapy patients like myself.

Similar thanks go to Patrick Stewart, the most authoritative, charismatic bald leader since Mussolini. And Bruce Willis, who proved that even without hair, you can be attractive. If you’re funny, rich and muscular with chiselled features.

These are the men who influenced modern tastes, but let’s not forget the pioneers—the guys who first braved the sting of a cool breeze on a smooth scalp. The Hall of Fame: Yul Brynner, the Silver Surfer, Caspar, Mr. Peanut, and the little loser who never quite pulled it off: Charlie Brown.

Together, this brave, shiny army made it cool to be bald. Now, if only the Evil Queen from Snow White had done the same for gnarled cracked fingernails….