26 January 2012

Live 'er

A tiny little spot has been bothering me for months. It turned up on my CT scan last October, and was on my liver.

‘I’m not concerned,' snapped my crabby oncologist, dismissing it as though I’d just announced that we were running low on paper clips. My surgeon agreed I needn’t worry, but said so more kindly. He said we have spots all over the place, and I really needn’t fret. So I turned to his Nurse and said ‘What if it is something?!’ She said that if it was something, which was quite unlikely, we’d deal with it later.

So for the last few months I’ve been thinking about this spot on my liver and praying (to various entities) that it was indeed nothing. But not-so-deep down, I was quite scared. Breast cancer is a bitch, but liver cancer would be a motherfu*ker. And this spot has been in the back of my mind every day as I covered my food in flax, while cutting out my beloved red wine, and sugar.

My secret plan was, that if the spot should turn out to be something, I would go directly to Brazil and take a pilgrammage to see ‘John of God’.  We’d line up for three days in order to be operated on with a rusty knife. (It works. My Russian Nurse told me) And Jim would go with me because every man needs the opportunity to run down a beach in Rio, wearing nothing but a thong.

Tuscan Soup & a Basset Hounf
Last Monday I had another CT scan, and since then I’ve been waiting impatiently for the results. I’ve been a wreck. I’ve slept very little and have forced myself to keep busy, resulting in an excessively clean house and a six gallons of Tuscan bean soup in the freezer.

Last Tuesday I went to see my psychiatrist, who asked about my current state of mind. When I told her I was afraid of dying from liver cancer she said, ‘That’s what we’re here for – to help you through.' Of course, I assumed this to mean she was privy to some top-secret information, and was preparing me for the worst. I related this conversation to Sue who said,  ‘She’s an asshole, don’t see her anymore.'

But what if the spot was something after all. That would only give me a few years to write my memoirs, eat escargot in France, learn to paint, build a house in Cape Breton, spend more time with my nieces an nephews, go hand gliding, take Jed on a road trip to Alaska in a Winnebago, and marry Jon Bon Jovi.

Lucky Frog
This morning I had an appointment with my mean oncologist. Not only did I want my test results, but I had chemo questions as well. I pictured Dr C coming in the room wearing high heels, opening her manila folder, and telling me she had some bad news.  In preparation I’d filled my pockets with some of my little talismans. A little frog (for longevity), a bag of sea salt (to ward off bad energy), and a picture of my father. I also took ½ an Adavin. After sitting in the exam room for an hour, we were told that doctor crabby pants would be late, but her intern was available. Desperate for someone to talk to, I said I’d talk to the intern until Dr C arrived to give me my test results.

Moments later the door opened and in breezed the intern. All white teeth and long hair, and so young she couldn't legally rent a vehicle.  I sat nervously in my chair, my list of questions perched on my lap, ready to fire away. ‘Hi Janet,’ she chirped,  hopping up on to the counter, ‘Nice to see you. By the way, your test results are fine.’

And that was it. No manila folder. No high heels. No sympathetic looks. No talking about how much time I had left. No problem with my liver. In six short seconds she’d just given me back my whole life. Downstairs in the lobby I shed a few tears of relief, and Jim’s ears let go of his shoulders. He opened a pocket and took out a green crane.

My liver is fine. We’re back to nearly normal. The road trip in the Winnebago will surely happen. And tonight we’re going out for wine.

25 January 2012


My hair normally parts on the right. I have no choice in the matter, as a scar on my upper forehead dictates the style. This 25-year-old scar starts just below my hairline and is barely visible. Most of it is covered by hair, and the remainder is covered by bangs. I rarely think about it, until someone points out, ‘Hey! You have a scar on your forehead!’ And I’ll quickly offer a Coles Notes version of the story.

In a nutshell, I hit my head on a rock when I was on vacation in the Dominican Republic. And yes, I was sober. I was knee deep in water with my back to the ocean, and a large wave knocked me down. I went to a local doctor and got stitches.

Place Scar Here
‘Holy shit,’ Jim said, the first time he examined my big bald head, ‘that scar really is big.' I took a look in the mirror, and sans hair, could clearly see the line where the skin had been split open. Surprising! It was much bigger than I remembered. While only one inch is obvious, it’s actually three inches long.  But since only a Coles Notes version of my scar was visible, I’d subconsciously adjusted the size my story. Now that it was totally exposed, the story came back to me in its entirety.

After hitting my head on the rock, I ended up horizontal on the beach. Two people helped me sit up and tried to stop the bleeding. The friend who I was travelling with recalls looking up from her sunbathing to see me with two strangers, and assumed that I’d made some new friends. Shortly a little crowd gathered and someone ran to find a doctor. I knew my name, but I didn’t know much else. Then a gorgeous brown woman in a bikini came bursting through the crowd, carrying a ‘Julio Iglesias’ lunchbox. She quickly took control, opening the box and taking out bandages, gauze, and an antibiotic. Unfortunately her Julio Iglesias First Aid kit offered only temporary relief -  it was clear I needed to go to the hospital.

Some time later (I had no track of time), a pick-up truck came roaring down the beach. I was put on a lounge chair, which was hoisted onto the back of the truck. My friend (and kind strangers) took me to the closest medic, a gynecologist who operated a one-room clinic in town.

I remember looking up and seeing the doctor (I assumed he was a doctor) threading a needle with thick, black thread. I remember my friend, in her skimpy bathing suit, singing me a song in an attempt to jog my memory. And I remember the sound of the scissors as my hair was cut away from the wound. Once back in Toronto, my own doctor examined the stitches and said how lucky I was to have found a gynecologist, as he was probably the most capable with stitches.

But as I told Jim this story there were other things I would like to know. For instance, I would like to know who the people were that helped me, and especially the man was who drove me to the hospital. It must have taken four people to lift me into the truck I don’t know who any of them were.

The soft hairs are slowly coming in will soon cover my scar once again. I’m glad I had the chance to see it bare and unprotected. It’s easy to dismiss something when it’s invisible.

22 January 2012

Monkey Arms

When I was in grade five, during the heat of early summer,  I would wear a cardigan to school.  Some kids would ask if I was hot, to which I’d answer, ‘I’m fine.’ Truthfully, I was boiling. But sweating like a pig was a better option than exposing my hairy arms and being teased by my classmates.  ‘Monkey arms,’ is what the mean girls would call me, revealing their limited exposure to other cultures, and our hairy Mediterranean sisters. 

Later, I was delighted to find that my best friend Kathy Morgan also had hairy arms. She wasn’t shy about showing them off, and would twist the hairs between moistened fingers, to see if she could twirl them into a tiny stand-up ponytail. Eventually, even she got tired of the hair, and one afternoon before the high school prom, she shaved them.

Many years later, I was standing on a bus in Korea. Not only was I the tallest person, but also the hairiest. My arm was extended upwards, holding on to a strap. Dark eyes were discreetly looking up at my pale hirsute skin. Once again, I was flooded with that old self-conscience feeling.  I thought about the offending hairs, and wished them away.

But oh how things have changed! Recently I was going through my post bath ritual of dousing myself in moisturizing cream. I noticed, not for the first time, how I hairless I really am. Every place that hair should be on a regular gal is silky smooth on me. Except for my 14 eyelashes, I am as smooth as a baby’s arse.

Hairy Arm (foreground) &  Hairy Dog (background)
That is, except for my arms. I have seen them everyday since I was born, and examining them pretty closely since grade five. But only in the last few days did it occur to me that the arms on my hair is still mostly there. True-  it's thinned a little,  and the hairs are fine and blonde, but at a time where my body has sometimes let me down, my loyal limbs have stubbornly refused to desert me.

This morning (while watching Coronation Street) I did something I haven’t done since high school. I licked my fingers, (a la Kathy Morgan)  grasped the hairs, and twisted them into delicate spirals, and they stood in triumph  on my dry, sun-deprived skin. Childhood shame had been replaced with grown-up pride. I couldn’t stop looking at my arms, which looked so alive, and wonderfully familiar. My monkey arms. Loyal friends.

So, many years ago, in a classroom kept at a toasty 90 degrees, I covered my arms with a sweater. In these chilly days of winter, when I meet friends for coffee, I am going to wear a short sleeved shirt. 

‘You must be cold,’ they’ll say.
‘I’m fine,’ I’ll reply, ‘But look at my arms, and check out the hairs! My hairs are standing on end.’