21 October 2011

Best story, ever

I hate group therapy. My group leader, Anne, just called to tell me that they’ve missed me for the last few weeks. As I only attended one class, her understatement sounded a little sarcastic. We were a small group sitting on cheap motel lobby furniture, surrounded by boxes of Kleenex. I spent the first half of the session being bored by people's stories (Seriously? You call that a problem!) and the second half being really, really scared.

The list of things that can go wrong following a diagnosis is about a mile long. The list of chemo side effects is even longer. (I prefer the Imperial system. It sounds more regal). However,  the list of side effects that might actually affect one individual might only measure two inches.

Throughout my session, participants brought up the whole long mile, bringing to light things I never wanted to know. Needless to say, it goes much  further than loss of hair. So, just when I was thinking I could cope, I started to think I couldn’t. So the reason I never went back to therapy was one part boredom, and two parts terror.

But (here comes the positive) one lovely woman told a story that felt like Christmas morning. She is completely bald, and bravely walks around without covering her head. She was also wearing a tracksuit, and without hair and street clothes, it’s harder to tell about about lifestyle or age. No matter. She had a twinkle in her eye, a charming manner, and a contagious sense of peace. 

As always with ladies, the conversation turned to men, and I asked her about her relationship. She told me that she’d just met someone prior to her diagnosis, but not knowing if he was a keeper, she didn’t divulge her situation. Then she decided she liked him.  As the chemo date approached (in her case, surgery would follow) she knew that she would have to let him in on her secret.

So on the eve of her first treatment she invited him for dinner, and told him they needed to talk. He arrived, nervously, and she poured him a glass of wine. Then she told him about her tumor, her upcoming chemo, and how she might, be sick, tired, and bald.  Slightly shaken, he leaned on the table and put his head in his hands. “ Oh Thank God”, he said, “I thought you were going dump me.”

Enjoy your weekend.

20 October 2011

Sharing the Spotlight

My hair was not the first thing I thought about first thing today. Rather, when I woke up this morning on the sofa, snout to nose with my weary little hound, I thought about his breathing. I checked his nose to make sure it wet (it was) and that his heart was strongly beating.

Most days, I wake up and think about my hair. Firstly, I check to see that my sleep cap is still on. Despite Jim’s pleas, "Take it all off!," I like that it’s soft and cozy. Then I feel around for bristles (still there), and sometimes I run my finger across my moustache. Some days hair loss can affect my mood, and I tend towards melancholy. Today however, there wasn’t time to worry about looking like Telly Savalas, or  even Tom Selleck, there were more important things than me.

Olivia Newton-Jed
On our morning walk Jed is wearing a T-shirt that is knotted at the waist. He looks like he’s off to aerobics. For his protection, I make sure to walk on the outside of the sidewalk, ready to push over any skateboarder, or doublewide stroller heading our way. Regardless of my meager upper body strength, I’m capable of tossing an 8-year old head first into a rose bush, should he dare to touch my dog without asking.

Thorny rosebush, for kids
Since July, everything has been all about me. My family has rescheduled everything to be at me side when I needed them. Meals have reolved around my palate, events have been scheduled around my availability, many sacrifices have been made.  Recently my little niece was banned from from the table beacause of her cough, but she didn't mind. Grinning, she stood in the hallway and shoveled handfuls of 'love air' in my direction.

And then there's Jim. As a partner to an me, he gets pushed so far onto the back burner that his tiny arse is constantly aflame. Not only has he had to relinquish control of the thermostat (“I’m hot. Turn it off”) but the fridge has been invaded by mountains of frozen foods, and acres of leafy greens. But today is not about me. I’ll continue to make efforts for my overall health, but the hair is a fait accompli. It’ gone (almost) and I’ve got a replacement, so it’s high time I find a new way to kick start the morning.  For now Jed has pushed me out of the spotlight, and that push will lead to a better day.

19 October 2011

Lumpectomy, Doggy Style

Cone Head
Jed is lying in his bed, fully dressed.  Jed, being a basset hound, doesn’t normally wear clothes, but this morning he is wearing a green crew neck T-shirt, and plaid boxer shorts. The shorts are too big, so I made him a belt out of 3” green paper tape. As far as dog outfits go – this one is smashing. 

Yesterday Jed had several lumps (benign cysts) removed, as well as a complete dental cleaning. When we picked him up at the vet, he had four large shaved patches, with incisions held together by garish staples. Wobbling on his stubby legs, he looks like a hairy horizontal Frankenstein. 

Guarding the troops. Avec vin.
Tenderly, we loaded Jed on a pillow, and raised him into the back of the jeep. I crawled in with him so that I could wrap my arms around his body and keep him still. Jim, who was driving, looked at us curled up in his rear view mirror. I knew what he was thinking.  On a warm sunny day ten weeks ago, he’d picked up another loved one who was freshly de-lumped, and wobbly. For the second time he’d navigated his truck gently over potholes and speed bumps, determined to get his precious cargo home in one piece.
Later we put a thousand pillows on the floor surrounding the dog bed, and curled up in the style of a 1960’s hippy commune, minus the Mary Jane. Last night we were a fragile lot, with our combined total of six incisions, though the expectation is that we’ll both heal wholly, and completely.

Meanwhile, the focus is on the dog recovery and since I can stay home, I’m fully committed to Jed. He’s been given his medications (I don’t take anything this week) had some cottage cheese (me too), and gone back to sleep. I am dressed in sporty loungewear (blue) as is he (green). The only real difference (besides the length of our pants) is that Jed’s entirely hairy while I’m almost entirely hairless, and Jim is somewhere in between.

Me, post surgery. Jed, pre-surgery

18 October 2011

Diamonds & Macaroni

When I was a little girl my mother used to request that our gifts to her were homemade. I thought she was kidding. Why would any 37-year-old woman want a spray painted macaroni pencil holder, when they could have a wonderful brooch from the Bay!

But now I get it. I’ve received a lot of gifts over the last four months, and some favorites have been handmade. Not only are they all beautiful, but also in them I feel love, time, and the hands of people who made them.

Here are but three.

Charlotte, a girl whom I’ve never met (but I love anyway, because she’s my friends’ daughter) made me a worry doll. She has a yellow skirt and white hair, so I think she might be an Albino Rastafarian. Regardless, she is a constant presence in my bedroom, and her name is Althea. Though she often lies happily under a pillow, (where she kindly absorbs my fretting) she sometimes sits on the dresser, and she once rode in my handbag when I needed her smiling comfort. The cat likes her too.

The world’s best nurse, who also happens to be my oldest friend, and an honourary member of my family, made me a pair of sealskin mittens.  She crafted them with her own little hands, and they’re gorgeous. If one knew this nurse, they’d know that sewing is not high on her list of hobbies, so that makes them even more special. In my fantasy she sewed them sitting on her sofa with some 80’s music, her reading glasses, and a giant bottle of red wine – cursing like a trucker every time she pricked her hand. This fantasy may or may not be true. I have learned to never underestimate her. She may have hiked across the Arctic to get her supplies. It wouldn’t have been the first time.

1,000 origami cranes came from a favorite friend and her family. More accurately, my friend made 950 (‘cus she’s lazy) and deligated the rest to her children.  In Japanese culture, a thousand cranes grants one big wish. My father once told me that the more magnificent a piece of art, the less there is to say. So I’ll just say this. The cranes are incredibly moving, wonderfully joyous, and I’m privileged to wake up to them every day.

Christmas is coming and I have a lot of time on my hands, and a cupboard full of fusilli. So for those whom I don’t like there’ll be something sparkly and impersonal, but for those I love, brace yourself for macaroni. 

17 October 2011

Ms Jones Heads Uptown

Samantha Jones channeled herself into me for a few glorious hours this weekend. When this happens, I feel like I can conquer the world, so I put on a smart sweater and rode the Sam Jones wave as far as I could take her.

First order of business was getting my bangs trimmed, which meant a trip to Richard at Continental Hair, in Yorkville . Though an area I avoid on normal day, it's bearable when I  strut through as Sam. (Last time I was there I saw an Olsen twin. She is the exact size of a giant latte).

I’ve waited a month to get my bangs trimmed, because it’s taken me that long to understand my wig. Not that it’s uncomfortable. When I first visited, I asked Richard how I could prevent my head from itching. He looked like I’d slapped him across the face. “My wigs don’t itch,” he gasped, hugging ‘Julie’ tight to his chest. And in fact, they're quite comfortable. (Mine has a silk inset). However it takes time to feel confident with its' exact placement on the big bald head. The top should line up with the hairline, and a tab at either temple ensures the hair is on straight. Placement is absolutely crucial, as one is always just a step away from looking like a mannequin in a Greek dress shop.

So, I waited till I could adjust the wig without the help of a mirror before tackling the bangs - but tackle the bangs we did. Unapologetically I Ms Jones’d Richard into submission, demanding that he slowly trim each hair millimeter by millimeter, in a quest to make them perfect. Poor Richard. Though he gamely snipped away, I suspect that at he preferred the woman he met a few months earlier; the version of me who slumped in the chair and started sobbing.

After leaving a giant tip, I continued on my way, sashaying down Avenue Road to look for eyeglasses. Their use is purely cosmetic, as I want to distract from eyes that are potentially lashless. Entering the shop, I knew my time was limited. My steely confidence only lasts for so long, and then Samantha leaves me. So I grabbed he first salesperson (age 12) that I found, and told her exactly what I was looking for. Things went well for about four minutes. I found a pair that I liked, and asked her opinion. “Let’s see how they fit,” she squeaked. And then, without hesitation, she lifted her tiny hand to see how the arm fit, over my ear. Jesus!  “Watch the hair,” I warned, slightly impatient. Her little face clouded over. “I’m wearing a wig,” I explained. She looked as though she was about to cry. But not me. Feeling wildly unsympathetic, my inside voice said, “ Oh, buckle the f*ck up kid. It’s just hair.”

That was moment I’d realized that I’d peaked.  I’d ridden the Samantha Jones wave for one magnificent afternoon, but now it was time to go home. I’d crested on a giant rogue, and I could feel myself heading back to shore. Soon, I would cease to order salespeople around, followed by random acts of compassion. Samantha Jones took me uptown, but on the sandy shore another Miss Jones is ready to be channeled by me. Sprawled on a chair with a bottle of vodka, her name is Bridget, and she awaits.

So, with a last bit of determination, I flung the door open onto Bloor St, and whistled for a taxi.