Monday, October 17, 2011

It's October 17th, Again

Three years ago today I saw that I had a missed phone call. It was my doctor's office. I had completely forgotten about the results I was supposed to be waiting for that day. Instead I was standing on a football field...well, you'll see what happened next. Read my very first blog entry entitled The First 24 Hours. What a perfect piece to begin my blog with. Happy October 17th to me...and God Bless "the bees" that buzzed their way over to my  house that day...and many days after that. Life would be SO boring (and much harder) without you girls. Buzzz.

The First 24 Hours
On the very same day I get the delivery of a picture of me crossing the finish line of my first 10k race, I get news of my cancer.  The photo taken three weeks before shows me - baring a plump bicep, high-fiving a hand in the crowd. I’m wearing a hot pink tank top and a smile. I loved how healthy and strong I felt, how I looked, and what I had just done. I stare down at the photo and think, “How could that girl have cancer?” 
The word cancer stirred the bees’ nest. (an affectionate way of describing my four incredible sisters.)  The bees buzzed over, and by 7:30 PM, my driveway was as full as a parking lot. One bee came with an overnight bag and played charades with my two kids. My daughter knew things were up - she looked around the household of Aunts with question. She was given two donuts and tons of attention, and got to play outside well after dark. She saw her Mommy sad and vulnerable, letting her do whatever she wanted to do - for a while. Eventually, I cracked the whip and sent Courtney to take a shower. Cancer or no cancer I could not tolerate brown leaves in my 9-year-old’s hair.
The bees took over the house, as they would normally do under any circumstances; Christmas Eve, communions, cancer. One worked the computer doing the research, calls and making copies. On my kitchen counter was a folder labeled with my name. It contained the biopsy results. Another bee tidied up the home. No heavy stuff, just some surface cleaning. Her heart wasn’t into cleaning tonight.  

I had an arsenal of stock jokes within an hour of my diagnosis.  When I told the girls that I was told thyroid cancer is the best cancer to have, I quickly deadpanned, “You know me, Chanel, Prada, Thyroid - only the best.” 
            It felt good to give my girls a good laugh. I thought I could keep that up, but my stomach sank a little and I had to sneak off into my bedroom - away from chatter about diets, work, and Sarah Palin.
 That didn’t last long. The oldest found me, told me that I was going to be fine and that our Mom was watching over me.  I didn’t want to hear that.  “Watching over” wasn’t enough.  I wanted to be hugged, touched, and told that I was going to be okay by my mother. Within a minute, another one came into the bedroom and jumped right under the covers. Another abandoned bee came in bearing the tea she had just made for everyone. The walking laptop bee entered the room, and instead of Googling papillary carcinoma of the thyroid, we searched WebMD for cures for chronic halitosis. Think of the poor people, we said,  in need of good tongue scraping. At least they served a purpose tonight by giving us, me especially, a good laugh. But as all good things come to an end so did the bees’ visit.  Except for the one who had packed the overnight bag, they all gave their baby sister their doorway hugs and promises.
            It’s amazing how heavy an eyelid can become. Crying and lack of sleep can do such damage. The next morning I looked like a mess. Months ago, I had eagerly put my name on the homecoming volunteer sign up sheet at the college where I work. I was to be “Captain” of the kids’ booth and paint our mascot on little cheeks and noses.  Still not sure about whether or not I was actually going to show up, I jumped in the shower anyway. I needed to feel and look good. That’s what my first cancer friend, a former co-worker, had advised via email during my middle of the night cry for help.  Among other things, she had told me: “Make sure you look beautiful.”  So as if I was going to a Bar Mitzvah later that night I went and had my hair blown out. To me, having sleek shiny straight hair was power in the ego department, but the chat that went with being a regular customer was not.
“How are you?” my hairdresser asked.
“Great. I’m great,” I lied.  I have cancer, I thought.

And then my hairdresser asked me if I was going somewhere special tonight. 
“A party?” she asks.
Somewhere special for me tonight would be just going to sleep.
“Yes, a party.” Another lie.

            I sat there feeling the warmth and pull of my hair getting straighter and wondered who else here has or had cancer. I’m sure the little blond bombshell receptionist didn’t.  Stop. You can be jealous about her nice rack but not about her lack of cancer cells.

            I sped out of the parking lot, feeling the straight layers surrounding my face:  a good feeling, even today. This was just what the doctor had ordered. And for a moment I actually think I can do this. I blast the music. Yeah, right.  Who was I kidding?  Try convincing a malignancy to be impressed by straight hair. I turned off the music and began to tear up.
            It is breezy and cool, our first real fall weather day and I decide to walk instead of drive to the campus.  On my way there I begin to feel grateful that I had the energy to walk the mile. I promised myself that I would not cry if a caring work friend asked me anything. But ten minutes there, tears trickle behind my Calvins and down my cold cheek.  I got some hugs and some awkward silences, but I painted faces.  It felt good to be me. I wanted to keep being me. But instead the word CANCER kept popping up in my mind. My dearest friend of all hugged me with intensity and I wished that she wasn’t running this monstrosity of an event. Instead we could huddle together, and she could tell me again about her brother the priest and the rosary beads that were blessed by the Pope that she would use to pray for me. Talk about having friends in high places.
            Then my kids show up. We walk over to the zoo that amazingly consists of kangaroos and lemurs instead of the typical pathetic goat and caged bunnies. A woman says that she knows me from somewhere, and I tell her that our kids go to same elementary school. We converse about teachers and she tells me that my daughter has the same 4th grade teacher her daughter had last year. She agonizes over the workload and tries to prepare me for the toughest school year ever. The woman who is impeccably dressed in a crisp tailored dark denim jacket and stands a good 4 or 5 inches taller than me is endless in her negativity. I want to move away from her and her Coach shoes and me in my red Volunteer Event Staff two sizes too big t-shirt. Her most poignant comment was that by December, after doing 6 book reports, 3 science projects and 10 unit exams, she was “pulling her hair out.”
            “Hmm,” is all I can manage to say to her as our little group walks away.
My 7-year-old son Chase takes off his sneakers and he and his sister climb into the inflated jungle.  Twenty minutes and a lot of bribes and threats later they reluctantly climb out. Chase can’t find his sneakers. I scoop him up and we search the sea of dirty footwear. No brown Z-strap Sketchers anywhere. My annoyance at some fool for walking away with sneakers that don’t belong to them is starting to brew. We look, and as if it’s second nature, I begin a prayer to St. Anthony but quickly withdraw the request. I am not wasting a prayer on Sketchers, even if he is the patron saint of lost articles and even if they did cost 50 bucks. I’ll keep praying only for the real stuff. I’d rather leave and live without the sneakers. But then, I notice a feisty woman with what appear to be his sneakers.
            “Excuse me.” I get her attention. “I think those are mine.”
She gives them up to me, reluctantly. “Are you sure? Cause I can’t find my son’s.”
“I’m sure,” I throw them on my son’s feet. Chasey says they’re tight but I ignore his complaint.
Ten minutes later we’re on the food line and the same lady finds me.
            “Excuse me, excuse me, those are not your son’s sneakers.”
 “No?” I shoot back, not caring if I am at a work function and unable to hold back 24 hours worth of fear, anger, shock and lack of sleep out on her. 
“No” she says flatly, “They are not his. These are them,” and she thrusts the same exact style shoe in my hands. 
“Someone else,” she emphasizes, “had them, not meYou have my son’s sneakers.”
Here’s the deal shoe lady, I have fucking cancer and don’t care if I just took someone else’s kids’ crummy shoes and crammed my son’s toes into a smaller shoe. Take your son’s damn shoes and get away from me, and preferably get away from me now.
I say none of that and hand her back the shoes. 
            I decide it’s time to walk home. My covers, pillow and Internet await me and my cancerous thyroid. It’s my first full day with my news and I’m still not sure what lies ahead. I’ve got appointments to make, tests to go for, and an attitude that needs adjusting. I know that I have no choice in this matter. I just have to dig deep for some strength and tough it out.
            As we’re getting ready to leave my son screams out to the shoe lady’s kid that he’s bigger and something about being in first grade. I don’t know why he’s so unusually bold and defensive.  Normally I’d correct him but actually today I’m just fine with it.