19 December 2012


This year I’m going to Cuba for Christmas.  Joining me,  along with my bathing suit and sandals, will be my fleshy pork sleeve and matching gauntlet. So far it’s been easy to match my compression garments under a long sleeve shirt where they can be ignored, but now they’re going on vacation and it’s going to be hot.

But c’est la vie. It’s not as though I’m going to be lying on the beach, because I’m not allowed. My post-radiated body won’t do well in the sun, so I was already on planning on settling down under a palm tree. And if that didn’t work, I would be just as happy in the bar, with a mojito and a good book by my side.

So I had to make a return trip to Mansueta boutique, home of the unstylish medical garments. I’d called the Lymphedema Clinic because my thumb had become numb.  They suggested that my gauntlet might need refitting, which led me to Mansueta and my  tiny Filipino friend, Nanci.

I sat down on the stool while she fiddled with my hand. She was wearing heels that day, so we were eye to eye, and I was stuck by how large I felt in her presence – as though I was size of her buffalo.

‘Hm,’ she said stretching the fabric. ‘You hab no feeling in your thumb?’ I told her that I had pins and needles. I was worrying, in fact, that the lymphedema was spreading. I’d been doing my exercise, and the occasional self-massage, but as it’s Christmas, I’d been a bit lazy. Would I every feel my thumb again? Squeeze a lime, or open a tin of smoked oysters?

Nanci removed my gauntlet, pulled it a bit, and then put it back on my hand. Gently she rolled the fabric up my thumb, then folded the final 1/2 inch. ‘How is that?’ she asked. Wow! What a difference. ‘The babric was too tight and too high’ she told me. I looked at my thumb. 
‘So all you had to do was make a little turtleneck?'

She laughed. ‘Yes, a turtleneck’.

So now my thumb has an outfit. It’s not the fashion choice my thumb would have chosen for a Cuban vacation, as he prefers  to go the minimalist route, in the manner of a German tourist. But even though the colour's all wrong, at least it's better than a speedo.

(Just for fun, I looked up how to say ‘thumb’ in Spanish. The slang is ‘dedo gordo’. I don’t know that dedo means, but gordo means fat, and I think that Gord is a perfectly good name for my thumb.)

So us gals are off to Cuba, accompanied by my nephew Caleb (12), and Gordo in his turtleneck. And Gordon is now in charge of squeezing the lime.

17 December 2012

Two Wishes

Last year I was visited by a fairy. And no – it wasn’t the steroids, or any other mĂ©lange of drugs – it was an actual fairy, for real.

It was last Halloween, and I was standing on my sisters' porch dressed as Jane Goodall, with a couple of monkeys strapped to my hip, and an itchy blonde wig on my bald head. All the kids came storming up the stairs with their big bags , saying trick or treat. The little kids were the best, because they were expecting magic, and on their best behavior. As the night got later, the kids got older, and sometimes they mumbled thank-you, and sometimes they said nothing at all. Some of them wore a mask, but there was little magic, and even fewer manners. I gave them all candy anyway, cus I’m a grown-up and it was Halloween.

Last night I was going through a drawer looking for some Christmas magic of my own - a sparkly hair clip. I only have a few inches of hair these days, but I love it, and thought it deserving of a clip covered in fake diamonds. In my search, I came across a little box where I keep a favorite necklace. I opened it, and found a small piece of paper. It was pink, and folded in half. I opened it, and on it said ‘ 3 Wishes.’

And then I remembered. I was standing on the front porch (as Jane) handing out the last of the candy to teenagers. On of the last girl up the stairs was about my height, and even though a little heavy, she walked like she was traveling on air. I can’t remember what she was wearing. But she came up the front steps announced she was a fairy, and said I had three wishes. She handed me the piece of pink paper and headed down the stairs.

I can’t remember what I was thinking at the time. I was completely crazed, so I don’t remember what happened between that Halloween and today. I probably wished for good health. I like to think I also wished for world peace, but because of the drugs, I might have just wished for another season of Downton Abbey, or some slippers.  Whatever.

Due to my delicate condition those last wishes didn’t count, so they are still valid today. And since there’s not lot for me to wish for,  I’ll consign my wishes to another who may need some fairy dust.

My true gift was finding this piece of pink paper. In this season, we’re always looking something more than parties and pie. Beyond the sequined sweaters and bulging credit cards, there’s something else out there,  just waiting to be found. And I found it unexpectedly, tucked away in a drawer while I was getting dressed for a party.

I never did find my hair hair clip with a bit of sparkle, but I did find a bit of magic instead.

25 November 2012


To protect my arm from further swelling, it was recommended to me that I get a ‘sleeve’ to wear. And lest I think that could waltz in to any old drugstore, and get something off the shelf, I was mistaken. I needed a note from my doctor, and then I had to go to ‘Mansueta’, which is a little boutique near Mount Sinai Hotel and Spa, that deals with all sort medical garments for breast canceritis people. Compression stockings, fake boobs, padded bathing suits, and such.

So I went down for my fitting, and had my arm measured yet again. It was decided that I would get a sleeve with the minimum amount of pressure, and a ‘gauntlet’, which is a fingerless compression glove for my hand. It would be a kind of cool accessory if I was a Goth kid (I’m not) or if it was the 80’s (it’s not) but as a flesh coloured fashion accessory, it leaves something to be desired.

Do I have a joke for you!
‘It’s kind of depressing,’ I said to Valentina, as she squeezed my arm into the sleeve, jamming my skin in as though she was making a giant pork sausage. She nodded. ‘You’ll be wanting this.' And she whipped out a pamphlet for Lymphe-Diva, a company which specializes in sleeves with decorative patterns. The brochure featured two stylish women at a cafĂ©, one with a sleeve of roses, the other, snakeskin.  They seemed to be having a great time. Clearly lymphedema hasn’t slowed these girls down one bit!

I wanted to be just like them. Happy, confident, sitting on a terrace. ‘How much are they?’ I asked Valentina. ‘Oomph,’ she said, ‘quite expensive. About three times as much as these.' So I thought about it, and decided the simple fleshy $120 sausage option would suffice. It’s Christmas, after all, and there are other accessories that take priority.

So I put it out of my head until yesterday afternoon when I got a call from Valentina. ‘Your sleeve is ready,’ she said. I'd honestly forgot all about it, and it was at least five seconds of me with my mouth hanging open, trying to figure out why someone would call me about a sleeve, rather than entire outfit.

But sometime around the four second mark - before I processed the information - I remembered a joke that had been lying dormant in my brain for a long long time.  And even though I’m the only one who has ever found it funny I’m going to share. Here goes.

Q – Where does the General keep his army?
A – In his sleevey.

Ha! It cracks me up every time. 
And I'm picking up my sleevey next week.

18 November 2012

Racing the Dragon

'What can I do?!’ Is the thought that raced through my mind, after being diagnosed with lymphedema. Dr. Escargot had given me a few pointers, but once I left the safety of Mount Sinai Hotel and Spa, I started to panic. My symptoms were mild, but who’s to say that my arm wouldn’t swell up overnight. My arm was at the mercy of my imagination, and at 4 in the morning I pictured it swelling up like a loaf of Swedish Limpu bread,  just in time for breakfast.

Swedish Limb-pu Bread
While I waited for my appointment to be made at the lymphedema clinic, I searched for advice. I called the clinic, my massage therapist, and my doctor. They all gave me versions of the same thing – mainly keeping your arm elevated and doing exercises that would keep the lymph fluids circulating in the affected area. I did as I was told, and then found that I would have to wait a month to get into the clinic for an official evaluation. I called Escargot’s office – and was told not to worry because I had a mild case, and early detection is the key.

So I called the clinic. ‘What is the point …’ I said,  ‘…of early detection, if you’re going to make me wait a month to get into the clinic.’  There was a small silence, and I requested be called if there were any cancellations. Lo and behold (whatever that means) I was called back within the hour, and given an appointment for the very next day.

As this was my first appointment, I was to be measured, and given a few little squeeze-y tests with a rubber ball and some high tech hand weights.  But before we could get to that, I had to go into a room with a few other ladies for the Lymphedema Power Point Presentation. I was pumped.

The first half hour was about the lymph and circulatory systems of the body. The nurse, who was reading the words off the screen, droned on as if she’d done it a thousand times before. Sadly it was a bit of a letdown. I read a lot, so it wasn't telling me anything I didn’t already know. To make matters worse, the diagrams where awful.

‘Personal Exercise Program’, was one of the headings, with a black and white man/woman sitting in a chair,  blurry arrows indicating the direction of arm movements, for shoulder lifts, ‘front crawl’, and wrists circles.

Honestly, I don’t know why they don’t liven up those images. With all the money they’re raising or cancer research, they could at least hire an artist to make the slide show a bit more entertaining.  By the time the nurse demonstrated how to ‘march in your seat’ I was discreetly texting my colleagues at the office. I guess was hoping for a magic secret. I really wanted to unearth the secret that would guarantee that the puffy arm wouldn’t get any worse. I would have done anything.

The next heading was ‘Aerobic Training’.  Same horrible eunuch  diagram. And under the headline were four suggestions.  And this is what was written:

Brisk Walking
Dragon Boat Racing

I scanned the screen and laughed out loud. There it was! The secret that would make my lymphedema go awat. I wondered why Escargot hadn’t mentioned it earlier, and perhaps written me a prescription for a boat and a couple of oars.
Lymphedema Prevention

As far as preventative measure it seemed a bit extreme. But at least it answered the question, ‘What can I be doing?’

10 November 2012

My Right Arm

My mother Violet likes to torture me when I’m driving. I’m behind the wheel, and she sits in the passenger seat gazing calmly out the window. I think, just for a second, that everything is going to be fine. But then she shifts slightly, sighs deeply, and stretches out her left arm, her hand resting on my headrest.

“Why do you do that!?’ I squeal.
“Do what?’ she asks innocently.

My mother’s been doing this for so long that doesn’t even notice she’s doing it. So I have to tell her that I don’t like anyone tapping my head while I’m driving. She looks at me, and I can tell by her fake-neutral gaze that she thinks I’m a little high strung, which I am. And I prove it further by telling her to imagine that there is an invisible line down the middle of the car, and she has to stay on her side. And that includes her hand.

Now, over the last couple of weeks I’ve been starting to feel a strange tingling in my right arm. It feels as though there is a cord running down the centre of the arm, and someone is trying to tighten it. It’s not painful, but it’s weird.  But my body has been through so much  discomfort this year, that I didn’t give it much thought. Then a few days ago I noticed that my hand was puffy. I tried to ignore it, but when I went to put on my favorite Michael Jackson glove, it didn’t fit.

I lay in bed that night thinking the worse. Lymphedema. A condition common in canceritis patients who have had their nodes remove, and I lost 22. Lymphedema is swelling in the affected arm or hand caused by a buildup of lymph fluid. The swelling happens because lymph nodes, which normally act as filters, aren’t able to do their job as well because they’ve been removed by surgery, or damaged by radiation. In the most sever cases you look Popeye. In the minor cases, you get a puffy hand.

So I ran down to see Dr. Escargot. His tiny hands, (which seemed even tinier due to my puffiness) gave me the once over,  and he said that I do indeed have lymphedema,  and while chronic, it is manageable and no cause for concern. Having said that, he went on to say that I would need lymphatic massages (no problem!) and a compression sleeve (ugh).  But, in the meantime, there a few things I could do. Firstly, I must avoid heavy lifting, do a lot of stretches, and keep my arm elevated for at least 45 minutes a day.

I’ve tried sleeping with my arm up on a stack of pillows, but it quickly falls down by my side. I’ve tried propping it up while I watch TV, but either I get to restless, or I end up using my right arm to refill my wine.

So the only logical place where I can keep my arm elevated is in the car. I spend gigantic chunks of time on the Gardiner Expressway, and I’ve decided to use the time to my advantage. Sometimes I put my hand inside the visor, where it will stay still. Sometime I stretch it straight up  so my palm is flat on the roof of the car. 

But mostly, I shift slightly in my seat, sigh deeply, and stretch my arm over the passenger seat, resting it on the headrest. I’ve yet to have a passenger, but I’m look forward to the day when I can chauffeur my mom, and have an excuse to smack her lightly in back of her head.

28 October 2012

P-you? P-me!

My nephew has started to get hair on his legs. I first noticed this last winter as we were lying on my sister’s couch watching ‘Dancing with the Stars’. I was bald from head to toe and was completely obsessed with hair. He was eleven, and completely obsessed with watching Karina Smirnoff performing the Paso Doble.

Soon after that, the hair on my legs started coming back, and over the next few months we sort of went through puberty together. Our leg hair got longer and other hairs came back as well. Arms, head, and a light shadow over the upper lip (me, not him). What didn’t come back was the hair under my arms. I checked in every few days to see if there was any growth but I was as smooth as a baby’s arse.

How delightful! Canceritis sometimes offered a silver lining and this was it -  and as an extra special super bonus, I was completely odour free. I surmised (unscientifically) that this was due to the fact that I’d had a bunch of nodes removed from both sides. It made sense that if the surgeon was digging around in there, under several layers of skin, there would be a few modifications. Some delicate tubing must have been cut, particularly the one that pumps out scent, for instance. And hair.

With confidence, I have been living without deodorant. Summer came, a few hairs burst through my radiated skin, but even on the hottest days I could go completely au natural in the armpit department.  Puberty was over!  Caleb may still have a few things to deal with (think Peter Brady) but I was clearly done.

Or so I hoped. Recently I was in the car with my sister. She was driving, I was passenging, and Caleb was in the back where children belong. It was an unseasonably hot day and we were all wearing too many layers, which I was removing as we drove. ‘Something smells funny,’ I said to my sister. ‘Open a window,’ she said. So I did, but the funny smell persisted. I looked back to see what Caleb was up to – as he is a prepubescent boy and I like to blame everything on him. ‘Don’t look at me,’ he said.

So I took off my jacket, and ignored the musty odour. I repeated that something smelled really icky, and he piped up, ‘Maybe it’s you.’ Oh - From the mouth of babes. Disappointment seeped in as I realise that my puberty was not over. No silver lining for me; I was as smelly as a teenage boy.  It had been 14 months since I used deodorant and it seemed as foreign to me as a ponytail. Odour had returned, along with a very unwelcome chin hair.

So I have officially trumped my nephew at puberty. My legs are hairier, I’m kind of sweaty, and I smell as though I’d just done the foxtrot with Chaz Bono (just before we we were unceremoniously mocked by Bruno, and kicked off the show)

Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

18 October 2012

Sisters, Not Twins

My wingman and I went out on a date last night. In honour of Breast Cancer Awareness Month Year we attended a Breast Reconstruction Information Seminar that was being held downtown. It was a jolly event. There were lots of interesting displays (fake boobs) refreshments (non-alcoholic) and many delicious treats (sugary and fattening).

There was also a whole lot of laughter, which seems to be standard fare for these cancer-y get together's where a whole bunch of woman in one room are determined to plough ahead, no matter what kind of crazy obstacles try to stand in the way.  Everybody travelled in small packs, either with girlfriends, or husbands, who took it all in stride.

From the outside, all the entire audience looked healthy. There were a few baldies but they were dressed for an evening out with earrings and make-up and looked very stylish.  There were lots of short haircuts, and lot of long ones and as for the inevitable ladies in wigs  - nothing stood out. Also, all the ladies had two boobs – or more specifically – two breast mounds under their shirt. It was revealed later that there was all sorts of stuff going on under their bras that had nothing to do with Mother Nature.

Later, we (chicks only) would go into another room for a ‘show and tell’ where woman who had had reconstruction would share their stories. These women were easily identifiable by their tiaras, long silk scarves, and the fact they were topless. They were available for questions, and also the chance to cop a feel, or as we used to say back in grade seven, ‘get to first base’.

‘Touch them!’ one young woman said to me. I warned her that my hands were cold. ‘No problem’ she laughed in her breezy Spanish accent, ‘I have no sensitivity!’ So I did, and she cheerfully told me that they felt natural because the surgeon had used fat from her stomach to replace the fat in her breasts. No breast tissue, no chance of breast cancer!  And a tummy tuck thrown in for good measure.

All the ladies had different stories, and all of them glowed with success. The recurring theme through the night was rebuilding, moving forward, and gaining confidence. Or, as one of the reconstructive surgeons said in her speech, ‘We just want to give you boobs that make you so  friggn’ happy……'

And in a quest to ‘return to normal-ish’ that often requires a set of boobs that are the same. Or not! As I have briefly mentioned, mine are a bit of a mess – and trust me when I say that as a woman who has never given birth– mine were pretty prefect.

But according to another speaker, a renowned micro-surgeon (with 157 years of education under his belt) said no set of boobs is ever supposed to be perfect. ‘They’re not twins,’ he said, ‘They’re sisters.’

The entire audience giggled, then breathed a sigh of relief. Of course we don’t have to make them exactly the same. They are sistas! 

And though not always perfect, a sista is the always the very best of friends.

14 October 2012

The Longest Month of the Year

It's Breast Cancer Awareness Month Year, and once again I find myself wishing I had a handbook of clever comebacks. Because once again I found myself in a situation with my mouth hanging open and the little voice inside my head quietly saying ‘Why don't you just f*ck off.’

I was standing in line at the grocery store, watching for a line-up of tired parents filling their environmentally correct bags with orange juice and cereal. Really mundane stuff.  I got to the cash, had my groceries rung through, and handed the young cashier some money.

‘Do you want to give a dollar?’ she said, without even looking up. Obviously she’s been instructed to ask this question, and obviously she had no emotional investment in the answer.  ‘What for?’ I asked her. ‘Cancer’ she yawned.

I paused for a second, and my mouth might have fallen open. A dollar? I get that it all adds up, and that money needs to be raised, but I don't know where the money actually goes. And is it appropriate to be asked by a party so far removed from the cause, that she can’t even look up from her cash machine. Usually when someone wants something they at least make eye contact. Is cancer so mundane that it becomes part of the grocery list?  So I stood there perhaps a few seconds too long staring at the bored cashier with her greasy ponytail. Then the person behind me leaned forward and gently said, ‘It’s breast cancer awareness month.’

Is it now?!’ I wanted to shout, ‘You don’t say?!’ That's why I see a pink ribbons every time I look at a newspaper or turn on the TV! That why every single woman’s magazine is devoted to stories about  'journeys' and ‘survivors!  Canceritis is always inside my head, and for this month it is always outside my head, too. But  I stayed quiet, my head muddled, wishing that I had my handbook of clever comebacks. 

A tired little cashier wanted me to give a dollar. I’d already given eight months of my life, my cute brown bob, and the shape of my formally perfect boobs for breast cancer. And I’m getting chubby.  Haven’t I given enough? The cashier cleared her throat. ‘Do you want to donate a dollar?'  I shook my short curly head. No thanks. Not today.

And with still 17 days left of official canceritis awareness, I’ve got to start working on my comebacks.

6 October 2012

Shiny Butterfly

My stylist, Jim,  gave me a silver necklace for my birthday. It’s an old wax seal, and on it is the image of a butterfly.  It’s very beautiful, as is its' symbolism, which is the soul, transformation, metamorphosis, and rebirth.

Regardless of the fact that I was transformed against my will, the message behind the necklace is profound. My transformation is both physical and mental, and I still can’t quite figure it out. There are the obvious things like the hair and the scars, and there are the invisible things like the fact that I’ve had to dig deeper into my soul than I ever thought possible. And then there is the fact that I’ve had the chance to peer into the souls of others, and was both humbled and surprised.

But the transformation of a butterfly is much more abrupt. It goes from an ugly little larva into something so astonishingly beautiful that you forgive Mother Nature for having invented more unsightly things such as Ozzie Osborne and genital warts. And of course, there is the fact that the ugly larva turns into something that can fly. Flying is the ultimate transformation, and something to aspire to.  How amazing to go from a something so clumsy and slow to something so light and beautiful and surrounded by air.

I am anxious to get to the flying stage. It’s been over a year since my diagnosis and I live in a world filled with confusion, night sweats, and mood swings that are only a few personalities short of Sybil. Not that my life is bad – not by any stretch – it’s just a constant period of readjustment. Big emotions trying to fit into old routines often come with a bit of pain.

So in receiving this necklace, I decided to do a little research into butterflies. I read all he scientific stuff, and as fascinating as it was, I promptly forgot everything. Except this. ‘The caterpillar spends practically all their time in search of food’.

Well, that’s me! Constantly in search of something to eat I am a caterpillar! And though it’s not what I aspire to be there is comfort in knowing that I am at a stage where I’m doing exactly what I’m meant to do.

Which means that one day, I’ll get to where I’m meant to be.

19 September 2012

Be Careful What You Wish For

 ‘Hair Envy’ was something I experienced at a very young age. My older sister was born with beautiful blonde curls that brought her a lot of attention. Later, that grew into wild untameable waves that became her trademark. I too wanted to be untameable. But my hair was straight and boring.

Then my younger sister came along with wild chestnut hair. In exasperation she’d pull it into ponytail, and I’d gaze in envy at the determined curls that would escape from the elastic, and hang down the back of her neck. I wanted hair that would escape! It just seemed so alive. But when I put my brown hair into a ponytail, it did in fact, look exactly like the tail of a pony.
The Old Me (I'm in the middle)

Curly hair had personality. Unpredictable, sassy, bouncy personality - offering endless possibilities. I so longed for curly hair. During high school, I suppose, I had every chance to try it. Back then, everybody was getting perms, but there were two reasons why I didn’t. Mostly, I was chicken. I didn’t think I’d have the guts to walk down the hall with curly hair. People would stare. And I wouldn’t be able to use the washroom.

The Italian girls who smoked in the bathrooms scared me, and I was afraid to walk into a cloud of smoke from their DuMaurier extra-mild’s and have them say, ‘What did you do to your hair!?!’  I even had my imaginary answer prepared. I would say that I had naturally curly hair, but had just stopped straightening it. Then they would have rolled their eyes in disbelief because they all thought they were cooler than me. Which they were, in a slutty kind of way.

The New Me
But as of today, I think I may have their hair. Though not a total slut-head, I definitely have some curls. I’ve heard of chemo people who’ve had hair that grows back like a poodle, and I’m happy to say that my curls are looser (More Phyllis Diller than my Nanna ).

I haven’t determined if I like it or not, cus I’m still a little in shock. And I a still have to wear a scarf around my head because everything stands at attention, and my hair always looks like it’s just been yelled at.

Chemo curls
The Newest Me
What I wish is this. I wish I hadn’t spent so much time wishing for something that I didn’t have. What a waste of time.  I wish I’d been able to admire my sister’s curly hair without thinking that mine wasn’t good enough. Because it was. In fact, it was fantastic. I wish I’d recognised that it was thick and dark and straight and shiny.

Now I’ve got the curly hair that I longed for, and it’s not that thrilling. I’m not any closer to being wild or untameable or interesting. To think – I spent all that energy wanting my idea of what curly hair would be like. And I was so busy projecting my fantasy, that I lost sight of how adorable I looked with a swinging brown bob. Some might say I was boring (Sue), but others (me) would say I was a timeless classic.

I am not going to envy someone else’s hair. I’m not going to wish that it was sraight. In fact I’m not going to wish for anything at all. Because the down side of wishing, is that it doesn’t give you the chance to enjoy what you already have.

6 September 2012

Dollarama Cancer Club

It’s amazing how often the C-word comes up during the day. Billboards, radio, newspapers, T-Shirts, and bumper stickers. Or, from the lady who’s trying to steal the last green bowl from Dollarama.

It was Friday afternoon and I was flying through the store, trying to buy some bowls.  It was a favorite friend’s birthday, and we were heading up north,  to her surprise pig roast/pot luck for 150 people. I was making pesto pasta salad and was looking for bowls that would show off dish and make it look pretty. Secretly, I wanted mine to be the best looking dish on the table.

In the bowl aisle was a stocky woman who was reaching unsuccessfully for the top shelf. ‘Can I help you?’ I asked.  Waving one chubby hand in the air, she told me that she couldn’t reach the shelf.  Then she told me that the reason she couldn’t reach it was because she’d had cancer. I would argue, that she couldn’t reach because she was short. But she elaborated, and at times, her Eastern European accent was so thick that I could barely make out what she was saying. 

Turns out she’d had a couple of surgeries, and was no longer nimble. I told her I understood.  Then she said, somewhat apologetically, that the cancer was also to blame for her hair being so thin.  Her hair was indeed a bit sparse, and because I could look down on her I could see a lot of scalp – but bless her heart – she’d given herself a perm and dyed it red, the same colour as her lipstick.

‘I went through chemo too.’ I told her. Her eyes bulged. ‘You did?! But your-a hair is so thick!’  I tried not to gloat. Inside though, my heart was swelling with pride. I haven’t had a ‘thick hair’ comment since last summer, and it was long overdue.

Then I saw the bowl that I wanted. It was apple green on the outside, and white on the inside (A bargain at $1.25!) and would certainly compliment my pasta. It was perfect. I grabbed it, and then  grabbed a second one.

'That’s a nice bowl,’ said the lady. ‘Its-a what I want for my salad. It’s-a pasta’.  Uh-oh! ‘Are there more?’ she asked. I told her no. ‘I’m going to a barbeque,’ she told me. I nodded. ‘Tomorrow night,’ she said,  ‘For my son’s-a birthday.’

Barbeque.  Potluck. Birthday. Chemo. Saturday night.  There were definite similarities. But I didn’t want to share my bowls. There was a whole wall of bowls but I had the only two green ones in my hot little hand, and I intended to use them.

Then she lifted up her shirt. ‘Look-a at my scar.’ Across her round belly was a pink line about 14 inches long.  ‘They-a said it spread like Octopus. But it’s shrinking. It keeps a-shrinking. I’m-a going on-a Thursday for my test results. I’m-a very nervous and my husband won’t-a talk to me about it. He just watches TV.’

Okay! I couldn’t stand it anymore. She’d won. Her scar was worse, her prognosis was worse, and her crappy husband was the final straw. I handed her my green bowls. She smile up at me and asked if I thought her tomato fusilli salad would look good in them, or, if she should get the fake cut crystal bowls (a bargain at $1.50). Well, I honestly thought that her pasta salad would look better in fake cut crystal, and I reached up and handed them to her. She thanked me, and asked if she should get one or two. Two, I told her. Then she told me that she couldn’t concentrate because all she thought about were her tests. ‘Pray for me,’ she said. I gave her a hug, and told her that I would. Then I took my green bowls in left.  I haven't thought much about her until today.

But it's a-Thursday, and I’m-a praying.

31 August 2012

Cancer Do's

Recently I wrote (whined) about a friend who I ran into who seemed very concerned about me, but had been ‘too busy to call’. In my defence, she had twelve months in which to do it. In her defence, maybe she didn’t really like me. Regardless – it was just my opinion of ‘what not to say’ to someone who has had a really bad year.

Cancer Don't
There are other things you shouldn’t say to a friend the first time you acknowledge their canceritis situation. ‘How ARE you?’  is top of the list. Especially with puppy dog eyes often found in black velvet paintings. It’s like asking why the earth is round, or why there were two different Chris’s on the Partridge Family. It’s too complicated, and nobody really knows the answer.

The other thing to avoid is, ‘I’m SO sorry’. Sure you’re sorry – but not as sorry as I am! Also, saying ‘I’m sorry’ is the same thing you would say to someone dealing with the death of a loved one. It’s bleak, depressing, and way too passive for such a big disease. Avoid that one at all costs.

So according to me, the very best thing you can say someone who has been diagnosed with canceritis is this. ‘What can I do?’ Not only is this pro-active, but it can be answered honestly and sincerely. Often the answer is ‘nothing at the moment’ and ‘thank you for asking’. But at least the notion is out there that things that can be done, dammit!

Cancer is a very solitary business. No matter how many people surround you, you alone been plucked out of the nest like a baby sparrow, and plopped into the centre of a volcano. When people offered to join the party, I felt immediately stronger.

I never wanted sympathy, and I must admit, that I never really got any. I got a whole lot of ‘what can I do’s’ and ‘ call me if you need anything’s’, ‘how can I help?’, and ‘What can I make.’

I hope nobody ever has to acknowledge a friend’s diagnosis. But the likelihood is that you will. So might as well be prepared, rather than sorry.

24 August 2012

Dr. Who?

Evelyn was not happy to see me standing in her doorway. Evelyn is my Oncologist’s secretary, and between the two of them they are about as inviting as a couple of frozen pork chops.

I’d called Evelyn earlier in the week requesting an appointment for a mammogram. Evelyn of course, hadn’t called me back. This was no surprise as she made it clear very earlier on, that communication was not her strong point.  So I did what I always did, and went down to the hospital in person. ‘Hi,’ she said uncomfortably. I stood in front of her and told her what I wanted. She made some sort of gurgly sound and said, ‘Well, uh, I don’t know about that’. 

Considering the fact that I was supposed to be ‘closely monitored’ due to my higher risk factor, her reaction wasn’t very reassuring. ‘Maybe in six months’, she said.  Then she started shuffling files that may have been important, though it looked like an excuse to get rid of me.

I must confess, that after my last radiation appointment, I went home with the intention of sleeping for three months. I had no interest in seeing the inside of a waiting room for a very long time, nor did I ever want to take my shirt of under a fluorescent light. I needed a break. But then my stylist (Jim) casually said, ‘When’s your next check-up?’ I got out my well-used appointment book, and saw that the pages for the next few months were pristine. Though I have been taking care of myself, I realized it was time to find someone with better credentials to take get back on board.

‘Who is my doctor?’ I asked the frozen pork chop. She looked up at me. ‘Who do when I go to when I need to be looked after, or when I want to book an mammogram.’ She did some more fake-filing and told me I should book my mammograms through my surgeon’s secretary. ‘Try book with them,’ she said, ‘ and if you run into problems, you can call us.’ Bullsh*t! I wanted to say. But instead, I turned and left her office.

Dr Escargot’s secretary is much nicer. She (Jenny) was on the phone when I burst into her office, but she seemed more overworked than frosty. I sat awkwardly while she wrapped up her phone conversation with another patient, and I surmised that this patient was just diagnosed - which sent shivers down my spine.  It never stops. But while she was on the phone I tried to use my time wisely. I remembered something I read in Cosmo (or some waiting room magazine) about exuding confidence, and I tried to sit up straight, keep my shoulders down, and my arms away from my body in a relaxed yet powerful manner.

Finally Jenny hung up the phone. ‘Remember me?’ I chirped. She looked at me over her thick glasses. ‘You look familiar’, she said kindly. Familiar? To be honest, I was kind of surprised. I’d spent many hours talking to Jenny pre-surgeries, and I thought we had a connection. They were some of the most profound moments of my life! But to her, I supposed, I was just another patient. I felt a little deflated by her remark. I felt like I’d been kicked out of the club. Or, like I’d just snubbed by an ex-boyfriend.

I reintroduced myself. (Don’t be fooled by the short curly hair!) Then I told her I wanted to book a mammogram and she sighed, and spun her chair around to reach for my file. ‘You’ve got one next year,’ she said. That wasn’t good enough, I wanted one this year. So I said to her,  ‘Who is my doctor?’

She looked baffled. I continued, ‘Who do I go to when my rib cage is hurting or when I have numbness in my arm?’  ‘Well, she said, ‘You could try your GP. Or you could call your oncologist, I guess. And if you can’t reach anyone, I guess you can try us.’

There are times when I get so exasperated that I feel like my IQ dips into the single digits. I don’t have the tools to absorb big concepts, or big words. I like simple things. ‘Jenny’ I said ‘Who is the first person I should call when something is wrong. Tell me the order of who I should talk to.’

She pondered, and sighed. ‘Okay. Call us first. I guess. And then we’ll assess you and see who you should talk to next.’ Though unsatisfactory, at least her answer was clear. Nobody is taking charge here. And since someone needs to be in control, I ‘ve elected myself. Summer break is over. 

Dr. Janet is in the house.