28 December 2011

No Bubbles for Jesus's Birthday

I’ve drastically cut down on my drinking. Especially in the morning.

Christmas 2010
Unfortunately this does not bode well for our Ottawa Christmas tradition of celebrating the birth of baby Jesus with champagne and orange juice, soaked up by some artery clogging cheese and a bucket load full of buttery carbs.

My mother Violet was never to keen on this tradition. Her ideal festive morning would involve a little more cardio, in the form of a brisk walk, or cross country skiing. However, she went gamely on, delivering us our mimosas by the fire in the living room, where we’d be lounging in our pajamas. My sisters enjoyed a little bubbly, Dad thought it was fun, and I thought it was fantastic.
Christmas 2011

This Christmas morning, like all other years, there was champagne. My mother offered it to Sue and I as we lounged by the fire in our p.j.'s. “No thanks,” we said in unison. She looked slightly startled. “Scones, then?” We shook out heads. “Well”, she ventured, “I was thinking of having oatmeal”. Sue and I perked up, “Great!” we said. Slightly baffled, but hesitantly delighted, my mom went back to the kitchen.

Obviously my eating habits have changed. Not only should food be delicious, but it must fuel my body as well. This has been my mom’s philosophy for years, and now (by necessity) I’m fully on board. So, when Vi came out of the kitchen she presented us with a healthy breakfast –and what a breakfast it was. She'd put together a tray of oatmeal, surrounded by pretty little bowls of almonds, blueberries, mandarins, and flax.

Christmas 2012
Somewhere up in heaven my dad was frowning. Christmas wasn’t Christmas without Mahalia Jackson, snow, and champagne. (‘Bring on the Joy Juice!’) Thankfully my younger sister was carrying on the family tradition, celebrating across town with her boyfriend and a glass of something yummy. Later that afternoon they would join us, and there would be more sparkling stuff, (including the traditional bottle that accidentally explodes in the freezer).

But that morning, by the fire, we enjoyed our festive oatmeal. Our tummies were happy, as was our mother. Then we decided on giving her another Christmas bonus. She encouraged us to relax, and  and enjoy the tree and the fire. But no lounging for us! Sue grabbed my hand, and her DVDs and led me down to the basement.

Happy birthday Jesus. It’s time for yoga!

26 December 2011

Woe is you!

Jim had the sniffles.

I could tell he felt poorly by the way he walked around the house, occasionally sneezing like a kitten. He passed me in the hallway, his eyes a little bleary, and his skin a little pale. He sniffled. “I think I’m coming down with something.”

So we stood and looked at each other. I’d just come off a steroid binge that had turned me into a maniac, and hadn’t slept in days. Minor achy side effects had kicked in, which I’d numbed with half a percocet. And I’m so dehydrated that I constantly feel as though I’ve been licking the salt off the sidewalk. Jim and I stared. And then he laughed, “Sniffles don’t quite cut it any more, do they?”

Nope. Nobody can outdo me. I am quietly winning the ‘woe is me’ contest and will continue to do so until the spring. My sisters, who both have headfuls of thick wavey hair cannot, in good conscious, whine about not being able to control it. And they know better than to say, “You’re so lucky you have a wig”, even though they are likely tempted.

Driving home to Ottawa on Christmas Eve day, my big sister and I were about three hours into the trip when she complained about having stiff legs. I waited for a few minutes while she listed her symptoms and then I chose to trump her. “You know,” I said, “One of the side effects of my steroids is shooting pain through my legs”. She immediately looked so concerned that I had to confess that I hadn’t actually experienced any acute pain. In fact, I was no longer in any pain at all. But I made my point. I can always outdo her.

I can pretty much outdo anybody. My neighbor (who I barely know but was forced to talk to cus our dogs engaged in a sniff-a-thon) was delighted when I asked him how he was. He used the next ten minutes to tell me that his wife had a kidney stone and that his shopping was in turmoil cus he had to be at the hospital, and he was missing his workouts. And he had a cold. After he finished boring me, he asked how I was. That could have been an easy victory, but I don’t want to be viewed as sickly, and I only used my power for good. 

My mother Violet, who has the best room in the house (as it should be), generously moved into a smaller bedroom so that Sue or I could have her little luxury suite over Christmas. Both my sisters love that room - who doesn’t like a TV and a walk-out balcony? But my mom said we’d have to sort it out between ourselves, so I did. I said to Sue, “Mom says whoever had canceritis gets her bedroom.” Under a mop of curly blonde hair I could see the wheels turning, going over all her old chestnuts. (She’s the eldest etc), but she had nothing.

For the next few glorious months I can make her do pretty much anything I want. We’ve been eating non-stop for the last 24 hours and she's rolling around in a turkey and chocolate-covered-cherry haze. From the sofa I can hear her groaning about being tired. All I have to do is catch her eye, and she sighs in defeat, “…..but not as tired as you.”

20 December 2011

Pretty Parcels

Christmas is in full swing at our house. The tree is up, the porch is lit, and Jed is walking around with a furry red collar. Jolly cards are arriving by the handful, and parcels are gathering under the branches. But in truth, there have been pretty parcels floating around our house since the summer.

It all a started with a stack of bandages handed to me unceremoniously by a delivery man. ‘Delivery from Starkmans’ he’d said, thrusting the bag it into my hands. I threw it in the closet, annoyed by it’s very presence. I didn’t want to see anything medicinal. Nor did I want to see the pill bottles that I’d hidden in my underwear drawer. Or the thermometer.

Pretty Parcels, and Pills
If one isn’t careful after an operation, one’s house can start to look like a pharmacy, and reminders of illness scattered all over the place are depressing. So in an effort to make things pretty, I trotted off to the dollar store and stocked up on decorative bags and boxes. I took all my pills and put them in a merry blue and white striped box. Bandages went in a variety of lovely colourful bags, separated by size, and frequency of use. Scissors, tape, and other accessorizes went into polka dot bag which looked lovely, and inviting! (Percocet of course, got a special vessel of it’s own).

When nurse Alexi came to check my post-op incisions, he’d order me ‘Get bandage, bleeze’. I’d reach in the closet and grab a tasteful parcel, and it was as though I was handing him a gift. He never questioned my wrapping. Indeed, he probably wondered why I didn’t go a step further and get Hugo Boss carrying cases, since that’s more his style.

Now when I open my closet door, instead of a medicine cabinet, it looks like a tiny party! Since my dream room is Candy Spelling’s ‘Wrapping Paper Room’, this pleases me immensely. And I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t incorporate a piece of two of decorative ribbon. To complete my project, I took the mounds of canceritis literature that had been thrust upon me, and organized it into tasteful pastel folders. Candy Spelling would be proud.

Pretty Cute
I rarely go into those boxes anymore, though occasionally I’ll pop a recreational pill. Thankfully my summer anti-illness packages are being outnumbered by happy Christmas boxes, and my tiny wrapping paper closet is bursting with the festivities surrounding Jesus’s birth.

I can still wrap a mean gift, even though my brain is a bit foggy. And hopefully I can label the proper parcel, because nothing sends ‘Merry Christmas’ less than a band-aid, and a syringe.  

15 December 2011

Happiness is a Choice

My social worker’s waiting area is very tasteful. Lot’s of nice white easy chairs and a complimentary coffee station with real cream. My social worker is very tasteful too. I met her once back in August, when I didn’t have a lot to talk about and I liked her very much. Mostly, we discussed Dancing With the Stars.

Since then, I’ve only taken advantage of a few other ‘Princess Margaret Survivorship’ services. Two of the group classes, Therapy and Nutrition, ended quite badly and I never returned. The  ‘Chemo Q & A’ was quite informative, but not as much fun as the ‘Look Good Feel Good’, where I got free stuff.  And as far as the offered Drumming, Reiki, and Journaling,  I hope never to find out. So electing for a bit of one-on-one time, I chose to see my social worker for a second time.

I sunk into white chair and looked around the room. There were two smartly dressed ladies sitting opposite me. They both had very short hair that looked brand new, soft, and optimistic. On the table was a little bowl of chocolates and the receptionist had some tinsel on the computer. Christmas music came over the loudspeaker. The receptionist brought over a clipboard for me, which had a long questionnaire. On it were about 50 questions, which I had to answer on a scale of 0 (not at all) to 5 (quite a bit). Amongst the questions were, ‘Do you have feelings of Depression?’, ‘Do you feel like your life is full?’ ‘Do you think about death?’.

So I answered them all pretty much the same way I answered all my multiple choice tests in high school.  Everything got a 3. Also, being a Libran I can never decide if I’m depressed or not, so I just left that question blank. I sailed through it till I got to a few hard hitting questions. Is your life as productive as you would like? (3), Are you enjoying your life (3), Are you excercising (3, for now).

Then came 'Are you happy?'. I looked at the ladies who were sipping coffee and concentrating on the questionnaire in the manner of the very self-assured. Obviously, they were giving their questions some thought. Then I noticed the music. From the loudspeaker came the jolly sounds of, ‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year’.

……With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you "Be of good cheer"
It's the most wonderful time of the year

Then I looked back of the questionnaire , ‘Are you happy?’. Then more music…

…. It’s the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call...

So I decided to just to finally take a stand. If people are telling me to ‘be of good cheer’, I would. Oprah has been saying the same thing for years.; ‘Happiness is a Choice’. Eyelashes are irrelevant. Gay happy meetings are where it's at. So for ‘Depressed’ I fiiled out 0, and for ‘Happy’ I filled out 5.

And then I smiled at the ladies and went in to ask my social worker how she felt about the finale of Dancing with the Stars.

10 December 2011

A Very Festive Spa

The chemo ward on the 12 floor of Mount Sinai Hotel & Spa is a jolly place this time of year. The fabulous volunteers are dressed in red and green, and bejewelled with festive accessories. The Scottish snack lady jingled as she speed down the hall with her wheeled  trolley.

In the spirit of Christmas, I brought a tin of homemade ginger cookies. I don’t normally bake (not fun) but my little sister gave me the best recipe ever, and chemo people love ginger. So do the nurses apparently, as they were beating out the Arrowroots as the cookie du jour.

No more Lazyboys for me at the Spa! I’ve graduated to a bed! This is much more fun as there is more room for my cell phone, my coconut water, my trashy movie magazines, and my big sister.

Of course the real reason is much more functional. I’ve switched up my chemo cocktails and the immediate side effects need to be monitored. One possible, and not so pleasing side effect, is the discolouration of the nails. Or worse. As a precaution we slip or hands and feet into plastic ice bags which may protect the nails. (Would also be handy for champagne). As a result, my sister had to turn the pages of my National Enquirer, and she was none to pleased.

Lying under a warm blanket, listening to my lovely nurse Marion talk about her Christmas plans, it felt like the start of a holiday. Of course, this is also my second last treatment, and there’s nothing more fun that saying "One more to go.”

I am no longer the new person there, so I feel quite at home. I actually look forward to seeing my nursing posse, and challenging myself to getting my IV without cringing. I wave to some of the other people, and we compliment each other on our hats. One young man, sitting in his lazy boy under his homemade blanket was giving me tips on how to use my ipad. I told one gorgeous bald woman how gorgeous I thought she was.  She translated my compliment into Spanish for her dad, and he was beaming.

By the time the Scottish lady wheeled her way to my sunny side of the room, she only had tuna. No egg salad, but it only slightly blemished the day.  Sister Sue and I were preoccupied by pictures of a topless Chaz Bono rollerblading down a Hollywood street, so we almost didn’t notice.

At 1:30 nurse Miriam, who was looking over our shoulder and eating a cookie, said “You know, you’re free to go anytime girls.”  So soon?  Well then Mt Sinai, see you in 2012!

7 December 2011

Merry Christmas, Pie Face!

The problem with losing all your facial hair is that you end up looking like a pie. This is exacerbated by the steroids, which create fleshy roundness where cheekbones ought to be. The technical term for this side effect is ‘Moon Face’ but as most women end up the colour and texture of pastry, I think pie-face works well. Pie-face, with eyes, that is.

I went to my first make-up session back in September, just before I started chemo. It took place at the Princess Margaret Hotel & Spa, and my very favourite nurse strongly urged me to attend.  She knew, better than I did, that there would come a time when cosmetics would give me the boost I need. Back then, I wasn’t terribly interested in make-up. I’d managed to get by for years with a little mascara and really good hair.

Loot Bag
There were fifteen women at the' Look Good Feel Good Seminar', sitting around a table, each with their own oval mirror. In front of each mirror was a plethora of products, which we’d eventually be able to take home. Each woman had the same facial expression as me, looking as though they were mildly surprised to be there. With cancer. Playing dress-up.

A make-up artist told us about all the products and their proper applications. Behind us stood an army of volunteers who were ready to snatch the eyebrow pencils out of our hands, if we didn’t know how to use them. I didn’t know how to use anything, so my volunteer basically did my whole face. Toner, moisturizer, foundation, powder, concealer, eye shadow, eyeliner, eyebrow pencil, blush, lip liner, lipstick, and lip-gloss, which apparently I wasn’t using properly either.

We all started hesitantly, then as we transformed, became a little more enthusiastic. Tentative laughter turned to ‘ooh’s’ and ‘ahh’s’ as our loyal volunteers made us beautiful. One lady in sweatpants was busily giving herself Cirque de Soleil eyelids, and was well on her way to looking like a cheap hooker when a volunteer lunged across the table to wrestle the eye shadow wand out of her hands.

Over the course of the hour there were many beauty tips, but here are the five top tips for the lovely and the hairless.

  1. Eyebrows. Use a stencil and an eyebrow pencil to create your new eyebrows. Apply them one at time, and remember that they go in different directions; otherwise it will appear that you are looking sideways
  2. Eyelashes. Falsies are forbidden! The glue aggravates already fragile lids. Use eyeliner instead.
  3. Mascara. Even if you lose your eyelashes, there are likely a few invisible ones on the bottom. Apply a little mascara, because it will find something to cling to.
  4. Concealer is your second best friend.
  5. Moisturizer is your best friend, because without it you’re going to turn into a raisin.
  6. If you’re wearing a nylon wig, don’t check on the turkey. If your head goes near the oven, your hair will start to sizzle.
And of course, never ever leave the house without lipstick. It’s Christmas. It’s party season. Let the games begin!

5 December 2011


Today I took a subway across town, and it was full of germs. Microscopic organisms were everywhere, while stranger invaded my personal space. When I wasn’t getting run over by a dirty stroller, I was getting hit in the back by mindless teenagers strapped into their giant Jansport knapsacks.

I sat very still in my seat, my hands folded in my lap. Around me, people in shapeless black coats were coughing and sneezing, and I was planning my escape route so that I wouldn’t have to actually touch anything. Inside my bag were my trusty ‘YES to Blueberries' towelettes. ( Paraben free, and 99% natural!)

I never used to be afraid of germs. Raised in the 60’s, our playtime meant finding anything on the street that could be put in a bucket with a pile of earth so we could make castles. This could be worms, spare change, old nails, and candy wrappers, with which we could make a flag. Occasionally I’d even peel a piece of old gum of the road, and once I even popped it in my mouth.  When we were thirsty, we’d grab Pop Shoppe cola, and pass around the bottle.

My mother, who was a nurse, packed us full of fibre rich sugarless foods.  We got lots of sleep, plenty of exercise and lived a carefree life, unburdened by thoughts of germs, or washing our hands. Our immune systems were through the roof! But now that everybody bathes in Purell, immune systems are compromised, and the world is full of dangerous bacteria. 

I looked around. Across from me, on a three-seater, were two people. One was a lady in a parka with a baby,  both of whom were sniffling. (But bless her, she still managed red lipstick). Beside her was a very large Rastafarian with long dreadlocks who took up two seats, and was full of facial piercings. He was starting at nothing, and rocking slightly to invisible music. It looked like he had a metal bone through his nose.

The lady coughed. I glared at her. She had done nothing to cover her mouth and her germs were hovering only a few feet away. The big man glared at her too. He stopped rocking. After a moment everything went back to normal, and then she coughed again. One at a time he removed the earphones from his ears, and then he turned to her.  “Ma’am," he said, in deep baritone. All eyes swivelled his way. “Ma’am,” he repeated, “When you sneeze, it’s a good idea to sneeze into the crook of your elbow. Like this,” he demonstrated, fake-coughing into his leather arm.

She looked at him. “Okay,” she sniffled. “You’re right.” (Damn right, brother!) He nodded, and as he continued, his voice rolled through the train. “I know old habits die hard. But I’m a body piercer, and I’m a freak for hygiene.”

Then he slowly replaced his earphones, nodded, and went back to his music.  A quiet superhero covered in metal and leather, saving me and many others form certain disaster. In a perfect world he was on the way to meet my mother. Giant Pierced Rasta Man & Violet. Together they could make the world a safer place.

1 December 2011

Hairdressers Don't Lie

For the past few months I’ve been constantly reassured me that my $1600 hair could pass as my own. I’ve requested that my loved ones tell me if something goes awry, such as obvious slippage or badly coiffed bangs. But it’s unanimous. Everyone says my wig is perfect. Everyone except Cosmo.

August 2011. Cosmo's Best Work.
Cosmo has been my hairdresser for over twenty years. I’ve cheated on him with other stylists, but I always come back to his salon because we belong together. I love him because he’s honest, unapologetic, and excellent with hair. He loves me because I’ve paid for his Audi.

Yesterday I went to his salon at the Manulife Centre.  He sat me down and gave me a good long look, followed by one of his rare frowns. “Who cut this?” he asked. "Richard", I said, in the tone of one who admitted that they had snuck off to Top Cuts. Then I asked if he could tell it was a wig. Cosmo didn’t hesitate, “Yes.”

Finally! Thank you God and Haridressers! What a relief to hear what I’ve suspected all along. Though I’ve always thought that while my wig looks good, it doesn’t look like the real thing. (But not as bad as the tranny at Continental Hair who was having his ringlets curled. I know I look better then that). I’ve never been one of those people who wants hear that I look good unless it's true. The ultimate kindness is telling a friend when they have a fashion disaster, because you’re giving them the opportunity to improve.

If my arse looks fat in a pair of jeans I want to know. And I truly appreaciate being steered from colour that isn’t flattering, because I’ll never figure things out by myself. (Sister Sue says no more black turtlenecks 'cus I'm too pale and too old. Thank you!). So I’m truly grateful when someone gives me the benefit of their opinion. It’s may be going out on a limb but if someone makes the effort of giving honest feedback, I’m stepping up to the plate. I’m still a work in progress, and I don’t work well alone. 

“The average person probably can’t tell it ‘s a wig, but I can,” said Cosmo, gently sweeping the bangs out of my eyes, “But that’s okay. We’re going to fix you.”

30 November 2011

Keep on Truckin'

When I was in high school, my friends' super groovy brother had a T-shirt that said ‘Keep on Truckin’.  It was in a crazy rounded font with bad grammar, but I thought it was really cool. Originally from a comic book, it became a slogan for optimism in the 70’s and resonated with people of all ages, even me.

Prior to that, I don’t remember any zippy slogans at all, unless you include the biblical ones. My Grandma Catherine used to say that, 'God helps those who helps themselves’, which, when you think about it, isn’t that much different than ‘Keep on Truckin’. In fact, most of my favourite life quotes bear semblance to my friends’ brothers’ T-shirt with the big fat font.

When life eventually evolved beyond acne and essays I found a few new phrases which were helpful in day to day life.  ‘Keep the Faith’ (Jon Bon Jovi) made it’s way into my heart, as did, ‘Life’s a Journey not a Destination’ (Emerson, then Tyler).  Later, to cover any missteps and adventures I fell back on ‘Man Plans, God Laughs’.

These days I’ve come to rely upon a few chosen words. As November winds down I feel victorious at having made it through my least favorite month without falling  apart. Granted, the treatments are making me feel a little more crabby (at times) and puffy (at times) and hairless (all the time). But with a little bit of lipstick and a few favourite quotes, I think I’ve done rather well.

This isn’t the first time I’ve shared my precious jewels, but as most of my friends are losing their memory, it’s like they’ll be hearing it again for the first time!

◊ Ask for what you need
◊ Do what ought to be done
◊ Feel the fear and add some courage
◊ Stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone ought to be
◊ No one can make you feel inferior without your consent

To me, these words are perfect in their strength and simplicity. But if you need to gussy them up, to each could be added ... and Keep on Trucking.

28 November 2011

Chemo Curl

Granny Hair
My Scottish grandmother had whispy white hair covered by a hairnet. Beneath the net, which had tiny sparkles, she had a tight white perm. I used to marvel at the small neat rolls and wonder how they came to be, until I caught sight of the wee spongy hair rollers that she left on her dresser. It is a hairdo I never wanted, but surprisingly, one that I may get nonetheless.

In the excitement about my bristles growing out this spring, I’ve overlooked the reality that my hair will probably not return the way I want. For the record, I had really great hair. Thick and glossy,  in an expensive semi-natural shade of chestnut brown. Hair stylists often complimented my abundance of hair, and I agreed. I had nothing to complain about.

But there’s a rumour swirling around about something called  ‘chemo curls’. After waiting impatiently for months, my hair might come back in the form of a really bad perm. And it’s not like a fun 80’s perm either, it would be along the lines of Grandma’s. Can it be straightened? No! Tools are strictly prohibited during the first few months of regrowth due to the hairs fragility.

And it get’s worse. There is no colour guarantee, and many women are confronted with their natural silver. I did hear of one formally grey woman, whose regrowth was a delightful mahogany, but that’s seems to be the exception. In one scary tale, an acquaintances’ once dark hair came back crinkly, and red! Can it be dyed? Again, no. Dyes aren’t allowed for at least six months, until the scalp has time to heal. So my worse case scenario is a tight white geriatric perm. I can just hear my sister voice saying, "Um, maybe you should think about covering that up.”

So I check my tiny bristles daily to examine their hue. Initially there was none -  my specks of hair looked tiny rows altar candles viewed from space. These days however, my sturdy little bristles are dark and I believe they’re getting anxious to return.

Self Portrait
So in the New Year there’ll be regrowth. That much is for sure. Firstly the tufts of a duckling, followed by Style Surprise. Worst case scenario is my Gran’s hair, looking like a headful of rolled pennies (if I’m lucky), or dimes, as the case may be.

But maybe it will be the exact same brown of my youth; the one that I’ve been paying Cosmo to recreate for the last 15 years. So I gave my follicles a pep talk, and requested a silver lining that is  10% silver, and 90% chestnut brown, as befitting the head of a half Scottish lassie rather than her Gran.

23 November 2011

Soup Angels

I have Soup Angels that come to my house. Over the last few months loved ones have been very generous with filling up our freezer. But since fall rolled in, there’s been a glorious abundance of soup.  These soup deliveries come in various forms. Some are drive-bys where the Soup Angel will pull up in a mini van, fling open the side door, toss me a container, and speed off into the afternoon. Others are a drops-offs on the front porch. Or special delivery, via a third party.

So this morning Jim left me a little note, reminding me to eat the Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup before it goes bad. I hardly need reminding to eat, but it would be tragic to see such deliciousness go to waste. I opened the fridge to take account of my stock ( I feel like I’m living in Pusateri’s, but without the security guards) and looked over my bounty.  I realized that the personality of each Soup Angel shone through from each offering. Maybe that’s why soup is so popular, cus each serving has an intimacy not offered by a sandwich, or a Mars Bar.

Here’s what I saw. The Chicken Soup is a big robust meal full of strapping noodles that require a big spoon to eat. No tidy half measures here! It’s a fabulous lively mess, and at it’s heart is a ballsy broth that infuses everything from the tender slabs of chicken to the hardy chunks of carrot. The master of the soup, who is a dear friend, is a brilliant sledgehammer of a chef whose kitchen pulsates with life. To put it more bluntly, (which she would appreciate), she doesn’t need an orderly environment or a measuring cup to create her masterpieces. Step down Mario Batali- nothing can be recreated, nor improved. It’s all freehand, instinctive, and full of love, flavour, & booze.

Butternut squash soup from Jim’s sister. It’s cookbook perfect, and  could be in a glossy LCBO magazine, yet tastes a million times better than something so sophisticated. It’s a deep, rich velvety soup that is totally polished and ready for a soup centerfold.  It looks like an elegant well-presented dish, but once you dive in, you sink into many surprising layers of fun and fantasticness, and will eventually want to kick off your shoes. Likelihood of booze in the soup is fairly high (and if not in the soup, it’s in Jim’s sister).

A Seafood Novel
Fish chowder comes from my cousin (and favorite friend) in a generous, and stylish, saucepan. She’s made this for me on several occasions (birthdays, thanksgiving, canceritis) because she’s kind, thoughtful and doesn’t like to see me beg. This soup is a juicy seafood novel. It gives off an excellent first impression, quickly gets you hooked, and keeps building with discovery of each buttery chunk of crab and delectable piece of scallop. It makes you want to keep eating even though you know you know you will be very sad when it is finished. But you keep eating anyway because it just keeps getting better and better and better.  The extra effort it takes to create this chowder is apparent, but she does so with ease, and when she says it was a pleasure, I believe her. Booze quotient? A gracious current of cognac in the chowder, and probably a Chardonnay in it’s maker.

Another Soup Angel is one I've never met who is a friend of Jim’s sister. She’s loaded us up several times, and as I don’t know her I can only say this. She is an excellent cook, extraordinarily kind, and has lovely taste in mason jars. Booze quotient? I’d like to think she was drinking champagne.

Lastly, I made my own barely & mushroom soup. It was dull. But healthy. Booze quotient - zero. Overall, boring, but with the promise of getting better.

21 November 2011

The French are Always Right

This morning I was feeling sniveley. It’s a grey November Monday and I would have preferred not to get dressed. And when I did put on clothes, I made the mistake of wearing sweatpants (not exactly the Rocky Balboa kind, but close). Don’t know why I was feeling so drab. Maybe it’s because my eyelashes are thinning and I’m feeling like less of a girl. Still, it’s temporary – hardly grave enough to warrant dressing like a boxer, even if he was Heavyweight Champion of the World.

My nurse warned us patients against letting ourselves go. They urge us put a little care into how we dress.  On dark days, especially, it’s best not to give into the gloomy moods that might come our way. Nothing brings a girl round like a stylish sweater, and a smear of bright lipstick!

It’s good advice actually. French girls do it all the time. Even for days like today, when one’s main activity is to drag a basset hound down the street, and do taxes, it doesn’t hurt to add a bit of colour.

But this morning I didn’t feel like it. Today I grabbed the heap of hair from the dresser and slapped it on. Then the largest toque in my hat collection and pulled it down low like bored rapper. I put on a fleece that wasn’t supposed to be fluffy, it was just covered in fur. Then on the way out the door, with one last reluctant swipe, I added a bit of colour to my lips.

Following Jed down the sidewalk I had to pass by my neighbor, a tall man who was holding his toddler. I moved to the edge of the sidewalk, and attempted to walk by. The toddler, who was at my eye level, said something in gibberish as I passed and I gave a halfhearted wave in return.

As I kept walking and in the background I heard a little voice say, “Nice lady”.
It took a second to realize that he was talking about me. And that he correctly assumed my gender!  Feeling the gloom lifting we trotted off merrily to Queen St, feeling that no matter what, I’m still a girl, and you should never underestimate the power of lipstick.

19 November 2011

Nail Polish & Champagne

The front doorbell isn’t working, so I had to rely on the mighty hound to announce the arrival my Russian nurse. I opened the door to see a  shiney gloved hand jabbing at the doorbell. “Why iz not working?” he demanded. Preoccupied with his gloves, I didn’t answer, merely ushered him in and gave him the once over. Fitted dark suit, knitted grey cable mock turtleneck, suede ankle boots, and black gloves that glistening like a pair of leather tap shoes. “Shiny gloves!” I said, but he ignored me and bent down to press his forehead against Jed’s.

In his glistening hand he clutched a stethoscope. In any other situation it would have looked like a medical tool, but surrounded my gleaming leather it looked like an instrument of torture. I’m torn between whether he looks more like James Bond’s evil double-agent doctor, or the skating coach for the Russian team at the World Championships.

Jed, Alexi, and I filed into the kitchen so he could wash his hands. Part of my treatment includes a large dose of steroids that makes me sleepless, talkative, and unable to sit still. So I apologized in advance as I hopped up on a bar stool babbling about nothing in particular. Now he gave me the once over, settling on my crimson toenails. “I much appreciate the colour of your pedicure.” I personally found the colour garish, but obviously our tastes run a bit differently, and I was scoring a 9/10 in the red department. I told him that, as my chemo nurses warn me away from nail salons with germy tools, I had to paint my own toes. He frowned, “Iz hardship for you?”

‘Damn right it’s a hardship!’ I almost screamed out loud. But then I thought that maybe he’d had a harder life than me. Uprooting his family, leaving his friends behind, moving to a new country with overpriced vodka, and driving around in a Jaguar tending to the wounded.  Perhaps he wouldn’t sympathize that I sacrificed a leg massage in a vibrating chair in lieu of perching my foot on the edge of the bathtub. So I kept quite, and offered him a cup of coffee.

He declined, and said that what he really wanted was something he’d provide for himself in a couple of hours. With the promise of an early afternoon, he was going to celebrate with a bottle of French champagne. ‘Tattinger,’ to be precise.  Then he jabbed me delicately with  $2,700 worth of white blood cells while I complimented him on his brilliant, painless technique. “I know,” he said, and almost smiled.

So later that day, as my nurse sipped his sparkly treat, I settled (sort of) in front of a decorating show to redo my whoreish nails. Iz hardship, of course. I'd rather swap bottles with Alexi. Polish for champagne. But in the grand scheme of things, with fresh cells soaring through my body, I can manage.

На здоровье, Alexi!

16 November 2011

Lady Stardust

A person very close to me, who I’ll call ‘Jim’,  recently asked about something in our house that had been misplaced. As kindly as possible, he asked if I’d seen it. Both of us know that if something goes astray, it is likely because of me.

Due to my treatments, my memory isn’t as sharp as it ought to be. Occasionally I forget to put lids back on jars, lock the front door, or recall words with more than three syllables. According to my mother, I’m not that much different than her group of lady octogenarians. Although slightly amusing, I'm not quite ready for bifocals and bridge, though I do appreciate a comfortable shoes.

Me, in my painting clothes
Today I was doing a little painting around the house. My sound track was Ziggy Stardust, which I haven’t listened to since I wore it out on my turntable. As I turned the walls white, I sang along to the music, and here’s the thing. There are 11 songs on the album, and I know every syllable of  lyric. Even the long words  like 'suffragette' and 'trasnformation'. Not only that, but I can predict every nuance in David’s lovely voice, the length of each breath between words, and all the guitar riffs (I think they’re called ‘riffs’). I can also hum along to the sax solos, and join David on the exact millisecond that he hollers, ‘Wham Bam, thank you Ma’am!’

So I haven’t lost my memory. I’m just blowing off all the trivial stuff. And rather than being an 80-year old card player player, I am a secret glam rocker with some awesome dance moves.  Ziggy played guitar, and I know every beat on the album. I may not know where the hell I put my keys, but I can still sing along note for note with with the coolest guy on the planet.

14 November 2011

Everyone Loves a Winner

Cutting through Yorkville recently, I happened upon a little store that was bursting with colour.  En route  to visit my pals at Continental Hair,  I was toying with the idea of experimenting with a headscarf, rather than a wig, one of these days. (Inspired of course, by Mary Richard’s funky neighbor Rhoda).

So I stopped into this little shop which was tastefully packed to the rafters with a rich rainbow of fabrics. Amidst this colour explosion was a little Indian woman wearing a sparkly pink sari. She was so small that I could easily look down upon her little white head, with hair that looked like cotton candy. She asked me if I was looking for anything special and I sputtered, “I’m looking for something, for a friend.”

I felt like an idiot. I hadn’t used the ‘friend’ line since I was a teenager trying to get my hands on some Kahlua. So I corrected myself, and confessed that the friend was me, that I like blue, and that I was temporarily hairless. Her deep brown eyes looked up at me and I felt compelled to say more. That I was going through chemo, that I was wearing a wig, and that I felt the need for colour.

She put her arm on mine said. “I had a mastectomy three years ago”. Then she broke into a grin and said, “My hair grew back so beautifully, and see how nice it is.”  I looked down on her whispy white hairs curled into a delicate bun, and it was indeed quite lovely.

Then she reached up and wrapped her delicate arms around my neck. She was so tiny that she hung off me like a shiny pink pendant. Muffled by my sweater, I heard her say. “You’re going to be fine. I just know it”.

The lesson here could be that when offer your authentic self, you will never be rejected. But that’s not the lesson she wanted to teach me. What she said was that her scarves were pure silk, expensive, and a little slippery.  She suggested I get a cotton scarf because it ties more securely, and they have a ton of them, at Winner’s.

13 November 2011

Toddlers and Cartoons

I wear the same outfit every day.

Five (maybe six) days a week I put on the same skinny Levi’s, striped singlet, and fitted purple hoody. Not only is this ensemble comfy, but (with the right pair of boots) stylish as well. With just the right amount of stretchability, it goes easily from dog park, to sofa, to café. And for the record, my clothes are almost always clean, because I am a minimalist, and not a hobo.

It all happened organically. Being a serial purger, I rid myself of everything that I never planned to wear. Then I went through all my drawers, liberating every piece I hadn’t worn in under two years. And everything black. Since then, life is so much easier. I open my closet, and though the selection is sparse, I like everything I see. My drawers are uncluttered, so I needn’t dig deeply for something I enjoy. When I go out to an event requiring dressier clothes, I happily make an effort to wear something nice. But otherwise I save my energy for hats, pretty undergarments, and my wildly expensive hair.

This morning, as I was enjoying my alternate outfit of pajamas and the aforementioned sweatshirt, I pondered the type of people that wear the same clothes every day. Private school girls and the Pope were obvious subjects. Deciding to dig a little deeper I did some Googling and this is what I found.

Toddlers like to wear the same clothes every day. For these tots, somewhere near two, life is chaotic and having an outfit gives them a sense of stabilty. This also applies to people with autism. (I suppose I could also fall into this category, but for egotistical reason, I prefer to think that my fashion sense is ruled by choice, rather than chaos).

Cartoon characters never change their clothes. Look at Barney Rubble, Homer Simpson, and Pig-Pen. There are exceptions such as Veronica Lodge and Betty Boop, who were, to be honest, just a couples of teases. Otherwise the fellows, with their daily uniforms, are sloppy and depressing. And then there’s Gumby, who doesn’t wear anything at all. As I am not depressed, or surrounded by a cloud of dirt, I don’t like being classified with this group of non-people either.

Superheroes, on the other hand are fine role models. Wonderwomen, Robin, Superman, and Mr. Incredible, who is my personal fave. However, their outfits are all skintight (and devoid of male genitalia), so that counts as skin, more than clothing. Naked with a cape doesn’t work for me.

Surprisingly there are a lot of websites on this topic, and an astounding range of viewpoints. I selected those which have nothing to do with insanity. For instance, ‘Thinking less in the clothing area, encourages thinking in other areas’. This appeals to my creative side – but still leaves too much room for crazy.

Determined to find like-minded people, but with slightly more glamour, I googled some more. An actress, talking about life off the red coarpet said. "When I'm not doing this, I wear the same pants and same shirt every day. On occasion I wash them but I have a few of the same thingsI don't change.”

Finally! Someone I can relate to. High Five, Angelina Jolie.

10 November 2011

13 Again.

I am 13 again.

When I was little, and home with the flu, there used to be that one last day where I was practically recovered, but Violet didn’t bother sending me to school. She just let me enjoy being at home, pretending to be an only child.
No  Scurvy,  Chez Vi

Today is such a day. Apart from the snoring hound, it is just the two of us at home. She made me a half grapefruit and pre-cut all the little pieces.  I rummaged around for other food and she hovered over me (slightly annoying) offering up suggestions. I settled on brown bread with cheese, and shared it with Jed.

When the phone rings, it is never for me. I politely answer that my mother is busy, and write down the message on the blackboard. Usually it’s a friend of Vi's friend confirming a hiking date, or lunch at the Vietnamese Restaurant. They seem slightly surprised to hear someone else answering the phone, but on the other hand, these gals in the 70’s don’t surprise too easily.
Lazy Boys

When I got dressed this morning , I just wore the same thing that I wore yesterday. I did this when I was young because I didn’t have any sense of style, or very many clothes. Now I do it because it’s easy.

In fact my beauty regime is pretty much like it was when I was 13. Which is, nothing.  I use a lot more moisturizer, but I’ve cut back on mascara because I don’t have many eyelashes, and I don’t want to startle the few that I have left.  Truthfully, I’ve never had great eyelashes. They're short, stiff, and boyish. I have a friend who lost her luscious long eyelashes (chemo-itis) and they grew back like mine. I’m hoping that for me, it will work in reverse and that I get eyelashes like David Cassidy.

On sick (sort of) days, my mother let me watch whatever I wanted on TV. We were flipping around last night  while eating roast chicken, and (I’m embarrassed to say) settled on Two and a Half Men. I don’t know if it was her choice, or mine, but we blamed it on each other and laughed in unison when they used the word ‘penis’.

Because it is a sick day (but not really), I don’t normally have any playmates. Luckily my friend Kathy (who lives in Ottawa) has a foot injury, so we’ve made plans to get together. She doesn’t have to stay in bed either. So we might shop, or sit by the canal looking at University boys. And once again, we knew that if we were to touch a naked University boy, it would be considered very inappropriate, and Kathy would tell everyone, and I'd write about in in my journal.

My mom offers to drive me downtown, but naturally I say that get there on my own. (It used to be a good opportunity to smoke, though I don’t do that anymore) So I change my mind, and gratefully hop into the passenger seat of the zippy blue Honda.

The world is my oyster! I have my sunglasses, a day off, a playmate and a credit card. And a mother saying, “Call me when you’d’ like to come home.”

8 November 2011

Violet Lite

Breakfast of Champions
“I’ll have whatever you’re having,” I said to my mom this morning as she poured skim milk into my coffee. She looked at me suspiciously, when I told her I don’t like cream. Then as I ate her leftover oatmeal,  and snatched away her orange, she was cautiously thinking, 'Who is this marvelous girl?'

Jed and I are in Ottawa, staying at my family home. My mother Violet, the healthiest women in all the land, has zipped off to an aquafit class in her new blue Honda, leaving me here with a treasure trove full of low fat foods.

There was a time when my sisters and I would mock my mothers cooking. We arrogantly tossed around words like ‘bland’ and  ‘flavourless’, while secretly tossing more garlic on whatever bird was cooking in the oven.  We also teased mom about her drinking habits, or non-drinking I should say. Half a light beer and she’d be ready to dance on the table. Except for the dancing bit, she’s just one barn-raising away from being Amish.

Maybe it’s because I’ve got Sober-itis, or maybe it's my treatment, but lately all I’ve wanted is my mother’s food. I’m craving the low-sodium- heart- smart- stir-frys that used to make me cringe, and the giant pot fulls of steamed rapini. Inside the fridge, everything has a number on it. 2% this, 1% this, and 1/3 reduced fat gouda that could sometimes be confused with wax.

To be fair, mom’s a good sport when we visit. Not only does she stock up on red wine, but creamy cheeses, lovely breads, and (in honour of my dad) crab cakes or other treats from the sea. But this time I told her not to, as I now share her once ridiculed tastes. I told her that whatever she wants to cook is absolutely fine with me.

Unused to my easy going nature, she can’t believe that I’m so satisfied with everything that is here. Now I'm her dream daughter, as I sit patiently while she reads me the back of a cookie package, riveted by the information. The salmon that she made me last night was perfectly seasoned, and served with a mound of things colourful and delicious.  Tonight, instead of going to Big Daddy's for martinis, I will probably stay home, and like last night, be in bed by nine. 

Now my mom is bobbing in the water, probably baffled by her perfect daughter. To complete this rosy picture, she would probably like  me to have a game of Scrabble. But that would be taking advantage of my newly generous nature. So a game of Scrabble (which I still loathe) is highly unlikely.

Mexican Bribery. Light.
And if happens, it will take a heck lot more than the other half of her light Mexican beer.

7 November 2011

Om, my God!

Sunday evening, and my friend Jo and I went to our fabulous ‘Restorative’ class at our favorite yoga studio. Normally we just lie on bolsters and let our inner light shine through, while the teacher chats about positivity and lower chakras.

Last night though, the emphasis was on inversion. “Oh f*ck”, was my first thought as I met Jo’s eyes in horror (mine, not hers).  Headstand, shoulder stand, or anything upside down was in no way good.  Physically ill equipped to stand on my head at the best of times, throw a wig in the mix and it’s the opposite of relaxing. I was relying on my blue beanie to keep everything together.

The teacher, Vicki, guided us to our starting position. Body in an upside down V, head cradled in hands, then move head around to find a comfortable resting position an inch or two below the hairline. That in itself is a problem.  I have two hairlines; the one my parents gave me, which is now a row of tiny bristles, and the $1,600 dollar one from ‘Continental Hair’.

From my upside down position, I could see Vicki’s feet padding towards me. Then her face, as she bent down to check my position. She said she couldn’t see if my head was in the right place because of my hat. I ignored her. Like a petulant five-year-old, I merely pretended she wasn’t there. 

Then I felt her fingers on the back of my neck. “Keep it curved,” she purred, as she walked her fingers slowly away from my shoulders and up towards my hair. Still I ignored her, even though her hand was just a fraction away from the band of my wig.

Positioned in my upside down ‘V’ I had to make a decision.  Did I warn her that she was about to finger-walk into a wig? Or, should I just let myself off the hook while she came to her own conclusions. Here’s what I knew for sure. Jo’s eyes were upon me, and she was half laughing, yet mentally holding my hand and saying a silent prayer for hair.

So with that support, I let myself off the hook so Vicki could experience her own little ‘wig journey’. Her gentle fingers walked up beneath my hair, nudged the elastic, and leisurely walked back to my shoulders. She knew. And in a moment she’d absorbed the idea, and already moved head.

Still upside down, I was tempted to say something, but the pendant from my necklace had fallen across my lips and I so I couldn't speak.  So providing I didn’t choke, I was taking away a few sweet lessons. Firstly there’s always someone in my corner. Secondly –

Life may turn you upside, and no explanation is required.

4 November 2011


There’s a touch of Normal-itis going on around here today.

The 19 lb cat, though he has a bald patch on his back, has stopped licking. Apparently he had fleas, and is on medication. For the first time in weeks, he’s back to purring like a giant engine, lying on top of bodies, and smothering us while we sleep.

Sunshine and a Latte
Jed’s stitches came out and he’s walking around as thought he owns the neighborhood. Still sporting an undershirt (‘cus he scratches) he prances along the sidewalk soaking up admiring glances. The local crossing guard waits for our arrival, and as a greeting, hoists his ‘Stop’ sign across his substantial belly and sings ‘You Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog.” Only in Leslieville does one get admired for wearing a wife-beater shirt out in public.

Jim is busy bringing home the bacon, but returns at night to a calmer home. When the back door opens, the pets run to greet him. Two clumsy bodies for the price of one - that is Jim’s Happy Hour.

I’ve finally calmed down, (now that’s it been a week since treatment), to a near-ish normal level of lunacy.  No more putting milk in the cupboard, or wondering if I’ve shrieked, rather than  spoken, into the phone. Also, I had a massage yesterday, and feel like I left some of the crazy on the table.

Last night Jed and I made a triumphant return to the dog park. Jed sprang thorough the gate as though he’d just spotted a meadow full of badgers.  I was wearing my wig and cap, and I sidled over to my one friend who knows about my Bald-itis. It had been a while since I’d been in, and most people associate me with short hair, rather than the chin length bob that I was sporting. I told my friend I was bracing myself for comments. She laughed and said not to worry, “Everyone here is too self-absorbed to notice.”

Basset Bum


3 November 2011

The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins

I have a lot of hats. Maybe not quite 500, like Bartholomew Cubbins, but it sure feels like it. But like young Mr Cubbins, I am rarely hatless. Often I wear two at once! Coming in from the outdoors I take off one ‘going out’ hat, to reveal my smaller ‘indoor’ hat. That way, my wig will stay covered, and I won’t have to do a self-conscious swap in public.

Our front hall is now festooned with hats. Open the closet, and it overflows with jaunty caps, eager for the right occasional. About 100 of these hats are the result of my own panic buying. Prior to baldness I over-anticipated the amount of head coverings I was going to need. What made it more seductive is the best hat store in the universe, tucked away on the 3rd floor of princess Margaret Hospital. They have a fine selection! (And the hats, though appropriate for baldies, are not specifically for that purpose. Their splendid stock is selected for it’s considerable size, excellent head coverage, and top-notch quality).

The 500 Hats of Me
Another bunch of caps were ordered on-line at 3 am from a company in Utah. They specialize in head coverings for girls like me, and while not particularly stylish, are very cozy for bed.

The remaining 300 hats (I exaggerate, of course) were gifts from my favorite people, who correctly predicted that I’d relax under the comfort of something stylish and cozy. These ones are special (Thanks Caleb!), because of the sweet consideration that went into their selection, and the understanding that an egghead needs low coverage, a generous fit, as well as a certain je ne sais quoi.

Both Bart Cubbins and I can stack our hats quite high. As he takes off one hat, another appears that is more beautiful than the last, until he reveals the final hat, which is gilded, and covered with gems.

My hat stack is a little shorter. As all the hats are removed there is a wig named Julie, which though not gilded, has some nice reddish-brown highlights. Beneath that, there is my own gilded crown. 

In itself it is a gem, and my mother says it is perfect. 

2 November 2011

Pink Flamingos

Many years ago, Jim and I went to visit his parents at their winter home near Lakeland Florida. He enticed me by misrepresenting it as a ‘Trailer Park,’ when in fact, it was something a lot more classy.  Where I was hoping to find plastic pink flamingoes and rusted hibachis, I found instead generous doublewide mobile homes with tasteful furniture.

Life there went on at it’s own cheerful step. There were card games, Mai-Tais, and a community swimming pool. (There was also a little stream with an alligator in it). And when the senoirs wanted to bust out, they could go in to town to shop, or to Hooters, for some wings!

Freedom 55!

Life was nice in that park. The big world seemed to stay outside, announcing its' presence  through newspapers, or TV. Residents set their own pace, and familiar faces walked, or rolled around (on giant tricycles), amidst laughing, euchre, and gin.

Week three of my treatment and my life is going at my own pace. Calm tasks fill the day. If so inclined (I’m not) I could learn to knit, or try a new recipe. There are books to read, friends to see, and plants that need my attention. In effect I’ve created my own little Lakeland.

Life in Little Lakeland is okay! Firstly, I rarely go downtown anymore. It really IS loud, and I’ve lost my ambition to run yellow lights and scream loudly into my cell phone. When I want to socialize I tend towards in-home rather than going out. Firstly, being out takes a lot of effort.  Secondly, there’s pressure to do my hair. And thirdly, why eat in a restuarant when I can buy a perfectly delicious (organic) chicken pie, and serve it on the sofa!

Exercise, now, is of slower variety. Yoga, which had escalated to become a Lulu Lemon fashion show, is simple. No more twisting into a pretzel while showing off one’s flair for Sanskrit. My new mat mates roll around gently in their worn Winner’s pants, contemplating how to get themselves upright and home, without fainting.

And as for the alarm clock – I don’t need it anymore! If I don’t sleep well, it’s perfectly acceptable to have a nap during day. And no job means no getting up early. No dealing with deadlines, or super-stressed ulcer-plagued colleagues with their masseuse on speed dial. In fact, I don’t often have to rush to be anywhere. And, on most days, my friends can find me close to home, should they need me.

My own little Lakeland isn’t perfect . The real Lakeland had more cocktails, and to be honest, I never once saw Russ or Jeannie (Jim’s parents)  get tired. (In fact, they often took happy hour at the ABC Liquor Lounge, then carried on merrily to the Branch Ranch). But my home is peaceful, and  pleasant retreat. Eventually my desires will be more enthusiastic, and I will to add a few thing to my needs. So, I'm planning on holding onto the serenity, while adding flamingos, and late night TV.