Origin Story

The kitchen, sketched out in its inglorious glory.

Truth be told, this was not my first rodeo. I had emergency surgery twice to complete my pregnancies. Those boys always wanted to do things the hard way. And then, a dozen-plus years later, I had six pins put in my ankle to ensure it didn’t hang at a bad angle after my free fall.

Perhaps the first two didn’t count. Both of those were epidurals. I did have general anesthesia for the orthopedic surgery. I had been knocked out for oral surgery before, but it wasn’t general. The ankle doctor warned me that I would be intubated.

This translated to waking up in a a new place with the worst case of cotton mouth that I have ever experienced. And then they gave me crackers!?! I guess to get my system back in flow. I took a nibble. I had absolutely zero moisture in my mouth so the slightly salty cracker dust sat between my cheek and my gum like a very dry and very heavy sand. I tried to float it away with apple juice, but instead the sakrete expanded and solidified into an immobile brick. I had to work it out with more juice and my pinky finger. And then all I wanted was a toothbrush–except dry mouth and toothpaste was almost worse.

This time, I was going under to get a tattoo (if you want, you can catch up with this part of the story here). I was there, cheerily in the morning. I was cheery because I needed to be. It made the entire process better for the surgical team, and being a frightened mess served no purpose.

The Spouse and I were called into pre-op, which was an eight or nine square feet space delineated by a bed in the center and a surrounding set of curtains that made a metal swoosh sound as they were drawn aside. I stepped into my bay, was given a not-cute outfit and a set of instructions. I placed my street clothes into the clear plastic bags with drawstring tops and snuggled my feet into the surgical socks with gripper bottoms likely required by the risk manager wishing to avoid unnecessary patient falls on the cold slick floors.

I wasn’t walking around, though. I was on my cot with my jacquard hospital blanket tucked under my elbows. I had my surgical gown on, but didn’t need to wear my green mesh hat until later.

Pretty much everyone in the hospital verbally verified my name and birthdate as they spied the data printed on the plastic bracelet around my wrist. The first year resident put in my IV. He totally blew it and got blood all over my bed and uncleverly hid it under my hand. He then had me apply direct pressure to stem the flow until the weary nurse fixed his mess. She did make him clean the floor.

There were additional residents and medical students, nurses and nurse anesthesiologists, techs and transporters, my doctor and his assistant and the anesthesiologist herself. They all name-checked and proofed me.

Everyone was very polite and, more importantly, kind. I teased the youngins and joked with the pros. The Spouse shuffled between the single guest chair and the space just outside the curtains, depending on the staff directions. I liked it when he was closer. I think the staff did, too.

We did our schtick–where we trick everyone into thinking that we had deep affection for each other via our cruel and cutting banter. There really wasn’t reason to be too worried about this procedure, but it was the start of a series of procedures with more worry. But today, we were keeping it light.

It was close to showtime. My gurney was flanked by the transporter, a pair of nurses and the anesthesiologist who stood at my right. She patted her breast pocket.

“This is the good stuff,” she smiled. I didn’t know there was any “good stuff.”

Turns out they give you some pre-juice before wheeling you into the operating room. She explained that the syringes in her pocket didn’t completely knock you out, but relaxed the patient. I would be awake but wouldn’t remember anything.

I was a bit suspicious. “Is this like some kind of truth serum?” Everyone laughed, the nurses, the transporter, the Spouse and me.

“Naw. We won’t quiz you.” She pumped the happy juice into my IV and I woke up two seconds later in the recovery room. Well, it wasn’t two seconds in a literal sense, but that was all I knew.

I had my apple juice and skipped the snack. While I avoided the dry crackers, I did have real moisture in my mouth. After a short stint, I was unhooked from the monitors. I changed back into my civilian clothes. Not long after, I was dropped off at home for an uneventful day, and the Spouse was able to squeeze in a half-day at work.

That evening, when we sat down for dinner, we went through notable moments that day–the funny socks, the charming nurse, the failed resident and the happy juice.

“Hey, did I say anything after I got that shot?”

The Spouse looked at me for a second before he answered. “Why, yes, you did.” The way he said it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up a little.

“I did? What did I say?”

He paused again. “Well, as they were wheeling you away, you pointed your finger at me and said, ‘You will not stop me from redoing the kitchen this time!’ And all the women around your bed [there were only women] looked at me in horror and said that I better get you that new kitchen.”

Whoa and WHAT? I had no idea where that came from. Really and truly, I didn’t. This hadn’t been a major point of discussion or contention. That morning, I was going to have a procedure to mark the tumor in my mouth. I had this cancer shit on my mind, and of all things, I talk about a stupid kitchen remodel?

And, Loyal Reader, three years later, that’s how we got here.

Tastes Like Metal

Leeks, garlic, parsley, yams, sweet potato and parsley, beautifully photographed still life.

There were many many many many and many ingredients in the Magick Mineral Broth. Of course there were carrots, onions, celery and potatoes. But that would not be very magic.

The recipe calls for leeks and garlic, too. Not only that, but sweet potatoes (preferably Japanese) and garnet yams. The spice mix included the standard bay leaf and peppercorns plus the flavor and medicinal value add of juniper berries–just don’t substitute gin. Added to the boil, just so you really had to go a fancy grocery, was kombu–also known as seaweed sheets. It adds a bit of fullness of flavor, like saltwater with fish.

You can drink it warm for breakfast. You can add noodles and an egg and eat a bowl full of soup. You can use it as a base for another soup. You can put it on your cereal.

Seriously, I might as well have.

The technique is simple enough, throw everything in a big pot of water, boil the hell out of it and add salt to taste.

I got this recipe from a cancer cookbook I ordered. The idea was to use this combo of beautiful, healthy, colorful foods to prep my body for chemo and to make myself less unwell after treatment. To be honest, I think that the real purpose was to give myself a mindless yet mindful project. Distraction from the unknown. You’ve heard about an idle mind?

You don’t know what chemo does. And different combos have different impacts. And those impacts will be different for different folks. Will you be puking? Hair falling out? Just generally feeling gross? Will your feet and hands feel like sand? Will you hurt? Get sores in your mouth? Will you be cold? Hot? Exhausted? Couch or bed bound? And, behind all those unknowns is the real question, the one you don’t want to ask. Will this poison cocktail work?

Preparing the broth, the rich golden elixir full of antioxidants and magical minerals, was a step into something knowable. I could cut and cook. I could control that part. I could calm–or at least distract–my active imagination.

So, I chopped and I boiled and I added salt. It topped off my 12 quart stock pot. I disposed of the spent vegetables. Then I strained it into a many large jars. The magical mystery broth makes a ton of soup.

Later, I used a cup or so and made the noodle bowl. It tasted very good that day. I think I tweeted about how awesome it was.

And then I never touched it again. The jars sat in the fridge for a while until I made the Spouse spill out the contents into the sink and wash it away.

To this day, three years later, when I think of that magical broth, the smell, the taste, even the color, I feel a little sick. As I’m typing the words that described me eating it, that described pouring it into tall Mason jars, my stomach is getting queasy and I’m swallowing thickening saliva.

That liquid that extracted all the flavor and benefits from the ingredients tastes like chemo to me. The drugs are pumped into a port in your chest, but the scent and the taste get in the back of your mouth and violate the tastebuds at the back of your tongue. I think of the golden soup and I think of drinking something made from cheap metals that would turn your finger green. The minerals tasted more like slate and pencil shavings and solder.

So I had it that one day and I couldn’t take it again. I decided that I hated that book, too. The Cancer Cookbook or some stupid name. It did have some great advice–to avoid eating your favorite foods on the days surrounding treatment. They said that chemo could ruin them for you. Forever.

Chemo sucked, but it didn’t ruin my taste for dark chocolate with hazelnuts–or dark chocolate anything. It did, however, turn me against that awful veggie broth. Oh, and two months ago I left the cancer cookbook in my local Little Free Library. I hadn’t opened it again. Not since I cooked up that nasty broth three years ago. Maybe someone else can use the distraction. Me? Not looking back.

Secret Passage

This is a stylized view of a sunflower napkin ring on a paisley tablecloth. It is an image that makes you think of something else. I bet people treating cancer patients think of something else all the time.

The doctor walked out into the hall. He looked tired. He was tired.

The offices and treatment rooms were laid out in a way that he could escape. Escape from those he treated.

He didn’t just treat the sick. He treated the well. The well that were sometimes more terrified than his actual patients. The well who were worried that their beloved sicks would be neglected.

The doctor didn’t neglect anyone. He just couldn’t save them all. When they met him, they were already diagnosed. He was an oncologist. So their illness was cancer.

Cancer isn’t a death sentence. He explained that to those who were referred to him. That said, sometimes people with cancer die. People look to him for their stage. Staging is important. If you’re Stage 1, you feel okay. If you’re Stage 4, you think you’re dead. You might be. Or maybe not.

But the Doctor sees you no matter your stage. And does their best to keep you in the “not dead” category. But it’s their best. And as good as they may be, some will move to the dead category.

But not today. The Doctor was very tired. There was a ten-day medical education thingie that he was still feeling. He’s not a resident anymore!

But, today he saw you, with your biggest, winning smile cemented by yesterday’s tooth polishing at the dentist. Your hair was growing beyond it’s style, sticking out at the back and around your ears like a 70’s Keith Partridge.

You were bronzed from a week at the beach and the last MRI was clean. He told the fourth-year medical student how you helped develop a new treatment protocol. They talked coded doctor talk a bit. Not to be rude, but because they were excited.

But the oncologist still looked tired. You saw him before he was excited. When he left via the back entrance. The secret staff exit from the chemo bar. You were late. You sheepishly signed in and then met up with the money taker. Next:  your blood work. Then you surreptitiously snuck to the restroom–the one behind the elevators–before you got your blood pressure (117/70), temp (98.4°) and weight (none of your fcuking business) took.

When you got to the bathroom, it was occupied. So you stood, legs crossed, and waited.

You looked up when you heard a rustle at the far end of the hallway. You thought someone had found the stairwell that was invisible to you. Oncology was only a single floor up, but the corridor to the steps was like the room of requirements, only there if you knew it.

When you looked up, you saw a rumpled man with a stethoscope snaked around his neck. He was leaving from the secret staff exit. He looked up to see you doing the pee-pee dance. You gave a broad, silent wave. He gave a half wave from around his belt just before he opened the door across from the stairwell and disappeared. Into his retreat. Where he could collect himself. Away from the hope(lessness) of the chemo bar.

He’s a good doc. He needs a break. You don’t want him to break. He’s doing god’s work.

Don’t Be Mad With Science

Trinity College Library in Dublin. A spiral staircase to the books.

Cancer is an awful scourge that makes people we love suffer. The rat-bastard disease rips people we love out of our lives. Stupid cancer makes people into angels when we aren’t ready to let them go, when we should be with them. Nobody likes cancer. It makes people worried. And sad. And mad. And scared.

Charlatans and money grubbers who prey on the fears and hopes of people with cancer–and I’m including family and almost-family as having cancer because cancer is a “we” disease–those cons suck almost as much as cancer sucks. Maybe more.

Cancer is indiscriminate. It doesn’t select hosts based on age, gender, race, religion, income, social status or whether you prefer the Yankees or the Red Sox. The predators actually do focus on the victims. The saddest. The most fearful. Those who are desperate. Maybe they are worse than cancer. They have intention.

I read a NYT piece about drug companies that are selling their wares directly to sick people. The author of the article was triggered by the sunny promises of a better cancer through, in this case, immunotherapy. I get how gutted the surviving spouse felt by seeing the skewed promises of a therapy that might help a little. Or maybe not at all. And to the grieving family, I am so very sorry for their loss and the “cheery” reminder of their anguish via a TV commercial during a sporting event.

I am in riotous agreement that the direct to patient marketing of drugs is ugly. It sells us solutions that many of us do not have the ability to evaluate. And it interrupts the relationship with caregivers.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, people who knew me well, and some who knew me less well, would nod and smile and opine about my internet research learning all the ins and outs of the disease and the treatment. I couldn’t share the nod. Instead I shook my head.

Like my two weeks on the internet would make me know more than a board certified oncologist and otolaryngologist who were professors at the medical school? I dunno. Didn’t make sense to me. I made the decision that my medical team was as good as I could get, given the hand I was dealt.

I decided to trust the experts.

Now, if I thought they were bozos, I would not. But then why would they be my doctors? I live in a major city. I have choices–including five major cancer treatment centers. My guys were smart, compassionate and great communicators. They presented options. I asked a bunch of questions. The Spouse asked plenty. Even the Big Guy chimed in. I quickly made a choice of treatment that made sense. This was really hard because the cancer made no sense, making the sense-making itself inimical.  And dammit, Jim, I’m DocThink not Doctor of Medicine. I studied as best I could, and then selected their recommendation. I threw in with them.

For me, it turned out okay. For my friend K, it didn’t. For my friend T, it did. For my other K friend, we’re thinking it will. For my MIL, no. For my Dad, yes (it wasn’t C that took him). For M, yup. I’m sure that you can add your own set of initials to the tally.

But here’s my thing. Looking at the comments on the NYT post disparaging the blood-sucking, players-of-people’s-worst-fears-for-money drug companies, there is a significant thread of people hating ANY cancer treatment. Chemo = bad. Radiation = criminal. Surgery = butchery. Immunotherapy = mumbo jumbo.

But these therapies have worked for many of us. Either getting rid of the shitty cancer, or giving people time in months or years with their families. I am terrified that people will reject the expertise of people–doctors, nurses, scientists–who are trained and committed to curing or, if that’s not possible, ameliorating cancer.

My doc told me that he had three goals for my treatment. 1. Keeping me alive. 2. Ensuring the best quality of life. 3. Making me look as good as possible. In that order. He did all three. He presented me a novel treatment that would not have been in the internet results. But he had a robot and he wasn’t afraid to use it. And I believed in him, as he believed in me.

The science and the practitioners aren’t the bad guys. They’re not perfect. They’re the first responders, fighting the terrorism of cancer with us. Not against us. Let’s call out anyone who’s taking advantage of us, but let’s not put a single blanket of shame on the entire medical profession. We can trust science, and verify as well as we can. And may the odds be ever in your favor.


Holly Golightly whistling for a cab. She surprised what's his name.

One day, when I was in my fourth grade gym class, I taught myself to whistle. Gym class was monotonous. I’d either stand waiting to get hit by a dodgeball or hang out on the sidelines after I was bounced out. This day, I filled my mental and physical time by trying to to use my fingers and my mouth to make a fife.

It took the entire hour, but I kept at it. By the end of the period I was dizzy and a little queasy from blowing out more than breathing in. And, this was the good part, I could shape my tongue under my fingers and emit a loud, powerful, high-pitched blast.

It happened gradually. I touched the tip of my thumb to my swear finger to make a ring. This was more natural to me than using fingers from two hands. I opened wide and stuffed my fingers shaped just so into my mouth, and I’d blow. At first, nothing happened. But I was bored so I kept blowing. Then, once, a rushing sound of air, not really a whistle but a sound that was precursor to a whistle materialized. I wasn’t exactly sure how it happened, so I kept blowing.

I had to take a break for a minute before I passed out.

Then, back at it. There was some particular way that my tongue curled just right under my fingers and a special way that I drew in the sides of my mouth, just a bit, to make the sound. Blow. Blow. Blow. A hollow and slight whistle!

More blowing and more contortions of my face and my tongue and my fingers. The sound was coming out more consistently and more whistlely. I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, but I started to conform my lips around the sound. My muscles were wired directly to a part of my brain that wasn’t consciously processing as much as spontaneously adapting. And it happened. Very loudly. More than once. I got it!

I surprised myself, and everyone else. Even the drunk gym teacher. A 65-pound kid put her fingers in her mouth and unleashed a sound that pierced an active gymnasium! I was able to repeat the technique the next day, and the whistle was–improbably–all mine.

Even at double those sixty-five pounds, folks didn’t think it was me. I would wolf-whistle my delight at concerts. I would cheer on my buddies at their important performances, recitals, sporting events and graduations. They knew it was me, but strangers would whip their heads around and past me to see who was making that most impressive noise.

I could stop a cab in the rain with that whistle. Sometimes the cabbies would see me and drive on. It couldn’t be me. I’d signal again and they’d make a u-turn and assess me with admiration.

I used it to call my kids. If they were away–in or out of sight–or we were in a crowd, I could reel them in with the sharp, and to them, familiar sound of my call.

I could get the attention of a noisy room, not just via the pitch but also because of its incongruence with the deliverer, with the locale and with the setting.

Mine was a signal of the working class. It was of my roots. I liked to shock with it. And I was proud of it.

Then, I couldn’t do it.

I had the right side of my tongue excised to get rid of these very stupid squamous cells that decided to grow there. It wasn’t a bunch of tongue, but enough. The missing part makes me talk a little funny, but I am grateful to my amazing speech therapist who helped to minimize my mumble. I’ll tell you one time how much we we worked on enunciating the word “dick.” My choice, not hers.

For a long time after my surgeries, I had numbness in my face and neck. Over the next eighteen months, the feeling came back around my mouth, then through my chin and eventually everywhere. There is still a slight droop on the right side of my mouth. Everybody says I’m crazy, but I can see it. I draw my lipstick on a bit outside of my lip line to perk it up.

My surgeon is very impressed at the flexibility of my tongue. I saw him last week. The scarring is almost non existent. He says it’s very soft. And that’s very good.

I can’t chew gum on the right side of my mouth because it gets stuck there. I can’t get my tongue to roll it back to the other side of my mouth. Also, thin spaghetti noodles. Fat ones work so I stopped buying the thin. That’s it though. Oh, and I can’t whistle.

Every once in awhile, I circle my fingers, touching the tip of my thumb to my swear finger and try to get the sound to come out of my mouth. Sometimes it’s close. And last week as I was walking home from the subway, for the first time in two years, the hoot of a whistle came out of my mouth.

I was VERY surprised.

I couldn’t get it to happen again. I found myself getting dizzy as I strolled home, blowing, blowing, blowing. I’m thinking that I’m going to get it back. Yeah. I’m getting everything back.

Eau de Toilette

Mint tea. And a sprig of mint.

So before, when I was having chemo, some days–some days at a time, to be honest–I would feel like I had to throw up. They call it a “side-effect.”

Now, let me be super clear. Feeling like you are going to puke, even for hours, even for days, is much better than being dead. So, my statement above is just conveying a fact. I am NOT complaining. [Please note if there are any cancer gods reading this, I am super grateful. This is not a post about tweaking you all. You did great by me!]

So that clarified, feeling like the contents of your stomach will soon be leaving via an overpass from your mouth is not great. It stops you from eating. It stops you from talking. It encourages you to roll up in as little a ball as you can, and to sit very, very quietly because you believe that if you move it would cause the volcano inside you to erupt.

There’s a difference between feeling like you have to barf when you’re hungover, for example, and feeling like you have to barf because of chemo. If you’re hungover and you let it go, you almost always feel better. Nausea gone. Eat a hotdog and drink a fountain coke and be on with your day. With chemo-induced queasiness, there is no such relief. You just feel like crap. Always. Seriously, so much better to have had too much whiskey last night. And for those of you keeping score at home, I can’t tell you how this compares to pregnancy-induced nausea. I feel quite blessed by that ignorance, thank you very much.

So here I am, curled up like my own little Poké Ball, giving a whole new meaning to Squirtle. Someone gifted me a handfull of a fluffy white bear. Let me tell you, new fluffy stuffed animals are amazing and surprisingly comforting. Anyway, holding that bear close, next to my chest,  under my chin and not moving a single muscle seemed to help keep the upchuck at bay.

I couldn’t drink it, but the smell of peppermint tea improved my stomach roils by orders of magnitude. I soon recognized that making tea that I couldn’t drink was less effective than just holding the peppermint tea bag directly in my nostrils. That was crazy effective. Summing up, if I didn’t move a muscle, held the fluffy stuffed bear under my chin and breathed in the tea bag, I was fine. I could fall asleep, which despite the chemo-exhaustion was blocked by feeling wretched or that I might just retch.

I could reuse that teabag for a few pre-snoozing sessions, but I manhandled my way through the box of Twinings Peppermint Tea. Gah!

“Doc,” said the boys, “you need anything?” Normally, there wasn’t much that they could do, but today, but today! I had a mission.

Almost before I could say, “Can you go up to the drugstore and get me some peppermint tea bags?” they were off.

I sat waiting with my legs tucked underneath me, perched on the arm of the couch. The dog-beast assumed his nurse’s position just on top of my feet. I was vewy vewy still, keeping the bear pressed to my breastbone awaiting their return.

They had gone to the drugstore to find no peppermint tea. Undaunted, they braved the late December cold five more blocks to the organic market. Surely there would be peppermint tea in the hippie-haven. They found many organic options including loose tea by the scoop. Pushing on, they rifled through boxes and boxes of rosehips, camomile, zingers–red and yellow, sleepytime, berry, ginger latte, revive, pomegranate pizazz, I<3Lemon, grateful heart, peach tranquility and citrus lavender sage herbal tea. There might have been more. There were more.

The voila! moment came when they ferreted the Candy Cane. It wasn’t pure mint, but, it seemed to them close to mission fulfilling.

They brought the tea home in a bag and with the story of their explore. When they took the plastic wrap off the box and handed me a fresh bag, I can tell you honestly that nothing ever before was that effective in quelling my quease. I propped the bag under my nose, squeezed the bear and sniffed deeply.

What nice boys. What a fluffy bear. What a scent. What a relief.

I had been told to not eat my favorite foods during chemotherapy. The association of those foods with nausea ruins a good relationship. I skipped some of my comfort foods so that they could comfort me into the future. Fortunately dark chocolate with hazelnuts was not spoiled. And, fortunately, I can still enjoy peppermint tea. Like I did tonight when it delivered this memory via it’s perfumed aroma.


Princess and the Pea

A chapter of a book that begins, "Once upon a time it was..."

Once upon a time there was a princess. She was lost. Or at least she didn’t know where she was. Or maybe she did know, and it was just too much work to figure it out at this juncture.

She found herself just passing from the state of sleep to the state of wake. Is it night or day, she thought. Did I just fall asleep or have I been sleeping for hours? Or even days? Where am I?

Clawing through the remnants of sleeping, her mind hit the bumpers of all of her senses like a metal ball shot from the chute and making its way down the lane. She waited and then hit the flippers to keep the ball in play.

She didn’t hear any bells, but there was the steady drone of machinery and the recurring squawk of a police radio. That radio was loud. Maybe that’s what woke her up.

It was dark, but there was a frame of bright light that must be from a door that was barely ajar. On the other side, in full light was the sound of the woman’s voice–the dispatcher–repeating the number ten. 10-12. 10-22. 10-23, stand-by. There were tall shadows of nothing or maybe something. On her right was a small round light hanging mid-air. Looking more closely the point was in some box on some type of pole. There was a window just behind her, to her left. She could see it at the furthest edge of her view, but she couldn’t see through it. Not that it mattered because it was dark out there, too. She was in a room. It wasn’t big. But even though the light on the other side of the door was bright, it didn’t illuminate her surroundings by much.

She licked her lips. They were dry, as was her mouth. She didn’t think that she brushed her teeth before she fell asleep. Her mouth tasted a little stale–maybe because of the dryness. Maybe, though, it was because she had thrown up. She wanted some water. Was there water?

A waft of staleness caught in her nostrils. That might be her. It wasn’t like work out sweat, but more like it had been a long warm day. In a ring or two outside of her, she could smell some chemical smell. It wasn’t like the astringency of Pine Sol, but it wasn’t far from that. There was less complexity to the caustic bouquet. It was less like northwest hops and more like laundry detergent with whitener. It wasn’t overwhelming, and she wasn’t either.

She did okay moving her head from side to side. She realized that she wasn’t lying down, more like half way between prone and sitting. She tried to sit up for real, but she couldn’t lift her head. Couldn’t lift her head. Why didn’t this concern her?

The door swung inward, and a shadow blocked much of the light. There was a clock above the door. It was 3:20, likely 3:20 a.m. The shadow pushed the door behind her. The shadow was accompanied by a rolling cart that she steered by a long pole. She approached the princess with a smile. Her greeting revealed her West Indian roots. She placed a cuff around the arm of the princess and put a probe under her tongue.

“Got it!” The princess knew she was in the hospital and was woozy from either the residuals of morphine or the peak of the percocet. The morphine did make her vomit. She remembered now. She asked if she was due for the anti-nausea meds. The shadow was named Carla and she said she would check with the nurse. She was the tech and was worried about the snow that was blizzarding down. She might have to work a double shift if the forecast held.

Carla checked the bulbs that hung from the princess’s neck. The bulbs were glued to two incisions to collect some post operative fluids. Carla was having none of the way they were hanging. She emptied them, after measuring the output and making positive clicking noises. She walked behind the bed and opened one and then another and then a third drawer. She searched in the dark and found some safety pins.

Carla walked back to the princess and pinned the bulbs to the princess’s gown. “This way they won’t pull. I didn’t like how they were.” She smiled again and helped the princess to the bathroom.

The princess felt queasy, so she swallowed to keep things down. “Is there a toothbrush?” Carla handed her one. She brushed her teeth and drank some water. After all that activity, she was tired. Or she was sore. Or maybe she was just high.

She shuffled back the seven shuffle-steps to the bed with her own pole-cart in tow. Carla had straightened her sheets. She backed into the bed and swung her legs up, schooched back and instead of leaning into the pillow her head dropped like a rag doll’s. She placed her hand on the back of her head to prop it up. She then used her hand to lower her head on the center of the pillow.

Her mind was clouded, but at least she knew where she was, now. She felt webs criss cross across her brain, behind her eyes and thought that she fell back to sleep. She wasn’t a princess. 

Recursive Storm

bunches of beautiful green spearming

You look across the blue cloudless sky. There’s a bit of heaviness in the air, as you’d expect for this time of year.

It’s a pretty blue, both deep and true sky. There’s just a whisper of a breeze. Not a relief from the heavy, but as you’d expect.

Something feels a little off. The hair on your arms becomes attentive. Maybe there’s a murmur of an echo of that broken ankle or a low drone in your right ear.

You shake it off but empty the overfull ashtray on the porch. You don’t put the ashtray back on the table in the middle of the porch.  You put it on the shelf next to the house. You grab the rake and walk it back to the garage, picking up a few empty flower pots on the way. You stack them just inside the garage and put the rake up.

As you walk up the back porch steps, you realize that nobody picked up after that last party. There are beer caps on the table and an empty box that has a deflated bag of ice. Ice gone for months. You put the cover back on the Weber. You moved a chair and see an old crumpled napkin skip across the deck. Looks like the breeze is picking up and the color of the sky is getting deeper. You pull the red and white awning striped umbrella in the house.

Occasional big fat drops bomb the sidewalk and burst on the metal roof. It’s windy now and the sky darkens behind you. You run upstairs and pull the windows shut. Your fingers make sure the latches catch.

You step onto the front porch to welcome the monster storm and as the rain pounds you are sprayed. Flashes of light and crackles of thunder give way to sideways gale and the popcorn of hail.

You see the sky get that sickening color and close the door behind you. Crouch down in a safe place and listen as the freight train tears by above you. As you crawl out, you don’t know what to expect. You peep out to assess the damage. You pause. You’re okay. It’s a mess, but you’re okay. You begin to clean up and move along. It’s over except for the healing, and you beat that storm.

The weatherman tells you that the further you get from the disaster, the less likely it is to recur. It’s been two years, he said. Five is the magic number. See you in six months.

And this is where my analogy breaks down. It doesn’t totally work.

You are disquieted at the reminder that the danger is both random and maybe even brewing.  After you leave, you find yourself scanning the sky again for the portent. You will carefully search the sky for the next few days and then, hopefully, right a few picture frames and plant some mint.


Such a cute mottled working dog.
Cute on the dog, dumb on the girl.

My eyelashes are filling back in. I never lost them all. There were a few that stubbornly stood by and supported me as I vainly (both in conceit and in futility) worked the mascara wand. Now those soldiers have fresh recruits.

I ran in the local market because I needed peppercorns for a recipe and saw a friend picking up a last minute corn-bread mix. She said she didn’t recognize me in my red-head hat, which I pulled off showing my ‘do to her widening-eyes. She remembers me with long blonde locks.

My hair is coming in, too. It’s thick and soft like moss, and dark and light in patches that look really cool close-cropped but may make me look like a crazed Australian shepherd as it grows out.

A colleague walked by me without recognition–three times. Even after I tapped his arm.

I am seeing the world the same as it ever was, but others are not seeing me in the same world.

Am I moving on too fast? Are the people around me trying to tell me something? Am I missing some important meaning?

My hair is showing itself to be curly–and unruly at that. I see some of it sticking up and out. I don’t think that I have any product that can tame it.

Spring has finally broken through. After three miserable weeks of Sunday-Monday snow in a row, it looks like the bad weather is behind us. Today was glorious. Stuff all a-bloom, the sunshine warm and welcome. I decided to go to the driving range rather than watch golf on TV.

ugly golf shoes, crazy shadow and 9 iron

I had a new obnoxiously aqua/turquoise golf-skirt to wear with my bright lime shirt and joker shoes to satisfy my personal rule that golf clothes must be ugly. I went to my urban golf hideout with my 9-iron.

I’m always a lousy golfer, but I wasn’t even sure that I could swing my club. I got a little bucket of balls.

I stood on my little square of green carpet. It was crowded so I had to take the stall without a tee. That seemed good. Less pressure. I just had the one club with me, and I took it in two hands and stretched it over my head and behind my back. Rolled a ball onto my plot and set my feet. Placed the club across my left palm and met it with my right hand. Looked at that white dimpled ball and wondered if everyone was looking at me.

Seriously. I did. Like everyone knew my secret–as if I had a secret.

Why would anyone look? They had their own balls to hit. Their own grips to adjust. Their own club to blame for that slice. What was curbing me?

I thought the strangers could see me and knew that this was my first swing since my treatment.

But they weren’t looking. They didn’t see me either, but they didn’t know who I was before.

People ask me what I am going to do with my hair. Keep it short? Grow it out? I don’t know. I don’t know what it will be like. I don’t need to decide today.

I do know that I am grateful that it is coming back. And for alot of other things, too.

Hating Waiting

my wedding and engagement rings

A friend asked me if I saw things differently since I found out that I had stupid cancer. I said that it doesn’t make sense to wait. Do things now. Remodel the kitchen? Cool trip? Just do it. My friend called it the tyranny of now.

But that really isn’t true. I’ve been waiting.

Time is suspended during treatment. There’s a treatment plan, but you have to wait to see if it’s working. You need to see if it knocks you out. Or not.

Do I start something that I might not be able to finish? Do I end up either having to push too much–setting myself back–or throw in the towel because I can’t do something?

So, I kind of hang back. Suspended in time. Waiting for this to be done.

I’m not tyrannized by any “now.” My tyranny is this stupid illness. It’s stopping me. But, I always knew there was an end, and, right now, I think I can see it.

One of the first parts of my treatment was to have the stupid tumor tattooed. I had to go to the hospital and have it done under general anesthesia.

When you go under general you can’t wear makeup or nail polish. And you can’t wear any jewelry. Not earrings. And not rings. Not a wedding ring.

My wedding ring is a small, simple gold band. I never took it off. And it was very comfortable on my finger. Very comfortable–in like it didn’t want to come off. The pre-op nurse and I bonded over the fight we had getting the ring off my finger. After we wrestled it off, she put it in a small bag. It was marked bio-hazard. She handed it to my spouse for safekeeping.

The next part of my treatment was the chemo, but I knew that surgery would follow. Since I had such grief getting the ring off, I decided to wait to put it back on until I was done.

A few weeks ago I had surgery to remove the tumor. Tomorrow I have another surgery to remove some lymph nodes. Then this stupid cancer should be gone.

I am bringing my wedding ring to the hospital. And I am putting it back on. Then I will be done waiting.