Through the zoom……

February 15, 2011

He is dying.  I see his eyes through my camera lens.  This zoom lens that also shows me the fine hairs glistening on a plant stem.  And just once, he looks directly into my lens, showing me his dying eyes.  Eyes that reveal a soul straddling two worlds.

This contact startles me.

I pull the camera away from my face.  Did he really see me on this crowded balcony?  There is a good distance between me and his wheel chair.  We are shielded from each other by a sea of chiffon dresses and scarves flowing between us.  Yet, his eyes found me.

I hide behind my lens again, feeling like I was just caught peering into a forbidden room. I wonder if he knows what I saw in that moment of connection.  I wonder if he is aware that this is his daughter’s wedding.  She is nearly forty.  This is her first wedding.  I think this man, this doctor, has waited a very long time to see this daughter be married.  And, here he is.

Dying on her wedding day.

I am the only wedding photographer today.  My second camera is borrowed from Jeffrey. A much more expensive and higher quality camera than my little Rebel XT. I’ve never used his before.  Why did I say yes to this?  I am not equipped nor qualified.  Not by a long shot. And, all that I want to do is follow this frail human being around snapping photos of the tenderness he gives. The loving pats on his thin shoulders that he receives.  The exchange of knowing looks he shares with these wedding guests.  His family.  The young boy, possibly a grandson, assigns himself to remain at this old man’s side throughout the entire day.  I want to take photos of only this.  But, this is a wedding and I am to take pictures of the bride and groom.  I am not prepared for this.

I remind myself to keep breathing.

Even though this is a favor, and we aren’t even friends, the pressure to produce high quality, romantic, clever and loving photos is the same as if I were being paid the highest dollar amount ever offered to a wedding photographer.  There can’t be any mistakes.  There are no do-overs in wedding photography if I mess up.

Besides, this father won’t be here for take two.  This knowledge, revealed when he looked at me.  This, I saw through my zoom lens.

I am taking a lot of photos of this man in the wheel chair. He is frail, but there is still a twinkle in his eye.  A grown son seems to be in charge of his care and maybe there is a male nurse, as well.  They take this former doctor to one of the nearby beds in this glamorous hotel on the beach.  He can nap often throughout the day.  I watch him come and go.  Both, for his naps and for his awareness.  The zoom lens on my camera making me privy to depths most often missed by our naked eye.  He knows he only needs to hold on just a bit longer.  I think he is gathering strength just to breath.  Conserving energy to live.  Until it is time to toast the newly wed couple.  The old doctor had saved every ounce of energy for this moment.  A long, loving, intelligent speech.

I think he has rehearsed this speech from the moment this daughter was born.

The people raise their glasses and listen to a clear and steady voice.  A strong voice coming from a dying man.  I watch through my lens. He is very much alive right now.  This dying man.  His hands remain steady.  I wonder what kind of doctor he might have been. Maybe once these were large, strong hands.  Healing hands.  Today, they are frail.  Bony.

I watch the bride.  She wears a special smile during this long toast.  This last toast the doctor will ever make.  It is a smile of deep love.  Respect.  The smile a three year old daughter wears when her daddy picks her up in his arms at the end of his long work day.  When he talks only to her.  And she thinks right then and there that she will marry him.  This smile.  A daddy’s girl smile.  A sweet smile.Daddys-Little-Girl

The bride kisses the dying man’s forehead after the speech.  I am happiest to have captured this moment than knowing I got the shot of the wedding couple’s first kiss.  I whisper a thank you to my angels for guiding my eyes through this lens.

A few days after the wedding, I hear the doctor dies.  This father of the bride.

This man who knew he was dying.

I think we breast cancer girls have an advantage in life.  Maybe as privileged as this doctor. Like him on that wedding day, we have constant reminders that we are going to die.  Well, all people know that they are going to die.  Of course.  But, when there is cancer or some such diagnosis, that reality gets brought home rather regularly.

This is a privilege.

Knowing this.  Really knowing this is so much richer than before diagnosis.  The knowing that comes before diagnosis is bland.  Like a dull movie we sleep through.  We let it go.  Forget about it.  Move on.

The knowing that comes after diagnosis is alive and breathing.  A knowing so clear it is like seeing life for the first time through a very expensive, high-end zoom lens.  We start seeing everything, every little thing that is good and beautiful, through this lens.  And every frame we set up through our zoom lens is as if it might be the last photo ever seen.

This is an advantage.

Being fully conscious and aware of death makes us live more fully and consciously. We make better choices with our precious time.  And, we can choose how we will fill in these frames.  It reminds me of a song I learned as a child and only until now does it make the most sense.  It was a song I learned in Sunday School.

Growing up, we were not at all a religious family.  In fact, my dad strongly opposed religion.  The only thing I could figure, as a child on those Sunday mornings when he would drop my sisters and I off at the Methodist church for Sunday School, was that this was probably just so my mom and dad could have uninterrupted sex.  Not a bad trade off while my sisters and I learned about God and all that.

Mostly, I learned that I loved making crafts with Popsicle sticks on those mornings.  And, I loved learning songs.  Songs I would go home with on those mornings, insisting that I sing them for my parents in the living room.  Songs I would sing throughout my life, in my very bad singing voice.  The only one I have.

A line in one of those songs always stuck with me, “be careful what you see little eyes”.

I liked the ‘little eyes’ part.  I liked being a child.  Being talked to this way, like I was taken care of.

Today, I realize what I have learned from this song and from lessons I am privileged to see through my zoom lens.  Lessons from seeing into the eyes of a dying man.

From this doctor, this father of the bride, I learn this:

This man was dying, yet, he willed himself to wait until after February 11, 2011.  His daughter’s wedding day.  He must have envisioned himself a million times over, giving a speech at his daughter’s wedding. It mattered to him.  He willed himself to wait to die until after this speech.  Visualizing that goodness and having strong will power, both, matter.

From the zoom lens, I learn this:

Zoom in!  To really see, beyond a mere glance, past just looking, but to really see requires nothing more than taking the time to see with the depths of my own soul.  To zoom in on the people I love, really and truly to see them, to let them know they are important and noticed.  Loved.

And, from the line of that song I learned in Sunday School so many years ago, I learn this:

I can be careful with what I see.  I can choose what I see and what I choose to focus on.  There is good and bad in everything.  I can choose to see the good.  And, with this, fill my photo frames, my memory, with all that is beautiful, loving and joy-filled.Photo_Frame__Film

I can choose to see health and healing.

Michelley leaves for her year of living in Japan in just two days.  I intend to stay by her side every last minute and to zoom in and see all of her goodness, filling the photo frames in my mind’s eye with good memories to last two lifetimes.

Rocking down the isle……

February 3, 2012

Here I am again.  Reclining.  Sinking, a not very sick body, into the rich brown leather of my doctor’s chair.  It’s the first break I have had in two months.  Though, it is forced upon me via Herceptin dripping into my veins as I write this.

Still, it is a welcome break.

Today is the first time I will get Herceptin only.  Goodbye Caroplatin and Taxotere.  No more of your harsh behavior.  Your wreaking havoc.

Already, I see a problem with dropping these two drugs from my chemo treatment plan. With the mixture of receiving all three drugs I could easily spend the six hours it took to drip.  Now, with just Herceptin, I am lucky to get just an hour in this chair.

I will miss the big bag of ‘to-do’s’ that usually accompany me.  Moreso, I will miss my chair-side companion.  Now that the worst is over in chemo-land, it doesn’t make sense to force someone to come along for such a short time in the chairs.  Maybe this is good.  Maybe it is time I use my chair experience to reflect.  Alone.

So much has happened in this past month.  I couldn’t even keep up with keeping a journal. So very much like the day Christopher Alan Rubino was born.  That same afternoon, still in the hospital with a sleeping baby in my arms, I opened my newly purchased journal.  The one I bought just for this purpose, wanting to capture and record the remarkable experience of birthing and parenting.  I wrote,  “I want to write.”  That’s it.  That is all that was ever written in that most important journal.

I want to write.

Instead, I believe I fell asleep.  And, then, I started living as a mommy.  Full swing.  For twenty-some years that journal stayed empty.  Except for that one sentence of course.

This past month feels the same.  My list has finally bowled me over.  I am already asking Nurse Pam if I can just stay past the last drip from my IV bag. My bag is already half empty and this recliner feels way too good.  So does writing again.  Writing.

As necessary as the drugs.

Mom and Dad had arrived for a second visit from Florida with my sisters, Chari and Pam. They came for the wedding and to help.  We painted the glass jars that held candles throughout the wedding garden and clubhouse, with little hearts and love quotes. I think I use every event and holiday as an excuse to do crafts.  I also made the cake topper—in honor of Justin’s favorite super hero…417871_10150643320993417_80423341_n

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Cassie and Justin Wedding 013

I am happiest when doing crafty things with our hands, while sitting around my dining table.  Conversations seem more free and natural this way.  I am loving this time with them.

Chari

Chari, like Mom, works seriously and diligently.

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Mom concentrates.

of course, Pam always thinks Dad is funny!

of course, Pam always thinks Dad is funny!


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We finally took away the jars from Dad. He was doing his own thing on them, not entirely wedding appropriate.

Also, during this past month among all of the other normal wedding preparations, we had a bridal shower, Michael’s call-backs for Hook and I’ve had my first consultation for radiation. I love Dr. K. We talked about our families, children, and the importance of a good coffee mug.  A mug with just the right weight and the right color or design.  This lady is smart.

We talked about Trevor’s break up with Shannon and of Dr. K’s daughter, nearly the same age as Trevor, of how, like Trevor, all she really wants is to have a real and loving relationship.  We talked about Cassie and how the wedding is just five days away.  We talked about Michael and how theatre is saving him.

January has been a good month.  Michael got Hook.

And, Cassie got hitched.  The wedding happened.

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Cassie and Justin rocked it.

Literally.

This was no ordinary walk down the isle.  Well, this is no ordinary couple.  I guess it’s safe to say that this is not an ordinary family, either.  “Besides,” Cassie said as she rubbed her belly and kissed my cheek, “there is so much to celebrate”.

She decides that we will be rocking  down the isle.

No, typical did not fit into Cassie’s desires for this wedding day.  Although, she did draw the line and refused to let Justin enter the way he really wanted to; dropping Ninja style from out of the tree over-hanging the altar.

The three brothers kicked it off with a choreographed dance number.

The Rubino Brothers

The Rubino Brothers

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Yup.  The mother of the bride!

Yup. The mother of the bride!

Then, the wedding party danced in.

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Michelle in the Maid of Honor’s dress that she begged Cassie to allow her to get…..more fitting to her personal style!
Cassie made sure that everybody was happy at this wedding!!!



Here Comes the Bride!

Here Comes the Bride!

Her brothers danced back in order to “walk” Cassie down the isle.  As the Reverend Dr. Greg Rubino Daddy was Officiating the ceremony, so she didn’t have daddy walk her.  He and Groom Justin waited at the other end.

I would love to have seen the two of them rock down the isle.

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Justin's nephews, Honey and Cooper bring the rings on teddy bears.

Justin’s nephews, Honey and Cooper bring the rings on puppy dogs….with the agreement that if they bring rings, they get to keep the puppies afterwards.

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The Halliwells

The Halliwells

Nurse Pam unhooks my IV from the port in my chest.  She sees my computer open on my lap.  My tea is still steaming from the cup beside me.  Pam looks around the chemo room, it’s nearly empty, “Go ahead,” she smiles at me, “stay as long as you’d like.”

I think I’ll just close the laptop and close my eyes, too.

Just for a little while.

List this……….

January 14, 2012

I roll off my yoga mat just as the morning light gently opens my bedroom curtains.  The first thing I do is reach for my cell phone.

Checking in with my to-do list.

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Something I have not had to do since running Cat’s Pajamas Gymnastics.  All while I was either birthing, nursing or both.  And, while Greg and I built the business, raising the kids together.

I couldn’t function without a to-do list back then.

Today, my list is so long, I am not sure any normal person can begin to accomplish it all. Let alone me. A breast cancer patient on chemotherapy. I am a disabled person. Not allowed to work.

Yet, suddenly, I have a to-do list.

Cassie and Justin’s wedding is fifteen days away. Just eight weeks and nine days from proposal to wedding. With a few interruptions along the way; Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. This, along  with no budget, make the planning doubly challenging.

So, I list this. The ‘we’re going to have a wedding’ list.

Michelley leaves for Japan February 17, just one day before Cassie’s twenty-sixth birthday. Packets arrive. Her contract. There is paper work to be filled out with deadlines to meet. We have to come up with a winter wardrobe that is non-existent in San Diego, (unless Uggs are considered true winter boots?) but absolutely necessary when arriving in Japan in the middle of winter.  We are learning how to pack for a year and fit it all into the maximum two bags allotment set forth by the housing Universal Studios will be providing her. This is like a scavenger hunt that never ends.

So, I list this.  The ‘Michelley moves to Japan for a year’ list.

Christopher has won auditions into the Second City Conservatory. He now has shows we can and want to attend.  I list this. Trevor just received a contract for a second season with Cirque de la Mer. I don’t need to do much for him.  He is set.

However, Michael still works rides at Lego, as boring as this is, he never misses a day, never late, and offers to fill in for anyone and everyone who calls in sick. This happens often. I am his driver.  To and from Legoland everyday.  Plus, he is auditioning for Capt. Hook in Hook.  Another play. He has done back to back plays for the past few of years with only a few weeks between productions.

Michael's first play production ~Oliver.

Michael’s first play production ~Oliver.

I drive him to all of this. I like this time with him in the car alone. I will miss this when he gets his license.  For now, I am happy to drive.

So, I list this. The ‘to and from’ list.

I have always taken the production photos for each of these shows. It’s my hobby.  My friend, Michael Wallot is the director and he is also part of a singing group. He asked if I’d take a few photos of them for an upcoming event.

So, I list this.  The ‘Fun photos to take’ list.

While shooting this group, I meet a woman who says her father is dying of cancer. Her long-time boyfriend just proposed so that they can be married while her father is still able to be at her wedding. They only have a couple of weeks to plan and wonder if I could do the wedding photos. They don’t have a budget. I understand this better than anyone. I agree to do them. This wedding takes place February 11th.  I need to make another list. A list real photographers use for weddings. I google this.

So, I list this.  The ‘shot list–photos never to miss when shooting a wedding’ list.

There are doctor appointments on my list too. But, these seem such a minor part of my life right now. I put them at the bottom of my priority lists.  Dr. B wants to draw blood.  I am doing well, though I am still fatigued most often and my skin makes me look like I am ninety years old. I am doing better than he expects. I feel sure of this. I think I now know my own cure for cancer.

Make lists. Get busy.  Live.

I just had my last chemo of the harsh Carboplatin and Taxotere drugs. Next time, on Feb. 3, I get Herceptin only. Even though I have an appointment with Dr. K, the radiologist just five days before the wedding, Dr. B thinks we might just pause everything. See how I do on Herceptin only for a while.

I like this idea.  I list this.  Pause to heal.

I also have appointments to meet with Breast Cancer Solutions, a non-profit group. I will meet with the Jewish Family Center, even though I am not Jewish, I am told they help women with breast cancer. There’s an appointment with the Social Security office.

I list this.  The ‘nap when you need to’ list.  Then, go on appointments.

There is no income from me. So, I must meet with any and every organization that can help us. American Cancer Society doesn’t offer much help.  A gas card.  Which I am grateful to have.  We wait to see if I can get disability insurance.

This morning, I am looking for something that is accomplished on my list. I want to put a big check mark across something to show it is done. Complete. Finished.

I also look for something on the list that is easily tackled. I am tired. I need something I can start my day with that doesn’t require too much effort. Sometimes getting started is so hard. Then, I see it. This is what I will do first today. There have been a few stragglers that just won’t fall off, and they are long and annoying. I feel good about starting my day with this particular to-do.

Yes, I did list this…..’Shave my head’.

Ah…yeah…about that knight……

December 31, 2011

I don’t remember ever having a story read to me as a child.  I don’t remember any children’s books in our house.  My dad was an avid reader.  My mom may have wanted to read, too.  I don’t know.  She was probably too busy and tired from working a full time job outside of the home, while raising four girls, as well as taking care of her retarded sister in our home.  Attending my sister’s high school functions, both parents were “Band-Aids” for the school band.  All while keeping an immaculate five bedroom, three bath, tri-level home with a two tiered backyard garden and a pool.

My mom was a rock star.

And, my dad could read books thicker than my right arm.  There must have been books in the house.  I just don’t remember seeing them.  I discovered a love for children’s books somewhere between becoming a teen and becoming a mother.  Yet, long before ever collecting these fairy tale books, I have always known about this one guy.

The Knight in Shining Armor.

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It occurs to me since being diagnosed with cancer, that I have always wanted a Knight in Shining Armor of my own.  I have always been waiting for this knight to show up.  I knew that all I needed to do was pull a few strings and my Knight would finally arrive.

Pulling on the pity strings.  Oh, I knew how to do this.

But, this guy just never showed up.

Having cancer gives great pause.  My life does not stop here.  It merely pauses.  I have needed this pause to get the story straight.  It is time I tell myself the truth.

There are no Knights in Shining Armor.

It is kind of like the day when my mom told me the truth about Santa Clause.  She couldn’t imagine that I still believed.  After all, I was eight years old.  Oh, I believed.

I sobbed.  For hours.

Now, I am telling myself this other truth.  About the knight.  But, I am not sobbing. I’m over him.  Besides, if there were a knight in shining armor, then, he hasn’t seen battle or his armor would be all dirty and blood stained.  I should have figured that one out about Santa, too.  All of those Santas in the malls with their clean red suits.  A sure sign they weren’t real.  They didn’t have a stitch of soot on those suits.  Those Santas never saw a chimney. How did I miss that?  A knight without dirt and blood has never seen a battle and who needs an inexperienced knight when it is time to battle for your life?  No.

A Knight in Shining Armor is not coming.  And even if he did.  He can’t be my hero.

Maybe all of my life I have created situations so that a knight could come and save me. Similar scenarios would play over and over again like pages of favorite books.  Moments where we gasp for the heroine, and fear for her life.  Always her hand reaching and ready for the moment the knight enters and swoops her up and away from so much strife and grief.  I couldn’t figure out why my life would play this loop, and the knight never showed.

Until now.

Well, really, until a year and a half ago.  Where, instead of a knight showing up, I had a lump make an appearance. This is when it really begins to occur to me that there are no knights.  My little loop of self pity just got serious.  Pulling on pity strings can be dangerous. It’s time to put away the fairy tale stories and recognize one thing.

I have to be my own knight.

It is New Years Eve (day).  And when most people are making resolutions for a new year, I am taking a long hard look at this little story that is my life.  This resolution of mine is more like a revolution.  And, for me, this is huge.

Yesterday I read a quote by Deepak Choppra, M.D.

~”Complete healing depends on our ability to stop struggling.”

Yes.  I get this.  I have sensed this from the moment Dr. B entered the room and told our dazed faces that it was breast cancer.  The nurses seemed to immediately go into a new vocabulary for me.  Not just medical terms that I had yet to learn, but the most common terminology associated with the word-CANCER.  Words like: battle, fight, war against…

Words a Knight in Shining Armor might use.

Words we might hear him yell, that is, if we could understand him from within that armor. Words that I refuse to use.  Now, this makes more sense.  I don’t need this knight.  And, I don’t need his dang battle cries.  For, they would keep me battling.  Struggling.

This fairy tale ends today.  And it is no New Year’s Resolution.  It just is.

Acceptance.  Okay.  So, I have cancer.  So what?  I will mount my own white horse and trot along this path of spirituality.  I believe that is what illness truly is.  A pause.  A path, if we allow it, into a deeper sense of self and purpose.  Of spirit.  Spirituality.  And I accept.   Me and my horse, a white one, of course, will follow it.  Without fear.

For I have an armor of my own.  Though, it is used, dirtied, bloodied and dented.  It is an armor of truth.  Of soul.  Of Spirit.

And, of love.

Right now I am looking at Trevor’s “Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards” by Doreen Virtue, PH.D.  Yes, I borrowed them again.  With their bent corners.  A couple of them chewed around the edges from “Halo”, a dog he once had and loved.  These are like the fairy tale books I never had.  I shuffle them and pull one out when it feels right.

I pull out Ostara.   So beautifully illustrated by Wendy Andrew.

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The goddess of fertility.

“It is the perfect time for you to start new projects, access new ideas, and give birth to new conditions.”  I swear, this is the card that comes up.  On New Year’s Eve.

Give birth to new conditions?

Okay.  I will birth a condition of new health.  Good health.

And, I won’t wait up for that knight.

Of the stories we weave…….

December 30, 2011

She was mean.  Supposedly.  I don’t know, I wasn’t even born yet.  But, the stories of my grandmother always frightened me a little.  I have heard them over and over again throughout my life, yet, I probably still have all of the details screwed up and wrong.

Probably, I don’t remember the stories quite right because I did not want to hear them.

I was the most sensitive child ever planted on this Earth.  I am sure I listened to these stories in the way I watch scary movies.  Shielding myself behind a blanket.  One that I can still see through, of course.

I was so sensitive that I became the neighborhood side-show.  My sister Pam used to love to show me off.  All she would ever have to say to her friends was, “do you want to see my sister, Lori, cry?”  And, I would.  I could without a cause.  Right on cue.

I suppose it was kind of funny.

The stories of my grandmother weren’t.  I didn’t want to hear that my dad didn’t feel cared for by her.  Nor, maybe, even more so, I did not want to hear that her children did not care much for her either.  There is a story of how Grandma didn’t want to be a mom.  She was frustrated.  One day she announced that she was going to just go and drown herself in the lake.  Evidently, the children clapped as she departed from the dinner table.

I particularly did not like the story of when she took a broom handle to my uncle’s back. That was the day that he and my dad both walked out.  Moved away from home.  On their own.  My dad was just sixteen.

Whenever Grandma did come over, I just knew the stories must be true.  Where Grandpa had arms to hug and didn’t care how long I needed to cling ( I was very clingy once someone let me latch on), Grandma only had a pat for me.  A pat on top of my head. Then, she’d make her way to the couch.  Sit briefly and tell Grandpa it was time to go.  She had a dog to feed and crossword puzzles to finish.

He never wanted to go.

I secretly wanted a pudgy little grandma with soft arms and loving eyes.  I imagined her stealing me away for the day, just the two of us, off to her house where she would teach me to bake cookies and how to sew big warm quilts.   By hand.  We would eat the cookies still steaming fresh out of the oven and then she would listen to me talk on and on while we stitched away at our quilt making.  I wanted a grandma that made me feel special.  Wanted.  Important.

Years later, after having children of my own, I did learn how to quilt.  Though, Reita was not a grandmother, and was quite a bit younger than me, she was soft, pudgy and had loving eyes.  She taught me to hand-make quilts.  And, as I would stitch late into the night, those quiet nights when children were finally safely asleep in their little beds, I would think about my grandmother.  The only one I ever knew.  My mom’s mother had died when my mom was still a teenager.

Like me, that grandmother had breast cancer.

Now, both grandmothers are gone.  I had begun to think about those stories I had heard of my dad’s mother.  Stories that were woven into my life as if they were memories of my own.  As my own babies slept, I would create patterns in the quilts I was sewing and begin to realize that we weave stories into our lives that create patterns as well.  I began to remember that there were other stories about Grandma, too.  Although, barely a mere thread in the horror stories, there were stories that were glimmering.  Gold threads of achievements.

For my Grandmother, Fern Miles.

For my Grandmother, Fern Miles.

Stories that made me proud of this woman.  This woman who’s name was Fern.

Grandma was a writer.  A sports writer.  A female sports writer.  In the 1930’s.  Women didn’t work outside the home then.   Much less work in a man’s field.  She was not allowed in the press box with the other writers.  The male sports writers.  Grandma would have to stand outside the box and get information through the window.

Grandma knew Gerald Ford.  The man who was vice president of the United States and tripped his way into presidency.  She wrote for his campaigns when he started his political career in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Our home.   And, somewhere in this family, there is a personal note hand written to her by Carl Sandburg.  I guess she knew him as well.

It made me think.  Maybe this woman, trying to make ends meet during the great depression, loved her children.  Deeply.  What mother doesn’t?  Maybe, she felt tremendous frustration for holding great talent in writing that she could never fully bring to fruition because she also happened to have bared five children.  Maybe, being a mother back then meant only that mother’s were to make sure the children were fed, and that they learn to be seen and not heard.   Maybe being a woman in those times meant birthing and cleaning with no hope of personal expression in any other way.  Particularly not in the man’s world of sports writing.

And, just maybe, my dad was a sensitive little child like I was.  Maybe he secretively wished for a mother that baked cookies, listened to him talk on and on, made him feel special and important. Wanted.

Maybe, the horror stories only seem worse when felt and seen through the sensitive child. It makes me want to heal that little child within my dad.  He must have been such a cute little boy, filled with emotion that little boys were never allowed to express in the 1930’s.

not my dad and uncle...but, what I imagine, as children of the 1930's.

not my dad and uncle…but, what I imagine, as children of the 1930’s.

I hold onto this thread of gold.  The good things that I know my grandmother must have held.  And, I continue to weave this into my memories quilt.

Greg and the kids had a quilt made for me this Christmas.  A most beautiful gift.

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It is baby blue and white with hearts at the center of each square.  The most beautiful part is how each square also contains a quote, hand-written by each of our five kids, by Justin and by Greg.

I cover myself daily with this quilt.  During the naps I still must take.  The chemo driven naps.  I cover myself with this quilt as I sleep at night.  Covering myself with the loving words of my loves.  I have used this quilt so much already since Christmas, I fear that the writing will fade and I will lose these loving words.  So, I will write them here in my journal.

“I love you because you make me laugh, and laugh, and laugh”…..~ Greg

“I love you because you’re my best friend through everything.”…~Greg

“I love you because you are joy, you are happiness, you are love.”…~Chris

“I love you because your smile brings light, your laugh breathes life, your embrace gives strength.”…~Chris

“I love you because you are my heart, you take life with a smile.  I hope to be half the mom that you are.  You’re my hero.  You always beat the odds.” ~<3Cassie

“I love you because you have always been there and I know that you always will be.”…~Trevor

“I love you because you have taught me to be positive in every step that I take.”…~Trevor

“I love you because you inspire me to be better in all aspects of life.”…~Michelle

“I love you because you love the ones who need it.  You accept the ones who don’t show it.  Your love knows no limits.”…~Michelle

“I love you because you have always been the best mother anyone could ever ask for.”…~Michael

“I love you because….when I am sad you know what to say and when I’m lost you know the way.”….~Michael

“I love you because you always see the best in people whether they deserve it or not…. You keep cooking….even after everyone has asked you to stop…You made Trevor!!!.”…~Justin

I wish Grandma had been given a quilt like this.  To know she was loved by her children.  Because, in the deepest part of my soul, I know that they did.

What child doesn’t truly love his mother?  No matter what.

As I cover myself tonight, I pull on the little gold thread that is the goodness of my grandmother.  Maybe she wasn’t the kind of grandmother I had wished her to be.  Nor the mother that my dad might have secretly wished for, either.  But, I will make sure the gold thread gets woven into the quilted memories for my children, her great grandchildren.  I will cover them with the healing of understanding that we are all just people trying only our best in raising the children we are given.

And, then, I cover myself with my own little healing quilt with it’s blue and white hearts.

In the world of twirl………..

Greg and I married when I was five months pregnant. We had been living together. Privately proclaiming our love as soul-mates. To love and to protect forever and ever. Beyond death. Through infinity and back. We did not need society to tell us that we were married with a stupid piece of paper. A stamped certificate. Like the fake certificates we used to create for our students during our ‘All Night Olympics’ gymnastics parties.

We were committed without a silly certificate or ceremony.

I never entered that twirling world of little girls spinning in frilly dresses. Little girls with big dreams of white dresses and fairy tale weddings.

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Besides, I had already had one of those. I was nineteen in the white dress, with bridesmaids in orange and brown flowery dresses that look like they are made from the family-room curtains. The charming groom with promises to love and to hold. He did. He loved and held whatever and whomever he could. For eight years. Eight years of infidelity that I was too naive to realize. The last to know. It was easy to walk out and never turn back. My big sister, Chari, took me in to live with her and my niece, Mindi.

Then, I met Greg.

He didn’t care if we never had a ceremony. First, we gradually started to move my belongings into his apartment. He had my stereo and the cool bowl-shaped wicker chair with the jazzy blue and gold swirly footon cover. Then, my computer (not many people had computers in their homes yet). I also had a car that wasn’t held together with bumper stickers as his was.

My stuff moved in. And, soon, so did I. He had me for life. Who needed the white dress, empty promises and certificates?

We wanted children. I told him that I could never get pregnant. That for eight years I didn’t use birth control, got pregnant with Gary once, toward the end, and lost it almost as soon as I had discovered it. So, we would have to adopt.

Greg was cool with that. He’s cool that way.

We were already pregnant as we had this conversation sitting for an hour or more at the Egg and You Restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale. We just didn’t know it yet.

Even after discovering that we were going to have a baby together, we still did not believe we needed a wedding. We would raise this child together. But, like so many other ideas we had about raising this child, we would soon learn that plans are the first thing to go when you get pregnant. Right after the waist-line.

Our plans included that I would keep my job as Promotion Director for WAXY Radio. I had the higher paying job. Greg would quit his job as WAXY’s station writer. In fact, once this plan was made, Greg quit immediately. We had kept our relationship a secret for nearly a year. WAXY was part of RKO and RKO had strict policy against office relationships.

It was bad enough that I was a divorced woman at work, but, to be pregnant and single was professional suicide. So, we confessed and he quit. He would become one of the first, and rare, stay-at-home-Dads. He’d be with baby and have all day to write. That was his dream. To write. It’d be easy. I’d just run home at lunch to nurse the baby. For sure I would nurse. No question about that. And baby will be on my schedule. We had plans. Simple.

What we didn’t plan on was my change of heart.

I started to feel life within my belly and soul, my change of heart happened.

It just happened.

I changed my mind. I wanted to get married. And, I couldn’t go back to work. I HAD to be the stay at home mom.

I was five months pregnant, we had a ceremony in my mom’s house. No bridesmaids dressed in curtain fabric. No white dress.

But, promises were made that day. Promises that had been made in our hearts before we were even born. Along with a bit of Kahlil Gibran.

I worked until I just could not any more and Chris was born a couple of weeks later. Just five days before Christmas. I don’t think Greg ever fully recovered from this abrupt career move I had made for him.

Cassie will be five months pregnant by the time her and Justin have a wedding. We are looking for the white dress. The romance. After such a romantic wedding proposal, there is no doubt that Justin will help to make this the wedding of a young girls’ dreams. Cassie has long dreamed of that fairy tale wedding.

dress up

Being pregnant in a beautiful white gown was never part of those dreams. Dress shopping is difficult.

Jessy comes up from San Diego. Michelley, Cassie and I drive to the first of several wedding dress shops to meet up with her. We start out full of giggles, and high hopes. Six hours later, it takes everything in Cassie’s power to not just sit on the floor in David’s Bridals and sob. Nothing fits right. Her belly is already protruding, her waist thickened. And she is growing fast. How will we find something that will grow with her and still look like a beautiful bride.

She doesn’t want to look pregnant on the most romantic day of her life.

I tell her that she should flaunt it. Accentuate the belly. Be proud. This is romantic. She only wrinkles her nose at me. Not even able to make a joke out of this.

That’s how bad she is feeling.

Jessy hates to, but, she has to leave and go to work. She thought for sure we would be celebrating a purchase after nearly six hours of looking, trying on and giggling. We grab a bite to eat. She leaves us. Empty. We have so little time left to do this. Jessy doesn’t know when she can take another day for dress shopping. She will miss out on this day that she and Cassie have talked about since their friendship started at age eight.

As Michelley and I try to keep Cassie’s hopes up, we know it is not going to be what we had all hoped for her. Cassie has not worked since my diagnosis in September and has lived off her savings. Now with a tight budget, and bulging belly, we have great limits. And, then, like seeing an oasis in the desert, we spot a small little wedding dress boutique shimmering between a few random store fronts across the parking lot from David’s.

Bridal Showcase.

Why not, we take a chance, agreeing that this place is going to be more than we can afford…..which, it is.

“Let’s just go in for the fun of it.” Besides, I think maybe they have a comfy chair for me to rest upon. “Maybe we can find something that fits here, and then, we can find a similar style online. Cheaper.”

So much happens in this last hour of wedding dress shopping.

Michelley, Cassie and I squeeze into a dressing room with two or three possible dresses. We don’t even look at the price tags. It does not matter. We’re not buying from here anyway. We hear a whole bridal party of girls gathering on the row of comfy chairs just outside our dressing room curtain. We zip and button Cassie into the first dress and immediately squeal oohhhhs and ahhhs. The bridal party of girls tell us to come out so they can see.

It fits. She looks beautiful. And, she loves it.

I know this, because it’s the first dress that Cassie lingers in. She twirls back and forth a little. Like the little girl she once was, always testing out the dresses for their twirl factor.

twirl

If it didn’t twirl, we didn’t buy it. I watch as my daughter now studies herself in the mirror. This dress makes her feel beautiful. This is THE dress.

We take it off. And as we begin to try on the others, I bend over to pick up a hanger off the floor and without any warnings, the unthinkable happens.

A fart.

A short but loud whistling fart. There is a moment of shock from all three of us as we look at each other. I stand up, holding my breath, Michelle’s hand covers her mouth, Cassie’s eyes grow big as she gulps in a laugh. There is a moment of silence. I begin to pray the bridal party didn’t hear it.

“We heard that!” It’s the bridal party. They heard.

We scramble over each other in our little dressing room, trying not to laugh, which makes laughter that much more irresistible. There is no way that I am going to step out of this closet until everyone out there on those comfy chairs has left. This is a bridal party of a real-life version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. There are a dozen of them out there. They are doubled up into each of the available comfy chairs.

And, they are not leaving anytime soon.

Composed, I step out to face them. I don’t think Michelley and Cassie will ever be able to compose themselves. They only watch me. Still laughing.

I kind of hope they will notice my hat and lack of eyebrows and blame it on the chemo. The clerk meets me at the curtain and asks if there was anything we liked? Ignoring the fart. Although, I know she will go home and tell her husband about it.

“Yes. This one is the dress she loves. But, I’m afraid we can’t afford it.” I swear, I was not using the “Cancer Card”, the “C” card, on this one. It didn’t even occur to me to try. I just tell the clerk that Cassie is pregnant, I was recently diagnosed, and her sister, her little best friend, is leaving for Japan in February for a full year, so Cassie needs to rush a wedding. Therefore, there isn’t a very big budget for doing a wedding of her dreams.

The clerk takes the dress that Cassie loves and hangs it up near the cash register. She asks for my phone number and how much we have budgeted for a dress. I tell her that it would insult her, and I begin to apologize for even stepping through their doors knowing we could never actually buy a dress there. This embarrasses me more than farting in a fancy wedding dress shop. She insists. I tell her.

Five minutes after leaving this shop, I get a phone call from the clerk. She talked to the owner. They want to donate the dress for less than our budget.

And, then she and I both cry.

And so it goes……….

December 27, 2011

About five years ago, I wrote a….poem?…..verse?  Whatever.

I wrote this thing.

It came to me while giving up on trying to keep pace with Greg on a morning beach walk. We start out together.  But, our minds drift with the rhythm of the waves, our steps sometimes come out of sync with each other.  Besides, I often stop to take a picture.

one of my beach photos.

Or, I pick up rocks with interesting shapes.  Like hearts.

I stop often.  He moves.  Continually.  He loves moving meditation.

I remember writing this verse in my head throughout this particular morning walk.  I was not sad.  I had no clue that in a couple of years ahead, I would be living with cancer.

Breast cancer.

Yesterday, I found this poem thing.  I was looking for sketch paper, and this fell out.  Drifting to the floor.  It occurs to me that Greg or one of the kids might find this one day, after I am gone and think I was filled with regret.

So, I write them a letter on top of the poem/thing.

……………………………………………………………………….

Dear Gregory and Children of mine:

If you are finding this, and I am actually…..gone…… I just thought you should know that this ‘poem’ was not written because I KNEW I was ……going…… 🙂

In fact, I wrote this while walking the beach with my best friend, (Gregory), a few years before I even had any hint of cancer. So, when I told you that I was fine and doing well….I really am/was.

I didn’t write this because I was filled with regret.  I couldn’t be happier with my life, the good and the bad, the great choices I made and even the stupid mistake choices. This, is not about regret.

“And, So, It Goes” is about recognizing that this, this life we all live, will all end one day and that it is important to live our wishes and dreams and intentions~ NOW.

Because our time does come to go. When it does, it is okay. It really is okay. Especially when we have lived in the best possible way and loved with all of our hearts.

And, you and I have.

So, here it is.  A little diddy……….

I hoped to write a book

of poems

a verse

a rhyme

before I go.

I planned to sing

a sing-along

a diddy

a tune to

sing,

every song.

But, my time

has come

and so it goes……

I wanted to dry

all children’s eyes

one touch

to hush

all babies cries.

I hoped to live

a life of poems

to feel

to share

before I go.

But, my time

has come

and so it goes..

I thought there’d be

another day

a truth

to speak

all I should say.

How will you remember

a mother’s dream

too rushed

unfinished

unrealized

unseen?

I meant to call

before I go,

today

tomorrow,

I didn’t know

My time has come

and so

it goes.

~Live life.  Live love!!!

The tale of two trees……………..

Dec. 24, 2011

Michelley, a modern day hippie.

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She is filled with love and peace for all of mankind, a hippie without the drugs.  Michelle loves many friends.  Always the epitome of social butterflying, she is fluttering even more so since planning to move to Japan in two months.

Between work hours, gymnastics training hours, meeting up with friends for hours, and spending time with the boyfriend, I don’t see much of her. And, when she does come home, it seems I am always in my bathrobe, sleeping on the couch.

At five o’clock in the evening.

I am feeling a bit green these days.

Feeding into the negatives can leave you feeling a bit green.

I try to tell her that I am not here all day like this. I am pretty energetic all day. It just so happens that I get fatigued by this time. Daily naps unavoidable. As much as I try. Like a busy three year old begging to stay up, I fight with myself over nap time. Lately, my three year old self loses the battle. I get my bathrobe on, grab a cozy blanket and the dog, Michelley’s dog, Reesie, and snooze a bit.

She always walks in and sees me this way. I see the concern on her face. She doesn’t believe me when I say that I am okay. I am well. It makes her feel guilty that she has plans to go out. To question herself on the decision to go live in Japan for a full year. Leaving me while I am still undergoing chemotherapy.

It is Christmas Eve.  I don’t feel like Christmas. It has nothing to do with how I feel. Health wise.  I feel well enough.  It is just hard to think about Christmas when I know we don’t even have enough money to make ends meet each month. I had borrowed money from my parent’s, borrowing against the fundraiser monies Jessy had acquired for us.  Money we borrowed in order to move into the new apartment, to pay the bills while we wait for approval on disability and the fundraiser money to come in.

My poor parents. They have bailed us out over and over again. Each time, I swear I will be in a position to not only pay them back, but to start sending them money to help their monthly retirement income.  For the rest of their lives.  I really wanted to do that.

Now, that will never happen.

None of us really have money to spend on Christmas this year.  Well, except for Michelle and Trevor.  They both do very well.  But, Chris is still looking for work while attending school at Second City Hollywood.   Cassie is working, while pregnant.  Justin is working in a restaurant while auditioning.  She and Justin fear spending what she is making now, knowing this is what will sustain them when she doesn’t return to work after the baby is born.  Michael just started work, and got his first paycheck for a couple of day’s work.

Without money to spend on gifts, I just get stressed over any Christmas reminder. The few decorations we have are still in the garage. The only decorations that I managed to take on that last move across country, when we could only afford to take what we could stuff into our little Kia (the car my parents fronted, of which I was to make payments and only managed to pay half the amount prior to getting diagnosed and unemployed).

We don’t have a Christmas tree this year.

Michelley kisses my forehead goodbye.  She’s already changed clothes and is on her way out again.  She pauses looking down at me with a little puppy dog look.  Her guilty look for going out to meet up with friends. For leaving me alone while Greg and Michael are still out working for their minimum wage per hour.  I tell her not to worry, Chris,Trevor and Cassie will be coming in later, too, for our family ‘sleep over’.   We will all be here when she gets back.

We want to all wake up together on Christmas morning.

Even though, we won’t be exchanging gifts.  We want to be together for our traditional breakfast with a few revisions; the little Smokies sausages wrapped in dough will now be veggie sausages in dough.  We will play board games, and draw names.  Later, during the “After Christmas Sales”, we will all meet at the mall with our little piece of paper, the name we each drew.  We will set a time, a deadline, and then scatter throughout the mall in teams.  Helping each other find a gift for the person we each drew.  Working like secret agents not to get spotted as we purchase one gift on sale.   A new “tradition”.

I look around the gloomy living room. No lights on. The early nightfall creating a depressing gloom. Shadows stretching across my bathrobe.  It is quiet after she closes the door gently on her way out.

I get up off the couch and dress. Turn on a few lights. Light a fire in the fireplace. The gas lit, fake log fireplace. Still it gives off a warm glow. I have something to do. Something important.

And, I have an idea.

I remember that I have had a towel rack that is too large for the bathroom that I bought from Walmart long ago. It’s been rolling around in my trunk for months, waiting to be returned. Along with a few other returns that I can’t even remember what they might be rolling around with the rack. It’s time for these guys to go back. The only thing I love about Walmart. No questions asked about the returns.

It’s not a lot of money but, it is enough.

Suddenly, as I am driving along I-5, well, actually sitting on I-5, as it is now rush hour traffic on Christmas Eve, I am feeling pretty happy. Excited. I hope to get home before anyone else does. I have a surprise.

I make my stop and hurry back to the stopped traffic. It doesn’t matter. It is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

By the time I get home, I barely make it into the house before Michelley pulls into the driveway. She doesn’t come inside, she just peeks her head in the door and asks who’s home. She is acting very strange.

I am, too. I nearly shut the door on her neck. I don’t want her to come in yet.

As I start propping my little Christmas tree onto the corner end table, Michelley pushes herself through the front door, grunting and panting, a tree barely makes it, but does burst through ahead of her.

We both bought a tree.

At first we just look at each other.  Surprised.  Then, disappointed, “Ah, man, I wanted to surprise you with a tree!”  We both say this.  And then, we laugh.

Her tree is bigger, fuller and beautiful.

We will put them both up. In the small living room. As I begin stringing lights on my tree, Michelley keeps going down to her car and returning with more bags. She bought all new ornaments and lights.

We decorate her tree together.

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Some of the ornaments are individually wrapped. I see the price tag. She has spent more for one ornament than I have for all of the ornaments on my tree. Are you kidding? I guess I never taught my kids how to shop the dollar stores and bargain markets for bulk packets and sales on tree decorations. I want her to return these.

“No,” she takes a stand, “I won’t be here next Christmas. I want you to have wonderful ornaments when I am not here.” She pulls out one that is a mom and dad, “this one is you and daddy.” We sit on the floor and she spreads out the special ornaments. There is one for each member of the family. Each with something that is representative and unique to each individual.

“I want you to remember that I am still with you next Christmas, even though I will be in Japan.”

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I put on something that is even more green–a true Christmas-tree green and prepare a big, bad-for-you dinner of fried finger foods for us to eat while we watch a Christmas movie in the glow of our two Christmas trees.

The next morning, Christmas morning, I wake to a horrible sound.  It is loud, violent, like a gas leak.  I spring from my bed, tripping over a mess on the floor, barely able to open my eyes.  I fumble with the door handle, yelling,

“what the heck, what the heck?”

As I get the door open, I focus a bit more.  Just enough to see Trevor leaping like the Grinch trying to get out of the living room before Cindy Lou Who catches a glimpse of him. I hear Michelley’s gut wrenching giggles in hushes ahead of Trevor.

The tree lights are on.  There are wrapped gifts under the two trees.  Fake snow has been sprayed across the sliding glass doors.  Rather poorly, as they had to stop in the middle because they were about to get caught.  Trevor and Michelle, the two making the most income in the family these days, pooled their money and bought gifts for everyone.

A tale of two Santas.

The ping and the pain of the yin and the yang……

November 30, 2011

It’s official.

Michelley has decided to accept the offer from Universal Studios Japan.

To move forward, she will have to do some letting go. She will have to “Lego of my Lego”.  This makes me think of a TV commercial when I was a young girl.  “Let Go of My Eggo”.  I guess for the kids of my generation, letting go of a waffle was our biggest struggle.

With cast mates.  Trevor, left and Michelley on right.

With cast mates.
Trevor, left and Michelley on right.

Trevor and Michelley in The Big Test.

Arguing in the show.
Something they rarely did growing up together.

For Michelle, letting go of Lego will be hard.

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Letting go of Trevor.  Impossible.

Michelley will soon experience, once again, the yin and yang of life. I look it up in Wikipedia and show her.  “Yin and yang are not opposing forces (dualities), but complementary forces, unseen (hidden, feminine) and seen (manifest, masculine), that interact to form a greater whole, as part of a dynamic system.”

Letting go is part of the dance.

I remember the first moment that somewhere in the darkest part of my mind I allowed myself to realize I might have cancer.  Knew I had cancer.  Admitted, to myself, that it was cancer.  The second thought that followed this dark realization was of letting go.

How could I ever let go?

Of my husband?  My best friend.  My deepest love.

How do I let go of my children?

These are children.  My children.  I am not done raising them.   They aren’t done needing a mom.  How does a mother leave her children?  Even though I also know, deep down, each one of them are ‘good to go’ without mom.  They could not be more capable and more prepared to venture this life of theirs totally on their own.  With each other.

They each are far more prepared than I was at nineteen, marrying my first husband.  More prepared than I am now, facing the death sentence.

We recently moved.  As soon I was diagnosed.

Smokers below us, and all of the apartment dryer vents aimed at our doors and windows kept my living space in a cloud of smoke and chemicals.  I didn’t need to take any more chances.

We moved.

Letting go of that apartment was easy. Within one day, we found a condo unit in a community we had lived in for two years.  The huge tree, reaching her branches to the balcony’s edge invited me in. The floor to ceiling mirrors bouncing sweet sunshine throughout the unit, said it was my healing space.  We were just one mile off the coast, and back in the condominiums we had lived in four years ago.  We were home.

Michael walked through the complex and came back a bit sad.  I thought he was upset with making yet another move. Upset with the fact that this move meant he had to sleep in the living room.  With Chris.

He is not depressed about this, he is just sad.

This is the last home where he still had friends. They played outside together.  Every day.  All moves after this, after he was twelve, isolated him further from kids his age.  From people.  One neighborhood with drug houses and gangs kept him locked inside.  He had let go of this place, and the friends without a silver lining to that darkness.

Maybe some of our yin time is just pain time.  We endure knowing the interaction with yang is in there somewhere. The dance sometimes takes longer than we think we can do.

It has only been two months since moving in and, already, I see a change in Michael. He wants to join Michelley and Trevor in the Big Test, the stunt/comedy show at Legoland.   He has the skill to do the show. Lord knows he has seen it enough to be able to jump right in.

I encourage him to contact Shawn, entertainment director.

Surprisingly, he does.  Michael, who just learned to read on his own a couple of years ago, struggling through years with dyslexia, formulated a professional looking email. I help to tweak it a bit. We send it off. And, wait.

Shawn writes back immediately.  Michael needs to wait until he is eighteen. Even though Trevor was hired at seventeen. Michael just turned seventeen, Trevor was almost eighteen when they bent that rule.

He is hugely disappointed.

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But, not for long.

Michael applies for his first job working rides at Lego. Putting four year olds on and off the horsey ride every four minutes, eight hours a day is not an easy job.

My first job, at age fourteen, was working the night shift at Dunkin Donuts. Back in the day before donut holes were a marketable item.  I got to take home this left over dough waste.  After rolling as many as I wanted into whatever topping I chose.

I think my first job had better perks.

Christopher’s first job was running a camera at the local football games, and being the teen host for a kids tv show for Adelphia TV.  He was seventeen.

Cassie’s first job was as a Can-Can dancer in the western theme park, Tweetsie Railroad. She was sixteen.

Trevor’s first job, actually had two at the same time, was coaching gymnastics, girls teams as well as boys teams.  Boys who were older than he and level 10.  His second job that he rode his bike to was working as a stunt performer at Legoland.  He was seventeen.

Michelley’s first job was as a stunt performer for Legoland.  She was eighteen.

Michael wants to fall into that same pattern.  He will have his own path to blaze.

Michael gets hired at rides. I can not be more proud of him. Way to suck it up.  Michael sits with me at the table where I am painting rocks, talking fast and excited.

“I plan to help bring money into the (very low) household fund.  I want to help you and dad pay rent. Michelle leaves soon and you won’t have her help. Then, I want to work toward getting my license and save up for a car or a motorcycle like Trevor did.’

I see that Michael is okay.  He will work while he waits out his time to be able to join his siblings as a stunt performer.

yin_yang

He proudly shows me his uniform.  We look at his name tag made of Lego pieces. “You know, it’s going to be rough doing the rides,” he says, “but, sometimes you need to go through the more difficult stuff first.

It only makes the other side that much sweeter.”

Rich like this…………

November 28, 2011

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It is raining.  A morning rain.  As if the morning can’t be fresh enough on it’s own.

I watch the leaves grow deeper and richer in green as the rain drops glide along their folds on the tree that is so close to my balcony I think one day I will step off the ledge and find myself in a favorite childhood place.

The top of a tree.

I could climb the tallest pine tree in the cemetery on Christie Street.  Not that the cemetery had anything to do with the tallest tree on the street.  I did not care that it was in a cemetery.  The old graves didn’t scare me.  During the day.  The tree was far too inviting and intriguing than to worry about where it’s roots might be.

Besides, this old pine sat straight up on the biggest hill on Christie Street.  Majestic.

It was a step ladder tree giving me her branches at perfect intervals straight to the top. And, this became my favorite place to be.  I didn’t care that I’d collect sap in my hair on the way up.  The quiet breeze swaying me in the smaller branches of the tree top, made it all worth it.

I don’t even remember now what I could see from there.  But I do remember the smell of fresh pine.  It was Christmas in my tree top, even if it was the middle of summer.   I probably don’t remember what I was seeing, because I am quite sure I kept my eyes closed and only felt my arms around the narrow top branch.  I was part of this magnificent tree.

And, I was rich.

Cassie and I, taking a refreshment break from hiking up Big Bear with the family.

Cassie and I, on a refreshment break while hiking Big Bear with the family. (Before diagnosis–Before pregnancy)

I am rich like this today.

The rain drops trickle off the leaves that exude their greenest greens when they are wet. Small droplets dancing, leaping, twirling onto my own balcony garden.  I started growing wheat grass for juicing.  And, tomatoes in one of those upside down vegetable growers Cassie bought for me.  A ten dollar item at Rite Aid Drug Store, worth a million.

Cassie calls on her way to work.  Every day.  Today, she wants to sleep in.  To stay in bed and listen to the rain.  But, she can’t.  She is casting for a popular Chef’s show.

First, we have to talk about how horrible she feels.  Pregnancy is not at all the way she heard (from me) that it is supposed to be.  She is sick.  All day.  Plus she has to still go in to work long, very long, hours.  Productions don’t seem to care if you are pregnant and sick.

Chemo and pregnancy are so similar.  We laugh at how we both are experiencing “side effects”.  We are both so exhausted throughout the day.  “Yes,” I tell her, “and, we both will have a good ending, too, when we each get to our ninth month.”  My chemo is scheduled to end right around her due date.  May 23, 2012.

I intend to be done with cancer by then.

We decide to make a list of how similar our side effects are. There’s the nauseousness. Except, for me, no vomiting.  I am not that sick.  We have an unusual moment for us when on the phone.  There is a long pause.  Quiet.

Okay.  We are not experiencing the same things at all.  She hasn’t lost hair, all finger and toe nails as I have.  And, I do not have to try to work while feeling like an alien.

Cassie is convinced she has it far worse than me.  I am getting thinner, more fit.  She is getting fatter and out of shape.  Cassie hates fat.

Maybe she is right.  There are times when I just don’t want to get out of bed.  It would be so easy to stay there huddled under an oversize comforter, fuzzy bathrobe and my head on my favorite flowery, frilly pillow shams.  Feeling sorry for myself.  For the most part, I just don’t have the horrible side effects we read so much about.

But, there are strange and rather inconvenient side effects I hadn’t read about.  I wasn’t expecting.

Losing finger and toe nails, for one.  And, the teary eyes.  My eyes have started tearing at random moments throughout the day.  Pooling tears.  I am not crying, but my face is streaked with tears as if I was sobbing.  So I pack several travel tissue packets.

I have also created a “finger nail”.  Which is just a large paper clip attached to a long thin leather strap that I wear around my neck for the number of times I find I can’t function without a finger nail.

That number reaches one million.  Each day.

I tell Cassie we can do this.  We can get through our ‘side effects’.  I have a  total of six treatments of Taxotere, Carboplatin and Herceptin scheduled.  And, then just Herceptin until May.  And, for now, things are going so well.  Surprisingly well.  There is no longer talk of surgery.  We may even put a hold on radiation.  We may just ride out on Herceptin.

No mastectomy.

Dr. B. says he doesn’t see enough data to show him that this would be a good choice for me.  I like this lack of data.  I also think Dr. B has not expected such good results for me.  He told me to train like an athlete.  Which, I have.  He just couldn’t advise me nutritionally, or about herbs.  He tells me not to even ask.  He doesn’t know.  I think he doesn’t believe food is medicine.

I like this other doctor’s philosophy better. Some Ancient Greek physician named Hippocrates.

Hippocrates – “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food

Organic.Fresh.Delicious.

Organic.
Fresh.
Delicious.
Nature’s medicine.

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Part of my morning juice.

“Hippocrates is credited with being the first person to believe that diseases were caused naturally, not because of superstition and gods. Hippocrates was credited by the disciples of Pythagoras of allying philosophy and medicine.[16] He separated the discipline of medicine from religion, believing and arguing that disease was not a punishment inflicted by the gods but rather the product of environmental factors, diet, and living habits.”–Wikipedia

I have been religiously practicing Kundalini yoga every day, and riding my bike in the beautiful ocean breezes.  Greg juices carrots with other richly green and leafy veggies for me every morning.  Evidently, carrots are great little warriors.  The Ninja vegetable. Except, they wear orange and not black.  But, they are sneaky little veggies.

Apparently, cancer likes the sugar that the carrots deliver.  And, while the sugar reels in the cancer cells, “welcome to the feast, fellows!”, the beta carotene follows up with the attack on cancer cells.  “Kaia!” (kee-eye).

This, of course, is my child-like vision of what I think I understand in Greg’s nutritional research for me.  Juice it up, baby.  I am convinced this is helping me.  And, even if it is not what is healing me, saving me, then, at the very least I know it is helping me to feel good.  If it is the chemo doing the work on the cancer cells, that’s okay too.  I don’t care what works, as long as it is working like it is.  The food and exercise make me feel good along the way.  And already, I am stronger than I ever was coaching gymnastics.

We are also learning about the benefits of juicing wheat grass.

Growing my own on the balcony is a spiritual benefit I did not plan.  Getting black, moist soil under my finger nails, smelling the sweet earth as I pull handfuls out of the Organic Soil bag makes me feel alive and well.  I am gardening on a two and a half foot wide balcony and feeling like a farmer of a million acres.

I am rich like this.

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The spiritual part comes when I see green sprouts popping out of this rich earthy soil.  I think, “Oh, hello God.”  To feel energy in the palms of my hands as I brush them over the tops of the new green grass.  Gently feeling green.  To realize how the right combinations of nature produce food rich in nourishment.  To do this work myself, nourishes my soul.

My left breast looks nearly it’s normal self. Except, now where a huge lump used to protrude screaming red and angry, it is concave a bit.  Still red.  Not angry.  The nipple still does change daily.  I know there is cancer activity here. Sometimes it pulls inward and sometimes it cracks open.  Exposed.  Sometimes, it looks perfectly normal.  Lumps are gone under my arms.

I tell Cassie she should maybe try juicing.

I only hear gagging sounds coming over the phone.  She’s going to go be sick now.

We hang up.

It’s okay. She will find her own way.  This baby will be fine.  My little hero.

I notice a snail sliding across the brim of my terracotta planter.  I say, “Well, hello, Mr. Snail” as he peeks his head out.  I think I will sit here a while longer, sip my tea and just watch this snail.

I can not wait for this grandchild of mine to get here.  I want to see this child’s eyes watching the rain and how the leaves glisten.  I want to hear this child’s voice say hello to the snail.

I want to watch as my grandchild climbs trees.  Getting all sappy hair and smelling like pine.  To know the gentle swaying and the quiet breezes way up high in the sky.

To feel majestic in the top of trees.

My wish for this grandchild is to be rich like this.