I am Genki…………

May 14, 2012

Grayson is coming. The call comes at five thirty in the morning. This time is really it, after three false alarms, three trips to three different hospitals with false labor.  Each time they were away from home and had to go to the nearest hospital.  This time is it.  Cassie knows it.  And once again, they are no where near their hospital.

We will have to meet in Newport.

A one hour drive for me. Greg has to work. He will meet his grandson after.  I will go alone for the birth. Cassie asked that I be there. I want to be there. I can not believe I am going to be there to watch my daughter give birth. My hypochondriac daughter. The daughter whom never played with baby dolls. She was too busy making her Barbie Dolls perform on stage. Or, having mommy play restaurant as we made lunch together everyday. The restaurant where Donnie, from New Kids on the Block singing group, would come in for lunch and take Cassie away to be one of their first girl singers in the band.

The same play-acting every single day.

None of which, included practice in nurturing and loving a baby. None of Cassie’s play time ever involved babies. Not the way I had played as a little girl. My neighbor friend, Debbie and I would even pretend to nurse our little plastic baby dolls. All of Cassie’s Christmas present baby dolls would end up in Michelley’s arms.

We always figured that it would be Michelley to have children and that Cassie would go off to be a star in a rock band. Though Cassie was not ever a full blown hypochondriac, she had tendencies toward this. I certainly worried that she would never survive child birthing. Or, better yet, that her doctor would not survive Cassie’s child birthing.

I am sure that she will slap the doctor with the first hard contraction.

Maybe I don’t really want to be there for the birth after all. I slow my car down a bit on the I-5 North. It is still dark outside. Watching the sun come up on the West coast is never as beautiful as on the East. But, there is a sweetness to the air at this hour. The wide open ocean is to my left. It’s massive darkness sends a chill through my spine. I can’t see it yet, but I know it is there and a dark ocean feels scary to me.

Morning rises on the West coast as quietly and softly as a baby blanket lies upon bare shoulders. Before I know it the first light of the day is upon me. A dimmer switch on daylight that is turning ever so slowly. There is pink in the air. I roll down my window and let it fill my lungs. I should hurry. A baby is going to be born into our family today. And, I want to drink in every moment.

Contractions have been seven minutes apart. Consistently. It will not surprise me in the least if they have this baby in the car on the way. With Cassie, life has never been normal for us. She is an adventure filled with drama. An action-packed movie whose love and passion draws in the viewer over and over again. I just hope this hospital staff can take it.

Cassie and Justin have written out their birth plan.

No drugs. None. Even if she is slapping the doctor. No drugs. There are a lot of other no’s in there. Mostly, they want a peaceful, loving and patient atmosphere. They want Grayson to be born naturally. No intervention unless it is life and death.

I smile and straighten my hand-woven hat with one hand as I picture Cassie not only slapping the doctor, but the nurse, Justin, his sister, Hannah, who is a mid-wife, and me. Her mom. I just know it’s coming. Cassie calls between contractions. She sounds great. Normal. Happy. They are there, just minutes from the hospital. But they are not going in yet. She is hungry. They are at Denny’s. I am to meet them there.

I know I am in the right Denny’s by the frightened look on the waiters face as he greets me at the door. I guess he recognizes me as the mother of the pregnant lady. Maybe I am looking frightened too. We walk to the far end of Denny’s. The closed portion. “I seated them back here,” he looks over his shoulder at me, using the menu in his hand as a pointer, and whispers, “you know, just in case.”

I just hope Cassie and Justin don’t feel obligated to name him Denny if he happens to be born here.

Justin and Hannah are sitting at a table with a place waiting for me. Cassie is sitting at the neighboring table. Alone. It makes me laugh. The fat girl at a table alone. Not welcome at the popular table. Okay. That is not really funny.  In fact, that is just down right awful.  Already, I can see that I am not the right person for birth coaching. Justin and Hannah look up from their grand-slam breakfasts and carry on their conversations as they motion for me to join them. I look over to see my daughter in the middle of a contraction and I am filled with pride.

Oh?  Another contraction?

Another contraction?


Have fun with that while we eat our breakfast.

It is in this moment that I know that Cassie is going to be fine.

I watch her close her eyes, hands to her belly and her slow, concentrated breathing. This is nothing like I had expected. In this moment, I am witnessing my daughter, my child, become a woman. A strong woman. My eyes well with tears. And, this time, it is not a chemo reaction. “Oh, Lowes,” (a nick name Greg has used for me for all of our married life) Justin calls me this too. I think it was an accident the first time. He didn’t know this was my nick name. I think he was nervous to use my real name when we first met and in one of his adorable awkward moments, it came out as Lowes instead of Lori. “You are not crying already?”

This will be my job.

I brought my camera. Cassie wants me to document the birth. Everything except the gooey stuff. I can not cry throughout the birth. I pull myself together and order breakfast, too. The three of us carry on a conversation and eat away. I like Denny’s for breakfast. This is fun. Every once in a while, we hear a little moan, look up and realize Cassie is having another contraction. I laugh when I see Justin look at her for a moment, realize she is okay and go back to a big bite of his eggs. We are cool. We have got this.

Until Cassie starts to get up and says, “It’s time. I think we better hurry.”

The three of us scramble to get out of our booth. We grab her purse, my camera bag, the car keys. Justin will go get the car. We run out the door and look back. We left Cassie. She is holding her belly with two hands. Down low, right at the base of her round and huge belly, as though this baby is about to slip out as she tries to keep up with us. She makes it out of the doors but needs to sit on the bench for another contraction.

This is it. We are really doing this. Grayson Chance Halliwell is on his way.


Every thing happens so fast. We check in at seven-twenty in the morning. Just two hours after my wake up call this morning. I watch Cassie with utter amazement and pride. I watch a birth as nature intended. I suddenly become a wild-life nature photographer, moving like a ninja in the jungle. This is not the way I had envisioned myself in attendance to my daughter’s child-bearing day. I thought I would be at her pillow, mopping her brow, whispering encouragement.

Justin is there. Better than I ever could.


I snap photos and curse my inabilities to know my camera technology better. I pray that luck will join me and give us a good photo. Bella Baby photography is not as easy as it looks. Maybe I will just go back to doing stupid little crafts and painting.  No more photography after this.

Michelley calls. We had made plans to skype during the birth. She would want to be here for this. We forgot to call her. Thank goodness she has good intuition. Michelle knew it was time. Cassie forgot to bring her laptop so we can not skype.  I put her on speaker instead and set the phone down so I can keep taking photos. Cassie has been quiet throughout each contraction as they are coming harder and closer with every minute. But, there is concern. Grayson’s heart beat is slowing. He appears to be under stress. Something is wrong. They roll Cassie to her side and mention C-section. Michelley starts asking questions. The doctor looks up at each one of us in the room. He is puzzled and can not figure out where that voice is coming from. I run to the phone and whisper to Michelley to just listen. Every thing is going to be okay. I see Cassie’s face and recognize a look in her eyes.


Cassie heard C-section. The doctor leaves to prepare. And my stubborn, strong and strong-minded daughter gets determined. There is no way she is going to go for that. If her baby is stressed she is going to get him out. And she does.

It is the only time we hear a sound out of her. And it is a scream. One scream and he is out. Grayson is born.

Justin and Cassie are crying. He is kissing her sweaty forehead. Hannah is crying and squeezing her hand. Michelle is breathing over the phone. And I am taking more pictures.  Through tears.  Through my lens, Grayson looks at me.

The photo I promised I would not take and one that I would never post.  However, this must be shared.It is evidence of a truth.

The photo I promised I would not take and one that I would never post. However, this must be shared.
It is evidence of a truth.

Grayson is here.

It is eight thirty on Monday morning the fourteenth of May.  Just one hour and ten minutes after checking into this hospital. And, he is perfect. Grayson enters this world with eyes wide open. He is so calm in fact, that Cassie starts to ask what is wrong. They want to know why he is not crying? I see his slimy little body through my lens and I see his big round eyes looking about. I tell her, “nothing is wrong. Every thing is absolutely right. He is perfect.”

“Hey guys, hey guys,” it is Michelle. We forgot the phone. I pick it up. “My sister is a mommy.” She is crying, “is she okay? I heard her screaming.  Is the baby okay?”

Cassie was perfect.  He is perfect.  Everything is perfect.

From the moment Cassie and Michelley walked me out into our parking lot that day so long ago, the day Cassie told us that she was pregnant, I felt a connection to this baby.  His timing was too perfect.  For Cassie to get confirmation on the pregnancy test on the same day that I am going in for a cancer diagnosis was no coincidence.  There is purpose.

I believe Grayson and I made a pact with each other on that day.  We would go through our nine months with him growing into a perfect little baby and I would heal.  I would be cancer free when he arrives.  We had a deal.

Grayson holding my finger.

Grayson holding my finger.

He would be my little hero.  And I will be his Genki.  Since Michelley is away in Japan, we choose a Japanese word for my grandma name.  Genki.  It means happy, doing well.  I am.


I am Genki.

To name a hero…………

April 6, 2012

Sometimes super heroes have capes. Sometimes super heroes have webs shoot  from the palms of their hands. One thing that all heroes seem to have in common is perfect timing. They show up at just the right moment. The crucial minute that determines life or death. The moment that lives between despair and hope.

I had always hoped for a knight in shining armor. Someone to save me from my stupid mistakes, my poor decisions, my lack. A knight to come along with a bag of gold. Well, a bag of dollar bills, actually. To pay off my debts, buy me a house, a car, and a sewing machine. I like sewing.

A knight would fix everything that I had screwed up. Things that I now see weren’t ever really screwed up. It was just scenarios I had created by focusing on lack. Then, pulling on pity strings and waiting for that dang knight to show.cropped-13.jpg I thought I was defeated. All of this pales in the shadow of a cancer diagnosis. A true wake up call. And of all times, I stopped wanting pity. No longer expecting a knight in shining armor. Probably when I need one the most. This was serious. I knew that I needed to make changes. But, occasionally, I’d still look up to see if a white knight was on the horizon. What I did not know is that I would get a hero.

And, that sometimes, a hero can be a hero even before he or she is born.

We just found out. It’s a boy. This baby boy who had the perfect timing of a true hero. Who stands on that thin thread between despair and hope, balancing like a practiced tight-rope walker, fists on hips, red cape bellowing in the wind. This little hero who puts a stiff arm up to the side of despair and takes my hand into hope. This little boy, yet to be born, has no idea what a true hero he is with just being.

photo (1)

Maybe we all are true heroes. If only we could just be. Just be. Nothing more. Just be who we are. Stop asking what do you want to be when you grow up. Start being. That’s enough. The people that I love the most, I love because of who they are, not because of what they have done. And, in this moment, I am finally realizing how this unborn child has already taught me this most important lesson. I hadn’t painted since high school.  But, I wanted to paint a little hero series for him.  Conceived at the most perfect time.  He is a hero just by being born.

A perfect little hero.

photophoto (2)His name will be Grayson. Grayson Chance. But, we are not to tell anyone yet. Cassie doesn’t want to be influenced by other people’s opinions. This is his name. And that is that.

I hope I can keep my mouth shut.

There is meaning behind each name. Chance, because it takes willingness and courage to take chances, to take risks and to not be afraid of failing. Failure is necessary and part of succeeding. The more you chance, the more chance you will no longer fear failure. The more chance you will succeed. Cassie picked the middle name of Chance for this reason. Justin picked Grayson for other reasons.

Justin is a life-long fan of Super Heroes. Particularly, Batman. And, Justin chose a name that is strong and meaningful.  Grayson.

I looked it up in Wikipedia: “Richard John “Dick” Grayson is just a fictional character, a superhero in the DC Comics. He was the youngest in a family of acrobats known as the “Flying Graysons”. Dick watches the mafia boss kill his parents in order to extort money from the circus that employed them. Batman takes him in as his legal ward, and later, Dick becomes his partner~Robin. He is the one that Batman cares about the most.”  So, there it is.  A little hero is named.  Grayson.

Grayson Chance. My own personal super hero.

Cassie decides we should prepare the nursery.  For my birthday.  Which, happens to be this Sunday. She wants me to paint a mural.  I know exactly what I want to do for it. I’ll go up on the train at six thirty tomorrow morning. I just have to time the painting so I am done by Sunday. To be back by Monday so I don’t miss radiation. And chemo. The duo that is setting me on fire. I am watching Shirley Maclaine and Jack Lemmon on the lobby tv at the radiation center. This might be another day that I stay to watch the ending. A new, fun habit. I think I am the only patient to take their warm welcome to heart. Maybe wearing out the welcome mat a bit.

“Lori Rubino, cooooome oooooon dowwwwnnnnn!” It’s Emil. He’s on the intercom. There is a camera poised on the lobby. He sees me watching tv, sipping coffee from their paper cups. Once I slide my card upon arrival, my information scans into the system and let’s the techs in the back know I have arrived. Still, I like to go to the clipboard and also sign in. This way I can say hello to Sharrone at the front desk. Then, I wait to be called back.

Emil turns it into a game show.

After going to the small locker room, hanging my clothes and slipping into the hospital robe, I wait again on the little chair by the locker room. This is when Emil physically comes to get me. And, usually in some surprising way. Today, he is waving a sticky note in the entrance with a smiley face. My flag to “Go”. I walk in to the treatment room to see birthday signs hanging from the robot arm.  “Happy Birthday Grandma Lori.”  I hop onto the cold metal, the techs get my spongy thing, the ice-cold sponge pack to fit across the area we radiate. It intensifies the radiation to the area. There is no getting used to this part. I squeak every single time it hits my skin. Particularly now that the skin is burned. Today, Tiffany pauses before laying the sponge. They all come to take a look.

This burn is getting bad.  Really really bad.

Emil wonders how many more they are going to be able to do. Dr. K is out so they call in one of the other doctors. I’ve never seen him. He tells me to go get Aquaphor. That’s all. We continue. We talk as we go through the routine. The, now, rote routine. I lay on the metal, someone puts the triangle pillow under my knees, someone else puts a warm blanket over my legs while someone else puts the cold sponge on me. Emil laughs at my reaction. Every time. They position things, check placements. I grab the handle bars and wiggle around several times. Always saying, “wait…wait..there…no…wait..okay….. now….yes…okay….oh crap….my nose…..wait….okay….now”. We carry  on a conversation about each others lives all the while.

I think of how Momo would.

“So, how is Cassie?” Tiffany always asks. The memory of the pain of childbearing still so recent in her mind. She usually asks about the pregnancy. I tell them it’s a boy. Emil wants to know if they have a name for him yet?

“Grayson Chance.” Oh my God. It’s the first time anyone has asked and I didn’t even hesitate. Oh well. I figure they will never get to meet Cassie. So, they can’t try to influence her.

“Grayson?” Emil fiddles with the remote control adjusting my bed alignment with the red light lines across my body. “The Flying Graysons,” he says and nods with approval.

“You know about the Flying Graysons?” I am amazed.

“Well, duh.” That’s it. That’s his answer. “Grayson is a good name. A strong name. A little super hero.”

‘Oh, Emil’, I think, ‘you know it.’  He turns up my music, hits the lights and the switch to close the door.  Last one out he laughs, “better than calling him Robin!”

I don’t even watch my handsome dance partner, the robot arm, this time as he works through the maneuvers of our dance number. As I usually do to make sure he doesn’t miss a beat. This time, I close my eyes and think about the nursery mural I am going to paint.

I think about how grateful I am for the little heroes in our world.


She paints the crib.
I paint the wall.
She sings while we work.

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A little message for my little hero;
Grayson’s Grandma loves Grayson H.

Down and down I go, round and round I go, in a spin….

March 13, 2012

We could hear her long before we would see them trailing down the dirt road together.  “down and down I go, round and round I go, in a spin, lovin’ the spin I’m in, lovin’ that oooooold black magic called LOVE!”   Her singing voice that never found the right key. Always a little off. Always loud. Joy filled. She could care less who heard it. Or, who complained at birthday parties when singing happy birthday became impossible to sing along with her. She would continue to the end of the song. Alone, after the rest of us would give up trying. It was someone’s birthday and she was going to celebrate that person for goodness sakes.

She sang like there was no one listening long before that ever became a cute quote.

We lived in the country-side of Statesville, NC at that time. Early morning walks were brisk. A ritual back then. Something the kids looked forward to every time she came to visit from Florida.

Which, was often.  Every chance she could get.

Wrong era; right type of Grandma.

Wrong era; right type of Grandma.

She was their grandmother, but, they called her Momo. Like a tiny Pied Piper in sequin shoes. She’d lead the way with her little legs, with a spring in her step and with her horrible singing voice. Our five kids would trot beside her, holding her hands, her shirt sleeves and pulling the baby in a wagon. And, just like her, their faces up to the sunshine, arms swinging, knees high stepping, we could hear their voices, too. They knew all of the words to every Louie Prima song by heart.

Louie was Momo’s favorite.1153026

Momo was magic. She would tie one end of the jump rope to the porch railing so she could swing the rope for eight year old Cassie.  Teaching her to jump and sing rhymes Momo had jumped to as a little girl. She would insist on holding baby Michael on her lap. Help Michelle to put “real” baby clothes on her many baby dolls. Clothes that she bought for her because ‘doll clothes did not look real’. Teach Christopher and Trevor how to play poker. Playing with them, of course.

She would do all of this, at the same time.

The magic was that each child seemed to think they were the only one in the room with her.  Each felt that they were her only grandchild.

I also felt that she was only mine. Momo was my mother-in-law. A dear, sweet friend, I had met two years before I met her son. She would slide into the restaurant booth beside me and that’s when it would start.

The art of asking questions.

An art, because she was far from being nosy. It was more like, an interview from the heart. Momo’s interviewing talent would put Oprah Winfrey’s to shame. Momo was just interested. Period. Truly and lovingly interested in people. All kinds and all ages.  Especially, her grandchildren.  Her “interviewing” with each of them started by the time they were two on long distant phone calls.  I had never known anyone to be able to engage a two year old in a two hour conversation before Momo.

She taught me this. Ask questions. Listen.

I am not saying that I have accomplished this art.  Not by a long shot.  I still get excited and talk more than I listen.  Momo never made me feel like I talked too much.  I miss her.  I am thinking a lot about her today. “Old Black Magic” played on the car radio on my way here. It was Louie Prima. He was singing for her. I know this.

Today is Momo’s birthday.

She would have been eighty-five. Still making friends. Still asking questions. Listening with all of her heart.

I don’t ask questions like I should.  Especially in doctors offices. I had to bring Trevor with me during the first consultation with Dr. K in this radiation treatment center. Trevor knows I would not ask the right questions. I’d probably know everything about her family, her childhood, and her college life as a young doctor in training. Nothing about the radiation treatments I was embarking upon.  That stuff just makes me nervous.

Trevor would be a calm presence.

When he was a teenager, I remember Cassie telling me how, anytime she felt stressed or worried, all she had to do was merely sit next to Trevor and just his presence alone would give her great calm. She said his soul was big, centered and sweet.

Dr. K said the same thing about him, the day of my first treatment.

She comes into the small examining room, shuts the door behind her as though she is about to tell me a big family secret. She walks to the computer stand, turns to face me, “I hope you don’t mind me saying this,” she leans her back against the wall as she rests her coffee mug on the examining table, “but, Trevor is one good-looking young man.” And, then, she heaves a hearty laugh. Knowing that it’s okay for women of our age to say these things out loud.

“But,” she quickly adds, “the thing is, I can tell you this, he is just as beautiful inside,” Dr. K sits and rides her stool closer to the exam table, still holding onto her mug. She makes me feel like we’re just a couple of friends, here to chat over tea. She reminds me a little of Momo this way. I could climb in a restaurant booth for long chats with Dr. K.

Today, I am here for my sixth treatment.  Dr. K enters the room saying, “That’s all my daughter ever wants in life, she yearns for in life, is to find someone to love.  She just wants a relationship.  To find someone like Trevor.”  She likes to talk about him, every time I see her now. My daily visits for radiation.  Weekends off, of course.  “He has a good soul.”

“Today, though,” she’s more serious and rolls her chair back to the computer stand, “we need to make a decision about what to do with you.”  I already know where this is heading.

I had a dream.

“Dr. B ordered another series of chemo for me.” She looks at me with alarm. Wondering. How is that possible? We both know that Dr. B is out of the country. Back home in India with a family emergency. He will be gone for a few weeks. “Oh, I don’t mean that he actually told me this in person.” I swat at thin air, “I mean, I had a dream that he did.” I tell Dr. K that I often have dreams that are foretelling. And, I have grown to trust my dreams to lead me in the right direction whenever I am at a cross-roads.

In this case, I know without a doubt, that I should get more chemo.

“I agree.” She is now starring at my barred chest. Standing back, the artist examining her sculpture in progress. She comes in closer again, and rubs her fingers in circular motions around my boob. The bumpy one. The boob with new tumors that are growing rather fast.

I am wondering how much my new diet has had an ill effect on the cancer cells. Maybe I was feeding the last few cancer cells that had not yet been killed off? I have been eating meat again. I’ve also been making home-made yogurt utilizing cow’s milk—albeit raw. It was still cow’s milk. Dairy.

Of course, as soon as these tumors popped up, Greg was back at the computer, and at Barnes and Noble, researching. He comes home one day, alarmed. Guilty. He blames himself for changing our diets without knowing this one important item about cow’s milk.

Casein protein.

I tell him not to blame himself. We both made this decision. Together. Now, we believe this was a mistake. A big mistake. Casein protein is in cow’s milk. Studies have shown that this particular protein given at 20% actually developed tumors in rats, and when dropped down to 5%, the tumor growth stopped. Brought back up to 20% in the diet, tumors developed again. Of course, these were studies we discovered AFTER we had added the milk , meats and fish back into our diets. But, I am convinced, for me, this is why the tumors so quickly developed.

Now, along with radiation, I need to go back to the full chemotherapy treatment. Not just Herceptin, but, the whole sha-bang. Taxotere, Carboplatin and Herceptin.

Dr. K makes the decision. We shouldn’t wait for Dr. B to return to decide. “I’ll deal with Dr. B when he returns.” She orders another round and tells me that this pretty much sucks. Of course, not in those exact words. But, she and I both know that I am in for a tough time. “Radiation will not effect the chemo side effects, however,” I wait for her to finish sipping from her favorite mug, “chemo will certainly make the radiation side effects worse.”

Not to mention, I will lose my newly grown curls. Soft curls that are already an inch tall around my scalp.

I go back out to the welcoming lobby area to wait my turn on the radiation table. First, I visit with Sharrone at the front desk, get myself a cup of coffee from the stand and settle on the couch. A Fred McMurray movie is just starting on the lobby tv.

Momo also loved these old black and white movies.

She died a few years ago. Only seventy-six years old. We knew she had stomach issues for a year. Doctors did not diagnose cancer until one Friday in November. She died the following Monday. We did not even get to go to Florida to hold her beautiful little hand with her special rings. I will sing happy birthday to her. Right here in this lobby. Like no one can hear me.  Like Momo would do.

My voice is just like Momo’s. Maybe even worse. But, I am not like Momo, not caring who hears, not worrying about judgement.  I still have a lot of work to do if I want to be like Momo.

Maybe I will just wait to sing happy birthday until after my radiation treatment. Until I am alone in my car.

Emil calls me in over the intercom.  I start singing as I walk down the hallway, “down and down I go, round and round I go…”  I really don’t want to think about going through another round of chemo.  Emil greets me at the end of the hall by sticking his leg out from behind the door-stripper fashion.  He has a way of knowing.  He knows ways to get anyone out of a funk.

I come out of radiation to see that  Fred McMurray is still on the lobby television.  Think I’ll stay to watch the end of the movie.