Put the wet stuff on the hot stuff………..

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“Put the wet stuff on the hot stuff, and put that fire out….” it is part of the song the ‘firemen recruits’ perform in Legoland’s “The Big Test” show.  A song I can perform by heart after seeing Trevor do this show for six years. Then, Michelley in the same show. And, now, it is Michael and Christopher’s turn!

Michael auditioned.

Trevor will not be available for Legoland much during his second season at Cirque de la Mer. This created an opening and an immediate need. An audition was announced and held with a good number of acrobats attending.

And, Michael made it.

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Michael as Vern.

At this same time, the part of Chief was opening as well. The part that had four or five actors already committed and entrenched in this position for years. The part that Chris said he would love to do after seeing the show for the first time.  Some day.  Maybe.  Knowing this would most likely never happen. Not with a cast this deep for just one main role.

Sometimes, impossible things can suddenly become most possible.

The Entertainment Department put out the call. An audition for Chief. The other four actors suddenly had other gigs elsewhere, or moved over to other shows at Lego. Chief was open. Another audition was held.  Chris answered the call.

And, Christopher made it.

Chris as Chief with his brother, Trevor behind him as Marco as they enter to perform together.

Chris as Chief with his brother, Trevor, behind him as Marco as they enter to perform together.

Michelley and Trevor are out and Michael and Chris are in. I guess I will be hearing the ‘wet stuff on the hot stuff’ for a bit longer.  Before Trevor leaves for Cirque I get to see all three brothers perform together.  It would have been awesome if Michelley had been here to perform with them. They are all so good at their parts. I can never tire of this show and seeing my kids performing in it. The song, however, is another story.  It sticks in my head.

For days later.

I pull the bottom of my shirt away from my body, creating a fan, and try not to let it rub my skin too much. My burnt skin. This song goes through my mind over and over as I wait for Dr. K to enter. I wish it were that easy, to just put the wet stuff on the hot stuff.

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How Michael fights fires as Vern.

I am on fire.

We had expected the chemo to boost the side effects of radiation. Doing both at once, necessary, but, not part of the original plan.  Dr. K said it would amplify the side effects from radiation.

I do not think she expected it to burn quite this bad.

I am crying all of the time. Even though I am not actually crying. I am not sad.  My eyes are crying. Tearing. Welling up my lower lids and spilling over. Unannounced. Unwelcome.

Like a little old lady, I do not travel farther than a few steps away from the nearest box of tissues.  I look around this doctor’s examination room and can not believe that there is not one box of Kleenex any where.  I gingerly maneuver a little wad of tissue I have stuffed in my jeans pocket.  Still damp and falling apart.  I am using this to dab my eyes when Dr. K enters.

We say our usual hellos.  She does ask how Trevor is doing and smiles, but we skip the usual hugs.  I  lift my shirt so Dr. K can take a look at her piece of art, a left boob disfigured by cancer and re-designed by her radiation therapy.  Burned by radiation. She looks up to see my tears, she rubs my arm and pats my hand. There is a look of guilt in her eyes.

“Oh, I am not crying,” I tell her as I try to find a dry spot on my wad of Kleenex with one hand as I hold up my shirt with the other, “it is just the chemo.” Pieces of tissue have stuck to my face. I can see a piece on the one eye lash left after the second round of going bald.

Dr. K brushes off the tiny flecks of tissue still stuck to my cheek, “Oh, Lori,” she does a little tsk tsk with her tongue, “we sure put you through it, didn’t we?” She tells me to go ahead and pull my shirt back down while she goes to get Dr. L. “I would like her to see this if you don’t mind?”

At this point in time, baring my breasts for another nurse or doctor is no longer an issue. Much in the way my modesty flew out the window with each baby I had nursed. My first born and I would make a comical scene with the baby blanket over my head so that we could privately nurse in public.  One big nursing tent.  By the time baby number five, the last, came along, I was whipping up my shirt, exposing everything, to nurse while standing in the grocery store check-out line. I wasn’t about to lose my place in line.  Not after shopping with five kids.  Who cares if anyone saw my breast.

So, what’s one more doctor that I have yet to meet asking me to lift my shirt?

I fiddle with the thread that is fraying at the bottom of my shirt. It is old and loose. Like a favorite pajama top. It feels good. Worn. A bare film over my bare breasts. The burn is too bad for anything tight or for any bra wearing. I look down at my hands and see new nail growth. In spite of the radiation burn, there is new growth. In the aftermath of a forest fire, a tiny tree begins to bud. My growing nail buds feel like this. I am happy as Spring to see them, even though I’ve already learned to do without fingernails, hiding paperclips in several inconspicuous places around the house. The paperclips do the duty of fingernails.  I grab the paper clip I have attached with a leather strap to my purse.

I’ll just use this to clean under my new nails while I wait.

The two ladies enter. Two radiologists. Dr. K enters first with her little legs and short black hair curling around her face exposing the red dot on her third eye. Everything about her says doctor. She even wears the white coat and stethoscope.  Dr. L towers over Dr. K.  Nothing about this woman spells doctor.  Her loud German or Russian accent, I can not tell the difference, booms over the top of Dr. K’s head.  She wears loud, attention grabbing clothes. Tight skirt over gray, mesh stockings, high heels, flowery blouse and bright yellow cardigan sweater.  Something seen in a fancy dress shop, not in a professional office.  Certainly not the usual doctor’s attire.  Her blond hair, done up in an old fashioned French twist adds to her stature.  Clearly, Dr. L is the boss of this place.

I am lifting my shirt before they even close the door.

I watch eyes widen. They both take a step back. In unison.  A practiced dance step. Only, both doctors agree this is something new for them. “You probably see this all of the time, right?” I am looking for confirmation that my burn is not really so bad.  Dr. L is slowly shaking her head back and forth.  A sort of disbelief gesture. Dr. K answers for them both,

“No. This is the worst I have seen in my career. In in in, both of our careers?” She looks to Dr. L for an answer.

Dr. L just keeps shaking her head back and forth as if in a trance, “oh, oh, right, right.” She looks to Dr. K, eyes still wide. “Aquaphor, she should be putting Aquaphor on this.” They both nod. I say I am. We stare at each other a bit longer.  Dr. L watches tears stream down my face as I dab at them with the same wet spit-wad of a tissue.  “She is not crying”.  Dr. K explains to Dr. L, “it is just the chemo.”  She looks back at me as she is turning Dr. L around, “you can put your shirt down.”  They scurry out of the small room like a couple of kids who suddenly realize that playing with matches actually does start fires.

“Put the wet stuff on the hot stuff…..”

Dr. K comes back in. Alone this time. “As soon as we let this rest a bit,” she is sitting in her rolling chair now and facing me. Close. Dr. K grimaces, “We will need to schedule a few more rounds.” She winces, “Boosters.” I am not alarmed, but I ask, “is this because the first round did not work?” I do not know why I am asking. I know with my ‘Knowing like a feather perched in my soul’, that it did, in fact, work.

I know that the cancer is gone.

“No, no. This is something that I had planned. Although, I did not plan on burning you quite so bad.” I think I hear her say ‘damn chemo’ under her breath. But, I may have just imagined that part.

I know I am not imagining the sadness in her eyes.

I tell Dr. K that it is okay. It is not so bad. This stuff passes. I show her my new nails beginning to stretch up the nubs of my fingers. I pull back my hat and rub my head for her to see the new sprouts of coarse little hair buds. It all passes. We are on a journey and this is just a bumpy part of the road.

This new hair growth is different than the first time it started growing back. This time, I don’t have fear that cancer is sprouting along with them. It’s just not there.

I tell Dr. K that it has all been worth it because the cancer is gone. And, that she can do another ‘booster’ round if it makes her feel better. “don’t worry,” I say as we exit the examination room together, “the cancer is gone but, I will just keep coming so that you can keep your job.”  We both laugh.

But, I actually mean it.

Watching my boys so happy to be performing is the most healing remedy. Think I will go get a Legoland shopper’s pass.  A free pass into the park for one hour of shopping.  And,  I’ll just peek at another Big Test show.

Maybe even shop for a new coffee mug for Dr. K while I am there.

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The youngest brother giving the oldest brother a difficult time! Nothing new.
Maybe this isn’t really acting after all!!!!

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Trevor takes a turn at playing Vern. Chris as Chief and Michael as Chef Basil.
Three clowns for sure.

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They ‘wet his pants’.                 I am thinking I would not mind getting the wet stuff on the hot stuff this way right now!

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My boys. My super heroes.
This is how I heal.
Laughing.

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

Cassie and Justin Wedding 012

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’.

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.

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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.

Sticks and Stones–Words and Wolves………….

Laura Roslin   -Battlestar Galatica- Season 3 Episode 19-Crossroad

November 27, 2011

We recently started watching Battlestar Galatica, our next series to obsess over.

I am thinking that this series choice is a mistake.  The main star just got diagnosed with breast cancer. Great. This is just great.  Watching makes it increasingly more difficult for me to not feed energy and fear to my own breast cancer.

I believe the words we use in our self talk make all of the difference in the world between good and bad, health and well, death.  I think words create the world we choose to live in.

We get our dinner plates with our mounds of salad and park ourselves in front of the computer screen and our friend, Netflix.  It hasn’t taken us long to get to Season 3.  I am really considering feigning dislike for the series and convincing Greg to choose something else.  I don’t want to see Madam President, Laura Roslin, lose her hair (of which, I am quite astounded over. This show takes place one hundred fifty thousand years in the future—really? No one figures out a way to cure cancer and do without chemo and hair loss in a hundred fifty thousand years??)

That’s a little disappointing.

We are up to episode 19.  And, this is WHY we are watching this show at this particular time. My angels have a message for me.

Karen: Madam President, how long do you have to live?
President Roslin: How long do you have to live, Karen?

Who really knows how long they have to live?  Just because there is a cancer diagnosis does not mean that I will not live longer than a healthy person who steps off the curb and gets accidentally hit by a bus. Sorry. But, this does happen. Every day. Somewhere.

I decide to relax. We go when we are supposed to go.

So. I will live while I am living. Really live.

Thank you Laura Roslin. Even though you are just a character in a tv episode. I needed to hear these words of yours.  My angel’s words. Important words.

“Stick and stones will break your bones, but words can never hurt you.”

Oh, I said this one a lot growing up in my neighborhood that was over-run by neighbor kids and no supervisors. Except for the occasional bug-eyed mom peeking out from behind a curtained window.

Only peeking out the window when one of us kids was screaming sticks and stones at the top of our lungs.

My lungs.

Now, I beg to differ with these words. Words can hurt. Words can kill. I am careful with my words now.  I believe we help to create, manifest, the worlds we live in with our thoughts. With the words we choose to allow into our heads.  Repeating.  Digging deep grooves.

However, as a kid, I used the sticks and stones phrase everyday. There was a lot of name calling in my childhood. In those days, kids were all kicked out of the house early in the day. Sent out to play, it did not matter what, we did not take toys out with us, except for a box of old dance recital costumes, we had to figure out how to play with our “imaginations”. That left a lot of room for name calling.

Especially when I was adamant about being the president of the club, or the manager of the show.

And, this went on until the street lamps turned on. Our cue that it was time to go in. Unless, we heard a whistle before street lamps. That meant your dad was home, dinner was on the table and you better high tail it home before he has to whistle twice.

Each dad had his own unique whistle call. My dad’s was one long beginning, that first went up in octaves and swooped down to come back up with a short ending. I later turned this into a vocal “boooooo-whoop” as a family call. An idea I stole from a girl’s camp Greg and I worked for one summer in the mountains.

If ever we’d lose sight of a group of campers while hiking, the camp had a vocal whistle call, since not every counselor nor kid could produce the loud whistle our fathers could do back in 1963. Counselors would call out a whooping ‘whistle’, and the wandering campers would do the return whoop. Voices echoing through the trees. We would know they were near. All was good.

Once Greg and I started hiking with our own children, I transformed my dad’s whistle into our own vocal family call. Much needed because we had a five year old who loved to run ahead, go off the beaten path, find the highest cliff, and yell hello down there as we passed by.

My kids hate when I Booo-whoop for them now. Especially when they are in a show and I want them to know I am there among the applause and standing ovations. They prefer I just wait to meet them back stage and use my words to express how much I loved their show.

Those would be good words. There are bad words that I am careful to avoid now.

Dangerous words, like, I am; sick, ill, dying, cancer.

Words give cancer a place in the world. Fear of cancer breathes energy into the confused monster that it is.

We give a name to an ailment, put energy into thinking about it, fearing it. Name a stage of this disease and, suddenly it owns us. I know there is research out there to prove mind over matter. Even the bible talks about the power of words.

“In the beginning there was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God”. The fact that the King James bible capitalizes the word Word, makes me pay attention.  Words matter.

I am not a religious girl. Even though I was dunked in the full body size baptizing pools of nearly every church within a ten mile radius in Statesville, NC during my seventeen years of raising the kids in this small Southern town.

I was on a spiritual quest.

This means, probably without exaggerating, I visited and raised my hand, because “Yes, I am here to learn more about Jesus”, thank you for asking, in at the very least a dozen different denominations. Mostly, different versions of the Baptist church. One of which, asked me to leave for nursing in the front row pew during a sermon. I didn’t realize that none of the ladies of the church heard any part of the sermon that morning. They were too distracted. Appalled. Praying for me. Upset with a baby doing “something that should be saved for the bedroom.”

“Really?” I ask.

“I am not having sex with my baby. And, I am pretty sure God didn’t invent bottles until about a hundred years ago, so nursing a baby is probably a whole lot more in tune with God’s original intention than bringing a bottle into church on Sundays.”

Maybe my words were too harsh? They didn’t invite me to fellowship that morning.

I don’t go to church anymore.

Not because of these women. I just later realized that I was visiting God on a daily basis. Doing yoga. Looking at my children. Walking in nature. I felt a part of the universe. I sensed things. I found God in every thing and everyone. Somehow, it just never felt that way inside the four walls of a church building. I find God when I write in my journals. Or, better yet, I listen to God when I write in a journal.  And, I don’t think God is a man sitting on a cloud waiting to tell me what to do.  But, I do believe there is an energy, a source, a spirit, within every living thing.

Someone recently asked me why I would want to write about my journey with cancer in a journal. She asked, “Why hold onto this negative nightmare part of your life?” She’s heard me talk about how I believe there is power in our words and thoughts, that we help to manifest that which we envision and think. Power in the words we repeat over and over again in our heads.

I tell her that writing a journal makes me pay attention. It forces me to focus on details and possible lessons that might otherwise be missed.

“Besides,” I tell her, “you have to know which wolf you are feeding.”

Confused, this gets her to raise eyebrows like they are doing their own sports-fan-like ripple. I have a well read husband. I might only half listen to his ‘sermons’, I do end up learning things like this that I would never otherwise know.

“The story of the two wolves,” I tell her like I am all that!  “The Cherokee Legend of Two Wolves?”   I tell her to look up the story.

When the grandson asks his grandfather which of the two wolves that live within him, the evil and the good, will win, the grandfather simply replies, “The one you feed.”

I write about cancer not to feed cancer. I am not using words like; fighting cancer, surviving cancer; disease, illness, poor me. Pity me. Do not pity me. Pity is a greater disease.

A word with the power of a pack of wolves.

 

I do not feed energy to this wolf.

Wigging Out Over Donations…………

November 23, 2011

Kelly, my social worker at Scripps, gets $100. toward wig purchases to give to baldy’s like me.  I look through the catalog of beautiful women in wigs for days.   I circle the ones I like. Even the bright pink one.

Who knows?  Maybe I will go daring and wild.

But, probably not.

I end up shopping wisely and get two for under a hundred dollars.  They arrive on a day that Trevor is here visiting Michelle and Michael.  They’re in Michelley’s room goofing around.

Probably doing stunts on her bed.  I hear crashing and laughing.  I thought those sounds, of an undisciplined mother allowing her kids to jump on their beds (when they had beds–which in our case, wasn’t always….they have had footons, or at times when necessary–a sleeping bag on the floor) would end after a certain age.  Like, maybe five?

These are not usual sounds for kids between ages 17 and 22!

I enter with my new hair.  The room grows quiet.  The wigs are hideous. I don’t look anything like the beautiful women in the catalog.  One makes me look like Mo of the Three Stooges.  The other like a full grown sheep dog is sitting on my head.  Drooling hair all over my face.

These go back in the box.  But, not until after Trevor and Michael can try them on.

I am back to hats.

Until today.  I have to go to the store and I pick up the mail on my out.  I don’t open it until in the parking lot at Costco.  New wigs are in.  These are much better.  My size.

I put one of the wigs on, tear off the tags and march in flashing my member card and a big smile to the doorman.  A member card that was also a donation from two girls who work the membership desk.  The day we walked in to sign up and find that it was more to join than we had.  One of them chased me down the parking lot, yelling for us to stop.  I thought maybe they were accusing me of stealing.  But, instead, she asked us to come back in.  Two of the workers wanted to purchase the membership for us.

My newly bald head must have been peeking out from under my scarf.  Or I just looked so obviously newly diagnosed.  They donated.  I cried through the entire process.

I still cry every time I pass them at the desk.  I guess that’s where the term, she ‘wigs out’ every time she sees us, must come from?

I flash my member card proudly and with gratitude.  Today, I am just one of the crowd.

As usual, I wander longer than I planned to and find myself checking out an hour later. There are two girls at check out.  They whisper to each other and then, see that I see them whispering.  The obvious ‘you’re-talking-about-me’ whispers.

The whisperer quickly points beyond me, fanning a quick lie, “Oh, isn’t her purse so cute? That lady over there?”

The other girl and I both look.  I crane my neck to see the lady at the cash register behind me.  She is in her eighties.  And so is her purse.

I touch my wig.

In the car, I take a look in the rear view mirror.  This is becoming a habit. Go to a store, feel awkward about something and check it out in the car mirror.  This time, I see what they were whispering about.

My wig had fallen forward onto my head.  I couldn’t feel this.  The back of it flipping up and exposing my bald head, the front is pulled down across my forehead and crooked. This is the sort of thing that would make Michelley and Cassie laugh.  Which, in turn, would set me off to laughing uncontrollably.  But, since they are not with me, I am not laughing.

I am sorry, Mr. Ensign.  My eighth grade science teacher.  I am so sorry that we tried to make a game all year of knocking your crooked and obvious toupee off of your head with paper airplanes when you were grading papers and ignoring us.

I really am sorry.

I can’t put the wigs back into the mailing package fast enough.  They will be returned tomorrow.  This is not me.

I meet Cassie for some wedding dress shopping.  She likes tiaras.

We decide that maybe this is more me!

Other donations start coming in to help us.  My gym kids are sending cards, hand-made cards, grocery and gas gift cards, care packages.  I am missing them so much.  It is worse that I didn’t know I wouldn’t be with them anymore.  I said goodbye as usual on a Friday after practice not knowing that THAT would be my “goodbye-I-won’t-ever-coach-you-again-goodbye”.

The slippers from my silly, fun-loving and delightful gymnast, Natalie!
The pink ankle bracelet made by Jessica B….her and Jordan each have one too. We plan to keep them on until I get an All Clear Report!

A box of hats! All hand-made, beautifully wrapped with hand-written motivational quote cards, by beautiful hearts–Jessica B. with Jordan’s help!

I can’t work.  Not allowed to work.  State disability is nice, but it’s a little less than the allowance my parents gave me as a ten year old.  (exaggeration: I think I earned $2.00 a week back then, and state disability is certainly more than this, by a few dollars).  And, this will end one month before social security disability will start.

I don’t know what we would do without this help from friends, families and even strangers.  Without my dear Jessy Bell.

Jessy set up a fundraiser for me.  This just blows me away.  I have never had anything like this and it is both humbling and difficult.  I never ask for help.  I’d rather do something myself than to burden someone else.  Yet, I know that we can’t do this, this moving on, without help.

It is coming, but not for a while.  We will have to wait.  Meanwhile, I learn how to suck it up and sit in the food stamps lines.  And, today, I get another package delivered to my door.

A pink autographed T-Shirt.  A pink rose.  And, a few other pink trinkets.  I am confused.  I don’t recognize a single name on this shirt.  The package is from a Rhode Island fire department.  The “Pink Heals” Chapter.  I think, maybe they heard how I studied photography so much that I felt like I had become obese on the amount I took in and was now stuck in my recliner needing a fire department to pull me free?

I am confused.  I show Cassie.  She recognizes each and every name on this shirt.

Cassie had traveled around the country casting for Biggest Loser.  Making stops for the show at many different fire houses.  And, Cassie being Cassie, I am sure she made a few people laugh along the way.

It’s good to have firemen friends, in case you ever need help getting out of your recliner.

I think they liked Cassie.

Cause, I got this T-Shirt!!!

Write Like No One is Reading…..

December 2, 2011

I wrote on my facebook status today–“Off to chemo #4!”

I never get excited about the chemicals, but is it bad that I look forward to being stuck in a chair all day with a bag full of fun to-do goodies and one of my lovey ones next to me???? 🙂

Today, it is Chris again. Though we each packed a substantial amount of to-do-goodies, we do little of these.  Instead, we talk on a favorite topic we both love; writing.

Chris asks how Willy-a Girl is coming. A middle-grade reader manuscript I have worked on since 2003.   So much of this has improved because of the advice and suggestions he has already given me these past couple of months.  I’m on chapter six of the third re-write and I am as in love with Willy as I was in the first draft.

I woke one freezing cold winter morning in Banner Elk, NC to ice lacing the tree branches outside our bedroom window. The roads were icy too.  We cancelled classes for the day.

I was relishing in the unexpected leisure with fuzzy jammies, and woolly socks in front of a morning fire crackling in the big stone fireplace .  Hot coffee beside the expensive cabin rocker.  One of the many splurges, along with this round house, it’s three floors and five bedrooms sitting on top of Sugar Mountain Ski Resort.

Splurges we allowed ourselves after selling our main gym.

Opening the new, smaller gym in Banner Elk, an even bigger splurge.  All of which we would one day lose.

The living room chairs look like they belong in a Berenstein Bears book.  I like to write in this rocker chair.  I had been working on an idea for a play and thought I’d leaf through notes in one of my many pads of paper stacked on the end table.  This particular morning was different.   I pulled out one I had forgotten about.  And there was Willy-a Girl.

Scribbled out in messy handwriting. I completely forgot I had written this first chapter.  The words so vaguely familiar.  I was reading it as if I had never seen this before.  And, I liked it.  I immediately began working on it, taking advantage of a snowed-in day in January 2003.

I sent off the first draft to a publisher.  I know, who does that?  Shouldn’t there be a few drafts done first?  I liked it.  So I sent it off and after a couple of months of no response, I forgot about it, again.

Six months later I received the best rejection letter I had ever received.

A hand written apology for taking so long to respond.  They said that Willy had been making the rounds of the editors.

It didn’t make their list that year. But they did say that it is a ‘really good story idea’.

That was as good as getting published for me.  Willy got noticed.  I put her away for the next eight years.  Although, this time, I never really forgot about her.  Recently, she resurfaced again.  Surprisingly still around after many moves across the country.  That’s Willy.  Resilient.  I decided to rewrite her with the actual Southern dialect written out.

A second re-write.  I don’t like it as well. I have Chris read it for me.

On to re-write number three.

I think the writing is better this time, with Chris’ suggestions not to write in a Southern dialect.  Among other writing advice.  He’s a great teacher.  A natural.

Then, he asks how this journal writing is coming. I explained how I was pleased I had finished it. He looks at me.  Then, he looks at the IV strung straight into the port in my chest.  He slowly pans around the chemo room.  He knows I am journal writing about my cancer diagnosis.

“Finished?” he asks, rather confused.

Yes, I say.  It just happened.  .A perfect ending moment.   Four of the five kids join together with their individual talents and desires to form a production company.  They plan to bring the fifth sibling in to handle casting, since she is already working as a casting producer in television.

Chris just gives me an “are you sure about ending there?” look.

I think it’s a perfect place to stop.  There’s a cancer diagnosis.  It shakes us all up, we find ways to cope and then, we move on.

And live.  And produce documentaries or something.

We’re over this cancer thing.

I am ready just to live.  I don’t like thinking about cancer. I’ve got too much to do; art projects, learn more about photography as art. And, books to write.  I have dozens of picture book ideas.

Last night Trevor came in just as I put the period on the last sentence in my journal. Finished. He asked how many words. I quickly hit tools and word count.

Fourteen thousand! Wow, I didn’t know.

He asks a real question, “well, what is it then?”

“What do you mean what is it?”

“Well, a novel is fifty thousand words.” I know he wasn’t discouraging by any means. It was just a question. He wanted to categorize it.

But, I put it all away. It’s nothing. It just is what it is. It doesn’t need to be a novel. It’s just for myself.  I am writing this for me.

I tell this to Chris.  He disagrees with me.

He says, “No, it is not just for yourself. It needs to be done for sharing.  Whether it’s a novel or not, you need to share it.”

“You can do this.”  I love his encouragement.

He talks of the human interest element, that it’s not a cancer book, nor tips on cancer like the book I just devoured and loved, Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips by Kriss Carr.

“You don’t need to beat anyone over the head with how to handle cancer.”

I answer, “No, it’s not a cancer book, not really. It’s a story of a family.”

Chris then gives me another class in writing. His knowledge runs deep. Albeit, self taught. I think maybe there was an English Literature class at Mitchell College he took when he was sixteen as a dual enrolled homescooler.

Chris’s teachings require a good student with a note pad. I quickly find one in my to-do-goodie bag, happy to put at least one item I brought to good use. He talks and I write for the last hour of my chemo time.

They unplug me. It is time to go. I am never ready for this. I always want more of this time strapped to a chair sharing precious time with one of my loved ones.

So, we go to the hospital cafeteria, he with his tupperware of white rice and lemon in his “goodie bag”. He’s on a cleansing diet.  I choose a bowl of soup and salad. We continue our conversations of writing.

Only this time we talk of his own writing.

He is gifted. He is a writer. I think he is starting to believe this. Finally.

I show him a book from my goodie bag, Louise Hays, You Can Heal Your Life and point to a paragraph I had read the night before. A paragraph that made me think of him.

It lists ten ways that we do not love ourselves. Some of the many ways that we repeat negative self talk.

“Go ahead, answer these. How many of these fit you.”

He answers yes to each one of them.

We talk a bit about the last one; ‘I attract lovers and mates that belittle me’.  I am happy Chris realizes that this is a big one for him. He says he is just not interested in trying a relationship again until he has a better relationship with himself. Smart man.

He wants to talk about a short story that he just finished.  But within seconds he catches himself immediately falling into the negative self talk again.

“We’re going to need to make positive affirmations for me.”

He gets it. He finally is on the right path to self love and writing free from judgement.

I am learning this too.  Maybe he is home with us once again because we both have this to learn.

Writing like no one is reading.

I Am the Fourth Witch of Eastwick…….

November 29, 2011

I look in the mirror first thing this morning and see an old woman with drool marks on the corners of her mouth.  The chemo makes me drool, even in the day.  Sizzling deep crevices, creating jowls.  Chemo is drying my skin.  I look ninety years old today.

Maybe one-hundred.

I climb back into bed.  It’s early.  My blankets are still warm.  Greg still there, warm like my blankets.  Unlike all other mornings when he is either up at the crack of dawn peddling his bike down some path like a five year old, or up making me do yoga in the dark.

Sometimes he is awake and waiting for me.

Even though I don’t feel pretty, today my shirt comes off.  The lump already subsiding so very quickly. According to Dr. B, it is down nearly sixty percent.

Today I am feeling brave and full of life.  Who cares what my face looks like.

Even my hat comes off. A free and full me.

Greg makes love to a bald chic with a dried out face.  I almost laugh out loud at the thought of this.  But there are two full breasts (and, I use this term; full, quite loosely, as they never were much to begin with).

They don’t look too much different from each other right now.  I’ve still got them. For now.

And, I feel normal.

Not Brigitte Bardot-like, but, normal.

Until I am up for the day and take another look at my face.

Yesterday, I marveled over how I didn’t need any naps for three days in a row. I feel normal. High energy. Back to my old self, doing a million different things at once. Not really accomplishing anything significant, but, I am busy. Then, someone mentioned how November is almost over already. It hit me. That only means that this Friday it’s December 2nd. Time for my fourth chemo treatment.

It takes the wind out of my newly spread wings.  Friday, I get knocked down a few notches again.

I get my wings clipped.

Why am I complaining? It’s so wrong. Chemo is helping. I know I shouldn’t complain.  But I want to.  And do.   I should be celebrating that I get to go in for more. But, I look at my fingernails, as I type this.

They feel strange. Have felt strange all week. Today, I see discoloring under a couple of nails, like a new bruise, just beginning. My toenails are doing the same.  Will I lose these too?

Yup. I looked it up.  Fingernails and toenails are part of those fast growing cells.  Like my hair, they will soon be history. I don’t want this anymore.  I like feeling normal.  Can’t we be done now?  Enough chemicals.

Plus, my skin has had a strange reaction this last time.  I have a rash all over.  I didn’t get Benadryl before the last treatment to help with any possible allergic reactions.

“You’re doing great, we don’t need it this time.”

I am asking for a double dose Friday. After a treatment without it, I’ve felt like one of the characters in the movie Witches of Eastwick, with Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer. The one where their skin, hair and random body parts keep falling off at inappropriate times.

My itchy rash randomly begins to bleed. Unbeknownst to me. I don’t feel it when it bleeds.  I come home from lunch with a friend to find the sleeve of my white shirt is blotched in blood stains.

I run out for a few groceries.  As I stand before the cashier in the store, I feel my face begin to dry up even more.  I feel it pulling into itself. When I get back into my car and look in the rear view mirror, I am mortified to see an ancient lady staring back at me, wrinkles so dry and deep across the entire face that they pull heavily on the mouth making me look sad and angry. Disapproving.

This makes me cry when I get home to show Greg. I don’t want to look this way. I will try to keep a half smile on my face, even when I’m alone, so that these wrinkles can not re-model my face into an angry old woman.

I am not angry.

I am the fourth witch of Eastwick.

Friday is Chemo Number Four.

Here’s a Little Proposal………



November 20, 2011

Cassie doesn’t know it.  Justin is going to propose to her tonight.  And, we are all invited.

Last April, Justin and his mom, Susan drove down from LA with an old couch she was giving to us.  Susan has to move back to Connecticut.  She can’t take the couch.

The drive gives the two of them some mommy and son time.  He tells her that Cassie is The One.  They had moved into a house together, got another dog–their dog–since Cassie already has Lola.  And they share a house with white shudders and a drive way lined with blooming white roses.  But that isn’t enough.

He wants to marry her.

photo by Chelsea Coleman

Justin is an actor with an agent.  Auditioning, working here and there and waiting for that big break.  In other words, he didn’t have the money, yet, to buy the kind of engagement ring he believes Cassie deserves and wants.

Well, no man has that kind of money, actually.

When he tells his mom about this, she tells him of a grandmother’s ring she has for him.  And, if he can wait until she gets back to Connecticut, she has a few older rings of her own.  He can take the stones from these and have a new ring made for Cassie.

He waited.  They kept the secret.  And, then, Cassie got pregnant.

Now, with each passing week she begins to wonder if Justin wanted this.  Maybe he didn’t bargain for a baby.  Maybe he just wanted a live-in girlfriend and now that she is pregnant, he is going to feel stuck.

After all, he never talks about getting married.  Even after she drops hints.  Which she does.  Really big ones.  And, waits for a proposal.  Justin clams up and says they’ll talk about it later.  Or, he quickly finds ways to change the subject.

She calls me each day, growing more insecure.  This is not the way she planned things. She’s not even sure she wants to be pregnant.  And, certainly never wanted to be single and pregnant.  A single mom.

Cassie starts making plans for how this would work.  She loves Justin like she has never loved before.  That is for certain.  But, there is no way that she wants to trap him into marriage.  She’s made up her mind to accept this situation.  To accept the love he gives to her whether it is officially on a marriage certificate or not.

Secretly, she wants to just marry him.

The ring arrived a week or so ago.  Justin has a plan.  Romantic Justin.

Actually, there are several plans.  The plan keeps getting changed.  But, each is planned for being outdoors.

The weather is not cooperating.

It’s the last minute and it is raining.  It never rains in North Hollywood.  Justin scrambles to come up with a new location.  A new scheme.  There are a lot of us involved.   His sister, Hannah, her husband, Stephen and their three kids.  His mom.  Best friends and of course, the whole Rubino clan.

Someone thinks of the Union Square.  Probably, it was Hannah.  She’s good about ideas like this.  That’s it.  Perfect.  We are meeting at Union Square.  There is to be a marriage proposal in front of hundreds of travelers passing through the Los Angeles Union Square train station.

We are all at a party at Hannah’s house.  The secrets are being passed around any room that Cassie is not in.   I begin to fear that this is like playing the game of “Telephone”, where one person whispers something in the first person’s ear, and this whisper gets passed down the line.  The last person to receive it blurts out what he heard.  And, it is usually completely wrong.  Completely unrecognizable.

It is all planned.  Finalized.  But, how to get Cassie there?  We devise another plan that requires Chris to call her to tell her that he missed his train, again.  The last one to Oceanside.  No more trains until morning.  (As this has happened in real life.  Recently.) Chris knows that this is not going to make Cassie happy.  But, he’s willing to be the fall guy.

Cassie is pregnant and tired.  They just spent the day at Hannah’s, she is going to want to go home, put a fire in the fireplace, make dinner and just spend the evening with Justin.

Maybe drop a few proposal hints.  Or.  Maybe even get him to talk about why he doesn’t want to get married.

We leave the party a little early, telling her that we need to drop Chris off at Second City for a show rehearsal and that he will take the train home.  We’ll just head home to Oceanside from there.  The first of several lies we tell Cassie.  There aren’t any rehearsals for him today.

Justin has a ‘music video’ proposal planned.  He is going to sing “their” song, You’re My Everything, by Michael Buble’.  The rest of us have created card board cut outs depicting visuals of the song, to hold and dance around them, as Justin sings.  Surprising Cassie that we are all there to witness this romantic gesture.

But, getting her there, now after a party, knowing how she is tired and crabby is a new problem.  Chris makes the call.  And as predicted, she is pissed!  They had just arrived home. The only thing they can do is make the thirty minute drive into the busiest part of LA and pick him up.  No dinner, no fireplace warmth.  No hints.

Two seconds after Chris hangs up, my phone starts to ring.  It’s Cassie.  We didn’t plan this part out.   I can’t answer.  I am the worst ever at keeping surprises and secrets.  I can’t lie and she is going to know in a second that something is going on.

I don’t answer.

It rings again.  Two seconds later, Michelley’s phone is ringing.  She doesn’t answer.  Now for sure we know she is going to get suspicious.  Both of us always answer Cassie’s calls.

Thankfully, Cassie is too upset to think about this.  Relentless to get someone on the phone.  Another tactic she uses if, in those rare instances, I don’t answer on the first ring.   She’ll get them to pass their phone to me so that she can complain about how irresponsible her older brother is.

Michael’s phone rings.  We all panic.  He looks for a place to answer.  He has to answer. Michael runs down the long corridor holding his phone in front of him like it’s a bomb about to explode.  Well, in a way, it is.

He makes it out of the front glass doors.  Away from the echo in the beautiful, historical depot.  She wants to know where mom is.

Michael thinks fast and tells her I am pumping gas and Michelle is in the bathroom.  We stopped for gas on our way home.  He realizes that he has to make it seem like we are way too far away to go pick up Chris.  And, he is right.  Her next question is exactly that.

“Where are you?”  “Can you guys go get Chris at the station, he missed his train.”

He tells her that we are almost to Oceanside.  After all, we had left the party long ago.  In truth, we had been driving around, eating dinner, window shopping.  Waiting.

So, now we wait.  The two families.  We are already one group.  We’ve already spent a Christmas together and hiking together.   We are so excited to be joining the two families. Justin knows this.  That’s probably why he wants us to share in such a monumental part of his and Cassie’s life together.

But, now we’ve just created a storm.  None of us are sure that Justin will be able to get Cassie back in the car.  What if they get here and she won’t come in?  We begin to rehearse our parts while we wait.

Justin texts, they are on their way.  We hide.  No one in Union Square seems to find us odd.

They arrive.  Cassie is crabby.  She can’t understand for the life of her why Justin insists on paying to park the car!  Why can’t her brother just be waiting outside.  Seriously?  They have to go in to find him??

We begin to hear Justin’s amazing voice echoing through the corridors.  They are in.  We wait.  She can’t figure out why her boyfriend just starts to sing.  Really loud.  Full out.

She thinks he has lost it.

We wait for just the right moment, the right words in the song, our first cue.  Hannah and Stephen’s boys, three and four year olds, are to be the first to run out with their card board cut outs.  We all whisper go at the same time.  Very excitably.  A little to excitable.  The boys pick up on this and they run as we told them to.

Right past Justin and Cassie.  Right to the front doors.  Stephen runs after them.

Cassie sees us.

We all do our parts, right on cue.  We watch Cassie stand there throughout the rest of the song.  One hand over her mouth.

And, then, Justin goes down on one knee.  The two mom’s hold each other and cry.  Cassie is crying.

Justin kneels.  Holding the boxed ring before her.

He waits.  We all wait.  Cassie cries.

But she does not answer.

Justin whispers to her.  We think he is asking her if she is going to say yes or no.  He is still kneeling, unsure if he should stand and put the ring back in his pocket.

She nods yes.  And cries.

The few travelers that stopped to watch clap and move on.

The rest of us hug and cheer and dance in a huddle. The little ones run in circles around us.

There is going to be a wedding soon.

All “proposal photos” by
Matt Swanson Photography

We have five weeks to plan a wedding!

Goodbye to Boobs and Bardot……….

Nov. 15, 2011

To have five children means that Greg and I must have had sex five times. I know this is what our kids believed for years. Really wanted to believe. Prayed and hoped that was all. They would die a torturous death whenever they’d see us give a little hello or goodbye peck on the lips.

Raising these five children required creative sex. We got good at that.

Having sex on chemo is something I know neither one of us thought we would EVER have to think about. Creative sex on chemo.

We had sex this morning. Yes, cancer patients have sex, or, they can have, if they want. I know this from my social worker at the hospital. I love Kelly. She is frank and wants to help me to know all of the facts about life with cancer. She wants me to live as normally as possible. Kelly asks, “Are you having sex? You can have sex, you know, I mean, if you want to.”

We want. And do. Even though this is day five out of treatment number three. Which means I’m pretty fatigued most of the day. But I am feeling pretty good, pretty normal. So it surprises me when I begin to cry. Right in the middle of having sex. An emotionally charged cry.

I try to hide this from Greg.

It occurs to me that I may soon be doing this without boobs. Surgery is still pending. What will he do without my boobs? Without an upper half of his woman?

As usual, I can’t hide my fears from him. He wants to know why I am crying. Concerned that I may be in pain. Greg is tender and deeply caring. I tell him what I am thinking. What makes me cry.

And, then, I wait for his wisdom, his love of my soul to tell me that it will be okay. That I am beautiful to him, even disfigured. Or, some such response. I want him to tell me that he sees my soul beyond scars…or the potential scars.

I don’t get this response. He thinks for a moment, “Okay. That’s okay. At least, you’ve got a cute butt.”

I give him an appalled look. He says, “What?”

“They’re not going to remove your butt too are they?”

That’s my Greg. Not the answer I had been hoping to hear. But, he makes me laugh.

I am not crying anymore.

I don’t cry much over all that is happening to me. In fact, the only time I have cried over having cancer was the only time I was alone in my hospital room right after the diagnosis. The first night that Chris and Trevor tried to sleep on the chairs in the seventh floor solarium. They ended up coming back to my room after Trevor got his head stuck under the arm rest. But, for a short while, I was alone.

And I cried. I cried for a child that once was me.

My dad has a strong sense of humor. My kids all think he is hilarious. For the overly sensitive little girl that I was, his humor was too harsh for me. And, sadly, for my dad, having four girls and no boys, his third daughter was always a bit strange and awkward.  It must have been hard for him to express his humor with this little girl.

She cried at every thing. Every little thing.

When ever I would express a newly formed opinion on life, he would tease, in a way that most kids might find funny.  But I was not like most kids.  He’d brush off my ideas, calling me names like ‘nutcase’, ‘weirdo’, ‘fruitcake’.

Nobody likes fruitcake. I knew that for sure, even at the age of five.

There was one name, however, that he called me which would change everything. A name that touched my heart, set butterflies free in my soul and made me feel beautiful. A name that reminds me that my dad does really love me and that he sees beauty, in spite of my weird personality and strange ideas on life. He nicknamed me Midget Brigitte. He says I looked like the voluptuous movie star, Brigitte Bardot, when I was just a baby. And, claims I liked prancing around the house as a naked toddler. Brigitte Bardot didn’t seem to mind being naked as well.

So, I became “Midget Brigitte”.

When I got a little older I looked her up in a magazine. The magazine referred to her as a sex-kitten. I didn’t know what sex was, but if it looked like Brigitte Bardot, then, that’s what I wanted to become.

Brigitte Bardot

-Brigitte-
in black lace and naked

I was quite young when I even noticed that my babysitter, Sally, was sexy.  Even though she was a mommy, she was sexy.  Sally was voluptuous like Brigitte. And, Sally was real.  Not a picture in a magazine.  Of course, I didn’t use the word sexy, it wasn’t in my vocabulary. But, I knew that I wanted to be just like Brigitte and Sally.

And, to this day, I remember the moment this decision was finalized.

One day, when I followed Sally down the driveway to get the mail, keeping a good distance behind her for fear she’d scold me back into the house, I watched her lacy black slip sneak below the hemline of her bathrobe. It’s smooth motion gently touching the backs of her shapely calves. Her beautiful bare feet floating across the asphalt. That was it. I knew what I wanted to be.  Decision made.

But, on that one brief evening alone in the hospital I see my hospital gown and footie socks just reaching my ankle bone, peeking out from under the blankets, the sock toes pulled three inches away from my toes like a floppy elf shoe.  I see that I had not become as little Midget Brigitte had envisioned me.

This is when I cry. I am so sad for this little innocent girl that once was me. I close my eyes and see my mother’s photos. Images of my childhood. The ones I’ve seen a million times over in the beautiful photo albums my mom created so many years ago. Photo images of baby pictures, and first steps, of a very young child, too young to remember these moments.  Yet, after years of looking through my “baby books” and photo albums, these images now burn in my mind as if they were real memories of my own.

Photos carefully placed in an album with mom’s beautiful handwriting and clever captions under each. Photos of a little two or three year old girl, before my ugly years, of a beautiful little child that stares out from the pages, mouth a gap, lips pouting and full, eyes wide, blonde hair curling. Just like Brigitte.

google photo:
Though, a very close replica of my Brigitte Bardot attempt

I cry for this innocent child.  I cry for Midget Brigitte.

Because she didn’t know she’d grow up to have breast cancer.