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?

Oh?
Another contraction?

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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.

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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.

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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.

Determination.

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.

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I am Genki.

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.

Hope is a thing…………

April 11, 2012

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Let Hope Fly

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all.

~Emily Dickinson

“That perches in my soul”.  I love this line.  There is a Knowing that perches in all of our souls.  It may be as light as a feather. And, maybe that is why we sometimes have trouble listening to this Knowing.  But, it is there.  Singing.

This is how I birthed and how we have raised our children.

Listening to this ‘Knowing’ in my soul, rather than what society was telling me.  It is why we ended up home-birthing and home-schooling. It is what keeps me calm and gives me trust.  Hope when one of the kids appeared to not meet the proper criteria on the scale of expectation created by society.  It is the thing that perches in my soul.  Light as a feather.  I listen.

Maybe this is how I am healing from stage four breast cancer now.

Well, this along with the chemo and radiation that have my whole upper left torso completely burned and blistering. And, along with the juicing and raw foods. Those delicious colorful leafy healing foods. And, of course, along with my guides and angels.

I miss Michelle. An angel on this sweet Earth.  She has already been gone for nearly two months.  Our phone calls are better now.  We are past the first month of those dreadful skype calls.  The calls that came everyday with fears and tears.  Calls where I not only listened to her but could see her misery. Her dismay in finding herself in a foreign country. Alone in a studio apartment no bigger than the bedroom she so recently left empty in my home. Alone. She cried everyday for the first two weeks. “I wish Trevor made it into the show too.  He was so close. One of the top three.  Why didn’t he make it too?”  She would get the words out through sobs, “then, he would be here with me now.”

“I just want to come home.”

Skyping makes these far more than mere words. It’s one thing as a mother to just hear these words over the phone. Skype lets me see her. I am not sure I like such modern technology.  I am miserable too.

And I can’t wipe away the tears that I see streaming her face.

The song in my soul tells me she is doing the right thing.  The song without words.  I just know.

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This is Knowing, with feathers, who perches in my soul.

 “No.” I tell her. “This is a good thing. Hard. But good.” Trevor did not get the show in Japan. “And, though that seemed bad at the time, he ended up getting Cirque de la Mer again, stunt performing in the San Diego Opera-Moby Dick, and tramp wall show at the SD Zoo.  These are all great for Trevor.”  I remind Michelley of the Taoist story her daddy used to tell them all whenever they thought something bad just happened to us.  The story of the old farmer whose only response to any news, good or bad, was the same;

“We shall see.”

We thought it was bad, sad, that Michelley made it but Trevor did not.  Especially since he was the one who researched the audition and thought about doing that show for over a year.  We forgot to say, “we shall see.”  Trevor is in a far better place right now and could not have done this if he was in Japan.  “Besides,” I tell her, “something tells me that you need this experience on your own.”  I see myself in the little screen that sits over the top of her beautiful face on my laptop screen.

I try not to keep looking at myself when I talk to her over skype.

It makes me so self conscious. I check my teeth for spinach like I am looking into a mirror. She mimics me and laughs. Skyping will take some getting used to.  It will need a new set of proper etiquette, yet to be written. I try to stay focused on the conversation but it’s so hard to do.  It’s like talking to someone who has their back to a mirror and all I see is myself. “Besides, this experience is going to be life-changing for you. It is exactly the right thing for you at the right time. You will be fine.”

She says, “We shall see.”

I say these last four words with confidence. Yet, underneath this air of confidence the words are whispered more as a prayer of hope. Oh dear God I hope she will be fine. Let her be fine. During those tearful conversations I would find myself wondering……

How long will it take me to swim across the ocean?

I am just on the other side of the Pacific. Almost a direct line to Osaka. I look across my horizon when I stand on the pier. I like knowing she is just beyond this view. Fine. Doing fine. Momo used to tell the kids that whenever she missed them when she was back home in Florida, all she had to do was look up to the moon and the stars and know that they (the kids) were under the same big glow. “I see the moon, and the moon sees me…..”

I would say this to Michelley now, but, I know she would think I am being corny.  Already, she is doing fine.  She sends me a photo of herself.  Performing in the rain.  Smiling in the rain.

She is fine.288138_293371067428810_1621713322_o

I not only miss her, I am in a little panic. Did I teach her enough? The important stuff. Like, how to cook a meal, how to wash clothes, how not to get kidnapped. I know we taught her how to do gymnastics and how to brush her teeth, I remember doing that.

We just get so freaking busy living life. And in my defense, there were five of them.  The only thing I know for sure that I covered for each one of them was where babies come from.  I only know this, because to this day, I still ask if I had had this talk with him or her yet. I always worried that I might have told one child twice and then left one of them out of this little fact of life.

But, I never ask them if I covered any other important ‘how to live life’ topics.  Well, except, maybe to tell them that it was okay to be gay.  Another repetitive lesson.  I wanted them to be sure that if they happened to be gay, I would still love them to the moon and back.  So, this question, I know for sure, I asked each one of them.  Often.  Hundreds of times over their young lifetime.  Why didn’t I make sure I taught them other life skills?  I wish I had done a check list for raising my kids right. Maybe I should not have just listened to that thing with feathers perching on my soul, singing without words.  A song with words may have been a wiser ‘Knowing’.  Michelley’s not just down the road a piece so when she makes a mistake she can run home and lick her wounds. She is 6078.49 nautical miles away.

That is one big ocean between us.

I dig deep to my ‘Knowing’ with feathers.  I find Trust is also a thing. Perching right there beside Knowing and Hope.   I have to just trust at this point. Trust that Greg and I have done enough in raising her. Trust that she is part of this big beautiful universe. A universe that knows exactly what is right for her. Trust that she has guiding angels. I know that she listens. So, now I just have to trust.

Michelley sends me a photo of a meal she just made for herself.  She thinks it is chicken.  Shopping in Japan without knowing how to read the language can be a little surprising.  I see spinach and tomatoes on her plate and breathe a sigh of relief.  It is not a meal made from Doritos and Top Ramen.

I just hope she knows that poultry should not be eaten raw.

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.

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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.

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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.

Hello, Handsome, wanna dance?…………..

March 6, 2012

The metal table is cold. Hard. Uninviting.

I am not afraid.

Holding my arms over my head for thirty minutes, without moving, a challenge. But, I am not afraid. The technicians are wonderful. Already, we know so much about each other. Liz has five young children.  All under the age of ten.  She is Catholic and thinks I am too, since I home-schooled our five kids. Kate has a new puppy. A Lab.  Emil is single and likes to do break dancing and Tiffany just had twins five months ago. Boys.

Everyone wear’s a smile. They are positive and warm. But, I guess, they can be this way because they don’t really know much about the prognosis of each patient. They don’t need to know all of the gloomy stuff. They just invite patients to come in, to lie down.  They offer warm blankets.  They guess what music the patient likes and puts this on the stereo.  Emil chooses the Beatles for me.  There is a bit more chatting and several warnings against making any movements.  Stern warnings.

“Don’t move!”

The lights get dimmed.  The six inch metal door begins to slowly swing shut, automatically, with a sound much like the doors on the Starship Enterprise. Each technician escapes. A cheery voice over a shoulder, “here we go”.  The words stay behind, remaining.  Lingering in the room with me now. And, I am left alone.

This room suddenly does not feel quite so warm and welcoming any more.

Here we go. Today is a big day. We’re pulling out the big guns. I should be afraid. I am the girl who avoids using a microwave oven. I opt out of walking through security scanners at the airport. But, today, I am just more afraid of moving and having to start over again or of having lasers hit my brain instead of my boob, than I am of the radiation I am about to be blasted by. I don’t know how long I can hold my arms over my head. My nose itches. I have to distract myself. It’s a good time to meditate.

I am horrible at meditating.

So I think about rainbows.

cute_rainbow_colors_and_their_meaning_wallpaper-t2Well, I just saw one this morning. So I am going to think about one now.  Driving in to the radiation treatment center, there it was. And it was not even raining. But, I saw it. A full blown, vibrant arching rainbow stretching across the highway. The end, off in the distance, hovering right over the top the Dr. K’s treatment center. I know what that means.

This radiation treatment is the pot of gold.

Maybe I can nap in this way? I just wish I could re-position my hips. With my knees bent, supported with the hard triangular pillow, my tail bone is carving my initials into the metal table. But, I don’t move.  Don’t dare to fidget.  I focus on my breath.   Holding onto the handle bars.  If I could just lay my arms down, I could keep them over my head better.  But, I am to hold onto handle bars.  This makes the challenge a bit tougher.  Sleep would feel good.  I wonder if I can fall asleep with my arms over my head this way. What if I can but my hands let go of the bars once I sleep?  I am not even sure I can continue to hold on while awake.  Already I feel my fingers slipping.  Why does everything have to be so cold?  So, metal?

It has already been a long day of metal tables.

First thing this morning was the scheduled Echo cardiogram. Chemo can do heart damage. We check. I watch the heart chambers pulsing on the x ray screen and think the valves look like hands clapping. The more love, the bigger the claps. The technician laughs and after a thought, a look, a study, she agrees. “I never looked at it that way, but, you are right.” She goes back to work on me murmuring to herself, “Funny.”

I look again. Maybe I can see the love that we always say lives in our hearts.  But love doesn’t show up in x rays.  I take comfort in this thought.  Love can’t leave with the body.

The next metal table of the day was the Pet/scan. This is getting to be old-hat. I know the routine well. I stay pretty calm when they enclose me in this metal cocoon. Here, I can and do fall asleep. Every time. I worry that I might drool, or talk in my sleep while, yet another, technician watches from behind the glass windows. This guy does not crack a smile.

PET scans are boring.

A radiation treatment room is another story. This is new. I can’t turn my head, so I try to strain my eyes as far as they will go. This actually feels good. So I do eye exercises. Without moving my eyebrows. I am remembering not to move.  I make my eyes strain to see everything possible in all directions.  I find the cameras. The ones that are zoomed in on me. The ones that the crew is watching me with on their screens just on the other side of those metal doors. So far, nothing is happening. They told me it would take a while for them to set up but, they can see and hear me. I’d like to continue our chats, but decide against that right now. I look up and realize there is a beautiful domed ceiling with the constellations glowing.  Twinkling.  They even included a shooting star.

These people are good.

Even the lobby is warm and inviting. A TMC black and white movie is always on the tv, evidently. A table hosts a thousand piece jig saw puzzle, always in progress, that anyone can work on while they wait. Tea and coffee always available. Too bad I am only doing this every day for a few weeks. I could get used to coming here.

I close my eyes and wait for them to begin.

When I open my eyes again, he is already there, standing in front of me.  Starring. Like a curious alien who had been hiding, he quietly, stealthily, magically appears from behind my metal table, two large arms reaching out from either side of me. One beady little eye. As if he is cocking his head, the eye tilts one way, pauses and then another. Sizing me up. Calculating his next move.

I think, “oh, hello, Handsome, wanna dance?”

images (1)And, then, I think I am quite mad. Lost it. I am about to be zapped big time, all over the entire upper left portion of my torso. This is incredibly uncomfortable and I am thinking a conversation in my head with the robot arm.   A voice comes over the speaker, “okay, Lori, stay still, we’re ready to begin.”  Thank God.  If they didn’t start soon who knows what I might say next to my new robot friend.  “Stay still, Lori.”  The intercom clicks off.

I don’t sit still very well.

A red light goes on. I think I will close my eyes for this whole process.  This robot arm is eerily close to my body.  Too close.  This takes trust.  Yes.  Close my eyes.  And, trust.  But, first I look straight into those camera lenses and try to smile…. without moving.  I wonder if anyone is looking at the screens right now to see.

I feel grateful to be in their expert care.  And, then, I hear a high-pitched whirring of spinning wheels.  I close my eyes.

Handsome has started our dance.

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I had her roped and tied………..

March 2, 2012

I had put my ego in the closet.  Left her there for months now so that I can write a journal that is honest, real and raw.  She’d only get in the way. Twist things around. Always trying to make me look better than I really am. That’s not what I need now.

So I shoved her in the closet.

Tied her hands behind her back and wrapped duct tape across her mouth. Several times. Her big fat mouth.

Later, as I transcribed and transferred the journal entries to the blog, I even had to put a blind fold across her eyes.  She kept peeking to see who was reading, liking and following.  I told her that this journal is not about that.  Secretly, the insecure me takes quick peeks before closing the blog stats window she leaves open.  I wonder if I am writing to thin air.  Wondering if this is all for naught.  Stupid.  Silly. Weirdo.  Fruitcake.  Nutcase.  Words I had grown used to hearing.  Who would want to read about me?

Even though, she knows this is when I need her most, when I start letting these words enter my world, she doesn’t put up any fight.  She knows I need to do this work.  Alone.  Still, I shove her hard. She sinks back down onto the the layers of shoes and on top of the clothes I don’t feel like hanging up.  Sulking but behaving.

Naturally, I let her out after a time.  She comes out brushing off the other layers of clothes I didn’t want to hang up, thrown on top of her.  I like the way she maintains dignity as she elegantly steps out of the closet.

“And, just who do you think drove us to all of those cool places in your life?”  she doesn’t look at me, rubbing her wrists.  A bruised ego.

“It was ME, little missy, who got us the radio station disc jockey jobs, the Miss Ft. Lauderdale title, the Miami Dolphin Cheerleader position, the contract with Wilhelmina NY.  We opened a gymnastics training center.”  I wince and nod.  This doesn’t stop her.  “You were never a gymnast. You never coached before.  You had to call another gym to find out what a “march in” was on your first meet, for God’s sake!  You were going to have those poor kids marching in like soldiers. But, we did it and walked away with quite a few notable awards.”  She twists to remove a nylon scarf static-clinging to her behind, “none of which, I might add, could have been accomplished without me.  For you, my dear, have no talent!”

This is what always happens.  She has to come out bragging.  The closet-gagging did not teach this one a lesson, for sure.  Even though, she is right about that last part.  I know I didn’t have talent for any one of those unusual adventures. Still, she doesn’t have to brag about it.

Oh I just want to gag her and stuff her back in there again.  But, I don’t.  Not for a few weeks.  I am doing so well with my recovery that I begin to go right back to life-before-diagnosis.  I am so healthy, that I can let Ms Ego drive us around for a while.  Make a few decisions of her own.

She acts all snooty toward me.  Smoothing her skirt around her tight butt as she climbs into the driver’s seat.  Sniffing her nose at me.  I just look out the passenger window and try to ignore it.  After all, she’s right.  I did need her back then.  How is it that the most unsure, insecure, unimportant, unloved, get the most obnoxious and larger than life Ego’s to drive them around?

Though the places were really cool, she did drive a wedge between me and all that is real and important.  A stiff arm against vulnerability.

Now, since life with Ms. Ego stuffed and gagged I have learned to love vulnerability.  I love people who allow themselves to be vulnerable.  This is what is real.  The masks come off.  Stripping off the layers of clothing, the costumes.  (Throwing them on the floor of our closets when we don’t feel like hanging them up).  I see souls.  I see the child that once was and still is.  Vulnerability opens the windows.  It shines that beautiful sunlight onto our souls and all that really matters.  We see each other, the true selves with all of our flaws and mistakes and crooked teeth.  And, it’s okay.

It’s really okay.

So, I let her out

this beautiful image By Willem Haenraets

~ Willem Haenraets

She drives us to places I have not been in a long time.  We had been  vegetarians for many years, yet, we order meat.  Real animal flesh.  She thinks maybe now that I am fully recovered, (her determination, not my doctor’s), it is time I start building my body.  I guess she read somewhere that eating meat would do this for me.  I have to admit, I kind of had a yearning for this.

Oh, what the hell.  I turn away from my passenger window and smooth my skirt across my not so tight butt as I get out of the car.  We feast on meat.  We hold hands and walk with our noses high, swishing our hips.  Our high heels clicking along the sidewalk.  If I am going to add meat to my diet now, I might as well go all of the way.  We toast our recovery success with wine.

I order dessert.

Every day.  For weeks.

She lounges.  Nibbling on chocolate covered cherries   Dark chocolate, of course.  “It has antioxidants, darling.”legs (1)

One day, she whispers to me from across our plate of cookies and dark chocolate.  “and, you can stop all of that talk about your angels, or the universe helping you to cure your breast cancer. You and I both know just who cured your cancer.”  There’s a little piece of chocolate stuck to the corner of her mouth, but I don’t tell her.  She’s starting to annoy me again.  With her long flowing hair draping over one eye and long perfectly manicured finger nails.

I run my hand over the top of my head, nubby nails just beginning to grow back, no longer painful.  There is a good deal of new hair covering my head now, too.  Black.  Curly.  Gray outlining my wrinkled face.  I can see myself in the floor-to-ceiling dining room mirrors across from my chair. Suddenly, I realize that I look just like my first grade school photo-sans the gray hair.  My mom thought I would look cute if she cut my hair within one quarter inch of my scalp.  The day before school photos.

Then, give me a home perm.

The short perm accentuating my bucked and crooked teeth.  Not a pretty picture. Though my teeth are no longer bucked, they are far more crooked now. And, my curls are not quite as tight as that home perm.   I am not complaining now, though.  Really.  I have hair again.  It feels like Spring-time in my body.  New life after a long, cold winter.

Winter in a mountain top cave.  Without a fire.  Nor sunshine.

New growth and Spring-time with Ms. Ego has been glorious.  Living a little bit of an old life, total abandonment, like the young me, taking risks, feeling invincible, wild and free.

But, today, I decide she has to go back to the closet.  She’s not happy about this.  I think she has steered us wrong.  Because along with the new growth of hair, I am finding new growth of cancer tumors.  I woke this morning to three new bumps in my left breast.

I will call Dr. B.

Just as soon as I finish with the duct tape.

Goodbye to Precious Moment…………..

February 16, 2012
I drive so that she can just pop in and out of the car, gathering last minute items to stuff into her travel bags. Without warning, we’re hit. Right there in the parking lot. Broad-sided on my side of the car. I swear. My usual reaction to a surprise catastrophe.

Like a drunken sailor. I swear. I don’t mean too. It just happens. I do this on wild roller coaster rides, too. With little six year old boys staring at me as we swoop, swirl and jerk around. These rides my kids push me onto, because they think this is funny. I have to apologize every time a ride ends, and tell the kids that it’s not nice to use such bad words. They shouldn’t do this.

This time, it’s pretty tame. No F-bombs. Just an, “Oh, shit. What the heck was that?”

I didn’t see it coming. The girl just crashes into us backing out of her parking spot. Getting out of our cars, she has swear words of her own. Loudly. And, she does drop a few F-bombs on us. It is her fault, and she is the one pissed off. Royally.

Michelley and I get out and examine the damage. In her usual manner, Michelle tries to calm the young woman. The crazy woman. We exchange looks. Raise eyebrows. Take a few steps backwards. Yup. We decide. She’s crazy. Clearly, this is not that bad. Michelle’s car has a little dent. A few scrapes. The crazy lady’s car has…..nothing. We look again, both of us, and can’t find anything wrong with her car. She’s on her phone already, freaking out with a body shop about getting a paint job appointment and how much it’s going to cost her. Between her phone calls, another, to a boyfriend, we manage to get her information. Michelley tries to calm her the whole time, telling her that even though it is her fault, it’s not that bad. She’s not upset about her car. Not to worry.

That’s Michelley. As a little girl, her little rose-bud lips and super huge eyes would remind me of the Precious Moments figurines. 13369_1197845040385_1998013_nShe became my own Precious Moment. My nick-name for her. The other nick-name, the one everyone who knows Michelley so freely used for many years, was given to her by her daddy. The Bomb. Things exploded anytime she walked into a room. Broke. Crumpled. Disintegrated. Just with her presence. So, she became a precious moment with a powerful presence. Bomb.

A globe I bought Michelle when she was very young.  It looked just like her at the time.

A globe I bought Michelle when she was very young. It looked just like her at the time.

Over the years, she not only continued to look like a Precious Moment drawing, Michelley became a precious moment. Like this one. Here we are, the clock ticking, counting down the minutes to a plane ride to Japan. A deadline we can not change. A departure that will last a little more than a year. She is not ready. Not packed yet. We are under pressure and stressed. But, in this moment, this car crash, all she can do is comfort a stranger.

We make a quick get away. We are going to sleep-over at Cassie and Justin’s. She has to work and can’t come to the airport with us. Which is just as well. I think Cassie would make the biggest, sappiest goodbye scene at the airport anyway. Her carrying on would draw attention, raise concerns. We’d probably all get arrested and detained. Instead, we will have a sleepover. We can have one last game night and they can say goodbye at the house.

But first, we have to pack.

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But, every time I come in to check on her progress, this is how I find her! She is determined to group and print out every single photo she has ever taken of her friends and family, so she can make a photo album to take along.

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This is serious. Over-whelming. Impossible to let go.

Like in a fashion my two older sisters taught me when times got desperate and there is a deadline to meet. Set a timer.

My parents would leave us home alone with a long list of chores to accomplish before they returned. Of course, I was in a panic the entire time. My sisters would play. Go outside, do tricks in the yard, take naps on the living room couches, the ones we never sit on unless company came over. I do not break rules well. Even now, I am short of breath at just the thought of this behavior. I couldn’t do all of the chores by myself. So, I would wait and moan and pace. And then, just thirty minutes before the parents arrival time, Pam would go to the stove top timer. She’d roll the dial back, look over her shoulder at Chari and me. We’d hear that first click on the timer and Pam would yell, “Goooooooooooo!!!!”

We could clean and finish the chores that should take three of us two hours, all within that thirty minutes.

I tell Michelley, “That’s it! I am setting the timer and I will help you pack. I will print all of your pictures after you are gone and mail them to you.” And, just as my sister Pam had done so many years ago, I scream gooooooo! Michelley just looks at me, hugging her yellow ducky and her dog, Reese.028

I pack. She cries.

We gather into Cassie’s small living room. Each with our own blankets and pillows. A real slumber party. Even though we try to play a game and we do share a few laughs, the atmosphere is tainted. The reality of a dreaded departure now all too real. 048395676_3125162102107_1732762182_n075

We manage the night. Wall to wall bodies sleeping across the living room. Holding hands every where. Why did we think this job in Japan was a good idea? I just want to hold her close and never let go. Maybe I will pull out the Cancer Card right now. Use it to hold on to my baby girl. My precious moment.

But, even I know this would be wrong.

This is it. She says her goodbyes to Cassie and Justin at the house. The two sisters hold each other for a long time. Silent. There are no words for this moment. Justin takes over and holds Cassie. Cassie holds her belly likes she is cradling their baby. We watch them standing in their doorway as we all drive away.

We make it to the airport pleased that we are on time. Proud that we actually got everything packed in the allotted two cases. Everything she will need for a year.418824_3125165662196_1570415712_n (1)

All of us wait together with her at every step. We huddle over the ticket counter. We gather in a long line for the first security check in. This is where we begin our goodbyes. Michelley starts with each individual. We watch as she hugs, whispers, pats cheeks and holds on. Tanner, her boyfriend, is trying to hold it together. Not successfully. Michelley kisses him. It doesn’t even matter that we are all standing there. Watching.

Aubree is crying. Quietly. Even though she is Trevor’s girlfriend now, she was first Michelley’s friend and co-worker. They love each other. Michelley wipes away Aubree’s tear and cries as they hug.

She goes to her baby brother and wraps her arms around his neck. He is so much taller than her now. These two best friends since the day he was born. He strokes the back of her hair and tells her she will be okay. She presses her face into Christopher’s chest and wraps her arms around his waist. This brother that she so recently reunited with. A brother she couldn’t wait to see after each gymnastic meet, running through the doors, jumping on him to tell him every last detail. Even, though, he would always feign disinterest. He whispers in her ear. There is a tear in his eye. I am okay. I am not falling apart, even when she jumps up into Trevor’s arms like she used to as a four year old, arms around his neck, legs around his waist. He holds her this way for a long time.

She looks at me. How can I say goodbye to her? I wait for Greg to lighten the burden. To make a joke. He doesn’t. This is hard for him, too.423692_3125162422115_5271528_n (1)He whispers, “Goodbye, Bomb.”

Everyone snaps up. We look around like a bunch of thieves hiding the loot. Praying no one outside our circle heard him. We had warned Daddy and Michael all night about inappropriate airport jokes. But, we forgot about warning him against calling his baby girl by her nickname.

The burden was lifted. There is laughter again. We can do this. She blows kisses. We smile. And, that’s it. She walks through to customs. Our group left standing alone, a bit bewildered. Not ready to move yet. So, we just stand there.

Suddenly, we hear her. She is yelling. “Wait, wait, wait!!!” We see her. Running back to us. We want to stop her. If she comes out, she will have to go through the whole process again. And, possibly miss her flight. Everyone puts their hands up, like a stop sign. I am particularly good at this, seeing how I was a third grade cross-guard. But, she doesn’t stop. She comes right back out of the customs clearance. Right back to the fold.

“I forgot Ducky!”

Well, we were there in time. Now, we fear, she will miss her flight. Ducky is in the car. Ducky, the Christmas gift from Cassie for the sole purpose of bringing comfort to her whenever she might feel lonely in Japan. There is no way Michelley is getting on the plane without him.

Michael and Tanner start to sprint out the door. We wait. This is awkward. We’ve already gone through a rather dramatic goodbye scene. What do we talk about now? We all turn to face the window. The window overlooking the parking lot. There is a brick wall, but, we can see Michael and Tanner’s heads bobbing up and down just above the wall. Like a cartoon, or a bit from the Three Stooges, we see their two heads turn around and bob back in the other direction. Every now and then, we see Ducky, too, as Tanner pumps his arms in the full-speed run back to the terminal.

Ducky under her arm, she is ready. This time, the goodbyes are quick and sweet. No tears. We are running out of boarding time. She turns to enter through the custom gates again.

They are closed.

We are directed to another gate. This requires a full-speed run of all of us. This is a scary looking group. Ducky leads the way. We arrive to this gate in another long line. Panic has entered the room. A policeman comes to tell us that only the passenger can wait in this line.

We back up, toes on the yellow line we are to wait behind. We all just watch her inch forward. Finally, she makes it through a gate and we are behind a glass wall. Faces pressed against it.

We can’t hear the security guards with her, but, we can see she has already made friends. They smile and wave to us. They ask her questions and point in our direction. She nods and points at each one of us, too. We are blowing kisses, dancing, making peace signs and holding each other. And, then, she has to move on. We wave as she disappears behind a wall, only to appear again on the other side of this.

We cheer and then, frantically wave some more as she disappears for good down the airplane ramp. The security guards wave back at us. As they wave, I see Michelley, my precious moment, her daddy’s Bomb, she peeks her face back around that wall. Her and her Ducky.

We blow kisses. Then, I see her mouth the words, “I love you.” And she is gone.

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Through the zoom……

February 15, 2011

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

This contact startles me.

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

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

Dying on her wedding day.

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

I remind myself to keep breathing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This man who knew he was dying.

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

This is a privilege.

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

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

This is an advantage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the zoom lens, I learn this:

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

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

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

I can choose to see health and healing.

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

Rocking down the isle……

February 3, 2012

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

Still, it is a welcome break.

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

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

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

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

I want to write.

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

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

As necessary as the drugs.

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

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.